This is my new Holiday Novella which will be released next Tuesday September 27th in an ebook boxed set of 17 holiday novellas in the
SWEET CHRISTMAS KISSES 3 collection
for 99 cents.
The price will go up after the initial launch so pre-order today! Order links below.
Mistletoe and Sage
Why was she letting the new hire disturb her peace? Deputy Sage Dietz hurried inside the warm kitchen, shaking the snow from her hair, trying to shake the man’s image.
“Mama!” Little Tucker ran toward her, his arms lifted high. “Mama!”
She swept him up into a fierce hug. “How’s my guy?” For the millionth time she wished her late husband could be here. She kissed her son’s dark hair, enjoying the best moment in her day, ignoring the tug of grief. Or trying to.
Plus-sized “Ma” Havlecek stood at the stove, stirring what smelled like a pot of beef soup. Her dapper husband Bruno politely rose from his place at the round table to greet Sage.
“Was Tucker good today?” Sage asked the woman who had helped raise her, many others, and now her little son.
“He’s always good,” Bruno said. “Ma and I don’t know what we’d do without our little buddy.”
“Take off your coat.” Ma ordered. “You’re both staying for soup.”
Tucker struggled to be put down so Sage released him. He ran to the table and grabbed a paper and handed it to her.
“You finger painted today?” she asked.
Before he could answer, her phone rang. She lifted it out and touched the screen. The night dispatcher was calling. “Hi, what’s up?”
“Sorry to bother you, Sage, I know you’re off duty,” the dispatcher, an older woman, said. “But we’ve got a big fight at Flanagan’s and a bad multi-car accident on the highway and we just got a call from a property manager in that new development near Ma’s. Since he knew you’d be close, Rodd asked if you’d be willing to go there to assist the new guy with the crime scene. He’s just gone off duty too. But we’re stretched pretty thin.”
Assist the new guy—Garrett Connolly? The last thing Sage wanted to do. Not to mention she’d waited all day for these moments here in this warm kitchen with her little boy and people she loved and who loved her.
She swallowed a sigh. She had no choice. “Okay. What’s the address?” She jotted it down. “Got it. Is Connolly there yet?”
“He’s on his way.”
Sage touched the smartphone screen and then looked at Ma. “I’ve got to go help at that new subdivision down the road.”
“That fancy new place for folks puttin’ on airs?” Ma was clearly displeased. Tucker clutched Sage around the knees as if he understood she was leaving again. Bruno came over and lifted the little boy into his arms. “Your mom will be right back.”
Tucker wailed his displeasure.
His shrill tones prickling her nerves, Sage grabbed her parka, hurried outside again, and drove off into the November darkness. Snow still fell, but lazily. She drove up the county road to the new subdivision of nearly twenty houses, “Lone Lake Lodges.” Navigating the circuitous lanes, she noted by her SUV lights that some houses were still under construction and others were standing new and proud in the wooded area that ringed Lone Lake.
She parked in front of the address entered on her phone and got out. To loosen her tense neck and back, she tightened and then relaxed the muscles. She could not let on that the new deputy had made a definite impression on her.
A man in a faded jacket and tan work clothes waited in the drive. No doubt he’d been hired by one of the out of town owners to regularly check on the seasonal homes in this new area.
She walked up to him, triggering the motion-activated light that had just timed out. She didn’t like what she saw behind him—neon yellow-green paint had been sprayed on the three doors. The first said: WE, the second: DON’T WANT, and finally the third: YOU. She frowned. Some of the local residents didn’t like the new influx of more affluent residents. Nearby communities had a history of tourists and seasonal visitors and residents, the Steadfast area not so much.
“You the police?” he asked, ignoring her uniform.
“Yes.” She introduced herself. “I’m Deputy Dietz.”
“This is bad,” he said.
After living away for six years, she no longer knew practically everyone in the Steadfast-LaFollette area, so it didn’t bother her that she didn’t recognize this man. She’d come back at the beginning of spring while the new deputy Garrett Connolly had just come in late October.
“It’s certainly unfriendly,” she agreed wryly.
“Well, I guess we should have expected some— ”
Hearing the sound of another car, she held up a hand to stop the man from pouring out all he had to say about the vandalism. “I’m just here to assist.” She turned. “Here comes Deputy Connolly.”
And right behind him came a silver dually pickup with “Gallagher Development” blazoned in black on the side punctuated by a stylized cluster of fir trees around the last word.
Sage knew who the driver was, the new bigwig in town, Ron Gallagher. He hustled out of his truck, met the deputy, and walked him up the drive. The developer of Lone Lake Lodges, the man who was bringing in new people and new money to the county, was barrel-chested and had a lot of curly salt-and-pepper hair.
Deputy Connolly—just a head taller than she and very solid-looking—strode up to her. He had thick dark brown hair, close-cut. He looked at her with his very green eyes.
She had wondered why two deputies were needed for a simple case of vandalism. But one look at Gallagher’s red face gave her a hint. Two deputies showed that the local sheriff was taking this seriously. “Hi, I—” she began.
But Gallagher’s booming voice drowned hers out. “What a mess! Do you know how expensive those garage doors are? Their factory finish has been compromised.”
So she stepped back. She was off duty, after all.
Connolly nodded once in her direction and then turned to Gallagher. “This is a crime scene.” He held up his hands, stopping the man from going closer. “You can’t come any farther.”
“You know who I am?”
“From the writing on your truck, I’d say you’re Gallagher. I’m Deputy Connolly from the sheriff’s department.”
“I’m Deputy Dietz,” Sage added quietly.
“I didn’t know there were any women in law enforcement here,” Gallagher said.
Sage didn’t know if he meant it as a negative or positive comment so she merely ignored it.
“I got a call that one of my houses had been vandalized—” Gallagher began.
“Yes, Mr. Gallagher—” the workman started.
Connolly stopped him and asked.” What’s your name and reason for being here?”
The workman’s gaze shifted between the two men.
After giving his name, he said, “Several of the new owners hired me to check on their property once a week. Mr. Gallagher here recommended me for the job.”
Connolly finished jotting down the information. “Right. Didn’t the owner have a security system put in?”
The man shook his head. “No, said he didn’t need that in this out-of-the-way place. But—”
“And that’s the way we want our new home owners to feel about building here,” Gallagher cut in. He began a long tirade about how much these homes cost and how his development added so much to the community.
Connolly nodded politely. Since Gallagher’s bluster was bugging her, Sage assumed the new deputy felt the same and had to admire his cool.
She tried to ignore how Connolly’s presence sharpened all her senses as well as how Gallagher was working himself up into what Ma would term a “tizzy.”
“I need to get on with my rounds,” the workman finally interrupted. “And I didn’t call you about just this house.”
“What?” Gallagher squawked.
Connolly grimaced. “Show us.”
“Is the other house close?” Sage asked.
“Houses,” the man said, motioning up the dark street. “And I’ve still got to check my other clients.” He led them to the next house, triggering another set of motion lights.
Sage walked beside her fellow deputy. If she could ignore her awareness of him as a man, surely it would go away.
Under Gallagher’s scrutiny, Garrett stood, studying the double garage door with more neon-green spray paint, trying not to react to the glowering man or to Sage—tall, slender, with long dark hair.
“Mr. Gallagher, I need to go around and find all the vandalism and begin the investigation. There really isn’t anything else you can do here right now.” Garrett stared at the man.
“Very well, but I don’t want this to happen again,” the developer blustered and turned to go.
“Neither do we,” Garrett agreed as Sage walked down the drive toward the next lot.
“I’ll be calling the sheriff tomorrow for an update,” Gallagher called over his shoulder as he left.
“Do that,” Garrett said automatically.
Sage called, “More paint!”
He tamped down his reaction to the unfortunate fact that they had multiple acts of vandalism to investigate. He moved to join Sage.
“So, you’re the sheriff’s sister-in-law?” he asked, trying to get a handle on all the relations here.
When he’d gotten the call, the dispatcher had—without his asking—begun to fill him in on Sage’s story. A widowed single mom who was related to the sheriff. He’d stopped her there. He didn’t need to know Deputy Dietz’s personal history to work with her, and he didn’t like gossip. He’d been a target of that at home. He didn’t want people here knowing about his breakup, why he left Iowa.
He forced himself to say the obvious. “We’ve got a lot of houses to cover. I don’t think there’s any doubt this is probably the work of one kid or a group of kids.” He motioned to the nearest “art work.” The cold November wind gusted against them.
“You’re probably right. How do you want to handle the report?” she asked, deferring to him as the senior deputy. She’d served since spring, but he had years of previous experience.
“Let’s get the crime scene kit from our cars and start gathering flecks of the spray paint and look for any discarded cans. But that would probably be too much to hope for.”
“Right.” She turned to start walking down the drive.
In order to be able to stop himself from watching her, he’d have to be dead. She was very good-looking, and from what he’d heard, well-liked.
Loneliness whistled through him like the chill wind. He pulled himself together and headed toward the road to get his camera from his car. He was quite capable of working a crime scene with Sage. Just keep your mind on the job.
Nearly two hours later they’d finished examining five homes that had been part of the spray-painting spree. They’d collected paint flecks but not much else. The “artist” had not left behind any other evidence for the crime lab.
Sage was pleased to find that after getting through the usual initial awkward moments, she and Connolly actually worked well together. He was good at his job.
He joined her at the curb lit up by the motion-activated light. “All done?”
“Yes.” She held up the last sealed bag.
“You’ll be heading home then?” he asked.
After a nod, Sage led him down the final drive. “This is a bad thing.”
“Vandalism like this is always nasty, but Gallagher‘s reaction went over the top—”
She looked over her shoulder at him. “Gallagher had a reason to be upset. This vandalism is bad for our local economy. A new influx of homeowners have brought in much-needed property tax revenue, and when they come up to visit they support the local restaurants, shops, etc. You heard the property manager say the owner didn’t think he needed a security system here. Both the developer and the county want them to see our area as a safe place to own a vacation home, a good place to retire.”
“Well, crime can happen anywhere.”
Sage pinned him with a look. “The sheriff doesn’t want crime to happen here at Lone Lake Lodges.”
“I hear you. But all we can do is our job.”
“Right. I’m heading home then.”
Garrett called after Sage, “Good working with you!” He watched her hurry to her aged SUV at the curb. She was a coworker, and he knew he had to toe the line—not step over it. And why was he even thinking about that? Did he want to get into a rebound situation? No, thank you.
He started his car and did a U-turn. He was about to drive away when Sage stopped her car and flagged him down, a hand out her window.
He halted next to her and rolled down his window.
“Here. She won’t listen to me.” She handed him her phone.
He took it gingerly. “Hello, how may I be of help?”
“Well, you sound real polite.” An older woman’s voice.
“I told Sage to have you follow her here. I got a bowl of my beef noodle soup with your name on it—”
“Ma’am, I have to take in—”
“I know you’re off duty. Sage told me. And I make my own egg noodles. Turning in evidence can wait long enough for you to eat a bowl of soup.” The woman clicked off.
He handed Sage her phone. He should excuse himself, but the mention of homemade noodles, maybe like the ones his grandmother made, stopped him. He was off duty now. In fact, he’d worked overtime to do the crime scene.
“You might as well stop. It won’t take long,” Sage said. “Ma’s soup is to die for.”
“I’ll follow you.” His stomach rumbled on his last word.
Chuckling, Sage started off.
Normally he would have headed straight to headquarters. But nothing about the crime was time-sensitive. The sparse evidence, such as it was, could sit while he took time to eat one bowl of soup, right?
If you’ve read my “Northern Intrigue” series, this is connected to it.–Did the chapter catch your interest?–Lyn
Here are the buy links for this novella collection SWEET CHRISTMAS KISSES 3