A Holiday Yarn
A Seaside Knitters Mystery
The national bestselling series that "will draw readers to return time and again to Sea Harbor." (Carolyn Hart)
In Sea Harbor the scent of snow fills the salty air, and at Izzy's Seaside Studio, the Seaside Knitters feast on cookies, knit their gifts, and plan their gatherings. And Mary Pisano is transforming the estate she inherited from her grandfather into a bed-and-breakfast. But then Mary's cousin Pamela is found dead on the B and B's snowy back porch, and as the holiday draws nigh, the four friends will need all their crafty know-how to solve the crime.
In the confusing days that followed, one thing that would stand out in Nell’s mind was that each member of the Thursday night knitting group had talked to Pamela Pisano that day. An unlikely event, considering that Pamela didn’t fit into the normal order of their lives. The conversations varied, but all four knitters remembered hearing her say—with some conviction, they’d agreed—that her cousin Mary Pisano was crazy. Certifiably crazy, she’d said to one of them.
More than the insult to her friend, what stuck in Nell’s mind with profound irony was what Pamela had said to her next. She’d spoken the words with authority, although that in itself wasn’t unusual—almost everything that came out of Pamela Pisano’s mouth had an overtone of authority.
But the words had an ominous tone, with a tinge of warning. Not only was Mary Pisano crazy, she’d told Nell, but her turning the ancestral home into a bed-and-breakfast would come to one end, and one end only: it would kill her.
And then she’d repeated two of the words, leaning forward in the chair until a slice of her golden hair moved in slow motion against her cheek: “Kill her.”
Nell and Pamela had met that Thursday morning in Polly Farrell’s Canary Cove Tea Shoppe. The meeting was purely by chance.
Nell had gotten an early start to her day, leaving home before her husband had finished reading the paper and had his second cup of coffee.
It was early morning, and the frozen air was so still that Nell could hear her heartbeat beneath her fleece hoodie. The delicious quiet filled her with a visceral kind of peace. And only on crisp winter days when the town was blanketed in snow and the summer people were long gone did it happen quite this way.
“Summer vacationers don’t sleep,” was her husband, Ben’s, explanation of the difference in the town’s mood. “It’s because vacationers’ days here are short, limited, and those folks need to absorb every minute of Sea Harbor magic while they have a chance.”
Nell understood that. She loved summer, too—the sun-drenched days, the smell of grilled swordfish on the deck, the carefree ambience and frivolous laughter and morning runs along the long sandy beaches.
But winter quiet was special, contemplative. Fewer visitors came to town, and everyone “stretched out” as Birdie Favazza described it. There was room to breathe. To throw your arms and your spirit open to the winter air without toppling a sunbather or bicyclist or tourist.
Nell pulled a woolen hat down over her ears and braced herself as the cold air hit her face. She breathed in the scent of snow and broke into a slow jog down her hill and onto Harbor Road. The town of Sea Harbor lay at her feet like a picture postcard, its winding streets as intricate as a lacy winter shawl.
She took in a deep breath and smiled as the exhale caused a white plume to rise in front of her face.
She loved this town.
At the bottom of the hill Nell turned east, toward the strip of road that led to the Canary Cove Art Colony and Polly’s Tea Shoppe.
A quiet corner table. A hot cup of cinnamon tea, a buttery scone. And then a jog home and a hot shower.
Traffic was minimal: another jogger here or there, moms out pushing strollers, their babies bundled up like tiny Eskimos, and an occasional car. The gallery owners were just beginning to pull up their blinds and unlock their doors.
Rebecca Early waved at Nell through a window display of sparkling beads. Nell waved back. She slowed slightly, unable to resist the beauty of the display—dripping rounds of lampwork glass in magnificent colors. Crimson ovals, brilliant green and gold drops hung from boughs of holly and fir. She made a mental note to come back later with a gift list in hand. Rebecca was one of Nell’s favorite artists on Canary Cove Road, and she never failed to have the perfect earrings to match Izzy’s eyes or a necklace that Birdie would find intriguing and unique.
Nell moved on to Polly’s shop and hurried through the wreathed door, out of the brisk wind that had turned her high round cheeks a bright crimson.
“Snow’s in the air,” Polly announced from behind the counter as she waved over the heads of customers and above the crooning of Bing Crosby dreaming about a white Christmas. “I’ll have your tea in a jiffy, Nell. And today’s cranberry scones are to die for.”
Nell waved her agreement, then spied an empty table in the corner and settled down into a pool of sunshine. She unzipped her hoodie, pulled off her mittens, and began to rub blood and feeling back into her hands.
Looking up, she saw Pamela Pisano standing at the counter. Beautiful, elegant, aristocratic—or so some Sea Harbor folks said. And then they’d chuckle, knowing that the woman’s grandfather, a humble man, would scoff at any hint of pretension in his family.
Her platinum hair was unnaturally straight, as smooth as sea silk, and cut in a severe wedge that slanted toward her face, bringing attention to prominent cheekbones and a straight, perfect nose. She was medium in stature, though the stiletto heels of her boots brought her up to Nell’s height.
Balancing a teacup in her gloved hand, she looked at Nell, smiled in recognition, and walked over to the corner table. “It’s nice to see you, Nell.” Pamela Pisano’s voice was a blend of English boarding school and Boston Brahmin, mixed with a touch of who she really was—a Sea Harbor native.
Nell smiled back. The successful editor who’d graduated from the local high school, then Tufts, and went on to control her family’s fashion magazine intrigued her. She was doing a good job, from what Nell heard. Nell motioned to the empty chair, but Pamela had already pulled it out. She sat down, shrugging out of her fur jacket and stripping off tight leather gloves.
Nell watched the purposeful movements. Self-assured. Graceful. The body language of a successful woman.
“I haven’t seen you for a while. You look lovely.” Nell tilted her head and looked at her closely. “But something’s different. Your hair, perhaps?”
Pamela’s fingers tapped her forehead lightly. “No. Botox and a chemical peel.” She stroked her smooth cheeks with long, narrow fingers. “We do features on these things, so I wanted to see how it worked. I can’t say I see a noticeable difference.”
“That’s probably because you’ve inherited the Pisano gene for perfect skin. You have as much need for face work as I have for mud wrestling.”
Pamela’s laugh was light and practiced—and wrinkle free.
She sipped her tea and looked around the shop. “This place is quaint. New?”
“About a year old. You should spend more time here. Sea Harbor is growing.”
“I may—I’ve made an offer on a place on Sea Harbor Point. This town is a nice getaway from the frantic world of magazines. Of course, there’s a downside—running into family at every turn in the road.”
Nell chuckled. That was certainly true. Everyone in town knew at least one Pisano. And though some of the younger generation left town to run Enzo Pisano’s newspapers or magazines in other parts of New England, they always came back—Sea Harbor ties were as strong as fishing lines. Sea Harbor was home. And even if allegiances weakened over the years, the annual Pisano family meeting always lured them back.
Nell suspected that this year the meeting—following the death of the family patriarch—which had started days ago, held additional importance. Family holdings were being scrutinized and discussed with strong opinions and self-interest.
Pamela looked through the window as if evaluating her hometown. “Sea Harbor is a sleepy place compared to New York and Boston, but there’s entertainment anywhere you go. All you have to do is look for it. Even here.”
Nell smiled and nodded, although she wasn’t at all sure what she was agreeing to. The look in Pamela’s eyes didn’t seem to indicate the kind of entertainment she equated with Sea Harbor. But then, the nearly twenty-year difference in their ages would certainly account for different tastes.
“Your cousin Mary tells me you’re meeting in Enzo’s old home. How’s that going?”
“Yes, we’re all there, gathered around the dining table, being polite, mostly, and acting like we like one another more than we really do. We’re almost finished. A late meeting today should be it. We’re having to close some publications, consolidate, but nothing too disastrous.”
“I hear Fashion Monthly is in fine shape, though. The issues I’ve seen have been lovely.”
Pamela accepted the praise for her Vogue-like magazine graciously.
“Are you staying in town for a while?”
“For the holidays. I’ll spend time with my mother at the nursing home. This year will be difficult for her without Grandfather Enzo.”
Nell had known Dolores Pisano in better years, when her mind was clear and her sense of humor contagious. She was a lovely woman.
“Our grandfather was a powerful man,” Pamela said, “but he wasn’t always reasonable in later years—just like my mother. His grasp of the business had slipped.”
“I never saw that side of Enzo. I saw him dancing at the yacht club a few days before his heart attack—and he was always out on the water, fishing and sailing. He was a vital, active man. One of a kind. The whole town misses him.”
“That’s because he poured money into Sea Harbor. Money has a way of making people miss you.”
“There’s no question that he was generous, but he was also entertaining, a wonderful conversationalist, and a good friend to many of us.”
Nell paused. Why was she justifying this wonderful man to his own granddaughter? She stopped talking, focused on the buttery scone Polly had set before her, and sought an easier topic. “What do you think of Ravenswood-by-the-Sea? I know it’s not finished, but I think it’s lovely.”
Pamela’s perfect lips twitched slightly, and she looked at Nell as if she had lost her mind. “It’s definitely unfinished. But overlooking that fact, it’s awful.”
“I’m not sure what you mean. The parts I’ve seen are beautiful. Enzo would love the life and laughter Mary will bring back into his home.”
“By housing strangers in a bed-and-breakfast? It’s degrading, Nell. She might as well have turned it into a tavern. And she won’t even be living there herself—”
“But she’ll hire a full-time manager, she said. I think her husband thought the house a bit overwhelming.”
“Exactly. And if she isn’t up to living in it, she should have acknowledged that.”
“But her plan makes sense, don’t you think? The estate is huge, with all those bedrooms, a carriage house, acres of land. What were the options? People aren’t living in mansions anymore.”
But Pamela continued, her words pouring out in a stream as if they’d been bottled up for too long. “Her decisions aren’t thought out. Housing strangers. Getting decorating advice from some Sea Harbor twit who doesn’t know the first thing about design. And then there’s that mangy dog. The humane thing would have been to euthanize it when Grandfather died—people do that. But not Mary. She kept it, and she lets it run wild in that home.”
Nell winced at the mention of Georgia, Mary’s anything-but-mangy dog. Mary had coaxed the part poodle, part retriever mix back to life after Enzo died. Georgia was now her shadow, and she and her husband, Ed, adored the dog. She was a great companion for Mary when Ed was out on his fishing boat for weeks at a time. She could see there was no convincing Pamela that a dog was man’s best friend. Maybe she’d have a better chance on the decorating front.
“Mary wanted Ravenswood-by-the-Sea to look as much like the original estate as possible,” Nell explained. “Nancy Hughes was director of the historical museum and has access to a library of old photos. She’s smart and very generous with her time and expertise. She’s a huge help to Mary.”
“Mary is probably paying her a fortune.”
Nell shook her head. “Nancy’s husband left her well-off. She’s doing this because she loves old houses.” Then she added for good measure, “And she has excellent taste.”
Nell wasn’t sure that was entirely true, but she suddenly had a compulsion to protect Mary and her choices. Nancy was smart and capable and liked being a part of a project the whole town was interested in. It filled a void in her life.
Pamela rested her arms on the table, her long fingers tapping the surface. “My grandfather wanted me to have the Ravenswood estate—that’s the truth, no matter what my greedy cousins say. Somehow Mary convinced him otherwise. This kind of greed and deception seems to run in the Pisano family, Nell. Beware. Mary wanted my house—and my cousin Agnes wanted my fashion magazine. Agnes, with a face like a horse, editor of a fashion magazine?” Pamela sighed.
Nell was silent. The last place in the world she wanted to be was in the middle of a Pisano family squabble. She looked around to see whether anyone was listening. People were busy chatting, enjoying Polly’s muffins and scones. She refocused on Pamela’s strong words. Maybe Pamela was the better choice for the fashion magazine; Enzo must have thought so. But she knew for a fact that Mary had not coerced Enzo Pisano into giving her anything. Mary liked her life just as it was—writing her chatty column for the newspaper, dancing the night away with her fisherman husband when she could lure him off his boat. Walking with Georgia. Enzo had practically forced the house on Mary, telling her that she was the only family member with enough sense to do the right thing with it. And he’d left it up to Mary to decide what that right thing was.
For this week, Mary had decided the right thing was hosting the family meeting there, although she had confessed to Nell why she had done it: guilt. Mary was well aware that her grandfather’s leaving the home to her was a thorn in some of her cousins’ sides. “Maybe hosting the gruesome meeting will eliminate a little of the tension.”
“As nice as Mary is,” Pamela continued, “she didn’t inherit the Pisano brains. She doesn’t think things through, like that silly column she writes, chatting about things that are often none of her business. It’s an embarrassment, just like the bed-and-breakfast will be. I don’t know how I got into this family. There are times I think I’m adopted.”
Nell held back a smile. “Well, maybe it’s a small-town thing—we like her column. She makes people feel good—or not good, if that’s what they deserve. Mary has a sense of humor. She’s perceptive.”
Pamela laughed. “ ‘Crazy’ is the word family members use. And this ridiculous decision about my grandfather’s estate will prove it. It’s insane. And it’s going to kill her; you mark my words.”
She paused, then spoke a little louder in case Nell might miss her message over the background chatter and Christmas music.
“Kill her,” she said. This time she looked at Nell intently, waiting for her response.
“Mary has more energy than a teenager. There’s no need to worry about that.”
Pamela dismissed Nell’s comment with a toss of her head.
Every hair remained in place, the sharp angle of platinum still aimed at one smooth, sculpted cheek. She finished her tea silently.
Outside, the wind blew and a loose awning flapped against the window. Nell wondered when the snow would come. They’d had one good snow a week earlier that had set the holiday mood, covering yards and flower beds, delighting children as they dug out their sleds and ice skates and built igloos in their front yards. It excited the Harbor Road merchants too, as the snow was luring holiday shoppers out in full force. Another snow would be coming soon; she could feel it in her bones.
A shadow blocked the sunlight, and Nell looked up to see Tommy Porter, his chin tucked against the front of his police uniform. He was looking into the shop, oblivious of Nell.
Reflected in the blackness of his dark glasses, Nell could see Pamela’s face. She was looking back at Tommy with a disinterested look on her face. Disinterested, but with a touch of amusement.
Another policeman walked up, and Tommy spun around, startled, as if he’d been caught doing something against regulations. He managed a laugh at whatever his partner said, then followed him down the street without a backward glance.
“Not one of my fans,” Pamela said, watching Tommy walk away. She pushed back her chair. “His brother Eddie and I had a good time one summer—for a while, anyway.” She stood and pulled on her fur jacket. “I was so young then. Young and foolish.”
She was talking mostly to herself, but the end of her sentence had turned hard. Foolish. Not a word one assigned easily to Pamela Pisano.
Pamela slipped on her leather gloves and pushed the memory away. “I’ll give Mary credit for one thing—she hired some entertaining men to work around that place. Somehow, I didn’t think she had it in her. It has certainly eased the pain.” She smiled then, a careful smile that allowed no crease, and waved good-bye to Nell. “It was lovely seeing you,” she said, the words trailing over her shoulder as she turned and moved toward the door, her head high, her slender body silhouetted against the winter light.
Just outside the door she stopped and lifted a cigarette to her lips, her head turning both ways, as if expecting someone to appear with a lighter. Her smile was in place, practiced.
Two young mothers were pushing strollers down the street and stopped to look at the Alfa Romeo parked at the curb. Sleek and polished. Just like the woman standing beside it. They looked at Pamela with the same envy, then stepped aside as she strode to the driver’s-side door.
Across the street, Ham Brewster was unlocking the door to his gallery. He glanced across the street at the car and the woman beside it.
Although Pamela pretended not to notice, Nell suspected she was acutely aware of every admiring glance, like models on a runway or celebrities before a camera, whose images become defined by photographs.
Pamela touched the door handle, then looked over the car and down the road. She pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head, apparently pleased with what she saw.
Slipping her keys back into her bag, she stepped up onto the curb and strode purposefully down the street, a playful smile lifting her lips.
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