(Author’s note: This is the first book of season three. It picks up the story twelve months after the previous book.)
When I arrived at my offices, I thought for a moment that I was in the wrong room. The furniture hadn’t changed, but Mrs V’s desk, the filing cabinets, and all the chairs were in the wrong place. Normally, Mrs V’s desk was to my left, but this morning, it was to my right—over by the window. The filing cabinets, which were usually at the far side of the office, were to my left where Mrs V’s desk would normally be.
“Morning, Jill.” Mrs V was looking exceptionally pleased with herself. “What do you think of the new look?”
“I—err—did you move all the furniture around?”
“With my old bones?” She laughed. “It takes me all my time to get up the stairs these days. Brian and his assistant did it yesterday.”
“And Brian is?”
“Brian Briggs. He’s a grandmaster.”
“A chess player?”
“No, dear. Not that kind of grandmaster. He’s a Feng Shui grandmaster.”
“Feng Shui? Isn’t that just nonsense?”
“Certainly not.” She tutted. “Feng Shui was developed by the Chinese; it helps to harmonize people with their surrounding environment. That’s what Brian says, and he should know. After all, he is a—”
“Grandmaster. Yes, so you said. Brian Briggs? He doesn’t sound very Chinese.”
“He isn’t; he comes from Deptford, but he’s studied Feng Shui for almost twenty years.”
“How exactly did you come across him?”
“Do you remember Doreen Daggers?”
“Mrs D? Your synchronised knitting partner?”
“That’s right. She’d been having so many problems with her dining room that she was almost on the point of despair.”
“What kind of problems?”
“I didn’t like to ask. Anyway, one of her friends put her in touch with Brian, and after he’d worked his Feng Shui magic, all her dining room problems disappeared. So, I got to thinking that this office has never felt quite right.”
“How do you mean?”
“I’ve never been able to reach the same knitting speed here as I do at home.”
“What about your actual work? You know, the stuff you do for me?”
“I don’t have a problem with that because it only ever takes me a few minutes each day. It’s the knitting that’s the issue. At least, it was until Brian worked his magic.” She held up her knitting—an orange and red scarf. “Look how much I’ve managed to get done already this morning. Twice what I would normally do.”
“That’s great. I do see one minor problem with this new layout, though.”
“What’s that, dear?”
“The socket for the landline is over the other side of the room where your desk used to be.”
“Don’t worry. I brought an extension lead from home.”
“You mean this tripwire across the room? I’m not sure the clients will be impressed if they have to limbo underneath it.”
“You’re right. I’ll give the phone company a call and get them to move the socket over to this side of the office. I don’t imagine it will cost too much.”
“By the way, Jill, Jules called me on Saturday.”
“How’s she doing?”
“She sounded very chipper. She’s still with that nice young man, Dexter.”
“They must have been together for over a year now.”
“They have, and they’re going to get engaged soon—she said we can both expect an invitation to the party.”
“It sounds like she’s enjoying her new job too. The money’s good, but she misses being able to knit because now she actually has some real work to do.”
Jules had landed herself an admin role at Washbridge police station. I’d been sorry to see her go, but it was nice to get back to having just a single PA/receptionist. Two had been something of an overkill.
“I suppose I’d better make a start.” I stepped over the tripwire. “Make sure you warn any visitors about this, won’t you?”
“Of course. How are the wedding preparations going? You hardly ever talk about it.”
“Jack’s got everything in hand. Well, him and Marceau.”
“The wedding planner?”
“Yeah. That man drives me to distraction. I thought his brother was bad, but Marceau is even worse. He’s coming over again tonight.”
Marceau Montage, our wedding planner, was the brother of Maurice Montage, the interior designer/ballroom dancing instructor. Kathy had first come up with the idea of hiring a wedding planner, and suggested Marceau. I’d balked at the idea—how difficult could it be to organise a wedding? But Jack had thought it was a great idea and had somehow managed to persuade me we should do it. Since then, Jack seemed to spend more time with Marceau than he did with me.
“Have you had the final fitting for your dress, Jill?”
“Not yet. It’s one night this week—Wednesday, I think.”
“I can’t wait to see it. I bet it’s gorgeous.”
“It ought to be. I could have bought a small holiday home for what it cost.”
“Don’t exaggerate. It’ll all be worth it on the day.”
“I guess so.”
I’d done my best to persuade Jack that he and I should elope to Gretna Green, and get married in front of a couple of witnesses picked off the street, but he wouldn’t hear of it. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jack to bits, and wanted nothing more than to marry him and spend the rest of our lives together. But the wedding itself? Blah!
“Oh, I almost forgot, Jill. Your grandmother phoned just before you arrived. She wants you to go and see her.”
Great! Just the start to a new week I’d been hoping for.
“Did she say where she was?”
“No. Sorry, I never thought to ask.”
“No problem. I’ll track her down later.”
“She did say it was urgent.”
“It always is where she’s concerned.”
When I went through to my office, Winky was on my desk.
“What’s that nutjob up to now?” he said.
“I assume you’re referring to Mrs V?”
“Who else? The old bag lady was in here yesterday. She had some weird guy with her. How am I supposed to enjoy a quiet Sunday when they’re moving furniture around? No consideration, some people.”
“It’s Feng Shui.”
“Shui. The ancient Chinese art of talking cobblers.”
“I don’t know why you stand for it. This is your business, isn’t it? You should give her the bullet and get Jules back here. I miss her pretty face.”
“Jules is happy in her new job.”
“How can she be, without me for company?”
“You’re probably one of the reasons she left. And how many times do I have to tell you not to sit on my desk? Get down.”
“You should be nice to me. I’m feeling quite fragile at the moment.”
“Fragile? You? Do me a favour.”
“It’s true. I’ve taken some hard knocks recently.”
“First, my main money-spinner, the Midnight Gym, gets closed down. That’s had a big impact on my finances.”
“You should count yourself lucky you got away with that scam for as long as you did.”
I-Sweat’s membership had grown so quickly that they’d been forced to relocate to brand new, custom-built premises on the other side of town.
“Who’s taking over their old place?”
“I’ve no idea. I haven’t seen the landlord to ask him. It looks as though it’s almost ready to open, though. The sign went up last week: Escape.”
“What’s that when it’s at home?”
“No idea. Maybe a travel agent? Escape on holiday?”
“How am I supposed to make money out of that?”
“And then there’s the disappointment over your wedding.” He sighed.
“You’re not still going on about that, are you?”
“Why wouldn’t I? When the old bag lady got married, you promised that when you got hitched I could be your pagecat.”
“I’m not sure I actually made a promise.”
“Yes, you did, and now you’ve gone back on your word.”
“My nephew, Mikey, is going to be my pageboy.”
“He won’t be as good at it as I would.”
“That’s as maybe, but it’s too late to do anything about it now. The wedding is a week on Saturday.”
“I feel so betrayed.”
“Look, if Mikey is ill, you can stand in for him. I can’t say fairer than that, can I?”
It was hard to believe that in less than two weeks Jack and I would be married. It was just over a year since Jack had proposed, and I’d shared my secret with him. On that day, I’d had no idea how he would react—I just knew that I couldn’t continue to live a lie. If he’d been horrified by my revelation, I would have used magic to make him forget what he’d just seen and heard, and then walked away forever. To my surprise and delight, he’d been very accepting, although it’s true to say he’d been in a state of shock for some considerable time. Once he’d recovered, we’d had many long discussions—one of the most important concerned how best to keep our secret. If word got out that Jack knew I was a witch, the rogue retrievers would take me to Candlefield where I’d be forced to remain forever. After much discussion, we’d decided it would be best to tell no one that Jack knew my secret. Not even Grandma, Aunt Lucy or the twins. I’d also promised that I would not use magic around Jack unless it was a matter of life and death.
What? Yes, of course I still used magic to clean the house. What could be more life and death than that? I just had to make sure Jack wasn’t anywhere around when I did it.
After I’d checked my emails: all spam, and my post: all bills, I phoned Grandma, but there was no reply, so I set off in search of her. I started at Ever, which was as busy as usual.
“Hey, Julie, is my grandmother here?”
Julie was the head Everette; Grandma had taken her on not long after Kathy had left to set up her bridal shop. I really liked Julie; she had a wonderful personality: charming, polite and caring. I suppose she reminded me of myself.
What? Of course I have all those qualities and many more. Self-awareness and modesty to name just two.
Anyway, I was telling you about Julie. Apart from all the qualities that she and I shared, she had a wonderful way with Grandma. I’d never seen anyone who was able to handle her better. Nothing Grandma could say or do ever seemed to fluster Julie, who was coolness personified.
“Your grandmother isn’t here, Jill. She popped in first thing, but then shot off again.”
“I don’t suppose she said where she was going?”
“Sorry, no. How long is it until the wedding now?”
“A week on Saturday.”
“You’re remarkably calm. I was a nervous wreck for weeks before I got married. There’s so much to organise, isn’t there?”
“I’ve got it all in hand.”
“I’m very impressed.”
“Thanks. I’d better let you get back to your customers.”
Next stop: Ever A Wool Moment (or EAWM as I shall call it from now on). The reincarnation of Grandma’s famous wool shop was across the road from its original base (now occupied by Ever). Just to rub Ma Chivers’ nose in it, Grandma had built the new shop on the location previously occupied by Yarnstormers, which had mysteriously collapsed. The official reason given for that collapse had been old mine shafts, but one of my moles had told me otherwise.
All the old favourites were back on offer: the number of Everlasting Wool subscribers had exploded, and One-Size knitting needles were as popular as ever.
Kim Neaper was manager of EAWM. I’d first met her some time ago when she was working as a grim reaper, alongside my old friend, Jim Keeper. Kim had grown tired of the reaping business, mainly because she’d found it impossible to keep a boyfriend. What more logical career progression could there be than to go from grim reaper to manager of a wool shop?
“I’m looking for my grandmother. Is she here?”
“I haven’t seen her yet today.” She grinned. “Not that I’m complaining. Have you tried Ever?”
“I’ve just come from there. I guess that leaves only one place she can be. See you around, Kim.”
“Hold on, Jill. How are the wedding plans going?”
Sheesh! Everywhere I went, it was all anyone wanted to talk about.
“Okay, thanks. Everything’s under control. I’d better get going or her highness will give me grief.”
Grandma was slowly but surely taking over Washbridge’s retail sector. As well as EAWM and Ever on the high street, she also owned ForEver Bride on West Street—right next door to Kathy’s Bridal Shop.
“Morning, Jill. Your grandmother has been looking for you.” Eliza Domore was the manager of ForEver Bride. A nicer woman you couldn’t hope to meet. What she’d done to deserve having to work for Grandma, goodness only knew.
“There you are.” Grandma appeared from the back of the shop. “Nice of you to bother.”
“I’ve just spent the last ten minutes looking—”
“Never mind the excuses. Come through to my office.” She turned and led the way to the back of the shop.
“You and that human of yours are going away on honeymoon, aren’t you?”
“You know we are.”
“Good. I’m going to need your house while you’re away.”
“Your house. I’m going to need it.”
“For an old friend of mine, Madge Moleworthy. Have I mentioned her before?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Madge has never been to the human world before, but she has to come over here for a couple of weeks—something to do with her cousin. She needs somewhere to stay, and I said she could live at your house while you’re away.”
“Why can’t she stay with her cousin?”
“They already have a house full.”
“What’s wrong with a hotel?”
“Madge is nervous enough about coming over here as it is. She’d never cope with a hotel.”
“So, you thought you’d offer her our house?”
“Exactly. As luck would have it, her cousin lives only a couple of miles from your place, so it’s ideal.”
“And you didn’t think you ought to ask me first?”
“I’m sorry, but it’s simply not on.”
“I’ve already promised her.”
“You’ll just have to un-promise her.”
“I can’t do that. And anyway, you owe me.”
“For deciding to buy your wedding dress from next door instead of from ForEver Bride.”
“Next door, as you put it, belongs to my sister. Of course I chose Kathy over you.”
“Which is precisely why you should do this for me. And Madge.”
“What am I supposed to tell Jack?”
“Why do you have to tell that human anything?”
“Because it’s his house too. If there’s going to be a stranger living there, I think he has a right to know.”
“Tell him the truth: that she’s an old friend of mine. Come on, Jill. How often do I ask you to do anything for me?”
“All the time.”
“Can I tell Madge it’s okay?”
“I’ll need to meet her first.”
“Because you’re asking me to allow a complete stranger to live in my house for a fortnight. I’m not going to agree to that until I’ve at least met the woman.”
“Alright, if you insist. I’ll set up a meeting with her.”
“It’s not long now until the big day.”
“Don’t you start going on about the wedding too. It’s all anyone talks to me about.”
“I’m not talking about your wedding. I’m talking about the launch of Ever A Wool Moment’s app on Friday.”
“You’re launching an app?”
“I told you about it months ago.”
“You tell me about a lot of things.”
“It’s going to revolutionise knitting.”
“Really?” As if I cared.
“Just imagine. You’re out and about, and you see someone wearing a jumper that you like. You snap a photo using the app, and voila, it generates a pattern to create the garment.”
“Sounds great.” Yawn. “What have you called it?”
“I don’t know. Copy Cat?”
“Nothing so boring. It’s called: See It. Make It. Brilliant, eh?”
“Brilliant. Can I go now?”
“Yes. I’ll let you know when I’ve arranged something with Madge.”