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Authors: Isabella Alan

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Murder, Plain and Simple

BOOK: Murder, Plain and Simple
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A COLD WELCOME

Joseph Walker glared at me.

“I’m glad you came to the reopening.” I flashed him the pageant smile again. It worked as well as it had the first time.

“Why are you here?” he asked.

I blinked. “Excuse me?”

“I would like to know your plans for this shop.”

I felt myself bristle. “What do you mean?”

“Do you plan to stay here? To run this shop?” His voice was stern.

“Yes,” I said. “That’s what I moved here to do.”

“That’s what I was afraid of. You have no business running this shop. Rolling Brook is an Amish town. You should leave it to the Amish. The
Englischer
was right. What does a girl from Texas know about the Amish?”

My face grew warm. “I’m sorry you feel that way,” I said, using the same uncompromising tone he’d used with me. “But I inherited this shop. Whether you like it or not, I’m here to stay.”

“Why am I not surprised? You’re proud, just like Eleanor was. She never knew her place either.”

My blood boiled. Aunt Eleanor was the most unimposing, unassuming woman I had ever known. “Please don’t talk about my
aenti
that way.”

He snorted. “
Aenti?
Use your own
Englisch
words.” He turned and stormed out of the shop.

I stood there for a full minute wondering what just happened.

OBSIDIAN

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA), 375 Hudson Street,

New York, New York 10014, USA

USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

For more information about the Penguin Group visit penguin.com.

First published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library,

a division of Penguin Group (USA)

Copyright © Penguin Group (USA), 2013

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

OBSIDIAN and logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA).

ISBN 978-1-10162771-6

PUBLISHER’S NOTE

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

For my namesakes
Isabella Flower
and
Thomas Alan Flower
ACKN
OWLEDGMENTS

Danki
to my editor, Talia Platz, who had a terrific idea and let me run with it, and to my agent, Nicole Resciniti, who I believe is a superhero in disguise.

Thank you to Molly MacRae, who graciously introduced me to her editor at Obsidian at Malice Domestic years ago. I know this book never would have happened without your generosity.

Special thanks to all of the wonderful people I’ve met in Holmes County while researching the novel, especially Anna Hochstetler, owner of Swiss Village Quilts and Crafts in Sugarcreek. Anna is always a kind hostess, and her shop is a lovely treasure tucked away in the heart of Amish Country.

Also special thanks to master quilter Charlotte Hennessey for trying to teach me to hand quilt and allowing me to mar her beautiful quilt with my clumsy stitches.

Love to my mother, Rev. Pamela Flower, who reads every manuscript more than once.

Finally, thank you to
Gott
in heaven.

Contents

Title page

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgements

 

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Chapter Thirty-three

Chapter Thirty-four

Chapter Thirty-five

Chapter Thirty-six

Chapter Thirty-seven

Chapter Thirty-eight

Chapter Thirty-nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-one

Chapter Forty-two

Chapter Forty-three

 

Epilogue

Amish Quilting Tips for Beginners

Excerpt from Murder, Simply Stitched

Chapt
er One

T
here it was—the empty white bakery box. Just a light dusting of powdered sugar surrounded it on the blond wood kitchen table in my new home in Holmes County, Ohio. A streak of red jelly ran along its side with my fingerprint perfectly preserved in raspberry red. It was a crime scene.

My stomach ached as I remembered the enormous jelly doughnut that had been inside the box. Did I really eat the entire thing? After weeks of starving myself for my big Texas wedding that was not to be, I’d gone on a bender. I shivered when I thought about the two-week juice cleanse. What a waste.

Oliver, my black-and-white French bulldog, whimpered.

I grabbed the box off the table and shoved it into the wastebasket under the sink. “Don’t judge. I was under extreme distress. Moving across the country is stressful, you know. Besides, lugging all the boxes into the house yesterday burned off the calories.”

He butted the back of my knee with his head as if he understood. My überathletic ex-fiancé, Ryan Dickinson, Esq., would not have been so sympathetic. But what Ryan thought shouldn’t matter to me now. Unfortunately, it did—a lot.

I wanted to lie on the couch and take a nap. I could blame it on carb overload, but I knew the true cause of my lethargy was fear. What was I doing in Ohio? I’d quit my well-paying advertising job in Dallas, Texas, to move to Amish Country. Was I crazy? Had I finally hit my quarter-life crisis at thirty-four, almost ten years late, or was I experiencing a midlife crisis a few years early? I couldn’t decide which of those would be worse.

On the heels of my broken engagement, I learned I’d inherited my Amish aunt’s quilt shop, Running Stitch. I saw the inheritance as a divine sign to get out of Texas.

Aunt Eleanor had not grown up Amish. She had left her modern life when she fell in love with an Amish man. She gave up her culture to be baptized into the Amish church. The hopeless romantic in me wished someone would make such a sacrifice for me. Ryan could not. He’d called off the wedding because of “commitment issues.” After six years of dating and one year of being engaged, you’d think he’d have been over those.

As a young child, I’d spent countless hours at my aunt’s quilt shop, watching my aunt’s quilting circle and learning the craft myself. When I was ten years old, my father got a high-powered executive job and we moved to Dallas, Texas. Until I reached high school and became too preoccupied with my own life, I returned to Holmes County every summer to quilt with my aunt and tramp around the Ohio countryside with my childhood friend Jo-Jo. Even after I stopped visiting Ohio, I kept quilting and looked forward to my aunt’s letters, which always included a quilting tip or pattern inside. From hundreds of miles away, she continued to teach me the craft. I saw moving to Ohio as an opportunity to dedicate myself to the craft I loved. I might have thought this was an excellent idea, but my friends back in Dallas thought I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Standing in the middle of my Ohio kitchen, I wondered whether they were right.

This called for the big guns—er . . . boots, I meant. I hurried through the small two-bedroom house I rented in Millersburg. I opened box after box until finally I found them, my cowboy boots.

The boots were made of aged leather and the yellow daisy and blue cornflower pattern was stitched along the side of the foot and up the calf. The fine hand stitching reminded me of Aunt Eleanor’s quilts. I think that’s what drew me to the boots in the first place. It certainly wasn’t the price, which had been a month’s worth of my advertising salary. I didn’t wear the boots often, only when I needed a boost of rawhide courage. Starting a brand-new career hundreds of miles away from any family and friends qualified.

Solemnly, Oliver watched me wrestle the boots onto my feet. He knew to respect the boots.

With the proper footwear intact, I felt ready to face the appointment that morning at my aunt’s shop—my shop. Running Stitch was in Rolling Brook, a small, mostly Amish town two miles south on Ohio’s Route 83, five minutes from my new home.

In front of Running Stitch, I climbed out of my little SUV to find my aunt’s lawyer, Harvey Lemontop, waiting for me on the sidewalk. Martha Yoder, who had managed the shop during my aunt’s illness, was with him. Harvey was a short man and resembled a pillow with arms because of the way his belly hung out over his belt. His dress shirt was open at the throat and his diamond-printed necktie hung crookedly from his neck.

Where Harvey was disheveled, Martha was as neat as could be in a plain navy dress, crisp black apron, and white prayer cap. I parked diagonally in the spot directly in front of the quilt shop and climbed out of the SUV.

Oliver hopped onto the pavement with a solid thump. He cocked his head at me, showing off his large batlike ears to their best advantage. They resembled antennae, one black and the other white, searching for a signal as they flicked back and forth.

The shop was on the center block of Sugartree Street, the main road going through Rolling Brook. Unlike Millersburg, which was dissected by Ohio 83 going north to south and Ohio 39 going east to west, Rolling Brook was off the state routes, so the traffic consisted of the Amish living nearby and English tourists. Running Stitch was a brick-faced shop that had been painted olive green. A darker green awning covered the entry. Several Amish-style quilts hung from quilt racks in the large picture window.

On the left side of Running Stitch was a bare redbrick woodworking shop. A fiftyish Amish man with a long gray beard was standing outside the shop, a black felt hat atop his head. His pose mimicked the life-sized black cutout lawn ornaments of Amish men I’d seen propped against trees and fences on my drive across Ohio’s countryside. I smiled at him, but he didn’t smile back.

“Ms. Braddock, I’m glad you made it here safely. How was your trip?” Harvey shook my hand. His was damp, and it reminded me of holding raw chicken.

“It was long but fine. Please, call me Angie.”

He nodded. “You remember Martha Yoder.”

“Yes, of course,” I said.

Martha examined my feet. “Those are some boots you got there. I haven’t seen anything like that before.”

“Don’t the farmers wear boots?” I asked.

“Work boots, sure, but nothing like those. Clearly, those boots are not for working.”

Was that a dig?
I shook it off.

“Thank you so much for taking care of the shop while
Aenti
was ill.” I used the Pennsylvania Dutch word for “aunt.” “And for agreeing to stay on. I know I will need your help as I get started.”

Martha smoothed her hands over her apron. “It was my pleasure. I wished she had been well enough to visit the shop more often these last few months.”

Oliver barked a greeting. Ignoring Martha, he waddle-walked over to Harvey for a head scratch. The lawyer obliged, and Oliver shook his stubby tail in doggy glee.

Harvey motioned to the door. “Shall we go in?”

Martha unlocked the shop’s door. Inside, she flicked on the overhead lights, illuminating the store.

My eye was drawn to half a dozen quilts, each one in the geometric color-blocked Amish style, hung on the plain whitewashed walls. Four of the six quilts I recognized as my aunt’s work. I walked over to the one closest to the front door and felt tiny stitches of the goosefoot-patterned quilt. Aunt Eleanor could fit as many as twenty stitches within an inch. Her stitches were far too tiny to count, but I knew they were there. A pang of sadness hit me, and I blinked rapidly.

“She did beautiful work,” Martha said.

I nodded and forced myself to look at the rest of the shop. There was one large room with a short hallway in the back that led to the office, the restroom, and a small stockroom. Beside the stockroom, a door opened into the fenced backyard. I stepped across the wide-planked oak floors to a short wooden counter that sat at the front of the shop with a cash register. I ran my hand along its smooth surface and came back with fingers covered in a thin film of dust. Oliver’s toenails clicked across the floor. I thought of Aunt Eleanor’s welcoming smile and sure fingers as her needle worked its way in and out of a quilt. She never dropped a stitch and never scolded me when I did.

In the far corner, a quilt frame, which looked like a huge picture frame on its side balanced several feet above the floor by two sturdy table legs, held a four-patch quilt. Metal clamps held the four corners of the quilt tightly to the frame so the fabric wouldn’t bunch up and the stitches would be flat and precise. The frame was pulled only four feet out from the middle of the quilt pattern. As the quilters moved out from the center, the frame could be adjusted to grow wider and wider, to the full size of the quilt. At the moment, the quilt was only half-finished. A light layer of dust coated the exposed fabric. On the wall opposite the cash register, shelving ran the entire length of the room. The shelves held bolts of dark fabric. On the opposite wall was the fabric to appeal to English shoppers. There were pastels, flower patterns, stripes, and bright colors.

Beyond the stockroom, I opened the door to the tiny backyard. Oliver made a beeline for an azalea bush. The yard was at a slant, as Rolling Brook was on a hillside. My aunt had planted a small garden there. It would need some weeding, but the gladiolas, hollyhocks, and other late-summer flowers flourished. I had a clear view of the green rolling hills and an Amish farm about a mile away. A tiny farmer hitched his horses to a buggy. Although I’d lived in Millersburg as a child, standing in my aunt’s garden was the first time I realized how beautiful this part of the country was. As a kid, I’d taken its beauty for granted. This was the first time I really saw it with my adult eyes.

I tried to picture Ryan Dickinson, my former fiancé, standing next to me. In my mind’s eye, I put him—with his fancy suits and expensive European leather shoes—into life in Rolling Brook. It didn’t work. Ryan, an up-and-coming attorney, was a Dallas boy born and bred. He loved the traffic, fast pace, and intensity of the city. Nothing about Rolling Brook was intense. I smiled to myself. The only way I could be there at that moment was alone, and I realized being alone wasn’t such a bad thing. Maybe the un-Ryan-ness of Rolling Brook was its true appeal. Then again, it might have been the boots working their magic.

Harvey stepped into the garden and stood beside me. He wiped his brow with a blue handkerchief.

“It’s beautiful,” I said, motioning to the view.

He smiled and a dimple appeared on his left cheek. “It is.”

A cardinal landed on the wooden fence surrounding the garden. Oliver yipped and dashed under the closest bush, which was a little too small for him, leaving his hindquarters exposed. He held his black stubby tail completely still, as if he thought the cardinal wouldn’t see him if he didn’t move. I didn’t bother to tell him it was a bird, not a tyrannosaurus. My Frenchie suffered from ornithophobia. We’d sought treatment from acupuncture to hypnotism. Nothing had worked.

“Is your dog okay?” Harvey asked.

“He’s fine,” I assured him.

He cleared his throat. “Are you sure you want to take the shop on, Ms. Braddock? It’s a big job. I can still help you sell it if you’ve changed your mind.”

I smiled at him. “I thought I told you to call me Angie.”

The small lawyer blushed. “Yes, you did. I’m sorry, Ms.—I mean Angie.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry for. As for your question, my answer is yes. I do want to run the shop. I haven’t been so sure of something in a long time.”

“What’s wrong with your dog?” Martha joined us and handed me a set of keys.

“He’s afraid of birds,” I said casually, as if this were a normal canine problem.

She laughed. “
Ach
, he’s going to see a lot more of those in Holmes County.”

That was my fear. The cardinal hopped along the fence as if he knew. Poor Oliver. His transition to country life was going to be much more difficult than mine.

“Can the cowgirl run the quilt shop?” Martha sounded dubious.

I shook the keys in my hand. “She’s willing to try. The shop is perfect.”

“Only the
gut
Lord is perfect.” She winked at me. “But we’ll get as close as we can. Now, you’d better saddle up. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

I cocked an eyebrow at her. “How do you know all these cowboy expressions?”

She grinned. “I may have watched a Western or two during my
rumspringa
.”

The boots bolstered my courage. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Yes, of course.”

“The man standing outside the woodworking shop. Who is he?”

Harvey’s dimple disappeared. “You must mean Joseph Walker. He owns that shop and makes the best wooden furniture in the county. I have a few of his pieces in my home.”

“He seemed”—I searched for the right word—“cold.”

Harvey laughed nervously. “Oh, I’d hoped that we could talk about Joseph later.”

Martha folded her arms. “You may as well tell her. She needs to be prepared.”

“Prepared?” I looked from one to the other. “Prepared for what?”

Harvey pulled at his tie. “He claims he owns Running Stitch.”

I waved my hands in the air. “Wait. Roll back. What?”

“He has a fifty-year-old deed for the property with his father’s name on it. It clearly states the Walkers are the owners.”

“Then my aunt and uncle must have bought the shop from Joseph’s father at some point. Where is my aunt’s deed to prove Joseph wrong?”

Harvey swallowed. “That’s the problem. We can’t find it anywhere.”

BOOK: Murder, Plain and Simple
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