EXCERPT from A Crafter Hooks a Killer:
The early summer sun warmed Samantha Kane’s shoulders as she tacked the advertisement to the outside display window in front of Community Craft. The air was warm and dry outside her storefront; not humid yet. She wished the summer would stay this picture-perfect temperature, but she knew it wouldn’t last. She couldn’t complain, as it sure beat the cloudy winters of Wisconsin that seemed to roll on endlessly.
The smell of sweet alyssum wafted on the subtle breeze from the recently planted oversized terra-cotta pot placed strategically by the front door to welcome her local customers. Dainty white flowers, contrasted with deep-blue lobelia, spilled generously over the sides and encircled orange and pink geraniums. Sammy wished she were on a long, leisurely stroll with her golden retriever, Bara, to view the flower beds set in the freshly tilled soil along the river walk. Instead, she was stuck indoors on this beautiful June day working at her craft store, where members of the community sold their handcrafted wares. Hopefully the dry air would hold and she could sneak away from the store as soon as her sister Ellie came to work later in the afternoon.
The urgent cry swiftly caught the shop owner’s attention. Samantha dropped the Scotch tape to the cement sidewalk. Her auburn ponytail swung and slapped her hard in the face as she turned abruptly in the direction of the yelling of her nickname.
“Oh Marilyn, you startled me! Is everything okay? You all right?” Sammy’s round hazel eyes widened as she searched her harried next-door neighbor for signs of distress. The owner of the Sweet Tooth Bakery approached at a rapid pace.
“No. I’m absolutely not all right.” The baker fanned her overheated plump red cheeks with one hand, sending flour falling like snow. If only it had been snow and not flour, it might have cooled off the agitated baker. “Sammy! I’ve gone and burned the cupcakes for the book signing!”
Sammy tilted her head back and laughed. Her eyes crinkled like half-moons when her amusement transformed into a large smile. “You have four days before the book signing; no need to get your panties in a knot.” She pointed to the newly attached advertisement on the window, then leaned over to pluck the Scotch tape from the ground. “With all your bellowing, Marilyn, I thought something tragic had happened. I’m just hanging the sign with the time and details of the event now. If you made the dessert today, wouldn’t it be stale by Saturday afternoon anyway?” Sammy’s pencil-thin eyebrows came together in a frown.
“Yes, but this was the sample batch. I wanted you to taste-test them first. These cupcakes must be ab-so-lutely perfect! They’re for Jane Johnson’s book signing, after all. The Jane Johnson!” Her chubby fingers came together in air quotes. “I still can’t believe she’s coming here to little ol’ Heartsford! Well. I guess that will put us on the map for sure.” Marilyn placed her hand atop her large round bosom, transferring the remnants of flour to her chest. “And I’ve gone and ruined the sample!” The baker shook her hairnet-covered head in disgust.
“You’ve plenty of time to bake another batch.” Sammy waved her off casually. “No need to fret just yet. I’m the one hosting the signing for her latest book, and I’m going to be interviewed for her next book, Behind the Seams: A Journey of Why We Love to Craft. If you can imagine the preparation on my end. I have so much left to organize, and I also have to clean the store.” Sammy began ticking off a mental list of what needed to be tackled first.
“Well. I suppose you’re right . . . I’ll have time to try again.” The baker must have sensed she wouldn’t receive any sympathy from her neighbor, so she quickly changed the subject—to digging for dirt. “Has Jane Johnson made it to town yet? Where’s she staying? I heard a rumor that she’s booked a room at Pine Haven Bed and Breakfast. Annabelle saw a stretch limo driving in that direction! Have you already met her?” Marilyn placed her hands on her overrun hips, demanding answers.
“Aren’t you full of questions today?” Sammy laughed and rolled her eyes.
Just then, Sammy and Marilyn’s attention was diverted to Main Street by the sound of a honking horn, causing the two to check and see who was pulling up to park beside them on the sidewalk. Sammy was relieved to have a reprieve from the baker’s demands of juicy gossip. She wasn’t sure how private the bestselling author was, and she didn’t want to offend the new guest to their hometown by spreading needless information.
“Hi, Mayor Allen!” Sammy waved to the mayor of Heartsford as he stepped from his newly washed black SUV, drops of water still visible on the Toyota.
His hand rose in a friendly wave as he stopped momentarily to greet the women. “Be-a-u-tiful day, Sunshine Sam! And Marilyn, good afternoon to you. Connie will stop in soon to order a few of your famous strawberry pies. The wife and I love to indulge this time of year on your seasonal sweet treats.”
The mayor tipped his silver head, which shone in the sun like mounded strands of glitter, to regard the baker before looking both ways, crossing the street, and stepping inside Liquid Joy for his daily afternoon caffeine pick-me-up. Although Sammy was trying to cut down on her daily caffeine intake, iced coffee did sound delicious. Her mouth began to thirst for the cool, creamy liquid.
“Sunshine Sam? Why, I wasn’t aware the mayor had a special name for you, Samantha Kane. Why doesn’t he call you Sammy like the rest of us?” Marilyn searched her with inquisitive eyes.
“He’s called me that ever since I was a kid hanging out with his daughter, Kate.” Sammy explained. Although she didn’t think it needed an explanation. Everyone in town knew she had taken over the mayor’s deceased daughter’s store, Community Craft, after a tractor accident took her life far too soon. Everyone knew she and Kate had been best friends since childhood. Why wouldn’t Kate’s father have a nickname for her? Suddenly Sammy was weary of Marilyn’s inquisitive nature.
“You’d better get back into that kitchen quick,” Sammy urged. “You’re right, those cupcakes have to be perfect. Good luck with the next batch. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to that sample. And it sounds like the mayor is licking his lips for a few of your strawberry pies. You’d better get back to work. Busy, busy!” Sammy moved closer to the front door of her shop. “I should get a move on and get back to work too. Have a great afternoon, Marilyn,” she said as she dismissed the baker and swung open the door to retreat to the safety of Community Craft.
Bara lifted his golden head as Sammy approached. Her golden retriever’s bed sat directly beside the cash register on the right-hand wall toward the back of the store. He wasn’t a guard dog but rather a welcome furry face that made the customers smile and linger to pet him. When Sammy stopped to scratch his head, he lifted his weary body from its comfortable position and stretched his hind legs.
“Oh, the life you have,” she said to the dog. The tinkle of the bell on the front door alerted them both that a customer had entered. Bara, so accustomed to the sound after spending years in the store by the register, didn’t go and greet the customer but instead slumped lazily back to his original position. Sammy shook her head at him and smiled.
Sammy’s eyes lifted from her lazy dog to the newcomer. She instantly knew it was not one of her regular customers. A real live celebrity had officially stepped inside Community Craft.
Jane Johnson held out a manicured hand in greeting. “You must be Samantha Kane?”
The bestselling author stood about Sammy’s height—barely over five feet. Her hair was cropped short in a wispy blonde cut and was obviously sprayed in place to perfection. Her azure eyes were friendly and alert and held an air of mystery. Jane’s casual dress surprised Sammy, as she had always seen the celebrity dressed to the nines on TV. Although, even in her sleeveless navy blouse and white cropped pants, she looked as though she had just stepped from a cruise ship and not Main Street in a small farm town.
For a moment, Sammy was speechless. If only Kate had been alive to witness the bestselling author in the craft world standing right here. The woman who was the queen of all crafts, hobbies, and home, standing just arm’s length away. The one all the fiber artisans in her store aspired to be. The one who had been interviewed on HGTV sharing her crochet talent. The one with her own monthly magazine. And numerous bestselling books!
Sammy reached for the author’s hand and shook it gently in greeting. She could feel her mouth moving and the words tumbling out. “I’m Samantha Kane. Most people call me Sammy. Only my mother calls me Samantha. And lately she’s been calling me Sam, unless of course we’ve had words—then she’s back to calling me Samantha. But she lives in Arizona with my dad now that the Wisconsin winters have become too brutal for them . . . They’re flying in for a visit this week. Actually, Mom should be here for the book signing.” Sammy could feel the flush rising from her neck to her cheeks. “I’m rambling. Sorry.”
The author smiled. Sammy wanted to crawl under the rug. Or hide under Bara’s dog bed. Even Bara seemed to shake his head. Why was she acting like an idiot? Sammy justified the nervous energy as a normal reaction. After all, it was rare to have anyone of stature here in Heartsford, never mind her store. She could barely feel her feet on the ground, and she suddenly felt uncharacteristically befuddled.
“So, this is Community Craft. I’ve heard so much about this place.” Jane turned from Sammy’s gaze and fingered a hand-dyed aqua silk scarf that hung close to her touch.
“The one and only,” Sammy said, before sneaking slow yoga breaths that her cousin Heidi had taught her to calm her jittery excitement. She really needed to relax. Right now. Breathe in . . . one . . . two . . . three . . .
“I’ve been actively researching the original owner. I was so sorry to hear about the loss of Kate Allen. Her tragic and early death led me to seek out the communal bonds she nurtured in this store. Very special and unique, from what I’ve gathered thus far in researching my next book, Behind the Seams. Very rare indeed.”
This comment from the famous author instantly stirred Sammy from her awkward stance. “Thank you,” she said sincerely. “Kate was the brains behind all of this, and of course she encouraged a sense of community and kindness that I’ve tried to keep alive. We don’t just create and sell handcrafted items here. We hold many community fund-raisers and the like. Whatever the people of Heartsford need, we’re here to build each other up, work together, and lift each other’s burdens.”
“Yes, it’s that very nature of community spirit and what you all do to support each other in this town that so intrigued me. I find it very unusual nowadays, don’t you think? That’s what inspired me to visit Heartsford, to be honest; news has traveled. I had to come see and experience this place firsthand. Do people actually live in genuine community anymore? Seems to me people are so preoccupied with their own lives and social media that they don’t reach out personally anymore . . . Everyone is so isolated. The idea of returning to the old-fashioned hooking circle certainly fascinates me. Or maybe I’m just not privy to that type of lifestyle, as my life is so different now. It seems because I spend the bulk of my time in the public eye, people have a way of treating me as if I’m above all that. But I’m not, you know. I’m really not. I’d love an afternoon working my hands through some yarn while chatting with other women. I wonder why people seem to think I wouldn’t enjoy that anymore?”
It was more of a statement than a question. Sammy remained silent.
Sammy then noticed Jane’s eyes scanning the space to take in her surroundings, and she pointed a finger to a room enclosed in glass on the opposite side of the open-concept store. “And what’s that room?”
“Oh, that’s our craft room. We hold art classes and host meetings for various fund-raisers and community events in that space. We keep it open, as people tend to get involved when they see things happening back there. We actually hold our monthly book club there, too, when the community room at the library is otherwise occupied.”
Jane nodded. “Inventive idea.” Sammy thought for a moment that the author seemed honestly impressed.
“I think it will be too small to host the book signing in that enclosed room, though, as we’re expecting a very large turnout. Heck, the whole town will probably show. I’ll have to move a few things around and have a table set up for you here. Maybe on the back wall . . .” Sammy’s voice trailed off as her attention diverted and her eyes pinballed around the room, seeking the perfect location to host the book signing for the author’s previous bestseller, Hooked for Life: Crocheting Through the Generations.
At that moment, the back door of Community Craft opened and Sammy’s sister Ellie rushed into the room. “Sorry I’m late,” Ellie said without raising her eyes. She stepped behind the register and dropped her oversized purse to the floor behind the expansive polished wooden counter.
“You’re an hour early,” Sammy corrected, pointing to the clock that hung behind the cash register.
When Ellie finally raised her hazel eyes to argue the fact, it was obvious the time wasn’t her only surprise. “Jane Johnson! You’re here! In the flesh!” Ellie blurted, her voice raised to an unusual octave. Sammy’s sister suddenly bubbled over with excitement.
Sammy couldn’t help but let out a nervous giggle. She clearly wasn’t the only one who was star-struck.
“Yes, in the flesh.” Jane shrugged, nonplussed. She seemed mildly uncomfortable with the two sisters gawking at her and quickly redirected the subject. “You two look so much alike. I’m guessing you’re related?” Her watery blue eyes danced between the two of them.
Ellie touched her shoulder-length russet hair and twirled it nervously.
“Sisters,” Sammy and Ellie said simultaneously, and the two shared a grin.
“But her hair has never been as red as mine. Sammy will have natural blonde highlights by the end of the summer if she spends any time outdoors. I’ll just end up with a face full of freckles and hair like Raggedy Ann.” Ellie regarded her sister. “But I was lucky to at least get a little more height from my father’s side of the family.”
Sammy smirked and nudged her sister playfully.
The author smiled. “Can I set up a time to interview you, Samantha? I’m only in town a few days. I’ll be leaving right after the book signing on Saturday. I have so much I’d like to discuss with you for my latest manuscript before I leave.”
“Absolutely! When would you like to meet?”
“Whenever you have time. How about now? I was thinking of visiting that lovely coffee shop across the street. Can I pull you away? Or is this a bad time?”
Annabelle Larson, owner of the Yarn Barn, suddenly approached out of nowhere, interrupting the three women, and rushed toward the counter at record speed. “Jane Johnson! Oh, what an honor!” Sammy must have missed seeing her gregarious neighbor enter the store in all the excitement. She knew her work neighbor was a bit miffed that Sammy had been chosen as an interview subject for the book and not her. Annabelle had assumed owning the yarn store would make her a shoo-in, but the famous author was more interested in the history of Community Craft than crochet or any other fiber art, apparently. Annabelle snapped her mint gum annoyingly as her eyes bored into the author with curiosity. “Are you going to be here awhile? I’ll go run and grab my cell phone for a selfie! Or maybe you’d like to come see my shop too? The Yarn Barn . . . It’s just a few doors down. Please come over and take a peek! Wait until you see all the natural fibers I sell. It’ll make you drool, I promise!”
Ms. Johnson seemed instantly overwhelmed or less than pleased as another customer overheard and barged toward the author, nearly knocking her from her feet. Sammy wondered if Jane was tired from her journey to Heartsford and suddenly felt protective of the new guest to her store. She stepped between the author and the overexcited crowd of fans, which was growing by the minute.
“Yes, ladies, and she’ll be here again on Saturday to meet with you,” Sammy said firmly as she raised a hand to block the lookie-loos. “But for now, she has to be on her way. I’m sure Ms. Johnson has prior engagements to tend to at the moment.”
Sammy protectively ushered the author toward the back exit of the store. When the two reached the safety of the door, Sammy turned to apologize for their collective behavior. “I’m sorry about that. We don’t have many famous people pass through our area. I apologize if we’re all a little overzealous.”
“Oh, it’s perfectly all right. I’m quite used to it. I’m afraid I’m still suffering a bit of jet lag. I’ve spent the last few days crossing the country in airports and hotels. After a few long days of travel, I think I might need some fresh air.”
Sammy nodded. It was then that she noticed the dark shadows under the author’s eyes, concealed under heavy makeup.
Jane continued, “But I do want to meet with you soon. Would you like to walk with me? I have some rather sensitive information I need to discuss with you. I’d really like it to be a private conversation, if that’s possible. Is there a place we can talk?” The author searched Sammy’s eyes with growing intensity. “I’m thinking the coffee shop across the street probably isn’t the best place?”
“I have a thought,” Sammy suggested. “Why don’t you follow the trail down along the river walk?” Sammy pointed across the expansive parking lot behind Community Craft to where the trail began. “This time of day, it’s usually quiet. There’s a set of stairs that will take you to a bench by the dam where the waterfall cascades. A very soothing spot. And private, too. I’ll go pick us up an iced coffee or tea from Liquid Joy and meet you there. How does that sound? It’ll give you a few moments to catch your breath and regroup. I’ll join you in about twenty minutes or so. Would that work?”
“Sure. Sounds perfect. And I’d love an iced coffee; that sounds wonderful. Thank you so much, Samantha. I’ll meet you there, then.” Jane was about to step out the back entrance when she stopped, turned, and reached for Sammy’s wrist with sudden urgency. “I uncovered some rather sensitive information in my research regarding the previous owner of Community Craft. I have something to tell you . . . something that could change everything. Please come alone.” The bestselling author released Sammy’s arm and was out the door in an instant, leaving an air of mystery in her wake.