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Ellie's now a suspect. Besides playing Mrs. Santa for her Air Force pilot husband and their two kids, shielding her eyes from the garishly over-decorated house down ...
Ellie's now a suspect. Besides playing Mrs. Santa for her Air Force pilot husband and their two kids, shielding her eyes from the garishly over-decorated house down the street, and helping a client who's a hardcore hoarder, Ellie also has to solve this ho-ho-homicide. . .and find a killer who wishes her a very deadly Christmas.
Don't miss Ellie Avery's great tips for a relaxed and stress-free holiday season!
Praise for Sara Rosett's Ellie Avery Mysteries
"Some cozies just hit on all cylinders, and Rosett's Ellie Avery titles are among the best." --Library Journal
"Charm, Southern sass, and suspense abound. . .delightful." --Fresh Fiction
"Intriguing characters, a dash of humor, and a suspenseful plot that keeps us guessing until the end." --Katherine Hall Page
"Look at me, Mom," squeaked a voice beside me. I glanced up from the green frosting I was slathering on a Christmas tree–shaped sugar cookie and saw my five-year-old son, Nathan, wearing the pale blue bed sheet that I'd made into a shepherd costume for the annual children's Christmas pageant. I had accomplished this sewing feat despite the fact that I'm not exactly handy with a needle and thread. Until a few weeks ago, fabric glue had been my go-to option when it came to creating Halloween costumes, but the pageant with its numerous rehearsals coupled with Nathan's rather energetic nature called for something sturdier. I was still stunned that it had worked. I'd actually made sleeves. I was grateful that zippers would have been anachronistic.
With the loose folds that draped around his neck and the strand of rope that Mitch had found in the garage for a belt, Nathan had looked authentically pastoral. Now, though, Nathan had the neckline hitched up over his head into a tight-fitting hood that dropped almost below his eyes. He held his shepherd crook—a converted broomstick—horizontally in a fierce two-handed grip. "Luke, come over to the dark side," he said in a breathy whisper and swished his "light saber" back and forth.
I closed my eyes for a moment, half frustrated and half entertained. "Honey, I don't have time to play Star Wars right now." We'd had a marathon viewing session of the original Star Wars trilogy after Thanksgiving dinner this year and the movies had made a huge impression on Nathan. "Remember, I've got company coming. Daddy's taking you and Livvy to get a pizza, so you need to go change."
He whipped the hood off his head and his dark brown eyes, so much like Mitch's, sparkled. "Really?"
"Yep. And, no, you can't take your shepherd's crook with you," I called out after his retreating back.
With a quick glance at the clock, I went back to frosting cookies, slapping the icing on as fast as I could. I had two hours before the squadron spouse club descended on our house and I still had to make the cider, move chairs, start some music, light candles, check the bathroom for toothpaste blobs in the sink, and wrap my present.
Livvy strode into the kitchen, her ponytail bouncing. At least she wasn't in her angel costume. She had a book in the crook of her arm, her butterfly-shaped purse slung over her shoulder, and a coat of clear lip gloss on her rosebud mouth. "I don't see why I can't stay here," she said as she plunked down on a bar stool. She'd had a growth spurt during the summer and I still couldn't believe how tall my eight-year-old was. She tugged at the cuffs of her sweatshirt, which was sprinkled with sparkly snowflakes. "I mean, I understand why Nathan and Dad have to go—they're boys, but I'm a girl. I should get to stay, too, right?"
"Well, honey, it's all grown-ups. Truthfully, I think you'd be bored. We're just going to eat and talk."
"And open presents," she said accusingly.
"Another reason you can't stay," I said gently. "You don't have a present for the gift exchange and everyone has to have one for the game to work."
"But they're just white elephant gifts," she said quickly. "You said the rule was they had to be worth nothing and as horrible as possible."
Of course she was quoting me exactly. Our kids had excellent recall for statements Mitch and I had made—certain special selections only, usually having to do with promises of ice cream and other special treats. Christmas was just weeks away and Livvy and Nathan were in agony. It seemed each day another package arrived in the mail for the kids from our far-flung extended families. It wasn't easy for them to watch the presents pile up and know it would be weeks before they could open anything. "I could find something in my room to give away," she said in a wheedling tone.
"I'm sure you could, but you're not staying tonight. You're going with Dad," I said in a firmer voice. The lure of opening a present—even a white elephant gift—was a heavy draw for her, but since no other kids had been invited, I didn't think it was right to let Livvy stay.
"But, Mom—" The garage door rumbled up. Rex, our rottweiler—who might look intimidating, but had a sweet temperament and would slobber all over anyone who'd let him—shot through the kitchen, scrambling across the tile, then the wood floor, legs flailing. He met Mitch at the door with his typical enthusiasm, wiggling and whining a greeting. Livvy hopped off her bar stool and gripped Mitch's waist to hug him and Nathan flew into the kitchen shouting, "Dad's home! Dad's home! We're going to get a pizza!"
Mitch hugged the kids, scratched Rex's ears, and gave me a kiss, all while setting down his lunch box and leather jacket. He told the kids to get their coats on while he changed out of his flight suit. A few minutes later, he was back in the kitchen in a rugby shirt and jeans, reaching over my shoulder for a carrot stick. "Looks good in here," he said.
I was shaking red sprinkles over the cookies before the frosting set, but I paused and glanced into the living room and the dining room. Sweeps of evergreen garland dotted with tiny white Christmas lights, red bows, and creamy white magnolias decorated the mantel of our gas fireplace. The Christmas tree stood in the corner of the dining room by the window with an assortment of gleaming ornaments interspersed with the homemade ornaments that the kids had made at school. Fat vanilla and cranberry candles in islands of evergreen were scattered over the tables and a potpourri of tiny pine cones, holly, and evergreen scented the air. "It does look good," I said, half surprised. "I've been so focused on checking off each item from my to-do list that I haven't stepped back and taken in the whole picture."
"Imagine that. You, focused on a to-do list," Mitch said, and I swatted his arm with the dish towel.
He dodged the flick of the towel as I said, "It looks great because I focused on that list." Mitch had some ... issues with my list-making habits. He preferred the looser, more relaxed approaches to life. I liked to know exactly where I was going and what I had to do to get there.
He held up his hands in mock surrender. "Right. You're right. Without the list, we'd be lost."
"That's right," I said, smiling because I knew he was humoring me.
He grinned back and let the subject drop. We'd been married long enough that we both knew that neither of us was going to change our outlook on life. Agree to disagree, that was our motto—at least it was our motto where to-do lists were concerned.
He bit into a cookie, then asked, "Tell me again why you're hosting this thing? I thought you'd sworn off squadron parties after my promotion party."
I cringed. "Don't remind me," I said grimly. That promotion party was a squadron legend. "I said I'd host this party in a moment of weakness. Amy was supposed to do it, but her mom went into the hospital." I squared my shoulders. "This party is going to be different from the promotion party—nice and normal. Dull, even. Just good food, conversation, and presents."
"No flaming turkey fryer?" Mitch asked with a straight face. I rolled the dish towel again and he moved out of my range.
"No," I said as I went back to arranging the cookies on a platter. I transferred the platter to the dining-room table. Mitch followed me and began massaging my shoulders.
"I'm sure it will work out fine," he said, all teasing gone from his tone.
"Thanks." I felt my shoulders relaxing under his fingers. I wasn't a natural hostess. I worried too much and spun myself into knots. His arms closed around me. It felt so good to lean into his sturdiness. Five more weeks, I thought, then immediately banished the thought. Mitch's turn for a deployment was coming up in January and I was doing my best to avoid thinking about him leaving—I hated when he had to leave for months on end—but the deployment was always there in the back of my mind.
I heard the kids coming down the hall and twisted around for a quick kiss. "Y'all better hit the road. The spouses will get here soon and I still have to change," I said, lifting my shoulder to indicate my flour-spattered sweatshirt and worn jeans.
"I could help you with that," Mitch said with a wicked gleam in his eye.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Livvy standing in the kitchen, attempting to juggle her mittens. Nathan was running in circles around Rex, who was patiently watching him despite having his stubby tail stepped on.
"I don't think so," I said. With a significant glance at the kids, I lowered my voice. "I doubt that would speed things up."
"That's the whole idea. Speed is overrated," Mitch whispered before he glanced up at the sprigs of mistletoe I'd hung from the chandelier with red ribbon, then gave me a lingering kiss.
"I see your point," I said. "We'll have to finish this ... discussion ... later."
"Yes we will," Mitch said before herding the kids out the door to the car.
I hurried off to change into my favorite deep green sweater with the oversized turtleneck collar and a pair of tailored pants. I managed to get through the rest of my to-do list before my best friend, Abby, arrived.
"Don't panic," she announced, opening the front door. "I'm early. Here." She handed me two poinsettia plants. "I have more in the car." She spun around, her dark, curly hair flying over the fuzzy edging of the hood on her coat.
She'd brought ten plants, which we spaced around the house for the final touch of festiveness. Once those were in place, she made a final trip to her car and returned with a present and a peppermint cheesecake. "I'm so looking forward to this," she said, stripping off her coat and gloves. With her generous smile and curvy figure, she looked spectacular in a white sweater, black pencil skirt, and high-heeled boots.
I deposited her gift under the tree along with my hastily wrapped present and asked, "The third-graders are getting to you?" Abby taught at the nearby elementary.
She rolled her eyes to the ceiling and managed to look both worn-out and guilty at the same time. "They're so sweet, but eight hours of knock-knock jokes? And then when I get home, all Charlie wants to talk about is how much better front-loaders are than dump trucks."
"Is Jeff out of touch again?" I asked. Abby's husband, a pilot like Mitch, was currently on a deployment to an unnamed location in the Middle East. Communication between the deployed location and spouses at home was generally pretty good. There were morale calls, which were usually filled with static and an annoying time delay that made conversation challenging, but it was always good to hear that familiar voice on the phone. And now online video made staying close so much easier, but there were often stretches of time when the guys couldn't communicate for days, maybe weeks, at a time, depending on what they were doing.
"Yeah. I haven't talked to him for four days. There's nothing going on—no bad news, so I know he's just on a mission."
I nodded. You became quite good at reading between the lines of newscasts when you were a military spouse. "Tonight should be a good break for you. I promise there won't be one knock-knock joke. Come on, you can stir the cider and talk about anything you want while I light the candles," I said, leading the way to the kitchen.
"Enough about me, for now. This smells divine." Abby leaned over the simmering saucepan. "What's going on with you?"
I picked up the candle lighter from the counter and flicked it on. "I didn't get the organizing job for the schools." I'd heard through Abby that the North Dawkins school district was looking for an independent contractor to create and implement paper saving strategies throughout the district to help them cut costs.
"Why not?" Abby asked. "You're the best organizer in North Dawkins. How could they not hire you?"
I focused on the small explosion of flame around the wick of one of the candles as it lit. "No, up until a few months ago, I was the only organizer in North Dawkins. That doesn't mean I was the best."
Abby gave the cider a vigorous stir that sent it sloshing around the pan. "You're the best. I know how hard you work. And you're good. Don't get down on yourself. They probably had to delay the decision, or they lost the funding for it in the budget cuts—that happens all the time."
Another wick flared. "Gabrielle Matheson got the job."
Abby sucked in a breath. "No! How do you know? She didn't call to gloat, did she?"
I moved to the candles in the living room. "No, I don't think even she would be that tacky."
"I wouldn't put it past her," Abby murmured.
Freshly divorced and with two kids in college, Gabrielle had supposedly moved from Atlanta to North Dawkins for a fresh start. I knew her sister, Jean Williams, through the squadron spouse club. Jean's husband had retired from the air force, but Jean still attended some spouse club events—"the fun ones, anyway," was how she put it with a smile. Gabrielle had told everyone that she'd moved to North Dawkins so she could be near her sister, but I knew there was another reason. Atlanta was thick with organizers, but there was only one professional organizer between Macon and Valdosta—me. Or, there had been only one until Gabrielle arrived.
Gabrielle had called to introduce herself. Networking, she'd said. Her southern accent had oozed through the phone line, "Us professional organizers have to stick together."
I'd jumped at the idea, thinking it would be great to have someone in town to knock around ideas with. I'd even pitched my latest service to her, consulting with new organizers and helping them set up their businesses. I'd hoped this new venture would take off and I could eventually transition to full-time consulting so that when our next move came, I wouldn't have to start over from scratch again with zero clients. So far, I had two "newbie" organizers in two different states that I was working with long distance, via e-mail and social networking.
"Oh, honey," Gabrielle had said with a throaty laugh. "I don't need your help. I'm an old hand at organizing." She'd immediately switched to a new topic. "I think we should start a local chapter here," she had said, referring to the national association of organizers that we both belonged to. "Since you're so busy with your established clients—and I know you have little kids, too—I'd be happy to be president. Don't worry, you don't have to do anything. I'll take care of everything."
She'd signed off quickly and I'd been left with my mouth open and a dial tone buzzing in my ear. In the two months since she'd moved to North Dawkins, Gabrielle had managed to vacuum up quite a few of my new client leads and she'd also poached one of my most affluent regular clients, Stephanie, who, at one time, had my number on her speed dial. Two weeks after Gabrielle moved to town, Stephanie had called to let me know she wouldn't need me anymore.
"That's three jobs now where she's beat me out," I said, exasperated, as I returned to the kitchen and pulled mugs out of the cabinet for the cider.
"Here. Let me do that. You don't want to chip anything," Abby said. "How did you find out you didn't get the school district job?"
"Candy called me." I'd met Candy when I created storage solutions for a nonprofit group where she worked. She was in her forties, wore huge hoop earrings that always matched her clothes, chomped on gum nonstop, and had a bossy, tough-love kind of personality. She'd left the nonprofit and was now working in the school district office as an administrative assistant. "All she could say was that the director didn't pick my proposal. She asked me to call her back tonight, but I don't think I'll have time." I glanced at my watch. It was almost six.
"Oh, go. Call her. I'll get the door if anyone comes while you're on the phone," Abby said.
Candy answered on the first ring. She sounded slightly out of breath. "Just walked in the door from work. Now, you didn't hear this from me, and I can't say much, but I thought you should know what's going on. You're a good sort, the kind to get run over in a thing like this, so ... officially, Gabrielle got the job because she has more hours available to work each week. Theoretically, she can get it done faster and she had a reference from a school in Peachtree City, which never returned my calls, so I couldn't verify she'd worked for them. She supposedly ran an organizing seminar for the teachers and revamped the school's workroom, which counted as more suitable experience than the organizing you've done for individuals."
"But even if I don't have experience organizing for a school—"
"I know, honey, I know. I've seen you work. You would have known exactly what to do. Anyway, that's all neither here nor there. What really made the difference was as soon as Gabrielle came in the office she schmoozed old Rodrick. That first morning, she just happened to have brought an extra latte, vanilla and skim milk, no less."
Excerpted from Mistletoe, Merriment, And Murder by Sara Rosett Copyright © 2012 by Sara Rosett. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted January 11, 2013
I have read all the Mom Zone Series and I have to tell you that this one does not disappoint. Just when you think you know what is going to happen next there is a surprise that takes you in another direction. A good read for anyone who understands what a busy lifestyle is all about.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 13, 2012
I Also Recommend:
Ellie Avery is a military wife and an expert at moving. She has turned her skills into a business that can travel with her wherever she goes. She is a professional organizer.
In this installment she takes a job helping first rate hoarder eliminate stuff that is beyond repair, donate what she doesn't need, and organize the things she wants to keep. She was really nervous taking on this job but with Gabrielle Matheson, another professional organizer, trying to poach her clients and underbid her on the new ones she has no choice.
Trying to enjoy a little holiday cheer the squadron spouse club gets together for a party. The highlight of the night besides the little argument between Ellie and Gabrielle was the Elephant Swap Gift Exchange. When the gift Ellie receives ends up as a murder weapon she becomes the prime suspect. Ellie now "has to solve this ho-ho-homicide ...and find a killer who wishes her a very deadly Christmas".
I love the television show Army Wives and this series could be a spin-off - Air Force Wives.
I immediately loved the characters and the setting. The mystery was well written and fast paced. Once I started reading I couldn't put it down. The holiday theme was a real treat as I have attended a few Christmas parties myself with a White Elephant Gift Exchange. My favorite character definitely was Ellie's husband Mitch. He reminded me a lot of my husband. The quiet man behind the scenes until you are just about to take things too far and he steps in to try the voice of reason. It's doesn't always work but these guys try.
I will admit this is my first Ellie Avery mystery. The author sent me a copy telling me it could be read as a stand alone, which was true. I am usually a stickler for reading series books in order but Sara Rosett was very smart. I enjoyed this story very much and now I will be reading the rest of the books in this series as soon as possible. :)
This is a wonderful holiday read. Several organizational tips are included too! So whether this is a new series to you or you already love Ellie and her family, this is definitely a book to add to your pre-Christmas list!!
Posted December 3, 2012
This was an action-filled, fast paced story that entertained me as the author gave us plenty of suspects to pin the murder on what a field it was. The tone of the story kept me rooted to the pages as I had to know what happens next and every time I thought I had the killer figured out, another clue pointed in another direction. Boasting a solid storyline, great conversation and wonderful cast of characters, this was a great read, one of the best in the series and I’m looking forward to the next book in this delightfully appealing series.
Posted December 25, 2012
No text was provided for this review.
Posted March 19, 2013
No text was provided for this review.