Note in the Nutcracker
In book 7 in the series, a whole new group of guests check into the Inn each with their own reason for being there and their own story to tell. Once of the guests, a single woman named Mylie, finds a long forgotten letter to Santa in the mouth of the life sized nutcracker Lacy purchased for Abby after a visit to an antique store. The list does not ask Santa for toys or games but for time with her parents. The note also lists the activities the child wishes they could do together over Christmas such as building a snowman and taking a sleigh ride. Mylie, who is in Holiday Bay to find her one true love, decides to accomplish all the items on the list herself while she is waiting for Mr. Right to come along.
Meanwhile Abby wonders what ever happened to the child who left the list and why the list was still in the nutcracker all these years later. Her research pulls her into an unsolved mystery which she finds herself determined to solve before the arrival of the holiday.
While Mylie is busy meeting Mr. Right and accomplishing the tasks on the list, and Abby is busy trying to figure out what became of the child who wrote the list, Georgia is cooking up a storm as she searches for the perfect cookie to enter in a local contest.
Release date: December 2, 2019
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
Print pages: 169
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Note in the Nutcracker
Twas a week before Christmas and all through the inn… I paused and smiled at my computer screen. I’d been trying to work on the thriller that was due to my editor in less than two months, but all I’d come up with were meaningless phrases that seemed to pop in my head as huge snowflakes drifted gently to the ground outside my window. I had to admit that when combined with the scent of evergreen from the bushy fir in the corner of my bedroom, the bright red bows I’d tied to my bedposts, and the gentle snoring generated by my Maine Coon cat, Rufus, as he slept soundly on my pillow, the setting really was quite magical.
“How about some background music?” I said to my dog, Molly, who was laying on a dog pillow next to my feet. She thumped her tail in agreement as I turned on the radio to the gentle lyrics of O Holy Night. The popular carol generated feelings of nostalgia, which caused me to lean back in my chair, close my eyes, and really embrace the perfection of the moment. Taking a deep breath, I allowed my thoughts to turn to the cookies my best friend and roommate, Georgia Carter, was baking in the kitchen. In addition to being the manager of the inn I’d purchased on a whim just over a year ago, she was a heck of a good cook and baker. Her reputation for original and creative dishes had earned her a place in a Christmas cookie contest that was going to be aired on local cable during the Christmas Eve edition of the popular show Coastal Maine Living. The competition was open to entrants across the country, so being chosen as a contestant in the final round was actually a really big thing, and Georgia had been trying out new recipes for weeks.
After a moment of blissful serenity, I opened my eyes and looked back toward the computer screen. I exited the page where I’d been doodling thoughts of Christmas past, present, and future and returned my attention to my work in progress. I had to admit if only to myself, that I really didn’t have much. The title page was pretty awesome: Currents from the Past by New York Times Bestselling Author Abagail Sullivan.
I smiled once again. I loved being a writer and really wouldn’t give it up for any other profession, but I had to wonder if my decision to leave the romance genre for books that were classified as thriller and suspense hadn’t been a mistake. Given my total lack of usable words in spite of the hours I’d spent sitting at my computer, I was fairly certain my doubt as to the direction my career had taken was justified. The last thriller I’d published had been a huge success, and I knew I should ride that wave, but somehow writing about serial killers and husbands with deep dark secrets didn’t fill the space in my soul the way writing about family, holidays, best friends, and the perfect guy once had.
Maybe I needed to step away from my career and think about a change. Of course, Currents from the Past was under contract, so I did have that to deal with.
I might not be able to shelve my work in progress and write the story my soul was yearning to write at this very minute, but I could take a break and see if Georgia needed a taste tester for her latest creation. Having different types of cookies to taste each day had been a lot of fun and oh so delicious, but I supposed if I didn’t get up out of my chair and get some exercise, I’d end December ten pounds heavier than I’d started the month.
“Oh, good,” Georgia said as I emerged from the bedroom, which also served as my office. “I’m ready for today’s tasting.”
“You know I’m here for you,” I smiled.
She passed me a tray. “These are chocolate pralines. They are really more of a candy, but I modified the recipe somewhat so they would qualify as a cookie.”
I took a bite. “They’re delicious. Are those hazelnuts I taste?”
Georgia grinned and nodded. “There are hazelnuts in the recipe, along with fine oats, gingerbread spice, three types of chocolate, and a lot of other good quality ingredients.”
“I really like them.” I took another bite. “A lot. I’m not sure if I like these or the creamy caramel and pecan cookies you made yesterday better. Of course, the cherry fizz delights you made the day before that were delicious as well. In fact, everything you’ve tried has been so wonderful that I’m not sure how you will choose which recipe to enter in the contest.”
Georgia washed her hands and then dried them on a Christmas towel. The kitchen in the cottage, like the rest of the cottage where Georgia and I lived, had received the full holiday treatment. “I’m having the guests at the inn taste the cookies I make while they are with us. Then before they leave, I ask them to rank the cookies they’ve tasted. So far, everyone has been happy to help out. I know that folks have favorites based on their own personal tastes, but I’m hoping that in the end, the best recipe will win out. And even if I don’t get the feedback I’m hoping for, I think the guests enjoy the extra treats and the opportunity to be involved.”
“I bet they do. Taste testing your recipes is indeed a sweet gig.” I popped the final bite of my cookie into my mouth.
“Jeremy and Annabelle have been providing their input as well, which really helps on those days we don’t have guests. I think Jeremy liked the double fudge chocolates I baked last week, and Annabelle is still talking about the peppermint creams.”
Jeremy Slater worked at the inn and lived in the converted basement, along with his eight-year-old niece, Annabelle, who was living with Jeremy while her mother was working overseas. Jeremy took care of the heavy work required to keep the inn running, such as snow removal, yard maintenance, and general repairs, while Georgia acted as the inn manager, head cook, and marketing guru.
“Speaking of guests,” I said after a brief pause. “I remember seeing we have a whole new group checking in this week. Will they be with us through the holiday?”
Georgia nodded. “If you remember, we discussed the fact that it would be easier and more relaxing to have long-term guests over the Christmas holiday rather than guests checking in and out every day, so I experimented with a seven day minimum over Christmas.”
“And did you get many takers?”
“Actually, I did. In fact, all of the guests who will be with us for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will be with us for between seven and fourteen days. The first of these long-term guests will be checking in tomorrow.”
That did sound good. I’d found that our guests quickly became family, and it would be nice to have a bit more consistency over the holiday. “So, who do we have checking in this week?”
Georgia began putting food away while I grabbed a second cookie. I figured if I gained too much weight and needed to diet, I could get to it once January rolled around. “The first of our Christmas arrivals is a woman named Mylie Sanders. Mylie is checking in tomorrow and will be with us for a full fourteen days. She is coming to Holiday Bay to meet her soulmate.”
Georgia began filling the sink with sudsy water. “Mylie recently turned thirty, which I think got her biological clock ticking. When she made the reservation, she told me that a psychic told her that if she spent Christmas in Holiday Bay, she would meet her one true love. She wasn’t sure exactly how long she needed to be here, so she decided on two weeks.”
“So, she thinks she will meet her one true love here at the inn?” I clarified.
Georgia answered. “She wasn’t really sure if she would meet the man of her dreams here at the inn, or if she’d meet him in town, but the psychic did suggest that she stay at the inn, so she booked a room. As I mentioned, she checks in tomorrow, and will be with us through New Year’s.”
“I can’t wait to meet Mylie. She sounds like an interesting woman.”
“We actually spoke on the phone for quite a while,” Georgia said. “She seemed cheerful and energetic, and I really think she’ll be a fun individual to get to know. And with the added mystery of the man the psychic predicted, I’m sure her stay will be entertaining for all of us.”
I broke off a corner of the cookie. “Do we have any single men of comparable age staying with us at the same time that Mylie will be here?”
“Three,” Georgia answered. “Which, if you think about it, is pretty unusual. So far, single men in their thirties have not really been our target clientele, although admittedly, we have had a few thirtyish men who have stayed with us while they were in town for reasons related to jobs.”
“Such as Ryan Steadman when he was here to interview at the bank and Noah Daniels while he was here for his job interview for the church.”
“So, who are the three lucky bachelors who will be staying with us this month?” I asked.
“Riley Camden is checking in on Friday and will also be here through New Year’s,” Georgia answered. “He is thirty-two, single, and in town to do a story on the seasonal offerings that can be found in Holiday Bay and the surrounding area.”
“So, he’s a travel writer?”
She nodded. “He writes a travel blog. I checked it out, and it’s really rather good, and it has a huge audience. Riley’s blog is a weekly offering with over a hundred thousand followers. I’m hoping to convince him to give the inn a shout out at some point during his stay. I figure that a shout out in a blog with that sort of circulation could really boost our reservations. Especially if we can get him to include photos and a schedule of special events.”
I reached down and picked up a bright red ornament that one of the animals had knocked off the tree and had rolled across the room. “That would be fantastic. Especially if he will publish the event schedule. And I agree that if Riley has a nice time with us and he writes about his experience during his stay, the added publicity could really help us. Let’s be sure to give him the VIP treatment.”
Georgia giggled. “I give everyone the VIP treatment.”
I supposed she did. In many ways, Georgia was more like an Inn Mother than a mere manager.
“So, who are Mylie’s other two potential suitors?”
“Andrew Madison. He is a thirty-four-year-old forensic accountant who will be in town to visit his great aunt. He checks in on Sunday and will be with us through December twenty-ninth. I guess Andrew spent quite a bit of time here in Holiday Bay as a child since his parents traveled extensively. During those times when his parents were away touring the world, Andrew would come to Holiday Bay and stay with his aunt. When we spoke on the phone, he mentioned that those childhood summers are some of the best times in his life.”
“A career as a forensic accountant seems both interesting and impressive,” I commented. “And I love the fact that he is in town to spend the holiday with his aunt. He sounds like he would make a good husband.”
“That’s what I thought when I spoke to him. Of course, Mylie isn’t here just to find a husband. She is here to find her soulmate. I’m not sure exactly how one is to determine who is and who is not a soulmate, but I imagine that Mylie is looking for a deeper relationship than just a vacation fling.”
“Based on what you’ve said, I’m sure that’s true.” I got up, replaced the ornament on the tree, and then I headed to the refrigerator for a glass of milk to go with the rest of my cookie. “So, who is bachelor number three?”
“Mark Westgate. Mark is checking in on Saturday and will be with us through December twenty-seventh. He is a successful developer who will be in town to purchase a piece of property where he hopes to build a high-end resort over the next two years. He is single, although based on what I’ve dug up, it seems he is single because he is married to his job. Still, he appears to be smart, and according to the photo on his website, he is also very good looking.
He may be too much of a workaholic for Mylie, but at thirty-eight, he might be feeling ready to settle down. I spoke to Lacy about it, and she actually thinks Mark is a good candidate.”
Lacy Parker was a good friend and the wife of my contractor, Lonnie Parker. The couple had six children who I adored.
“Anyone else with theories as to Mylie’s perfect match at this point?” I wondered.
Georgia dipped her hands into the sink full of sudsy water. “Jeremy thinks that she’ll end up going for someone gorgeous like Riley, and Nikki has voiced her opinion that she will probably go for a guy like Andrew, who seems settled and dependable.” Nikki Peyton was our neighbor, and Georgia’s boyfriend, Tanner Peyton’s, younger sister. She worked part-time at the inn, helping out with the laundry and cleaning.
“And what do you think?” I asked.
“I think that someone like Riley seems the most interesting. Although it sounds as if Mylie is looking for settled and not interesting.”
“I would agree with that. So, it sounds like Mylie and her bachelors will occupy four of the six rooms. Who will be occupying the other two?”
“Christy and Haley Baldwin will be in the attic room,” Georgia answered. “I wasn’t sure we’d be able to fit her in, but I had a few cancellations, and I juggled things around so that we can accommodate her for her entire stay in Holiday Bay.”
I found myself smiling. “I’m so glad it worked for Christy and Haley to be with us. I’ve really missed them.” Christy was a widow, who had brought her daughter, Haley, to Holiday Bay last month to spend Thanksgiving with her deceased husband’s parents. During her stay over Thanksgiving, we’d discussed the fact that her in-laws wanted her to move to Holiday Bay where they could help out, but Christy had reservations due mostly to the fact that she feared her in-laws might try to take over her life as well as Haley’s if they lived in such close proximity. Christy wanted her daughter to know her father’s parents, but at what cost? Although Christy did have an added incentive to make the move. During her stay in November, she’d met Noah Daniels who’d been staying at the inn, while in town to interview for the position as the new pastor for the community’s church. He’d taken the job and had settled into his new home in town. During the time both guests were at the inn, it seemed that Noah and Christy had really hit it off, and, in my opinion, if they had the opportunity to spend more time together, they might even end up making a connection of the romantic kind.
“I spoke to Christy at length yesterday,” Georgia informed me as she bent down to greet Molly, who had wandered out of the bedroom. Molly offered her a paw and was rewarded with a piece of a homemade dog cookie Georgia kept on hand. Of course, that had her Newfoundland, Ramos, lumbering over from his place in front of the fire as well. “She and Haley are both very excited about coming to Holiday Bay for Christmas, and they are extra excited that they are going to be able to spend the entire two weeks with us. They arrive on December nineteenth, and will be with us until January second.”
“And the sixth room?” I asked.
“Bud and Beth Trenton. I’m afraid their story is a bit sadder. They lost their only son in Afghanistan last year and didn’t want to stay home where they would be reminded of him at every turn, yet they also didn’t want to skip Christmas, so they decided on a holiday at the coast. They saw our ad and thought the inn would be a perfect place to nurse their broken hearts. They will be with us for just one week and will check in on December twenty-third.”
Now my heart was breaking. I knew what it was like to lose a child. I’d lost my infant son two years ago, so I understood how devastated they must feel. I had to give them credit for not just taking to their bed and pulling the blankets over their heads until January. That is exactly what I’d done that first year. “We’ll be sure they have a special holiday that honors their son and creates a space in their hearts for healing.”
Georgia smiled warmly at me. “That is one of the reasons why I adore you. You seem to know exactly what to say.”
“I might be good with words, but you are good with people.” I drank the last of my milk. “You know, I am really looking forward to the holiday this year, and I can’t wait to meet Mylie. She sounds like just the sort of person to bring the spirit of the holiday to the inn.”
“I agree. When I spoke to her on the phone, I just knew she was going to fit right in. She even seemed excited about the ornament decorating and the other preholiday events we have planned.”
“I’m pretty excited about the events we have planned as well. And the inn feels just right with all the decorating you and Jeremy have done.”
“We really tried to create a Norman Rockwell moment.”
“Did the wreath we ordered for the inn’s front door ever show up?” I asked.
She shook her head. “No, but I got an email yesterday that said it would be delivered before five today. I left instructions for the delivery guy to come around to the cottage since I knew we were going to be between guests for a few days, and I wanted to use the kitchen here to practice for the cookie bakeoff.”
I glanced out the window at the falling snow. “I hadn’t realized the inn was going to be totally empty between guests.”
“Initially, I didn’t think we’d have a break either, but the last of the weekend guests checked out yesterday, and the first of the Christmas guests won’t check in until tomorrow. At first, I was sorry that we weren’t booked straight through December as I thought at one point we would be, but then I realized that with the place empty for a day, we could really get in there and do some deep cleaning. I spoke to Nikki, and she is coming in after her job at the diner, and Jeremy plans to help out once he gets home from picking up Annabelle after pageant rehearsal. I’m going to finish up here and meet them over there.”
“I’ll help,” I offered. I didn’t usually participate in the chores or the management of the inn, but I needed a break from writing, and mopping floors and washing windows seemed like as good a diversion as anything. “I’ll call Colt and see if he wants to bring pizza by for everyone who will be working this evening.”
“Is Colt planning to come by?” Georgia asked about Colt Wilder, the man who had become one of my very best friends and provided law enforcement for the town.
“He mentioned that he might. He’s going to be leaving to take his niece and nephew to Disney World for a few days and wanted to see me before he left.”
Colt’s sister and her husband had been killed in a car accident not long before I moved to Holiday Bay, and while their children lived with Colt’s parents, their grandparents, he did what he could to help out during the summers and school holidays.
“That sounds like fun. Will he be back by Christmas?”
I nodded. “They leave tomorrow and will be back late in the day on the twenty-third. He is taking the kids to his parents for Christmas, however, so I doubt I’ll see him until he gets back from there. I think he plans to drive home on the twenty-sixth or twenty-seventh.”
“I’m sorry he won’t be here for Christmas, but I do understand him wanting to be with his family.”
“He’s actually off until after the first, so he plans to spend New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day with us. I know we’ll have a full inn, but I thought it would be fun to have an early gathering for the guests here at the inn, and then we can migrate to Tanner’s and spend New Year’s Eve with friends. I asked him about it when I saw him a few days ago, and he seemed to be all for it.”
“That sounds fun,” Georgia agreed. “I know Tanner is planning a big blowout this year and has even invited some of his trainers to ring in the New Year at his place.”
Tanner owned Peyton Academy, a training facility for search and rescue and service dogs.
I glanced out the window. The snow was still coming down at a steady rate. The outdoor lights that Jeremy had strung along the eaves and around the windows of both the inn and the cottage provided a cheery feel to an otherwise dark day. Georgia had added lights to the shrubs and small trees as well, so the entire estate really did feel like a fairyland.
“It looks like a delivery truck is in the drive,” I said.
“Oh, good. That should be the wreath for the inn’s front door. When I’d ordered a custom wreath made from fresh greenery, I had no idea it would take so long for it to get here.” Georgia pulled her jacket on, opened the door, and stepped onto the wrap-around deck. Once the truck stopped, she walked over and spoke to the driver. After a moment, she came back to the cottage. “The driver has the wreath, but he has something else as well.”
“Oh, what is it?” I asked.
“A life-size nutcracker. Apparently, it is a gift from Lonnie and Lacy.”
I smiled. “I wonder if it’s the nutcracker we saw at the antique store a few weeks ago.” I’d admired it, but after much deliberation, I’d decided it was too expensive and that I needed to tighten my belt a bit, so I hadn’t bought it. “I guess Lacy must have bought it for me. She did make up an excuse to go back to the store after we’d all left. She’d said she’d left her mittens inside, but I’d had a feeling she was up to something.”
“I know Lonnie and Lacy wanted to get you a special gift,” Georgia said. “On many occasions, they both voiced how much it meant to them that you trusted Lonnie with the remodel on the inn.”
“He did an excellent job. It is I who should be looking for a special gift for them, but I am pretty happy about the gift they bought for me.”
“The delivery guy wants to know what to do with it. He has a handcart and is willing to bring it inside. It’s made of wood and close to six feet tall, so he says it is heavy.”
“Let’s put it in front of the window next to the fireplace in the parlor,” I answered. “That way, everyone can enjoy it, it won’t be in the way of normal traffic patterns, and we won’t have to lug it upstairs.”
She nodded. “Sounds good. I’ll show the guy where to take it.”
“I’ll pull on my boots and meet you over there.”
I was going to have to call Lacy with a huge thank you. The nutcracker really was exquisite. It was really old and in excellent condition. I supposed it was somewhat impractical since it would be hard to move around, and I would need to find a place to store it for eleven months out of the year, but from the moment I saw it, I wanted it.
“So, what do you think?” Georgia asked, taking a step back once the delivery driver had positioned the tall statue where I’d indicated.
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