Jingle Bones by Carolyn Haines is an e-original Christmas novella featuring PI Sarah Booth Delaney (Available for only $1.99 below).
Sarah Booth just wants the perfect Christmas holiday. Even with the dissolution of her engagement, she refuses to lose her Christmas spirit. But when Theodora Prince—an ex classmate and current Pastor's wife—comes calling with a year-old case and cash upfront, Sarah Booth must find the truth about the boys who ruined last year's Christmas pageant in time to stop them from doing it again.
A thick ribbon of pink lazed in the sky as the sun edged toward the horizon, casting the bare cotton fields in a warm light. The third week of December hit Sunflower County, Mississippi, with a whammy of freezing temperatures. My fingers were so cold, I fumbled with the loppers as I wrestled with the cedar tree. I only needed a few more branches.
Reveler stamped his hoof with impatience, his snort condensing in the cold air, as I worked. The delicious smell of fresh cedar wafted up to me and I stuffed the limber branches into the large cloth sack I’d found in the barn.
Christmas was just around the corner. I’d make garlands when I got back to Dahlia House. I’d bind the cedar branches together and twist them with colored lights and popcorn-cranberry strings to decorate the balustrades on the front porch and the stair rail inside. My mother had done this every Christmas for the first twelve years of my life. It was the opening salvo of the holiday madness that I loved beyond measure.
I’d hang the garlands while my fruitcakes baked. Definitely fruitcakes. And cornbread stuffing. And sweet potato fluff. And pumpkin pies. And green bean casserole, and Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, and dirty rice with sausage, and—I had to go to the Pig to pick up the groceries I needed just to get started on the feast.
So much to do to prepare for the first annual Dahlia House Christmas Eve fete. I had begun a new tradition.
When I survived The Black and Orange Ball in New Orleans this past Halloween, I made a vow. I would not allow my breakup with Graf Milieu to ruin the holiday season. I had much to celebrate. First and foremost, Cece Dee Falcon, my most stalwart friend, who had endured pain beyond measure to be the person she was born to be, had fallen in love. And Jaytee, a hot and rocking harmonica player for a terrific blues band, was a guy that I thought matched my friend perfectly. On this Christmas, Cece would have a special friend to kiss under the mistletoe. My Christmas wish for her was that she’d never again be alone for a holiday season.
With a last clack of the loppers, I finally had enough cedar for the garlands. I mounted Reveler and headed back across the fields to Dahlia House, the sack of boughs bouncing behind me.
The sky burned peachy gold, and clouds of fuchsia climbed high. A windrow of trees stood silhouetted against the magnificent sky, and a gentle breeze rattled the dying leaves, reminding me of the rustle of widow’s weeds. As I cleared a small creek and the land opened up to reveal the big white house on a slight rise, I slowed Reveler and took in the vista I loved so much. The fields were bare—the cotton all picked, pressed into round bales, and loaded onto flatbeds for transport. White tufts, like lost snowflakes, had scattered around the edges of the fields. Next spring, they’d be plowed under and the new crop planted. The cycle of life: planting, growth, harvest, and rest. Christmas brought family and the fallow period of winter. While I loved the holidays, it was also the time I missed my family more than ever.
The sycamore trees that lined the driveway were bare, their pale branches dancing lazily in an erratic December breeze. Reveler’s mane lifted on the wind and he stamped a foot, eager for a hot mash, and the company of Miss Scrapiron and Lucifer. Reveler loved me, but he loved his herd, too, and I had kept him busy all afternoon.
I whistled up Sweetie Pie, who’d taken off down the branch. For a dog who hated a bath, she didn’t mind running through the icy water of a creek in pursuit of some delicious smell. There would be plenty of tantalizing aromas coming from the Dahlia House kitchen in the next few days. Millie Roberts, the best cook in the county, had offered to help me prepare our Christmas Eve feast.
As I drew close to the house, I caught sight of a black sedan traveling fast down the driveway. Something sleek and expensive, like a Jaguar. Who the heck was coming to visit me? When I finally recognized the driver, I was more than a bit surprised.
I met Theodora Prince at the front of the house. As I jumped from the saddle, I couldn’t wait to hear why she had called. As far as I knew, Theodora was of the mindset that I was headed straight to hell. Merely being in my presence put her squeaky clean little soul at risk.
“Sarah Booth,” she said, getting out of the car. Theodora was a beautiful woman, but somewhere along the line she had decided that dressing to emphasize her looks insulted the man upstairs. Her long black hair was pulled into a ponytail so tight it lifted her eyebrows almost to her hairline. If the rubber band popped, her face might shoot to Texas.
“Theodora, what can I do for you?” We’d gone to high school together, and when I left for Ole Miss, Theodora had gone to a place that trained women to be good wives and mothers. She had certainly gone forth and multiplied, with six kids to her credit. Her husband, Perry Prince, was the minister of the Final Harvest Church, a place I’d never visited. The name, so Stephen Kingish, was enough to keep me away. Another reason I was destined to burn in the fiery lake.
“I’m desperate or I wouldn’t come to you.”
No news there. “So what can I help you with?”
Copyright © 2015 Carolyn Haines.
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Carolyn Haines is the author of eighteen novels, including the acclaimed Sarah Booth Delaney mystery series. She was honored with the prestigious 2009 Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence. Haines was also 2010 recipient of the Harper Lee Award. Born and raised in Mississippi, she now lives in Alabama on a farm with more dogs, cats, and horses than she can possibly keep track of!