The Drowning SpoolIt was Valentine’s Day. Connor wanted to do something special for his special lady, but it was also the day her shop, Crewel World, was open late. He cast around for an idea, and finally suggested at breakfast, “Hire me.”

“What?” she said, over the heart-shaped pancakes he has prepared for her.

“Just for the day. That way we can at least be together.” A retired sea captain, he was free to do such things.

“Well . . .” she said. “Okay, yes. It could be fun.”

And it was. He was handsome in a craggy kind of way, and knew something about needlework, so customers, once they got over the startlement of seeing a man waiting on them, found him charming.

The fourteenth was also a day Betsy had to leave the shop for a few hours to teach a class on punch needle at a nearby senior residence.

As the time approached for Betsy to leave, Connor appeared anxious. “Do you think I should call a part-timer in to help?” Betsy asked.

“No, of course not. We’re not that busy, I’m sure I can handle things.” But he kept looking out the front window as if afraid a difficult customer might come in.

Then, suddenly, he relaxed. A man wearing a familiar brown uniform, carrying a white cardboard cube about nine inches on a side, appeared. Connor signed for the UPS package and brought it to the library table in the center of the shop. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” he said to Betsy.

“Oh, thank you! What is it?” The lettering on the side of the box read Norman Love Confections of Fort Myers, Florida. It looked big enough to hold an awful lot of chocolate, but when Betsy lifted it, it wasn’t heavy.

“Open it,” suggested Connor sensibly.

Inside the top was a silver foil surface – the box was lined with insulation. Under the insulation was a light green box with a mitered tip, about eight inches long and maybe three inches wide, too small to be a container of ice cream. It was tied shut with a white ribbon printed with hearts.

Connor, smiling proudly, said again, “Open it.”

The box, cold in her hand, opened to show a strip of light cardboard showing beautiful heart shapes in softly blended colors: purple, pink, and gold, mottled and swirled. Under it were ten candy hearts, each just over an inch across and half an inch thick. A rich smell of cocoa wafted to her nostrils.

“Try one,” said Connor, still smiling.

Betsy picked the dark brown heart with a swoop of white on it. She bit into it and her senses were assaulted by an incredibly smooth-textured rush of chocolate, not milk, not dark, but so intense she had to sit down.

“Shut the front door!” she said, and Connor recognizing the expression of surprise and pleasure from a television cookie commercial, began to laugh.

She ate the rest slowly. He sat down beside her and she leaned sideways until her shoulder was against his and he put an arm around her. She was unable to say anything for a minute, but just sat there enjoying the taste of the chocolate, replaying each delectable moment in her mind.

“This is the best Valentine I have ever gotten,” she said at last. “Ever. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Machree” – an Irish word meaning My Heart.

“Where did you find out about this wonderful chocolate?”

“Peg wrote to me about it.” Peg was Connor’s daughter, currently on an archaelogical dig outside of Mexico City sponsored by the University of Florida. “Her current boyfriend grew up in Fort Myers. She raved about the chocolates he sent her, so I decided to let you try some, too.”

Connor, as severely chocoholic as Betsy, was already casting a covetous eye at the little green box in front of her, so she pushed it toward him. “Try one,” she invited him.

He chose one covered in subtly blended colors of red, orange, and yellow. The card said it was called Sunset Kiss.

He bit into it, inhaled lightly to capture all the flavor, and closed his eyes. “Very, very nice,” he said, nodding over and over as he savored it. “This one’s mango.”

Betsy loved mango, alone or in any kind of mixture, so he leaned toward her. “Have a taste,” he said, and kissed her.

“Yum,” she murmured, and kissed him back, warmly.

Then she determinedly closed the box. “These are too good to eat all in one sitting,” she said. “Let’s put the rest in the refrigerator. Then each of us can get one piece a day until they’re gone.” She was half hoping he’d object – but he nodded agreement and went upstairs with the box.

Oddly enough, it was in that moment that she realized how much she loved him.

You can read more about Connor in The Drowning Spool, the 17th book in the “Needlecraft” mystery series, published by Berkley Prime Crime. The first book in the series is Crewel World. Books are available at retail and online booksellers.

GIVEAWAY: Comment on this post by noon EST on February 12, and you will be entered to win a copy of The Drowning Spool. One winner will be chosen at random. Unless specified, U.S. entries only.

Meet the author
Monica ferrisMary Monica Pulver sold her first short story to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in 1983. Her first novel, Murder at the War, appeared from St. Martin’s Press in 1987. Four in that series followed. In 1992, the first of six medieval Tales, written in collaboration with Gail Frazer as Margaret Frazer, appeared, and was nominated for an Edgar. In 1998, writing as Monica Ferris, she began writing a new series for Berkley featuring a needleworking sleuth named Betsy Devonshire.

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