The Valentine Mystery                                                                                                                                                                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.


Chapter 1
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 to collect your prize.






A Haunting By The Sea

I have a new series premiering on April 10 that I am very excited about. It is a spinoff of the Seacliff High series although you will not have to have read the Seacliff High series to follow and enjoy it. Book 1 in the series – Homecoming By The Sea – is available for presale and will publish on April 10th. I will do a blog with a preview when it gets closer but if you would like to preorder today here is the link: 

Many of you have asked if the new series will pick up where the old series left off. The answer is not really but sort of (how is that for ambiguity?) Here is what I will say:

If you have read the Seacliff High Series you are all set to enjoy Homecoming By The Sea.

If you haven’t read the Seacliff High Series and don’t want to read it – no need to worry. I cover the backstory of the main characters in Chapter 1, Book 1, of the new series. I’ve tried to keep the backstory to a minimum so as not to bore those readers who have read the series but the information provided will be sufficient to enjoy the new series without having read the original series.

If you haven’t read the Seacliff High Series and do want to read it, I have the books on sale prior to the new series launching. Here is the schedule:

Seacliff High Books in order:

The Secret – FREE – Feb 21 – 25

The Curse – $.99 – Feb 28 – March 6

The Relic – $.99 – March 7 – 13

The Conspiracy – $.99 – March 14 – 20

The Grudge – $.99 – March 21 – 27

The Shadow – $.99 – March 28 – April 3

The Haunting – $.99 – April 4 – 10

Homecoming By The Sea launches – April 10


I hope you will all try the new series. I am writing it this week and I have been having the best time with it. It is both funny and suspenseful with a small town feel and plenty of heartwarming scenes. The mystery is interesting and consist of many layers that will need to be unraveled in order to figure out what is going on. Those who have read the Seacliff High Series will be able to catch up with some old friends while meeting new friends along the way. I really think this will end up being one of my most popular series.

Anyway, I’d love to hear your thoughts so comment below and let me know what you think. I will choose 1 winner from all the comments to receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card.



Fifth Night

Fifth Night, book 5 in the Writer’s Retreat Series publishes on January 25. Here is a preview if you are interested.


Chapter 1
Monday, January 22

“Hi, everyone,” the young woman with a rounded belly on a stick-thin frame, long blond hair, and large haunted eyes, began. “My name is Abby Boston. Brit asked me to come here tonight to tell my story.” She nervously glanced at Brit Baxter, the youngest member of the Mystery Mastermind Group, which met every Monday evening at the Gull Island Writers’ Retreat. It looked like the poor girl might flee, but Brit smiled encouragingly. Abby nodded at her, and then turned once more to face the group. “As you may know, my husband, Bobby, died six months ago, leaving me to care for my nieces and nephews on my own.” Abby rubbed her huge stomach. “Baby Tammy, to be named for my late sister, will be joining us shortly, and I’m terrified. You see,” Abby glanced around the room, her eyes filling with tears, “after Bobby died, I got behind on my mortgage. I received a notice from the bank last week saying I either needed to get my loan up to date or vacate the house.” Abby’s eyes met mine. My heart was breaking for the young woman who had lost first her sister and then her husband. “I don’t have the money to pay the bank and I don’t know where the kids and I will go if we lose the house. I spoke to Brit about my dilemma and she said you all might be able to help.”

“Are you looking for a donation?” asked Alex Cole, a fun and flirty millennial who made his first million writing science fiction when he was just twenty-two.

“No, sir.” Abby shook her head vigorously. “I’m not looking for a handout. The kids and I will find a way to make it on our own.”

“So why are you here?” asked Victoria Vance, a romance novelist and my best friend.

“Bobby had an insurance policy. He took it out when my sister was killed and her kids came to live with us. He worked as a firefighter, and a fisherman on his days off. Both are high-risk jobs, and he wanted to be sure we’d be taken care of if anything happened to him. The problem is that the insurance company is refusing to pay. There’s a stipulation in the policy that they won’t in cases of suicide.”

That seemed a pretty standard condition to me. “What exactly are you asking?” I wondered.

“I need for you, Ms. Hanford, and your group, to prove Bobby didn’t commit suicide. I need you to prove he was murdered.”

I paused to consider her request. I didn’t know a lot about the case, but I did remember when Bobby Boston died. It seemed Deputy Rick Savage, Vikki’s boyfriend and a friend of the group, had been the one who investigated, and he’d determined there was no evidence to rule the case anything other than a suicide. Of course, I hadn’t known Rick back then; I’d just moved to the island when Abby’s husband had been found dead, so I didn’t have the background to have a firm opinion about it.

“I know Jill and the rest of you probably think it will be a long shot to prove a man who died by asphyxiation after leaving a suicide note was really murdered,” Brit added. “But it’s the only shot Abby has. She shared with me the details relating to the series of events leading up to her husband’s death and I really think she may be on to something. It does appear as if he might have been set up to take the fall for the real arsonist.”

“Okay.” I looked around at the people gathered. I could sense their sympathy for the young woman who seemed to be shouldering the weight of the world; and their trepidation at becoming involved in a case that, certainly on the surface, appeared to be cut and dried. “I’d love to help Abby, but I think we should hear the rest of the story before we decide.” I looked at Abby. “Please continue.”

Her face became even paler than before. I could imagine how she must feel, standing in front of our group pleading her case while we decided whether we believed her story. I hadn’t meant to make her feel like she was on trial, but I was pretty sure that was exactly how she did. “On second thought,” I glanced at Brit, “maybe you should tell us what you know, and Abby can fill in where necessary.”

Brit smiled at me with a look of thanks. “That would probably work the best.” She turned to Abby. “Why don’t you sit down next to me so you’ll be close by if I need to verify anything?” Abby looked like she’d been granted a reprieve and did exactly as Brit had suggested. Once Abby was seated, Brit looked around the room, making eye contact with each of the seven people present before she continued. “Abby’s husband, Bobby, worked as a firefighter for the Gull Island Fire Department. Beginning in May of this past year, there were a series of fires, which eventually were ruled to be arson. In all, there were five fires that burned down five structures over a six-week period.”

“I remember that,” said Jack Jones, my boyfriend and the owner of the Gull Island News. “Initially, he was referred to as the gentleman arsonist because all the fires were set at insured and unoccupied structures. While the fires caused inconvenience, the sites seemed to have been selected to cause minimal harm.”

“That’s true,” Brit confirmed. “Until the last one. On the fifth night, a home was burned to the ground. The family who lived there were away on vacation, and it was assumed that, like the other four fires, the fifth would result in no casualties. The problem was, a friend of the family was staying in the house, seemingly unbeknownst to anyone on the island. He died of smoke inhalation.” The group remained silent while we waited for Brit to continue. “A week after the fifth fire, Abby found Bobby dead in their garage when she got back from shopping. He was sitting in the driver’s seat of his car, with a note claiming responsibility for the death of the man who’d died in the last fire beside him. The note said he was unable to live with the guilt of having been responsible for the man’s death.”

“And you don’t think that was what happened?” asked George Baxter, Brit’s uncle, a mystery writer and the most senior member of our group.

“Abby’s certain her husband would never set the fires or willingly leave her to raise five children on her own. She believes the person who was really responsible for the fires killed Bobby and made it look like he was the one behind them. I can’t claim to have any empirical proof one way or the other, but after speaking with Abby, I have reason to believe she may be on to something. That’s why we’re asking the Mystery Mastermind Group to look in to the situation.”

The group had been formed to look in to old cases that had been closed but seemed to still have unanswered questions. Abby’s case seemed like a worthwhile one to take on, but I wanted to leave that up to everyone. It was going to be hard to discuss the case with Abby sitting among us, so I called for a break, at which time I suggested to Brit that it might be best if Abby left. We would make a decision and Brit could let her know the following morning.

I put on a fresh pot of coffee while Brit walked Abby out to her car. The case with which they’d presented us had the potential to become a highly emotional one for everyone involved. I hoped everyone, if they agreed to take it on, would be up to the task of finding the truth, even if it turned out it wasn’t what we were looking for.

“What do you think?” I asked after coffee cups had been refreshed and the group had reconvened.

“My sense is that Abby’s telling the truth,” Clara Kline, a self-proclaimed psychic, spoke up. “I don’t have a sense about her husband and his role in the arson cases, but if you’re asking if I’m voting to take on her case, I say we should.”

I glanced at my half brother, Garrett Hanford, who was sitting next to Clara. He wasn’t a writer, but he owned the resort where the retreat was located and was therefore an honorary member of the group.


“I’m not sure if I should get a vote, but I’m in if I do. I don’t have any idea whether Abby’s husband killed himself, but I can’t help but ache for her and the huge burden she has to bear. If there’s a way to help, I’m up for doing whatever needs to be done.”

“I’m in as well,” said George.

“Me too.” Vikki glanced around the room with a look of determination on her face. I could sense Abby’s story had torn at her tender heart.

I saw Alex turn to look at Brit. He was a great guy, but he tended to be a bit more analytical than the rest of us, and slower to commit. “Abby’s in a tough spot and I think we all want to help her, but is there any evidence at all to support a conclusion different from the obvious one?”

“I have no idea whether Bobby killed himself or if, as Abby suspects, he was murdered and then framed for the arsons. But I do know Abby’s a very nice woman who has been through a lot and is in a tough spot. If our looking in to her husband’s death gives her even a small chance of saving her house, I think we should do it.”

Alex leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest, taking a moment to contemplate the situation. “Was the suicide note handwritten?” he eventually asked.

“Typewritten,” Brit replied. “There was a signature that did appear to be Bobby’s, but we all know there are ways to forge signatures without much effort these days.”

Alex narrowed his gaze. I could sense his hesitation and I was certain Brit could as well.

“Please? For Abby,” Brit added.

Alex shrugged. “Okay. I don’t have a lot going on right now. I’m in.”

“I’m in as well,” Jack said. He sat forward in his chair, resting his forearms on his thighs. “It seems the first order of business should be to deal with the bank. We need to buy ourselves enough time to look in to things. I’ll talk to the bank manager tomorrow.”

I smiled at Jack, who was sitting across the room with his new puppy, Kizmet, at his feet. He was such a wonderful, caring man who really put himself out if he came across a person in need.

“Okay,” I said, “I guess we have our first case of the new year. Jack and I will do some preliminary work tomorrow, and then we’ll get together again to assign tasks. Can everyone meet back here tomorrow evening?”

“Oh, I can’t do tomorrow.” Brit flinched. “I have my writing class. I can do Wednesday.”

“Does Wednesday work for everyone else?” I asked.

“Are you cooking?” Alex asked.

“I’d be happy to.”

“Then I’ll be here. Right now, however, I have a date.”

“A date?” Brit asked. “Is there a new special someone in your life?”

Alex just winked, then left the room.

After everyone had returned to their cabin or room in the main house, Jack and I took Kizzy for a walk on the beach. She was an adorable golden retriever puppy Jack and I had found on the beach just before Christmas. While we didn’t know her exact age, we estimated she must be around five months old. I’d never been much of a pet person, and adopting a dog hadn’t been anywhere on my radar, but in the month Jack and I had shared parenting responsibilities for the easygoing yet rambunctious pup, she had firmly wormed her way into my heart.

“Kizzy did really well at the meeting tonight,” I said as we walked hand in hand. “She didn’t try to chase Agatha once.” Agatha was Clara’s cat, who didn’t have a lot of patience for people, except Clara, or other pets.

“I’ve been working with her. She’s a smart little girl. I think she’s going to turn out to be something very special.”

I watched Kizzy run up and down the beach ahead of us. It was such a peaceful evening. It had turned chilly, but the sky was clear, and there were a million stars overhead. The Turtle Cove Resort, where I had established the Gull Island Writers’ Retreat, had been in Garrett’s family for generations. While the resort initially had been run as a family vacation spot, I’d changed things up a bit after Garrett had his stroke and he asked me to run things. The writers’ colony was situated on a peninsula that featured ocean and sandy beaches to the east and marshland to the west. It truly was an exceptional piece of property, and I considered myself lucky to live here. I currently lived in the main house with Garrett and Clara, while George, Alex, Brit, and Vikki each had their own cabin. Jack, who had more money than he knew what to do with, lived in a huge mansion overlooking the sea, but he had plans to build his own cabin on the grounds so he could be closer to the rest of us.

In addition to the members of the Mystery Mastermind Group, there were three other writers living in cabins. Nicole Carrington is a reclusive true crime writer who initially insisted on being left completely alone but has recently begun to soften up a bit and has even occasionally joined us when we get together for dinner. We also have two temporary residents, a historian who’s staying with us while he completes a book on the area, and a romance writer, who rented one of the newly refurbished cabins for the winter to write the first in a series of steamy novels.

“Do you really think you can convince the bank manager to hold off on the foreclosure while we investigate?”

“I do,” Jack answered. “It may take some negotiation, but in the long run, the bank has nothing to gain by proceeding with the foreclosure process and everything to gain by working out a way for Abby to resume the payments and remain in her home.”

I lay my head on Jack’s shoulder. “It’s nice of you to go the extra mile. I know you’re already superbusy this week with the remodel of the newspaper office.”

Jack slipped an arm around my shoulders and pulled me close. “It’s not a problem at all, but I might need you to be available to babysit if both the paneling guy and the cabinet guy want to show up at the same time again.”

“Are they still arguing over who should have access to the lobby and conference room first?”

“Like eight-year-olds. I’d hire someone else, but there aren’t a lot of choices on the island.”

“Doesn’t it make sense that the paneling should go in first and then the cabinets should go over the paneling?”

“Makes sense to me, but the cabinet guy insists he needs to install the cabinets on bare wall minus the paneling, and the paneling guy says if the cabinets go up first, he’ll have to cut around everything. I think I’m going to shop around a bit before I make a decision about who to hire when I build the cabin.”

“How are the plans for that going?” I asked. I hadn’t been sure it was a good idea for Jack to sell his mansion and move into a small cabin on the beach, but the more we talked about it, the more excited I’d become. Not only would Jack be living only footsteps away from me, but I would have more access to Kizzy as well. Of course, the downside of that living arrangement was that I’d recently started working with Jack at the newspaper. Would there be a point at which so much togetherness evolved into too much togetherness?

“They’re going well,” Jack answered. “If all goes according to plan, I should be able to break ground next month. I want the shell up before the turtles arrive. I figure I’ll take a break from the construction during nesting season, so they won’t be disturbed.”

“I’m sure the turtles will appreciate that, as will the members of the turtle rescue squad.”

Jack picked up a stick and threw it for Kizzy. “I’m not in a hurry, and I’m committed to doing this project in as environmentally conscious a way as possible. That reminds me: did you ever get the interview you were hoping for with the developer who wants to build condos over the wetlands?”

“It’s all set for tomorrow afternoon. I’ve looked at his project and it’s insane. I can’t understand why anyone would want to build housing over water.”

“He wants to rent the units to tourists. His vision is to build everything up on supports and raised walkways, sort of like the huts over the ocean in places like Bali. I get why he thinks the idea will be popular with tourists, but the environmentalists are never going to go for it. It seems to me he’s wasting his time, but I guess it’s his to waste.”

I frowned. “Yeah, I guess. In my experience, however, most developers are accomplished businessmen who don’t go after projects they know will never fly. Maybe he knows something we don’t.”

“Perhaps. We’ll need to keep an eye on things as they develop.”

Kizzy ran up to us and dropped her stick at our feet. I bent down and picked it up, then threw it as hard as I could down the beach, and Kizzy took off running again. “If he does pursue the project, it’s going to become a hot-button issue, which will probably sell a lot of newspapers.”

“Very true.” Jack turned his head slightly and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. “I have some news of my own.”

“Oh? And what’s that?”

“My agent called to tell me that one of the publishing houses I work with is interested in doing more books in the series I wrote for them. In my own mind, I’d already wrapped it up, so I said I wasn’t interested in doing any more books in that series. Now the publisher is offering an obscene advance, and she’s pushing me to make a commitment.”

“I would think a decision like that should be up to you. I mean, your agent works for you, not the other way around.”

Jack nodded. “In theory, sure. But at times these negotiations can become complicated because…”

“Your agent is your mother,” I remembered.

“Exactly. She’s very committed to getting me to change my mind and has decided to come for a visit.”

“I see. And when will she be here?”

“The day after tomorrow.”

I paused before answering. I had a feeling the way I reacted to this news could be important and I didn’t want to get it wrong. “You have a lot going on, and a visit from either a mother or an agent is probably going to add a lot of stress to your schedule, though I’d be excited to meet your mother. I’m sure if she raised an amazing guy like you, she must be pretty amazing herself.”

Jack lifted a shoulder. “She’s amazing, but she’s also driven and can be relentless when it comes to getting what she wants. I love my mother, and I don’t think I made a mistake asking her to be my agent when I was a young man publishing my first book. I probably owe her my career. But now that I own the newspaper and am building a life here on the island, I realize I need to cut back on my fiction output. The problem is that Mom sees the newspaper as a temporary distraction. She talks like I’m having some sort of midlife crisis and the newspaper is a shiny red Corvette. I’d love to have some time to catch up with Mom, but I have a feeling the entire visit is going to be me battling my agent.”

“You’re in a tough spot.”

Jack let out a long breath. “I really am. I never should have allowed her to integrate herself so firmly into my professional life. I’m afraid if I refuse to do what my agent wants, I’ll lose the fairly amiable relationship I’ve always had with my mother.”

“If there’s anything at all I can do to help, just ask.”

Jack looked toward Kizzy, who was chasing the waves. “I might need you to keep Kizzy while my mom’s here. She’ll be staying at my house and isn’t a fan of four-legged creatures of any kind.”

“I’d love to keep Kizzy for a few days. I’m sure she’ll miss you, but it’ll give us a chance to bond. And if you need a place to run away to, my door is always open.”

“I’m glad to hear that. In the meantime, how would you like to stay at my house tonight? I’m afraid we won’t have much time together once Mom gets here.”

“I’d love to. Just let me grab a few things.”

Jack and I returned to the house, where he wiped the sand from Kizzy’s paws while I ran upstairs to grab an overnight bag with basic toiletries and clean clothes for the following morning. Although I hadn’t let on, I was somewhat nervous about Jack’s mother’s upcoming visit. She was important to Jack and Jack was important to me, so I wanted us to get along. When Jack spoke of his mother, it was with a tone that revealed both admiration and trepidation. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. He’d been just nineteen when he’d written his first best seller. His mother, who had a background in marketing, had quit her job to be his agent. Jack’s writing had always been a huge success, and I was sure at least a part of that was due to his mother’s work, but I worried what an overinvolved mother could do to our still-new relationship.

Jack seemed to be his own man, capable of making his own decisions, but I had enough of my own mother issues to understand that when it came to family matters that should be easy, they could have a way of becoming complicated in no time.


Schedule for First Half of 2018


A lot of you have been asking when the next book in your favorite series will be available so here is a tentative schedule for the first half of 2018. This is of course subject to change if need be.


Fifth Night – Book 5 in the Writer’s Retreat Southern Mystery Series

Boxed Set – Zoe Donovan Books 22 – 24


The Valentine Mystery – Book 2 in the Tess and Tilly Series

Boxed Set – Whales and Tails Books 10 – 12


Farewell to Felines – book 15 in the Whales and Tails Series

Finding Answers – book 2 in the Rescue Alaska Mystery Series

Boxed Set – Zoe Donovan books 25 – 27


Hippity Hoppity Homicide – Book 28 in the Zoe Donovan Series

Homecoming By The Sea – Book 1 in the Haunting By The Sea Mystery Series

Boxed Set – Seacliff High Books 1 – 7


Sixth Cabin – Book 6 in the Writer’s Retreat Mystery Series

The Mother’s Day Card – Book 3 in the Tess and Tilly Series

Boxed Set – Sand and Sea Books 1 – 7


Beaches in Paradise – Tj Jensen Paradise Lake Mystery Book 9

The Cat of New Orleans – Book 16 in the Whales and Tails Series

Beginnings By The Sea – book 2 in the Haunting By The Sea Mystery Series

Boxed Set – Whales and Tails Books 13 – 15


I will post the schedule for the second half of the year once I have it figured out. If there are updates I will post them in my newsletter so be sure to check the Upcoming Books section at the bottom of every issue.



Looking Ahead to 2018



If you follow a specific series and you are behind in that series and don’t want to know the status of the characters involved, either skip this blog all together or skip over the series you don’t want spoiled. 

As we enter 2018 I wanted to give those of you who want a peek into the future of Kathi Daley Books an idea of where I am going with each of my 8 series. If you don’t want to know what is coming up you may want to skip this. My approach to this blog is gritty and honest. I will try to share with you the entire thought process I enter into as I make these decisions. 



As those of you who are caught up know, Zak and Zoe welcomed baby Catherine in Reindeer Roundup. I received quite a few emails from concerned fans of the series asking if Reindeer Roundup was the series finale. The answer is no. Zak, Zoe, and baby Catherine will have many adventures ahead of them in the upcoming years including at least 3 new stories in 2018. If you are wondering where I will go with the series next, to a point I really don’t know. I like to let the characters tell the story so until I write whatever is next I really don’t know the exact direction the storyline will take. What I do know is that I don’t want Zoe to be the sort of mom who is always putting her daughter in danger, so Zoe will have to figure out a way to be a good mother and continue to sleuth. I also suspect that Alex will begin to take on a more predominant role in Zoe’s sleuthing activities. The girl is a genius and I think it is a normal progression for Zoe to continue to ask her to help out with hacking activities when Zak is unavailable. The next book in the series will publish in late March or early April. It will be set at Easter and is tentatively titled Hippity Hoppity Homicide.



As those of you who are caught up know, Cait and Cody are engaged, Siobhan and Finn are expecting a baby, Mrs. Hart is seriously dating a widower named Gabe, and Coffee Cat Books has a new employee, a pregnant woman named Willow. In 2018 we will see at least 3 new stories in which both Willow’s and Siobhan’s baby’s will be born. I’m still not sure if Cait and Cody will tie the knot in 2018. I guess we will both have to wait and see. I do suspect that Willow will hook up with Alex and both Willow and Alex will become semi regular characters. I plan to publish the next Whales and Tails in March. I was going to do The Cat of New Orleans but I don’t think I want to do a book on location when so much is going on back home on Madrona Island so I am going to push it back (again) and the next book will be titled Farewell to Felines. The story will deal with a strange phenomenon going on in the hollow (From the Legend of Tabby Hollow) which is causing all the cats to leave.



I am so happy to say that book 1 in the new Tess and Tilly series was a huge success. I am pretty sure this will end up being my third bestselling series and have plans to do at least 3 more in 2018. Next up in the series is The Valentine Mystery, which publishes on February 12 and is already available for presale. The series is too new for me to know exactly where the characters will end up but I will say that I am having a blast with the homey small town of White Eagle and the eclectic group of folks who live there. In book 2 we will see Tess coming into her own as a sleuth with the help of Bree, Tony, and of course Tilly.



I am so delighted that the Writer’s Retreat series has been so well received. I have a lot of ideas for this series and plan to do 4 in 2018. The next book in the series publishes January 25th and is already available for presale. It is titled Fifth Night and features the gang attempting to prove that a man who supposedly committed suicide was really murdered. The gang all join in to help the widow of the man who died as she attempts to raise her sisters four children with one of her own on the way. Blackbeard isn’t in this story as much as some of the others but you can be sure he will continue to jump in and help from time to time. This book also gives us a glimpse as to what is going on with Nicole.



It is a bit early to really tell how this series will do. It was received well enough for me to continue so I plan to do two to 3 new stories in 2018. The characters in this series feel the least known to me and I really have no idea how it will all work out. My favorite part about Finding Justice was the appearance of Shredder and I may bring him back in upcoming books. The next book in this series will publish in April and is titled Finding Answers.



As most of you know I signed a contract with Henery Press for this series. Books 9 and 10 in the series will publish in 2018. Beaches in Paradise will publish in June and Turkey’s in Paradise will publish in November. Turkey’s in Paradise is the last book under my current contract. I am undecided at this point if I will continue.  As you may have figured out I am presenting the series in order of sales status, and the Tj series doesn’t really stack up as well as some of the others. What I will say is that I know I have some diehard Tj fans out there and I will think very carefully about this decision whichever way I go. In the very least you have two new books to look forward to in 2018.



The Sand and Sea Hawaiian Mystery series never really got a foothold for some reason. I really tried to find new readers for the series since there are those of you who love spending time with Luke and Lani but the sales numbers have been ho-hum. At this point I do not have any specific plans to write any more books in this series. If I do decide to give it another try I am going to change it up a bit. At the end of the last book we see that Lani and her father are going to open a detective agency. If I do write new books I am going to rebrand it as Pope and Daughter Investigations. The titles and covers will change to a slightly different theme as well. This is still in the maybe pile so I will let you know if I decide to move forward.



Seacliff High is one of my personal favorites and I have many VERY committed fans but the sales numbers simply do not justify continuing. By the time I pay for editing and a cover I don’t even break even with this series. I think the problem was never the stories themselves, but the fact that I suspect that a lot of readers thought the books would only appeal to teens so they never really gave them a try. I do have an idea to rebrand this as an adult paranormal series. If you have followed the series I would like your feedback on how well you think this would work.

Here is the concept: We rejoin Alyson, Mac, and Trevor seven or eight years after the last book in the Seacliff High series took place. Since that time Alyson and her mom have moved back to New York where her mom returned to her old life and Alyson went to college. We also find that Mac graduated college with a degree in computer science and currently works for some big name tech firm in California making a boat load of money, and Trevor has remained behind in Cutter’s Cove and now owns Pirate’s Pizza. The first book in the new series opens with Alyson finding out that Booker has been murdered. A period of time has passed and the murder has not been solved so Alyson feels that she owes it to the man who did so much to help them out while they were in high school to go home and find his killer. Alyson’s mom still owns the big house on the bluff overlooking the sea, so Alyson returns there. It has been vacant for seven years but it is still livable. After Mac hears that Alyson is back in Cutter’s Cove she takes a leave from her job and returns as well. She moves in with Alyson for the time being. Alyson not only realizes that she had been missing her old life more than she ever realized, but she also realizes that while she could no longer see ghosts while in New York, as soon as she returned to Cutters’ Cove her old gift came back. In fact it is ghost Booker who helps her solve his own murder. At the end of the book Alyson decides to stay in Cutter’s Cove. Mac had been wanting to start her own software firm so she stays as well and moves in with Alyson. Alyson, Mac, and Trevor are back to mystery solving in Cutter’s Cove with the help of ghost Booker only this time as adults. Booker’s home has been donated to the historical society and he continues to live there (as a ghost) – the caretaker is Booker’s niece Monica.

The series title would be: A Haunting by the Sea Mystery – possible titles include: Homecoming by the Sea, Murder by the Sea, Secrets by the Sea, etc.





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.”


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 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.