Read Trouble Under the Tree (A Nina Quinn Mystery) Online

Authors: Heather Webber

Tags: #mystery, #murder mystery, #humor, #christmas, #cozy mystery, #cozy, #humorous mystery, #heather webber, #nina quinn

Trouble Under the Tree (A Nina Quinn Mystery)

BOOK: Trouble Under the Tree (A Nina Quinn Mystery)
4.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


Trouble under the Tree

A Nina Quinn Mystery

by Heather Webber


Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2011 Heather Webber


Smashwords Edition, License Notes

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of this author.



Chapter One


Thou, Nina Colette Ceceri Quinn, shall never
again get caught standing beneath the mistletoe by a sneaky old

“Pucker up, Miz Quinn.” My elderly neighbor
pursed his lips like a puffer fish and made kissy noises. His white
hair was slicked back with the Dax pomade he’d used for decades,
and he smelled as though he’d bathed in Aqua Velva, which he’d kept
stockpiled in his linen closet since 1966. He was a vintage kind of

Reluctantly, I leaned in, offering him my
cheek. I had my standards, and getting kissed on the lips by
Donatelli Cabrera might send me into a catatonic state clear
through New Year’s. “You’re not just trying to make Brickhouse
jealous, are you?”

Ursula “Brickhouse” Krauss was a lot of
things to me. Once, she’d been my evil tenth grade English Lit
teacher, then she’d been a client, and now she was a part-time
worker of mine—and dare I say it?—a friend.

He huffed. He puffed. He pouted. “I’m over

This was why I loved playing poker with Mr.
Cabrera. He was a lousy liar. “You miss her.”

Currently, their on-off relationship was off.
Way, way off. Mr. Cabrera had the unfortunate habit of dating women
who would become suddenly unavailable. As in really

As in dead.

Rumor in the Gossip Mill (affectionately
known as the Mill), the nickname of the neighborhood where we lived
in Freedom, Ohio, was that Mr. Cabrera was cursed.

I knew the rumors to be true. I’d been to
more funerals for his girlfriends over the years than I cared to

Brickhouse and Mr. Cabrera might actually be
perfect for each other, but Brickhouse, out of self-preservation,
kept “taking breaks” from him every few months to increase her odds
of making it to her next birthday. This recent breakup came on the
heels of Brickhouse suffering a bout of the flu shortly after
Thanksgiving that eventually sent her to the hospital with
pneumonia (again—it was the second time this year). When Mr.
Cabrera visited her in the hospital with a bouquet of flowers, he
may as well been the grim reaper waving his scythe.

She’d sent him packing.

He’d been moping ever since.

“I don’t miss her,” he insisted, lying
through his dentures. He adjusted the collar of his Christmas-tree
emblazoned sweater. The lights on the animated fabric tree flashed

I nudged him with my elbow. “She’ll come
around. You know, once she’s off the antibiotics.”

He threw a mournful look over his shoulder,
into my living room. Brickhouse stood next to the fireplace,
warming her hands as she chatted with Tam Oliver, my
(indispensible) personal Girl Friday at Taken by Surprise, Garden
Designs, my landscaping company.

Brickhouse still didn’t look too well. Pale
and wan, she’d lost a good twenty pounds which made her
square-shape more pear-like. Even her short spiky white hair had
wilted a bit.

It was a little over a week until Christmas
and my open house holiday party was in full swing, however I
noticed no one else was foolish enough to hang out near the
mistletoe. I couldn’t blame them, with Mr. Cabrera still lurking

That was me. Nina Colette Slow Learner Ceceri

“Well, I ain’t waiting around for her,” he
declared. “I’m done with her calling all the shots. I deserve
better than that, don’t I?”

I thought Brickhouse might deserve a long
life, but didn’t say so. Plus, he kind of had a point. “Do you
already have a new girlfriend?”

Eagerly, he rubbed his hands together. “I
surely do.”

These were the days of my life.

Between Mr. Cabrera’s love life, my own love
life, my crazy dysfunctional family, and all those murders I’d been
mixed up in...I was living a daytime drama.

“Really?” I mentally prepped a warning for
the poor, misfortunate woman.

His unruly white eyebrows dipped at my tone.
“I’m a catch.”

A catch someone would do best to toss back. I
couldn’t help but smile. “Of course you are.”

He puffed out his barrel chest. “I asked
Fairlane McCorkle to accompany me to the tree-lighting at
Christmastowne tomorrow.”

Christmastowne was an enormous indoor
Christmas village, owned by old high school friends of mine. As a
favor to them, I’d taken on the job of decking Christmastowne’s
halls and had been working there for the past two weeks during its
“soft open.” After the grand opening, slated for tomorrow
afternoon, I could go back to focusing my attentions on my one-day
garden makeovers. These multiweek gigs took their toll, especially
when everything that could go wrong had.

“And what did Fairlane say?” I glanced around
for her. She was here somewhere—I could hear her laugh rise above
the murmured conversations. Never had she struck me as a woman who
had a death wish, but my perceptions and intuitions about people
had been knocked off-kilter by all those murder investigations I’d
been involved in.

Fairlane was fairly new to the neighborhood,
considering most of its residents (aside from me) had lived here
for decades. She and her twin sister, Fairlee (known as “Lele”),
had moved in six months ago, which was more than long enough to
have heard the Mr. Cabrera rumors—and see the curse at work
firsthand (may Boom-Boom Vhrooman rest in peace). Fairlane was a
vivacious lady, full of life and more than a little full of
herself. Though she tended to rub me the wrong way, I really didn’t
want to see her get hurt. Not by a curse. And not by a rebound
relationship with our resident Romeo.

“She said she’d love to,” he said with a bit
of braggadocio in his voice.

Assessing him carefully, I narrowed my eyes.
“Are you sure you aren’t using her to make Brickhouse jealous?”

“No, but it would be an added bonus.” He
cackled as he walked off.

I stepped far away from the mistletoe and
went in search of a cup of eggnog, which I intended to spike.
Heavily. I found Kit Pipe manning the bowl, looking out of place
among all the frou-frou Christmas decorations my mother had
insisted on putting up.

He handed me a glass of eggnog. A crystal
glass—also a result of my mother’s party planning. My request to
use cute snowman-decorated paper cups and plates had gone out the
window with my “tacky” colored Christmas lights (which would go
right back up when everyone left). When Celeste Madeline Chambeau
Ceceri made a decision, it was best to go with it rather than deal
with the dramatic repercussions.

Besides, I’d asked for her help (what had I
been thinking?), so I really only had myself to blame. “Thanks,” I
said, heading for the hard liquor on the counter. I poured a
healthy dose of rum into my glass. “Want some?”

He pulled a flask from his front pocket.
“Been there, done that.”

“Smart man.”

“Goes without saying.”

I smiled and raised my glass in a toast to
him. Kit had worked for me a long time now—he’d been my very first
employee when I started my original landscaping company, which
eventually morphed into TBS—a company that specialized in surprise
garden makeovers completed in one day. Over the years, he’d become
more than just an employee—he had become a close friend and
recently, a roommate. If his relationship with my cousin Ana
Bertoli continued on its hot and heavy path, he might soon be
family. I couldn’t be happier about that. He’s a good guy, despite
the fact that he looked like a complete thug. Six-five, two hundred
and fifty pounds of solid muscle and multiple tattoos—including
inked eyeliner and a skull on his bald head. During this past
summer, he went through a stretch when he had grown out his hair,
and it had been just plain strange to look at him. People usually
gave him a wide berth—which was just the way he liked it.

“Where’s Ana?” I asked.

“Working late.”

Ana was a probation officer for the county
court system. It was through her that I’d met Kit—and Tam Oliver,
too. All my employees had been sent to me through Ana’s job. She
occasionally helped her favorite probationers find employment. TBS
was the first stop on her list, since she knew I was a sucker for
giving people a second chance.

It was odd for Ana to be working so late on a
Friday night, and I hoped she wasn’t plotting for me to hire
someone else. My staff was at capacity. Winter at a landscaping
company was not a time to take on a new employee. As it was, I had
been lucky to keep my staff at full-time status. We had been busier
this season than usual with the sudden popularity of indoor
gardens, but it was the enormous job at Christmastowne that had
been our saving grace. With that payday, I wouldn’t have to worry
about payroll through the winter months. For that security alone,
it had been worth it to bend TBS’s one-day only rules and take the
two-week-long job.

As I added another splash of rum to my
eggnog, I glanced out the kitchen window. Cars were parked in the
driveway, two by two, and lined along both sides of the street.
Several of the cars had antlers sticking from the windows and red
noses on the grills. I smiled. Some people hated the look, but
personally, I found it adorable. Not adorable enough to put on the
company truck I drove around, however. I had to keep up some sense
of decorum after all. I was a successful business woman. There were
false pretenses to keep up.

Ah, screw it. I made a mental note to get
myself some of those antlers tomorrow at Christmastowne.

My gaze skipped across the street to Bobby
MacKenna’s house. He was out of town—and had been for two
weeks—which put
hot and heavy on hold. Indefinite

I’d agreed to marry him on Thanksgiving

But had been having second thoughts

Partly because I wasn’t entirely sure—despite
trying to convince myself otherwise—that I was over my ex. We’d
only split seven months ago. A lot had happened in that time.
Especially a lot of forgiveness.

But mostly because Bobby and I didn’t do well
as a long-distance couple. Been there, done that as Kit would say.
It hadn’t gone well.

I caught my reflection in the glass and tried
not to frown. Oh, not at my bobbed brown hair (which looked pretty
good thanks to my friend Perry, a hairstylist), or my plain ol’
muddy green eyes—but at the
in my eyes.

I looked like Mr. Cabrera.



I forced a brighter expression, but it just
looked phony.

I sighed.

“When’s Bobby due back?” Kit asked, coming up
next to me.

“Not sure. His mom’s heart surgery is
scheduled for Monday.”

Two weeks ago, Bobby had packed a suitcase,
his laptop, and his grandfather Mac, and had flown to Texas, where
he’d grown up, to take care of his mom. She’d started having heart
trouble a few weeks ago, and when things had taken a turn for the
worse it was decided she needed surgery. Since Bobby had recently
quit his job to write full-time, he’d been able to drop everything
to take care of her. Bobby said he’d taken Mac with him for moral
support, but I think it was more because Mac couldn’t be left
without adult supervision for too long.

Otherwise, Mac might end up in jail

He had the worst habit of taking things that
didn’t belong to him.

“It was nice of him to let me stay at his
place while he’s away,” Kit said.

Bobby offered Kit free rent in lieu of
house-sitting while Bobby was away. Until then, Kit had been living
here with me after going through a terrible breakup with his
girlfriend, who’d later been found murdered.

I winced at the memories. It had been a
horrible time. Kit had been missing, and the police thought he was
guilty. I shook my head, not allowing myself to go there. “He’s a
nice guy,” I finally said.

“You hanging in?” Kit asked, his lined eyes

“Yep. It’s just strange not having him here.”
Bobby and I had been through thick and thin, including those pesky
murders, my ex, and well, my crazy family and neighbors. If he
could put up with all that, I could certainly deal with him being
out of town for a while. After all, he was an only child. His mom
needed him.

BOOK: Trouble Under the Tree (A Nina Quinn Mystery)
4.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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