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Whiskey Creek Press Torrid
Private Investigators Frankie Barker and Johanna Obrien are looking forward to a relaxing Christmas holiday with Frankie's mother, Selma. Then they stumble upon a body behind some trees while picking out their perfect Christmas tree and their relaxing holiday is put on hold.
When Sheriff George Ryker asks for their help on an unrelated case, they soon realize that the two cases are connected. They uncover some disturbing details about the victim's life but can't understand why anyone would want him dead, and especially what he could have done to cause someone to attack him so viciously.†††††††
"Something smells good," Johanna said walking into the kitchen.
"I was going to send out a posse for you if you hadn't returned pretty soon."
Johanna laughed. "The stores were more crowded than I expected."
"Well, Iím relieved that youíre home," Frankie turned from the counter with spatula in hand where sheíd been removing cookies from a baking sheet and placing them on a cooling rack. "Iíve got the gingerbread cookies made. Tomorrow we can decorate them. I thought weíd wait for Mom."
"That's a good idea. We'll put up the tree after dinner and then decorate the cookies. Selma will like that." Johanna pulled out a stool and perched at the island watching her. "I donít know how you do it."
Frankie shrugged as she continued removing the cookies from the baking sheet. "This has been a family tradition ever since I can remember. Mom and I would bake a ton of cookies and then put them in decorative tins and give them to our friends and neighbors." She laughed as she brushed a fallen strand of brunette hair from her brow. "I swear half of Bradford had some Barker cookies every year."
"Ours usually came from a bakery. I donít blame Mom, though. She was busy with Dad and the business. Holidays were hectic."
"But your baking is fantastic. I never could get the knack of making a perfect pie crust."
"I canít make Christmas cookies like you do, though. You are the expert in that area. And itís been nice having this tradition with you for all these years. I look forward to your cookies every year now."
"Thank you." Frankieís eyes swept around the spacious cozy kitchen. "I guess thatís why this kitchen is so special to me. I have loads of space. You should have seen how cramped it was for Mom and me with our Christmas baking in our small trailer." She giggled. "We had containers of cookies stacked everywhere until we delivered them. For weeks our trailer smelled like vanilla and gingerbread."
Johanna smiled. "But those are memories youíll always have and treasure."
She nodded. "And traditions Iíll always keep alive."
"Iím glad," Johanna said. She looked toward the stove. "I see youíve got your pot of famous chili cooking." She sniffed appreciatively.
Frankie wiped her hands on her apron. "And my homemade cornbread is ready for the oven tomorrow. All I need to do now is wait for Mom to get here." She walked over to the counter where the coffee maker sat. She poured two cups of coffee and carried them to the breakfast nook where they ate most of their meals. Johanna joined her and they gazed out of the window at the fat snowflakes beginning to fall.
"Itís snowing. I didnít hear anything about snow on the weather forecast. I hope your mom doesnít have any trouble with the weather."
"Nah, sheíll be okay. Sheís used to driving in the snow. Weíre not due for any major accumulations as far as I know. I worry more about the rain turning to ice."
"I forgot you grew up in worse weather than we ever get here." She stirred some cream and sugar into her coffee. "I canít wait to see what our artificial tree is going to look like."
Frankieís eyes sparkled. "Weíll fix it up and no one will ever know that itís not real. Iím going to make some homemade eggnog, or Mom will, and weíll play Christmas songs. Itíll be so much fun!"
Johanna reached across the table, grabbed her hand, and squeezed it. "I love the way your face lights up this time of year. Youíre like a little kid waiting for Santa."
"I suppose I still believe in Christmas miracles just like when I was a kid." She pulled a small notebook with attached pen from her apron pocket.
Johanna lifted an eyebrow. "Whatís that?"
"This is my list of everything we need to get finished before Christmas. I think weíve got most of it done. We just need to drag out the tree decorations."
"I canít believe itís almost Christmas. It seems like yesterday it was Thanksgiving."
"Me either. This month has flown by."
The gate intercom buzzed startling them. They looked quizzically at each other. "I donít know who that could be," Johanna said, rushing to the security panel, which was unobtrusively located on the wall outside of the breakfast nook. She pushed the intercom button.