Excerpt, A Fitting End

Read on for a sneak peek at the next book in the Magical Dresskmaking series

A FITTING END

Available in February 2012

June in North Texas is no picnic.  It was only seven forty-five in the morning, but the heat index was already at the extreme caution level.  The humidity didn’t help the index…or the way I felt.   The second I walked outside, the moisture clung to my skin.  My curly hair, pulled up into an artfully messy ponytail, instantly frizzed.  And I was one hundred percent positive that I was melting from the inside-out.

There was nothing to do but grin and bear it.  I knew it took a season for a body to acclimate to a region’s weather patterns and I’d only been back in Bliss for a few months.  I grabbed a bottle of water before climbing into my ancient pickup truck, formerly owned by my great-grandmother and recently brought back to working order by Bubba of Bubba Murphy’s repair shop.  The one thing Bubba didn’t fix was the air conditioner, which meant I’d look like a drowned rat by the time I got where I was going.  Far from swanky country club material, but I’d been summoned by Mrs. James.  Enough said.

I opened the window as I drove, but only hot air blew over me.  By the time I made the thirteen mile drive to the Bliss Country Club, the blond streak in my hair, a trait all the Cassidy women shared, had broken free from its restraints and hung limply down the side of my face.  I did my best to tuck it back into place.

The parking lot was bursting, but only a handful of golfers were on the course.  Maybe they’d all woken up with the roosters and were already on the back nine.  But the second I stepped inside the air conditioned lobby of the club and heard the hushed and agitated undertones of the people milling around, I knew the back nine wasn’t seeing all the action;  every golfer in town seemed to be right here.  Seeking refuge from the heat and humidity?  Possibly, but the knot in my gut was telling me that something else was going on.

The whispering seemed to stop as I pushed through the throng of people toward the ballroom.  Was it my imagination, or was everyone looking at me, and not in a Look, it’s the dressmaker, Harlow Cassidy, and isn’t she an icon of fashion? way, but in a Let’s give her a wide berth like you’d give one of the Salem witches kind of way.

Like day old pea soup, the crowd thickened at the doorway to the ballroom.  “Excuse me,” I repeated over and over, finally bursting through the choked entrance.  The room, complete with the monstrous catwalk for the fashion show, looked just like it had when I’d been here with Josie.  Except that the runway lights blazed, odd since it was so early.

I’d worn slacks this morning–not my usual clothing choice, but the club had a dress code and I didn’t want a run-in with the country club clothing police.  In and out, that was my goal.  I wanted to get back to the shop, work on Libby’s dress, fit Gracie for hers, and ponder the ripped gown from Meemaw’s old armoire.

Mrs. James was nowhere in sight.  Everything looked just as it had when I’d been here with Josie the other day.  Peering at the stage, I spotted my sewing bag, just where I’d set it down and forgotten it.  It had been knocked over, the contents spilled out onto the stage.   When no one was looking, I climbed onto the catwalk and was just ready to scurry down it when a voice called from behind.

“Ms. Cassidy.”

I spun around.  Everyone seemed to be staring at me, but I couldn’t see who’d actually called me.  A thread of anxiety slithered through my veins.  From the moment I’d walked into the club, I’d felt like something strange was definitely going on, but now I was beginning to think it had something to do with me.

Paranoia?  Being a Cassidy meant people had always looked at me as if I was one second away from casting some sort of spell on them, but this…this felt different.  Less cautious suspicion and more morbid curiosity.

I started down the runway, stopping short when I heard my name again.  “Harlow Cassidy?”

This time when I turned around, the runway lights were like a spotlight and Rebecca Quiñones, reporter for channel 8 news, looked up at me from the end of the catwalk.  She held a microphone at her side, her navy skirt and cream colored blouse were crisp and unwrinkled, and her slick black hair was a ribbon of silk flowing down her back.  I patted my own limp hair and wondered how she withstood the brutality of the weather.  “I’d like to ask you a few questions,” she said.

I put my palm to my chest.  “Me?”

She flicked at look at the man who stood off to her side.  He nodded, flipped a switch on the bulky black television camera perched on his shoulder, and suddenly I knew we were rolling.

“You are Harlow Cassidy?” Rebecca Quiñones asked.

I opened my mouth to respond, but before I could answer, she went on.

“The same Harlow Cassidy who owns Buttons & Bows?  You’re a custom dressmaker and fashion designer, is that right?”

“That’s right,” I said, the coil of nerves that wound through me tightening their hold.  How did she know who I was, and why would she care?

“What’s your relationship with Macon Vance?”

My mind raced.  I closed my eyes for a moment to think. Behind my eyelids, streaks of color and memories smeared.  “Macon who?” I said.  If it was someone from my childhood here in Bliss, I couldn’t remember.  “I think you have the wrong person.”

“Macon Vance, Ms. Cassidy.  The golf pro for the country club.”

“I don’t know him,” I said as I turned around.  I needed to find Mrs. James, do what I had to do to get Gracie on the schedule for the pageant, and get home to work.

I heard the dull thump of rushing footsteps and suddenly Rebecca Quiñones was in step with me, albeit on the ground next to the catwalk instead of on the platform itself.  “Isn’t that your sewing bag?” she asked, pointing to the end of the stage.

Suddenly I saw that Sheriff Hoss McLaine had crouched next to my Dena Rooney-Berg Nanny Bag, which I used for my travel sewing kit.

“Y-yes.”  Red flags shot up in my head and my mouth grew dry.

“And what do you keep in your sewing bag, Ms. Cassidy?  Needles?  Scissors?  Tape measure?”

The same items that could be found in any dressmaker’s sewing bag.  Criminy, the woman was persistent.  I pushed my nerves aside, gathered up my gumption, stopped walking, and turned to face her.  “Why do you ask, Ms. Quiñones?  Do you have a rip in your skirt that needs mending?”

She gave a smile, and I wondered if the effort would crack her makeup.  It didn’t. But it did show me that even her teeth were perfect.  Straight and pearly white, the perfect contrast to her olive skin.  “No, Ms. Cassidy.  My skirt’s fine, but thanks.  Actually,” she said, growing serious again, “I’m wondering if you had a personal relationship with Mr. Vance, and if so–”

“I don’t know any Mr. Vance,” I said, cutting her off.

“Macon Vance?  The golf pro here at the club,” she repeated.

I shrugged.  “I’m not a member here.”

“That’s right, you’re here…”  She paused and tilted her head to the side.  “Why are you here?”

“I’m a dressmaker,” I said.  “I’m making a gown for one of the Margarets.”  Or three if you counted the one I’d finished and Gracie’s, even if she wasn’t officially a debutante.  Yet.  “If you’ll excuse me, I’m looking for someone.”

As I approached, the sheriff suddenly stood, his voice raised.  ”Dust it,” he said to one of his lackeys.  Rebecca Quiñones watched me.  Behind her, the cameraman was still rolling.  “I wouldn’t be surprised if the sheriff wants to take a closer look at your sewing supplies , Ms. Cassidy,” she said.  There was a snarky little edge to her tone that made me think she knew something I didn’t.

“Why?” I said, hesitating.  Why was the sheriff here, anyway, and what needed dusting?

Rebecca Quiñones stared at me.  “You mean you haven’t heard?”

I looked around, noting the odd mix of somber voices and bustling activity.  Suddenly, I felt like I’d been transported back to the porch of 2112 Mockingbird Lane, watching a crime scene unfold in front of me.  The same feeling I’d had then–one of helpless shock–came over me.  It couldn’t happen twice, could it?  Not another…murder?  “Heard what?” I said, my voice as somber as the newscaster’s expression.

“The golf pro, Macon Vance.”  She pointed a perfectly manicured acrylic nail in the direction of stage left.  “He was found murdered and I believe the sheriff was just about to take your bag, and everything in it, into evidence.”

The breath suddenly left my lungs, heat spread to my cheeks, and a wave of dizziness slipped over me.  “Murdered?”  I looked back toward my bag of supplies, and noticed something I hadn’t seen a minute ago.  My inexpensive orange-handled Fiskars were on the ground, a good couple of feet from my bag, like they’d been dropped in a hurry.  I started, a lump catching in my throat.  They didn’t look right.  The blades were open and stained with something dark. “How?” I asked, barely choking the words out.

Rebecca Quiñones had followed my gaze.  From the corner of my eye, I saw her wave her microphone.  The cameraman moved in closer getting a tight shot of me.  I tried to turn my back, but Rebecca said, “Stabbed,” and I froze.  Because I suddenly knew what the sticky substance on the shiny blades of my sewing shears was.

Blood.