The yelling began almost the second I started walking down the driveway between Deputy Donut, the café that my father-in-law and I owned, and Dressed to Kill, Jenn Zeeland’s cute clothing boutique.
           The loud argument wasn’t going on inside Deputy Donut, where Tom was finishing the day’s tidying. It was going on inside Dressed to Kill, where I was heading. I couldn’t make out the words, but the women spewing them were obviously angry.
           I almost turned around and went back to Deputy Donut.
          However, it was nearly five. In ten minutes, Dressed to Kill would close for two weeks, and I needed the black jeans and white shirts that I’d ordered. Besides, what if Jenn was in danger?
           I hurried to the front of Dressed to Kill.
           I wasn’t about to barge inside without peeking in first. Jenn’s display windows were lovely, but I couldn’t see beyond her hand-knit sweaters, mittens, scarves, and hats, and the cords and down-filled vests that went with them. The clothes were draped over antique skis, sleds, skates, and snowshoes. In one window, an electric fireplace sent warm hues rippling over the entire scene. It could have been very welcoming if women inside the store hadn’t been screaming at each other only seconds before.
            A red-faced woman burst out of Dressed to Kill. She muttered, “Don’t go in there,” budged past me, and raced south on Wisconsin Street.
            My training kicked in. Get a description, Emily.
            I guessed she was in her mid to late forties. She was tall and angular with straight brown, flyaway hair. Her mid-calf, flowing dress, a floral print in blue and white, hung several inches below an unbuttoned navy wool coat. She hadn’t zipped up the sides of her tan, knee-high leather boots. With their tops flapping and threatening to trip her with each step, she ran past the bookstore and the artisan’s co-op, and then she turned right and disappeared. For a few seconds, I heard the clap, clap, clap of those unzipped boots.
            I had never seen her before.
            I again considered returning to Deputy Donut. Before Tom and I opened our coffee and donut shop, he had been Fallingbrook’s police chief. Tom could handle whatever had gone on inside Dressed to Kill.
            And so can you, Emily.
            I pulled the door open. Tiny bells jingled.
            Usually, unless Jenn was busy with a customer, she heard the bells, peeked around racks of clothing, and greeted me.
            This time, she didn’t. I was getting twitchy.
            That shouting I’d heard earlier . . .
            And now, this breathless quiet . . .
            I told myself I was being overly dramatic. Jenn knew I was coming. Besides, she was probably immersed in wedding preparations.
            I tiptoed into the store. I couldn’t help touching, with one tentative finger, an emerald green velvet cocktail dress. It would be perfect for Jenn’s reception the next night, but I was attending the reception late, only to keep the donut wall stocked, and I would be wearing my Deputy Donut uniform. The black jeans and white shirt would be new, though, if Jenn was here to give them to me.
            “Jenn?” I called.
           No answer.
           I walked farther into the store, past a table of neatly folded sequined sweaters. “Jenn?”
          Near the back of the store, a door slammed or something fell.
          “Jenn!” I sounded a little frantic. “Are you here?” If she didn’t answer by the count of ten, I was going back to Deputy Donut for Tom.
          I got to eight, and then footsteps approached from the office beyond the dressing cubicles. Someone vigorously blew a nose.
          Tall and slender, dressed in tight jeans and a luscious coral sweater that she must have designed, Jenn came out from between the dressing rooms. Her head was bowed, and her long blond hair hung down like curtains, concealing the sides of her face. “Hey, Emily,” she mumbled toward her sweater. “I’ll get the things you ordered.” She walked away quickly, like she didn’t want me to get a good look at her.
          It was too late.
          I’d already noticed her red and swollen eyelids.
          The poor thing. She was only a little older than I was, in her mid-thirties, but the sad eyes aged her, and in less than twenty-four hours, she was scheduled to wow everyone with her long white dress and the radiance that wedding guests expected from brides.
          She returned, holding the clothes, which were on hangers, high, as if she were hiding behind them. She walked to the cash desk at the front of the store and hung the garments on a rack. I followed. Fiddling with receipts and invoices, she didn’t meet my gaze. “These should fit,” she said. “Teensy for you and muscular for Tom.”
           I tried to prolong the joking atmosphere. “You’ve changed the names of sizes?” She raised her face, and I couldn’t ignore the tear rolling down her cheek.  “What’s wrong, Jenn?”
           “Everything. I wish I had your curls.”
           I couldn’t believe she was crying because she didn’t have a crop of unruly dark curls.
           “AND those vivid blue eyes.”
           “Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “Nearly everyone wants straight blond hair like yours, and your hazel eyes are beautiful. Besides, curls seldom behave the way I want them to.” Plunking a hand on my Deputy Donut cap, a police hat with a faux-fur donut attached where the badge would ordinarily be, I accidentally pushed the cap down. It nearly covered my eyes. “It’s a good thing I designed a hat to hide my hair at work.” I shoved the hat up again. “The bad news is that when I remove it every evening, I have a bad case of hat head.”
           “The blond is out of a bottle, but the straight is real. Without the help of chemicals, my hair is mousey brown. Like my sister’s. Do you know Suzanne?”
           She was jumping so quickly from subject to subject that I couldn’t do much besides shake my head and clench my teeth to prevent my mouth from gaping open.
           “She just left,” Jenn said. “I thought maybe you saw her. She’s my half-sister, really. We had different fathers. She’s ten years older, and when our mother got sick, Suzanne promised to look after me. I was only nine. Looking after is one thing, but...” She blew her nose again. “Smothering is quite another. I mean, we work together here all right.”
           “Here? I never saw her before today.” I didn’t mean to sound skeptical.
           “We own Dressed to Kill together, fifty-fifty. She does the books, usually at night, long after you’ve closed Deputy Donut. She doesn’t like dealing with customers or ordering clothes, so I do all that. She says it would be different if we sold shoes. She loves shoes and knows just about everything there is to know about footwear.”
           Maybe wearing boots unzipped and flopping around one’s ankles was the latest trend. Would knowledge about footwear make someone cry? “Did she upset you?”
           Jenn wailed, “She told me to cancel the wedding. Told me!”
           All I managed was, “oh.” Did Jenn’s half-sister want Jenn’s fiancé for herself?
           Apparently not. “She hates Roger! She always has. She never gave him half a chance.”
           Still not knowing quite what to say, I mumbled something meant to sound sympathetic.
           “I never should have agreed to marry him in the first place, but the wedding’s tomorrow, and now it’s way too late to change my mind.”
           Seriously confused, I held up a hand. “Wait. Don’t you want to marry him?”
           “Yes. No.” She strode to the cash desk and grabbed a fresh tissue. “I don’t know. To make matters worse, I haven’t told Roger that I invited my old boyfriend to the wedding and reception. There was never a right time to tell Roger. And my old boyfriend and I are just friends, really, but he’s one of my best friends.”
           I saw where this could pose a problem. “Maybe you should tell Roger before tomorrow. Or, wouldn’t a best friend understand if you uninvited him?”
           She clicked long and shapely nails against the cash desk. “I couldn’t do either of those things. Uninviting someone would be just too rude. And I don’t want to make Roger angry tonight, the night before our wedding. I’ll just have to trust that he won’t make a scene tomorrow.”
           Some people were really good at causing problems for themselves. I suggested, “If you’re not sure about marrying Roger, maybe you could postpone the wedding until you know what you want to do.”
“I do know. Marry Roger. I’m just having pre-wedding jitters, I guess. They say every bride has them.”
            I’d never had the least doubt about marrying Alec.
            As if I’d said it aloud, she apologized. “I shouldn’t be reminding you. You must miss your husband.”
           “That’s okay. I’ve finally reached the stage where thinking about him brings back wonderful memories.” Still, I couldn’t help remembering the night that my detective husband was killed while on duty, and it still hurt. “Why did your sister wait so long to tell you to cancel the wedding?”
            Jenn bowed her head again, letting her hair fall in front of her face. “She’s been saying it all along. She told me to stop seeing him when we were first dating. Like it’s any of her business, you know? And this afternoon, she went ballistic on me, screaming, yelling, the whole nine yards. For no reason, other than this last-ditch attempt to get me to drop Roger.”
            “Is she married?”
            “No. Never has been. And I know she cares about me, really. It’s just that . . .”
            “Smothering,” I repeated.
            “She doesn’t want me to move away from Fallingbrook, either.”
            “Are you going to? We’d all miss you—and your wonderful shop. I love how you turned your online knitting and knitwear design business into a bricks-and-mortar store.” And I’d been buying a lot of sweaters . . . “But you can run your online store from wherever you live, can’t you?”
            “I don’t plan to close Dressed to Kill, but Suzanne says that Roger won’t let me stay in business, period. She thinks he’s jealous of my success. But how could he be? He’s doing great as a life coach, even though he inherited so much from some distant relative that he doesn’t have to work. Suzanne says that Roger has always moved around, and he’s not going to want to stay in Fallingbrook. She even uses his wealth against him, saying it will allow him to live anywhere.” Jenn’s face crumpled and tears welled in her eyes. “Just now, she accused me of being a gold-digger.”
            “That’s nonsense.” Jenn seemed too sweet to marry a man only for his money. She had to care about him. “He used to live in Fallingbrook, didn’t he? And he came back, so maybe he’s ready to settle down, with you, here.”
            “I hope so. I don’t think I could bear to part with Dressed to Kill.” She gave a resigned little shrug. “But I might have to. The things we do for love.” Her half-hearted attempt at a smile didn’t reach her eyes. “And the things we do because we’ve already planned a wedding. Maybe I could have cancelled it a year or even six months ago, but now it’s too late. For instance, you and Tom—you wouldn’t let me put down a deposit. You built that donut wall and you’re planning to stay up tomorrow night to provide late-night snacks for our guests. You’ve probably ordered tons of extra ingredients for the donuts and crullers. I can’t ask you to cancel now.”
           “It wouldn’t be a problem. We can use that donut wall another time, and the ingredients will keep. But you’d lose your deposit on the banquet hall rental and the meals you ordered, and you probably can’t send your dress back, and . . .” Why was I giving her excuses to marry someone who, I was beginning to suspect, might make her unhappy?
           “Yeah, it’s definitely too late. And I want to marry Roger. I do.” She gave me a watery smile. “‘I do.’ See? I’m already practicing my lines for tomorrow.”



Tom stopped coating hot apple fritters in that tantalizing mixture of cinnamon and sugar. He stared over the half wall separating Deputy Donut’s kitchen from our dining area. “One of our regulars is missing.”
            Naturally, Tom noticed when folks didn’t show up for their usual coffee break. Before his stint as Fallingbrook’s police chief, he’d been a detective.
            “Once a cop, always a cop,” I teased.
            “You got it, Emily. I might have retired from the force, but . . .” He pointed at his hat. “I’m still the chief and I’ve got the fuzz hat to prove it.”
            Tom’s Deputy Donut hat was a pretend police cap with a fuzzy donut glued on where the badge would be. The rakish way the hat tilted on Tom’s short gray hair echoed the tilt of the police hat on the cat silhouette printed on our dishes and embroidered on our aprons. “Not necessarily.” I raised my eyes as if I could see the top of my head and my own Deputy Donut hat, identical to Tom’s. “Here, we’re both chief.” In addition to our hats and aprons, we both wore black jeans and white shirts. “Who’s missing?”
            “Georgia Treetor.”
            I stopped smiling. I liked Georgia. A lot. “That’s strange.” The knitters who called themselves the Knitpickers were backlit by morning sunshine slanting in through the front windows, and I couldn’t make out features. “Don’t I see six women at their table?”
             “Not Georgia.” The fryer beeped. Tom lifted another basket of fritters out of hot oil. “I see another white-haired woman who resembles her, but she’s even smaller than Georgia.”
            “I’ll go check.” I carried a carafe of our house blend, a medium roast Colombian, past our glass-fronted display case and the marble counter where patrons sat on stools. The aroma of the coffee almost let me forget the mouthwatering cinnamon behind me in the kitchen.
            Greeting other customers in our dining room and topping up coffee mugs, I made my way to the Knitpickers’ usual table, one of the two large ones closest to Wisconsin Street. Tom was right. A tiny woman with a dandelion fluff of white hair sat facing the street. Tom had been able to tell from her back that the woman wasn’t Georgia.
            A twinkle in her light blue eyes, the new woman smiled up at me. “You must be Emily. Georgia told me about you. I recognize the dark curls, bright blue eyes, and friendly smile. I’m Lois Unterlaw. Georgia will tell you I’m her oldest friend, but that can’t be true.” She winked. “I’m not all that ancient. I’m the friend she’s known the longest.” Despite the white hair, she was youthful in her white jeans and flowing periwinkle top. “I just moved back to Fallingbrook from Madison, and she told me to meet her here this morning.” She held up a handmade quilted tote, pieced together from cheerful prints in fuchsia, turquoise, and yellow. Knobby ends of knitting needles stuck out of the top. “I brought my knitting. She said I’d fit right in with the Knitpickers.”
            I shook her hand. “Welcome back to Fallingbrook, and welcome to Deputy Donut.” Her hand was barely bigger than a child’s. The strength of her grip startled me.
            The knitters all began talking at once.
            “Where is Georgia?”
            “She never misses one of our morning Knitpicker meetings!”
            “She’s never, ever late.”
            “It’s Monday. Maybe she went off for the weekend and was delayed getting home.”
            “Taking time off from mending dolls at her own doll hospital is one thing, but taking time off from us?”
            “If she had a trip planned, she would have told us on Friday, wouldn’t she?”
            “Maybe she slept in.”
            One of the knitters pointed at me and told Lois, “Emily’s the brains behind Deputy Donut.”
            “Actually, I’m not,” I said. “Blame the Fallingbrook police department. They’ll tell you that cops eating donuts is a stereotype, but most of them agree that they drink a lot of coffee, and the officers here in Fallingbrook really like my donuts. They made me open the shop so they could buy them every day.” One of the four policemen at the next table let out a particularly hearty and contagious laugh. I flashed him a smile.
            Lois tilted her head. “What did you do, Emily, drop out of junior high to open this shop?”
            “No, but thanks.” I lowered one eyebrow in fake skepticism. “I think.” I was almost twenty-nine, but saying it would probably make me sound as juvenile as I apparently looked.
            “What’s your secret to staying so slim, Emily?” Lois was smaller than I was.
            I quipped, “Lots of coffee and donuts.”
            She folded her arms. “I doubt that. You brought your apron strings all the way around to the front and tied them in a bow, with lots left over!”
            “The secret to that is long apron strings.” And an unspoken competition with Tom, who worked at staying fit and tied his apron strings in front also, but only in a square knot without excess strings dangling, which was just as well, since he was usually the one operating the fryers.
            “Wait until you try the donuts here,” another knitter warned Lois. “They’re addictive.”
            “How can you eat donuts and knit?” Lois demanded. “Don’t your yarn and needles get all sticky?”
            One of the knitters made a pretend huffy face. “Give us credit for a little couth.” She cocked her head toward a wall covered in artwork. “The ladies’ room is just behind that wall, and it’s very nice. We knit, then eat, then wash our hands, and then knit some more.”
            Lois held both thumbs up. “Georgia’s right. I’ll fit in for more than just knitting.”
            The knitters gave one another high fives, a tricky maneuver considering that some of them didn’t let go of their knitting. “Welcome to the Knitpickers,” they said to Lois.
            She studied the wall between the dining room and the hall leading to the restrooms. “You have lovely paintings, sculptures, and wall-hangings, Emily,” she said. “And your peach-tinted walls are a perfect background for the artwork.”
            One of the knitters sat up straighter. “The artists and craftspeople are all local.”
            Another chimed in, “People can buy what’s displayed here through Emily and Tom.”
            “Tom?” Lois turned in her chair. Tom and his whimsical Deputy Donut hat were visible over the half wall. “Is that Chief Westhill?”
            “Yes,” I said. “He retired from the police. The two of us own Deputy Donut.”
            The original five Knitpickers watched me, obviously curious about what else I might say about Tom.
            I raised my chin. “He’s my father-in-law.”
            “I remember him,” Lois said. “Nice guy.”
            The rest of us agreed.
            A Knitpicker told Lois, “Emily and Tom don’t charge commissions on the art in here.”
            Lois stared admiringly toward a spray of beech leaves sculpted from brass. “That’s lovely.”
            “We get beautiful decorations—for free.” I made a sad face. “But people keep buying my favorite pieces and I have to replace them.” I opened my eyes as if surprised. “With new favorites!”
            Lois ran a finger along the edge of the table. Our tabletops had been made from giant slices of tree, coated with a silky, waterproof finish. “I’ll bet your customers like to count the rings to see how old the trees were,” she said.
            “They do. And they write down the results in the guest book there by the door.”
            Lois asked, “Do their results vary a lot, Emily?”
            “None of our customers could possibly be wrong.”
            All six women laughed.
            Lois patted the arms of her chair. “What a charming and welcoming coffee shop. Even the chairs are comfy.” She picked up the handmade copper vase from the center of the table and held it near her face. “I love the scent of chrysanthemums. And these burgundy mums go perfectly with the copper. Are the vases for sale, also?”
            “Not from me,” I answered, “but the guy who makes them sells them at The Craft Croft, the artisans’ co-op down the street.”
            Lois clapped her hands. “I’ll have to get Georgia to take me there. Where can she be? I meant to call her this weekend, but I was unpacking and putting things away in my new house, and she had a big order of dolls to repair.”
            I suggested, “Maybe our lot’s full and she’s searching for a parking space.” Labor Day was only seven days away. The last week of a perfect summer had brought many tourists to northern Wisconsin. Almost every seat in Deputy Donut was occupied, while out on Wisconsin Street, smiling people were window-shopping and browsing through Fallingbrook’s many appealing shops.
            “What would you folks like this morning?” I asked. “Tom just made a batch of cinnamon and sugar apple fritters. They’re still hot.”
            All six women ordered them. One woman wanted a cappuccino with cinnamon sprinkled on top, and Lois asked me to make her one like it. As usual, two of the women wanted to share a pot of green tea. One woman asked for decaf Colombian, and the other wanted the day’s featured coffee, a dark roast Nicaraguan.
            I returned to the kitchen, plated the fritters, steamed the milk to a soft foam for Lois and the other woman, pulled shots of espresso, and combined the steamed milk and espresso in small cups printed with the Deputy Donut logo. Even though the smell of the cinnamon was tempting me to make a cappuccino for myself, I was glad they’d ordered it. Sprinkling it on their cappuccinos made me feel less guilty about not yet having mastered drawing cat eyes, noses, and whiskers in the foamed milk. Usually, I could manage the semblance of a donut. If it turned out lopsided with no hole in it, I could claim I’d intended to draw a fritter.
            Georgia still hadn’t arrived when I delivered the last of the fritters and beverages to the Knitpickers. The woman who’d said that Georgia was never late repeated it. I heard anxiety in her voice.