A Gift of Bones: New Excerpt

A Gift of Bones

Carolyn Haines

A Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery

October 16, 2018

In A Gift of Bones, Christmas comes to Zinnia, Mississippi and Sarah Booth Delaney must solve a case as the holiday approaches, in this new cozy mystery Carolyn Haines. 

Take a visual tour through A Gift of Bones with GIFnotes!

Christmas is just around the corner and Sarah Booth and Tinkie are preparing for a festive holiday season. After a turbulent season of solving cases, they’re ready for some holiday cheer. Sarah Booth and Sheriff Coleman Peters have finally gotten together, and this is the first holiday they’re celebrating as a couple. Sarah Booth busies herself with decking the halls and daydreaming about romantic Christmas nights with Coleman.

Then her friend Cece Dee Falcon shows up needing Sarah Booth’s help—right now. She shows Sarah Booth a box that was delivered by courier and left at Cece’s front porch. It contains a lock of hair, a photograph of a pretty young woman, very pregnant, and a note demanding ransom for the return of the teen. Cece reveals that this is her cousin’s daughter, Eve Falcon, and that she’d lost touch with this part of her family years ago. Eve and Cece had been close, until the family had a terrible falling out, and banished Cece from their lives. The countdown begins as the kidnapper pushes for payment—or else, he threatens, Eve will meet her maker. It’s up to Sarah Booth and her friends to find the girl before something terrible happens on what should be the merriest day of the year.

Carolyn Haines’s trademark humor and lovable characters are back, in a heartwarming Christmas story that will enchant and delight readers looking for a suspenseful mystery wrapped in joyful holiday merriment.

1

“Happy holidays,” I said when he finally released me, breathless.

“I thought we were going to finish decorating the tree tonight.” He looked at the big cedar he’d put in the stand. We had the strings of multicolored lights installed. Now it was time for the three hundred or so ornaments that were the Delaney family treasures. They’d hung on every Christmas tree since Dahlia House was built, the current generation adding more and more ornaments. I thought briefly of Aunt Loulane and how she’d insisted on following the traditions my parents had set—even when I’d tried to stop her. At the time I hadn’t realized what a kindness she was doing me. She kept up the chain of simple holiday traditions that connected me to my past. I owed her far more than I could ever say.

“Sarah Booth, are you okay?” Coleman brushed the hair from my face. “You look pensive.”

“I’m very happy, Coleman. I just miss the things I lost so young.”

“Your parents.”

I nodded. “Yes.”

“Let’s finish the tree.” He took my hand and led me into the parlor. In a few moments, he had me laughing as we hung the ornaments, each with a story. When we were finished, he pulled me against him. “Let’s go to bed.”

It was the promise of a night of sweet intimacy. “I second that motion.”

I locked the front door, using the chain I’d installed after Tinkie’s unexpected entrance had left both Coleman and me in an exposed and embarrassing situation. I needed no urging as I followed him to my bed and into his arms.

 

Pluto the cat stretches and rubs against my legs. It’s a ploy for more catnip. I give it to him in a clever little elf cat-toy, even though he’s done nothing to get such a reward. After all, it’s the season for giving.

Jitty returns to the parlor, morphing back into the beautiful woman I’ve grown to love. She is still sporting the ridiculous fake beard. She puts her hands on her hips and looks me up and down. “Looks like you’ve been snackin’ on the Sugar Plum Fairy. Girl, those hips could be deadly weapons. Pa-boom!” She cocks a hip at the dining room door and slams it with force.

Riding me hard is Jitty’s favorite sport. “Not even Coker would kiss you sporting that pathetic clump of white hair on your face.” I snatch for it, but she steps back. Jitty is quick.

“You leave my dead husband outta these debates. Coker and I had some mighty fine Christmases before the war took him.” She grows suddenly melancholy.

“I’m sorry, Jitty. I miss my family, too. It feels like I’ve been on my own forever.” In fact, I’ve been an orphan for a long time. My parents died in a car accident when I was twelve. My Aunt Loulane moved into Dahlia House and raised me until I went to college and then to New York City to try my hand at being a Broadway actress. That didn’t work out so well and I came home with my tail between my legs.

“The holidays can bring on a mean case of the blues, and not the good musical kind.” Jitty pulled the fake beard away from her face. “Lord, Sarah Booth, I hear in the Great Beyond that a white Christmas isn’t out of the question for Sunflower County.”

That news perked me right up. “The weatherman says the same. Snow! That would be awesome!”

“No promises, but it’s definitely a topic of conversation up there.”

“You know what I’d like for Christmas?” She knows what I’m going to say. A message from my mother or father, some sign that they’re still around me.

“I’ll do what I can, but no promises. There are rules, you know, and they’re there for a reason.”

“Five minutes. I won’t ask for more.” Sometimes Jitty can make that happen. Not often, but each minute is precious.

“Now what you got for that big lawman to chow down on? He’s gonna be hungry when he arrives, and not just for lovin’. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. An old saw, but true nonetheless.”

“If you start quoting ancient axioms like Aunt Loulane, I’m going to run away from home.”

Jitty gives me a dour look. “You’d better come up with a more credible threat than that. Now finish puttin’ up that mistletoe. There’s a car comin’ down the drive.”

She was gone in a puff of cedar-scented smoke just as I heard Coleman’s tread on the front porch.

*   *   *

“The door’s open,” I called, starting back up the ladder to hang more garland over the parlor arch. The door opened and I turned to give my winter date a smile, only it wasn’t Coleman. Madame Tomeeka, aka Tammy Odom, plowed into the foyer and stopped. Tammy is a friend from high school who also happens to be psychic. Judging from the frown on her face, she had bad news.

“What’s going on?” I climbed down. “Want some coffee?” Tammy doesn’t often drink alcohol, but she is always good for caffeine.

“Yes. I need something to give me a boost.”

I motioned for her to follow me into the kitchen, where I put the coffeepot on to brew.

Instead of sitting down, she paced the kitchen. “I fell asleep this afternoon watching a TV show.” I’d left some Christmas-themed dish towels on a chair and Tammy folded them in a neat stack. “I had a dream.”

“What kind of dream?” I busied myself at the sink. This was not good. Tammy’s dreams were often prophetic. “What did you see?”

“I hate coming here, spoiling your holiday with dire warnings.”

“You aren’t responsible for what you see, but it’s better for me to know.” She had me really worried, but I downplayed my anxiety. “What was the dream?”

“Sarah Booth, something big and wonderful is coming, but at great cost.”

Love Christmas mysteries? Check out Lark! The Herald Angels Sing by Donna Andrews!

“What kind of dream?” I busied myself at the sink. This was not good. Tammy’s dreams were often prophetic. “What did you see?”

“I hate coming here, spoiling your holiday with dire warnings.”

“You aren’t responsible for what you see, but it’s better for me to know.” She had me really worried, but I downplayed my anxiety. “What was the dream?”

“Sarah Booth, something big and wonderful is coming, but at great cost.”

I put a steaming cup of coffee in front of her. “Cost to me?”

“I can’t be certain,” she said. “You or someone you love.”

“Tell me the dream.”

Tammy eased into a chair, sipped the coffee, and sighed. “You were riding that big gray horse across the cotton fields. It was winter, the fields were bare, and you were flying. You had the biggest grin on your face, and I thought how much you looked like that tomboyish young girl I first met in grammar school. Hell-for-leather. That was how you did everything.”

“The horses aren’t going to be hurt?” It was my first reaction and worry.

“Oh, no. Not the horses.”

“Then who?”

She shook her head. “The dream changed, and you were riding your horse into an empty town. The stores were all locked up. At the end of the street was a crèche, and you rode down there. It was so real. There were sheep and donkeys and three wise men with their camels. But the manger was empty. The little baby Jesus was gone!”

She was about to cry. I put a hand on her shoulder. “Hey, it’s okay.”

“You don’t understand. Everyone was searching for the little baby, and no one could find him. The wise men were frantic. Sarah Booth, I’m worried sick that something dark is going to happen this Christmas.”

“Now, Tammy, don’t get yourself all worked up over—”

The front door flew open with a huge bang. I darted out of the kitchen. If that was Coleman coming in, he was in a dither. But it wasn’t the lawman standing in my foyer. Cece Dee Falcon, Zinnia, Mississippi’s finest journalist and my friend, stood in the open door, her face drained of all color.

“Cece, what’s wrong?” She looked perfectly undone.

“You have to help me, and you can’t tell anyone.” She thrust a gift-wrapped, padded envelope into my hand. “This came for me today.”

I dumped the contents into my palm. A photograph of a pretty, pregnant woman looked up at me. A lock of dark hair tied with a ribbon fell onto the floor. And there was a note.

I unfolded the paper and stared at the typewritten words.

We have your cousin Eve. She is due to give birth Christmas Eve. We’ll exchange her, unharmed, for $130,000. Do not tell the law or she will die.

Copyright © 2018 by Carolyn Haines.

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Comments

  1. Dianna Young

    Anything would be a gift!

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