A Merry Christmas Anniversary Mystery Georgie Shaw Cozy Mystery #9
When Georgie Shaw met Detective Jack Wheeler it was love and murder at first sight.
In the year since they were married, they’ve solved lots of mysteries, but nothing has prepared them for what they face in A Merry Christmas Anniversary Mystery. Georgie’s boss, “Mad” Max Marley, insists that she and Jack start their anniversary celebration in New Arcadia where they were married the year before.
Only days until Christmas, the weather in North Palm Springs is perfect. The music and decorations make it a merry place to be at the happiest time of the year. Max even keeps his promise not to disturb them. Suddenly, their celebration goes up in smoke and no one can locate the maniacal genius behind the multibillion-dollar entertainment empire.
Where in the world is Max Marley? Grab your copy of book 9 in this enjoyable cozy mystery series by USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author, Anna Celeste Burke. Join Georgie, Jack, and their Siamese cats as they solve this gripping mystery as they celebrate their first anniversary. It’s going to be a blast!
Tasty recipes included.
Free to read with Kindle Unlimited.
Release date: December 8, 2020
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Behind the book
Georgie Shaw Cozy Mystery Series
A Merry Christmas Anniversary Mystery Georgie Shaw Cozy Mystery #9
Anna Celeste Burke
1 Shake, Rattle, and Roll
“I love Christmas!” I said as my husband, Detective Jack Wheeler, and I approached the New Arcadia Visitor Center. “The decorations are gorgeous, aren’t they?”
Mad “Max” Marley, my boss and founder of the Marvelous Marley World entertainment empire, had gone all out this year. Here, at the main entrance to New Arcadia, and in his theme park in Irvine, Max had Christmas trees installed that rival the one at Rockefeller Center.
“I’ve never seen more beautiful decorations anywhere,” Jack replied. “I’m glad we decided to drive to Palm Springs after dinner. We wouldn’t get the full effect before dark.”
Jack was right, except that we hadn’t decided to get here this late. It just happened. Too many phone calls were part of the problem. Jack had given plenty of notice that he planned to take time off from his job with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Still, last-minute issues with his active cases came up. As a corporate Vice President and Director of the Food and Beverage Division, I also had my share of matters to resolve.
Two troublesome Siamese cats added to the delays. I must have told Miles and Ella half a dozen times not to worry. “We won’t forget to pack the cats.” The minds of cats, however, work in mysterious ways. Being underfoot and flopping down in the suitcase was typical whenever we packed. Today, though, they’d decided to remove items from the bag the minute I had my back turned. Thinking about it all again, I began to feel uneasy.
“Jack, you don’t think those cats know something we don’t know, do you? They’re making me anxious. Why have they been so quiet on this drive?”
“Miles and Ella do seem to have an uncanny ability to sense when trouble’s ahead. Trouble spelled, M-A-X, and we’re getting closer to him. He’s promised not to rope us into doing business with our anniversary coming up at the end of the week.”
“I heard him schedule the company jet to get us out of Palm Springs and to Cancun, as we’d planned before he ‘invited’ us to celebrate here first.”
I’d initially resisted, but Max’s invitations somehow always end up as the kind you can’t refuse. It’s not just that he’s my boss, but he’s temperamental and crafty. He wins in the end, so most of the time, it’s easier to just give in sooner rather than later. Besides, it was hard to come up with valid objections to spending a week in a penthouse suite at a soon-to-be-opened resort hotel in Palm Springs.
“You made good on your promise to pack the cats; maybe that settled them down,” Jack suggested.
“They’re seasoned travelers—for cats.” I checked on them in the rearview mirror. Sharing a carrier strapped down in the backseat, I couldn’t see much other than a tail twitching. Nor could I figure out if the tail belonged to Miles or Ella. When Jack made a sudden turn, I quit trying to figure it out.
“Where are you going?”
“A sign said, ‘New Arcadia Resort Guests exit here to transport.’”
“Great! I’m ready to put my feet up and relax,” I said as an impressive-looking archway appeared. It glowed in the dark, lit at night by solar cells that absorbed sunlight during the day. The glowing lights weren’t just for the holidays, but the Santa in an aerodynamic sleigh pulled by sleek-looking reindeer, and appearing to float in the sky, was.
As we pulled up to the archway, a gate lifted. A person stepped from a Welcome Station built into one end of the arch. Jack rolled down the window, and holiday music poured in. Then Santa stood in his sleigh and greeted us.
“Welcome, Georgie and Jack. Merry Christmas and a Happy Anniversary too!” With a ho-ho-ho, Santa quit waving at us, sat down, and the music quieted.
“Hello!” a young woman said a little too loudly now that the music was low. “Welcome to the New Arcadia Resort Destinations Entrance. We have you registered in the Grand Arcadia Gardens Resort & Spa with checkout on Friday—if you can bear to leave us. I’m Wendy, and I’m going to check you in so you can go directly to your room when you arrive at the hotel.”
“Thank you, Wendy. What do you need from us?” Jack asked.
“Nothing unless Santa read your name wrong when he checked his list of who’s been naughty and nice.” Wendy smiled broadly, standing under a nearby tree wrapped in lights that had brightened when she approached us.
“So far, so good,” Jack responded. “He sounded friendly enough. I’ll take that as a sign that we’re on his good list.”
“Celebrating your first wedding anniversary in this fabulous place must mean you’ve been good this year. I have something for you. The arch is your portal to the transportation system, which provides access to your resort hotel and its amenities. This system allows you to explore the subterranean shops, restaurants, and attractions. There are plenty of above-ground options you shouldn’t miss, though. That’s especially true if you’re a fan of golf, tennis, or hiking. Unless you have a place where you’d like to stop, the loop will take you directly to the Grand Arcadia Gardens Resort & Spa.”
“We got a late start today and don’t know our way around yet. The direct route, please,” Jack responded.
“Of course. I have your passports—one for each of you to wear, and one for your car. Hold out your hands, palms down, please.” She placed a tiny dot on the back of our hands, which vanished.
All I could see was a hint of iridescence. I knew it worked because Max had done a demo for us on a previous visit to the hotel. For that visit, we’d parked at the Visitor Center and traveled to the hotel above ground. This trip would be my first experience traveling underground.
The tiny dot Wendy called a passport was an organic compound infused with nanoparticles. They allowed the resort system to monitor our whereabouts while we’re in New Arcadia. With our voices or a wave of the hand, we could charge our meals and other purchases. Once we parked our car underground, the passport would give us access to other forms of transport.
“For your car,” she added. Then Wendy reached inside and rubbed a nearly invisible patch in the corner of the windshield. “Do you have any questions for me? Oops! I’m sorry, I almost forgot. These are for your fur-babies.”
Jack reached out and took two slender collars for the cats. He passed them to me. The collars were soft and stretchy. A small black bowtie was on one collar, and a little red poinsettia was on the other. I tugged at one of them, hoping the cats couldn’t chew them apart.
“Don’t worry,” Wendy said, peering into the car and watching me. “They’re sturdier than they look and purrfectly safe for Miles and Ella.” That evoked a response from the cats as they gurgled and mewed. When I checked on them in the rearview mirror this time, they were pushing each other out of the way, trying to see who’d spoken their names.
“The fur-babies say thank you,” Jack offered. “Can you tell me how about how far we are from the hotel?”
“I can tell you exactly how far you are. Twenty-two-point-eight miles. It won’t take you long to get to your hotel even though it’s almost at the outermost point of the city’s east end,” Wendy added, smiling. “Buckle up and enjoy the ride. It’s fast!”
An opening suddenly appeared beneath the archway. Our greeter moved her arm as if she were the spokesmodel on a television game show. Jack pulled up to it and entered. When he pulled forward, the entrance closed behind us. A dim golden light showed us little as our tires grabbed the surface or as something grabbed them. Then a gold-tinted bubble enveloped us.
“Please roll up all your windows. Place your car in park and turn off the engine. Sit back and relax while we transport you to the destination resort of your dreams,” a woman’s voice said. Jack had already done those things before she spoke. He let go of the steering wheel and linked his hands behind his head.
“You’re going to love this. Frank Fontana took me on a ride in a police vehicle yesterday.”
We were both pressed into our seats, which was the only sensation of movement I experienced. The golden bubble that had been semitransparent was opaque now. I gripped my seatbelt, waiting for more to come, but it was over in less than five minutes.
“How can that be?” I asked as we slowed and then came to a stop. I felt a flutter in my stomach. It was as if we’d gone over a rise in the road and then dropped. When the bubble disappeared, we were at the below-ground entrance to the hotel. Jack popped the trunk and rolled our windows down.
Hotel staff descended upon us, opening doors and welcoming us to the Grand Arcadia Gardens. When I climbed out of the car, I searched for a rail or track to step off or over. Instead, all I saw was a black strip under our car that continued as far as I could see in front of us. The black substance changed to a flecked, sandy-colored terrazzo, which continued into the lobby.
Once inside, bright lighting caused the specks in the flooring to sparkle. The lobby opened to a soaring atrium surrounded by hanging gardens. The scent of flowers that enveloped us was familiar since I’d experienced it on my previous visit. Tonight, the addition of pine, peppermint, and spice created a holiday potpourri of Christmassy fragrances. In the center of the atrium, strands of candy canes, cinnamon-stick stars, and other ornaments hung on a dizzyingly tall pine tree.
The hanging gardens, strewn with twinkling lights, added to the magic as angels blowing their trumpets hovered nearby. Toy soldiers, gift-wrapped packages, dolls, and teddy bears were under the tree, with a sleek, modern train circling them. Jack and I stood motionless, taking it all in.
“Did I tell you that I love Christmas?” I asked.
“Yes, and so do I,” Jack replied. “Let’s go before Max shows up and lectures us on everything that’s gone into creating this incredible display.”
Jack took the cat carrier from me as a small bot, as Max preferred to call it, loaded with our luggage, led us to a nearby bank of elevators. This was only one of the many SDVs—self-driven-vehicles—in New Arcadia. The elevator whisked us to our floor, and the bot entered our suite after Jack opened the door with a wave of his hand. From habit, Jack went for his wallet once we were inside.
“Oops! There’s no bellboy to tip,” he said and put the cat carrier on the floor.
“That also means no bellboy to unload our luggage,” I sighed. I was about to grab a bag from the little wagon-like vehicle when a disembodied voice spoke.
“Au contraire, Georgie! Welcome back, Jack. I understand Miles and Ella are with you.”
“Felix, is that you?” Jack asked.
“Who else would it be? Since we hit it off the moment we met, Max insisted I assist you during your stay. Yay!” Felix added without a hint of sarcasm in his tone. “Speaking of Max, he has something to say to you at once! One moment, please.”
A wave of exhaustion hit me as I leaned against the back of a couch in our suite’s sitting room. I worried that Max had a plan for us tonight, despite his promise to leave us alone. Is he going to call or knock on the door? I wondered as he suddenly appeared right in front of us.
“Welcome, Georgie, my dear girl. You too, Jack. I’m so glad you arrived safely, and I hope everything is perfect for you to put your feet up and start your well-deserved respite,” Max said, clasping his hands behind his back and smiling.
The three-D image of Max standing in front of us had to be a hologram. It was so lifelike that if it had been here when we walked in, I would have believed it was him.
“Congratulations on your first wedding anniversary. It’s been an eventful year for all of us. I can’t tell you how much I’ve appreciated having you both in my life. Thanks for indulging an old man’s wish for you to spend part of your anniversary celebration in New Arcadia. It’s a milestone to have the first couple ever married in this newest desert city return to mark the occasion. I had hoped to be able to greet you in person and give you a hug, Georgie, and shake the hand of the man you married. He deserves a slap on the back, too, for bringing you great happiness. Thank you, Jack, for making Georgie happier than I’ve ever seen her in the nearly thirty years we’ve worked together. Hiring her was one of the smartest decisions I ever made, and marrying you was one of hers.” Max paused as his voice caught, and he grew misty-eyed. I teared up, and Jack reached out to cup my hand in his.
“Duty calls! Once you’ve settled in, and I’ve completed my current business, I insist you let me take you to dinner. Make yourselves at home. Goodnight.” With that, the image vanished.
“That was so moving,” Felix sniffed as if he’d become teary too. “He admires you both so much.”
“Master suite, bot! Pronto!” Felix ordered.
The cart began moving again, although pronto wasn’t what I’d call the pace at which it moved. Jack leaned over and let the cats loose. They sniffed the floor around them, and Miles warily searched the room.
“I wonder if he’s trying to find Max or Felix,” I said as I followed the bot.
When Miles came after me, he spotted the bot and darted ahead. He growled, and Ella’s tail bushed, but that didn’t stop them from following the slow-moving vehicle—at a safe distance of one or two cat lengths.
“Kitties don’t like,” Jack whispered as we made our way to the enormous, beautifully appointed master suite.
The bot approached a door that slid open, revealing a walk-in closet. Once inside, it flattened to the floor, and appendages emerged from both sides. In minutes, the SDV unloaded the luggage, putting the two bulkiest pieces on luggage stands, and then hanging the bags containing our dress clothes. I watched as the swift bot stashed shoes and other items neatly in a corner.
“I wish I could tip him, um, it,” Jack whispered as the surprisingly nimble machine stowed the appendages that it had used almost like hands and left the closet.
“Sorry, Jack,” Felix replied. “At Max’s insistence, there’s no tipping allowed.”
“Well done, bot. You may go.” As the tiny vehicle spun around, both cats who had crept close when it quit moving jumped a foot off the floor.
“You can go now too, Felix,” Jack added. I kicked off my shoes and stowed my purse in the nearest drawer.
“Are you sure? I was going to show you around. There’s a chilled bottle of champagne in the fridge along with snacks. Treats for Miles and Ella too!”
That got their attention, and they both popped out from under the bed. Miles bellowed.
“I’m sorry, did you say something?” Felix asked.
“No. That was Miles asking for his treats. I’ll get them.”
“How cute that the cat speaks!” Felix continued as Jack and I headed back through the spacious sitting room to the kitchen and dining areas. “Treats are only one of the delightful things about this suite. How about a cozy fire and seasonal music to go with the champagne?”
Felix didn’t wait for us to answer. One of Jack’s favorite jazz singers, Kay Garland, began singing a sweet, dreamy version of White Christmas. A fire was crackling by the time we reached the fireplace.
“It’s been good talking to you, Felix. Thanks for all your help, but I’ll take it from here. Goodnight.”
“Goooood nnnnight,” Felix uttered as Jack waved his hand.
“Quake!” I shouted as I grabbed Ella from my lap and dove under the dining table in our penthouse suite, which turned out to be even more impressive in the daylight. Jutting out, almost like a treehouse on a limb, we had three-hundred sixty-degree-views when the blinds were open.
We’d just finished breakfast on our third morning in the lavish hotel when the shaking began.
Max had kept his word not to intrude, although it was beginning to worry me that he hadn’t called to arrange our dinner date. We’d had two gloriously peaceful days exploring Max’s strange new world taking shape in New Arcadia. I should have known that wouldn’t last.
“Don’t worry,” Jack said as he picked Miles up and followed me under the table. “Max claims his architects and engineers designed this hotel to withstand the biggest quake Mother Nature can unleash.”
As the room continued to shimmy and shake, Jack appeared less confident. I was fighting the urge to bolt, but where would I go?
“If this isn’t the big one, I don’t want to be around for it,” I grumbled. Rattling sounds came from all around us, and the entire hotel swayed—or rolled was more like it. “Are you sure this place isn’t going to sink like the Titanic? We might as well be in a storm at sea.”
“It’s supposed to roll, Georgie. The entire building has flexible joints that can slide with the quake’s motion.”
“What’s the rattling noise?” I asked as I heard a soft plop. My laptop settled onto the carpet nearby after sliding off the table above us.
“Probably the blinds and windows. Possibly items in the drawers and cupboards too. Magnetic locks are activated once the motion reaches a certain level. We’d hear more than rattling if the cupboards and drawers were flapping, and stuff was spilling all over the floor. These quakes don’t last more than a minute or two. It’ll be over soon.”
As Jack spoke, the motion lessened and then stopped. The cats, who usually demand an explanation for unusual human behavior like sitting on the floor under a table, hadn’t squirmed or made a sound. There wasn’t any purring from them either.
“Whew!” I said, scooting toward the edge of the solidly built, exotic-wood table that could seat eight for dinner, more if you added another leaf. That didn’t matter since Jack and I weren’t planning to have any dinner parties. I was grateful for the table’s size and for it not collapsing and flattening us like pancakes. I wanted to check to see if my laptop had survived.
“What’s that sound?” Jack asked, putting a hand on my arm to keep me from going anywhere. A low rumble grew louder as if it were moving closer.
“Aftershock?” I asked. My answer was a blast that shifted the entire hotel building in one direction all at once. The windows didn’t rattle but made an oomph sound—like a person who’s had the wind knocked out of them. The building righted itself as the motion and noise stopped.
“That was no quake,” Jack declared.
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