A Stitch in Time (A Stitch In Time #1) - Kelley Armstrong Page 0,1

man with a lit pipe clamped between his teeth. He wears a macintosh draped over the back of the bike, the hem dancing precariously close to the rear wheel. Under his hood is a round, deeply lined clean-shaven face and bristle-short gray hair.

“Miss Dale?” The rider’s voice . . . is not the voice of a he. I look again, and in that second glance, I’m far less certain of gender.

“Ms. Crossley?” I say, sloshing my pronunciation of the title, in hopes it could go either way.

“Aye.” She eyes me with a sharp gaze. “You were expectin’ someone else?”

“No. Just making sure. We’ve never met.”

As I say that, moonlight illuminates her face, and I hesitate.

“Have we met?” I say. “You look . . . familiar.”

“I’ve been takin’ care of t’ place twenty years now. Never seen you visit, though.”

There’s accusation in those words. I say, evenly, “Yes, I used to come out as a child, but after my uncle’s death, I only visited Aunt Judith in London.” I turn to the driver. “Thank you very much for staying with me. It wasn’t necessary, but I appreciated the company.”

Delores Crossley looks at him, her arms folded. When he doesn’t move fast enough, she shoos him with one leathery hand. “That was the lass bein’ polite. Get gone. She’s not askin’ you in t’ tea. Or owt else you might’a been hoping for.”

He straightens, affronted. “I was keeping an eye on her—”

“I’m sure you were. And now you can keep your eyes t’ yourself. Go on. Git.”

The driver stalks back to the car as I call another sincere thank-you. He ignores it, and the taxi peels out in a spray of gravel.

I say nothing. Translating Delores’s North Yorkshire accent is taking all my brain energy right now. At least she isn’t using “thees” and “thous” as you sometimes find with locals her age. Dad says, when I was four, I came back from our summer trip talking like an eighty-year-old North Yorkshire native, and my junior kindergarten teacher feared I’d suffered a brain injury, my speech garbled beyond comprehension.

The more Delores talks, though, the faster my internal translator works, and soon my brain is making the appropriate substitutions and smoothing out her accent.

After the taxi leaves, she turns to me. “So, you’re staying.”

“For the summer, yes. As I said in my e-mail.”

“I hope you didn’t buy a return ticket just yet, ’cos I have a feeling you’ll be needing it sooner than you expect.”

I meet her gaze. She only locks it and says nothing.

“I’ll be fine,” I say firmly.

With two brisk taps of her pipe against an ivy-laced urn, she sets the pipe on the edge and stalks inside.

I drag my suitcase through. The smell of tea wafts past, the distinctive Yorkshire blend I haven’t drunk in so many years. I pause, and I swear I hear my father’s “Hullo!” echo through the hallway and Aunt Judith calling from the kitchen, where she’ll emerge with a tea tray, pot steaming, having calculated our arrival to the minute.

Grief seizes me, and I have to push myself past the grand entranceway. To my right, footsteps echo, and lights flick on, and I follow the trail of illumination into the sitting room. The sweet scent of tea roses wafts over me, as if it’s engrained in the wood itself. The last time I saw this room, it was mid-century modern. Now, it’s cottage chic, in cream and beige with pink accents. A striped couch begs me to sink into its deep cushions, as does a massive wooden armchair buried under pillows and blankets. Books are artlessly strewn over a rough wooden coffee table.

Aunt Judith also painted the woodwork, and I try not to cringe at that. When Michael and I married fresh out of college, we’d rented a house for which the term fixer-upper would be a compliment. A crash course in home renovation turned into a shared passion I haven’t indulged since his death. Now, I imagine stripping that paint and refinishing scratched wooden floors, and a long-buried thrill runs through me.

“Miss Dale,” Delores calls from the next room.

“Bronwyn, please,” I say as I follow her voice into the kitchen.

At one time, cooking would have been done outside the house—in a courtyard kitchen. The modern version would have been more of a service area. It’s compact but pretty with painted wood cupboards and a smaller refrigerator than I have in my condo. A good quarter of the space is dedicated to the AGA stove,