New Release: Assault and Batting
THE TAYLOR QUINN
QUILT SHOP MYSTERIES
Taylor Quinn has it all—at least by millennial standards. A good job, a home in the city, and someone she loves to share it all.
But when her mom dies unexpectedly, Taylor doesn’t hesitate to drop everything for her family. With a baby sister still in high school, an elderly grandfather at home, and the family quilt shop to run, she knows where she needs to be.
Belle, Taylor’s sister, fears the death is her fault. She thinks her birth mom may just have wanted her back badly enough to kill.
To lay Belle’s fear to rest, the girls search out exactly what happened the night of the accident. But in doing so, they unwittingly entangle themselves in a patchwork of lies, envy, and small town gossip that threatens to unravel the family she loves.
Ripping out the stitches that hold the family together may be the only way to keep their lives from falling apart.
Assault and Batting
At 11:15 in the morning the chimes over the door to Flour Sax Quilt Shop jingled a welcome. The sound was a part of Taylor Quinn’s biological clock. On hearing it, she stood straighter, smiled broader, and her brain was filled with quilting knowledge. Taylor had grown up here with quilt fabric in her blood, and seven years away had done nothing to change that.
Grandma Quinny, Taylor’s paternal grandmother, sauntered through the door, her sunglasses on the end of her nose. Her flowing, chiffon kimono complimented her full, motherly figure. Her hair color had softened through the years as the gray slowly took over, one of those subtle changes Taylor wouldn’t have noticed if she hadn’t been gone so long. Grandma Quinny’s cheeks were full and rosy and the smile she offered Taylor was one of love and sympathy. “Taylor, dear, it’s good you’ve opened the shop again.” She set her purse on the counter.
Taylor hadn’t been sure about opening up this morning. Her mother’s funeral had been two days before, and she and her sister, Belle, were still existing in a fog of flower arrangements and potluck leftovers.
“I was afraid you wouldn’t be in this morning. I don’t think the girl can handle this place on her own.”
The Girl. Grandma Quinny did call Belle that a lot. Taylor couldn’t remember why she used to think it was cute.
“Belle needs to focus on school.” Taylor had sent her off this morning, hoping it was the right thing to do. Routine was supposed to be good after a crisis.
“Belle?” There was a sincere lack of recognition on Grandma’s face, as the light dawned slowly. “You have her working here now? Your mom never did. I was thinking of that Roxy.” Grandma leaned in and lowered her voice. “I think she might use drugs.”
“Roxy doesn’t use drugs.” Roxy had been the right-hand man at Flour Sax for at least ten years. She was a little rough around the edges, but as clean and sober as they come.
Grandma lifted an eyebrow.
“Belle and I have a lot to figure out still. I’m not sure what Mom had Belle do around here, but I always worked in the store when I was her age.” Taylor folded a paper label around a roll of pastel vintage print cotton, a fat quarter she had just cut from the end of a discontinued bolt. It wasn’t urgent work, but it felt practical.
Grandma Quinny’s sunglass lenses had slowly faded to clear glass while they were talking. She furrowed her brows and looked around the store. “You’ll have your work cut out for you, won’t you?”
Taylor rocked her head side to side, a sort of acknowledgment that said nothing. The not-so-veiled criticism of the family shop didn’t bother her. Since the call ten days ago that her mom had drowned on a weekend away with her girlfriends, Taylor hadn’t felt much of anything.
“Is the house in as bad a way as the shop?” Grandma Quinny’s eyes were glued to a dark spot on a ceiling panel.
“The house is fine, and if it’s not, I’ll take care of it.”
“What do you mean you’ll take care of it?” Grandma Quinny turned her focused gaze to Taylor. “You haven’t done anything foolish, have you?”
“I’ve come home, Grandma. I need to take care of Belle.”
Grandma Quinny frowned, the smile-lines that framed her mouth made the frown so much sadder. “She’s already sixteen, isn’t she? She’ll be heading to college soon.”
“In the meantime, she can’t live by herself, can she?”
A hacking cough from the back of the shop reminded Taylor that Belle didn’t live by herself. Their mom’s dad, Grandpa Ernie, wasn’t up to running the store, but he was the other adult in the house.
Grandma turned and waved. “Hi, Ernie.” Her voice carried well, but Grandpa didn’t respond. “Come over for dinner on Friday. The cousins want to see you. It’s been two years since you’ve all been together. You know that, right? Not since baby Hattie was born.”
They had all just been together at the funeral, but Taylor could see why it didn’t count. That hadn’t been a social event. “I’m sorry, Grandma. What time do you want us to come over?”
Grandma Quinny lifted an eyebrow.
“And…would it be okay if we brought Grandpa Ernie? I’d hate for him to be lonely.”
Grandma Quinny held her chin up for a moment, then shook her head. “Ernie is always welcome, but darling you are going to have to do something for him. Your mom, rest her soul, wouldn’t hear me when I spoke to her about it. He needs more care than she can—than you,” she corrected herself, “can give him. It’s the dementia.”
“I know.” Taylor felt her throat closing. She hadn’t known about Grandpa Ernie’s memory loss before her mom had died, but the last few days something had seemed off with the old guy. He used to be the rock of the family, the man in their lives after her dad had passed away when Taylor was a kid. “I don’t want to rush any decisions, for Belle’s sake.”
“She’s not going to make it easy for you, that one.” Grandma Quinny looked her granddaughter up and down, clearly assessing what Taylor was made of. “Come by at five thirty on Friday. It’s a little early but that’s probably better for Ernie.”
Taylor leaned over the counter and kissed her soft, warm cheek. “Thanks Grandma. Love you.”
Grandma Quinny gave her a squeeze. “I love you too, dear. And we’re here for you, whatever you need.”
Grandma Quinny swept out of her daughter-in-law’s store. Taylor knew she meant well, but after the devastating news of their loss, when her baby sister needed someone to look after her, Grandma Quinny had not called to offer help.
Flour Sax, the little shop Taylor had just inherited in Comfort, Oregon, sat on the corner of Main Street and Love, in a row of tourist friendly stores that included three other quilt shops.
One hundred seventy years ago, pioneer families had gathered on the banks of a little creek in the fertile valley and found it a comfort after the dangerous wagon trip they had just survived. The rolling hills were fertile, like the homes they had left in Missouri, but it was blessedly free from the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes.
Comfort Flour Mill popped up almost immediately, providing jobs and prosperity to the town for over a hundred years, but when the railroad closed the Comfort spur in the sixties, the mill followed suit shortly after.
The town had fallen apart quickly as families drained out looking for work, but as Yamhill county embraced wine culture, new tourist businesses followed. Flour Sax Quilt Shop was the first, named in honor of the flour and feed sack fabric that had served housewives of the Depression era, as well as the flour mill that had served the town for so long.
Taylor’s grandfather had been a tailor, scraping a living together by making bespoke suits for wealthy business owners from around the region, and for politicians who worked in the state capital, just a bit less than an hour away. Her Grandma Delma had added quilters cotton and notions to the shop a little bit at a time through the years. One day her little section of their shop was the only part making a profit, and Flour Sax Quilt Shop was born.
Three other quilt shops soon followed, along with an antique mall that took up one whole side of Main Street. Residents of Comfort, who had survived the lean times, were eager to enjoy the tourist money grapes brought to the region.
The Quinn house Taylor had just moved back to was a small Craftsman style home in the older part of town, just a couple of blocks down from the shop on Love Street. Farther down Love Street was the Arts and Crafts College where she received her bachelor’s in fiber arts.
Comfort College of Art and Craft was a good little school, and part of why the town had leaned in heavily on the quilt shops.
It was a suitably snooty school as well. The kind of place that lent a little panache to the small pioneer community. Comfort might be off the beaten path, but quilters and artists found it worth the drive.
A rattling, comfortable, familiar voice rose from the back of the shop. “You’re going to have to do something about that Belle.” Grandpa Ernie sat in a threadbare corduroy recliner in his corner of the store nursing black coffee out of an old thermos. The same chair and thermos he had used back when this had been his tailoring shop. “She says she went to school yesterday, but that fellow in the office called again and said she didn’t.”
That fellow was the vice-principal and Taylor had talked to him twice already since coming home.
The shop was quiet, so Taylor joined Grandpa. “She’s having a really hard time.” She sat down on the arm of the old chair and patted Grandpa’s shoulder. “I’m going to take her out to dinner tonight. Just the two of us. I think we need some girl time.”
He nodded and chewed on his mustache. “What am I supposed to eat?”
“There’s soup leftover.” Taylor hadn’t planned on taking Belle out, but Grandpa wanted an answer, and she was the kind of girl who answered a problem head on. Her mom dies leaving an underage orphan? She quits her job managing a Joanne’s Fabrics, sells her condo in Portland, and moves home to raise her sister and run Flour Sax Quilt Shop. Said little sister is acting out due to shock, grief, hormones, and God knows what else? She takes her out to dinner to give Grandpa a respite.
Taylor’s education was in fiber arts and business management. Not teen psychology, but just down Love Street from the shop, her old friend Maddie Carpenter did have a degree in child and adolescent psychology. Over dinner she’d see if she could convince Belle to make an appointment with Maddie.
Taylor let her hand rest on her grandpa’s shoulder. He had been a sport when his wife had overtaken his business many years ago. He liked strong women who ran stuff. Maybe it was because he was a mild man himself and it let him off the hook. Or maybe because strong women who run stuff are pretty awesome. Either way, after her dad had died fighting fires when Taylor was eleven, Grandpa had become the man in her life. A stand-in dad through those rough teen years.
He had been a father figure for her sister too—adopted by her mom on the first anniversary of her dad’s death. Belle had been good for them. They had needed a reason to be joyful after their loss. Her mom, Grandpa Ernie, and she had managed to come back to life after Belle came to the family.
Until the last year or two she had been their golden headed girl, rosy of cheek and disposition. A bright spot in a world that could get awfully dark.
Now she dyed her hair black and used more eyeliner every morning than Taylor had used in all her life. And that was before they suddenly lost their mom.
Taylor sighed and straightened up. “At least she comes home after school.”
“She’s not going to school.” Grandpa reiterated his point with a gruff cough.
“At least she comes home. This has been a hard week, Grandpa, but we’ll get it together.”
He gazed across the displays of gentle fabrics with their familiar, comforting patterns. Laura Quinn’s death had been one loss too many for Grandpa. First, the son-in-law who was like a son to him, then his parents, one directly after the other, victims of their country’s previous love affair with tobacco, then his wife, and now his daughter. How much could one man lose? Taylor leaned over and kissed the top of his head. A gentle man and a gentleman. Grandpa hadn’t deserved this new pain. Not when they knew his artificial heart valves were on their own countdown clock. His last years should have been free of grief.
It was far from the end of the school day, but the back door of the shop opened, and her beautiful baby sister slumped in. Belle’s was hiding behind a shag of hair, and under shapeless black clothes. She wore her old Doc Martens and had a bull ring in her nose, which was new today.
Taylor didn’t comment on it. “Hey, Belle, are you thirsty?”
Grandpa’s little area of the shop was by the back door, tucked behind a classroom space. His chair sat comfortably next to a minifridge that was chock full of generic brand soft drinks.
Belle shook her head. She loitered, her gaze on the door to the upstairs apartment.
Taylor went to her and wrapped her in a wordless hug.
Belle inhaled sharply, pushed Taylor away, and went straight back out the door she had just come in by.
It didn’t matter that Belle pushed her away every time she did that. Taylor wasn’t going to stop. Taylor was absolutely going to err on the side of too many hugs.
“I told you she wasn’t in school today.” Grandpa Ernie grumped.