Monday, September 30, 2019

Finding a Happy Ending in the Midst of Adversity-"Museums Can be Murder" Book 11

     AMAZON
      BN
      APPLE
      KOBO
      SMASHWORDS

The Christmas holidays get a morbid start when Jillian Bradley's niece Kaitlin Romero discovers the body of her boss at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
An envelope containing rare Charles Dickens illustrations is missing, and Detective Mickey Wells must reluctantly rely on Jillian's help to solve the crime.The case goes international when the vendor of the illustrations is murdered and linked to possible fraud. As always, Jillian's Yorkie companion Teddy helps solve the case by discovering an important clue. Afternoon tea included!


PROLOGUE


Another holiday season was upon me, and after hearing from my brother in New Jersey, I sensed this one would prove to be a challenge. Daniel’s letter arrived in his annual Christmas card with the afternoon mail. I was busy decorating my cozy cottage with bright red poinsettias and a putting a few cranberry spiced candles around the living room. My tree looked glorious laden with gold ribbon bows, Yorkie ornaments, and drapes of shiny garland beads, all illuminated by tiny white lights.
I needed a nice cup of tea.
Teddy, my little Yorkie companion, adopted several years ago from my niece, perked up his ears watching as I walked to the kitchen.
He cocked his head.
“Yes, I’ll give you a treat,” I said.
It was uncanny the way this dog could communicate. He wagged his tail and followed me.
While the water boiled in the electric tea kettle, I took out a favorite China cup and saucer from the cupboard. The faded pink flowers and gold trim reminded me of the friend who’d given it to me after she moved away from Clover Hills to Portland. Like so many of my friends and acquaintances, we kept up on Facebook. Still, it didn’t replace the one on one chats we so enjoyed.
Teddy made a growling sound, a reminder to snap out of my reverie and attend to his snack. After giving Teddy his treat, I poured boiling water over a Lemon Zinger teabag I had placed in the cup, added sugar, gave it a quick stir, and carried the steaming brew back into my tiny living room.
Once I was comfortable in my recliner, I took a sip and reread Daniel’s letter.




Dear Sis,

Merry Christmas! Hope all is well and you’re keeping as busy as you’d like to be. How’s the book coming? Didn’t you say your publisher is in New York? Things are a little slow holiday wise around here since Paige is still recovering from surgery. It’s driving her crazy not to be able to decorate and bake cookies like she usually does this time of year. With Kaitlin and the grandkids living with us, and her husband in the VA hospital, it adds even more stress during the holidays.

I do not want to ask this, but I need your help, especially during this busy season. My workload hasn’t let up, and Kaitlyn has her hands full with kids out of school, and working part time in the city. I’ll understand if you’ve already made plans, since I know Christmas is not that far away. Just let me know as soon as possible. I suppose I could always hire someone to come in.

Love you,

Daniel

I called him immediately and told him I’d come.

MCHAPTER ONE


The look on Kaitlin’s face told me something was wrong. Hopefully, considering it was the holidays, it wasn’t her husband, Kenny. A few Christmases ago, his Black Hawk helicopter crashed, leaving him seriously wounded. I didn’t know he was back in the hospital until Daniel’s letter.
I pulled my bright blue knit scarf closer in the freezing weather, tapped down my beret to keep my ears warm, and got into the car. “Thanks for picking us up.” After buckling the seat belt and settling Teddy on my lap, I gave my niece a kiss on the cheek. “How is everything? All ready for Christmas?”
Kaitlin smiled weakly.
“I’m so glad you’re here, Aunt Jillian. You have no idea.”
I couldn’t help but shiver, and not the kind that came from the snow here in New York City.
Teddy whimpered.
I gently patted him. “We’ll be out of the car soon, love, and you can play with your buddy, Napoleon.”
A low growl built to a single, “Woof!”
Kaitlin exited the airport and pulled into traffic. “It’s okay, Teddy. Napoleon is not a puppy anymore. You won’t have to worry about him chewing your ears. At least I hope so.”
We both laughed, but the look on Kaitlin’s face remained worried.
“Tell me what’s wrong.” I waited. “Is it Kenny?”
“I hope not. He has Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and is in the hospital for therapy.”
I nodded. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s hard living with Mom and Dad and not having my own place. Can’t complain about the support, though.”
Since Kaitlin is an only child, and my brother, Daniel, running a highly successful online business, my sister-in-law was only too happy to help look after her daughter and grandchildren.
“Before we go home, I have a stop to make.” She sighed, obviously burdened.
“Kaitlin, what’s this all about? Something bad has happened, hasn’t it?”
She nodded. “There’s been a murder at work late this afternoon. The woman I was working for, Amanda Corbin, was bludgeoned.”
“I’m so sorry. Are you okay to drive?”
“I think so. After all, I am your niece. I’m sort of used to it.”
We exchanged a knowing look. She was present during two previous cases I’d been involved in.
“The detective in charge gave me permission to pick you up,” she said, “but I have to get back immediately. She wants to take my statement.”
“Good. You can tell me all about it on the way.”
I don’t know how Teddy does it, but he must have sensed the possibility of another adventure because he wagged his tail furiously. I kissed the top of his little brown head.

I couldn’t help but stare. Dazzling arrays of lights, incredibly artistic window displays, and glittering decorations adorned shops and buildings along Fifth Avenue.
Christmas decorations in Manhattan are the most beautiful and spectacular I’d ever seen, including those in the Bay Area where I live.
“I know.” Kaitlin smiled. “Manhattan does it right.”
Illuminated by flood lights, we arrived at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, home of one of the largest collections of art in the world, standing at the northeast corner of Central Park. The museum appeared to be open, but police cars surrounded the employee’s entrance.
“Good thing underground parking is still open. It will save a walk.” Kaitlin parked close to an elevator, locked the car, and led the way to the second floor, showing her workplace badge to security.
I couldn’t help being awed by the enormity of this museum. Overlooking the main foyer, I stood in awe of the Christmas tree, two stories tall decorated with angel ornaments. Surrounding the base was the most beautiful and detailed Nativity I’d ever encountered. Every decoration, both on the tree itself and surrounding its base, was exquisite with Victorian detail.
Kaitlin tugged at my sleeve. “Come on. We’ll take a closer look at the tree later.”
Yellow crime tape surrounded a locked entrance to the Department of British Drawings, Prints and Illustrated Books in the middle of the second floor. Kaitlin pressed the buzzer, and the receptionist let us inside the labyrinth of offices.
Polished library tables surrounded by wooden secretary bookcases filled the main room.
Camera flashes drew my attention to one office labeled Amanda Corbin, Senior Collections Manager.
Kaitlin and I were led to an officer wearing gloves, directing a forensics team. We waited until she found a moment to give us her attention.
“Follow me, please,” she said, before leading the way to the murder scene.
I studied the team photographing a body lying face down in a small dark pool. From what I observed, the victim had been tall and attractive with her hair worn up. She wore expensive clothes, a burgundy velvet blazer over a blue silk blouse, and gray wool slacks. Blood covered her strand of pearls.
“I’m Lead Detective, Precinct Evidence Collection Team, Mickey Wells.”
I judged Detective Wells to be in her late twenties or early thirties. She was plain, wore no makeup, slender and petite with short, mouse brown hair worn in a bob just below her ears. She wore a tailored navy blazer, blue cotton shirt buttoned to the top, jeans, and fleece-lined boots, practical for the snowy weather.
I thought the woman could have been attractive if she wore makeup and did something with her hair. Perhaps there was a reason she didn’t want to attract attention. Married to her job? Possibilities ran through my mind.
We shook hands.
“I’m Jillian Bradley, Kaitlin’s aunt.”
Detective Wells cast a disparaging glance at Teddy which he returned with a growl.
“The feeling is mutual. Now Ms. Bradley, if you’ll take a seat I’ll get your niece’s statement.”
As I studied the surroundings, listening to Kaitlin’s every word, I noticed a department map on the wall showing several possible exits.
There was a back stair, an escalator entrance, a door off upper level offices to the main hallway, not to mention exits through galleries.
Easy for the killer to escape. They were also marked with crime tape.
“When I returned from the lecture to pick up some drawings I needed,” Kaitlin said, “I found Ms. Corbin lying on the floor.”
Detective Wells made copious notes. “What time was this?”
“Six o’clock. I remember checking to see when I needed to leave for the airport.”
“Did you touch anything?”
“No.”
“Did you see anything that might look like a murder weapon?”
“No.”
“What did you do when you found the body?”
“I ran for security.”
“You didn’t call 911?”
“I thought Frank would be faster.”
“Frank?”
“Frank Yates. He’s our floor security guard.”
“You should have called 911. It may have saved time.”
Kaitlin looked my way. When her eyes met mine, I winked.
“I apologize,” Kaitlin said. “I didn’t think; I reacted.”
Detective Wells squinted her eyes. “Don’t be sarcastic, young lady.”
“Of course not. Is there anything else?”
After jotting down a few final notes, the detective shook her head. “Not for now, Ms. Romero. Give me your address and number in case I want to talk to you again.”
I stood with Kaitlin to leave.
“Oh, there is one thing.” Kaitlin half smiled. “You may find it helpful to stay in touch with my aunt.”
“I seriously doubt it.” Detective Wells gathered her things.
Kaitlin did not give up. “She’s connected with Scotland Yard, the FBI and the Canadian police, to name a few trusted resources.”
The forensic team halted their activity and stared at me.
Mickey Wells turned around and faced us. “Do you have a card, Ms. Bradley?” she asked.
I handed Teddy to Kaitlin and fished in my purse for my silver card holder. “Here’s one.” I smiled.
Detective Wells snatched it from my hand. “Thank you. You’re both free to go, but Kaitlin, I’d advise you to stay close.”
At that, we were dismissed.
On the way back to my brother’s house, I gave Teddy a few snacks to tide him over. “I’ll give you a nice dinner later, sweet dog.”
At the mention of food, Teddy wagged his tail and panted for another treat. After he’d finished, he settled in my lap and closed his eyes for a brief nap.
“Tell me more about your boss,” I said. “The more I know, the better picture I’ll get.”
“Sure. It may interest you to know I didn’t tell that detective everything.”
“Obstructing justice? Not you, Kaitlin.”
“Not exactly. She rubbed me the wrong way. Besides, I simply answered her questions, that’s all.”
“What didn’t you tell Detective Wells?”
Kaitlin raised her brow. “Oh, the gossip around the office, mainly. From what I’ve heard, Amanda didn’t get along with her husband. There were widespread rumors about her and her boss, George Zander, from what his assistant, who does a fantastic job covering his tracks, shared.”
“Hmm. The husband is always suspected first. If the rumors were true, he’d have motive.” I stroked Teddy, sound asleep.
“There was one thing I did notice, even though I was shocked to see Amanda lying on the floor.”
My interest rose. “This is what you chose not to share, I take it.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“I’m all ears.”
Just then, Kaitlin turned into the driveway of her parent’s mansion decorated to the hilt for Christmas. Fully outlined in white lights with wreaths and red bows at each window, the house reminded me what it must be like to be wealthy.
Kaitlin patted my arm. “I can almost read your mind. The house does look stunning.”
“Exactly. I’m sorry, go on.”
“When I took documents to be approved this afternoon, I couldn’t help noticing an open folder on Amanda’s desk. I looked at the contents while Amanda signed off on my work.”
“And what did the folder contain?”
“I could be mistaken, but they appeared to be drawings of Dickens’ characters. We’re opening an exhibition on his works in a few days. It was Amanda’s project.”
“Then what happened?” I asked.
“Harold Phelps came in. He’s the department curator. A real character. When he saw I was there, he and Amanda went into his office and left me standing there.”
“You got a closer look, I take it.”
“An excellent look. I took photos of the two prints on my phone while the two were engrossed in conversation.”
I beamed.
“And if Amanda saw you taking the photograph?”
“I would have explained that’s my job. But she never asked. The lecture was beginning, and I was to usher. All part of my apprenticeship.”
Teddy woke up when the car stopped.
“This will be interesting to see how Teddy fares in the snow.”
“Don’t worry. Dad cleared off a space in the back yard for Napoleon. Shall we go inside?”
“You won’t have to ask me twice.”
“Before we do, Aunt Jillian, there is one thing.”
Kaitlin looked serious again.
“What’s that?”
“When I discovered the body, the folder was gone.”
A bell went off in my head. “I see. The murderer must have taken it.”
“That’s what I think. I’ll show you the photos after you settle in.”
“Good idea. I am tired from such a long day, and I still need to feed Teddy. Let’s take this up again in the morning when I can think more clearly.”
“Ready to be attacked by the kids? I told them you’d bring presents.”
I laughed. “Of course. The gifts are in the blue suitcase. Have the children put them under the tree. That should hold them until I unpack.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Kaitlin rang the doorbell and stepped inside. “We’re home, everyone!”
The moment Teddy spotted Napoleon, he jumped out of my arms and ran straight for him. Tails wagging, both Yorkie and Pug sniffed each other, Teddy growled to let Napoleon know he was the alpha male, and then the two chased around the house.
“Hello, Sister.” Daniel greeted me with a hug. “Thanks for coming. It feels more like Christmas now that you’re here. I’ll have the kids get your bags and take them to the guestroom.”
“Thanks, Daniel.” He was right. If I stayed at home, too many memories of lost loves would have crept in and dampened the holidays. Anyway, I was happy to help, and was due for an appointment with my publisher in the city, so things worked out well.
Looking a little tired, Paige, wearing a warm red and black print caftan, came in from the great hall.
“Jillian, welcome. Hope your trip was uneventful.” She kissed my cheek, then turned to her daughter. “A little late, aren’t you, Kaitlin? We expected you an hour ago.”
“I’ll tell you all about it after the kids are in bed. Children, I need your attention.” Their eyes focused in anticipation on their mom. “After you bring in Aunt Jillian’s luggage, you may take the blue suitcase into the living room and put the gifts she brought under the tree.”
Shouts of approval and delight broke out as my great niece and great nephews took the keys from their grandpa and unloaded my bags.
Paige made an announcement. “After Aunt Jillian’s settled, we’ll have hot chocolate and cookies in the living room.”
I don’t know how he does it, but Teddy was instantly at my feet at the mention of food.
“Okay, boy. I’ll make your supper right now and then I’ll unpack. How’s that?”
“Woof, woof!” he barked, as Napoleon cocked his head.
I prepared his dinner of ground turkey, frozen peas and carrots, and teeny bits of whole grain bread that Kaitlin bought for him ahead of time.
Teddy ate heartily and lapped water from Napoleon’s dish. So far so good regarding the male territorial instincts.
I helped Paige by carrying in a festive tray loaded with Christmas mugs of hot chocolate, followed by Sydney, Kaitlin’s eldest, with a plate of finger sandwiches and homemade cookies. There were yummy chocolate chip with macadamia nuts, sugar cookies that the kids had decorated with red and green frosting and colorful sprinkles, and my favorite, sand tarts, formed into crescents.
Sitting by the crackling fire, gazing at the tree and the pups stretched out on the carpet, I finally relaxed until the hour grew late.
“I need to let Teddy outside before bed.”
“Napoleon, too.” Kaitlin rose and bid her dog, with his long tongue hanging out, to follow. “Come on, we’ll put their sweaters on them, then I’ll show you their spot. Kids, to bed.”
The three kissed their grandparents goodnight and scooted upstairs.
“Better bundle up, Aunt Jillian,” Silas said.
As the dogs sniffed the bare spot surrounded by snow, Kaitlin and I chatted.
“What’s the plan for tomorrow?” I asked. “You mentioned a tour.”
Kaitlin kept an eye on Napoleon. “Should be fine. Things will probably be settled down by then. We can go early before it gets too crowded.”
“I’d like that.”
Even with sweaters on, it appeared Teddy and Napoleon were more than anxious to come back inside. I tended to agree. Napoleon’s heavy breathing from the cold made him sound like an old man.
Once upstairs, I put Teddy on his towel at the foot of my bed and kissed him goodnight.
Exhaustion hit as I ran a hot bath and got ready for bed. Sinking up to my neck beneath the bubbles, I closed my eyes to relax. They popped open again as the image of Amanda Corbin lying dead entered my head.
No murder weapon found. What became of it? More interesting still, what in that office could’ve been used?
After a spritz of perfume, I slipped beneath the fluffy covers and forced myself not to think about a thing until tomorrow.
I couldn’t help but shiver, and not the kind that came from the snow here in New York City.
Teddy whimpered.
I gently patted him. “We’ll be out of the car soon, love, and you can play with your buddy, Napoleon.”
A low growl built to a single, “Woof!”
Kaitlin exited the airport and pulled into traffic. “It’s okay, Teddy. Napoleon is not a puppy anymore. You won’t have to worry about him chewing your ears. At least I hope so.”
We both laughed, but the look on Kaitlin’s face remained worried.
“Tell me what’s wrong.” I waited. “Is it Kenny?”
“I hope not. He has Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and is in the hospital for therapy.”
I nodded. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s hard living with Mom and Dad and not having my own place. Can’t complain about the support, though.”
Since Kaitlin is an only child, and my brother, Daniel, running a highly successful online business, my sister-in-law was only too happy to help look after her daughter and grandchildren.
“Before we go home, I have a stop to make.” She sighed, obviously burdened.
“Kaitlin, what’s this all about? Something bad has happened, hasn’t it?”
She nodded. “There’s been a murder at work late this afternoon. The woman I was working for, Amanda Corbin, was bludgeoned.”
“I’m so sorry. Are you okay to drive?”
“I think so. After all, I am your niece. I’m sort of used to it.”
We exchanged a knowing look. She was present during two previous cases I’d been involved in.
“The detective in charge gave me permission to pick you up,” she said, “but I have to get back immediately. She wants to take my statement.”
“Good. You can tell me all about it on the way.”
I don’t know how Teddy does it, but he must have sensed the possibility of another adventure because he wagged his tail furiously. I kissed the top of his little brown head.

I couldn’t help but stare. Dazzling arrays of lights, incredibly artistic window displays, and glittering decorations adorned shops and buildings along Fifth Avenue.
Christmas decorations in Manhattan are the most beautiful and spectacular I’d ever seen, including those in the Bay Area where I live.
“I know.” Kaitlin smiled. “Manhattan does it right.”
Illuminated by flood lights, we arrived at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, home of one of the largest collections of art in the world, standing at the northeast corner of Central Park. The museum appeared to be open, but police cars surrounded the employee’s entrance.
“Good thing underground parking is still open. It will save a walk.” Kaitlin parked close to an elevator, locked the car, and led the way to the second floor, showing her workplace badge to security.
I couldn’t help being awed by the enormity of this museum. Overlooking the main foyer, I stood in awe of the Christmas tree, two stories tall decorated with angel ornaments. Surrounding the base was the most beautiful and detailed Nativity I’d ever encountered. Every decoration, both on the tree itself and surrounding its base, was exquisite with Victorian detail.
Kaitlin tugged at my sleeve. “Come on. We’ll take a closer look at the tree later.”
Yellow crime tape surrounded a locked entrance to the Department of British Drawings, Prints and Illustrated Books in the middle of the second floor. Kaitlin pressed the buzzer, and the receptionist let us inside the labyrinth of offices.
Polished library tables surrounded by wooden secretary bookcases filled the main room. 
Camera flashes drew my attention to one office labeled Amanda Corbin, Senior Collections Manager.
Kaitlin and I were led to an officer wearing gloves, directing a forensics team. We waited until she found a moment to give us her attention.
“Follow me, please,” she said, before leading the way to the murder scene.
I studied the team photographing a body lying face down in a small dark pool. From what I observed, the victim had been tall and attractive with her hair worn up. She wore expensive clothes, a burgundy velvet blazer over a blue silk blouse, and gray wool slacks. Blood covered her strand of pearls.
“I’m Lead Detective, Precinct Evidence Collection Team, Mickey Wells.”
I judged Detective Wells to be in her late twenties or early thirties. She was plain, wore no makeup, slender and petite with short, mouse brown hair worn in a bob just below her ears. She wore a tailored navy blazer, blue cotton shirt buttoned to the top, jeans, and fleece-lined boots, practical for the snowy weather.
I thought the woman could have been attractive if she wore makeup and did something with her hair. Perhaps there was a reason she didn’t want to attract attention. Married to her job? Possibilities ran through my mind.
We shook hands.
“I’m Jillian Bradley, Kaitlin’s aunt.”
Detective Wells cast a disparaging glance at Teddy which he returned with a growl.
“The feeling is mutual. Now Ms. Bradley, if you’ll take a seat I’ll get your niece’s statement.”
As I studied the surroundings, listening to Kaitlin’s every word, I noticed a department map on the wall showing several possible exits.
There was a back stair, an escalator entrance, a door off upper level offices to the main hallway, not to mention exits through galleries.
Easy for the killer to escape. They were also marked with crime tape.
“When I returned from the lecture to pick up some drawings I needed,” Kaitlin said, “I found Ms. Corbin lying on the floor.”
Detective Wells made copious notes. “What time was this?”
“Six o’clock. I remember checking to see when I needed to leave for the airport.”
“Did you touch anything?”
“No.”
“Did you see anything that might look like a murder weapon?”
“No.”
“What did you do when you found the body?”
“I ran for security.”
“You didn’t call 911?”
“I thought Frank would be faster.”
“Frank?”
“Frank Yates. He’s our floor security guard.”
“You should have called 911. It may have saved time.”
Kaitlin looked my way. When her eyes met mine, I winked.
“I apologize,” Kaitlin said. “I didn’t think; I reacted.”
Detective Wells squinted her eyes. “Don’t be sarcastic, young lady.”
“Of course not. Is there anything else?”
After jotting down a few final notes, the detective shook her head. “Not for now, Ms. Romero. Give me your address and number in case I want to talk to you again.”
I stood with Kaitlin to leave.
“Oh, there is one thing.” Kaitlin half smiled. “You may find it helpful to stay in touch with my aunt.”
“I seriously doubt it.” Detective Wells gathered her things.
Kaitlin did not give up. “She’s connected with Scotland Yard, the FBI and the Canadian police, to name a few trusted resources.”
The forensic team halted their activity and stared at me.
Mickey Wells turned around and faced us. “Do you have a card, Ms. Bradley?” she asked.
I handed Teddy to Kaitlin and fished in my purse for my silver card holder. “Here’s one.” I smiled.
Detective Wells snatched it from my hand. “Thank you. You’re both free to go, but Kaitlin, I’d advise you to stay close.”
At that, we were dismissed.
On the way back to my brother’s house, I gave Teddy a few snacks to tide him over. “I’ll give you a nice dinner later, sweet dog.”
At the mention of food, Teddy wagged his tail and panted for another treat. After he’d finished, he settled in my lap and closed his eyes for a brief nap.
“Tell me more about your boss,” I said. “The more I know, the better picture I’ll get.”
“Sure. It may interest you to know I didn’t tell that detective everything.”
“Obstructing justice? Not you, Kaitlin.”
“Not exactly. She rubbed me the wrong way. Besides, I simply answered her questions, that’s all.”
“What didn’t you tell Detective Wells?”
Kaitlin raised her brow. “Oh, the gossip around the office, mainly. From what I’ve heard, Amanda didn’t get along with her husband. There were widespread rumors about her and her boss, George Zander, from what his assistant, who does a fantastic job covering his tracks, shared.”
“Hmm. The husband is always suspected first. If the rumors were true, he’d have motive.” I stroked Teddy, sound asleep.
“There was one thing I did notice, even though I was shocked to see Amanda lying on the floor.”
My interest rose. “This is what you chose not to share, I take it.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“I’m all ears.”
Just then, Kaitlin turned into the driveway of her parent’s mansion decorated to the hilt for Christmas. Fully outlined in white lights with wreaths and red bows at each window, the house reminded me what it must be like to be wealthy.
Kaitlin patted my arm. “I can almost read your mind. The house does look stunning.”
“Exactly. I’m sorry, go on.”
“When I took documents to be approved this afternoon, I couldn’t help noticing an open folder on Amanda’s desk. I looked at the contents while Amanda signed off on my work.”
“And what did the folder contain?”
“I could be mistaken, but they appeared to be drawings of Dickens’ characters. We’re opening an exhibition on his works in a few days. It was Amanda’s project.”
“Then what happened?” I asked.
“Harold Phelps came in. He’s the department curator. A real character. When he saw I was there, he and Amanda went into his office and left me standing there.”
“You got a closer look, I take it.”
“An excellent look. I took photos of the two prints on my phone while the two were engrossed in conversation.”
I beamed.
“And if Amanda saw you taking the photograph?”
“I would have explained that’s my job. But she never asked. The lecture was beginning, and I was to usher. All part of my apprenticeship.”
Teddy woke up when the car stopped.
“This will be interesting to see how Teddy fares in the snow.”
“Don’t worry. Dad cleared off a space in the back yard for Napoleon. Shall we go inside?”
“You won’t have to ask me twice.”
“Before we do, Aunt Jillian, there is one thing.”
Kaitlin looked serious again.
“What’s that?”
“When I discovered the body, the folder was gone.”
A bell went off in my head. “I see. The murderer must have taken it.”
“That’s what I think. I’ll show you the photos after you settle in.”
“Good idea. I am tired from such a long day, and I still need to feed Teddy. Let’s take this up again in the morning when I can think more clearly.”
“Ready to be attacked by the kids? I told them you’d bring presents.”
I laughed. “Of course. The gifts are in the blue suitcase. Have the children put them under the tree. That should hold them until I unpack.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Kaitlin rang the doorbell and stepped inside. “We’re home, everyone!”
The moment Teddy spotted Napoleon, he jumped out of my arms and ran straight for him. Tails wagging, both Yorkie and Pug sniffed each other, Teddy growled to let Napoleon know he was the alpha male, and then the two chased around the house.
“Hello, Sister.” Daniel greeted me with a hug. “Thanks for coming. It feels more like Christmas now that you’re here. I’ll have the kids get your bags and take them to the guestroom.”
“Thanks, Daniel.” He was right. If I stayed at home, too many memories of lost loves would have crept in and dampened the holidays. Anyway, I was happy to help, and was due for an appointment with my publisher in the city, so things worked out well.
Looking a little tired, Paige, wearing a warm red and black print caftan, came in from the great hall.
“Jillian, welcome. Hope your trip was uneventful.” She kissed my cheek, then turned to her daughter. “A little late, aren’t you, Kaitlin? We expected you an hour ago.”
“I’ll tell you all about it after the kids are in bed. Children, I need your attention.” Their eyes focused in anticipation on their mom. “After you bring in Aunt Jillian’s luggage, you may take the blue suitcase into the living room and put the gifts she brought under the tree.”
Shouts of approval and delight broke out as my great niece and great nephews took the keys from their grandpa and unloaded my bags.
Paige made an announcement. “After Aunt Jillian’s settled, we’ll have hot chocolate and cookies in the living room.”
I don’t know how he does it, but Teddy was instantly at my feet at the mention of food.
“Okay, boy. I’ll make your supper right now and then I’ll unpack. How’s that?”
“Woof, woof!” he barked, as Napoleon cocked his head.
I prepared his dinner of ground turkey, frozen peas and carrots, and teeny bits of whole grain bread that Kaitlin bought for him ahead of time.
Teddy ate heartily and lapped water from Napoleon’s dish. So far so good regarding the male territorial instincts.
I helped Paige by carrying in a festive tray loaded with Christmas mugs of hot chocolate, followed by Sydney, Kaitlin’s eldest, with a plate of finger sandwiches and homemade cookies. There were yummy chocolate chip with macadamia nuts, sugar cookies that the kids had decorated with red and green frosting and colorful sprinkles, and my favorite, sand tarts, formed into crescents.
Sitting by the crackling fire, gazing at the tree and the pups stretched out on the carpet, I finally relaxed until the hour grew late.
“I need to let Teddy outside before bed.”
“Napoleon, too.” Kaitlin rose and bid her dog, with his long tongue hanging out, to follow. “Come on, we’ll put their sweaters on them, then I’ll show you their spot. Kids, to bed.”
The three kissed their grandparents goodnight and scooted upstairs.
“Better bundle up, Aunt Jillian,” Silas said.
As the dogs sniffed the bare spot surrounded by snow, Kaitlin and I chatted.
“What’s the plan for tomorrow?” I asked. “You mentioned a tour.”
Kaitlin kept an eye on Napoleon. “Should be fine. Things will probably be settled down by then. We can go early before it gets too crowded.”
“I’d like that.”
Even with sweaters on, it appeared Teddy and Napoleon were more than anxious to come back inside. I tended to agree. Napoleon’s heavy breathing from the cold made him sound like an old man.
Once upstairs, I put Teddy on his towel at the foot of my bed and kissed him goodnight.
Exhaustion hit as I ran a hot bath and got ready for bed. Sinking up to my neck beneath the bubbles, I closed my eyes to relax. They popped open again as the image of Amanda Corbin lying dead entered my head.
No murder weapon found. What became of it? More interesting still, what in that office could’ve been used?
After a spritz of perfume, I slipped beneath the fluffy covers and forced myself not to think about a thing until tomorrow.

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See you in my books!
~Nancy Jill