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BUTTONS AND BLOWS

FIND OUT WHO KILLED VIOLET. I WON’T REST UNTIL I KNOW…AND NEITHER WILL YOU.

The note, typed on a manual typewriter, is Amanda Tucker’s first introduction to the second ghost she’s ever met.

 

When retro fashion designer Amanda learns that Violet, the sweet little old lady from whom she bought antique buttons, has been murdered, she’s dismayed—especially when she realizes the murder occurred the evening after Amanda had visited Violet’s shop. Now the ghost who was enamored of the victim is demanding that Amanda help him bring the woman’s killer to justice.

 

It certainly isn’t an ideal time for Amanda’s parents to be visiting her from Florida for the first time. In addition to Max, the ghostly fashionista, Amanda now has another sassy specter to deal with. Will this one haunt her for the rest of her life?

Read An Unedited Excerpt Below

“Good afternoon!” Violet Cross came to greet us with a warm smile. She wore a lightweight white cardigan with her trademark brooch—a cluster of violets—below her left shoulder. “Are you ladies looking for anything in particular today?”

“Not really. We’d simply like to browse.” I introduced Zoe to Ms. Cross.

“What a pleasure,” Ms. Cross said. “Let me know if you have any questions about anything.”

“I have a question,” Zoe said. “Do you have any ghosts in this shop?”

Ms. Cross chuckled. “My dear, I imagine there are a number of ghosts in here—figurative ones, at the very least. You’ll see what I mean when you wander the aisles.”

“You know, my cloche hats sold well during the winter months,” Zoe said, as we wandered down the first dusty row of knickknacks. “Do you think I could make some hats for this upcoming Renaissance Faire? Like wimples and stuff?”

“I think that’s a great idea,” I said. “Plus, I’m impressed you know what a wimple is.”

“Well, we read a Shakespearean play in English every year.” She shrugged. “I figure maybe you could help me find some patterns of things that wouldn’t be too hard for me to make.”

“Of course, I will.” I made a mental note to find out what type of hats sold well at or for Renaissance festivals.

“Eww.” Zoe stopped.

“What is it?” I followed the direction of her gaze to a glass-eyed doll sitting on a rocking horse.

The doll was saying, “Mama…Mama…”

“That’s the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen,” Zoe said. “Now I see what Ms. Cross meant about there being a bunch of ghosts in this place.”

I chuckled. “It’s not that bad.”

“Yeah, well, I’m getting away from it.” She hurried over into another section of the shop.

Ms. Cross’s shop was like a treasure hunt. Nothing was in any particular place, and I never knew what I might find. Today, the first thing I found was a set of brass tree-of-life buttons. I also ran across a card of a dozen metal grapevine buttons.

I was examining some enamel buttons when a needlepoint portrait caught my eye. It was of a toddler with wavy hair and brown eyes. The child wore a rose-colored top beneath an olive-hued pinafore or vest of some kind. The portrait was large.

Setting my buttons aside, I walked over and picked up the portrait. I marveled at all those tiny stitches. And yet this masterpiece that someone had so painstakingly created wound up here in an antique shop. Unwanted. The thought nearly brought me to tears.

“What are you doing?”

I started at the sound of Zoe’s voice. “Look at this. Isn’t it amazing?”

“Yeah. Wonder how many hours that took to make?”

“I have no idea, but I imagine it was a lot,” I said. “Why did no one want this? I mean, can you imagine someone in your family making this beautiful portrait and then when—” I didn’t want to say when they died although that’s when I imagined the piece was brought here. “—when the time comes to go through his or her things, no one in the family wanted this?”

“It could be haunted.”

“Zoe!”

“Look at those eyes.” She shuddered. “See how they follow you? Or, at least, one of them is always following you.”

“They are not.” I lowered my voice. “And why are you suddenly freaked out by the thought of ghosts?”

“I’m not freaked out by all ghosts—only the ones I’m not related to.”

“Well, I’m buying this portrait,” I said.

“Why?”

“Because someone worked awfully hard on this piece, and I appreciate it. I’m buying it and cleaning it up because I admire the craftsmanship.”

“You’re insane. That thing is going to wind up haunting us all,” she said. “Aunt Max is gonna hate it.”

“Come with me.” I walked back over to the table where I’d left the buttons I’d chosen. “Grab those for me, would you? I can’t carry Jazzy, the portrait, and the buttons too.”

“I’ve got your buttons,” she said, as she trailed behind me.

“Did you find anything you liked?” I asked.

“No.”

I thought maybe she was being reticent. “If you did, I’ll get it for you—”

“I didn’t.” This time her voice was firmer. “I really need to get home.”

“All right.” I took my items to the register. There was a framed photograph of a man on the shelf behind the counter. It appeared to have been taken in the late 1800s. In all my visits to Ms. Cross’s shop, I’d never noticed the photo before. “Is that new? Is he a relative?”

Ms. Cross smiled. “He isn’t a relative, dear. Nor is the photo new. His name is Thomas Wortley. Isn’t he handsome?”

“He certainly is,” I said.

The man had light hair and eyes, was clean-shaven, and was wearing a suit with a bow tie.

I felt a waft of cold air and exchanged glances with Zoe.

“Maybe he’s the one who haunts this place,” Zoe said. “He looks nice enough in the photograph.”

Laughing, Ms. Cross rang up my items and gave me a total as she put them in bags. “Come again, dears.”

“We will,” I said.

“Speak for yourself,” Zoe muttered as we left the shop.

 

* * *

 

After dropping Zoe off at home, I went to Grandpa Dave’s house. I’d called him on the way, and he’d asked if I wanted to make a pizza and watch a movie with him. I told him I’d love nothing more.

He was sitting on the front porch waiting for Jazzy and me when we pulled into the driveway. I opened the back door of the car and then opened the carrier, knowing the cat would run straight to Grandpa Dave. She adored him almost as much as I did. She was on his lap by the time I climbed up the stairs and took a seat on the swing.

“I take it Jason has a wedding tonight?” he asked.

I nodded as I set the swing in motion. “He’s pretty much booked solid through the end of August.” My boyfriend, Jason, was a photographer.

“That’s good for him, but I imagine it’s rough on a relationship.”

“Not really. We still see each other during the week.” I smiled. “When you’re self-employed, weekends are kind of irrelevant.”

“Point taken.”

“What about you?” Grandpa had expressed an interest in his friend, Monica, a collectibles appraiser, months ago. “Why aren’t you on a date this evening?”

He gave an overdramatic gasp. “What do you mean? I thought I was having a date with my two best gals!”

I laughed. “Well, that’s true. But I’m talking about Monica. I thought you liked her.”

“I do like her,” he said. “But since she leased a space in Shops on Main, it’s a little touchy. If we go out and decide we don’t like each other, I still run the risk of seeing her every time I come to visit you.”

“Her shop is upstairs, and I’m on the lower level,” I said. “That excuse doesn’t hold a lot of water.”

“Frank is upstairs, and I see him all the time. Jason is upstairs.”

That was true. Jason’s photography studio was in the same building as Designs on You.

“Exactly,” I said. “So if I’m not afraid to put myself out there with a guy I’ll have to work in the same building with if things fall through, then you have no excuse.”

He shrugged. “I’ll think about it.”

“Should we talk about the elephant in the room?” I asked.

“You mean the two elephants who are coming up here from Florida in the next day or two?”

“Yeah.” I rubbed the bridge of my nose. “It’ll be weird having them back in the house. I mean, I didn’t take over their bedroom or anything, but I’m used to having my privacy now.”

“You’ve become pretty set in your ways, have you?” he asked.

“I just—” I trailed off, not knowing how to finish the sentence.

“I know, Pup. I know.” He stood. “What do you say we go inside and get that pizza started?”

“Sounds good to me.”

The three of us went inside, and Grandpa gave Jazzy a can of her favorite cat food while I tied an apron on over my clothes.

Before we could get started cooking, though, Max sent us a video chat request. I put my phone on a stand so she could see us—and vice versa—while we worked.

“Hi, Max,” I said.

“Hello, beautiful,” Grandpa said.

“Hello, darlings. Get a load of this.” Max raised her hands up to the sides of her head. “‘Double, double toil and trouble! Fire burn and cauldron bubble!’” She laughed and lowered her arms. “Is that spooky, or what?”

“That’s pretty spooky,” Grandpa said.

“I see you’ve been reading Macbeth.” I washed my hands at the kitchen sink before chopping peppers to go on our pizza.

“I have. I think I’m going to try that bit out on Zoe the next time I see her. What do you think?”

“That might not be the best idea,” I said. “She seemed to get a little freaked out at Cross’s Antiques today.”

While Grandpa browned ground beef in the skillet, I told him and Max about our visit to the shop.

“Wait,” Max said. “An antique shop gave her the heebie-jeebies even though she knows me? That doesn’t make sense.”

“She was not only convinced the place was haunted, but she didn’t like the needlepoint portrait I bought at all.”

“Let’s see it,” Grandpa said.

“I left it in the car. I’m going to take it into the shop on Monday and clean it up a bit. No offense to Ms. Cross, but that shop is pretty dusty.”

“Cross’s Antiques…” Grandpa’s voice was so low it was hard to hear him over the sizzle of the beef. “That’s the place to the right of Cassie’s shop, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“If I’m not mistaken, my granddad used to tell us a ghost story about that place when we were little.” As if realizing what he’d said, he whipped his head around to look at the phone.

“Don’t worry, silver fox. I’m not offended.” Max winked.

“I never heard any stories about you,” he said quickly.

“Rats. That is insulting.” She made a pouty face. “Spread some tales around about me, won’t you?”

He chuckled and turned back to the skillet.

I finished chopping the peppers and got to work on the onions. “Go on, tell us what you heard about Violet Cross’s shop.”

“All right. There was a cabinet maker who worked out the shop—he and his family lived above it. This was back in—oh, I reckon it was the late 1800s. Anyway, his oldest son didn’t want to follow in the father’s footsteps, and he went to work on the railroad.”

“Ooh, did he go west, young man?” Max punctuated her question with a raised fist.

“Actually, no,” Grandpa said. “He went to work on the railroad right here in Abingdon. Unfortunately, he died in an accident while they were clearing the rail beds, and it’s said that Thomas Wortley haunts the building to this day.” With a sigh, he removed the pan from the stove and turned off the eye. “I’m sorry, Max. It was thoughtless of me to tell that story.”

“It was my fault,” I said. “I’m the one who told you Zoe thought the place was haunted.”

“Don’t apologize to me.” Max scoffed. “I’m not that thin-skinned. In fact, I enjoy hearing ghost stories.” Once again, she raised her arms. “‘By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.’” She laughed. “Huh? Doesn’t that give you the willies?”

I laughed, but for some reason, it did give me the willies.

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