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After finally arriving at the offices of Jolie, meeting their fellow makeover candidates, and being treated to a fashion show, Elizabeth is ...
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After finally arriving at the offices of Jolie, meeting their fellow makeover candidates, and being treated to a fashion show, Elizabeth is enamored of the extreme outfits and stick-thin models--while Lucy's having some misgivings. The pampering is nice and the glitz and glamour of haute couture is bizarrely fascinating, but bitterness and aggression lurk behind Jolie's hipper-than-thou façade. And things turn downright ugly when self-absorbed fashion editor Nadine Nelson falls mysteriously ill and then dies. . .
Lucy saw first-hand some of the backstabbing going on at Jolie. And the red-hot rumor mill soon reveals that the cliquish connection among the magazine's cabal of high-style executives has stirred up plenty of bad blood over the years. But this Manhattan murder mystery hits too close to home when Elizabeth gets rushed to the hospital with symptoms that are disturbingly similar to Nadine's. Now, it's up to Lucy to dress down a killer before the ball drops in Times Square. . .
A solid month of baking and chasing bargains and wrapping and decorating and secret keeping and it all came down to this: a pile of torn wrapping paper under the Christmas tree, holiday plates scattered with crumbs and half-eaten cookies, punch cups filmed with egg nog, and sitting on one end table, a candy dish holding a pristine and untouched pyramid of ribbon candy. And then there was that awful letter. Why did it have to come on Christmas Eve, just in time to cast a pall over the holiday?
Lucy Stone shook out a plastic trash bag and bent down to scoop up the torn paper, only to discover the family's pet puppy, Libby, had made herself a nest of Christmas wrap and was curled up, sound asleep. No wonder. With all the excitement of opening presents, tantalizing cooking smells, and people coming and going, it had been an exhausting day for her.
Lucy stroked the little Lab's silky head and decided to leave the mess a bit longer. Best to let sleeping dogs lie, especially if the sleeping dog in question happened to be seven months old and increasingly given to bouts of manic activity, which included chewing shoes and furniture. She turned instead to the coffeetable and started stacking plates and cups, then sat down on the sofa as a wave of exhaustion overtook her. It had been a long day. Zoe, her youngest at only eight years old, had awoken early and roused the rest of the house. Sara, fourteen, hadn't minded, but their older sister, Elizabeth, protested the early hour. She was home for Christmas break from Chamberlain College in Boston, where she was a sophomore, and had stayed out late on Christmas Eve catching up with her old high school friends.
She had finally given in and gotten out of bed after a half-hour of coaxing, and the Christmas morning orgy of exchanging presents had begun. What had they been thinking, wondered Lucy, dreading the credit card bills that would arrive as certainly as snow in January. She and Bill had really gone overboard this year, buying skis for Elizabeth and high-tech ice skates for Sara and Zoe. When their oldest child, Toby, arrived later in the day with his fiancée, Molly, they had presented him with a snowboard and her with a luxurious cashmere sweater. And those were only the big presents. There had been all the budget-busting books, CDs, video games, sweaters, and pajamas, right on down to the chocolate oranges and lip balm tucked in the toe of each bulging Christmas stocking.
It all must have cost a fortune, guessed Lucy, who had lost track of the actual total sometime around December 18. Oh, sure, it had been great fun for the hour or two it took to open all the presents, but those credit card balances would linger for months. And what was she going to do about the letter? It was from the financial aid office at Chamberlain College advising her that they had reviewed the family's finances and had cut Elizabeth's aid package by ten thousand dollars. That meant they had to come up with the money or Elizabeth would have to leave school.
She guiltily fingered the diamond studs Bill had surprised her with, saying they were a reward for all the Christmases he was only able to give her a handmade coupon book of promises after they finished buying presents for the kids. It was a lovely gesture, but she knew they couldn't really afford it. She wasn't even sure he had work lined up for the winter. The economy was supposed to be recovering, but like many in the little town of Tinker's Cove, Maine, Bill was self-employed. Over the years he had built a solid reputation as a restoration carpenter, renovating rundown older homes for city folks who wanted a vacation home by the shore. Last year, when the stock market was soaring he had made plenty of money, which was probably why the financial aid office had decided they could afford to pay more. But even last year, Bill's best year ever, they had struggled to meet Elizabeth's college expenses. Now that the Dow was hovering well below its former dizzying heights, Bill's earnings had dropped dramatically. The economists called it a "correction" but it had been a disaster for vacation communities like Tinker's Cove, as the big city lawyers and bankers and stockbrokers who were the mainstay of the second home market found themselves without the fat bonus checks they were counting on.
The sensible course would be to return the earrings to the store for a refund, but that was out of the question. She remembered how excited Bill had been when he gave her the little box and how pleased he'd been at her surprised reaction when she opened it and found the sparkling earrings. All she'd hoped for, really, was a new flannel nightgown. But now she had diamond earrings. He'd also written a private note, apologizing for all the years he'd taken her for granted, like one of the kids. But they had surprised her, too, with their presents. Toby and Molly had given her a pair of buttery soft kid gloves, Elizabeth had presented her with a jar of luxurious lavender body lotion from a trendy Newbury Street shop, Sara had put together a tape of her favorite songs to play in the car and Zoe had found a calendar with photos of Labrador puppies-all presents that had delighted her because they showed a lot of thought.
So how was she repaying them for all their love and thoughtfulness? In just a short while she was going off to New York City with Elizabeth and leaving the rest of the family to fend for themselves. Really abandoning them for most of their Christmas vacation. The bags were packed and standing ready in the hallway; they would leave as soon as Elizabeth returned from saying good-bye to her friends.
She had been thrilled when Elizabeth announced she had entered a Jolie magazine contest and won winter makeovers for herself and her mother. Not only was she enormously proud of her clever daughter but at first she was excited at the prospect of the makeover itself. What working mother wouldn't enjoy a few days of luxurious pampering? But now she wished she could convert the prize into cash. Besides, how would Bill manage without her? What would Zoe and Sara do all day? Watch TV? That was no way to spend a week-long holiday from school.
Also, worried Lucy, checking to make sure the earrings were still firmly in place, what if the supposedly "all-expense paid" makeover wasn't quite as "all-expense paid" as promised? Traveling was expensive-there were always those little incidentals, like tips and magazines and mints and even airplane meals now that you had to buy them, that added up. What if it turned out to be like those "free" facials at the make-up counter where the sales associates pressured you to buy a lot of expensive products that you would never use again?
Lucy sighed. To tell the truth, she was a little uneasy about the whole concept of being made over. There was nothing the matter with her. She stood up and looked at her reflection in the mirror that hung over the couch. She looked fine. Not perfect, of course. She was getting a few crow's feet, there were a few gray hairs and that stubborn five pounds she couldn't seem to lose, but she was neat and trim and could still fit in the sparkly Christmas sweatshirt the kids had given her years ago. And since she only wore it a few times a year it still looked as festive as ever.
Now that she was actually giving it a critical eye, she could understand why her friend Sue always teased her about the sweatshirt. It was boxy and didn't do a thing for her figure. Furthermore, it was the height of kitsch, featuring a bright green Christmas tree decorated with sequins, beads, and bows. Not the least bit sophisticated.
She sighed. She hadn't always been a country mouse; she'd grown up in a suburb of the city and had made frequent forays with her mother, and later with her friends, to shop, see a show, or visit a museum. It would be fun to go back to New York, especially since she hadn't been in years. And she was looking forward to a reunion with her old college buddy, Samantha Blackwell. They had been faithful correspondents through the years, apparently both stuck in the days when people wrote letters, but had never gotten in the habit of telephoning each other. Caught in busy lives with numerous responsibilities, they'd never been able to visit each other, despite numerous attempts. Lucy had married right out of college and moved to Maine, where she started a family and worked as a part-time reporter for the local weekly newspaper. Sam had been one of a handful of pioneering women accepted to study for the ministry at Union Theological Seminary and had promptly fulfilled the reluctant admission officer's misgivings by dropping out when she met her lawyer husband, Brad. She now worked for the International AIDS Foundation, and Lucy couldn't wait to see her and renew their friendship.
Which reminded her, she hadn't had a chance yet today to call her friends to wish them a Merry Christmas. That was one holiday tradition she really enjoyed. She sat back down on the couch and reached for the phone, dialing Sue Finch's number.
"Are you all ready for the trip?" asked Sue, after they'd gotten the formalities out of the way.
"All packed and ready to go."
"I hope you left room in your suitcase so you can take advantage of the after-Christmas sales. Sidra says they're fabulous." Sidra, Sue's daughter, lived in New York with her husband, Geoff Rumford, and was an assistant producer of the Norah! TV show.
"No sales for me." Lucy didn't want the whole town to know about the family's finances, so she prevaricated. "I think I'll be too busy."
"They can't keep you busy every minute."
"I think they intend to. We're catching the ten o'clock flight out of Portland tonight so we can make a fashion show breakfast first thing tomorrow morning, then there are numerous expert consultations, a spa afternoon, photo sessions and interviews, I'm worried I won't even have time to see Sam." She paused. "And if I do have some free time, I'm planning to visit some museums like the Met and MOMA...."
Sue, who lived to shop, couldn't believe this heresy. "But what about Bloomingdale's?"
"I've spent quite enough on Christmas as it is," said Lucy. "I've got to economize."
"Sure," acknowledged Sue, "but you have to spend money to save it."
It was exactly this sort of logic that had led her into spending too much on Christmas in the first place, thought Lucy, but she wasn't about to argue. "If you say so," she laughed. "I've got to go. Someone's on call waiting."
It was Rachel Goodman, another member of the group of four that met for breakfast each week at Jake's Donut Shack.
"Did Santa bring you anything special?" asked Rachel.
Something in her tone made Lucy suspicious. "How did you know?"
"Bill asked me to help pick them out. Do you like them?"
"I love them, but he shouldn't have spent so much."
"I told him you'd be happy with pearls," said Rachel, "but he insisted on the diamonds. He was really cute about it. He said he wanted you to wear them in New York."
This was a whole new side of Bill that Lucy wasn't familiar with. She wasn't sure she could get used to this sensitive, considerate Bill. She wondered fleetingly if he was having some sort of midlife crisis.
"Aw, gee, you know I'm really having second thoughts about this trip."
"Of course you are."
Lucy wondered if Rachel knew more than she was letting on. "What do you mean?"
"Haven't you heard? There's this awful flu going around."
"It's an epidemic. I read about it in the New York Times. They're advising everyone to avoid crowds and wash their hands frequently."
"How do you avoid crowds in a city?"
"I don't know, but I think you should try. Flu can be serious. It kills thousands of people every year."
"That was 1918," scoffed Lucy.
"Laugh if you want. I'm only trying to help."
Lucy immediately felt terrible for hurting Rachel's feelings. "I know, and I appreciate it. I really do."
"Promise you'll take precautions?"
"Sure. And thanks for the warning."
She was wondering whether she should buy some disinfectant wipes as she dialed Pam's number. Pam, also a member of the breakfast group, was married to Lucy's boss at the newspaper, Ted Stillings, and was a great believer in natural remedies.
"Disinfectant wipes? Are you crazy? That sort of thing just weakens your immune system."
"Rachel says there's a flu epidemic and I have to watch out for germs."
"How are you supposed to do that? The world is full of millions, billions, zillions of germs that are invisible to the human eye. If Mother Nature intended us to watch out for them, don't you think she would have made them bigger, like mosquitoes or spiders?"
It was a frightening picture. "I never thought of that."
"Well, trust me, Mother Nature did. She gave you a fabulous immune system to protect the Good Body." That's how Pam pronounced it, with capital letter emphasis. "Your immune system worries about the germs so you don't have to."
"If that's true, how come so many people get sick?"
"People get sick because they abuse their bodies. They pollute their Good Bodies with empty calories and preservatives instead of natural whole foods, they don't get enough sleep, they don't take care of themselves." Pam huffed. "You have to help Mother Nature. She can't do it all, you know."
"Okay. How do I help her?"
"One thing you can do is take vitamin C. It gives the immune system a boost. That's what I'd do if I were you, especially since you're going into a new environment that might stress your organic equilibrium."
Lucy was picturing a dusty brown bottle in the back of the medicine cabinet. "You know, I think I've got some. Now I just have to remember to take it. It looks like we're going to be pretty busy with this makeover."
"Don't let them go crazy with eye shadow and stuff," advised Pam.
"Is it bad for you?"
"It's probably a germ farm, especially if they use it on more than one person, but that isn't what I was thinking about." She paused, choosing her words. "You're beautiful already. You don't need that stuff."
"Why, thanks, Pam," said Lucy, surprised at the compliment.
"I mean it. Beauty comes from inside. It doesn't come from lipstick and stuff."
"That's the way it ought to be," said Lucy, "but lately I've been noticing some wrinkles and gray hairs, and I don't like them. Maybe they'll have some ideas that can help."
"Those things are signs of character. You've earned those wrinkles and gray hairs!"
"And the mommy tummy, too, but I'm not crazy about it."
"Don't even think about liposuction," warned Pam, horrified. "Promise?"
"Believe me, it's not an option," said Lucy, hearing Bill's footsteps in the kitchen. "I've got to go."
When she looked up he was standing in the doorway, dressed in his Christmas red plaid flannel shirt and new corduroy pants. He was holding a small box wrapped with a red bow, and her heart sank. "Not another present!"
"It's something special I picked up for you."
Lucy couldn't hide her dismay. "But we've spent so much already. We'll be lucky to get this year's bills paid off before next Christmas!" She paused, considering. There was no sense in putting it off any longer. "And Elizabeth's tuition bill came yesterday. Chamberlain College wants sixteen thousand dollars by January 6. That's ten thousand more than we were expecting to pay. Ten thousand more than we have."
He sat down next to her on the couch. "It's not the end of the world, Lucy. She can take a year off and work."
"At what? There are no good jobs around here."
"She could work in Boston."
"She'd be lucky to earn enough to cover her rent! She'd never be able to save."
Bill sighed. "I know giving the kids college educations is important to you, Lucy, but I don't see what it did for us. I'm not convinced it really is a good investment-not at these prices."
Lucy had heard him say the same thing many times, and it always made her angry.
"That's a cop-out, and you know it. It's our responsibility as parents to give our kids every opportunity we can." She sighed. "I admit it doesn't always work out. Toby hated college; it wasn't for him. And that's okay. But Elizabeth's been doing so well. It makes me sick to think she'll have to drop out."
Bill put his arm around her shoulder. "We'll figure something out ... or we won't. There's nothing we can do about it right now. Open your present."
Lucy's eyes met his, and something inside her began to melt. She reached up and stroked his beard. "You've given me too much already."
"It's all right, really," said Bill, placing the little box in her hand. "Trust me."
Excerpted from NEW YEAR'S EVE MURDER by Leslie Meier Copyright © 2005 by Leslie Meier. Excerpted by permission.
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 December 9, 2008
On the day before Christmas Eve, the Stones of Tinker¿s Cove, Maine, receive a letter from the college that their daughter Elizabeth attends stating that since their income went up last year, they owe $10,000 that previously would have been covered by a scholarship. The problem is that this year the Stone¿s income has dramatically dropped due to the economy they don¿t have a clue how they are going to raise the money. Elizabeth entered a contest sponsored by Jolie magazine that won her and her mother along with five other mother-daughter duos complete makeovers. Elizabeth tells her that all the contestants will be judged and the winner will win $10,000 which makes Lucy want to win more than ever. While they are receiving their makeover, the fashion editor is murdered and Elizabeth is hospitalized when she becomes ill. The causes of the death and the illness are anthrax. Lucy is determined to find out who sent it to the office so that they can figure out how the editor and her daughter came in contact with it. That decision almost gets her killed by a terrorist organization though not the kind one usually reads about in the papers. --- Fans who appreciate the Jessica Fletcher books and Miss Marple stories will love this fine cozy amateur sleuth mystery. Leslie Meier modernizes the heroine, who is a likeable, believable and understandable character. The jealousies, uncertainties and in fighting between the workers at the magazine give the audience plenty of suspects who wanted the fashion editor dead. Leslie Meir has written a charming holiday mystery that readers will love for its¿ humor and originality. --- Harriet Klausner
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