“I’ve come to rescue you,” said the wild-looking woman at Beatrice’s front door.
Beatrice, a recently retired art museum curator, gaped at the woman, completely flabbergasted. She certainly didn’t need rescuing. In fact, she’d just brewed a relaxing cup of herbal tea to celebrate the fact that there were only ten more moving boxes to unpack in her new cottage.
Besides, who’d want to be rescued by this woman, even if rescuing were in order? She looked like she needed rescuing herself . . . with her brightly colored, mismatched clothes and disorganized gray braid hanging to her waist. Beatrice made up her mind to briskly and firmly shut the door and try out the new bolts and chains and the alarm system . . . but then the woman held out her hand.
“I’m Meadow. Your next-door neighbor. Welcome to Dappled Hills!”
Beatrice managed a smile and a handshake. She’d wondered who lived in the odd converted barn next to her country cottage. Beatrice’s daughter, Piper, who lived right down the street, had warned her that her neighbor was a little different, and she saw exactly what Piper meant.
Now Meadow clutched her arm and pulled her outside. “Come on, Beatrice. You’ll miss it!”
Beatrice pulled back. Wasn’t this how kidnappings happened? How could she possibly be abducted in tiny Dappled Hills, North Carolina, when she’d been safe for so many years in Atlanta?
“I’m sorry, Meadow,” she said with dignity. (She would not be a victim!) “But I’m going to have to insist that I stay at home. I just brewed some chamomile tea and need to put my feet up after all the rigorous unpacking I’ve accomplished . . .”
But her words were completely wasted on Meadow, and Beatrice found herself being propelled with surprising strength toward the bright red barn on the spacious property next door. And Meadow wasn’t letting her slide a word in edgewise.
“We’re all practically here,” she said inexplicably. “The unpacking is exactly what I’m rescuing you from. And everything is set out. I have tea, too, but it’s sweet.”
With great relief, Beatrice saw a police car pulling into Meadow’s driveway. Well, at least Dappled Hills had a very responsive police unit. She waved her free arm in what she hoped was an alarmed, help-seeking fashion.
A short, balding man climbed out of the patrol car. He had a tired stoop to his shoulders and a stomach that had seen its share of heavy Southern cooking. “Is there a problem here, ma’am?”
Beatrice blinked as Meadow leaned over and gave the policeman a peck on the lips. “No problem, Ram-say. Except remember that I told you the guild is meeting here this afternoon. So don’t devour our snacks, please. I put some pretzels in a Baggie for you.”
He shook his head wearily. “I was asking if the other lady had a problem. Ma’am? Everything all right? Meadow, for pity’s sake! Could you let her go for a minute? You’ve scared her half to death. Is this our new neighbor?”
Beatrice nodded, and the policeman held out his hand. “Ramsay Downey. I’m Dappled Hills’ police chief. Welcome to town. My job is to keep the citizens safe . . . from people like my wife, Meadow.” He gave Meadow a dour look.
Meadow was so singularly focused on propelling Beatrice inside her house—or barn—that she overlooked his jab. “There’s also a sandwich in the fridge for you, Ramsay, besides the pretzels. And I picked some berries today and sugared them—they’re in the fridge, too.” And again she hurried toward the barn, turning around and gesturing at Beatrice. “Come on!”
Beatrice looked helplessly at the policeman. “It’s no use resisting,” he said in a resigned voice. “It’s how we ended up marrying all those years ago. You might as well just follow her. She’s not quite as crazy as she looks,” he added kindly. “And you’ll learn a lot about quilting.”
Beatrice realized she must have seemed completely baffled when he chuckled and said, “She didn’t mention the quilting? She’s even more scattered than usual, then! The quilting guild is meeting this afternoon and she probably wants to introduce you to everyone— that’s all. And maybe give you a kit to complete a block, too, knowing her.”
With growing trepidation, Beatrice approached the barn. There was nothing like having your peaceful afternoon hijacked by a quilting nut. And she had no intention of doing any quilting. She knew a lot about the artistic merits of quilts, she could appraise one, and she could tell some of the likely history that went into a particular quilt, but she was happily ignorant of the precise methods of constructing them.
And then all her thoughts left her as she entered the light-filled space of the converted barn. She’d thought it would be dark inside, but skylights scattered through the top of the roof and sides of the barn cheerily illuminated the space. What must have previously been a hayloft now looked like a sleeping loft and sitting area. And the high ceiling—Beatrice stopped and tilted her head back. It soared up like a cathedral, with impressive exposed rafters and posts. There were vibrant-colored quilts, mostly with asymmetrical designs, hanging on the walls and the backs of chairs and any other available surface.
“It’s beautiful,” she breathed.
Meadow’s face creased in a smile. “I love it, too.” She then shoved a tall glass of what looked like iced tea into Beatrice’s hands and continued urging her along. Ramsay had pulled his lunch from the fridge and found his little Baggie of pretzels and disappeared. Now Beatrice saw that there were two women across the big, open room. The kitchen, dining room, and living room were all one big area—but it looked like there was a door that might lead to an attached master suite.
On closer inspection, Beatrice realized the women were twins, although they looked a bit like a before-and-after photo. They were probably in their early thirties, but one of the sisters seemed a lot older. She had a beaky nose and stiff militarylike comportment, and wore a long-sleeved floral dress, her thin hair drawn up in a bun. The other sister wore a pretty floral dress and had a much softer look. Fabric and scissors surrounded them, and baskets beside them were filled with quilting supplies and tools.
The softer one spoke to her, beaming. “It’s an amazing house, isn’t it? Except it’s a barn!”
Her sister frowned. “But with no animals,” she said, in the tone of one who demands perfect accuracy.
Meadow put her hands on her generous hips with mock indignation. “No animals, Savannah? What’s Boris, then—chopped liver?”
At the sound of his name, a massive creature bounded up from behind the kitchen counter and bolted across the room. It galloped up and Beatrice flinched as it charged right at them. The quilters nonchalantly continued sewing their blocks. The dog jumped onto Meadow, putting its tremendous paws on both her shoulders. Meadow hugged it, crooning to it softly, then gently pushed him back down.
“What breed is Boris, exactly?” asked Beatrice.
Meadow said in a considering voice, “Well, Ramsay and I think he might be part Great Dane, part Newfoundland, and part corgi.”
The minuscule part that was a corgi, thought corgi-owner Beatrice, was clearly cowed by the other genetic components.
Beatrice started as Meadow gave her an impulsive hug. “We’re thrilled you could quilt with us this afternoon. More tea?” Meadow automatically refilled Beatrice’s glass without waiting for a reply. Although, thought Beatrice with some irritation, she hadn’t even taken a sip yet.
Meadow’s eyes twinkled at Beatrice from behind her red-framed glasses. “Savannah and I were just saying the other day—Savannah, you remember my saying this, don’t you?—that we really needed another member in the Village Quilters guild.”
Savannah gave a jerking nod as she expertly stitched an appliqué with darting movements.
“And the very next thing I know, you’ve moved in next door, Beatrice! It’s divine intervention.” Meadow beamed at her again as she absently continued filling the others’ glasses with tea . . . even though, thought Beatrice as she squinted across the room, it appeared they’d been drinking water. The other two women didn’t make a peep to stop her.
Beatrice cleared her throat. Really, it was too much. Meeting new people in a new town, being expected to suddenly take up quilting . . . it was all a tremendous adjustment. But she had to admit that the people of Dappled Hills were nothing if not friendly.
Meadow chuckled. “Mercy, but you do look confused. Introductions are in order! Good thing we only have a few members here today. Fewer to boggle your brain with. Although it looks like your brain might not be the boggling type. Of course, you already know me—I’m Meadow Downey, your next-door neighbor and new best friend.” She bowed at Beatrice, eyes glittering.
The plain woman with the stiff comportment gestured a needle at the pretty woman beside her. “We’re the Potter sisters. I’m Savannah and she’s Georgia.” Savannah continued steadily stitching beautiful needlework with her bony fingers.
“Savannah, Georgia,” murmured Beatrice weakly. “Our mama just adored the city,” said Georgia. “It was all moonlight and magnolias to her.” “Mama,” repeate...