Jay Parker Holloway III sets out to make his father proud of him for putting Crown Royale fabrics back on a profitable track. Ann Pine, a quilter by trade, thinks his fabric is scrap, unfit to back her handiwork, but he is drawn to her unspoiled honesty. Unfortunately, his decision not to reveal his identity to the community of Goshenville until he has proved himself able to manage the fabric mill has unpleasant repercussions in his growing relationship with Ann.
A Hard Shell Word Factory Release
Jane Bierce is celebrating twenty-five years of romances, in a career spanning print, audio and and electronic publication. After many years of raising a family, she is semi-retired to rural Tennessee where she quilts, gardens and still writes romance.
"First I have to say I'm a Southerner and have grown up with Southern traditions all my life. I do not quilt personally but have many relatives who do so this book definitely touched my heart. I could not stop reading this book. It was a sweet, wonderful love story. I particularly enjoyed learning more about the fabric and quilting process. I will definitely be looking forward to reading more of Jane Bierce's books."Kathy's Faves and Raves
It may never have happened if J. Parker Holloway's low-slung sportscar hadn't been parked beside a brawny jacked-up truck. But as it was, his view of oncoming traffic was blocked because the vehicles along Jefferson Street were regimented into diagonal slots. He slid his right elbow over the leather back of the driver's seat to get the best view possible of the quarter-past-eight traffic of Goshen County's main thoroughfare.
He heard the ominous sound of threads ripping at the same moment he felt the tension of the fabric give way. Immediately, he stomped on the brake and swore under his breath.
The car had not backed up more than a foot, and was not sticking its recently restored trunk and shiny chrome bumper into the sparse morning traffic. But just to be on the safe side, Parker geared it back into forward and eased to the curb.
Granted, he had another shirt in his trunk, with his golf bag. He could change into it once he got to the Goshen Hills Country Club -- but he was superstitious. This particular golf shirt had been lucky for him since college. With everything that depended on the Clayburn deal, he needed all the luck he could get.
To return to his apartment in Greenville to get another shirt was out of the question. Traveling the distance would make him late for his match with Lowell Clayburn and certainly would not create a good impression on the fabric mill owner he had important business with. Always one to plan down to the smallest detail, Parker had driven to Goshenville early this morning to get his nerves in order and to eat breakfast at the well-known Dinner Bell. He didn't want to approach his golf match-business appointment on an empty stomach.
Now, in a matter of seconds, his stomach was tied in knots and he felt his putting game ebbing away.
As he vented his frustration and banged his hand on the leather-covered steering wheel, a swirl of color in front of him caught his eye.
A young woman on a rickety bicycle coasted past the Dinner Bell, followed by a mongrel hound who yapped loudly after her. She stood on the brakes and leaned forward to kick her leg back over the chattering rear fender. With the breeze in her beaming face, she looked like the figurehead on a sailing ship. He watched as she skidded to a stop two doors down and dropped a morsel of food on the sidewalk to distract the dog.
A slow smile replaced his frown when he noticed the stylized likeness of a sewing machine on the shop's wide window.
There's never a problem but there's a solution!
He bounded from his car and hurried toward the shop which modestly proclaimed itself to be Pine Needle Crafts and Quilts.
The young woman wedged her rusty bike behind a painted plank bench and secured it with a locking lanyard. She was probably completely unaware that no youthful miscreant would be desperate enough to steal it. In her white peasant blouse, long blue jumper and flat slipper-like shoes, she reminded him of the Hummel figurines his mother collected.
She straightened to take a wicker basket from the wire carrier on the rusted front fender. By the strained line of her shoulders, the basket appeared to be heavy, so he reached to relieve her of it.
"Allow me, miss," he said.
She frowned at him, as though she did not really trust him to take the basket from her. but must have decided he wasn't about to run away with whatever the basket held.
"Good morning," Parker said with a smile, trying to make the best possible impression even though his shirt now allowed the morning air to cool his back.
"Good morning," she responded, squinting up at him.
He noticed she had fair, creamy skin and the most incredible eyes, eyes that defied any attempt at definition of color. Her hair, where it escaped its blue scarf, was a wisp of ringlets the color of light copper wire.
"Do you have a sewing machine inside your shop?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," she said politely. Her blue eyes flashed inquisitively.
"I've torn my shirt, and I have an important appointment at nine."
"Let me see," she said sympathetically, motioning for him to turn around.
He shifted the heavy basket into his left hand and raised his right arm for her appraisal, looking back over his shoulder at her hopefully.
"Hm! It's not bad -- just a split seam," she said, pulling a set of keys from the patch pocket of her skirt. She fit the key into the lock and pushed the door open. "Come in. It will only take me a minute..."
* * *
TAKING in another stray.
Ann could almost hear her grandmother clucking as her rubber soled shoes scuffed on the plank floor of the shop. That disapproval would have been joined by her older brother Doug's admonitions to be careful about trusting strange men. Somehow, though, the man she ushered into the shop did not appear to be a threat.
"Come back to the work area," Ann invited, leading him past the racks and tables of merchandise to the rear of the shop. She reached up to tug the cord of the ceiling light. "You can put the basket right here on the table and -- ah -- take off your shirt."
With a swift tug at another dangling cord, she started the ceiling fan on its slow rotations. She lifted her portable sewing machine from a shelf to the broad worktable, carefully averting her eyes. She felt a little awkward herself, so thinking how embarrassed this man must be, she decided she would try to put him at ease.
"I doubt I have thread to match that shade of green," she said pensively, turning to the thread rack on the shelf above the spot where she had gotten her machine. "No -- nothing even close in the spools I have open here. I'll go over to the display and check --"
"Just use anything," he said, urgency in his voice.
"The machine is threaded with a sort of gray," she told him. "I use it on my work because it blends into..." She stopped talking -- stopped thinking, in fact. When she turned, she saw him standing so very close to her, his bare chest evenly tanned and solidly muscled, as though he worked hard and out-of-doors.
"Whatever you can do will be fine," he said with a restrained note of gratitude, handing the shirt to her. "I imagine you're here early because you have something important to do and I'm taking up your time."
Ann shook her head, but as she sat down at the machine and nudged the foot-pedal into place with the toe of her black canvas shoe, she admitted to herself there was a reason for coming to the shop an hour early. It certainly didn't involve making repairs to this poor man's worn-out shirt.
She had been brought up to believe that one did whatever one could for one's fellowman. This task certainly involved little enough in time and energy. Starting the day with a good deed never hurt.
Ann took a deep breath and turned the shirt inside out, almost afraid the limp fabric might tear in her hands. Although she detected touches of upper-level construction techniques in the way the shirt was made, the makers' label and the care tag had long since been worn away, or perhaps cut out. She wondered fleetingly if the shirt had made its way from some well-off gentleman through a thrift shop. But she decided that was none of her business. The fabric seemed surprisingly clean, and held the subtle scent of deodorant and -- talcum powder. Yes, that was it. The same brand of right-from-the-supermarket talcum she used.
Ignoring the momentary dimming of the overhead light, Ann flicked on the machine's tiny lamp and positioned the fabric under the needle, then carefully lowered the presser foot. She held her tongue when she was tempted to ask how long he'd had the shirt. If he had an appointment to go to, it was probably the best he owned.
"What can I do to -- help you?" he asked.
Ah, he's grateful but broke, Ann thought. He's got too much pride to accept my help without doing something for me in return. She admired that.
"You could empty that basket for me," she said, with a nod of her head. "Just spread everything out on the table and put the basket under the counter up front."
Ann squinted at the alignment of the fabric and needle, then reached into her pocket for her glasses. It was an annoyance to have to tuck the earpieces under her kerchief, then blink her eyes to focus them.
"Well, that's hardly anything," he said lightly, lifting the plastic packets of fabric from the basket.
"But it's a help," Ann said over the whir of the machine. "Oh, you know what else you could do? The parcel delivery man left some packages just inside the front door. He was late yesterday afternoon and Nola and I didn't have time to open them. I'd really appreciate it if you'd just bring them back here."
"Who's Nola?" he asked, heading toward the front of the shop with long strides that echoed in the quiet shop.
"My sister-in-law," Ann told him. "Really Nancy Lenore. She does the crafts and I do the quilts."
"No wonder you didn't bother with these," he said, returning to the table with the three parcels straining the muscles of his arms.
"Fabric," Ann said. "Full bolts are heavy."
"They sure are," he said and reached for the utility shears that were lying on the table. "Is it all right if I use these?"
"I can do that," Ann said, repositioning the shirt to reinforce another seam.
But he ignored her and slit through the strapping tape on the first package, exposing four bolts of printed cotton cloth under the wrappings.
"Watch for the invoice!" she warned belatedly.
"What! You think I'm stupid?" he challenged.
"Sorry," she muttered as the needle flew over the second seam. When she glanced at him, he was smiling apologetically, as though he had not meant to sound so harsh.
"One invoice, fully intact," he chuckled. He brandished the yellow slip and placed it on the table well out of harm's way.
"Uh -- if you have another moment, I'll check the other sleeve," Ann offered.
Sure enough, that seam was about to let go, also.
"Do you carry Crown Royale fabrics?" he asked unexpectedly.
Ann glanced up at him, allowing her glasses to slide down her nose and peering over the frames.
"Not many," she told him. "Why?"
"I -- ah -- used to work in their weaving factory."
"Oh," she said and swallowed. Ann avoided looking at him, half-undressed as he was, because the sight of him did something to her metabolism she wasn't totally comfortable with. Now, though, it was unavoidable.
So he's worked in a fabric mill. That's not easy work. She respected him for that.
His hand slipped slowly over the tidy brown print of the top bolt, almost like a caress and his tanned face grew thoughtful.
"Why don't you carry Crown Royale?" he asked suddenly.
She pushed her glasses back into place, slightly obscuring her distance vision, allowing his disturbing image to blur before her.
Ann ducked her head to get back to her task, taking the moment to phrase her response tactfully. "We have some in old stock that was in the store when we took it over, but our current distributor doesn't handle it."
"Hm!" he said, opening another bundle. He picked up the bolts effortlessly, as though they were folded newspapers rather than twenty yards of cloth. He stacked them on the first bolts he'd unwrapped.
Ann clipped threads and tested her work gently, mindful that the fabric was fragile. "Here, this is done. There's a stockroom just through that door."
He took the shirt from her hand and nodded, then disappeared through the stockroom door.
Ann was glad for a moment to catch her breath. She had thought she could come in this morning and have an hour or so to work over a design idea before teaching her class on handpiecing. Being confronted by something out of the ordinary had thrown her for a loss.
She had to admit the man was attractive; his face was put together with regular features and a strength she could easily admire. When he had taken his shirt off, though, her breath had caught in a way she hadn't experienced since she'd outgrown her childhood asthma.
Ann knew just from observing him that he had qualities she looked for in a companion and had found lacking in most of the men she'd met. Respect for others and a willingness to work hard were high on her list, as was loyalty and a sense of humor. He seemed to have all those traits, and she wondered how many more.
Ann opened the third bundle of fabric and picked up the pale green paisley she'd been especially anxious to have arrive. Thoughtfully, she unfolded two yards of it on the scarred surface of the worktable. She had designed a quilt pattern to use this fabric in and was itching to work with it.
"You've been very kind," the man's deep voice said, close to her.
One hand still stroking the fabric on the table, Ann looked up at him, startled that he had approached unnoticed. At this close range, he was much taller than she was. She swallowed and regained a measure of her composure.
"I hope your appointment goes well," Ann said, trying not to notice he'd run a comb through his dark brown hair so it curved back away from his forehead rather than falling toward his dark brown eyes.
"I have to hurry now," he said, heading toward the front door. "But I won't forget you."
Ann chuckled as she watched him pull the door open. I won't be able to forget you, either, she thought as the bells attached to the door stopped their jangling.
"Get to work," she admonished herself aloud, drawing herself from a few moments of self-indulgent woolgathering.
The toting and hauling the stranger had done for her had not, after all, lessened her chores. She had to log in the delivery, put the new fabrics on display where they belonged, and set up for her class. There would be little if any time to work on the design now.
It was a new class, starting this first Wednesday in September, and the four women who had signed up for it were all very beginners at patchwork. Yes, they would find out, eventually, that they could get a lot more done by using their sewing machines than by stitching by hand. But Ann was not alone in knowing the value of quilting by hand at the start. Hand-stitching the basic, almost ancient patterns fostered a connection to all the women who had sewn scraps of fabric into quilts before them.
Ann was putting the last new bolt on display when Nola came in, her plaid shirt and faded jeans as clean and crisp as she was.
"You're early," Nola observed, turning the sign on the door from Closed to Open.
"I just got the new bolts put away," Ann said. "Look at this green."
Nola laughed and dropped her purse behind the counter. "I saw the swatch, Ann, and I knew it was you. Hey, you have your machine out. I thought you were teaching hand-piecing."
"I -- ah -- had some mending to do," Ann said, hurrying back to the work area to disconnect the machine and clear it away to make room for her class.
It was best not to tell Nola about the man who had come in. Nola would lecture her on allowing a strange man into the shop when she was there alone. Or, worse, Nola would pump her for all sorts of information about him she didn't know.
She would never see him again, so it didn't make any difference if Ann just didn't bother to tell Nola whom she'd done the mending for. That was easy.
"I wanted to work on a design I have in mind," Ann said, "but I haven't even had a chance to get out my pad and pencil..."
Nola removed the cover from the cash register. "I was talking to a man who does printing over in Shelby -- the husband of one of the teachers at the school where Doug consults -- and he says it's easier to take a design from a computer program and reproduce it for sale."
"I imagine it is. But where do you see a computer around here?"
"Well, that's a problem, isn't it?" Nola said in a tone that told Ann she'd already put some thought into the issue. When the bells over the door jangled, she turned to the customers entering.
The four women signed up for the class all came in at the same time, a good quarter hour early, and it was just as well. Ann liked to get to know the women before they became serious about their work. Taking scissors and needle cases from their sewing totes, they were arranging themselves around the worktable when she noticed an older, distinguished-looking man enter the shop.
A man in the fabric shop was not a totally unheard of presence, but a bit of a curiosity. Ann assigned him a certain age, based on his graying hair, but had no time to study him any more closely. At that moment, one of the women asked her about the small sampler quilt which was hanging on the workroom wall.
"That's an example of what you'll be making in this class," Ann said, as her fingers traced the sashes on a simple teaching prop. "You'll find that all these blocks are fairly easy to construct from a few basic shapes. We start out with solid fabrics so we don't have to worry about right sides and wrong sides for a while. Now, look through these packages of fabric until you find some colors you'd like to use--"
"Ann!" Nola called, motioning urgently. "Can you come here a moment? Can you take another person in this class?"
"Sure," Ann said eagerly, taking a few steps toward the counter, "but we're about to get started."
Nola turned toward the man and gave him a broad smile. "Good, you're just in time, Mr. Carter. He'll be right with you, Ann."
A man in this class? Hm! That had never happened before. Ann was a bit nonplused, but it was amusing that all the women around the table seemed to sit up a little straighter in their folding chairs.
"Come use this chair," Ann invited him as he cautiously approached the work area in the back of the store. "I usually spend most of my teaching time standing, anyway," she told him to forestall his protest. "Mr. Carter, is it?"
"Ed, please," he said with a smile which did not quite reach his grey eyes.
"We've all picked out some fabric to work with," Ann gestured toward the packets on the table. She always had a few extra packets prepared, in case she had an unexpected addition to the class, or three people wanted the same combination of colors.
Ed Carter picked up the nearest packet without seeming to notice or care what it contained and turned his attention back to her with barely a flicker.
"I've found through the years that it's easiest to start with a nine-patch block of four-inch squares," Ann said, pointing out the patch on her sampler.
" 'Through the years!' " impish Meribel Hoffman chuckled. "You hardly seem old enough for trips down Memory Lane, Ann."
"I've been quilting all my life," Ann told her, not ashamed of the pride in her voice. "I started teaching my friends to quilt in high school so they could make little Christmas ornaments. We'll cut a template from this light-weight cardboard so that it's precisely four inches square, and trace it on our fabric, leaving about half an inch between each square as a seam allowance."
All the women had come prepared with pencils, and when Ann turned away to get a pencil for Mr. Carter, Frieda Elder had already handed him one. He seemed to have some problem cutting the square from the cardboard with the all-purpose scissors Ann supplied, but he refused any help from Ann with a determined set of his patrician jaw. Nor would he accept the loan of the sample template that Ann had already prepared.
"Now, mark your template in some way so that you know it shouldn't be thrown out with the trash, and we'll get started with the fun," Ann encouraged. "You each have four colors of fabric, so decide if you want to use two, three, or four in this patch, and trace the number of squares of each you want. I put my index finger down between the squares to space between them, because, for me, that makes exactly a half-inch."
"What if you have fat fingers?" Frieda giggled.
Ed frowned and pressed his finger against the ruler he'd used to measure his template. Then he measured the width of his small finger and smiled. "You have to be flexible," he said, and the women seemed to think he was terribly clever.
"Mr. Carter -- Ed," Ann said, "I didn't realize I'd put such dark colors in that packet. I'll get you a white marker."
"No need," Sarah Blake said, handing her chalk pencil across the table. "I can share mine."
From there on, the women saw that Mr. Carter had needle and thread, some pins, and a thimble -- which he didn't seem to know how to use. Ann was amused by their willingness to take time from their own work to show Ed how to put in a knot, or take one out.
By the end of the class, he'd finished the basic Nine-Patch, but when it came to the Shoo-Fly, he acquiesced to borrowing Sarah Blake's triangle template and was far from getting the bias-cut edges of the cloth to agree at the far end of the seam. Only three of the four pieced half-square triangle squares needed for the patch were on the table in front of him.
"I hope you aren't disappointed--" Ann sympathized as he folded up his fabric to put it into the plastic bag.
"Heavens no!" he said, beaming down at her. "I enjoyed it thoroughly. Now, I know I'm going to need some things -- needles, thread scissors, cloth scissors -- what else?"
"I don't know -- what you have --" Ann said.
"I don't have anything," Ed said, a glint in his eyes. "I'll have to start from scratch. You take me around the shop and pick out what I need."
Ann giggled. "Are you serious?"
"Very," he said.
"It's rather like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse," she warned.