Book Four in The Kate Lawrence Mysteries: Christmas has never been Kate’s favorite time of year, but this holiday season is really going to be murder. MACK Realty is on hiatus due to the down economy. Armando might not make it home by December 24th. Kate is mourning the loss of her adored cat Simon. Daughter Emma has persuaded Kate to stage a Norman Rockwell-type Christmas Eve for her loathsome new beau. And to top off the merriment, her ex-husband has coaxed her to host an at-home wedding for their nephew. Ho ho ho. To get her mind off her troubles, Kate helps out with a charity fundraiser to be held during the Wadsworth Atheneum’s famous Festival of Trees & Traditions. It’s an evening that’s full of surprises, none of them good. Kate’s positively drowning in Christmas. Can pals Margo and Strutter come to her rescue before she goes down for the third time?
This title is published by Mainly Murder Press and is distributed worldwide by Untreed Reads.
“I wouldn’t ask you,” said my ex-husband, “but I’m desperate. I really need your help here.”
“No,” I said.
“Did you hear the desperate part, Kate?” Michael wisely refrained from whining, which he knew would only make me crankier. Instead, he allowed sufficient time to pass for his surprising request to replay in my mind. Yes, the man had to be on the edge.
I sighed heavily and closed my partner Strutter’s copy of A Homemade Holiday, which was supposed to be giving me great ideas on how to cook a Christmas goose. Something told me that my goose was pretty well cooked already. As ex-husbands go, mine was about as agreeable as they get, but this conversation sounded like big trouble to me. I closed my eyes and tried to ignore the headache that began to throb through my temples.
“You know I don’t even attend weddings anymore, Michael, let alone organize one. Not now, not ever again. I endured enough family weddings, birthdays, anniversary parties, and holiday gatherings in the twenty-two years we were married to last me the rest of my life. I just send a lovely gift and decline the invitation. I’m done, through, finished. Am I getting through to you?”
“The fact that I’m even asking you should give you some idea of my state of mind.” Michael dropped his voice several decibels, the better to keep our conversation private from his present wife, I presumed. “Sheila already has her hands full with her teaching and the holiday pageant at the school, plus her mother will be spending Christmas with us this year.” He paused to let the full horror of having Sheila’s ditzy maternal relative as a houseguest sink in. “Having a wedding in this little apartment would be impossible under the best of circumstances, but right now …” He trailed off miserably.
Grudgingly, I admitted that he had a point. After years of working and saving, he and Sheila were finally on the verge of seeing their dream house, currently under construction on Lake Pocotopaug, become a reality. Having been lucky enough to sell their previous house sooner than expected in the current crummy real estate market, they were waiting out the final months of construction in a one-bedroom rental, not the ideal setting for a family wedding.
“So rent the church hall or the V.F.W. or a room at the community center,” I countered weakly, knowing that would never do. Schmidts were married at home. It was a family tradition with which I was well acquainted. Michael and I had been married in his parents’ living room nearly thirty years ago, and we had hosted our share of nuptials for cousins and nieces in our own home in the ensuing years. Still, I wasn’t caving in without a fight this time. I had quite enough on my plate already.
Michael regrouped and tried another approach. “We just need your house for the afternoon. Well, maybe the evening, too. There has to be a little party after the ceremony. You and Armando wouldn’t even have to be there, if you didn’t want to be. The caterer will do absolutely everything, including the clean-up. It’s just family and a few friends.” He played his ace. “Come on, Kate. I wouldn’t ask you, but you are Jeff’s godmother, after all. If you won’t do it for me, do it for him.”
That one hit the mark. When it comes to family ties, I’m notoriously unsentimental. I firmly believe that you can choose your friends, but your relatives are thrust upon you without your having any say in the matter. I have no great fondness for my mother’s and father’s numerous kinfolk, so I have aunties and first cousins I literally wouldn’t recognize on the street; but for Michael’s nephew Jeff, I have a soft spot. He’s the youngest of the three sons of Michael’s late brother and his wife, who were taken in an automobile accident several years ago.
Jeff’s quirky outlook and lightning-quick wit endear him to me, as well as to my son Joey and daughter Emma, above all of their less-interesting cousins. Besides, as Michael pointed out, I am Jeff’s godmother, however reluctantly I had agreed to assume that role upon his birth. I had performed my duties casually in the twenty-five years since, but now that Jeff’s parents were no longer among us, who else was there to help him out with his wedding? My heart softened.
I carried the phone and my coffee mug to the back windows of my freestanding condominium unit and gazed at the gray December landscape. My elderly cat Jasmine was perched on the back of the sofa. She stared fixedly at three wild turkeys pecking contentedly on the snowless lawn. No doubt they were grateful to have dodged a bullet now that Thanksgiving was safely past.
“When is this wedding in my house that I don’t have to attend supposed to take place?”
Sensing that he still had a shot, Michael brightened. “The twenty-seventh, which is the Sunday after Christmas. Jeff has to leave for North Carolina two days later, which is why he and Donna decided to move up their wedding date. The University offers housing for married graduate students only. Hey, you won’t even have to decorate, since even you must leave your Christmas stuff up until New Year’s Day.”
I ignored this slur on my holiday spirit. “Great. You do realize that Emma is bringing her new boyfriend here on Christmas Eve to meet us. Jared, I think this one is named, and I’m expected to do the whole Norman Rockwell bit. Chestnuts roasting, pumpkin pie, et cetera et cetera. She’s gone a little nuts over this guy, and she’s taking me with her. When you called, I was looking at recipes for roast goose.”
“You’re cooking a goose?” The disbelief in Michael’s voice was evident. Then, straying from the point as he often did, “Why not turkey?”
I considered my feathered friends, now making their leisurely way toward the marsh that bordered The Birches. They strolled the grounds of our Wethersfield, Connecticut condominium community daily and roosted in the surrounding trees at night. Before I’d come to live here, I hadn’t known that turkeys can fly. Now I regularly watched them helicopter up to their favorite branches as the sun slipped beneath the horizon.
“Too much like pets, I guess.” Truth be told, I wasn’t much looking forward to roasting a goose either. The things we do for our children. “So the situation is that I’m entertaining Emma’s steady on Thursday evening, and three days later, I’m throwing a wedding.” I sighed again.