Vampires who knit
A troublemaking witch
Who killed Granny — and is she really dead?
At a crossroads between a cringe-worthy past (Todd the Toad) and an uncertain future (she's not exactly homeless, but it's close), Lucy Swift travels to Oxford to visit her grandmother. With Gran's undying love to count on and Cardinal Woolsey's, Gran's knitting shop, to keep her busy, Lucy can catch her breath and figure out what she's going to do.
Except it turns out that Gran is the undying. Or at least, the undead. But there's a death certificate. And a will, leaving the knitting shop to Lucy. And a lot of people going in and out who never use the door—including Gran, who is just as loving as ever, and prone to knitting sweaters at warp speed, late at night. What exactly is going on?
When Lucy discovers that Gran did not die peacefully in her sleep, but was murdered, she has to bring the killer to justice without tipping off the law that there's no body in the grave. Between a hot 600-year-old vampire and a dishy detective inspector, both of whom always seem to be there for her, Lucy finds her life getting more complicated than a triple cable cardigan.
The only one who seems to know what's going on is her cat … or is it … her familiar?
First in a new series of paranormal cozy mysteries with bite!
“Marvelous new series, everyone can enjoy. I loved it. I am ready for more.” Amazon reviewer
Read an Excerpt
Cardinal Woolsey’s knitting shop has appeared on postcards celebrating the quaint views of Oxford, of which there are many. When a visitor has tired of writing ‘wish you were here’ on the back of pictures of the various colleges, the dreaming spires, and the dome of the Radcliffe Camera, a cozy little shop painted blue, brimming with baskets of wool and hand-knitted goods, can be so much more inviting.
My grandmother, Agnes Bartlett, owned the best knitting shop in Oxford and I was on my way to visit her after spending a very hot month at a dig site in Egypt with my archeologist parents.
I was looking forward to telling Gran about my latest life crisis. I might be twenty-seven years old and supposedly all grown up, but Gran was always ready to wrap her warm arms around me and tell me everything was going to be all right. I needed comforting after discovering my boyfriend of two years, Todd, had stuck his salami in someone else’s sandwich. I referred to him now as my ex-boyfriend ‘The Toad.’
I was thinking how much I needed Gran’s wisdom, her hugs, and her homemade gingersnaps as I walked down Cornmarket Street toward Ship Street. A busker played his guitar and sang Bob Dylan, not very successfully as suggested by the small number of coins in his open guitar case. I dodged out of the way before a tour group swallowed me whole. As I passed, the tour guide was pointing out the three storey timber-framed building on the corner where it leaned drunkenly into the street. “Built in 1386, for a local wine merchant, this was originally called the New Inn. It’s one of Oxford’s few remaining Medieval domestic buildings.” I moved past them and couldn’t hear any more. I’d learned a lot about Oxford from overhearing snatches of tours. One day, I should really take one.
Just past Ship Street, I turned into Harrington Street where Gran’s yarn shop was located. After the bustle and crowds of Cornmarket, it seemed quiet and nearly deserted.
My case bounced and rattled as I crossed the patch of cobblestones in front of Cardinal College. The college was named for Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIIIs right hand man until he couldn’t manage to get the king out of his first marriage, when he promptly fell out of favor. Since the knitting shop was down the street from the college, my great-grandmother had called her shop Cardinal Woolsey’s.
A sign outside the arched entrance informed me that the college was closed to visitors today. It wasn’t the main entrance, but it still featured fierce gargoyles glaring down over the pale gold Headington stone façade, and through the gate I glimpsed the quad with a fountain in its center. I continued, following the college wall to its end, passing a row of parked bicycles, and then to the commercial part of Harrington where the shops were.
They weren’t as old as the colleges. They were Georgian, mostly, standing like a row of elegant ladies, in cream or the palest pastel shades. They contained shops at street level and flats above. Cardinal Woolsey’s was in the middle of the row, with a pale green plaster front and original sash windows, all painted white. The shop had one big front window and a door with a glass panel. All the woodwork was painted bright blue. The front window displayed richly-colored wools, an antique spinning wheel draped with a crocheted blanket that looked perfect for snuggling up in. There was a selection of books, kits and a gorgeous red sweater that made a person wish they knew how to knit.
Suddenly, I started to feel as though cold, wet fingers were walking down the back of my neck.
The September day was mild and I was warm since I’d walked from the train station. Every part of me was warm but the back of my neck. When I looked ahead, I saw two ladies on the other side of the street headed toward me. One of them was Gran. She wore a black skirt, sensible shoes and one of her hand-knitted cardigans, this one in orange and blue. With her was a glamorous woman in her sixties whom I didn’t recognize. I called out and waved. They both wore wide-brimmed hats and, as I started forward, they ducked their chins so their faces were hidden from me. Still, I’d know my grandmother anywhere.
I called again, “Gran!” moving faster so my suitcase began to bounce.
I was sure they saw me, but as I sped toward them, they veered down Rook Lane, a narrow passageway that connects Harrington to George Street. What on earth? I lifted my case and began to run, though my case was so heavy it was more of a grunting stagger.
“Gran!” I yelled again. I ran to the bottom of the alley they’d turned into, but it was deserted. A dry, shriveled leaf tumbled across the flagstones and from a window ledge a small, black cat regarded me, with what looked like pity. Otherwise, Rook Lane was empty. “Agnes Bartlett!” I yelled at the top of my lungs.
I stood, panting. The lane was lined with ancient half-timbered Tudor houses mixed with Victorian cottages. She was visiting in one of those homes, presumably. I wondered if it belonged to her glamorous friend.
I followed them down the flagstoned alley. A black wooden door, set into the wall beneath a gothic arch, was just shutting as I reached it. I contemplated ringing the small brass bell, but didn’t want to make a fool of myself so resisted and walked on.
Well, there was no point hanging around in a deserted lane. I’d go to Cardinal Woolsey’s and wait for Gran there. Her assistant, Rosemary, would be working and I could let myself into the upstairs flat and unpack while I waited for my grandmother to return.
I couldn’t wait to tell Gran the news about my broken heart, knowing I’d get more sympathy and understanding than I got from Mom, who, even when she looked at me, still seemed to be thinking of times and people long gone. I’d always found it difficult to compete with the mysteries of the ancient world, but Gran listened with her whole attention and always said exactly the right thing.
I think the only disappointment for both of us was that she’d never been able to teach me to knit. Everything I tried, whether it was a sweater, a pair of socks or a simple scarf ended up looking like a scrunched-up hedgehog.
I got to the entrance of the quaint blue-fronted shop and tried the door. It didn’t open. I tried again, pushing harder before my other senses kicked in and I realized there were no lights on inside.
A printed page was taped to the windowed front door that said, “Cardinal Woolsey’s is closed until further notice.” At the bottom was a phone number.
Closed until further notice?
I pressed my face against the window in the door, but everything was dark. Where was Rosemary? Gran never closed the shop outside of her posted closing days. And why was there a fan of mail on the floor? It looked as if no one had picked it up in weeks.
When I straightened and looked down the street again, a teenaged girl walked by and stared at me through narrowed eyes. She looked like a goth, with a pale face, dark, heavily made up eyes and long black hair. Her outfit was also all black, including the umbrella shielding her. It was a dry day with no hint of rain. Perhaps she was one of those people who always liked to be prepared. No doubt she had snow boots in the tapestry bag she carried, and sunscreen in case the sun should decide to shine.
I turned back to the shop and wondered what to do. There wasn't much communication at the dig site and I hadn’t thought to check ahead and make sure Gran had remembered I was coming. She always remembered. I stood there gnawing my lip. I stepped back, almost into the road and looked up but I couldn’t see lights on in the flat, either.
The proper entrance to the flat is off the lane behind the shop. So, dragging my case behind me once more, I continued on, past Pennyfarthing Antiques. I noted the still life oil painting of the bowl of fruit and the dead fish was still displayed, as it had been when I was last here six months ago, along with a bowfront chest supporting a silver tea set.
I dragged my bag toward the pub on the corner of New Inn Hall Street, The Bishop’s Mitre. The date 1588 was carved into the wooden lintel of the pub, which served ale to King Charles II when he was in hiding during the English Civil War. It called itself a gastropub now. Across from me was St. John’s church with its ancient graveyard. I rounded the corner, walked past the side of the pub and turned down the lane that ran behind the row of shops.
The lane was barely wide enough for one car and featured plenty of No Parking signs. When I got to Gran’s place, her tiny, ancient car was sitting in the equally tiny parking spot she managed to wedge the vehicle into. I opened the wooden gate and walked up the path through the small back garden. Gran grew wildflowers and herbs, mostly, but the beds looked overgrown and in need of water. As I walked down the narrow, winding path to her door, my leg brushed against lavender that had bushed out into the path. I stopped for a moment, enjoying the scents of rosemary and lavender, thyme and roses, and the sounds of fat, happy bees who didn’t seem to mind that the garden was a mess.
When I got to the door, I pressed the intercom, just in case someone was there. No one answered. I tried a second time, holding my finger on the button that would ring upstairs, but there was still nothing.
I pulled out my phone, but I don’t know why I bothered. I didn’t have a UK plan yet. I left my suitcase tucked against the door, and walked back around to Harrington Street and past the yarn shop. Next door was Elderflower Tea Shop.
The two Miss Watts who owned the tea shop had been pouring tea and baking scones and other English delicacies for decades, possibly centuries. They knew everyone and everything about the neighborhood. Also, they were both close friends of my grandmother. If she was out visiting, I could wait for her here.
As I walked into the warm and familiar tea shop, the elder Miss Watt, Mary, glanced up at me. Her face had that ‘yes, can I help you?’ expression, which quickly changed to sorrow when she recognized me. “Oh, Lucy, is that you?”
“Yes. How are you, Miss Watt?”
“I’m fine, dear.” She didn’t look fine, though. She looked worried verging on panicked. She glanced around as though she could summon help, but, other than herself, there was no one in the shop but me and a family of French tourists.
“Gran’s not home. I thought I’d wait for her here.”
She put her hands over her mouth and then stepped around from behind the counter and ushered me to a table as far from her only other customers as she could get. “Then, you haven’t heard. Sit down, dear. Let me get you some tea.”
The mild unease I’d felt deepened. “Heard what? What’s going on?”
She shook her head slowly. When her eyes filled with tears I felt my stomach clench in dread. The hard wood of the seat bumped against my butt as I sat without realizing I was going to. As rump bumped wood, she said, “I’m so sorry, Lucy. Your grandmother passed away.”
“No.” I whispered the word. “That’s impossible. I just saw her, on the street.”
Sadness was coming off her in waves. She shook her head. “You must have seen someone who looked like her.”
I’d been so certain it was Gran. Could I have been mistaken? I recalled the moment when I’d seen her. She hadn’t acknowledged me, even though I’d shouted her name and waved. The woman had been wearing a hat, which Gran never did, but she’d looked so much like Gran. “Are you sure?”
Life without Gran was unthinkable. Of course, I’d known she was old and would die sometime, but she was a robust woman in her early eighties, showing no signs of slowing down, often boasting that she’d never known a day’s illness.
“It was very peaceful,” Mary Watt said. “She died in her sleep. And she wasn't a young woman.”
“But she wasn’t old. Not really. And she was always so healthy.” Maybe if I hadn’t seen that woman who was a dead ringer for Gran I wouldn’t be having so much trouble accepting she was gone.
“It’s how we all want to go, isn’t it? Healthy to the last and then one day to go to bed and not wake up.” Mary Watt was very close in age to my gran. She wasn’t only making polite conversation. She really wanted to go that way.
I sat there, staring at the oak tabletop. I didn’t hear Miss Watt move and I was in the same position when she reappeared with a Brown Betty pot of tea, two cups, and one of their famous scones served with jam and clotted cream.
She poured me a cup and then sat down and poured herself the second cup. “Drink your tea, dear. And try the scone. You’re probably hungry.”
I couldn’t eat. Because it gave me something to do, I picked up the cup and drank some tea. The brew was strong and hot, and I sipped for a few minutes as I absorbed the terrible news.
Miss Watt kept her wide-eyed gaze on me. Her gray hair was coiled in a tidy bun at the back of her neck, as always. Her face was kind and sad. Her faded blue eyes regarded me with sympathy.
“I don't know what to do,” I said at last. “There was a phone number on the notice stuck to Gran’s store but my phone doesn't work here.”
She nodded sympathetically. Then jumped to her feet as though pleased to be able to offer concrete help. “You can use our phone. That number belongs to her solicitor, I think.”
“Does it?” I was having trouble concentrating. It felt like she was talking to me from a long way away.
“I imagine so. Anyway, you must stay with me and Florence while you sort things out. We have a nice cozy guest room upstairs.”
As much as I appreciated the kindness of the two sisters, I knew that I needed to be in Gran’s home while I digested the news. “Thank you. That's really nice of you. But, if I could use your phone, I'll call the lawyer and see if I can get the keys today.”
“Well, of course you can call from here. But, we’ve got the keys to your grandmother's shop and the flat upstairs. We always kept each other's keys you know.”
She patted my hand, then went behind the cash desk and returned with a set of keys on a round brass ring. It wasn't until I was leaving that I turned to her and asked the question I should've asked much earlier. “When did Gran die?”
“About three weeks ago. No one could get hold of you or your mother. I’m so sorry.”
When I let myself into Gran’s knitting shop the first thing I noticed was that familiar scent. Cardinal Woolsey’s smelled like wool and old stone. And, if gossip had a scent, I could smell all the secrets that had been shared over knitting patterns and classes. Everyone had loved my grandmother. Friends and customers brought their problems to her and their stories. She gave good advice, but most of all, she was an excellent listener. Simply talking to her made you feel better.
I gazed at the baskets of wool stacked on shelves, and at the knitting porn — those gorgeous pattern books and magazines featuring beautiful women complicated sweaters and shawls I’m sure no human could knit. Certainly not me. As I looked around, I felt such a sense of nostalgia and sadness that I had to hang onto the counter to steady myself. The silence felt as heavy as my grief.
I picked up the small stack of mail that had collected, placed it on the wooden counter, then I let myself through the door that connected to the flat upstairs, flipping on lights as I went. The upstairs flat was on two floors. On the main was an old-fashioned kitchen, a sitting room, dining room and a study cum TV room. Above that were two bedrooms and bathroom.
It smelled musty, like an old house that’s been shut up during the summer. I opened windows, then went back down the back stairs, retrieved my suitcase, and hauled it up the steps to the second bedroom, which I always thought of as mine. Gran had let me decorate the room when I was a teenager and I still liked the lilac walls and the purple-flowered bedding. On the wall was a poster of Miley Cyrus, in her pre-twerking days, and another of The Spice Girls. My eyes filled with tears when I saw that the bed was all made up ready for me. There were fresh towels on the bed. Gran had been looking forward to my arrival.
I walked back downstairs to the kitchen. I wasn't hungry, but I needed something to occupy me. I opened the fridge and the cupboards randomly. Someone had tossed the perishable food items, but there were her favorite biscuits and a half jar of the marmalade she always used.
I had to really gather my courage to walk into her bedroom. Strangely, though she had died there, I had the least sense of her in that room. The bedding had been stripped down to the mattress, and the room seemed oddly impersonal.
Why couldn’t she have waited? If she was going to die, I should have been here.
I busied myself with unpacking and then walked to the convenience store on the corner, The Full Stop. There I stocked up on milk, eggs, a loaf of bread and some fruit. When I got home I made myself some toast and sat thinking, remembering mostly, until the church bells chimed ten o’clock and I decided to go to bed.
I don't know if it was jet lag or grief but I found myself wide awake at two in the morning, the kind of wide awake where you know there's no point banging your head against the pillow because you won't be falling asleep again.
I got out of bed and realized I needed to do something. I was full of restless energy. I wanted to cry and scream and break things, instead I dressed in jeans and an old sweater, shoved my feet into sneakers and went downstairs to the shop. I flipped on lights and then walked around almost mindlessly tidying and straightening.
One of the charms of Cardinal Woolsey’s was that it never changed. I knew exactly where everything should be because it had always been there.
However, as I tidied up, I realized that the basket of Fair Isle knitting wool had somehow shifted to the area where mohair should be. I swapped the baskets back to the correct places.
Gran was always meticulous about keeping her shop clean as well as tidy so I grabbed a duster and went to work. When I finished the dusting I pulled out the vacuum cleaner and got to work on the old wooden plank floor. I was pushing the wand into a corner when I caught the gleam of gold. I dropped to my knees and reached under the bottom shelf and discovered Gran’s eyeglasses. She’d always kept them on a gold chain around her neck, but the chain was broken.
I held them in my hands feeling a shudder of sadness go through me and something else. The chain ran through my fingers again and again. As though in a dream, I had the feeling of fear and something terrible chasing me, but no sense of what the thing was. My heart was pounding when my vision cleared.
I searched the area and noticed a line of black splatters on the old hardwood floor. Could be paint, could be nail polish but, as the daughter of two archaeologists, I knew the importance of investigating small details. I dampened a tissue and rubbed carefully at the largest spot. A rusty brown came up on the tissue. I'm not much of an expert in forensics but I was fairly certain it was blood.
Here's the thing. My grandmother was close to blind without her glasses on, especially at night. So I had to ask myself, if she had died peacefully in her bed, as Miss Watt had told me, then why were her broken glasses downstairs in the shop? Along with recently spilled blood?