Peril of the Bells: Faith and Foils Cozy Mystery Series Book #3
Welcome to Christmas in Banford, where sleigh bells are jingling, cookies are scrumptious, and decorations are deadly...
Cassie Bridgestone adores Christmastime in Banford when crowds descend on the cozy village to visit its quaint shops, see the Christmas train, and enjoy the week-long festival. And this year will be extra special now that she's dating the gorgeous firefighter, Spencer.
But when she decides to help out the local food bank, she runs into her old flame, Daniel, and finds her heart torn in two all over again.
Then, one of the food bank volunteers is murdered. When Cassie is called upon to assist in the investigation, she has a hard time believing any of the kind-hearted workers could be involved.
Yet as she delves further into the mystery, Cassie finds herself embroiled in a far more sinister plot, with a killer willing to silence anyone to keep things secret.
Return to Banford for this Christmas caper in the third book from the Faith and Foils Cozy Mystery Series by Wendy Heuvel.
Release date: December 1, 2020
Publisher: Olde Crow Publishing
Print pages: 247
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Peril of the Bells: Faith and Foils Cozy Mystery Series Book #3
PERIL OF THE BELLS
by Wendy Heuvel
The train’s whistle sounded in the distance. Cassie Bridgestone tugged her toque over her brows to fight the chill as she watched the tracks with the rest of the crowd, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the brightly decorated Christmas Train.
“Look!” She pointed to a flash of coloured lights winding through the snow-covered trees. “I can see it!”
Spencer Kingsley squeezed her hand, and she could feel the warmth of his touch even through her thick woollen mittens.
The crowd cheered as the locomotive emerged from the forest and eased to a stop in front of the Banford Station, each train car twinkling with an array of dancing lights depicting images of snowmen, reindeer, and Santa.
Cassie found herself caught up in the excitement as much as she had been when she was a little girl. Goosebumps rose on her skin as smoke billowed out of the middle train car, and the side folded out to form a stage. A man decked out in a bright green sequined suit bounced onto the platform and belted out a country Christmas song as his band performed behind him.
“I love Colin Freely!” Spencer moved behind Cassie and wrapped his strong arms around her. “And I love being here with you.” His warm breath tickled the back of her neck. As a construction worker and a volunteer firefighter, he had a very muscular build. She felt protected by him, but it was more than that. He was kind and loving, and he always put her before himself.
Cassie looked back at Spencer. The Christmas lights on the train reflected in his green eyes as he gazed at her. His smile made her feel warm and comfortable. His toque was pulled down to cover half his ears, and his long hair touched his shoulders beneath it. Yes, he was certainly nice to look at.
As she turned back around, she caught Grams watching her. She gave Cassie a quick smile and a wink before returning her sights to the stage.
Next to Grams stood Cassie’s brother Rick, his wife Maggie, and their two adorable girls Olivia and Lily. The girls twirled around in the snow, dancing to the country beat.
Beyond them, gathered the entire population of Banford and the hoards of visitors who almost doubled the cozy village’s meagre size of two thousand. The Christmas Train's arrival signified the start of the week-long Banford Christmas Festival—seven days of fun, shopping, and events put on by the village. Every shop owner, Cassie and her Olde Crow Primitives country décor shop included, participated in decorating the front windows of their old stone buildings to get ready for the festival. Streetlamps and trees were covered in lights and evergreen garlands. A section of snow on the Rideau River had been cleared to create a unique skating rink, with lights set up for night skating. Local choirs had been rehearsing for weeks to prepare for their turns carolling from the bandstand next to the enormous village Christmas tree. The week was one Cassie looked forward to every year. She loved Christmas in Banford, and this year she had someone to share it with.
“I’m here! I’m here!” Lexy, Cassie’s best friend, shouted above the noise of the music as she jogged up and plopped a canvas bag of canned goods for the food drive at Cassie’s feet. “How much did I miss?” Her dark ponytail bobbed up and down, and her fuzzy white earmuffs matched her puffy winter coat and snow boots. Only Lexy could pull that outfit off and look gorgeous. Cassie probably would have looked like the Michelin man.
Cassie released herself from Spencer’s embrace to give her best friend a hug. “You only missed a couple of songs.”
Lexy turned to the stage and clapped her mittened hands together to the beat, while Spencer once again wrapped his arms around Cassie.
Cassie let out a deep, contented breath. After a long year of getting caught up in murder investigations, being pulled in different directions in her love life, and surviving a series of tumultuous events, everything had finally fallen into place. This was going to be the best Christmas ever. She smiled and joined the band and the crowd in singing a round of carols.
Colin Freely sang one last song and waved to the audience before disappearing into the train car as the side closed. They would be off to the next town for another short concert this evening.
Lexy beamed. “That was great!”
It was nice to see her smile. She had recently ended another relationship and was about to face the holidays solo—again. As much as Cassie wanted her friend to find her own special someone, she wasn’t disappointed the previous relationship hadn’t worked out. The guy had been too clingy and not the greatest fit for Lexy’s colourful personality.
“Want to come to our place for hot chocolate?” Rick put his arm around Maggie as his daughters yelled in excitement at the mention of the idea.
Cassie glanced at Spencer. He winked at her. “We’re in!”
Lexy picked up the bag of cans. “I have to drop off my donations first.”
“We’ll go with you, and then you can ride with us.” Cassie nodded at Lexy and turned to wave at Rick. “Meet you there.”
“Sounds good! Coming, Grams?”
“Only if you let me stop off at home first to pick up some cookies. I started the Christmas baking today.”
More excited screams from the girls—and from Rick, Spencer and Lexy. Cassie laughed. Her family and friends were the best.
Spencer led Cassie and Lexy through the dispersing crowd to the large transport truck semitrailer parked at the train station's north entrance. Each year, the unofficial admission to view the Christmas Train was a donation of canned goods for the food bank. Banford residents were exceedingly generous, and this year was no exception. The semitrailer's back doors stood wide open, and boxes and bags of groceries filled the inside.
“Hi, Ida!” Cassie waved as Lexy handed her bag to a tall, big-boned woman in her sixties. A volunteer and a dear friend, Ida attended the weekly Bible study group at Cassie’s apartment. She’d become an even closer friend since Cassie had helped clear her grandson of murder charges during this past summer’s fishing tournament.
Lexy peeked over Ida’s shoulder. “Looks like another big haul this year.”
“And not a moment too soon. The food bank was really running low.”
“Will you be there tomorrow?” Cassie readjusted her toque as a breeze stirred up a whirl of snow from the ground. “I’ll be at the church to help put a new camera in the bell tower.”
“The bell tower? You’re going up that old thing?”
“Yup! The great horned owls will be gathering at the nest soon. We don’t want to miss a thing.” Cassie clapped and jumped up and down. Spencer laughed.
Birding was a passion of Cassie’s. She was a member of the Banford Bird Club, and their latest project included updating the owl cam for the nest in the Anglican churchyard. The food bank operated out of the church basement.
“You’re crazy. You wouldn’t catch me in that rickety old tower. But yes, I’ll be at the food bank.” Someone handed Ida a box of cans. “Be sure to pop down to say hello.”
“I will!” Cassie waved and followed Spencer and Lexy through the crowd. She grabbed Spencer’s hand as they wound their way through the sidewalks and streets filled with people heading back to their homes or vehicles.
The train station was on the north end of town, so they had about five blocks of walking to get to Cassie’s building. Almost every house twinkled, glowing with Christmas lights lining the tops of the porches, rooflines, and gables, and wrapped around trees in the yards. One home decorated a wagon wheel with lights and an evergreen garland with red bows draped along their wraparound porch. Another home boasted a group of snowmen wearing top hats and holding hymnals. Banford was the place to be at Christmas.
A dog ran by Cassie, followed by a little boy chasing it. He bumped her knee as he ran by, causing her to lose her footing and whirl around. She inadvertently stumbled off the sidewalk and tripped, smashing into another person, who caught her and kept her from falling to the ground.
“I’m so sorry,” she blurted out as she looked at her rescuer. She gasped.
She gulped. His arms were still around her.
Their eyes met and held. He smelled of hot cocoa and—
“I’ve got her, thanks.” Spencer gently took Cassie’s arm, forcing Daniel to let go.
The two men exchanged a look.
Her tenant. The bookstore owner.
Her old… friend?
Cassie’s heart beat quickly.
A couple of months ago, she’d been forced to choose between Daniel and Spencer, and as much as she cared deeply for Daniel, he didn’t share her faith. That was more important to her than anything, so she’d chosen Spencer—at God’s leading, of course. He’d spoken to her heart and told her to wait. Then Spencer showed up.
She’d taken that as a sign.
“Who are your friends, Daniel?” A tall, gorgeous brunette with wavy hair fresh from a shampoo commercial stepped up beside him and grasped his arm.
Cassie gulped again. Who was she?
“Oh, sorry. Gabriella, this is Cassie, my, uh, landlord. And her friend Lexy.” He pointed at the girls. Cassie forced herself to nod.
“Hello.” Lexy shook the girl’s hand.
“And I’m Spencer, Cassie’s boyfriend.” Spencer offered his hand to the woman. She smiled and shook it.
“Did you enjoy the Christmas Train?” Lexy stepped in the line of view between Spencer and Daniel.
“Very much!” Gabriella adjusted her mittens. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Daniel is treating me to the best of Banford.”
“Hmm,” Cassie muttered under her breath. Then piped up with, “Well, nice to meet you, but we must be going. We have plans.” She whirled around and continued walking home, sincerely hoping Spencer and Lexy were right behind her.
“Who was that?” Lexy caught up and whispered into Cassie’s ear.
“Don’t know, don’t care.” Cassie continued to march forward without looking back. When Spencer popped up on her other side, she grabbed his hand. “Let’s just get to Rick and Maggie’s.”
“I’ll jog on ahead and start the car. Get it nice and warm for you ladies.” Spencer winked at Cassie.
“Sounds good. Thank you.” Cassie pecked him on the cheek before he jogged off.
Lexy grabbed Cassie’s arm and give a friendly squeeze. “He’s so thoughtful.”
“Yes, he is.” The back of her neck burned. Was Daniel still close behind? Was he watching her?
“I’m thrilled you found him. And now that Daniel has someone new, it makes things even easier.”
“What do you mean?” Cassie was glad her furrowed brows were hidden behind her toque.
“You know—it’ll make things less awkward between you. He’s moved on.”
“It doesn’t bother you, does it?”
“No,” Cassie snapped. “Why would it?”
Lexy glanced at Cassie but stopped talking as they headed toward the green sports car with the black racing stripes in the parking lot behind Cassie’s building. The car was running and waiting for them, as Spencer had promised.
Cassie grimaced. Why would Lexy think seeing Daniel with someone else would bother her? She was happy with Spencer. He warmed her heart. They shared the same faith and liked the same things. He was God’s choice for her.
Daniel was… Daniel.
So, why was her heart still beating quickly from their encounter? It must be the lingering fright of the boy running into her. Cassie shrugged and climbed into the roadster with the hot firefighter waiting for her behind the wheel.
She was happy with Spencer, she reminded herself.
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