http://amzn.to/2AZBoPK Presale coming soon
Book 2 in my new Tess and Tilly series, The Valentine Mystery, publishes on Monday February 12th. I’m really enjoying this new series and hope you are as well. I’ve included a preview of The Valentine Mystery below.
Wednesday, February 7
“Mornin’, Tess, mornin’, Tilly,” Queenie Samuels greeted my dog Tilly and me. “It looks like a two-bagger today.”
I groaned as I accepted two large mail bags from the postal employee who had recently been hired to help with mail distribution for the White Eagle, Montana, branch of the United States Postal Service. I supposed I should have anticipated the extra workload with Valentine’s Day just around the corner.
“Your mom has a package requiring a signature,” Queenie informed me. “If you want to sign it out, you can just drop it by her place with the mail to save her the trouble of coming in for it.”
I accepted the clipboard and signed my name, Tess Thomas, in the spot reserved for a signature from my mother, Lucy Thomas. I had to admit I was curious about what was in the small box with the foreign postmark.
“The box came from Italy,” Queenie informed me as I studied the postmark. “I’m not sure who Romero Montenegro is, but I do love the name. It’s so strong and masculine; I can’t help picturing a half-naked man with dark skin, chiseled features, and dark and soulful eyes every time the name Romero rolls off my tongue.”
“You’ve definitely been reading too many romance novels.”
“There’s no such thing as reading too many romance novels.” Queenie winked.
I opened the top of one of the bags and peered inside. “Did you happen to notice a box for my Aunt Ruthie while you were packing everything up?”
“There was a package. Flat and heavy. I’m thinking a book of some sort.”
“It’s a photo album. Her son Johnny just had a baby a few weeks ago and Ruthie has her first granddaughter. Johnny promised to send a photo album of baby’s first week, and Ruthie has been asking about it every day since she spoke to him. She’ll be thrilled it finally arrived.” I glanced down at my golden retriever, Tilly. “Are you ready to get started?”
Tilly barked once in reply.
I thanked Queenie, and then Tilly and I headed out to my Jeep. Normally, I just parked on one end of Main Street and made my deliveries up one side and down the other. A two-bagger, however, required a slightly different approach; I parked in the middle of the long row of small mom-and-pop-type businesses with the intention of starting in the middle, working one side of the street, crossing, and then doing the other half of the north end, before returning to my Jeep for the second bag and repeating the effort on the south end of town. The diner my mom owned, along with my Aunt Ruthie, was close to the center of town, so I decided to park there and deliver their packages first.
“You’re early today,” Mom greeted as Tilly and I walked in through the front door at around the same time the breakfast crowd was beginning to disperse.
“Ah. I guess that makes sense. Would you care for some coffee?”
“I don’t have time to stay, but I did want to bring you this.” I handed my mom the package from Italy.
She looked so completely shocked and so completely delighted when I handed it to her that I knew there had been more going on with the foreigner she had met briefly last summer than she was willing to let on.
“Isn’t the package from the same man who sent you a card at Christmas?”
“Yes,” Mom said, slipping the small package into the large pocket on the front of her apron. “As you know, we met when he was passing through last summer. Since then, we’ve exchanged correspondence. He’s a very nice man I’ve enjoyed getting to know.”
“Queenie said Romero Montenegro sounds like a name belonging to a muscular man with chiseled features and soulful eyes.”
Mom quickly glanced away. She picked up a rag and began wiping an already clean counter.
“So, does he have soulful eyes?” I couldn’t resist teasing the woman who, as far as I knew, had never even been on a date since she’d been informed my father died fourteen years ago.
“He’s a very nice-looking man. Now, if you don’t mind, I have customers to see to.”
I looked around the half-empty restaurant. Everyone looked to be taken care of, but I didn’t argue. I hated it when my brother, Mike, teased me about my love life, and I thought it was mean of me to tease Mom about hers. “Ruthie’s photo album came. Is she in the kitchen?”
“She is. She’ll be thrilled it’s finally here.” Mom hurried over to the kitchen door and pushed it open. “Ruthie, come on out,” Mom called. “Tess is here, and she brought the photo album Johnny sent.”
The next twenty minutes were taken up by Ruthie showing Mom and me, as well as every customer who hadn’t managed to escape before she opened the book, photos of little Holly Ruth Turner. She really was cute, but the extra time spent at the diner meant I was going to have to hustle to get my two bags of mail delivered before the shops in the area closed for the day. It was winter in White Eagle, which meant that, except for a few of the restaurants and the bars, the shops in town locked their doors and rolled up the sidewalks by five o’clock.
I managed to make up some time with my next few stops. I tried to pause and chat with a handful of people each day, figuring if I mixed it up, I could maintain the relationships I’d built over time without taking a ridiculous amount of time to complete the route assigned to me. Of course, the one stop where I could never seem to get away with a drop and run was the Book Boutique, the bookstore my best friend, Bree Price, owned.
“Oh good, perfect timing,” Bree said as I walked through the front door with a large stack of mail. “Wilma was just asking me about the Valentine’s Day party Brady’s throwing at the shelter.”
I smiled at Wilma Cosgrove, White Eagle’s new librarian and a fellow dog lover, who had been standing at the counter chatting with Bree. “What do you want to know?”
“I’ve been thinking of adopting a second dog. Sasha gets bored at home by herself all day, and unlike you, I’m not lucky enough to be able to bring her to work with me. How exactly does the party work?”
I set Bree’s mail on the counter. “It’s basically an adoption clinic, but Brady has arranged to use the high school’s multipurpose room. He’s going to decorate it with a Valentine theme and offer punch and cookies to those who show up. He plans to secure the exits other than the main entry, so the dogs and prospective owners can socialize in a casual atmosphere without having to worry about the animals getting out. He even plans to provide bean bag chairs for cuddling, balls for throwing, and toys for playing. He wants folks to relax with and really get to know the dogs available for adoption.”
“It sounds like fun. The event is Saturday?”
“Ten to two,” I confirmed.
“Great. I’ll plan to attend. Right now, I should get going. The library opens in twenty minutes.”
After Wilma left, Bree grabbed me by the arm. “Come with me. You have to see this.”
I let Bree drag me down the hallway to her office. Tilly trailed along behind us. Sitting in the middle of Bree’s desk was a beautiful bouquet of flowers. “Wow. That’s some bouquet. Who’s it from?”
Bree shrugged. “No idea. The delivery guy who brought it this morning said the flowers had been ordered and paid for by a source who wished to remain anonymous.”
“Was there a card?”
“Just a small one that said, ‘Happy Valentine’s Day from a friend.’ I love the mystery of an anonymous gift, but I’m dying to know who it’s from. I’ve been racking my brain since it was delivered, but I can’t think of a single person who would send such a wonderful bouquet.”
Like Bree, I had no idea who would have sent the flowers, but I was grateful. Bree had been so depressed since her last boyfriend had been sent to prison after admitting to stealing an old man’s life savings. It was good to see a smile on her face and a sparkle in her eye for the first time in weeks. “Maybe the flowers were sent by a customer? Or someone from book club?”
Bree tilted her head, causing her long blond hair to drape over her shoulder. “There are a couple of guys in book club who’ve asked me out, but I made it clear to each of them that I wasn’t looking for a romantic entanglement at this point. I can’t think of a single guy who would do something like this.”
“I’m sure the flowers are just an icebreaker, and the man who sent them will follow up. In the meantime, enjoy the mystery.”
Bree shrugged. “Yeah. I guess that makes sense. Are you coming to book club tonight?”
“If I can get the route done in time. I have a two-bagger today, so I’d best get going.”
“Okay. Let me know if you aren’t going to make it for some reason. Otherwise, I’ll plan on you being there. If you want, we can get dinner after.”
“I’d like that. I’ll see you at six.”
I left the bookstore and continued down the main street. I’d finished a quarter of the route and was nearing the halfway point, where I’d exchange my empty bag for the full one, when I got a text from Brady Baker, the new veterinarian in town. He asked if I had time to hand out some flyers for the Valentine party. I texted back that I had time to hand them out, but I didn’t have time to pick them up. He texted that he would have Lilly meet me in midroute.
Lilly Long was Brady’s new partner. She seemed to have been a good choice because she not only had been a practicing veterinarian for eight years, but she appeared to be a small-town girl at heart. She fit right in with the local crowd, which I knew was wonderful for Brady, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about her living and working with White Eagle’s most eligible bachelor. Brady and I were just friends, and he’d said on several occasions that he and Lilly were just friends as well, yet the thought of the two veterinarians spending so much time together caused a twinge of jealousy I couldn’t rationally explain. I texted Brady again and informed him where I’d be, so Lilly could meet up with me. Then I slipped my phone into my pocket and continued on my route.
“Afternoon, Hap,” I said to Hap Hollister as I entered his home and hardware store.
“Seems like you’re late today,” Hap said as I set his mail on the counter. When I only had one bag of mail to deliver, his store was one of my first deliveries.
“I should have known. Lots of folks getting cards from their sweethearts, I imagine.”
“Cards and packages. Have you decided what you’re getting Hattie for Valentine’s Day?”
Hattie Johnson was Hap’s wife, or ex-wife, or something. To be honest, I wasn’t sure exactly where they stood legally. What I did know was that Hap and Hattie used to be married, but they separated, or possibly divorced, a few years ago and moved into separate residences, but they continued to spend time together and went out on weekly dates.
“I’m struggling with that one a bit. We have our date night tonight. I’m hoping she’ll drop a few hints as to what she’d like.”
“Will you be taking her out on the big night?”
Hap frowned. “I’m not really clear on that. On one hand, our relationship agreement stipulates that Hattie will make dinner for me every Sunday, as well as on the seven major holidays, and in exchange, I’ll take her on a proper date I plan and pay for every Wednesday and every other Saturday. The problem is, Valentine’s Day is on Wednesday. Wednesday is my night to provide a date, but Valentine’s Day is a holiday and therefore Hattie’s day to cook for me.”
“I guess you’ll have to talk to her about it when you see her tonight.”
“Yeah. I guess I will. By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask how Tang is doing. I miss the little guy now that he no longer does your route with you.”
“He’s doing well. I’ll try to bring him by for a visit later in the week.”
Tangletoe, or Tang for short, was an orange-and-white-striped kitten I found tangled up in some fishing wire just before Christmas. When I first found him, he was too young to be left alone, so Tilly carried Tang on the route with us in a backpack. When he got a bit bigger, I knew it would no longer work to bring him everywhere I went the way I brought Tilly, so I adopted a buddy for him, a beautiful longhair black kitten named Tinder. Tang and Tinder seemed quite happy staying behind and destroying my cabin while Tilly and I delivered the mail.
Lilly was just pulling up into the loading zone in front of Cartwright’s Furniture as I approached with the mail. I took a small detour to greet her at her car. The pretty woman with long black hair and huge brown eyes rolled down the driver’s side window and handed me a stack of pink and white posters advertising the adoption event on Saturday.
“Brady says thank you, as do I,” Lilly said as I tucked the posters into my bag.
“Tilly and I are happy to help. It’ll be wonderful to find homes for as many of the shelter residents as possible.”
“I know you plan to show up early on Saturday.” Lilly tucked a lock of her long hair behind one ear. “Do you think you’d have time to stop by the bakery on Saturday morning to pick up the cookies Brady ordered?”
“No problem at all. Did he order them from Hattie?”
Lilly nodded. “Five dozen heart-shaped sugar cookies with pink frosting. Hattie said she’d throw in a cooler of punch.”
“Okay. I’ll pick up the sweets and be at the high school by eight to help with the setup.”
“Thanks, Tess. You’re a peach.”
Lilly rolled up her window and pulled into traffic while Tilly and I continued our route. By the time I’d delivered all the mail I’d been entrusted with for the day, it was almost five o’clock. I knew I’d have to hurry if I was going to make it home to change and drop off Tilly and make it back into town by six o’clock for book club. We’d had snow earlier in the week, so I couldn’t drive too quickly; still, I pressed the speed limit just a bit so as not to be late. My cabin was located outside of town in a rural area off the highway. It’s an old, dilapidated building on a large piece of land surrounded by forest that I wouldn’t trade for anything. There are times during the winter when having such a long commute gets tiresome, but whenever I stand on my deck and listen to the sweet sound of nothing, I know I’m truly living in heaven.
I was just slowing down to navigate a tight curve when I heard a loud crash. I barely had time to apply my brakes when a deer ran onto the road ahead of me. I swerved to avoid hitting him, which caused me to fishtail before coming to a stop in the middle of the road. After taking a few deep breaths to calm my nerves, I slowly pulled onto the gravel shoulder, where a vehicle sat motionless. Based on the damage to the front end, the crash I’d heard must have been this vehicle hitting something just seconds before I arrived.
The winner of the $10 Amazon gift card is Jeanette Mulroy. Please email me at email@example.com to collect your prize.