Action in Little Leaf Creek
Christmastime in Little Leaf Creek is a time for the Christmas fair, festive decorations and another dead body….
Little Leaf Creek is abuzz with excitement because not only is Christmas just around the corner but a television show is filming an episode in town. Cassie Alberta is settling into her new life in the small country town. She is making some good friends and is loving spending time with her next-door neighbor’s cheeky dog and mischievous goats.
But then a member of the show is found murdered. Cassie joins forces with her grouchy ex-cop next-door neighbor and they decide to do a little investigating of their own. But Cassie is distracted from the task at hand because her new love interest is acting very suspiciously.
Can Cassie help catch the killer so that Christmas can go off without a hitch? Is the relationship between Sebastian and Cassie over as fast as it began?
Release date: December 2, 2020
Print pages: 163
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Action in Little Leaf Creek
“Aren’t they the cutest?” Cassie Alberta flipped to the next picture on her phone and held it out for Tessa Watters to see.
Tessa’s eyes narrowed as she studied the picture of a group of children gathered together around a Christmas tree.
“What are they all so happy about?” She looked up at Cassie. “Did you bribe them to smile this much?”
“No!” Cassie laughed and flipped to the next picture. “See? They’re setting up the booths at the fair for people to visit and play games in. The kids learn so much from setting it up, the community gets to gather together, and it all raises money to help the animal shelter, community center and the homeless shelter. Isn’t that enough to make you smile?”
“I might be smiling, if I didn’t think you were trying to sell me something.” Tessa gently pushed the phone away and shook her head. “Out with it, Cassie, I know you want something.”
“Listen Tessa, I know that it’s hard for you to reach out and be part of the community, but since I’ve been in Little Leaf Creek I’ve seen how much value you really offer to this town. With all of your experience as a police officer, and your general knowledge about life, I really think it’s selfish to hide out here instead of sharing your wisdom.” Cassie sat down at the small kitchen table beside her. “Would it be so bad to come out to the Christmas Fair?”
“My wisdom?” A sharp laugh erupted from Tessa as she sat back in her chair and stared at Cassie. “You really are trying to butter me up, aren’t you? Am I some kind of old sage, now?”
“Tessa.” Cassie laughed. “You know what I mean.”
“I know what you mean, sure. Exactly, what you mean. The problem is, you don’t know what I mean, when I say no.” Tessa huffed as she sank down farther in her chair. “I promised to make some cookies, not go.”
“Please?” Cassie batted her eyes as she gazed at her friend. “Just this once? For me?”
“Unbelievable.” Tessa laughed, then tossed a napkin across the table at her. “That’s not going to work either.”
“Oliver is going to be there.” Cassie raised an eyebrow.
“Did you con him into it, too?” Tessa met her eyes. Her lips pursed.
“Maybe.” Cassie grinned. “But I also promised him that you would be there. He’s looking forward to seeing you.”
“That sounds like a fib to me.” Tessa stood up and walked over to a metal rack beside the stove that held several cookbooks. “Let’s decide what recipe we’re going to use for the gingerbread cookies.”
“Is that a yes?” Cassie walked over to the counter beside her.
“If Oliver will be there, then I should be there.” Tessa sighed as she chose a thick, red cookbook and flipped its well-worn cover open. “Maybe things will be less awkward between us.”
“It’s just going to take a little time.” Cassie’s fingertips tapped lightly against Tessa’s shoulder. “In no time, things will be good between you two again.”
“Not sure if good is the right term.” Tessa shrugged, then thumbed through the faded pages. “Alright, enough chatter, we need to get down to business. Gingerbread cookies are serious business.”
“Very.” Cassie’s smile spread as far as it could. Her heart still raced from the uncertainty she felt when she brought up Oliver to Tessa. As she’d discovered more about their relationship, she’d become even more determined to reunite them. Tessa served as a surrogate mother to Detective Oliver Graham, no matter how much he fought it, and he served as a connection to the rest of the world for her, family, and someone to love. She needed the two of them to iron out the wrinkles that unfortunate circumstances had created between them. It would be the perfect Christmas miracle.
“We can make some without frosting, so the kids can decorate them.” Tessa turned around to face Cassie. “Listen, I know what you’re trying to do here. Don’t think I don’t know that you’re only trying to help. I do want things to improve with Oliver, but I’m not sure I’m ready for stepping into the middle of a town event. Can you understand that?”
Cassie bit into her bottom lip as she attempted to hide her disappointment. She had settled into the idea that Tessa had agreed to go.
“The cookies will be delicious, and it’s very kind of you to make them.” Cassie smiled as she looked over the recipe. “You’re already doing plenty, Tessa. I didn’t mean to push too hard.”
“If it wasn’t for your pushing, I wouldn’t be sorting things out with Oliver.” Tessa offered a small smile. “Just remember, some things take time.”
“I’ll do my best to slow down.” Cassie nodded. “I feel like I’ve been on a roller coaster these past few months, I wouldn’t mind things settling down a bit myself.”
“I imagine you wouldn’t.” Tessa’s gaze softened. “You’ve been through a lot of changes.”
“Yes, I have.” Cassie closed her eyes for a moment as the memories of her former life washed over her. Living in high society, in a busy city, as a wife to a wealthy CEO felt like some distant memory now, but it hadn’t been that long ago that she’d lost her husband.
Tessa’s Collie mix, Harry, nudged his way between them to lick Cassie’s hand.
“Good morning, Harry, what were you doing sleeping in?” She crouched down to pet him.
“Oh, he’s been keeping a close eye on the boys outside.” Tessa sighed as she turned away from the cookbook. “They’ve been trying to chew their way through the fence again. Silly goats. I guess they are more social than I am.”
“Oh, I bet they would love to see all the kids at the fair.” Cassie grinned as she looked up at her, then her enthusiasm faded. “Sorry Tessa, there I go pressuring you again.”
“It’s alright. I know it’s just your nature to be so cheerful.” Tessa gave her a light swat on the shoulder. “But you’re going to have to accept that in my mind, Christmas is better spent at home with my dog and my goats. I’ll have some hot chocolate and a few gingerbread cookies. That will make it the best Holiday ever.”
“When I was a kid, Christmas was a pretty big deal. My mother always had the house fully decorated, and it seemed like the whole town would be in and out of the house at some time during the day. The day went so quickly, but was so much fun.” Cassie shrugged. “I always thought I’d create the same thing for my kids. But Michael and I never had any. Christmas was about the only time he’d get off work, so we usually spent it on some tropical island somewhere with people that he wanted to impress.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad.” Tessa laughed. “I don’t think I’d turn down a tropical island.”
“I know, I was very lucky.” Cassie frowned as she glanced away from her. “But I can’t say that any sunshine-filled Christmas I spent with Michael was warmer than the Christmases I spent as a kid. It’s a different kind of warmth when you’re surrounded by family and friends.”
“I’ll have to take your word for it.” Tessa met her eyes. “But this year is your chance to make Christmas your own. Maybe it doesn’t need to be exactly like your mother created, and maybe it doesn’t need to be on a tropical island. What do you want it to be?”
Cassie gazed back at Tessa as the question echoed through her mind. Suddenly, she felt a spark. Yes, this was her chance to create a Holiday that was just her own. New traditions for her new life.
As Cassie stepped into the diner for her shift, thoughts of what kind of Christmas she wanted to create were still on her mind. Although she’d lived in Little Leaf Creek for less than a year, she’d already made quite a few friends that she would love to have around for the Holiday. However, she knew that Christmas could be busy for everyone. She wasn’t sure who would be free, or if they would want to spend the Holiday with her.
As Cassie rounded the counter and grabbed her apron, she shifted her focus to work. Mirabel Light, the manager of the diner, had already decorated its walls and ceilings with garland, lights, and reindeer. Even Frankie, the cook, had begun wearing a reindeer-ear headband. It seemed to her that the people of Little Leaf Creek knew how to celebrate.
Cassie tied the bright green apron strings around her waist and immediately wondered if all of the baking that Tessa had been teaching her had rounded her hips more than they already were. She grinned as she realized she didn’t care. There was a time when fitting into the latest fashion was important in her life, now, all she cared about were the memories that she and Tessa shared, bonding over delicious treats.
“Cassie!” Mirabel clapped her hands high above her head as she rounded the counter. “This is it! Little Leaf Creek is going to Hollywood!”
“What?” Laughter bubbled past Cassie’s lips as Mirabel’s enthusiasm spilled over onto her.
“Inspector Heathcliffe! They are filming an episode right here, in Little Leaf Creek!” Mirabel grabbed Cassie by the shoulders and gave her a playful shake. “Do you know what this means?”
“Okay, okay, easy.” Cassie shook herself free as she laughed again. “I’m sorry, but I really don’t. Is that a television show?”
“Is that a television show?” Mirabel gasped and took a step back as her eyes spread wide. “Are you really going to stand there and tell me that you’ve never watched Inspector Heathcliffe?”
“I’m sorry, I never have.” Cassie frowned as she studied her friend and boss. “Am I missing something?”
“Only the hottest show to grace the small screen.” Mirabel rolled her eyes, then leaned against the counter beside her. “I’ll admit, I may be a little biased, since the writer on the show, Anton Blakes, grew up right here in Little Leaf Creek. I’ve been following his career ever since he left town to make it happen. We’re going to have to have a binge party and watch all the seasons to get you caught up.”
“Sounds like fun.” Cassie grinned. “So, they’re shooting an episode here?”
“On Anton Blakes’ property to be exact. Well, the property belongs to his parents, but we all grew up hanging out there, so to most of us it is and will always be Anton’s.” Mirabel sighed. “Ah, the memories that happened there.” She winked at Cassie.
“Might be more fun to hear about those.” Cassie started some fresh coffee as people began to filter into the diner. “So, what does this mean?”
“It means, we’re going to be busy. Everyone is going to be in here talking about it. I think I’ll ask Tamera if she can come in for a few extra shifts in case we get a little too busy.” Mirabel walked over to the phone and lifted it out of its cradle.
As Mirabel made her call, Cassie walked over to greet a customer who had just settled at the counter. She recognized the baseball cap that he pulled off of his head to reveal straight, blond hair, and the smile that spread so wide across his lips that his full cheeks gave way to dimples.
“Good morning, Sebastian.”
“Good morning.” Sebastian Vail held her gaze as he reached for her hand. His honey sweet voice made her smile. “Sorry I missed you this morning. I know I was supposed to be by for coffee and to go over the plans for the spring garden.”
“No need to apologize.” Cassie stroked her thumb across the back of his hand. “I figured that you had somewhere you had to be. Besides, it seems a little strange to be planning a garden when the weatherman is predicting snow.”
“It hasn’t snowed here in years.” Sebastian shook his head. “I doubt that’s going to happen. It’s never too early to plan a garden, the more time we have to think ahead, the better it’ll turn out.”
Cassie savored the warmth of his touch even as she pulled her hand away to pour him a cup of coffee. Sebastian’s methodical mind always surprised her. His mellow nature and laid back attitude made it quite a surprise when he paid such close attention to detail and insisted on getting everything exactly the way he wanted it to be before he proceeded with any task.
“I guess you’re right about that.” She set the cup down in front of him. “My first winter project is to get that backsplash in the kitchen done.”
“I’ll be over in the morning to help you with that.” Sebastian took a sip of his coffee.
“I think I might be able to do it. I’ve watched a few videos.” Cassie looked into his eyes. “I don’t want to take up all your time, especially around Christmas.”
“I’m happy to do it.” Sebastian raised an eyebrow. “It’s pretty precise work.”
Cassie winced as she recalled the number of times he’d had to help her fix her attempts at doing things herself.
“You’ve done so much for me, I can at least give it a try.” She glanced up at the door as a customer walked in. “Excuse me.”
By the time Cassie had finished seating and serving the new customer, Sebastian had left the diner.
“Sorry hon, he said to let you know to have a good day.” Mirabel smiled as she joined her at the counter. “How are things going with him?”
“New, very new.” Cassie shook her head. “Sometimes I think I have forgotten how to do everything when it comes to romance.”
“You don’t have to remember, it’ll come naturally.” Mirabel tilted her head toward a group of people gathered around a table. “It looks like the news has broken.”
“Did they get any kind of permits?” Karen huffed as she leaned across the table. “They can’t just come in here and trample through our town.”
“It’s on Anton’s property.” Avery shrugged. “They don’t need permits.”
Cassie recognized them both as members of the local historical society. As she walked over with a pot of coffee, the conversation grew more heated.
“I don’t know how anyone can complain about this.” Fred Meyers, the owner of the bar in town, sighed. “It’s going to bring so much attention and revenue to our town.”
“At what cost?” Karen smacked her hand against the table. “How much of our peaceful, quiet town are we willing to give up for the sake of a little bit of profit?”
“You’re so short-sighted.” Fred shook his head and groaned.
“The same could be said for you.” Karen glared at him. “What do you think is going to happen to your business when a few new bars pop up due to the popularity that this brings to our town? I bet you will be singing a different tune then.”
Cassie cleared her throat.
“Anyone need more coffee?”
“Cassie! You have to talk some sense into these people.” Karen met her eyes. “Tell them what it’ll be like when Little Leaf Creek turns into a hustling, bustling city.”
Cassie did her best to hold back a smile. She couldn’t begin to imagine Little Leaf Creek as a hustling, bustling city.
“I don’t want to get into the middle of any of this. But keep in mind, it’s just one episode of a television show. They never last, the show will get canceled, and everyone will move on. It’s not like they’ll be back again.” Cassie shrugged. “Just my thoughts.”
“Is that what you really think?” An unfamiliar voice from just behind her, combined with audible gasps from everyone at the table, caused a shiver to course up her spine.
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