It’s Christmastime in sleepy Snowcap, Colorado, and the town is up in arms. The venerable Goodwin Estate has been sold to enterprising out of towners and is getting a major makeover just in time for the holidays. Interior designers Erin Gilbert and Steve Sullivan walked smack into a storm of chaos: the estate’s new owners, including one whose idea of holiday decor involves inflatable elves and a gingerbread facade, are battling among themselves. Erin’s big-talking ex-boyfriend shows up just in time to make Sullivan crazy jealous, and when a local building inspector is found strangled with a strand of Christmas lights, Gilbert and Sullivan begin to suspect it might be time to leave this psychodrama of a project behind.
But after an incompetent sheriff accuses Erin of murder and there’s another gruesome killing, the only way out is to turn detective. Her new job: solve a mystery with too many clues...and far too many guilty parties....
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Leslie Caine was once taken hostage at gunpoint and finds that writing about crimes is infinitely more enjoyable than taking part in them. Leslie is a certified interior decorator and lives in Colorado with her husband, two teenage children, and a cocker spaniel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The article about a grave robbery caught my attention. It was a short piece, only three or four column inches, on the second page of the Snowcap Village Gazette, which quoted a haughty wisecrack made by the local sheriff: “Probably another case of yuppie skiers robbing us of our ancestry, like the way they’re turning the Goodwin estate into the Wendell Barton B-and-B.” My heart started racing, and I thought: Here we go again.
Sullivan handed me a cup of coffee. Although he’d pulled on a pair of jeans and a black T-shirt before heading downstairs to the kitchen of the aforementioned Goodwin estate, he slipped back under the covers beside me, his own cup in hand.
“Thanks, sweetie.” I took a tentative sip. Perfection.
“Did you see the story about the grave robbery in this week’s Gazette?”
“Yeah. Annoying potshot about the inn. Sheriff Mackey sounds like a major jerk.”
“No kidding.” Wendell Barton, who owned the ski resort a few miles from here, was just one of the partners who’d purchased this fabulous Victorian mansion from Henry Goodwin, a direct descendent of its original owner. Steve’s and my two-person company—Sullivan & Gilbert Designs—was in charge of the remodel. “I suppose by ‘yuppie skiers’ turning this place into a ‘Wendell Barton B-and-B,’ he means you and me.”
“Not if he’s ever seen you try to ski,” Sullivan teased. I considered swatting him, but didn’t want to risk his spilling coffee on our divine gold-and-burgundy silk duvet. I settled for narrowing my eyes at him. He laughed and kissed my forehead.
I felt the warm glow that I’d grown so wonderfully accustomed to during the nine-plus months since we’d started dating in earnest. “I’m getting better at skiing, you know. You said so yourself.”
“Yes, you are, Gilbert. If you make good use of our last three weeks here, you might even be able to stop without grabbing onto a tree.”
His snide remark called for a comeback, but my worry about the grave robbery nagged at me. Why would somebody steal a person’s bones? I took a couple of sips of coffee and reread the article.
“I’m sure the incident at the cemetery was just a prank,” Sullivan said. “Drunken frat boys on a ski trip, blowing off some steam, maybe.”
“Their timing’s odd, if that’s all it was. They had to dig through snow and frozen ground, just for a dumb joke. You’d think they’d get maybe two inches down and decide to go TP some trees instead.”
“Yeah, but it has to be a prank. What sensible motive could there possibly be? It’s idiotic to dig up a random fifty-year-old grave. Wasn’t there a really common name on the tombstone?”
“ ‘R. Garcia,’ and the cemetery records are inadequate, so they don’t even know how to track down Garcia’s relatives.” My imagination started to run wild in spite of myself. “Maybe that’s why this particular grave was chosen . . . so as to ruffle the fewest feathers. I hope I’m just being paranoid, but this could be the handiwork of one of the hundred or so townspeople trying to prevent the Snowcap Inn from opening.”
Sullivan stared at me, his gorgeous hazel eyes incredulous. “Seriously, Erin? You think someone’s going to . . . what? Plant a skeleton in a closet here? Stick some bones underneath the gazebo to freak out the building inspector this morning?”
“Yes. That’s precisely what I’m afraid someone wants to do.”
He took a sip of coffee, appearing to ponder my words. “No way.”
“All I know is, every time Henry Goodwin, or anyone else, puts up a sign about the Snowcap Inn, someone covers it in graffiti.”
“Still, Erin. That’s a gigantic leap . . . from scribbling four-letter words on a sign to digging up a grave and planting someone’s remains here. Don’t you think?”
How could I answer that? His point was valid, but my counterargument was a combination of women’s intuition and past experience. A string of terrible past experiences, to be more precise. The police department in Crestview—our hometown some seventy miles away— had undoubtedly been on the verge of assigning a homicide task force to follow me around. In the last three years, client after client had dragged Designs by Gilbert into a string of luck so bad that Job himself might have offered me a sympathetic shoulder. My gloomy run of catastrophes had magically lifted on Valentine’s Day, when Steve and I finally gave in to our mutual attraction. Since then, we’d become the proverbial happy couple. And yet, even as a young child, I’d known there was no such thing as happily ever after. We were long overdue for a stumbling block.
I tried to employ my “confidence and optimism” mantra, but it was too late. With my penchant for stumbling across dead bodies, I knew with unshakeable certainty that “R. Garcia” was sure to turn up in my van or my laundry basket. Our idyllic job would devolve into a disaster. This wonderful three-story house had been built eighty years ago, as commissioned by the current owner’s grandfather—the founder of Snowcap Village—but in these last couple of months, it had come to represent how far I’d grown in my career and in my life. Now this grand home, with its cupolas, curved turrets, festive stained-glass accent sidelights and transoms, and all its countless handcrafted details, was somehow going to turn dark and ugly.
And so was my life.
“Erin? You’re shaking. Are you cold?”
He set down his cup and pulled me close. “Let me warm you up again.” He kissed me, and for a time, my fears melted away.
An hour later, I trotted down the stairs. Our bedroom was on the third floor of Henry’s house—soon to be the Snowcap Inn. When the inn officially opened on Christmas Eve, Henry, too, would live elsewhere; he planned to rent a condo in town and then, once his mayoral duties officially ended next November, to travel. As I entered the central hall, which we were converting into a hotel lobby, I spotted Sullivan’s notepad on the newly built receptionist’s desk. He’d probably left his pad there by mistake; it contained measurements for the perfect Christmas tree to grace this space. Sullivan and Henry had headed out several minutes ago to cut down one of the large spruce trees on Henry’s enormous parcel of land. When I entered the kitchen through the double doors, a tall, angular, fortyish woman was peering into the knotty-pine cabinets and compiling an inventory of kitchenware. I waited till she’d completed her count of serving spoons, then said, “Hi. I’m Erin Gilbert, an interior designer here at the inn.”
She peered at me a little too imperiously for my liking.
I got the feeling that she was tabulating the cost of my Icelandic cardigan (a gift from Steve) and designer slacks. She was wearing a crisp white shirt with pleats and piping, black pants, and loafers. She had limp brown hair in a blunt cut just above the nape of her long neck. She would have been pretty, except for her permanent-looking scowl. “Mikara Woolf. Manager-to-be of the Snowcap Inn.” Her voice was confident, yet flat.
“Nice to meet you. Henry Goodwin said that you’d be starting sometime this week. My partner, Steve Sullivan, is here, too, and he—”
“Yeah, he’s out back with Henry. Something about Christmas decorations . . . chopping down a tree, I think. Quite a hunk, that Mr. Sullivan.” She raised an eyebrow.
“You two are sleeping together, right? And you’re not married?”
“Um, much as I hate to get us off on the wrong foot, frankly, I don’t see why you’re asking, or why I should answer.” She gave me a slight smile. “Oh, I realize it’s none of my business . . . even though you did give me my answer just now. I’m simply checking the accuracy of the local rumor mill. I’m a native . . . back from when everybody knew one another. The town went to pot ten years ago, when Snowcap Village was turned into the ‘New Mini- Vail.’ Back when Wendell Barton bought the mountain . . . along with everything and everyone else.”
“If part of small-town life means everyone discussing who’s sleeping with whom, there’s something to be said for tourist towns and anonymity.”
She crossed her arms and gave me another visual once-over. “Spoken like a city girl. Where are you from originally?
New York? Philadelphia?”
“No, I grew up in the suburbs. Of the Albany area.”
She cocked an eyebrow as if she doubted me, and for the purposes of full disclosure, I co...
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