Santa’s Sleigh Ride

 

Kathi Daley Books is joining forces with some of your favorite cozy mystery bloggers to bring you Santa’s Sleigh Ride December 12 – 24. Each day between December 12 – 23 Santa will make a stop at a cozy mystery Facebook page and give away a $10 Amazon Gift card. That is 12 gift cards in all so be sure to join the party.

The instructions and the link to the daily giveaway will be posted on Kathi Daley Books main Facebook page every morning at midnight https://www.facebook.com/kathidaleybooks/. Just access the link and enter the contest on the daily hosts page. Please be sure to give each host a “like” while you are there.

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A New Holiday Series by Kathi Daley

 

I am so excited to share with you a new holiday series which launched today. Most all of my series have books that are set during the holidays but this series will be holiday exclusive.

The first book in the series is titled The Christmas Letter. Coming up in the spring (probably March) we will have book 2 which is tentatively titled the Easter Parade.

Here is an excerpt from The Christmas Letter. I hope you all enjoy Tess and Tilly as much as I do.

 

Chapter 1
Wednesday, December 6

My name is Tess Thomas. I live with my dog, Tilly, in White Eagle, Montana, a small town with a big heart nestled in the arms of the Northern Rocky Mountains. I work for the United States Postal Service, delivering mail to the residents of this close-knit community where, more often than not, the folks you grow up with are the same ones you’re destined to grow old with.

“Morning, Tess; morning, Tilly,” Hap Hollister greeted us as we delivered not only his mail, but the muffins Hattie Johnson had asked me to drop off when Tilly and I had stopped by Grandma Hattie’s Bakeshop earlier that morning.

“Morning, Hap.” I handed the tall, thin man with snow-white hair a stack of envelopes, as well as the brown paper bag in which Hattie had packed the muffins.

“Pumpkin?” Hap asked.

“Cranberry. Hattie wanted me to assure you they’re fresh.”

I watched as Hap peeked in the bag. “How’s Hattie’s arthritis this morning?”

“She seems to be having a good day. You can go by later and ask her yourself.” Odd fact about Hap and Hattie: They used to be married, but they separated a few years ago and moved into separate residences, but now they date.

“I’ll do that. Hattie and I are planning to take in a movie at the cinema in Kalispell this evening if the snow holds off. Guess I should firm up a time for us to meet.”

“You might want to have a backup plan. With those dark clouds overhead, I have a feeling the storm’s going to roll in before nightfall. The Community Church has bingo on Wednesdays, if you can’t make it to Kalispell.”

“Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind. It’s been hard to find date-night activities since the cinema in town decided to shut down during the winter.”

I slipped my mailbag off my shoulder, being careful not to catch my long, curly brown hair in the strap. “I heard there’s a group who want to use the space for community events during the winter, though it seems like a lot of folks in the area have an abundance of ideas but are short on follow-through.”

“Sounds about right.”

I picked up a stack of Christmas CDs Hap had displayed at the front of the home and hardware store Hap owned and operated and began to sort through them. I know that in the age of iTunes, iPods, and smartphones, CDs are a bit outdated, but if you knew the folks of White Eagle, you’d know a lot of them were pretty outdated as well.

“If nothing works out for tonight you could postpone date night until Friday,” I suggested. “We have the tree lighting and there’s a holiday special at the diner.”

“Nope.” Hap shook his head. “That won’t do at all. Our agreement clearly states that Hattie is to cook dinner for me every Sunday after church, as well as on the seven major holidays, and in return, I’m to take her out on a proper date I plan and pay for every Wednesday as well as every other Saturday.”

I paused and looked at Hap. “Has it ever occurred to you and Hattie to set aside this experiment you’re engaged in and get back together full time, like everyone knows you should?”

“Sure.” Hap nodded but didn’t elaborate.

I wanted to say more, but it really wasn’t any of my business, so I set the CDs back in the bin and prepared to leave. “Tilly and I should get going if we want to stay ahead of the storm. Got anything outgoing?”

“Actually, I do.” Hap set the muffin he’d been nibbling on on the napkin Hattie had provided. “Just give me a minute to fetch it.”

Tilly and I wandered over to the potbellied stove to warm up a spell while we waited for Hap. It wasn’t easy being a mail carrier in White Eagle, with subzero temperatures and seasonal snow to contend with. But White Eagle was our home, and as far as Tilly and I were concerned, we wouldn’t trade it for all the tropical breezes or big-city amenities in the world.

“Here you go.” Hap placed a stack of white envelopes on the counter next to a small pile of fishing supplies.

“You planning on doing some fishing?” I asked as I picked up the envelopes.

“A group of us are fixing to enter the old-timers’ ice fishing competition at the Winter Carnival.” The Winter Carnival in White Eagle was held every year between Christmas and New Year’s. “I haven’t been fishing since last year’s carnival, so I figured I’d better go through my supplies.”

“I know the teams are made up of four men. Harley Newsome passed away this year. Have you found a replacement?”

“I spoke to Pike and he said he’d be happy to fill in.”

Pike Porter was White Eagle’s oldest resident at ninety-two.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” I asked.

“Man’s old, not dead. He said he wanted to do it and I’m inclined to let him.”

I supposed Hap had a point, but I worried about Pike walking around on the ice. Once again, however, what he did was none of my business, so I slipped Hap’s outgoing mail into my bag without a word. “I really should get a move on. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

“Have you been by Rita’s place?” Hap asked as I turned to the door.

“No, not yet.” Rita Carson was the local florist.

“I want to send Hattie a rose. Rita said she’d be getting in a shipment today.” Hap handed me a twenty-dollar bill. “If you don’t mind passing this along, I’d greatly appreciate it.”

“No problem.” I slid the currency into my pocket.

“Tell Rita to pick out a good one.”

“I will, and I’ll make sure she delivers it today.”

“Thanks, Tess. See you tomorrow.”

I pulled the collar of my jacket around my neck as Tilly and I left Hap’s store. There were snow flurries in the air, which I knew would precede the storm that approached from the far side of the mountain.

I looked at the red envelope at the top of the pile. “Looks like Pike has a letter today.”

Tilly barked once in reply. Pike Porter wasn’t only one of Tilly’s favorite people, he was one of my favorite people as well.

“Let’s finish the rest of the route and circle around toward Pike’s last so we can sit and chat for a spell. I want to hear all about his plans for the ice fishing tournament.”

Tilly must have figured that was a fine idea because she continued down Main Street, passing the alley that led to Pike’s tiny cabin, which shared a lot with Pike’s Place, the local saloon, which Pike had once owned but had sold.

The next stop on our journey was Sisters’ Diner, the café my mom, Lucy Thomas, owned with my aunt, Ruthie Turner. My mom and Aunt Ruthie had decided to buy the diner after my dad passed away and Mom realized she would need to find a way to support herself. Ruthie had worked as a cook for the diner’s previous owner, who’d expressed a desire to retire to a warmer climate, so the two sisters had pooled their savings and been making a go of the restaurant ever since.

The wreath someone had hung on the door shifted to the side as Tilly and I entered the entryway of the warm, friendly building. I had to smile as a decorative Rudolph with a flashing nose welcomed diners while “Frosty the Snowman” played in the background.

“I’ve got Christmas cards.” I held up several colorful envelopes as I entered the main dining area.

“Oh, good.” Mom clapped her hands in delight. Mom and Aunt Ruthie had come up with the idea of soliciting Christmas cards from customers who had dined with them throughout the year. They planned to hang the cards on the back wall after sorting them by general geographic location. It was a cute idea that would not only brighten the place but would demonstrate the fact that customers who stopped by Sisters’ Diner represented visitors from every state, as well as many countries around the world.

“Oh, look,” Mom said, waving her arms in the air so her red curls bounced up and down. “We have two from Nevada, one from Florida, four from Utah, and one from Florence, Italy.”

“Today was a good haul,” I agreed. “And the wall is looking really nice. If this idea continues to catch on, you may need to dedicate two walls to the project next year.”

“I’ve been thinking the same thing.” Mom grinned. “In fact, with the abundance of international cards that have arrived in the past week, I’m considering changing the theme of this year’s tree from Homespun Christmas to Christmas Around the World.”

“That would be fun. Maybe you could find ornaments representing all the countries you get cards from, like the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.”

“Exactly. Did you notice whether Millie had her novelty ornaments out yet?” Millie Martin owned a home and decorating store at the other end of the row of mom-and-pop shops lining the town’s main thoroughfare.

“I didn’t notice them when I stopped by to deliver her mail, but I wasn’t looking for them either. I guess you can call to ask her. If nothing else, she may be able to special order the kinds of ornaments you’re looking for.”

“That’s a good idea.”

“So, what are we talking about?” Aunt Ruthie asked after she finished ringing up the customer she’d been dealing with and joined us.

“Ornaments from around the world,” Mom answered.

“Did you ask Tess if Millie has her specialty ornaments out?” Ruthie asked.

“She did and I hadn’t noticed,” I answered in my mom’s stead. “She did have baby’s first Christmas ornaments displayed near the counter if you want to send something to Johnny.”

“The baby won’t be born until January, so baby’s first Christmas would technically be next year,” Aunt Ruthie pointed out. “Still, I’d like to send something special because they’re having a girl. I’m hoping they’ll name her after me. She’s my first granddaughter, you know.”

“I’m sure Johnny will take your request into consideration when it comes time to name his daughter.” I paused and glanced out the window. “Storm is coming; I’d best be on my way.” I turned and looked at my mom. “Dinner on Sunday?”

“Of course, dear. I’ll make a pot roast.”

Tilly and I left the diner, but not before Aunt Ruthie slipped Tilly a bite of something she’d smuggled from the kitchen. I tried to dissuade Ruthie from feeding Tilly table scraps, but she liked to be sure those who came into the diner were well fed whether they be the customers she served or the four-legged visitors, like Tilly, who were only passing by.
The flurries that had been lingering throughout the day were beginning to intensify by the time Tilly and I made our way to the far end of town and crossed the street to start back toward the gazebo, where I’d left my Jeep. I usually liked to say hi to those I served, but given the weather, I realized I might want to speed things up a bit if I didn’t want to get caught in a whiteout.
I managed to stick with the plan while delivering mail to Pete’s Pets, Sue’s Sewing Nook, the Moosehead Bar and Grill, Mel’s Meat Locker, and even Rita’s shop, Coming Up Daisies, but the moment I entered the Book Boutique, my best friend Bree Price’s bookstore, I knew I’d lose my momentum.

“Please tell me you’re coming to book club tonight,” Bree said the moment Tilly and I entered the cheerily decorated store.

“Tilly and I will be there,” I confirmed over the sound of Christmas carols.

“Good.” Bree nervously ran her hands down the sides of her dark green angora sweater dress in a gesture I had come to recognize as the prelude to her relaying information she knew I might not want to hear.

“Is there something on your mind?” I asked.

“No.” Bree shook her head, but I noticed she was trying hard not to look me in the eye.

“Are you sure?” I asked persuasively.

“Nothing’s wrong, but there are some new members joining us tonight. I figured I should let you know so you could wear something nice.”

I frowned. “Nice?”

Bree tucked a lock of her perfectly straight, waist-length blond hair behind one ear. “I just figured you might want to make a good first impression because both new members are male, single, and gorgeous. Based on what I know of them, either would make a good match for you.”

I lifted one brow. “We’ve discussed this. I don’t do blind dates. Not for anyone and not for any reason.”

“It’s not a blind date,” Bree insisted. “It’s just book club, but it seems silly not to put forth a little effort with your appearance. You’re going to be twenty-eight on your next birthday. Don’t you think it’s time to settle down?”

“If by settle down you mean get married, no. Tilly and I are quite happy living on our own. You promised you’d stop with all the matchmaking and I expect you to keep your promise.”

“I know,” Bree replied. “I just want you to be as happy as Donny and me.”

Donny Dunlap was my ex, who I’d dumped after I realized he paid a lot more attention to Bree than he ever paid to me. I know Bree felt bad about basically stealing my guy, but the truth of the matter was, I was never really in to Donny all that much, and I was fine with the way things had worked out. Still, Bree, being Bree, wasn’t going to fully enjoy her relationship with Donny until I met and fell in love with someone she felt was perfect for me.

“Storm’s coming so I need to get going. I’ll be at book club, but only if you promise to lay off the matchmaking.”

Bree paused.

“Promise me.”

“Okay,” Bree grudgingly agreed. “Have you been to the police station?”

“No, not yet. Why?”

“Can you drop this book off for your brother? I told him I’d deliver it, but you’re going to be stopping in anyway, so…”

“Yeah.” I reached out a hand. “I’ll make sure Mike gets it.”

I had just left the Book Boutique and Tilly and I were heading to our next stop when a bright green sports car whizzed by, splashing slush on both of us. “Damn it all to hell,” I said before I could suppress the curse. “There’s no way Fantasia didn’t do that on purpose.”

Tilly shook the slush from her fur and barked in agreement.

Fantasia Wade was a twenty-eight-year-old gold digger and former classmate of mine who’d recently married seventy-nine-year-old Austin Wade, the oldest son of one of the town founders and one of the richest men in town. In the year the pair had been married, Fantasia had managed to burn through an impressive amount of his money, which left me wondering when Austin would wise up and put his young bride on a budget.

Given the fact that I had slush running down my cheek, I turned around and headed back to the bookstore, where I knew Bree would let me clean up in her bathroom.

“What on earth happened to you?” Bree asked when I walked back into her store just a minute after having left.

“Fantasia.”

Bree rolled her eyes. “Talk about letting money go to your head. Now that she’s married to Austin Wade she seems to think the rules of common courtesy don’t apply to her.”

“She always has been full of herself. I’ll just be a minute.”

I tried not to let my anger boil over as I washed my face and used a paper towel to wipe the dirt from my jacket. There were just some people who were born thinking they were better than everyone else and Fantasia was one of them. Of course, the fact that she was drop-dead gorgeous seemed to fuel her superiority complex. It’s hard to tell someone who was head cheerleader, homecoming queen, and the most popular girl in school that she’s no better than you and make her believe it.

Tilly and I tried to put our little incident with Queen Wade behind us as we finished our route. By the time I’d made my way back to the starting point, where I’d left my Jeep, the sky had darkened. I figured Tilly and I would just drive over to Pike’s, so I loaded her in the cargo area, made a U-turn, and headed back to the cabin where White Eagle’s oldest resident lived. My route had taken longer than I’d planned, so I wouldn’t have as long to chat with Pike as I’d like, but he only received mail a couple of times a month, so when we had a reason to stop in, we generally took it.

“Pike,” I called as I rapped on the door.

When there was no answer, Tilly used a paw to scratch at the door.

“Pike, it’s Tess and Tilly,” I called again.

Still no answer.

I looked down at Tilly. “I guess he’s out.”

Tilly barked and scratched at the door again. Normally, Tilly wasn’t quite so insistent, so I knocked one more time for good measure before slipping the letter under the door and turning away to head back to the Jeep.

Tilly remained at the door rather than following. “Come along, Tilly. Pike’s not home.”

Tilly barked.

“I know you were looking forward to a visit, but we’ll have to come back another day. Maybe tomorrow.”

Tilly lay down on the front stoop as if to communicate that she would wait.

“It’s snowing and it’s almost dark. We can’t just stand here waiting for Pike to come home. We still need to make dinner and get cleaned up before book club. Now come along.”

Tilly is a sweet and obedient dog who always responds to my requests, so I wasn’t sure why she was being so stubborn now. I walked back over to the stoop to give her a gentle shove in the right direction when I heard a tiny sound coming from the other side of the door. I knocked once more but still got no answer. Tilly barked and continued scratching at the door.

“Is Pike in trouble? Do you think we should check on him?”

Once again, Tilly barked.

I reached for the knob and turned it. It was unlocked, so I pushed the door open.

The first thing I noticed was that a pile of fishing supplies that must have at one time been on the table were now on the floor. The next thing was a tiny orange-striped kitten was tangled up in a piece of fishing line, which had gotten caught on a nearby table leg. “I suppose you’re responsible for Pike’s fishing supplies being on the floor.”

“Meow.”

“Hang on. I have a knife in my Jeep. I’ll get it and cut you free.”

Tilly stayed with the kitten while I ran back to get the knife. The poor baby was tangled up pretty good. I was going to need to work carefully to get him free without injuring him. It took a good fifteen minutes to finally work him loose, but eventually, I was able to gather him up in my hands. I noticed the poor thing had a nasty-looking cut on one leg.

 

“Looks like we’ll need to stop by to visit Doc Baker,” I said to Tilly.

As soon as the kitten was free, Tilly had trotted over to the bedroom door and begun scratching at it.

I crossed the room, knocked on the door, and called Pike’s name. There was still no answer, but Tilly seemed frantic, so I slowly opened the door. “Pike?” I said as I set the kitten down and hurried inside the room. I bent down next to Pike’s body to check for a pulse, but when I noticed the blood on the back of his shirt I knew he was dead.

I picked up the kitten, called to Tilly, and headed back to my Jeep. I called my brother, Mike, who told me to wait for him. The sky was almost completely dark by this point, so I turned on my headlights so I wouldn’t feel quite so alone and isolated.

I knew I should call Bree to tell her I wasn’t going to make it to book club despite my promise to do so, but she’d want a full explanation and ask a lot of questions, and I didn’t think I was quite ready to talk about what I’d seen. Still, I didn’t want her worrying about me, so I sent a quick text to let her know something had come up and I’d speak to her the following day.

When Mike arrived, he told me to stay put while he went inside. The kitten seemed to be in a playful mood despite his injured leg and Tilly appeared to adore him, so I let the antics of the animals distract me from what was going on inside. After twenty minutes or so, Mike came out of the cabin and approached the Jeep. He slid into the passenger seat and turned me toward him.
“Tell me exactly what occurred leading up to your finding Pike dead on his bedroom floor,” Mike said.

“Tilly and I came by to drop off his mail. We were going to stop to chat for a bit. When Pike didn’t answer the door, I figured he’d gone out, although I should have realized right away that he never went out when it was snowing.”

“And after you arrived?” Mike encouraged.

“I knocked a couple more times and was going to leave, but Tilly wouldn’t budge from the front porch. I wanted to check to make sure Pike was okay. I guess he wasn’t.”

“Did you see anyone else in the area?”

I shook my head. “It was already starting to get dark when we arrived, but I didn’t see anyone. Pike’s Place opened at two. You can ask whoever’s tending bar tonight if they saw or heard anything.”

“I’ll do that. It’s been snowing all day. Did you notice footprints or tire tracks?”

“No. It was snowing hard when I got here. I’m sure any prints that might have been there have been covered by now. Who do you think did this?”

Mike frowned. “I wish I knew. Pike was shot in the back with a small-caliber weapon. I doubt he saw it coming.” Mike glanced at the cabin, then back to me. “I noticed fishing supplies scattered across the floor.”

“Pike was entering the old-timers’ ice fishing competition with Hap this year. I guess he must have been going through his things before whoever killed him arrived. I think the kitten may be responsible for everything being on the floor.”

“Okay. I’m going to be here for a while, so you may as well head home. I’ll call you if I have any additional questions.”

“Okay.” I wiped away a tear that had slipped down my cheek. Pike was an old man I spoke to every couple of weeks and whose company I enjoyed, but I didn’t know him well. Still, I knew his death would leave a hole in my life. “You need to catch whoever did this.”

“Don’t worry.” Mike squeezed my hand. “I will.”

I headed to Doc Baker’s. I could probably fix up the kitten’s leg with items I had in my cabin, but I wanted to make sure it didn’t get infected. I pulled up in front of the veterinary clinic, parked in an empty space, picked up the kitten, and got out of my Jeep. The snow had gotten harder and the lights in the clinic were off, so I went to the front door of the house. Everyone knew if you had an animal emergency and it was after regular hours you could go to the front door and Doc Baker would take care of whatever you needed.

I knocked, and Tilly sat down next to me and waited. I could see lights coming on as someone made their way through the house. I cuddled the kitten to my chest while I waited for Doc Baker to come to the front of the huge house.

I was preparing myself with a smile and a greeting but froze the minute the door opened to reveal not a sixty-eight-year-old veterinarian in a white dress shirt but the most perfect man I’d ever seen wearing a towel around his neck and no shirt at all.

“You don’t look like the pizza delivery guy.” The man seemed as surprised to see me as I was to see him.

“And you don’t look like Doc Baker.” I couldn’t help but stare at the absolutely gorgeous man wearing nothing but faded blue jeans.

He turned around, took a few steps inside, then returned to the door while pulling a T-shirt over his head of thick brown hair. “Sorry about that. I’d just gotten out of the shower when the pizza deliver guy called to let me know he was on his way.” He looked at a point over my head. “In fact, there he is now.”

“Is Doc Baker here?” I asked, uncertain how else to respond to this absurd situation.

“Doc Baker is my uncle and he’s retired. I bought his practice. My name is Brady Baker. Why don’t you come on in? I’ll pay the pizza guy and then we can look at your kitten.”

I hesitated, but I really wanted to have the kitten’s leg looked at, and the Baker Veterinary Clinic was the only one in town. “Can Tilly come in as well?” I nodded toward the dog sitting next to me.

“Absolutely. If you head straight back, you’ll see the door to the clinic on your left.”

“I know where it is.”

“Great. It’s unlocked. Go ahead and wait for me there.”

I fought the urge to flee as I slowly walked down the well-lit hallway. To be honest, I couldn’t explain where the urge to abandon my mission and take the side exit out to my Jeep came from; maybe I’d simply been thrown for a loop when a gorgeous man close to my own age answered the door instead of the old friend I’d been expecting.

I entered the clinic and set the kitten on the exam table, then motioned for Tilly to sit down nearby. The kitten was favoring the injured leg but didn’t appear to be in much pain, so I hoped the injury was minor and wouldn’t require stitches or any other equally expensive procedure. I made decent money as a postal worker, but my Jeep was ancient and my cabin old and often in need of repair, and it seemed I was always having a hard time keeping up with the extra expenses. I leaned a hip against the table where I’d placed the kitten and gently played with him while we waited. After a few minutes, Dr. Hunk joined me, fully dressed in jeans, the T-shirt he’d slipped into at the door, and tennis shoes. His hands were free of pizza, so I assumed he’d dropped his dinner off in the kitchen before heading to the clinic. I felt bad he’d have to eat cold food but not bad enough to leave until I had the kitten’s leg looked at.

“What do we have here, little fellow?” the man I couldn’t seem to think of as Doc Baker asked.

“Meow.”

Blue eyes met my brown eyes. “What’s his name?”

“Name?” I asked.

“The kitten. What’s his name?”

“Oh. I don’t know. I just found him a little while ago. He was tangled up in fishing line. You can see he cut his leg. It doesn’t look all that deep, but I wanted to be sure.”

“It’s always a good idea to err on the side of caution. I don’t think he needs stitches.”

“That’s wonderful,” I mumbled as I said a silent prayer of thanks.

“I’ll clean him up and bandage the wound. It won’t take long.”

“Can I stay in here with him?” I asked.

“I don’t see why not.” He turned to collect the things he’d need. “I take it the dog is yours?”

“Tilly.”

Tilly barked once when she heard her name. The new doc smiled, which caused a fluttering in my stomach I hadn’t felt for a very long time.

“So, if this is Tilly, you must be Tess.”

I frowned. “I am. How did you know?”

“I’ve heard all about you.”

Great. “From who?” I had a feeling I already knew.

“From several people, actually, but most of my knowledge came from the pretty blonde who owns the bookstore.”

“The pretty blonde is my soon-to-be ex-best friend, Bree. Please ignore everything she told you. For some reason she feels it’s her mission in life to fix me up with every even remotely eligible man who comes into town.”

He chuckled. “I see. I guess that explains the rather long interview she conducted while she rang up my books.” He handed me the kitten. “Here we go. He should be fine, but why don’t you bring him back tomorrow for a quick look? He’s a little on the young side to be away from his mama, so I’ll give you some formula and bottles to supplement his food as well. You should be able to wean him off the formula in a couple of weeks.”

“Okay. And thank you. I’m sorry I interrupted your dinner.”

“It’s not a problem.”

“How much do I owe you?”

He paused. He lifted a dark, bushy brow that perfectly framed his bright blue eyes. “How about dinner?”

“You want me to buy you dinner?”

“No. I want you to share what’s sure to be a cold pizza with me.”

“Why?” I blurted out before I could consider my answer.

“Because I hate to eat alone and would enjoy the company.”

I hesitated.

“It’s just pizza. I promise.”

“Okay,” I agreed. “I guess I have time for a quick slice of cold pizza.”

We returned to the house, and he led us to the kitchen, where a beautiful German shepherd was waiting.

“Tess, Tilly, meet Tracker.”

Tilly walked over to the dog, who seemed to be waiting for some sort of a cue from the vet.

“At ease,” he said, at which point Tracker began wagging his tail.

“At ease? Is the dog in the military?”

“No. But I used to be, so when I trained him, I used commands familiar to me. At ease means it’s fine to chill because there isn’t a job to do. Tracker was trained in search and rescue. I have a meeting next week with the local S and R team to see if they have a space for us.”

“I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to have you.”

Tilly sniffed Tracker until she was satisfied he wasn’t a threat, then was content to lay down on the rug in front of the brick fireplace, while Tracker settled onto a dog bed nearby. I set the kitten down beside Tilly because they seemed to have bonded and I didn’t want him to be afraid of the new surroundings. Of course, the kitten decided it was time to play and not rest and immediately started running around the room, attacking every dust ball he could find.

“Sorry, I guess he’s a bit wound up,” I apologized.

“I’m glad to see the leg isn’t slowing him down.”

“He really is a whirlwind of energy,” I agreed. “Which is probably how he got tangled in the fishing line in the first place.” I chuckled as he jumped into the air and then did a complete three sixty before landing.

“I think you’re going to have your hands full with this one. Wine?” he offered.

“I should stick to water. I still need to drive home and it’s snowing pretty hard. I’ll need to be alert.”

He set a bottle of water in front of each of us, along with the pan of pizza he’d warmed momentarily in the oven.

“How long have you lived here?” I asked. “I wasn’t even aware Doc Baker had retired.”

“Just a couple of weeks. My uncle’s been talking about retiring for quite some time, but he didn’t want to leave until he was sure there was someone to take over the practice. At first I wasn’t sure I wanted it, but after some soul-searching following a broken engagement, I decided maybe moving to White Eagle was a good idea after all.”

“I’m sorry to hear about your breakup, but I’m happy to have someone take over the practice. Your uncle was the only vet in town.”

“That was why he waited so long to retire.”

I glanced at the kitten, who was now pouncing on Tilly’s head. Being the patient dog she was, she just lay there and took whatever abuse the kitten dished out until he knocked a roll of gauze off the table and became hopelessly entangled once again.

“Looks like we have another tangle emergency.” I laughed.

“Maybe that’s what you should name him: Tangle,” he suggested.

“I was thinking of something with a Christmas feel to it, like Mistletoe.”

“Mistletoe is a good name now, but you may not feel the same when it’s no longer Christmas. How about combining Tangle with Mistletoe?”

“Combining?”

“Tangletoe.”

I laughed again. “That’s a ridiculous name.”

He grinned, looking me in the eye. “But you love it, right?”

I grinned back. “Actually, I kinda do.”

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Black Friday Yay or Nay

In my opinion trying to shop on Black Friday is nuts. However going out to the mall to people watch, have lunch, and maybe share a drink in the bar with good friends, is all kinds of fun. When I was younger and really wanted to take advantage of the sales I found the whole thing extremely frustrating. But now that I have learned the art of internet shopping and the number of gifts I must buy has decreased, I find that I actually enjoy the insanity of the crowds, loud music, long lines, and over stimulated children in the line to see Santa.

Of course in addition to people watching on Black Friday the weekend after Thanksgiving is also the weekend to trudge out into the forest and cut a tree. We’ll have pizza for dinner which we eat while stringing the lights, and the decorations will be added the following day.

And then if the kids are in town we’ll play in the snow and go snowmobiling on Sunday. The football game will be on in the living room and there will be plenty of snacks for those who choose to stay dry.

Disclaimer these photos are of Thanksgiving weekend in the past since I am writing this in advance of the actual Thanksgiving weekend. I hope you all have a fantastic holiday weekend doing the things you love with the people you love.

 

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Turkey’s of Thanksgiving Past

 

My intention was to do a post about Thanksgiving and family but this year my family is scattered and it looks like it may just be Ken and I. Since I won’t have current experiences to share I decided to take a trip down memory lane.

 

 

I come from a large family who in the past got together for family dinners but the family is so large now that the group tends to break up into individual family units for the holidays. My individual family unit happens to be scattered across the globe at this point but I have a lot of fond memories of Thanksgivings past. The photos on this page are from one of the huge family meals I prepared at my home in Tahoe. We had 40 people to dinner that year. Yup, it was a lot of work and a lot of cooking.

 

Of course my favorite parts about my family Thanksgivings was always the game of Trivial Pursuit that followed dinner. It was pretty much assured that whichever team got Ken won since he is the sort of person that remembers every thing he ever saw, read, or heard. I on the other hand, am a fast learner but tend to be a fast forgetter as well.

I suppose that as we age things change. I look back on the family celebrations we used to have with warm feelings but to be honest I’m not sure I’d have the energy to cook a meal for forty people any more. In fact crashing one of my sisters family dinners seems just about perfect.

 

 

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Character Interview part 2

 

A couple weeks ago I did a character interview. Here are the questions from part 2.

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From Peggy H: Shredder – Kathi recently mentioned she was thinking about doing more cross-overs with her characters and your name came up. How would you feel about leaving Hawaii and helping her other characters with their mysteries?

Shredder: I’m the sort of person who never stays in one place for long. It is vital that I live my life in the shadow never really coming into the light. I have enjoyed my time in Hawaii, and I value the friends I have made, but I know that, like life, my time here is fleeting, and as the tides change so must I.

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From Joanne K. – Jack and Jill – Are the cold cases you’ve been stumbling upon becoming increasingly more complex?

Jack and Jill: It would seem that way at this point, although in investigation as in life, the natural flow of things would find times of great intensity to be followed by times of slow awakening.

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From Rita D. – Jill – do you think you and Jack will be together forever?

Jill: At this point it is a little early to say for certain but I will say that the idea no longer feels stifling to me so I guess we’ll just have to see how things work out.

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From Connie C. – Alyson, now that the men who have been chasing you are dead will you return to your old life?

Alyson: It is hard to know where life will take me. For the first time in a long time I actually have choices and a future. In the time I have lived in Cutter’s Cove I have loved my life as Alyson, but there are things about Amanda that I miss as well. I guess at this point all I can really say is that I’m in no hurry to make a change and will try to keep an open mind as I navigate the future.

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From Deb L. – Lani, now that you are going to open a detective agency with your father will you quit your job at the resort?

Lani: Absolutely. The chance to not only work with my father but to get to know him better is absolutely priceless to me. I intend to commit my full energy to making a go of it.

 

If you have any character questions for a future blog post feel free to ask them below.

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Finding Justice

 

OMG, I am so thrilled that Finding Justice has finally seen the light of day. I think I have procrastinated with this story more than any other story in the history of my career. I wanted something a little different but still with plenty of cozy to go around and I think I found the right combination. I hope you love it as much as I do. For those of you who haven’t taken the plunge and committed to the new series here is a preview.

 

 

There are people in the world who insist that life is what you make of it. They will tell you that if you work hard enough and persevere long enough, everything you have ever desired will one day be yours. But as I sat in the fifth dingy office I had visited in as many months, and listened as the fifth pencil pusher in a dark suit and sensible shoes looked at me with apologetic eyes, I finally understood that not every dream was realized and not every wish granted.

“Ms. Carson, do you understand what I’m saying?”

I nodded, trying to fight back the tears I absolutely would not shed. “You’re saying that you can’t consider my grant application unless I’ve secured a facility.”

The man let out a long breath, sounding like a wheeze, which I was sure was more of a sigh of relief. “Exactly. I do love your proposal to build an animal shelter in your hometown, but our grant is designed to be used for ongoing operations. I’m afraid without a physical presence we really must move on.”

I leaned over to pick up my eight year old backpack. “Yes. I understand. Thank you so much for your time.”

“Perhaps next year?” the man encouraged with a lopsided grin.

I smiled in return. Granted it was a weak little smile that did nothing to conceal my feelings of defeat. “Thank you. I’m certain we’ll be able to meet your criteria by the next application cycle.”

“We begin a new cycle on June 1. If you can secure a facility by that time, please feel free to reapply,” the man encouraged.

I thanked the bureaucrat and exited his office. I tried to ignore the feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach and instead focus on the clickety-clack created as the tile floor came into contact with the two-inch heels I’d bought for just this occasion. Had I really been working on this for more than two years? Maybe it was time to throw in the towel and accept defeat. The idea of building an animal shelter in Rescue, Alaska, was a noble one, but the mountain of fund-raising and paperwork that needed to be scaled in order to make this particular dream come true seemed insurmountable at best.

I dug into my backpack for the cell phone that rang just as I stepped out of the warm building into the bracing cold of the frigid Alaskan winter. I pulled the hood of my heavy parka over my dark hair before wrapping the bulk of my down jacket tightly around my small frame.

“So, how did it go?” My best friend, Chloe Rivers, asked the minute I answered her call.

“It went.”

“What happened?” Chloe groaned.

I looked up toward the sky, allowing the snow to land on my face and mask my tears. “The grant is designated for operations, so we aren’t eligible until we have a facility. The problem is, we have no money to build a facility and no one will give us a loan for one unless we have capital for operations already lined up. It’s an endless cycle I’m afraid we can’t conquer.”

“We can’t give up. You know what you have to do.”

“No,” I said firmly. “We’ll find another way.” I knew I sounded harsh, but I had to make Chloe understand.

“Another way?” Chloe screeched. I listened as she took a deep breath before continuing in a softer tone. “Come on, Harmony, you know we’ve tried everything. There is no other way.”

Chloe’s plea faded as an image flashed into my mind. I closed my eyes and focused on the image before I spoke. I knew from prior experience that it was important to get a lock on the psychic connection before I said or did anything to break the spell. Once I felt I was ready, I opened my eyes and tuned back into Chloe’s chatter. I was certain she hadn’t missed a beat even though I had missed the whole thing. “Look, I have to go,” I interrupted. “Someone’s in trouble. I’ll call you later.”

After hanging up with Chloe, I called a cab and then called Dani Mathews. Dani was a helicopter pilot and one of the members of the search-and-rescue team I belonged to. She’d offered to give me a lift into Anchorage for my meeting today and I’d taken her up on it.

“Someone’s in trouble,” I said as soon as Dani answered.

“I was about to call you. I just got off the phone with Jake.” Jake Cartwright is my boss, my brother-in-law, and the leader of the search-and-rescue team. “There are two boys; one is fifteen and the other is sixteen. They’d been cross-country skiing at the foot of Cougar Mountain. Jake said they have a GPS lock on a phone belonging to one of the teens, so he isn’t anticipating a problem with the rescue.”

The cab pulled up and I slipped inside. I instructed the driver to head to the airport, then answered Dani. “The boys dropped the phone, so Jake and the others are heading in the wrong direction.”

I slipped off my shoes as the cab sped away.

“Do you know where they are?” Dani asked with a sound of panic in her voice.

“In a cave.” I closed my eyes and tried to focus on the image in my head. “The cave is shallow, but they’re protected from the storm.” I took off my heavy parka and pulled a pair of jeans out of my backpack. I cradled the phone to my ear with my shoulder as I slipped the jeans onto my bare legs.

“Where’s the cave, Harm?”

I closed my eyes once again and let the image come to me. “I’d say they’re about a quarter mile up the mountain.”

“Are they okay?” Dani asked.

I took a deep breath and focused my energy. There are times I wanted to run from the images and feelings that threatened to overwhelm and destroy me, but I know embracing the pain and fear is my destiny as well as my burden. “They’re both scared, but only one of them is hurt. Call Jake and tell him to check the cave where we found Sitka.” I referred to our search-and-rescue dog, who Jake and I found lost on the mountain when he was just a puppy. “And send someone for Moose.” I glanced out the window. The snow was getting heavier and it wouldn’t be long before we would be forbidden from taking off. “We’re almost to the airport. Go ahead and warm up the bird. I should be there in two minutes.”

I hung up the phone and placed it on the seat next to me. The driver swerved as I pulled my dress over my head and tossed it aside. I knew the pervert was watching, but I didn’t have time to care as I pulled a thermal shirt out of my backpack, over my head, and across my bare chest.

“What’s the ETA to the airport?” I demanded from the backseat.

“Less than a minute.”

“Go on around to the entrance for private planes. I have the code to get in the gate. My friend is waiting with a helicopter.”

As the cab neared the entrance, I pulled on heavy wool socks and tennis shoes. I wished I had my snow boots with me, but the tennis shoes would have to do. The boots were too heavy to carry around all day.

As soon as the cab stopped, I grabbed my phone, tossed some cash onto the front seat, and hopped out, leaving my dress and new heels behind.

“You’ve forgotten your dress, miss.”

“Keep it.” I said as I flung my backpack over my shoulder and took off at a full run for the helicopter.

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Character Interview

 

A couple of weeks ago I asked the gang on my Kathi Daley Books Group page to ask questions of the characters in my books. Here they are.

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Sally Hannoush asked: Zoe, how many kids do you and Zak want to have?

Zoe: If you ask Zak he will say at least five but for now I’m focusing on Catherine and the big changes I know she will bring to my life. We do have a huge house however, and it is sad to have so many empty rooms, so….

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Taryn Lee asked: Cait, have you always been drawn to cats or did your attachment begin after they started showing up to help sleuth out your latest mystery?

Cait: I have always loved animals but honestly, prior to Romeo showing up and changing my life, I was more of a dog person. I’m athletic and love to run and bike and a dog can run along with you. Of course my Aunt Maggie runs a cat sanctuary, and I have always helped out so I had access to cats pretty much every day, which is probably why I chose a dog as a personal pet.

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Judy Tucker asked: So Zoe, will you be thinking twice about chasing after the bad guys?

Zoe: Nope

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Pam Spalding Paterakis asked: Zoe do you think your two best friends and their family will always live next to you?

Zoe: It’s hard to know where the passage of time will take you but I hope they always live next to me. Levi and Ellie are not only my best friends but they are family. I know that wherever we all end up they will always be a very important part of my life.

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Dana Barrentine asked: Zoe do you want a boy or a girl?

Zoe: Well since I know that I am going to have a girl I guess I’d better say girl, but even if I didn’t know for certain, I think it would still be a girl I would wish for.

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Donna Fuller asked: Tj, if you end up marrying Kyle do you think you and the girls will move into his home of do you think you’d choose a new home together?

Tj: We’d definitely move into Kyle’s home. I already feel that a piece of that home belongs to me. Kyle lives there now but the home has been my life a lot longer, so I feel like I own the history. Even though Kyle has redecorated, I can still see Zachary sitting in his favorite chair or walking the dark halls. I can see his grin when I solved one of his puzzles or his look of anticipation when he thought he’d stumped me. I love the idea of raising a family in the home where Zachary showed me the magic of imagination.

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Sandy Swanger Bartles asked: Kyle do you see marriage in the future for you and Tj, and if so would you adopt the girls?

Kyle: I have loved Tj from the first minute I saw her. The journey we needed to take for her to realize that she loved me has been a long one, and I feel that she might still want to take things slow, but yes, it is my greatest wish and heartfelt dream to one day make her my wife. And as for the girls, I already love them like they are my own, so yes, I would love to adopt them but the decision would be theirs.

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Sharon Brasswell asked: Blackbeard where do your sleuthing powers come from?

Blackbeard: Now if I told you that it would spoil the fun.

 

If you have a question for a character ask it in the comments below and I will try to answer it in a future blog.

 

The winner of the $5 Amazon gift card from last weeks blog is Rich. Email me at kathidaley@kathidaley.com to collect your prize.

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