ON SKEIN OF DEATH
SERIES: A Riverbank Knitting Mystery #1
GENRE: Cozy Mystery
RELEASE DATE: June 1, 2021
For Libby Beckett, opening her charming yarn shop, and introducing customers to the joys of knitting and crochet, is the work she was meant to do. Until the yarn she loves is used for murder….
Libby has come home to Collinstown, Maryland to live her dream and open her own yarn shop, aptly named Y.A.R.N., along the Chester River. To Libby, Y.A.R.N. stands for You’re Absolutely Ready Now. But the acronym changes whenever inspiration strikes, and customers add to the list of suggestions that fill the blackboard wall in a shop stuffed with color, fiber, and comfort.
Libby is thrilled when she lands famous Norwegian knitting celebrity Perle Langager for a series of events at Y.A.R.N. Libby’s English bulldog, Hank, has been modeling one of Perle’s doggie sweaters, and customers just can’t wait to see Perle in action. The mayor of Collinstown even decrees a Collinstown Yarn Day to celebrate. But once Perle arrives in town, she seems distracted and on edge. And when she’s found strangled with a skein of red yarn, Libby knows she has to solve a knotty mystery before her new life unravels.
“Welcome to Y.A.R.N., Caroline. I’m Libby Beckett.” I gestured around the shop. Every wall is covered with stacked square cubbies holding all kinds of yarn. Soft pastels, riotous self-striping mixes, understated heathers, thick, thin, fuzzy, shiny-there’s a whole universe of things just begging to be touched and explored.
Y.A.R.N. is a comfort space. More than just comfortable, the shop exudes comfort, with deep cushioned chairs, bright warm lighting, tables to gather at, and thick rugs underfoot. It smells like good coffee, frequently of baked goods, and of the particular but unidentifiable scent of creativity. Not a speck of chrome to be found here, just deep shelves and bins in every nook and cranny.
This isn’t a place where you just duck in and grab what you need; it’s a soothing haven where you linger and discover. Where you sit for an hour and no one cares-in fact we love when you do.
Y.A.R.N. is the thing I was born to do. Sure, I was good as a pharmaceutical sales rep, but that was just a job. I think of Y.A.R.N. as the most excellent work of my soul. My prescription, if you will, for happiness-mine and everyone’s.
Caroline was intrigued; I could tell already. I led her to the only black furnishing in the whole color-strewn shop: the giant blackboard that covers one wall. With one hand I gave her my friendliest handshake, while with the other I pointed up to the colorful list scribbled all over the chalkboard. “And here’s the answer to your question.”
I watched Caroline take in the kaleidoscope of words. Some are scribbled in a reckless manner; others are artfully drawn. I have always thought of my blackboard as graffiti of the very best kind. Only one version is painted to permanently stand at the top of the board-my original vision of what Y.A.R.N. stood for: You’re Absolutely Ready Now. Maybe someday it will stop sending a zing through my veins when I read it, but that hasn’t happened yet.
At the bottom of the board sat a little bucket of colored chalks painted with the invitation: Add your own. And my customers have over the months-some funny, some poignant:
You’ll Always Remember Nice
Yellow Adds Romantic Notions
Yell at Ridiculous Negativity
Yielding Amounts to Relatively Nothing
Your Anger Rewards No one
There have been dozens. I want there to be thousands before I’m done . . . if I’m ever done.
Caroline took a moment to read several. “Cool.” I could see her catch the notion that perhaps yarn could be more than just what Grandma kept around the house to crochet granny squares. No disrespect to granny squares-I’m thrilled they’re coming “back.”
“It’s always so much more than yarn,” I told her. I pointed to the perfect coordination of her top, leggings, and expensive cross-training shoes. Peach and turquoise are lush, creative colors, and Caroline had paired them beautifully. Even her hair band and shoelaces matched. “You’ve got a great eye for color. You’d love knitting.”
“Really?” Her face caught that spark that shows whenever you open someone up to the possibility that they have some art inside them. It would be hard to come up with a moment that I live for more. Except for maybe that first bite of my friend Margo’s coconut cream pie-that comes close.
“Absolutely.” I guided her toward a basket of exquisitely soft and richly colored yarn over by the window: a collection of plush alpaca yarns in a range of ice-cream peach, sky blue, mint green, pale yellow, and sherbet orange that drew her touch like a sweet fuzzy kitten. “What do you do? Are you from nearby?” I asked as she fingered the beautiful skeins. Collinstown is such a picture-perfect Maryland town that we get lots of tourism, especially on gorgeous fall days like today.
“Just across the bay. I’m an entertainment reporter, which isn’t nearly as glamorous as it sounds. I’m here to meet a friend for lunch over at the inn.” She tilted her head in the direction of the Riverside Inn just across the street. “It was such a pretty day, I came early to just wander around.”
In my head I had already selected four possible first- project scarf patterns for my new friend Caroline. “When’s lunch?”
I checked my watch. “I can have you knitting before your first bite of salad. Want to try?”
Her eyes said yes long before she opened her mouth.
Like I said, I live for these moments. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught my shop assistant, Linda Franklin, smiling from behind the counter. Linda gets as much of a kick out of watching me do this as I get out of doing it. “I’m just here to ring up the sales you make,” she says, but I’ve seen her in action. Linda is just as much of a yarn “evangelist” as I am. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Caroline turned out to be a natural-I seem to have a gift for spotting them-and she held up her fourth pretty-darned-near-perfect row twenty minutes later. “Look at that!” She grinned. “I didn’t know I had it in me.”
We’d already talked about how she could knit on the Metro into her DC job rather than scrolling through her social media (she gets enough of that at work). She confessed to frequent bouts of insomnia, so we talked about how soothing knitting can be in lonely hours. We’d chatted about how her niece would love a scarf in her school colors. When Hank, my English bulldog, who is Y.A.R.N.’s official mascot, walked up and fixed her with his big brown eyes, Caroline talked about how her French bulldog, Milo, might like a new sweater.
I grabbed a flyer for my big event coming up. “You need to come to this. Perle Lonager creates the most amazing patterns from Scandinavian motifs-mostly Norwegian, but some other cultures as well.”
“That sounds interesting.” Caroline liked the idea of culturally inspired designs, I could tell. She struck me as a smart and thoughtful person-just the type of knitter who would love Perle’s work.
“She’s doing a fashion show and new-product launch on Saturday,” I explained, “but we’ll also have an exclusive dog sweater kit debuting at a smaller private workshop she’s doing here in the store. That’s on Friday before her lecture and dinner. You could make a whole weekend out of it. And”-I pulled out the sample version of the project that was almost finished for Hank to model-“you could have plenty of time to dive into something like this.”
Caroline’s eyes widened at how the sweater’s clever use of zigzags, diamonds, and dots gave it a unique Nordic style. A little doggy ski sweater, if you will. “I could make that?”
“The great thing about Perle’s designs is that there aren’t a lot of special stitches you need to learn. Sure, some Norwegian Lusekofte sweaters are tricky, but Perle’s patterns are great for beginners. It’s all in the color combinations.” I gave Caroline my most encouraging smile. “You could absolutely make that. I chose gray and white for Hank, but you could have a ball with all sorts of color pairings for your little Milo.”
“Blue and yellow, maybe.” Caroline ran her fingers over the bold rhythm of Perle’s Nordic motif. A new knitter was born.
Sure, it was important to my business that I fill the room. Perle is one of the rising stars in our industry, and I had been working for months to line her up for this event. As the owner of a new shop, I needed some big successes to get my name out there, and this was my shot.
But more than that, I wanted to introduce Caroline-and lots of people like her-to the world of fiber arts and artists. It’s the whole point of Y.A.R.N. As I watched Caroline’s eyes light up, I wondered again why I had let this dream sit ignored for so many years.
Actually, I know exactly why. His name is Sterling, and I’m not married to him anymore for that and a hundred other reasons.
*Used with permission*
An avid knitter, coffee junkie and firm believer that “pie makes everything better,” Allie Pleiter writes both fiction and non-fiction working on as many as four novels at a time. The bestselling author of over fifty books, Allie has enjoyed a twenty-year career with over 1.5 million books sold. In addition to writing, Allie maintains an active writing productivity coaching practice and speaks regularly on the creative process, publishing, and her very favorite topic—The Chunky Method of time management for writers. Visit her website at www.alliepleiter.com to learn more.
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