'Almost every Sunday he was out at the fairgrounds speedway, racing with his buddies.'

'So he knew a ton about cars. And driving.'

'Yes. Both.' '

'Do you think the crash was something besides an accident?' I asked.

His head swung back and forth. 'No, no. Don't do that. You said you wouldn't make it into anything if I told you what I was thinking.'

I shrugged. 'Okay. You're the detective, and he was your friend.'

He reached over and tousled my hair. I ducked away from his hand, nearly twisting my ankle in my brand-new three-inch heels, and he grinned. I still wasn't quite used to my short bob, after having hair down to my waist for most of my adult life.

I need to get going,' he said.

'You're not going to the reception?'

Crap. In the last two days I'd asked him twice what he'd wanted to talk to me about, but he'd sidestepped me each time, telling me it could wait. Maybe it could, but I couldn't.

'Robin's holding down the fort back at the cop shop with a lone cadet,' he said. 'She offered, since she hasn't been in the department all that long, and she knew everyone would want to go to Scott's funeral. But she shouldn't have to handle everything herself for too long.'

Detective Robin Lane: Barr's new partner. She was also, I might add, drop-dead gorgeous, a fact he pretended not to notice. It was even more irritating because she didn't seem to realize it, either.

'I want to make an appearance at the reception and have a quick word with Chris,' I said. 'And Meghan's booked with massages all afternoon, so I need to pass on her sympathies as well.' Meghan Bly was my housemate and my best friend.

We said goodbye, and Barr walked away down the sidewalk. I watched him go, noting the lanky, confident stride. I was pretty sure he was The One, but even though he kept pushing me to move in with him, I'd resisted so far. Lately, I'd been thinking about it more seriously, about actually sharing his address on the edge of town.

The thought sent a bolt of perfectly balanced thrill and terror through my solar plexus.


I WENT BACK INSIDE and down the worn, carpeted stairs to the church basement where the reception was already underway. A long table against the far wall sagged under an abundance of food and more food, the traditional buttress against grief. It was almost lunchtime, so I sidled up to take a look. Fried chicken, sandwich makings, and crusty rolls started off the procession of platters, followed by a steaming casserole of macaroni and cheese with ham and a crock pot of bacon-laced baked beans. Then came the pasta salad, the German potato salad, the Parmesan-laden Caesar, and an enormous fruit plate. Strawberry rhubarb pie, chocolate cake,and raisin oatmeal cookies topped off the menu. I inhaled, slow and deep; it all smelled heavenly.

About thirty people milled about, several in dress uniform, most with loaded plates already in hand. I picked Chris out across the room, talking to Irene Nelson, and wove my way through the knots of murmured conversation toward her. Irene broke off mid sentence when she saw me approaching, and both women turned toward me.

'Chris. How are you?' I asked.

She smiled, though it didn't quite reach her eyes. 'I'm doing all right. Thanks for coming.' Her pupils were dilated-no doubt Jake's tranquilizers at work.

'Of course,' I said. 'Meghan couldn't come, but she wanted me to tell you that her thoughts are with you.'

'Tell her thank you for me.'

'I will.' All this felt very stilted. I took a deep breath. 'I lost my own husband a while back. I know how hard it can be. If you need to talk, if you need anything, I hope you'll call me.'

Chris blinked, and her smile faded. Her head bobbed once. 'Okay.'

Jake Beagle came up to us then, so I gave Chris a quick hug and left them talking. I passed Zak Nelson, who stood chatting with his boss, Dusty, from the Fix-It shop. Zak's hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and he wore a decent sports jacket. It looked like he'd even burnished his various piercings, but no matter how shiny and scrubbed he was, he still couldn't get the black grease entirely out from under his fingernails.

After I piled a few bites of everything on offer on a flimsy paper plate, I teetered over to a metal folding chair in my heels and managed to adopt a sitting position without spilling anything. Carefully holding the cardboard disk that was the only thing between my lunch and my lap, I took a hesitant bite of baked beans.

Oh, Lord. They had onion and green pepper and little bits of sausage mixed in with the bacon, as well as a healthy dose of molasses and spices. I took another tiny bite, trying to make it last.

Ruth Black plopped into the chair next to me.

I swallowed. 'Hi, Ruth. Do you know who brought these beans? They're amazing.'

She looked pleased. 'I did, actually.'

'Oh, gosh. Could I get the recipe from you?'

'Of course, dear. It was my mother's, and always seems popular at gatherings.' She looked at Chris, still talking with Jake, and sighed.

'I know,' I said. 'It seems wrong to have what amounts to a party right after the funeral.'

'Oh, no. It's good to do this. It gives people a chance to talk about Scott.' She lowered her voice. 'Of course, if Scott had been a real Irish Catholic, we'd be whooping it up big time for days. I just love an Irish wake.' Her eyes twinkled.

'I've never been to one,' I said.

'Well, if you ever get a chance, you should take it.'

I almost laughed. 'I'll make a note.'

She smiled and changed the subject. 'I haven't been out to Ca- ladia Acres lately. How is Tootie doing these days?'

'Oh, you're not going to believe this,' I said. 'Tootie's on a cruise. The Caribbean.'

'Really? With her arthritis? I wouldn't have thought her health would allow it.'

'Ninety-five or not, Tootie has taken a turn for the better. In a big way. And his name is Felix.'

Ruth's eyebrows climbed her forehead. 'You don't mean…'

'Oh, yes. I certainly do. Tootie Hanover has a new boyfriend, and they've gone on a cruise together.'

'Good for her.' Ruth looked at me out of the corner of her eye. 'Now I just need to find me one of those.'

'A cruise?'

'No, silly. A boyfriend.'

'I'll keep a lookout,' I said.

She laughed again. 'Be warned: I'm pretty picky. Now, are you coming over to the co-op this afternoon for your lesson?'

'I figured we'd skip it today, what with the funeral and all.'

'No, let's keep going. You're doing so well, and each day you get a little better.'

When I began spending time at CRAG, I found Ruth was there more often than not, spinning away on her wheel or giving lessons to a variety of students. I kept watching, fascinated, and one day she let me try. From then on, I was hooked. So far I'd been spinning sheep's wool, which was wonderful, but I itched to try some other, more exotic fibers, as well.

'Well, okay,' I said. 'I'll be there.'

'And I think you should take the wheel home, so you'll have it to practice on.'

'But what will you use?'

'Oh, I have a new one. You can borrow the old one until you get your own.' She said this matter-of-factly, but I could tell she was pleased as punch about the new wheel. Some women love shoes. Some love jewelry. Ruth loved fiber and all the tools to work with it.

'That'd be great,' I said, a little too loud. A couple of heads turned toward the enthusiasm in my voice. I hunched my shoulders and studied my plate.

'I have to drop Uncle Thad home, and then I'll be over,' Ruth said.

'How is Thaddeus?' I craned my neck and saw him, grizzled and serene, leaning on his cane by the buffet table.

Ruth smiled fondly at him. 'He's going to outlast me.' She stood. 'I'll see you in a little while.' She moved to where Felicia Beagle stood alone, nibbling on a piece of cantaloupe and watching her husband. Felicia smiled at Ruth's approach, holding out a be-ringed hand in greeting as if they were old friends. For all I knew, they were.

I had to dash home and change out of my hot dressy clothes into something casual, comfy, and cool, so I bolted my food, said goodbye to Chris and left early. As I drove away from the church I thought about Ruth's offer to let me borrow her wheel. Maybe I shouldn't. It might distract me too much at home.

Nah. Surely I could keep my new obsession under control.


I arrived at the co-op before Ruth. She'd be at the reception for a while longer, I was sure, but I wanted to take another look at a hand-painted bamboo roving

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