Read an Excerpt
Sugarplums and Scandal
According to the druids, mistletoe was traditionally considered to be the semen of the gods.
I looked at the Hope Valley Sentinel article and wondered if the editor of our local newspaper had gone nuts. "Semen of the gods"? They had the nerve to print such sexual innuendoes in this ethnic, moral, homespun, Wonder Bread suburban Connecticut town?
With my jaw down to my chest (a very common occurrence when I am stunned), I read on that the liquid of the berries looked and had the texture of semen. Geez. They actually printed that in a newspaper where folks like Mrs. Kaminski, the local gossip, Mr. Gansecki, the local over-eighty stud, and Miss Nawrocki, the local moral majority would read it? Yikes.
Slowly I looked up to see the ball of mistletoe hanging from my mother's foyer ceiling. Then I scrunched up the newspaper (only the semen/berry article) and stuck it into the pocket of my jeans.
Stella Sokol would rather die than hang those kinds of berries from her nineteen sixties ceiling.
And to think I'd kissed Jagger, The Delicious, under it last Christmas Eve. He was my sometimes partner in solving crimes, my all-the-time fantasy man. Yum.
"Pauline? Pauline Sokol, what is taking so long?" my mother yelled from the kitchen.
Even as a nurse, a thirty-something, and as her only single adult child, I couldn't tell her the truth. "Just reading the paper, Mom."
"What is so darned, excuse my language, important that you can't come help your mother make pierogies?"
I blew out a breath. For one thing, I hate making the little pillows of Polish dough, and each year put in my vote to buy ready-made ones, much to Stella Sokol's horror. And each year I end up taking time off from work to stuff the suckers with cabbage, mashed potatoes or cottage cheese, a process which takes about twenty hours since my married siblings have toys to buy for their kids and don't have time to help.
I shook my head and told myself that I had no life.
Since I'd given up a thirteen-year nursing career to switch to medical insurance fraud investigating for Scarpello and Tonelli Insurance Company, things haven't been going too well for me.
"Pauline!" Mom's voice was so loud I could swear she was...I swung around..."Oh! Hey, Mom"...then I knocked the rest of the paper onto the floor.
She'd snatched the paper up as if I were some male teen who'd been reading Playboy (okay, nowadays all they had to do was boot up the Internet for peeping, but Stella wouldn't know that).
She looked down at the paper. "Toothless Holiday? Oh my."
I said a silent prayer to Saint Theresa for letting me have the foresight to pocket the berry article.
"Pauline? Are you reading about this poor man who doesn't have his front dentures yet?"
Lying never came easily to me. Catholic school induced conscience and being raised by her, I guess was the reason. I looked at my mother waving the paper at me. "Yep. Very sad, huh?" and wondered why the hell the guy didn't have his front teeth yet.
She snatched my father's reading glasses from the top of his head. Daddy had been napping within snatching range in his favorite La-Z-Boy recliner.
He never even stirred.
Guess that's what over forty-four years of being married did to a couple. Me, I wouldn't know.
The paper crinkled and crackled in her grip. She stuck on the glasses and read for a bit.
"Oh, my. How sad. How awful indeed. This poor man's dentist is holding his dentures hostage. Do something about this. Be a Good Samaritan for the holiday season. Or, you could, of course, go back to nursing. I'm sure they have those fill-in kinds of jobs at all the hospitals. Go back to Saint Gregory's where you used to make a decent living."
She never failed to remind me about the gigantic, nationwide nursing shortage. "Actually," she continued, "since you are not snooping around for the next week, go help this man so he can eat his Christmas dinner." With that she shoved the newspaper at my chest and gave me one of her "motherly" looks. "Seems right up your alley."
Now, none of us five kids could ever duck fast enough to avoid one of those looks. If "When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen," then when "Stella Sokol tells her kids something, they better damn well do what she says."
I grabbed the paper, held it in one hand, and knew that my Christmas vacation plans of R&R, overdosing on chocolate, and maybe dating a few hot guys had come to a screeching halt.
Seemed, for me anyway, the "you know what" of the gods was going to stay in the little white mistletoe berries this year...yet again.
As I stared way too long at the now-fascinating mistletoe, the doorbell rang.
Mother yelled from the kitchen, "Come in, Mr. Jagger," My heart did a one eighty in my chest. She'd once again invited him over without my knowledge. And he'd never corrected her when she called him "mister" either.
And how the hell did she know his phone number?
The door opened, Jagger nodded at me, and then came forward.
Oh . . . my . . . god.
His kiss landed on my right cheek. Cheek? Cheeeeeeeek?
My hands ached from stuffing a gazillion pierogies with Lord knows what. My mother would stick a bowl in front of me, and I'd spoon it into the dough robotically. I looked up to see Jagger sitting across from me as if nothing on his body pained him...even though he'd been the official dough roller. Mother'd had her wooden rolling pin since the dawn of light, so it didn't exactly roll like Teflon; but with the strength in those arms (I took a deep breath for a Jagger moment), rolling a gazillion pillows of dough didn't seem to bother him in the least.Sugarplums and Scandal. Copyright © by Dana Cameron. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.