Book 7 in the Holiday Cozy Mystery
CELEBRATE GOOD CRIMES!
Holiday Cozy Mystery Series is a spin-off of Tonya Kappes’s popular A Camper and Criminals Cozy Mystery Series! You do not want to miss Violet Rhinehammer’s journey and some appearances from our beloved Laundry Club Ladies and favorite characters from A Camper and Criminals Cozy Mystery crossover series!
In the quaint town of Holiday Junction, where traditions run deep and festivities are the heart of the community, a shadow lurks beneath the autumn leaves. When the prominent Harden family is struck by tragedy, everyone becomes a suspect. It’s up to intrepid journalist, Violet Rhinehammer of the Junction Journal, to unearth the truths buried beneath layers of deception and old grudges.
But as Violet delves deeper, she discovers secrets that entwine the art district with the village in ways she never imagined. With the town’s highly anticipated Leaf Dance Festival approaching, tensions rise and alliances are tested. Will Violet decipher the puzzle before the killer strikes again?
From glittering pageant schools to the bustling world of local artisans, dive into a tale where community spirit clashes with dark vendettas. As Holiday Junction gears up for its Friendsgiving festivities, one question lingers—can the town’s cherished unity withstand the weight of treachery? Join Violet on a race against time in this gripping holiday mystery.
Book 7 in the Holiday Cozy Mystery
“To-furky,” Millie Kay, my mama, harrumphed. “Who on earth ever heard of that?”
Her Southern twang garnered a snicker from Darren Strickland.
I glanced up from the list of activities I’d been curating, not as the Junction Journal’s editor in chief, my newest title, but as Holiday Junction’s secret Merry Maker.
More correctly, I was the co–Merry Maker with Darren, but the title might’swell have been singular. He’d had his nose stuck in that book of his since he’d decided to go back to law school and start lawyering around here. That left me with the tasks involved in the centuries-old sacred job of deciding where in our little town each holiday’s final hurrah would take place.
“You told me I could invite friends who lived in the art district,” I reminded her, getting a smile from Darren, though his eyes were still laser-focused on the book in hand. “And I quote.” I lifted a finger and said in my best Millie Kay voice, “‘Now, Violet, I don’t want anyone feeling left out for Friendsgiving. You go on and invite all them people up in the mountain and ask them what they like to eat so they can enjoy a nice friendly sit-down.’”
Mama had bought the old run-down building and had a grand idea of turning it into what she called a Leisure Center. Technically, the place was a senior citizen building with activities like bingo, line dancing, and now knitting classes—thanks to Amelia—as well as painting classes—again thanks to Amelia—among other pursuits mainly for people Mama’s age.
Now Mama was too old, but she was old for a mother when she had me, and that made her feel much older than her actual sixty-something years on this earth. She was Southern to her core, carrying the region’s traditions with her in her personality, and that, my friends, truly made her an old soul.
Like with most things Mama did, she brought the color into any situation here in Holiday Junction.
“I thought they liked to eat turkey, stuffing, gravy, sweet potato casserole, buttermilk biscuits, cheesy grits, hash brown casserole… you know.” She sighed as she picked up and shook the list of food Amelia Hartman had given me when I asked her for one. “Good food. Stick-to-your-ribs food. To-furky.” She wadded up the paper and stood, tossing it in the trash can as she walked out of the dining hall and into the hallway. “I’ve got a meeting with Marianne Drew this afternoon. She’s trying to move the Mistletoe Masquerade Ball and might rent the Leisure Center.”
“Don’t worry about the wadded-up guest list. I’ve got a copy,” I said, smiling when she acted like she didn’t hear me. She heard every single word I said and was no doubt off to find the fixings to make a Tofurky. But I was glad that she might get her first big rental out of Marianne Drew, a local woman I didn’t know but who had already sent in information for me to do a big write-up in the Junction Journal.
I knew her by name but had never been face-to-face with her. In fact, I’d gotten another message last week from the desk of Mayor Paisley, asking if I could come to the last event of the Thanksgiving Festival. They were going to honor Marianne Drew with a Key to the Village due to her generosity.
“She’s right, you know.” Darren finally looked up, taking me out of my thoughts on how happy I was for Mama and what she’d done with this building.
No matter how much Darren stuck his head in those books, he surely didn’t look the part of a lawyer in his wrinkled shirt with its long sleeves haphazardly rolled up or with his long hair that hung down in the back.
“That doesn’t sound very appetizing at all,” he said, his dark eyes almost hidden by his thick brows.
He smirked, knowing just how to push Mama’s buttons.
“That’s right,” she agreed. Mama stuck out her tongue and then disappeared.
“You know what’s not appetizing?” I glanced across the large community table. The afternoon sun filtered through the skylights, which were original to the old building.
The sunshine was very deceptive. If I were to walk outside of the Leisure Center, the weather would be much different.
Autumn had made what felt like an overnight rush into Holiday Junction.
Darren’s comment about Tofurky still hung in the air as the amber light of late afternoon painted everything in warm hues. I couldn’t help but gaze out of the Leisure Center’s windows, momentarily lost in the beauty of Holiday Junction during this season.
“Holiday Junction is something else during the fall,” I mused aloud, picturing the village in my mind.
The streets of our small village were lined with tall oak and maple trees, their leaves transforming into a tapestry of reds, oranges, and golds. It looked as though the mountains themselves caught fire in autumn, their slopes a riot of color, contrasting beautifully with the serene blue of the sea on the other side.
The countryside rolled out in stretches of harvested golden fields, dotted with pumpkins and chrysanthemums. Farmers would set up stands selling fresh apple cider, and children would run around, their laughter echoing as they jumped into heaps of raked leaves. The scent of burning wood would drift from chimneys, mingling with the ever-present aromas of baked goods and roasting nuts.
Local stores had already started their fall displays. Hand-knit scarves in seasonal colors hung in Emily’s Treasure’s shop window, and Brewing Beans had a sign promising the return of their famous pumpkin spice latte. Even the lampposts were wrapped in strands of orange and yellow fairy lights, creating a soft glow that would soon offset the season’s earlier evenings.
“You know,” I continued, turning back to Darren with a smile, “as much as Mama huffs and puffs about changes, there’s something inherently comforting about the traditions here. The decorations, the food, the colors… It’s all butter to the soul.”
Darren chuckled, closing his law book for a moment. “Agreed. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never left. Holiday Junction in the fall? There’s nothing quite like it.”
I nodded. As the Junction Journal’s editor in chief, I was fortunate to have a front-row seat to all the village’s stories. But it was at times like this, during the embrace of autumn, that I felt a deeper connection.
Here, amidst the cozy traditions and the picturesque setting, was where stories truly came alive. And as the leaves fell, blanketing the village, I couldn’t help but feel grateful to be right in the middle of it all.
“I’m really excited about Mama hosting Friendsgiving.” I shrugged. “Maybe it’ll be in the art district a little closer to the village.”
I’d only really discovered the art district a few months ago. It was literally its own community, and from what I gathered and was still investigating, the two communities were always at odds with each other.
After I’d discovered the locals’ attitudes, I took a vested interest in covering all the local government meetings as well as the chamber of commerce meetings, since the people there made most of the business decisions about shops and future mercantile endeavors.
Darren shifted from a seat at a corner table while a familiar smell drifted through the room.
The aroma of pumpkin spice from Brewing Beans reached us, and I took a deep breath, savoring the comforting scent.
“I’d only been in Holiday Junction a year, but that scent has quickly become synonymous with autumn,” I remarked, thinking of how each year, the scent seemed to weave itself deeper into my memories. “We need to go down and see Hazelynn. She said everything was going fast,” I said, talking about Hazelynn Hudson, the owner of and baker at Brewing Beans.
Darren looked over with a smile that was tinged with something else. He inhaled deeply, a look of nostalgia passing over his face.
“It reminds me of when I was a kid,” he began, the distant gleam in his eyes showing he was years away. “Every fall, my mom would bring home a fresh-baked pumpkin pie and a steaming cup of pumpkin spice latte. The house would be filled with this aroma for days.”
I nodded, appreciating the sentiment, since I could see his mama, Louise Strickland, doing those things for their family. She and Marge Strickland owned the Junction Journal. Marge was definitely not the mothering type Louise had been.
Something about this town and its traditions could quickly make anyone feel at home, but for those who grew up here, the connection ran even deeper.
Suddenly, Darren chuckled, drawing me from my musings. “Speaking of traditions, have I ever told you about the Leaf Dance?”
I shook my head, always eager to learn more about the intricacies of Holiday Junction.
“You should’ve seen it when we were kids,” he said, his voice soft with remembrance. “Every year, as the trees began to shed their leaves, the entire town would gather in Holiday Park near the fountain. Kids, adults, everyone would dance and play, kicking up the fallen leaves, laughing and singing. The village would come alive with colors and stories from the elders.”
I tried to picture the scene—the square alive with children laughing, elders sharing tales of yore, and the vibrancy of the autumn leaves swirling around the people. It sounded magical.
Darren’s gaze became distant. “That was the essence of Holiday Junction,” he continued. “It wasn’t just about the decorations or the food. It was about the community coming together, sharing in the joys and traditions passed down through generations.”
“We need to do that.” I gasped, looking around to make sure no one was nearby to hear.
“What?” Darren snickered.
“As the you-know-whats,” I whispered, my head cocked to the side and down to the ground, so no one would hear me as I discussed our Merry Maker duties with him.
“Oh,” he said, smiling with a little glint in his eyes. “That’s a great idea. The sign can be life-sized leaves in a dancing pattern.” He used hand gestures to show how he envisioned Vern Mckenna was making the wood sign, which Darren and me set up in the wee hours of the morning without anyone seeing us.
“Help! Please, someone help!” Our conversation was shattered by a bloodcurdling scream, unmistakably Mama’s.
Darren and I exchanged a glance of alarm before racing out of the dining area, our feet pounding the tile floor. The echoing scream seemed to come from the hall leading to the delivery entrance. We burst from the hallway and into the vicinity of the entrance’s staircase, where we found a horrifying sight.
Mama stood there, her face pale, her trembling hands covering her mouth. At her feet lay Albert Harden, the kind man who had delivered milk to Holiday Junction residents for as long as I could remember. His body was crumpled awkwardly at the bottom of the steps leading to the loading dock. From where I stood, it looked like a tragic accident, like he had slipped while descending the steps to his delivery truck.
“Oh, Albert,” Mama sobbed, her voice quivering. “I just came out to check on a delivery and… and there he was.”
Darren moved quickly to Albert’s side, checking for a pulse, while I took Mama into my arms and tried to soothe her racing heart.
“It’s going to be okay, Mama,” I whispered, though I wasn’t sure of that. I took out my phone from my pocket and dialed 911.
“911. What’s your emergency?” the operator asked.
Darren looked up, his expression grave. “He’s gone, Violet.”
A cold shiver ran down my spine.
end of excerpt
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