Just in time for the holiday season, a new mystery collection featuring cozy mystery novellas by Lee Hollis, Lynn Cahoon, and Maddie Day!
DEATH OF A CHRISTMAS MITTEN KNITTER by LEE HOLLIS
The church’s annual Christmas bazaar is an unqualified success until the local jeweler cries out that a valuable diamond ring has been stolen. Food writer Hayley Powell joins the search for it but discovers something decidedly more shocking—the dead body of a local knitter with a homemade mitten stuffed in her mouth. With only days to spare before the holiday, Hayley must unravel the mystery of Bar Harbor’s crafty killer before someone else receives a deadly gift.
TWO CHRISTMAS MITTENS by LYNN CAHOON
Magic Springs, Idaho, is decked out in its sparkling best for the season, but Mia Malone is almost too busy to notice. Taking a second job at the Lodge to save Mia’s Morsels doesn’t leave her much time for festivities—until she finds a dead body near one red mitten in the snow outside the Lodge during the holiday party. Learning that an ancient curse is at play, Mia must find the missing mitten and solve the murder before someone she loves is the next victim.
MURDEROUS MITTENS by MADDIE DAY
A quiet Christmas in Colinas, California, at her twin sister’s charming B&B is exactly what Cece Barton needs during the holiday hustle of Los Angeles. But the morning after a lovely evening at the local wine bar, Cece learns that the bar’s proprietor, who sells mittens in her spare time, has has been found dead, hit on the head with a bocce ball nestled in one of the mittens she sells as a sideline. With her horrified twin one of the main suspects, can Cece unmask the merry murderer before this becomes a holiday from hell?
Release date: September 26, 2023
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 320
Reader says this book is...: classic themes (1) entertaining story (1)
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Christmas Mittens Murder
“Hold on. Reverend Ted would like to have a word with you before you go.”
“I was so close to getting out of here! Can you tell him you just missed me?”
Betty’s eyes flicked across the restaurant to a table near the fireplace. “I could, but then he’d know I was lying because he is literally staring at us this very moment.”
“What is it this time? Is his steak not pink enough again?”
“No, he’s finished with his steak and moved on to dessert and coffee,” Betty said. “The Yule log cake, his favorite.”
“Okay,” Hayley sighed, steeling herself as she forced a smile and nodded while she weaved her way around the tables of patrons to head to where Reverend Ted was dining alone. There were bits of chocolate on both corners of his mouth as he devoured Hayley’s special holiday Yule log cake.
“Good evening, Reverend. Did Kelton get the temperature of your rib eye right?” Hayley asked brightly.
Reverend Ted snorted. “Eventually.”
“I’m sorry about that. Dessert’s on me tonight.”
“Thank you,” Reverend Ted said, beaming. Hayley felt as if she had just saved herself from a snippy Yelp review.
She knew giving him a discount would solve the problem of his earlier complaint. Although beloved by his congregation at the church and known throughout Bar Harbor as kind and warmhearted, if Reverend Ted did have one flaw, it was that he was rather cheap, a proud and often irritating tightwad. So a free dessert was very much appreciated.
“This cake really is quite delicious, Hayley. I just wanted you to know that.”
“Ahhh, yes, the Yule log cake here is quite popular this time of year. Well, enjoy, I’m just heading out.”
She did a quick turn to leave when he reached out and grabbed her by the wrist. “Wait, there is something else I need to discuss with you.”
Hayley braced herself.
“As you know, the church’s Christmas bazaar is coming up in a week, and I was hoping you might make a contribution.”
All she had to do was write a simple check.
“Of course, Ted. No problem. I can drop off a check to you at the church tomorrow, or if you have Venmo, I can just transfer the amount right into the church’s account and we can save a tree.”
“That’s very kind of you, but I was hoping to enlist your exceptional baking skills instead of relying on a donation of cold hard cash this year. We are raffling off gift baskets at the bazaar, and I believe that if you prepared a Hayley’s Kitchen dessert basket, maybe include one of your locally famous Yule logs, those delicious Christmas Crinkle Cookies that practically taste like a rich fudgy brownie and perhaps even a gift certificate for a dinner for two from Hayley’s Kitchen, then we’d make a killing.”
“You have certainly thought a lot about this,” Hayley remarked, full of dread.
“Honestly, who wouldn’t want to put a raffle ticket in the jar to win a prize like that. I would bet it would be the most popular gift basket of the whole bazaar.”
Hayley took a deep breath. “Reverend, I would really love to help out, but as you can see, I have been so busy here at the restaurant it’s hard to find a free moment, especially this time of year. But again, I would be more than happy to make a financial donation . . .”
“I understand, Hayley. I can see you have a very successful business to run. And I am sure the needy families who benefit from the money we raise from the bazaar will understand as well.”
And there it was.
The carefully timed guilt trip.
Still, Hayley was slightly annoyed that Reverend Ted was not interested in a direct cash donation, which would essentially achieve the same goal. Lift the spirits of local families during the holidays with money to buy food and toys.
Hayley opened her mouth to try one more time to offer a generous donation, but Reverend Ted spoke before she had the chance. “Your brother Randy’s business is also doing remarkably well, even during the off-season.”
“Yes, he’s got a fully stocked bar that comes in mighty handy during the cold winter months here in Bar Harbor when almost everything else is closed for the season.”
“And yet he was more than happy to offer his own Drinks Like A Fish holiday gift basket loaded up with some of his top-shelf booze, various cocktail mixes and shot glasses and all sorts of goodies and special trinkets. Wasn’t that thoughtful of him? Your brother has always been so public-spirited.”
Hayley nodded, accepting defeat. “When do you need my basket?”
“Friday would be just fine,” Reverend Ted said without missing a beat. “Now, if you would be so kind as to have Betty bring me my check, I need to get back to the church. There is so much still to do before the big bazaar.” He finished the last forkful of Yule log cake, and then grabbed his napkin and wiped his mouth clean. “Can I give you a lift home?”
“Oh no, I’m not going home. I’m meeting friends at Drinks Like A Fish,” Hayley blabbed without realizing.
Reverend Ted nodded knowingly.
It finally dawned on her.
Too busy to make a gift basket for the Christmas bazaar but not too busy to drink with friends even while her restaurant was still open.
Not good optics at all.
“We’re celebrating. Liddy sold that mansion down on West Street that’s been on the market all year,” Hayley offered weakly.
“Well, please, don’t let me keep you,” Reverend Ted chirped, working hard not to show any judgment on his face but failing miserably. “I will see you Friday when you deliver your basket.”
When she would have the time to pull it all together was still an open question. But right now, her focus was on getting out of here before there was another crisis in the restaurant she would have to deal with, such as a dissatisfied customer, a lost reservation, a fire in the kitchen. She had seen it all this holiday season.
After waving good night to Betty and the waitstaff and extricating herself out from under the watchful eye of Reverend Ted, Hayley jumped in her car and sped over to her brother Randy’s bar, which was mostly empty at this late hour except for a couple of regular bleary-eyed fishermen at the end of the bar downing shots of whiskey and Liddy and Mona chattering on top of stools at the opposite end. Mona was guzzling her usual Budweiser from a can, and Liddy was sipping her typical cosmo.
Hayley hopped up on a stool next to Mona. “Sorry I’m late. I got hung up at the restaurant. Reverend Ted cornered me and talked me into—”
Mona interrupted her. “Donating a gift basket for the church Christmas bazaar. Yeah, we already know. He stopped by my lobster shop earlier today and asked me to do the same. I told him I was already going to hell, so why bother kissing up to the church? But that didn’t seem to stop him from pestering me! He just wouldn’t let up with the arm twisting until I finally yelled, ‘Uncle!’ So I think I got an old picnic basket in the attic I can use and I’ll throw in some gift certificates for lobsters and scallops and maybe a few touristy trinkets I sell in the shop like those cute lobster trap magnets for the refrigerator.”
“I think that’s adorable, Mona. You do you. But my basket is going to be the big grand prize of the raffle,” Liddy insisted.
Hayley cocked an eyebrow. “He got to you, too?”
“Oh yes. He showed up at my office yesterday and told me how much I smelled good, and I told him it was this very expensive new body lotion I got on my last trip to New York, Laura Mercier Ambre Vanille Soufflé Body Crème. Well, the next thing I knew, I was volunteering a gift basket full of beauty products and spa creams. So I win.”
“It’s not a contest, Liddy,” Mona growled.
“People who say that know they can never win,” Liddy snorted.
“She’s right,” Randy concurred as he delivered Hayley her usual Jack and Coke. “Besides, if anyone is going to win a contest on who can make the best holiday gift basket, it’s going to be me hands down.”
Hayley nodded. “He’s right. No one can compete with a basket full of booze.”
“I can!” Liddy cried. “I guarantee you my basket will get the most raffle tickets!”
The annual Christmas bazaar tradition was to set out a goldfish bowl next to each holiday basket and all the attendees would deposit one or more of their raffle tickets in the bowls for the drawing. Often people would buy twenty tickets at once and stuff them all in the bowl for the basket they really wanted, so the most popular basket was always obvious, given how the goldfish bowl next to it was overflowing with tickets. Hayley had reasonable confidence in her baking skills and felt that she would garner a healthy pile of tickets and be able to at least compete with Mona’s seafood and Liddy’s spa package, but Randy remained the wild card. She could see him walking away with it.
But with her healthy competitive streak, she was now willing to give it a try. And the unofficial contest for the most popular Christmas bazaar gift basket between the four of them was underway.
The great Congregational church Christmas Bazaar Gift Basket competition turned out to be not much of a contest after all. Just as Hayley feared, Randy’s impressive holiday basket boasting a wide variety of very pricey spirits won in a walk. No one was particularly surprised to see a large crowd hovering around Randy’s prize, eagerly stuffing their raffle tickets into the bowl next to it until it was overflowing and tickets were falling onto the floor.
Reverend Ted dashed off to find another bowl for people to use to vie for the Holiday Cheer package. Luckily Hayley, Mona and Liddy were all doing brisk business as well, just not nearly as much as Randy. Still, the dozens of attendees did spread enough tickets around on the other baskets to not make it completely embarrassing.
That is, with the exception of the deserted table in the far corner of the church basement that featured the donations of Helen Woodworth’s knitting circle. All five members—Helen, Abby Weston, Esther Willey, Betty Dyer and Doris Crimmons—had put together their own gift baskets with personally knitted items they had all made over the past year such as mittens, scarves, and hats. Doris was even offering an afghan blanket that had taken her eight months to complete. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, nobody seemed particularly interested in wasting their valuable raffle tickets on any of them, and Hayley could see Helen and her group fuming in silence as most people passed them by.
Then Reverend Ted made the faux pas of asking Helen if she and Abby could use the same bowl to collect tickets and they would just draw from it twice, once for each of their baskets.
A miffed Helen barked, “Why do you need my bowl?”
Reverend Ted nervously glanced at the less than a dozen tickets lying on the bottom of Helen’s bowl. He cleared his throat. “It’s just that Randy’s bowl is completely full and people are starting to get antsy waiting to add their raffle tickets, so I thought I would just borrow yours until I can dig up something that will hold all those tickets for the drawing!”
“I’m surprised, as a Man of God, you would even allow him to offer a basket stuffed with bottles of alcohol!” Helen sniffed.
“Come on, Helen, even Jesus drank wine!” Mona yelled from across the room.
“Mona, that’s probably not helping,” Hayley admonished.
Helen chose to ignore Mona’s snide remark and kept her blazing eyes squarely focused on poor Reverend Ted, who had not yet dared pour the tickets into Helen’s bowl out of fear that she might pop him one in the nose.
Reverend Ted set Helen’s fishbowl gently back down on the card table next to her basket of knitted goodies. “I’m sorry, Helen, you’re right. I will find another solution. You hang on to your bowl. No sense in anyone getting upset. This is supposed to be a joyous day of giving.”
“I just don’t understand why those flashier baskets are more popular than the old-fashioned ones like ours that our families have been donating to the church Christmas bazaar for generations. Don’t these people have a sense of history and tradition? Frankly, if you ask me, the booze, the lobster, the facial scrubs, they’re all just trying too hard! ”
“Actually no one asked you, Helen!” Mona couldn’t resist cracking before Hayley nudged her in the rib.
Helen’s face flushed with anger and she turned her head away from Mona to complain to her knitting circle as Reverend Ted dashed away to the kitchen to find a giant serving bowl that was big enough for all the raffle tickets Randy was currently raking in.
“Reverend Ted looks a little frazzled. Maybe I’ll go see if he needs help. Can you two keep an eye on things here?” Hayley asked Liddy and Mona.
“Sure,” Liddy said. “But hurry back. I have been on my feet all day, and if I don’t get a cocktail soon, I’m going to have to conduct a secret raid on Randy’s basket when he’s not looking.”
Hayley smiled and headed off toward Reverend Ted, who had been stopped on his way to the kitchen in the church basement by Scooter Beauchemin, bald with a graying goatee, a wealthy New York hedge-fund manager who had recently moved from Manhattan to Maine with his gorgeous wife Tawny for a simpler, quieter life.
Hayley stopped short of interrupting them but was close enough to overhear their conversation. Reverend Ted was staring at a piece of paper Scooter had just handed him. His eyes were nearly bulging out of their sockets.
“Are you sure you didn’t accidentally write too many zeroes on this check?” Reverend Ted gasped.
Scooter threw him a self-satisfied grin. “No, that’s the correct amount. What can I say, I had a good year.”
“I’m not sure we have enough raffle tickets to sell you.”
Scooter chuckled. “I’m not interested in taking home any gift baskets. Tawny and I have everything we need. I want that money to go directly to the church programs.”
“This is beyond generous, Mr. Beauchemin. You can’t imagine the good this will do,” Reverend Ted gushed, his eyes still glued to the massive amount scribbled on the check.
“Well, I know there are a lot of disadvantaged kids on the island, and I simply want to make sure they all have a very merry Christmas.”
Tawny suddenly appeared at his side, handing him a glass of white wine. He gave her a sweet kiss on the cheek, which caused her to blush. “We both do.”
“I can’t thank you enough. And the kids thank you,” Reverend Ted said, beaming.
Scooter nodded, and Tawny offered a wan smile as they wandered off to mingle with a few locals. Reverend Ted folded the check and stuffed it into the breast pocket of his LL Bean flannel shirt, and then continued on toward the kitchen before Hayley managed to stop him. “Reverend Ted, you seem to be out straight, so I was just wondering if I could offer you a helping hand?”
A big happy grin spread across his face as he patted his breast pocket with the palm of his hand. “Not anymore. But thanks anyway, Hayley.”
And off he went.
Hayley shrugged and then spun around to return to Liddy and Mona when she noticed in the hallway off the main room Helen Woodworth and her fellow knitting circle member Esther Willey having a serious, intense, heated conversation. Esther was wagging a finger in Helen’s face, spewing out angry words, her face as red as a beetroot, as Helen tried standing her ground but seemed overwhelmed by Esther’s tirade. She shrank away the more Esther forcefully confronted her. Then, unable to take any more, tears streaming down both cheeks, Helen bolted away from Esther and out a side door. Esther watched her go, fuming.
Hayley made a beeline back to Mona and Liddy.
Liddy sighed. “Oh, good. You’re back. Now it’s your turn to hold down the fort while I get something to drink. I was told there were only sodas and iced tea here, but I just spotted Tawny Beauchemin sail by with a glass of white wine.”
“Hold on a sec, Liddy, give me five more minutes,” Hayley said.
“You already had your break, and I cannot stand another minute of listening to Bah Humbug Mona drone on and on about how much she hates Christmas.”
“Cut me a break! I got all seven kids coming home this year, and I’m already stressed out about feeding them Christmas dinner. Most of them are full grown now, but they still eat like a pack of hungry wolves!”
“Seven? I thought you had eight kids,” Liddy remarked.
“Wait, don’t you have nine?” Hayley added.
“What? You expect me to remember?” Mona barked. “I was bedridden for most of them, so I have managed to block all the pregnancies out of my mind!”
“Listen, I just need to go check on Helen Woodworth. She ran out of here looking pretty upset.”
“Come on, she can’t take a little joke?” Mona scoffed.
“It has nothing to do with you. I saw her arguing with Esther Willey.”
“All those women in that knitting circle are always bickering and complaining about something! They’re so petty, and they’re constantly judging other people, like hens on a fence. I’m sure it’s nothing too serious,” Liddy said.
Hayley debated with herself.
Maybe Liddy was right.
She should probably just let the two of them work it out on their own.
But Helen left the church crying.
Whatever conflict was boiling over was definitely not some silly inconsequential disagreement. It appeared far more grievous.
Hayley touched Liddy’s arm. “Please, just five minutes.”
Liddy threw her hands up in the air. “Fine. But I expect you to bring me back a Sauvignon Blanc and make sure it’s chilled.”
Hayley turned to go when a man started shouting from across the room. All eyes turned to Ed Willoughby, the owner of the local jewelry store, Willoughby’s Rock Shop, who was standing at a card table with an empty display case situated in the middle and a clipboard of silent auction bid sheets and a ballpoint pen next to it.
“It’s gone!” Ed Willoughby cried.
Reverend Ted came running from the kitchen, alerted to the commotion. “What’s gone, Ed?”
Ed Willoughby took a deep breath and exhaled, trying to collect himself before announcing with great distress, “The ring I donated for the silent auction. Someone just stole it! It was right there in the case. I turned away for just a few seconds, and when I turned back, it was suddenly missing! Someone stole it! That ring is worth two thousand dollars!”
There were surprised gasps from the crowd.
Hayley grabbed her phone from the back pocket of her slacks. “I’ll call the police!”
Randy’s husband and Hayley’s brother-in-law, Bar Harbor police chief Sergio Alvares, who had arrived just moments earlier, was busy questioning a discombobulated Ed Willoughby. Poor Ed was still in a state of shock from the brazen theft of his expensive diamond ring. Meanwhile, Hayley watched an agitated Reverend Ted, nervously chewing on his left thumb fingernail, race around the room taking inventory of all the donations to make sure nothing else was missing.
It was total pandemonium in the church basement as people wanted to leave the bazaar to go finish their Christmas shopping or decorate their tree or visit relatives, only to be corralled by Lieutenant Donnie and Officer Earl as if they were flustered chickens clucking around in a coop. No one was allowed to leave until Chief Sergio had the opportunity to question each and every one of them and search their bags and purses. It appeared to Hayley to be a fruitless task since in the ten minutes it took for the police to arrive after she called them there were about two dozen people who had slipped out. And it was entirely possible that one of those people had left with the stolen ring.
Liddy and Mona stood by their baskets, protectively guarding them so no sticky-fingered thief could attempt to make off with them, although Hayley highly doubted there was any cause for concern. Pilfering a small ring in the palm of your hand was much easier than trying to snatch an oversized cellophane-wrapped gift basket.
Hayley approached them. “I heard Reverend Ted is considering postponing the raffle until tomorrow since Sergio still needs to question everybody and that could take hours.”
Liddy sighed loudly. “Great. Just great. I had two holiday parties I was going to go drop in on tonight, and one of them was at the home of Ethan Brandt, that studly single lawyer who just moved to town, and now I’m going to miss out! Why do these things always happen to me?”
“Technically this did not happen to you, Liddy. Ed Willoughby is actually the victim here,” Hayley reminded her.
“Oh, please. I’m sure that rock was insured!” Liddy snapped. “But I still don’t have a date for the New Year’s Eve extravaganza at the Atlantic Oakes Hotel, and I was hoping Ethan might ask me to accompany him at his party tonight. But now that’s never going to happen, is it? Because I’m stuck here. So yes, Hayley, I am a victim, too!”
Hayley decided it was probably wise not to argue with her further at this point.
Mona just shook her head and turned to Hayley. “Sometimes I think she knows how ridiculous she sounds but she keeps on running her mouth just to screw with us.”
“FYI, Mona, I can hear you. I am standing right here!” Liddy snapped.
“Good! You need to know how silly you act sometimes!” Mona yelled.
Hayley stepped between them. “Come on, you two, relax, will you? I know this is a huge imposition, but staying put and allowing Sergio to do his job is the right thing to do. Besides, it’s Christmas. ’Tis the season to be jolly.”
“Jolly? People with big bellies are jolly, Hayley. I lost seventeen pounds on Nutrisystem this year. If anyone is jolly here—”
Mona held a finger up to Liddy’s lips. “I would advise you to stop right there, Liddy. I wouldn’t want you to be cancelled for fat-shaming me!”
Liddy finally took Mona’s words to heart and wisely kept her mouth shut.
Hayley glanced around the room. Liddy and Mona were not the only ones on edge. Everyone appeared restless and unnerved, especially Rosana Moretti, the wife of Hayley’s old boss Sal Moretti, editor-in-chief at the local paper, the Island Times. Rosana stood off in a corner flanked by three women, all of whom Hayley recognized as members of Rosana’s own knitting circle, the Happy Hookers. Rosana, who normally was very sweet and unobtrusive, some might even describe her as mousy, was in a state of distress as her friends buzzed around her trying to comfort her. Hayley wondered what was bothering her so much, but she did not have to wait long to find out, because just as Chief Sergio finish. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...