CHRISTMAS IS MURDER
by Carolyn Arnold
Published by: Hibbert and Stiles Publishing Inc.
ISBN (e-book): 978-1-988064-59-8
ISBN (print): 978-1-988064-51-2
Approximately 132 pages
Albany’s the perfect image of a winter wonderland, and Sean and Sara’s friend Jimmy is going to be Santa Claus for the upcoming Christmas parade. The trees and decorations have been selected and the gifts have been purchased. The season has truly cast its magical spell--until Sean and Sara’s neighbors die in a horrible house fire.
While the fire department ruled holiday-related hazards as the cause, Sara suspects there’s more to it. Her determination to find the truth has her and Sean toeing the line between what’s legal and what’s not.
As they sort out fact from fiction, the McKinleys make the final decision about whether or not they should open a private investigation firm.
FLAMES WERE DANCING IN THE fireplace, adding warmth to the room. The Rat Pack was crooning over the speaker system, and the snow was coming down harder than before, transforming Albany into a picturesque landscape. Maybe she should experience guilt for having everything so perfect, but at this moment, Sara simply appreciated every nuance.
Her parents had pulled their truck into the garage to protect their tree and had taken up the offer of hot chocolate she’d extended to them and the Wilsons. Her dad had to be convinced to forego his poker night but, surprisingly, he did it with little protest. It was probably because he’d rather not show than be late.
She and her mom were snuggled on the sofa in front of the bay window while Sean and her dad struggled to get their tree upright and in place. Sara held back her amusement—for a small evergreen it came with big issues.
“Voila!” Her dad stood back, his arms flailed out, admiring his hard work.
Her mother put her hand on Sara’s forearm. “You have your tree.”
“I do.” Those two words managed to form aloud, but her emotions were tapping at the back of her jaw. For a relatively simple thing, it warmed her soul more than the hot beverage. This would be her first time celebrating Christmas with Sean.
She got off the sofa and sauntered over to him. She slipped her arms around her husband and kissed his lips, passionately, but briefly.
“I think she likes it, dear.”
She heard her dad talking to her mom and pulled back, smiling. She palmed her cheeks. “It’s beautiful.”
“We better get going. I think it’s time these two go to bed.”
Sean was smirking like he was fond of her father’s idea and ready to act on the parental advice. She, on the other hand, was mortified.
“Come on, Leon. You’re embarrassing the child.” Sara’s mom leaned in and kissed her cheek.
“Thank you.” Sara snickered now and hugged her dad. “Take care of each other. Drive safe in this weather.”
Sara watched from the front window as they left. The snow had eased up somewhat, but the flakes were large. She blew them a kiss as they pulled out of the drive. It was a tradition, something her family had always done when another member was leaving.
“So, darling, would you like to get started on the tree or take up on your father’s advice? Myself, personally…” Sean came behind her, nuzzled into her neck, and nibbled on an earlobe.
She wrapped her arm back and over his head, before turning to face him. “Are you sure you want to hear my answer?”
“Must you always start off playing hard to get?”
“Not always.” She leaned forward to kiss him but stopped when sirens rocked the house. Any flashing lights that would have accompanied them were diluted due to the snow and the distance of their house from the road.
Sara put her hand on Sean’s chest and he drew back.
He looked out the window. “Fire trucks. It’s probably nothing, Sara.”
There was that feeling whelming up within her gut. Something terrible had happened. Was it her parents?
“Please, darling.” She grabbed her mobile phone off the coffee table and dialed her mother’s cell. “Pick up. Pick up.”
Sean was watching her with wide eyes. She wasn’t sure if he suspected something was terribly wrong too, or if it was her adrenaline getting him going.
Three rings. No answer.
She felt the blood drain from her face. Her legs buckled beneath her.
“Sara.” Sean rushed the few feet to her and helped her right her balance. “What is it?”
“Something awful has hap—”
“Mom, as soon as you get this message, call me.”
“Sweetheart?” Sean put his hands on her arms as she lowered the phone.
The sirens had stopped. They hadn’t gone that far down the street.
“We have to—” She took his hand and led him to the door. “Mom didn’t answer her cell. You know how I get feelings sometimes?” Her eyes pleaded with him. “I have one now. Those fire trucks were for someone we know.”
“You’re thinking your parents were in an accident?”
“I don’t know, Sean, but I need to find out.” She pulled her coat from the hook and slipped into her boots. Sean dashed into the garage after her.
She inhaled the air. “I smell fire.”
They ran out of the bay and stopped, standing there for several seconds, as if frozen to their driveway, noses to the wind, snowflakes melting on their skin.
“The Wilsons,” she said.
They rounded the bend and had a relative line of sight to their neighbor’s property. Only partially obscured by bare tree branches, it was easy to discern the swirling of colored lights.
She trudged through the snow, ignoring Sean’s pleas behind her. The sky was full of billowing gray smoke and it propelled her all the more. She reached the Wilsons’ drive, nearly spilling onto it from her forward momentum.
A couple firemen were spraying through the main window. The rumble of the fire engine and the water pump added to the nightmarish scene.
“Sara.” Sean became motionless, and speechless when his eyes fell on what was before them.
“The Wilsons?” She took one step, but Sean held her arm.
“You can’t go in there, darling.” The desperation in his eyes said it all—it wasn’t safe or practical.
“Excuse me. We’re going to have to ask you to leave.” A uniformed man approached them. The label on his hat read Chief.
“Are they okay? Was anybody hurt?”
A voice came over his radio and indicated the blaze was coming under control.
The chief nodded to Sara and gestured for them to move back.
For some reason, even though he answered in the affirmative, with a nod, she sensed it had more to do with directing them to the side than denoting good news.
“Who are you two?”
“I’m—” Her voice was shaky and Sean took over.
“We’re the McKinleys, from next door. Sean and Sara.”
“What caused the fire?” Sara asked.
“This time of year we get a lot of calls.” He gestured to the Christmas lights that dangled from the Wilsons’ eaves like eerie shadows, carrying haunting memories of happier times.
“The Wilsons, are they—”
Plumes of smoke exited the front window. The firemen kept spraying.
The chief’s crease lines took on sharp edges. His mouth fell into a straight line. “I’m sorry to say this, but they didn’t make it.”
“Oh, darling.” Sara turned toward Sean and he held her tight.
“What happened?” Sean asked.
“They were both found in the living room. They were rushed away immediately, but the call came en route to the hospital. For what it matters, I don’t think they suffered. I think they were asleep on the couch when the fire started and died from smoke inhalation.”
Even though her back was to the man, Sara sensed his heart was broken over the situation. She imagined his gaze on her.
“Well, you don’t need all the details.” His gravelly voice confirmed her suspicion.
“I assume there will be an investigation into the cause of the fire,” Sean said.
Sara straightened and turned to face the chief, her shoulder remained tucked under Sean’s armpit, their torsos as close as possible with their bulky winter coats.
“It’s standard protocol.”
“Did they have any family? People—”
“Mrs. McKinley, arrangements for the notification is being made as we speak.”
“We just met them this afternoon.” The statement fell as a guilty confession, remorse over not knowing them underscored every word.
“They have a daughter who lives in town.”
“Please, what is her name?”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you that.”
Sean tightened his hold on Sara. “We understand, Chief—I’m sorry, what is your name?”
“We got it,” a voice called over the radio.
The men, who were spraying the front, turned the water off and lowered the hose. The smell of fire clung to the air. The snowfall that had earlier cast a magical spell had taken on the weight of loss and sadness.
Published by: Hibbert and Stiles Publishing Inc.
Number of books in series as of May 2016: 10
Sleuth around with murder-solving duo Sean and Sara McKinley as they do whatever it takes to unravel a mystery while romancing it up along the way.
Romance. Humor. Murder. Are you looking for a murder mystery without all the graphic violence and foul language? Something that you can enjoy in an afternoon and walk away feeling good about afterward? How about a dash of humor and romance? If so, meet former detectives Sean and Sara McKinley. When a billionaire leaves them all his money, they no longer have to work, but they find themselves sticking to what they’re good at—solving murders. Undercover, off the books, and around the world, they’ll get to the bottom of things…and romance it up along the way.
This is the perfect book series for fans of Hart to Hart, Castle, Colombo, Monk, Rockford Files, Psych, and Magnum PI.
Read in any order or follow the series from the beginning: The Day Job is Murder, Vacation is Murder, Money is Murder, Politics is Murder, Family is Murder, Shopping is Murder, Christmas is Murder, Valentine’s Day is Murder, Coffee is Murder, Skiing is Murder.
About the Author:
CAROLYN ARNOLD is an international best-selling and award-winning author, as well as a speaker, teacher, and inspirational mentor. She has four continuing fiction series—Detective Madison Knight, Brandon Fisher FBI, McKinley Mysteries, and Matthew Connor Adventures—and has written nearly thirty books. Her genre diversity offers her readers everything from cozy to hard-boiled mysteries, and thrillers to action adventures.
Both her female detective and FBI profiler series have been praised by those in law enforcement as being accurate and entertaining, leading her to adopt the trademark: POLICE PROCEDURALS RESPECTED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT™.
Carolyn was born in a small town and enjoys spending time outdoors, but she also loves the lights of a big city. Grounded by her roots and lifted by her dreams, her overactive imagination insists that she tell her stories. Her intention is to touch the hearts of millions with her books, to entertain, inspire, and empower.
She currently lives just west of Toronto with her husband and beagle and is a member of Crime Writers of Canada.
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