In the four months since I’d moved to the French Riviera, I’d helped unmask a catnapper, apprehend a killer, and stop a blackmailing scheme dead in its tracks. Sound exciting? It was—for the three whole days it lasted.
After my action-packed first weekend in Nice, my life stalled to soul-crushing tedium. I started work as a yarn shop sales assistant and moved into an awkward houseshare. My new roommates included Luc, a hunky French private investigator; Sidney, an English drama school graduate; and Mélisandre, Luc’s prissy Persian cat. Of the three, the easiest to live with was the cat.
On this rainy Wednesday evening in early November, I was at the café-bistro Luc ran as an extra revenue stream. My presence at the café was no novelty. I stopped by most days to grab a takeout coffee or a bite to eat. But my reason for being here tonight was different. I was doing something I never thought I’d be doing—knitting.
Can you picture me, Angel Doyle—a semi-reformed thief and accidental P.I.—as a knitter? No? Neither can Maurice, the manager of the yarn shop and my new boss. For spacing reasons, Maurice hosted the Yarniacs meetings at the café. For keep-the-grumpy-boss-happy reasons, I’d agreed to attend. I regretted that decision.
“Non, non, non,” Maurice exclaimed in French, regarding my ragged stitches as one might a boa constrictor on the loose. His bald head, elaborate mustache, and fussy clothes reminded me of Agatha Christie’s eccentric sleuth, Hercule Poirot. “This is terrible. You must improve your tension. Some of your stitches are loose enough to drive a steamroller through. Others are so tight I’d need a microscope to see them. You must relax your hands, find your rhythm, and have fun.”
“In my world, the words ‘fun’ and ‘knitting’ don’t belong in the same universe.” I blew out my cheeks and glowered at my work in progress. “This looks more like a headband than a hat.”
“It’ll look like a hat once you’ve completed the crown.” Sidney sat beside me, the rhythmic clicking of his needles producing row after row of perfect stitches. Like me, he’d been roped into joining the Yarniacs, Maurice’s monthly knitting club. Unlike me, Sidney could actually knit.
“Easy for you to say. Your scarf looks like something a person might willingly wear.” I stared mournfully at the tangled mess on my lap. “Remind me why I’m here, Maurice? As a living, breathing blooper reel of How Not to Knit?”
Maurice made a tut-tutting sound. “While you’re working at La Belle Laine, it’s important for you to learn more about yarn. Otherwise, how can you advise the customers?”
“I do advise them. I advise them to ask you.”
Maurice’s entire head turned Pink Pizazz, this season’s must-have yarn shade. “I don’t know why Desirée insisted you work at the yarn shop. You know nothing about yarn.”
Heat stole over my cheeks. He knew exactly why my mother had foisted me on him. When I’d arrived in Nice, I’d discovered my ex-porn-star parent helped run a super-secret international P. I. agency called the Omega Group. Was I itching to join her team? Definitely. Did she want me? Sure—out of sight and out of trouble. Getting me a job at the yarn shop was her reaction to me wanting to train as a P.I.
“You have to admit I’m good at accounting,” I said to Maurice. “Your books were a mess before I showed up.”
The man gave a Gallic half-shrug. “My role is to order stock and serve the customers. I leave the bookkeeping to Jerry.”
“Jerry’s not exactly in a position to deal with the shop’s accounts.” This was an understatement. Two months ago, Jerry Gallo—my former stepfather and the brains behind the Omega Group—had been the victim of a vicious assault. He was still off work, recovering from his injuries.
Maurice sniffed. “That’s no reason to let you loose in the shop. Desirée should’ve known better than to hire someone with no retail experience.”
I doubted my retail experience, or lack thereof, had played a role in my mother’s decision to put me to work in La Belle Laine. “I might not dazzle the customers with extensive knowledge of yarn and knitting accessories, but I can keep us afloat until Jerry’s back in action. Wouldn’t it be easier for both of us if we at least tried to get along?”
The man’s pout conveyed his skepticism, disdain, and sense of superiority with one nonverbal gesture. His rejection of my olive branch stung. I’d done nothing to warrant his rudeness. Okay, I hadn’t a clue about yarns and knitting accessories, but Maurice hadn’t exactly helped me learn on the job. And as I’d pointed out to him, I was a whiz at keeping the accounts.
Maurice compounded my sense of ill-usage by turning his back on me and picking up Sidney’s knitting. “Exquisite work. Perfect stitch definition.” Giving a moan of ecstasy, he ran his fingers over the intricate cables and color changes, practically caressing the blasted scarf.
I fanned myself with a menu. “Easy there, boss. The atmosphere in here is becoming X-rated.”
Ignoring my quip, Maurice continued rhapsodizing about Sidney’s scarf. “You have a natural aptitude for knitting. It’s a pity Desirée didn’t assign you to La Belle Laine.”
I didn’t bother to defend myself. Sidney would’ve rocked the yarn shop job, just as he was proving to be a hit at the costume shop, one of the other businesses that acted as a front for the Omega Group. I didn’t fit in at either establishment, and it was grinding me down.
Sidney cast me a look of sympathy. “I’m sure Angel does her best.”
Maurice didn’t dignify this statement with a response. He returned the scarf to Sidney. “Keep up the good work. I look forward to seeing the finished product.”
“Thank you.” A note of bashful pride crept into Sidney’s voice. “I honed my knitting skills during my years backstage, waiting for my cue to go on.”
“Dude,” I whispered in English, “just think of the number of scarves you could’ve knit by now if you’d stuck with acting instead of sewing costumes.”
“Tut-tut. If you’re not careful, I’ll knit you a scarf for Christmas. I’m thinking hot pink glitter with sewn-on sequins to match your sparkling personality.”
This made me laugh. “Knit me one with a skull and crossbones, and I’ll gladly wear it.”
Sidney turned to Maurice and switched back to French with impressive ease for someone who hadn’t grown up bilingual as I had. “Love the new bow tie. Lavender is your color.”
My manager preened at the compliment. “Thank you. I try to look my best.”
He looked like a dog’s dinner to me, but what did I know about high fashion? Maybe Maurice’s lavender three-piece suit with navy pinstripes represented the pinnacle of this season’s trends.
Sidney aspired to similar sartorial elegance, but his colors were louder than Maurice’s. This evening, Sidney had opted for a bright orange waistcoat and pants, paired with black high-topped Converse and a skintight white T-shirt. He’d brushed his fair hair forward and had blasted it with enough hairspray to make my lungs burn.
Maurice moved to another table to critique his next victim, an elderly lady knitting a lime-green toilet paper cover, complete with a crocheted gnome on top.
I leaned into Sidney. “Watch out, mate. If you keep sucking up to him, he’ll force you to join his jigsaw club.”
He looked suitably aghast. “Maurice is into jigsaws?”
“Not only is he into them, but he’s also the president of the local dissectologist society. That’s a hardcore fandom.”
“Dissectologist is a new word for me. Jigsaw puzzle lover?”
“In Maurice’s case, it’s more like a jigsaw puzzle obsessive. He has so many jigsaws that he’s started storing them in the yarn shop’s stock room. I had the misfortune to knock over a pile and got the pieces jumbled. When Maurice found out, he lost what’s left of his hair.”
Koffi, my fellow yarn shop assistant, detached himself from the chatty woman he was helping and reclaimed the seat to my left. He gave my arm a reassuring squeeze. “I’m sorry Maurice is giving you a hard time.”
Koffi’s warm smile brought out the deep crinkles around his dark eyes. “Your facial expressions when he critiqued your knitting told me all I needed to know. For what it’s worth, it isn’t personal. Maurice is rude to you because you’re an easier target than your mother.”
Even though he’d lived in France for almost thirty years, Koffi’s deep rumble still held traces of a childhood spent on the Ivory Coast. I’d warmed to the older man the instant we’d met on my first day at the yarn shop. I still knew very little about his life before he’d started at La Belle Laine five years ago. From what I’d gathered, Koffi was a former stockbroker who’d opted for a radical career change after a bad burnout. If it hadn’t been for Koffi’s calming presence at the yarn shop, I’d have lost my cool with Maurice weeks ago.
“What’s Maurice’s deal with Desirée?” Sidney asked, dropping his voice to a murmur. “Do they not get along?”
Koffi counted the stitches of his knitting project before answering. “It’s complicated. Maurice used to work for Jerry and Desirée in a…different capacity.”
“Maurice used to be a—?” I stopped myself in the nick of time and mouthed the words, private investigator.
Koffi inclined his bald head. Apart from being roughly the same age—mid-fifties, give or take—baldness was the only thing the men had in common. Maurice was a small ball of anger. Koffi was his tall, rangy, eternally calm counterpart.
Sidney leaned closer. “What happened? How did Maurice wind up managing the yarn shop?”
“An assignment went awry. Someone got hurt.” He spread his palms wide. “I don’t know the specifics, but that’s the gist. After that, Jerry decided Maurice needed a break and put him to work at the yarn shop. The break became permanent.”
I felt a reluctant pang of sympathy for the angry little man. “If he’d rather take a more active role, I imagine he’s frustrated. Still doesn’t excuse his behavior toward me.”
“No, it doesn’t. Hang in there. Unlike Maurice, your situation is temporary.” Koffi patted my hand and rose from his seat. “Carine is having issues with her hat. I’ll go and help.” He ambled over to a dark-haired woman with a tight, 80s-style perm.
I turned to Sidney. “I hope Koffi’s right about the yarn shop being temporary. It’s not like my mother made any promises about our P.I. training.”
Like me, Sidney dreamed of training as a private investigator for the Omega Group. I’d first met him on the Eurostar from London to Paris. He’d been on his way to start a sensible career at the British Embassy. I’d been on the run from a London gangster. A series of crazy circumstances had forced us to work together to catch the criminals and avoid the morgue. After that first wild weekend, Sidney and I had been well and truly bitten by the crime-solving bug. We’d accepted my mother’s offer of jobs and accommodation as a stopgap solution, but I’d run out of patience by the time summer had turned to autumn.
Fortunately for him, Sidney was of a more easygoing disposition. “Have faith, Angel. Your mother said she’d discuss our training when she gets back from her latest assignment.”
“Her latest assignment has dragged on for months,” I replied gloomily. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for the home and the job and the chance of a fresh start.”
“You just feel like that fresh start is in permanent waiting mode,” Sidney finished for me with a wry smile. “I get it. I feel the same. My family hasn’t spoken to me since I ditched my embassy job. I need to prove to them I made the right decision.”
“At least your family cares in their own strange way. My father hasn’t spoken to me in over two years, not since I helped get his boss’s son sent to prison. As for my brothers…” I trailed off, brooding over my fractured family. I was my mother’s only child, but I had four half brothers on my father’s side—three older, one younger. All had gone into the “family business,” Dad’s tongue-in-cheek reference to his career as a London gangster’s longtime lackey.
“Have you decided what to do about Del’s birthday?” Sidney’s tone was soft and understanding. “It’ll do no harm to send him a message.”
I pulled a face. My twin from another mother, my brother Del, had been born three months before me. We’d been tight as kids, and that connection had stayed strong throughout our teenage years. Once we’d hit our twenties—and especially after my falling out with Dad—we’d had less contact.
Yet Del had been the only member of my immediate family who’d kept in touch after I’d helped the police convict Dad’s boss’s son. Del’s failure to respond to my messages after my brush with death in July hurt, and I was still smarting over the rejection. I was now torn about sending him a message for his birthday, thus sharing my new phone number with him and, potentially, the rest of the clan.
“I’m trying not to think about Del. His birthday isn’t until Friday. I’ll decide what to do then.”
Picking up on my reluctance to pursue this topic, Sidney switched back to our job situation. “Our current gigs aren’t ideal. But, hey, at least Nice is a lovely place to hang out while we wait for your mother to decide about our future.”
He was right. I was in a gorgeous city with sun and sea galore, money in my pocket, and a roof over my head. Even in November, the temperature rarely dipped below ten degrees Celsius, plenty warm to get away with a light jacket rather than the heavy winter coat I’d worn last year in London.
I regarded my knitting and sighed. “Right. Time to woman up and deal with this tangle.”
For the next half hour, I attempted to fix my hot mess handiwork, ripping back rounds of knitting and starting over. Lather, rinse, repeat. I kept at it until Luc materialized in front of us with a tray. Luc left the café’s day-to-day management in his assistant’s capable hands while he was away on investigations. Last night, he’d returned from an assignment in Italy.
Yeah, I was jealous. And not just because of his assignment. Luc confined his role at this meeting to serving food and drink. While he looked mad, bad, and tattooed behind a tray, I struggled to knit my first hat.
Luc served our neighboring table their drinks. Then he handed Sidney a brandy Alexander and slid a strawberry margarita in front of me.
I blinked at the red drink. “I didn’t order anything.”
He stood close enough for me to smell his trademark spicy aftershave. A smile played over his annoyingly kiss-me-now lips. “Considering that tangle of yarn in your hands, you look like you could down ten.”
I hated guys who assumed they knew what I wanted. And ordering for me? A cardinal sin. But the worst part? Luc nailed what I liked. Every. Single. Time. I glared at him but reached for the drink. I took a sip. It tasted good. Seriously good. And it took me every piece of my willpower not to show it.
And it wasn’t as if Luc had shown the slightest interest in me. Maybe that was part of the problem. But why did I care? The last thing I needed in my life was a know-it-all boyfriend. Actually, any boyfriend. After my previous relationship had crash-landed, I’d promised myself I’d stay single until I found a man who was the polar opposite of my usual type. I had an unfortunate tendency to fall for bad boys, and Luc’s broad shoulders and wicked smile ticked all my happy boxes.
Luc picked up my wannabe hat, and his lips twitched. “What’s this supposed to be? A tea cozy?”
“It’s a hat,” I said with dignity and snatched it back. “Did you come over to insult me, or do you have an ulterior motive?”
He fixed me with his electric blue stare. “Why do you always suspect me of being up to no good? You don’t even know me. How often have we even been under the same roof since you moved in?”
Twenty-three nights. Not that I was counting. Luc was my mother’s semipermanent house-sitter for her beachside villa. When she’d invited Sidney and me to stay in Nice and work for her, she’d made Luc accept us as his new roommates. I’d expected him to be grumpy about sharing the place with two strangers. However, it transpired that he spent most of his time away on investigations for the Omega Group. He considered us to be convenient cat-sitters.
I jabbed the air with a knitting needle. “I may not know you well, Luc, but I can always tell when someone messes with me. What’s up?”
“Not messing, I swear. Do you two still want to become private investigators?”
Sidney and I exchanged wary looks, then nodded in unison.
An impish grin spread across Luc’s overly handsome face. “In that case, I have a job for you.”