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Lorna Barrett

Murder is Binding

For Valerie Bartlett

Thank you for introducing me to

the wonderful world of mystery novels.

Acknowledgments

Many generous friends (most of them members of my Sisters in Crime chapter, The Guppies), helped me with this first book in the Booktown Mystery series. Deb Baker, Marilyn Levinson, Nan Higginson, and Doranna Durgin were invaluable first readers during the proposal stage of Murder Is Binding, and Nan and Marilyn gave wonderful feedback on the final version of the book. My thanks to Elizabeth Becka for forensic information. Michelle Sampson, Wadleigh Memorial Library Director, Milford, New Hampshire, supplied me with local color, as did Nancy Cooper.

Hank Phillippi Ryan volunteered the services of her husband, Jonathan Shapiro, Esquire, for legal advice (any mistakes in that regard are entirely my own). Go Hank and Jonathan! Local bookseller Rebecca Budinger at the Greece Ridge Barnes & Noble was invaluable for sharing information on booksellers. Sharon Wildwind continues to amaze me with the depth of her knowledge and her willingness to share it.

My local critique partners Gwen Nelson and Liz Eng are tireless cheerleaders. They've been with me through thick and thin. (Don't go away, guys, I need you!) Thanks, too, to my tireless IM buddy, Sheila Connolly (also known as Sarah Atwell) for her marvelous brainstorming and cheerleading ability.

Thanks also go to my editor, Tom Colgan, and his assistant, Sandy Harding, for making the process run so smoothly. And most of all I'd like to thank my wonderful agent, Jacky Sach, without whom this book would never have been written.

One

'I tell you, Trish, we're all victims.'

Victims? In the town voted safest in all of New Hampshire? Tricia Miles raised an eyebrow and studied the septuagenarian bookseller before her over the rim of her cardboard coffee cup. Here it comes, she thought with dread, the pitch.

Doris Gleason would never be called subtle. Everything about her screamed excess-from her bulky frame clad in a bright pink polyester dress, her dyed, jet-black pageboy haircut, to the overlarge glasses that perched on her nose. She leaned closer over the oak-and-glass display case, making Tricia glad she'd taken refuge behind the antique register as a way of guaranteeing her personal space. Too often Doris was in her face.

'If we all negotiate together, we can beat that bastard.'

Tricia drained her cup and sighed. 'I assume you're referring to Bob Kelly, our mutual benefactor?' President of the local chamber of commerce and owner of Kelly Realty, Bob had recruited Doris, Tricia, and all the other booksellers to relocate to the picturesque village of Stoneham, New Hampshire.

'Benefactor my ass,' Doris grated, pink spots appearing on her cheeks. She removed her glasses, exhaled on one of the lenses, and polished it with the ribbed edge of her dingy white sweater. Half-moon indentations marred the ridge of her cheeks where they'd rested. 'That chiseler owns or has a share in every storefront on Main Street. He controls our rents, tries to control our stock and the quality of our customers. I nearly lost my voice after our last shouting match. It was all I could do not to throttle him.'

From her perch on a shelf above the register, Miss Marple, the store's resident cat, a regal, gray domestic longhair, glared down at the older woman-disapproving of her temper. Tricia had to agree, yet she understood Doris's anger. Bob Kelly had charged her extra to transform the facade of her shop front even though the changes had incorporated much-needed repairs to the century-old building.

Most of the village revered Bob. Bringing in antiquarian and specialty booksellers-and the tourist dollars they attracted-had saved the little town from financial collapse. His ideas, commitment, and even a bit of sweat equity, had turned a forgotten hamlet on the New Hampshire-Massachusetts border into a tourist mecca for readers in a world dominated by the Internet and other instant-gratification entertainment. The fact that he could also be the most demanding, insufferable bore on the face of the Earth…

Tricia forced a patient smile. 'Now, Doris, you know we can't participate in collective bargaining. None of our leases come up at the same time.'

Doris pulled off her glasses, set them on the counter as her lips twisted into a sneer. 'I knew you wouldn't cooperate. The rumors about you must be true!'

Tricia felt her face start to burn. 'What rumors?'

'That you're incredibly rich. That you don't have to worry about paying your rent. You don't have to worry about stock or overhead.' Doris glanced around the well- appointed store, the richly paneled walls decorated with prints and photos of long-dead mystery authors, the expensive upholstered armchairs and large square coffee table that made up the seating nook and allowed patrons the comforts of home while they perused Tricia's stock of vintage first-edition mysteries and newly minted best sellers.

A fat lot Doris knew. Tricia struggled to quell her ire. 'I have the same worries as you and every other bookseller in the village. This store isn't a hobby for me. I resent the implication that I conspired against you and the other booksellers. I didn't know Bob Kelly before I came to this town, and I'm sure my rent is probably triple or quadruple what you're currently paying.'

'That's my point,' Doris insisted. 'If you hadn't agreed to pay such an exorbitant price, the rest of us wouldn't be in this mess.'

It was true Tricia hadn't done much haggling before she signed on as the village's newest bookseller, but then she'd been used to the idea of Manhattan rents and the contrast made the deal she'd been offered seem like a steal.

'I'm sorry, Doris,' Tricia said and disposed of her disposable coffee cup in the wastebasket beneath the counter, 'but I really don't see how I can be of any help.'

Doris straightened, her contempt palpable. 'We'll see.' She turned and plodded for the exit, wrenched open the door. The little bell overhead gave a cheerful tinkle, an absurd end to an unpleasant conversation.

'Don't tell me the old crab was in here carping about her rent again.'

Tricia turned. Ginny Wilson, a lithe, twenty-something redhead and Tricia's only employee, staggered under the weight of a carton of books and dumped it on the counter. 'Word is that Daww-ris'-she said the name with such disdain-'has been all over town, badgering the merchants to hop on her 'let's save the Cookery' bandwagon. She claims she's going to have to go out of business if she can't negotiate a better lease.' She waved a hand in dismissal. 'I say good riddance.'

A glance around the area proved at least one of the shop's regular patrons, Mr. Everett, a silver-haired elderly gent who showed up at opening and often had to be chased out at night, had been eavesdropping on the conversations. Tricia placed a finger to her lips and frowned.

'You never had to work for her,' Ginny hissed and removed a sheathed box cutter from the pocket of her hunter green apron, opened it, and slit the tape on the carton. Haven't Got a Clue, the bookshop's name, was embroidered in yellow across the apron's top. Pinned to the neck strap was Ginny's name tag.

Tricia, too, wore a tag, but not an apron. She wanted some distinction made between the owner and the help-not that she didn't do her share of the hefting and carrying around the store, though she tried to do it after business hours. Slacks and sweater sets were her current dress code, and today she'd chosen a raspberry

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