Better Off Thread

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Better Off Thread
Amanda Lee

 
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Santa finds himself in a stitch of trouble in the tenth in the series from the national bestselling author of"The Stitching Hour."
Marcy is busy helping her customers make hand-crafted ornaments at her embroidery shop, the Seven-Year Stitch. But despite the yuletide bustle, when her friend Captain Moe asks for her help, she can t refuse especially when the favor is to play the elf to his Santa for sick children at a local hospital. Despite the ridiculous outfit, Marcy finds herself enjoying spreading cheer until the hospital s administrator is found murdered.
Although the deceased had plenty of people willing to fill her stocking with coal, evidence pins the crime on Moe. Now it s up to Marcy, with the help of her police officer boyfriend Ted and her Irish Wolfhound Angus, to stitch together the clues to clear Moe s name before someone else winds up crossed off Santa s list for good..."
 
 
 
 
 
Excerpt
 
Amanda Lee's
 
Better Off Thread
 
 
After the children from the hospital visited Santa, the general public was allowed to come in. That’s when Ted, Tiffany, and Jackson—Tiffany’s two-year-old son—arrived. Jackson recognized me from the day before and ran to me with open arms. Ted smiled and took Angus’s leash.
I scooped the boy up. “Hi, Jackson! How are you?”
“Santa?”
“You’re here to see Santa?”
He nodded, blue eyes enormous as he peered past me to Captain Moe.
“Hello, Jackson,” Captain Moe called. “Ho, ho, ho!”
Jackson looked back at me, his mouth forming an O.
“Would you like for me to take you to see Santa?” I asked.
He nodded.
I walked over to the sleigh where Captain Moe sat.
Captain Moe patted the seat beside him. “How’d you like to help me drive this sleigh, Jackson?”
Jackson nodded. I eased him down onto the seat beside Captain Moe.
Angus went over and climbed into the sleigh beside Jackson. As he sat down, the photographer snapped a photograph.
“I’d like a copy of that one for tomorrow’s paper,” Paul said to the photographer. “I’ll give you credit, of course.”
I smiled and waved at Paul and Vera. I hadn’t noticed them come in. They made a striking couple, though. They were about the same height, since Vera was wearing three-inch wedge heels. Paul was a slender man with dark brown hair—not a speck of gray due, I suspected, to a professional colorist—and a wardrobe that Tim Gunn would’ve been proud of. This evening, he wore navy slacks, a light blue dress shirt, and a pin-striped blazer. Vera was dressed to coordinate in a sky blue wrap dress.
She hurried over to me. “You look adorable.”
“Thanks.”
“By the way, I wanted to warn you that the gang’s all here.”
“The gang?” I asked.
She nodded. “Todd, Audrey, Blake, and Sadie.”
“Oh, well, the more, the merrier. Maybe the photographer can gather us all around the sleigh and snap a picture before we leave.”
“Wouldn’t that be fantastic? I’ll offer to pay him, of course.” She hurried off to discuss the matter with Paul and the photographer.
By this time, Jackson was finished with Santa and was calling for Mommy to come and get him.
Tiffany joined us and lifted Jackson out of the sleigh. “Cute costume.”
“Thank you.” I had no idea what to think about Ted’s sister. I’d been intimidated when I’d first met his mother, Veronica, but the situation with his sister was entirely different. Tiffany was polite but distant, as if she were watching me and sizing me up.
Ted had been married briefly to a woman named Jennifer. She’d decided she couldn’t handle being a police officer’s wife and had run out on him, so I understood Ted’s family withholding judgment until getting to know me better. I felt like I’d won over his mom, but Tiffany was proving to be tougher.
“Marcy!” Jackson said.
Apparently, I’d won him over, too.
“Did you have fun with Santa?” I asked.
He nodded. “Twain. He bwing twain.”
“He’s bringing you a train for Christmas?” I asked.
Jackson nodded again.
I asked Tiffany if Jackson could have a coloring book. She said yes, and I got him one. She thanked me and went back to stand near the wall with Ted and Angus.
“Look, puppy! Book!”
I smiled as Jackson showed Angus the coloring book.
Finally, all the visits were done. Blake, Sadie, Todd, and Audrey—Todd’s girlfriend, who was also a deputy—came into the conference room. Sadie was snapping photos using her phone’s camera as she came through the door.
“Oh, my gosh! Look at you!” Sadie laughed. “Strike a pose.”
I held out my arms, put one leg out to the side, and lifted the curly toe of my shoe.
“Ted, you and Angus get over there with her. Then I want one of you with Captain Moe.”
Ted led Angus over beside me. He wrapped one arm around me and pulled me against his side. I put both arms around his waist. We smiled as Sadie took her photo.
“Me, Marcy! Me!”
“Let’s get Jackson in here,” Ted said.
Tiffany sat Jackson down, and he toddled over to us.
“Jackson, meet Sadie,” I said, as I swept him up into my arms.
“Say?” he asked.
“Sadie,” I repeated. “Sadie, Jackson is Ted’s nephew.”
“Hey, Jackson,” Sadie said.
“Hi, Say.”
I introduced Sadie, Blake, Todd, and Audrey to Tiffany, but she was reserved with them, too. I imagine she saw them as my friends rather than Ted’s, and she wanted to see if they measured up before getting friendly.
Paul interviewed both Captain Moe and me for the article he was writing. And, at Vera’s urging—and payment, I was sure—the photographer managed to squeeze everyone around the sleigh for a group shot. Tiffany was reluctant to join us, but Ted coaxed her into it.
Not long after that, everyone left and Captain Moe, Angus, and I were in the conference room alone. Captain Moe dropped the Santa facade for the first time in hours and smiled at me.
“Thank you for doing this, Tink.”
“Thank you. I thought I was doing you a favor when I agreed to this, but you were the one doing the favor for me. All those children are precious.”
“Aren’t they, though? And, you know, your Mr. Nash looked very comfortable with little Jackson.”
I laughed. “Don’t go there. Not yet, anyway.”
He held up his hands. “I’m not going anywhere. Not speculating; merely observing.”
Being an elf had made me feel maternal, and Captain Moe was right: Ted was sweet and attentive toward Jackson. But Ted and I weren’t even engaged. How could I possibly consider a future and children at this point? So, I changed the subject.
“You know, I was surprised to find you arguing with Ms. Vincent when I arrived.”
His smiling face morphed into a grimace. “I’m sorry you had to be a witness to that. As I told you, she’d asked me to give preferential treatment to one of the children. I wouldn’t do that to the others—not in this setting, in front of the children. I might visit his room again tomorrow, but I won’t single him out and pretend he’s Santa’s favorite or some nonsense. I don’t give a fig who his father is.”
“I understand that. Who is his father?”
“Dr. Bellamy Carstairs. He’s on the board of directors of the hospital—semi-retired, I think, in order to handle his administrative duties.” Captain Moe shook his head. “I’m sorry that his son is sick. I’m sorry that all these children are sick. But they should all be treated the same, especially when they’re all gathered in this room together.”
“I agree wholeheartedly. You’re the most wonderful Santa I’ve ever seen.”
He leaned back and placed a hand on his chest. “I’m not the only one?”
 
***

On Sunday I was looking forward to my last stint as elf. In fact, I was considering buying a costume of my own in case Captain Moe needed me again in the future. I mean, surely he’d be doing some Santa work closer to Christmas and would need an elf, wouldn’t he? I knew he’d said the hospital wanted him to come back the weekend before Christmas and on Christmas Eve. He’d certainly need my help then.
I hummed “Jingle Bells” as Angus and I strode down the corridor toward the conference room. As I approached, I noticed there was a brawny security guard standing outside the room. Before I could wonder why a security guard was needed, I saw the yellow crime-scene tape across the door.
Gasping, I ran forward. “What’s happened?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am.” The guard was bald and nearly as broad as he was tall, but all muscle. In his uniform, he resembled a brown and tan brick wall. Dark, thick eyebrows and a goatee rounded out his intimidating appearance. “You can’t go in there.”
“Captain Moe—Santa—is he all right?”
“I’m not at liberty to comment on this situation.”
I took the man’s forearm. “Please. I’m his friend. Tell me whether or not he’s okay.”
He glanced from side to side. “He’s fine. But someone else isn’t.” He nodded at my costume. “There’s no need for that today. The event has been canceled.”
“But—”
“You need to go.”
Angus uttered a low growl.
“Come on, baby,” I told him, and led him back down the hall. I took out my cell phone and called Riley Kendall, Captain Moe’s niece, who also happens to be an attorney.
“Hey, Marce,” she answered. “I can’t talk right now. I’m on my way to the jail.”
“To the jail? What’s going on?”
“Uncle Moe is being questioned about the death of Sandra Vincent. When he got to the hospital today, he found her in the sleigh with a knife in her chest.”



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