Reindeer Roundup

 

It’s finally here! A very special Zoe Donovan Christmas Mystery published today.

A sneak peek is provided below.

 

Chapter 1
Friday, December 15

I wasn’t sure exactly when the fog had rolled in, but I was having the darnedest time trying to figure out where I was and what it was I was supposed to be doing. Even though the fog was so thick I couldn’t clearly define the images surrounding me, I could see red and green blinking lights overhead. I closed my eyes as nausea gripped me. I tried to focus and figure out what was going on, but the sound of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” blaring through loudspeakers was so jolting it caused my head to pulsate in time to the music. I had pretty much convinced myself I was trapped in some sort of Christmas nightmare when I heard the voice of my best friend, Ellie Denton.

“Zoe, are you okay?”

I tried to focus on her voice, but it seemed so far away.

“Come on, sweetie. Wake up. The ambulance is on the way.”

Ambulance? Maybe I really was trapped in a nightmare.

“I think she’s coming to,” Ellie assured someone as the fog began to lift. I realized I was lying on my back on a hard object. Maybe the floor. I didn’t have a clear sense of where I was or how I’d come to be there, but I could feel Ellie’s hands stroking my hair as I made my way through the murky landscape toward the voice that was pleading with me to open my eyes.

“She’s opening her eyes,” Ellie screeched.

I cringed. My head felt like I’d partied way too hard and Ellie’s happy chirps of relief weren’t helping.

“Are you okay?” Ellie’s brown eyes looked directly into my blue ones. “Do you feel any pain?”

“I’m fine. What happened?”

“You tripped over the elf with the candy canes and fell face first into Santa’s lap. You have a huge bump on your head, but I think the baby is okay.”

Baby? I reached down and touched my swollen stomach. Oh God, Catherine. “Are you sure Catherine’s okay?” I croaked, barely able to find my voice.

“I think so. You tripped and fell to your knees. When you fell forward your face hit Santa’s chair, but he caught you by the shoulders. You didn’t hit your stomach. There’s an ambulance on the way. Just lie still until it gets here.”

As it turned out, lying still was all I felt up to, so I happily complied. I could hear people moving around, but it seemed like too much of an effort to open my eyes, so I simply allowed myself to drift into the space that exists between sleep and wakefulness. As I waited for whatever would come next, I let my mind wander wherever it chose in an attempt to block out the chaos around me.

I’d been Christmas shopping with Ellie and baby Eli. We’d been marveling at the lavish holiday decorations the department store had set out this year when Ellie noticed a Santa sitting in a big red chair listening to the wishes of the boys and girls who’d been waiting in line. Ellie wanted to get a photo of Eli with Santa, so we’d headed in that direction. I remembered being a little sad that Catherine wasn’t with us this Christmas, while at the same time being excited about what the new year would bring. I remember being worried, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember why. I do remember the fear in my heart had caused me to become distracted, which is probably how I tripped over the elf in the first place.

“The ambulance is here,” someone said.

I could hear rustling and shuffling but decided it still wasn’t worth the effort to open my eyes, so I just lay there and waited.

“The ambulance is going to take you to the hospital,” Ellie said. “I can’t go with you because I have Eli with me, but I called Levi and he’s on his way. We’ll meet you there.”

“Zak?”

Ellie took my hand in hers. “Zak isn’t here, sweetie. Remember the accident?”

I cringed as my eyes closed tighter. Suddenly, I remembered what it was I’d been distracted by.

******

I wasn’t sure how long I’d been asleep, but when I next opened my eyes Ellie was sitting in the chair next to the bed I was lying in. I was hooked up to so many monitors I couldn’t begin to figure out what they were measuring, but I felt a lot better, so I hoped everything was fine.

“Ellie?”

Ellie set down the book she’d been reading and smiled. “Oh good, you’re awake.”

“Is Catherine okay?”

“Catherine’s fine. You are as well. The doctor said you have a mild concussion and he wants to keep an eye on you overnight, but you should be fine to go home tomorrow.”

I put my hand on my stomach and was greeted with a strong kick. There was no doubt in my mind that my daughter was going to be a soccer player. “What about the kids?”

“Levi picked Alex and Scooter up at school and took them home. Alex’s working on the Santa’s sleigh project and Scooter is finishing up a project for school. Levi, Eli, the dogs, and I are going to stay at your place for a few days. We don’t want you to be alone while Zak’s away.”

“Does he know?”

Ellie shook her head. “I wanted to talk to you first. On one hand, Zak’s your husband and should be informed of your little accident, but on the other, I felt like he already had a lot on his plate and didn’t want to send him totally over the edge.”

“I’m glad you waited to tell him. If you told him he’d only worry, and he really needs to focus on his mom right now. I’m fine, and with you and Levi to help me, I’m sure everything here in Ashton Falls will be back to normal in no time.”

“Whatever you think is best. The doctor is on his way in to speak to you, so I’m going to go call Levi to let everyone back at the house know you’re awake.”

“Okay. And thanks, Ellie.”

The doctor came in to do an exam as soon as Ellie left. I lay quietly, trying not to worry about my husband and the internal struggle we’d both been dealing with since we’d learned of his mother’s accident. Any way you diced it, it was my fault Zak’s mother was lying in a hospital in Paris, France, with serious injuries. No, I hadn’t been driving the automobile that had run her down, but the only reason she was in Paris and not here, safe in Ashton Falls, was because she’d wanted to spend Christmas with us, I hadn’t wanted her to, and Zak had wanted to make me happy. He knew reasoning with his mother wouldn’t work, so he’d sent her to Paris for Christmas as some sort of a bribe.

Had there ever been a worse daughter-in-law than me?

“Are you feeling any pain?” the doctor asked.

“No. I’m fine.”

“Your whole body just tensed up.”

I let out a breath. “Sorry. I was just thinking about my mother-in-law. She was in a serious accident overseas and I guess I’m worried.”

The doctor took off his gloves and took a step back. “That’s understandable, but it’s important that you try to relax. Your baby has been through enough stress for one day.”

“I know. I’ll try harder. Is everything okay?”

“Everything should be fine. I want to keep you overnight for observation, but you should be able to go home tomorrow. Your friend told me she’d be there to help you until your husband returned.”

“She will. I’ll have a lot of help.”

“Okay, then. Get some rest and I’ll check in on you in the morning.”

I noticed my cell phone on the nightstand next to the bed. I picked it up and checked for messages. Although it was after six, I realized I hadn’t checked my phone since before Ellie had picked me up for lunch and shopping. There were eight texts and two voice messages, but nothing from Zak. I figured he should have landed in France by now and would have called, but I supposed he had more important things on his mind.

The first text message was from my mom, asking me if I had any news on Zak’s mom. I texted her back, letting her know I hadn’t heard anything, but I’d let her know as soon as I did. I considered telling her about my own elf accident, but I knew she’d just worry, so I decided to wait until I was safely home before mentioning anything about it.

The next text message was from a woman named Stella Green. I’d gone to high school with her, but we hadn’t stayed in touch, so I didn’t consider her to be a close friend. The text just said Call me, so I skipped it and went on to the next.

The third text was from the Christmas store in town, letting me know the custom ornaments I’d ordered had come in and I could pick them up at my earliest convenience. I was excited to see how they’d turned out, so maybe I’d ask Ellie to pick them up for me.

The fourth text was from Stella again, asking me to call her and adding the words it’s really important to the end. I once again skipped over it, figuring I’d call her after I got home.

The fifth text was from Scooter, asking if his friend Tucker could spend the night. I realized he’d texted before he knew I was in the hospital, but I decided to text back anyway, letting him know I was doing fine but he’d need to take a rain check.

The sixth text was from my grandfather’s girlfriend, Hazel Hampton, asking if I was planning to participate in the cookie exchange this year. Knowing Ellie, she’d already made cookies for us both to bring, so I texted back to let her know I planned to attend and wanted to confirm the exchange was still scheduled for Tuesday.

The seventh text was from my mom again, asking if I wanted her to make a Christmas stocking for Catherine. I texted back that Catherine wasn’t due until three weeks after Christmas, but if she had time and wanted to do it, we could always use the stocking next year.

The last text was from Alex, asking if I was okay. I guess Levi must have told her what was going on. I told her I was fine, but they wanted to keep an eye on me, so I was staying the night. I told her I’d call her later.

Both voice messages were from Stella. The first said she’d been getting strange emails and she wondered if Zak could help her track down the source. The second message sounded a bit tenser, as she asked me to please get back to her right away. I was about to call her when Ellie came in.

“So, everything went well?” Ellie asked.

“Yes. I can go home tomorrow. You don’t have to stay with me. Go home to your husband and baby. I’ll be fine.”

“I know you’ll be fine, but I’m not leaving until they kick me out.” Ellie noticed the phone in my hand.

“He didn’t call?”

I shook my head. “He must hate me.”

Ellie sat down on the side of my bed and took my hand in hers. “Zak doesn’t hate you. He loves you. It’s not your fault his mother was in an accident.”

“If I hadn’t been such a big, complaining baby she’d be safe and sound in Ashton Falls, making me crazy and not clinging to her life halfway around the world.”

“You might not have wanted her to come to Ashton Falls for Christmas, but you didn’t force her to go to Paris, and you certainly didn’t force her to walk down a narrow street late at night where a drunk driver ran into her. Why was she walking down a narrow street late at night anyway?”

“I don’t know. Zak doesn’t know. It is rather odd.”

“To be honest, Zak’s mother doesn’t seem the sort to walk anywhere.”

“She’s not. The whole thing makes no sense. Hopefully, she’ll regain consciousness and tell us what happened.”

Ellie squeezed my hand. “She will. She may already have. Chances are, Zak hasn’t even made it to the hospital yet. I’m sure he’ll call you when he has news to share.”

I wanted to respond that I was sure he would, but I really wasn’t so sure. I couldn’t get out of my mind the haunted look on his face when he’d first received the call from the hospital in Paris. He’d looked so lost and scared. I wasn’t used to my big, strong husband looking like a terrified little boy. I closed my eyes, fighting back my own tears.

“Are you okay? Should I call the nurse?”

“I’m just tired, and I can’t help but worry about Zak and his mom. Let’s talk about something else. Did Levi have a chance to talk to the guy who’s running the new tree lot in town?”

“He tried, but the guy’s being completely unreasonable. Despite the fact that his lot is right next door to the one Levi’s running for the high school sports program, he maintains it’s his right to sell his trees for whatever price he wants even though it’s killing the high school’s business.”

“What I don’t understand is how he’s selling the trees so cheaply.”

“It seems like he’s using the cheap trees to get people onto the lot and then he sells them baked goods, ornaments, photos with Santa, and a variety of other add-ons for an exorbitant price. Levi’s getting pretty frustrated, and I hear he’s not the only one who’s complained about the loud music and flashing lights, but it appears he has permits for everything, so there isn’t a lot Levi can do.”

“Poor Levi. It’s really going to hurt the high school if they can’t sell their trees.”

“Yeah.” Ellie sighed. “It really is. But I don’t want you to worry about that or anything else. The doctor said you need to relax.”

“It’s kinda hard to relax with so much going on.”

Ellie put her hand over mine. “I know, sweetie. But you need to try. If not for yourself, for Catherine.”

Ellie was right. The past twenty-four hours had been so hectic, and I knew I needed to create a safe and stress-free environment for Catherine, so I tried to focus on happy thoughts. “The ornaments I ordered are ready at the holiday store. I don’t suppose you’d mind picking them up on your way home?”

“I’d be happy to. And I love the idea of a custom ornament for each member of your family. I wish I’d thought of it, but it’s probably too late to order them now.”

“I was going to surprise you, but I ordered ornaments for you, Levi, Eli, and even Shep and Karloff.”

Ellie’s face softened. “Sweetie, that’s so nice. Thank you so much.”

“In addition to the ornaments I ordered for your family and mine, I also got ornaments for my parents and Harper,” I said, referring to my sister, “as well as my grandpa and Hazel.”

“I’m sure everyone will love them. It means a lot that you remembered us.”

“I figured I’m not good at cooking or baking like you are and I can’t sew like Mom can, but I can shop with the best of them and I wanted to do something special this year.”

“Well, I’m excited to see what you got.”

“Speaking of cooking and baking, Hazel texted me about the cookie exchange on Tuesday. I’m assuming you’ve made or will make cookies for both of us?”

“I’m totally on it. And we can go together, so you don’t need to drive.”

“Thanks, El. You’re a good friend.”

“I’m just trying to be as good a friend as my best friend.”

I frowned. “You do mean me?”

“Of course, silly. By the way, the kids and I plan to finish decorating tomorrow, if it’s okay with you. I don’t want to intrude on your space, but I figured you probably wouldn’t feel up to hanging the garland from the staircase or finishing the Santa’s Village Zak was working on for the front lawn before he left.”

“You’re right. I probably won’t be able to do it myself, but it would be nice to have everything done before Zak gets back. Alex knows where the garland for the stairs is stored and Zak had everything for the Santa’s Village in his shed. Oh, and tell Levi not to forget to feed the reindeer. I know Zak went over everything with him before he left.”

Zak had rented eight reindeer for the Hometown Christmas event that would be held from five p.m. on December 22 until five p.m. on December 24. The reindeer were in a pen on our property for the time being, but the events committee planned to truck them to a pen near the Santa’s Village, which was currently being erected for the annual event.

“I’ll make sure Levi feeds them using the notes Zak left. I don’t want you to worry about anything. Levi and I will take care of everything.”

“Thanks, Ellie. I feel like I should be home taking care of things, not lying here doing nothing.”

“The kids will be fine. The house will be fine.”

“I know. It’s just such a busy time at the Zimmerman household. Tell Alex the check Zak left for her shopping trip with the Santa’s sleigh committee this weekend is in the top drawer of Zak’s desk. I think they plan to go to the mall in Bryton Lake tomorrow to pick up whatever wish lists items weren’t donated.”

“I’ll tell her. And don’t worry. I have the impression Alex and her team have the whole thing handled.”

“I’m sure they do.”

“You look tired.”

“I guess I am.”

“Then I’m going to go and let you get some sleep. I’ll be back in the morning.”

“Okay. And thanks again.”

As I closed my eyes in an attempt to fall asleep, I tried to focus on all the good things in my life. My wonderful husband and three honorary children. Pi was Zak’s ward, or at least he had been before he turned eighteen. Currently, he was more of an assistant and would work full time for Zak once he finished college. He planned to come home for Christmas once he finished his last final on Wednesday. Scooter was thirteen and had first come to us when Zak agreed to babysitting duty after his mother died. Eventually, Scooter had come to live with us as well, and on a magical Christmas three years ago he’d brought with him his best friend, Alex, who had captured my heart the way no other child ever had. Alex was a brilliant and mature thirteen-year-old with a heart as big as creation. Last year she’d founded the Santa’s sleigh program, collecting toys and food for those in need and then distributed wrapped gifts and food baskets a few days before Christmas.

And then, of course, there were the four-legged members of the Donovan-Zimmerman household. My dog Charlie, Zak’s dog Bella, Scooter’s dog Digger, and my cats, Marlow and Spade. Alex seemed to have a revolving door of animals she fostered, but right now all the animals that had been in her care had found forever homes.

And last but not least, I was blessed with the best friends in the entire world, Levi and Ellie. They’d been my friends for most of my life and I considered them family. As I drifted off to sleep, my thoughts changed to baby Catherine, who would soon make her entrance into the world. I didn’t say so to Ellie, but even though Catherine wasn’t due until after the first of the year, I’d gone ahead and bought an ornament for her just in case she decided to make an early appearance. I’d been having a few contractions in the past week and the doctor has assured me Catherine was fully developed, so if she did decide to arrive a couple of weeks early everything should be fine. It was strange, because one part of me was anxious for her arrival and another was terrified.

Standard

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.

Standard

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.”

Standard

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.

 

Standard

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.

 

 

Standard

Character Interview part 2

 

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

*********************

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.

*********************

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.

*******************

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.

**********************

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.

*********************

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.

Standard