"Candy Canes and Cupid" by Fern Michaels
All private investigator Hannah Ray wants for Christmas is a quiet day at her Florida beachfront condo. When her biggest client insists she join him on a Colorado ski trip, she has little choice—but what she finds on her arrival could melt the coldest heart. . .
"White Hot Christmas" by Nancy Bush
Aspiring PI Jane Kelly likes to pretend she's a bah-humbug kind of girl, but she's had mistletoe on the brain ever since she shared a kiss with her boss, Dwayne. Before she can hope for a repeat performance, Jane must solve a kidnapping that's as twisted as a candy cane—and not nearly as sweet.
"Seven Days of Christmas" by Rosanna Chiofalo
Five years ago, Bianca Simone received a wonderful early Christmas gift from her boyfriend, Mark—a week amid the stunning Alpine scenery of Innsbruck, Austria. Now she's back under very different circumstances, but Mark has one more special gift in mind. . .
"A Smoky Mountain Gift" by Lin Stepp
Veda Trent is back in Townsend to fill in as temporary manager of the Crafts Co-op, but she's not planning to stay. Though the mountain town is small, it holds lots of unsettling memories. Yet the wind can change, bringing with it new opportunities—and the chance to create the kind of Christmas Veda has always longed for.
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About the Author
NANCY BUSH is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Bad Things, Jealousy, Dangerous Behavior, The Killing Game, You Don’t Know Me, Nowhere Safe, Nowhere to Hide, Nowhere to Run, Hush, Blind Spot, Unseen, as well as Wicked Ways, Something Wicked, Wicked Game, and Wicked Lies, in the Colony series co-written with her sister, bestselling author Lisa Jackson. She is also the co-author of Sinister and Ominous, written with Lisa Jackson and New York Times bestselling author Rosalind Noonan. Nancy lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. Readers can visit her website at www.nancybush.net.
Rosanna Chiofalo is the author of Bella Fortuna, Carissima, Stella Mia, Rosalia’s Bittersweet Pastry Shop, and The Sunflower Girl. An avid traveler, she enjoys setting her novels in the countries she's visited. Her novels also draw on her rich cultural background as an Italian American. When she isn’t traveling or daydreaming about her characters, Rosanna keeps busy testing out new recipes in her kitchen and tending to her ever-growing collection of houseplants. She lives in New York City with her husband.
Dr. Lin Stepp is a native Tennessean, a businesswoman, and an educator. She is on faculty at both Tusculum College and King University, where she teaches psychology and research. Her business background includes over 20 years in marketing, sales, production art, and regional publishing. But closest to her heart is her beloved series of contemporary novels set in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. Visit her on the web at linstepp.com.
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
Read an Excerpt
When The Snow Falls
By NANCY BUSH, Rosanna Chiofalo Lin Stepp
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Kensington Publishing Corporation
All rights reserved.
Monday, December 1, 2014
Hannah Ray glanced at the calendar. December already, a month and a holiday she dreaded every year. Christmas. If asked why, and she had been on numerous occasions, she would pause for the briefest of moments, as though she were truly contemplating the question, and then she would give her standard reply: "You know, I'm not really sure." Friends and colleagues would then look at her as though she were out of her mind, but it was simply the truth.
Growing up in Florida, she'd never really been bitten by the holiday bug. While she honored the religious aspects of the sacred holiday, she personally thought all the hoopla was nothing more than just one more reason for giant corporations to increase their already more-than-insanely-adequate bottom lines with even more in the way of profits, and for their CEOs to line their very deep pockets with even more money. Hannah smiled when she realized that she sounded exactly like her father, who, it just so happened, used to be one of those CEOs of a giant company. But Hannah had always assured him that he had a heart.
When he'd keeled over from a heart attack five years ago, she was shocked. Her father had always been meticulous about his diet. Red meat no more than once a week. Fish only three times, and the other days were vegetarian. An avid runner who ranked high in his class when he was nearing seventy, he'd looked at least ten years younger than most men his age. His sudden death derailed her for a while, but she knew he would want her to continue to pursue her career. After passing the bar, Hannah decided she didn't want to be confined to a courtroom. So she applied for her Florida private investigator's license, which she received without a hitch, opened an office in Naples, and one year later was so busy she had hired three fulltime agents, two retired police officers as part-timers, and Camden, her best friend and personal assistant, who played a large role in running the office. Hannah didn't know what she would do without Camden's excellent organizational skills as she herself wasn't the most organized in a "paper" kind of way. Her ability to keep details clear in her head was her major talent. While Camden could locate a Post-it in a pile of a thousand, Hannah could tell you what was written on the Post-it and in what color ink.
Less than a month short of thirty-four, Hannah was pretty set in her ways, and again, she had her father to thank for that as well. Her mother had died of breast cancer when Hannah was six, leaving her father to raise her alone. With no family of his own to guide him through the waters of single parenthood, Frederick Ray did the best he could. Hannah had missed her mother after her death, but with the passage of time, and the fading memory of a six-year-old child, she was soon conversing at dinner with her father about all sorts of very adult financial and legal matters. They would discuss the law as it pertained to Ray Enterprises, a conglomerate of manufacturers that produced items ranging from high-end perfumes to plastics. When he died, her father left everything he owned to her, which enabled her to choose what she wanted to do in her professional life. While she was a voting member of the boards of directors of the various companies controlled by Ray Enterprises, she was fortunate that Albert, who had been her father's right-hand man, continued to perform in that same capacity for her, relieving her of the burden of day-to-day involvement in the affairs of those companies. Not only was he the one who acted on her behalf at board meetings, but he was like an uncle to her, and she trusted him implicitly.
Of course, Camden came in a close second. They were the same age, shared many of the same interests, and when it was time to close shop, neither she nor Camden had any trouble removing her professional hat for a night out on the town, or often a quiet meal prepared in Hannah's ultramodern kitchen. Both had taken an avid interest in cooking when they had started packing on a few extra pounds last year. Once a week, if their schedules permitted, they would take turns making dinner. Of course, dinner always included a bottle or two of wine. Comfortable with each other, they would chat about fashion, makeup, anything except work; then, as with most single females, they would discuss their current dating situations. Sadly, more often than not, neither one was having much success in that area. Not because they worked too much, and not because there wasn't quite a fine selection of available men in southwest Florida, but because both women were extremely finicky about men.
As a result, Hannah and Camden were planning to spend the upcoming holiday together, doing absolutely nothing except lounging on the beach and catching up on their favorite authors' new books. Both agreed this was the best possible decision, given that neither had close family or any reason to do anything else.
Most of her high-profile cases were coming to an end, and she hadn't planned to take on any more until after the New Year. She'd given all her employees a two-and-a-half-week paid vacation beginning December 18 and ending Monday, January 5, 2015. They were ecstatic and couldn't stop talking about her generosity. She liked her team and thought of them as friends first, then coworkers. She was not a "me boss, you employee" employer.
Her father had often told her that in business one accomplished so much more by being kind and generous to one's employees rather than bossy, demanding, and condescending. To this day, Ray Enterprises, along with H.R. Investigations, had some of the happiest employees around. And Ray Enterprises was among the top five businesses on Fortune Magazine's list of the best companies to work for.
Two weeks of bliss, she thought, as she pulled up her schedule for the upcoming week. Two weeks of sun, sand, and surf, and, if she was lucky, she could delve into those books she had recently received from Amazon.
Clearing her mind, Hannah scrolled through her iPad mini. The firm had three consultations scheduled that afternoon. One was with an insurance company that suspected an injured employee collecting workman's compensation was doing so illegally. That would be a breeze to solve. She would have Ed, her number-one part-timer, do the consultation and go out on a surveillance mission, his specialty.
Next was a young woman who suspected that her husband was cheating on her. Hannah detested this part of her work and tried to distance herself from it as much as possible, but sadly, the need for it was a reality in life, and someone had to do it. Marlene would meet with the woman, as she was the expert at anything requiring a telephoto lens and being incognito, plus she was extremely nosy, always an added bonus in the private-investigation business.
The last consultation for the day she would take care of personally since the client had requested that she do so.
Last year, Hannah had been hired to keep tabs on an abusive husband when an ignorant judge had released him on his own recognizance after he had been charged with beating his wife to a pulp. Because the man happened to be from a wealthy family, several members of whom were well-known attorneys, the judge assured his wife's attorney that she would have nothing to fear from her husband and certainly not his family, even going so far as to imply that she had brought the beating on herself.
Hannah immediately contacted Grace Landry out in Colorado, told her the woman's story, and personally put Leanne on a plane to Denver. Once the abused spouse was at Hope House, Grace's shelter for battered families, Hannah breathed a sigh of relief. She'd stayed in contact with Leanne and was saddened when she learned that the woman had recently returned to Fort Myers to make an attempt to reunite with her abusive husband. And it was because of this that she had decided to pull in a few favors at Health Park Hospital. Two days ago, Leanne had been admitted to the hospital with a broken nose and a cracked pelvis. Hannah planned to confront Leanne's husband, Bruce Wells, and make a special trip to visit Leanne. This wasn't her usual modus operandi, but she was passionate about those who suffered abuse at the hands of people who were supposed to love them the most and anyone who bullied others. You might say that it was her Achilles' heel.
Stuffing her iPad in her briefcase, she grabbed her purse and raced out the door, locking it behind her, only to remember the cell phone she'd left in the master bath when she'd been blow-drying her hair. As soon as she inserted her key in the lock, she heard its familiar xylophone ringtone. "Darn," she muttered as she raced through the condo to the master suite.
She hit the green ANSWER button. "Hello?" she said, a bit winded.
"Hannah?" came a male voice.
"Yes, this is Hannah Ray. How can I help you?" She dropped her briefcase on the floor and plopped down on her vanity stool, staring at the face in the mirror. Straight blond hair, brown eyes. A regular face, she thought, nothing remarkable.
"It's Max Jorgenson."
It took a couple of seconds for Hannah to call up the image that went with the voice, but when she did, she was all smiles. Max Jorgenson. The Olympic gold-medal skier. Grace Landry's husband.
She grinned. "And to what do I owe this honor?" she asked in a teasing tone. She'd been a bit impressed when she'd met Max through Grace.
She could hear him clearing his throat. "I'm not sure you would call this an honor. It's more of a favor."
A favor? From her? Hannah hadn't a clue what Max Jorgenson wanted from her, but if he'd bothered making the phone call personally, then it must be something very urgent and important.
"Anything, Max. Just say the word."
He chuckled. "Don't say that just yet. Hear me out."
"Hey, anything for you and Grace. She really helped me out last year, and as it just so happens, I might need her services again. Same client. A sad situation, but go on. You called me. What gives?"
"I need you to come to Colorado. Mid-December if possible," Max said.
Hannah visualized all her plans for sun, sand, and surf swirling right down the drain.
In a voice she hoped didn't relay just how much she did not want to travel out West, she said, "Of course, Max. Just give me the time and place, and I will be there."
"I knew I could count on you," Max said, then gave her the details before thanking her again and clicking off.
"No sunning. No reading. No relaxing on the beach. There goes my Christmas vacation."CHAPTER 2
"You know I wouldn't ask you if it wasn't important," Max said. "It's not like you to have holiday plans. I know you, old man, remember? We go back a long way."
Liam McConnell shook his head, then spoke into the phone. "Don't remind me how long, okay? I'm not getting any younger, and trust me, it shows," Liam said in a deep voice that still held traces of an Irish accent even though he'd been living in the United States since he was a young boy. "So, go on, tell me, what's so damned important? I'm all ears."
For the next fifteen minutes, Max updated Liam on the situation at Telluride. He knew for a fact that Liam McConnell was the best in the business when it came to information security. He had a bachelor's in Criminal Justice, a Harvard law degree, and had worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation for two years before going out on his own. He was one of only a few experts on electronic-information security. Max knew that Liam could pick and choose when and where to work, but he was also sure that Liam wouldn't turn him down. He was offering his best cabin at the resort as long as he wanted and, of course, he would pay him whatever his usual fee was. Then he had an added surprise, but he wasn't going to mention that just yet. Something Grace had cooked up, and he'd agreed wholeheartedly, though that wasn't the main reason for his wanting Liam's help in finding the culprits who were trying to destroy his business.
"And you think one of your employees is hacking into your systems?" Liam asked.
"More than one," Max said.
"You do realize I am at my beach house on Sanibel Island and planned to spend December fishing and relaxing?" "No, I didn't. If you can't do this, I understand. I just wanted the best. And you are the best," Max added with a lilt in his voice.
"Ah, you do know how to get to a man's heart. All right. I am yours. For two weeks. If I haven't located the source, then I'll have had a free ski vacation, and you, my friend, will be shit out of luck."
They talked more, laughed about old times, then Liam wrote down the date when he would need to fly to Colorado. After they finished their call, he had a strong suspicion his old ski buddy had something more than a job waiting for him.
Liam shook his head and reached for his iPad. Plans were made to be changed. While he disliked the idea of spending Christmas at a ski resort where hundreds of people would be filled with holiday cheer, he supposed it could be worse. In all honesty, he'd truly been looking forward to spending a few weeks at his home on Sanibel Island, but Max was a good friend. Liam counted his few close friends as priceless. If forgoing a bit of fishing meant helping his friend out, he consoled himself with the thought that he could fish any time. With that in mind, he called Pierce, his pilot, and made arrangements to have his Learjet available for a trip to Colorado.
Liam wasn't much for holidays. Any of them. Too much money spent on silly things, in his not-so-humble opinion. He remembered a woman he'd been dating last year. She'd spent a small fortune on a fountain pen for him. He'd wanted to take it back to the store where she'd purchased it and insist she use the money for something meaningful. Like a charitable organization. He had more expensive fountain pens than he could count. And to be honest, he liked BlC pens much better. The woman—he couldn't recall her name—had been deleted from his list of female contacts. The list was getting slimmer and slimmer. The women who knew him knew that he was fairly well-off. Indeed, that seemed to be the major attraction he held for them. Unfortunately, for him it was an instant turnoff.
Whatever happened to women with respect? Brains? Goals other than marrying a rich man to take care of them, to provide them with meaningless baubles and fancy cars? He was sure he'd remain a bachelor because there didn't seem to be that one special woman who couldn't get past his wealth. Or, if there was, he hadn't met her yet.CHAPTER 3
December 17, 2014
Hannah was in a foul mood when her plane finally touched down at Denver International Airport. The flight had been turbulent, the man seated next to her had snored throughout the flight, and she had not been one bit happy at having to leave Leanne and her domestic situation behind. Camden had promised to keep a watch over her, but she knew that they could only do so much. Leanne had to realize that there was nothing she could do that would salvage her marriage; she had to want to make the necessary changes in her life herself. Sadly, Hannah feared that she might not be able to force herself to make those changes before it was too late.
As soon as Hannah exited the plane, she found the ladies' room, repaired her makeup, and began her search for the area where Max had a limo waiting. She liked the thought of riding through the Colorado mountains in the back of a limo. Though she disliked the cold, she had to admit that the snowcapped mountains were breathtaking. The drive would give her a couple of hours to rest and prepare herself for the work ahead. She hoped to find Max's hackers, do what was needed, and still have time to enjoy her planned staycation at the beach. She did not like snow. She did not like to be cold. And more than anything, the thought of being at an upscale ski resort during their busiest time of year made her wish for the comfort and quiet of her beachfront condo.
"Suck it up, girl. It ain't happening, Hannah," she muttered to herself as she made her way through the crowds. She wound her way through the travelers, some loaded with tons of luggage, others with sets of skis, snowboards, and all the heavy-duty gear required to freeze in luxury. She did not understand why people would willingly place themselves in freezing temperatures and actually call it fun. But again, she was a Florida girl through and through. After a tram ride and a trip up an escalator, she spied the exit, where her limo waited. Just as Max had said.
Excerpted from When The Snow Falls by NANCY BUSH, Rosanna Chiofalo Lin Stepp. Copyright © 2014 Kensington Publishing Corporation. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsCandy Canes and Cupid by FERN MICHAELS, 1,
White Hot Christmas by NANCY BUSH, 97,
Seven Days of Christmas by ROSANNA CHIOFALO, 193,
A Smoky Mountain Gift by LIN STEPP, 315,