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BAH, HUMBUG!

By´╝ÜHeather Horrocks

Chapter One





SEVEN DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Satisfied, Jared Strong watched the police haul off another crook to jail--another crook he had uncovered. He nodded to Melinda and said, “I knew it was old Mr. Sellers all the time.”

Leaning against the headboard of her bed, Lexi Anderson sighed and shut the book. “We did it. We reread the third Jared Strong book, just in time to buy the new one when it comes out Tuesday.”

Her two pajama-clad children leaned into her, one of each side.

Steven said, “I think it’s so cool how Jared always knows who the bad guys are.”

“That’s because you’re nine. When you’re as old as I am, you’ll like Melinda better,” said Trista, from her ripe old age of eleven, referring to Jared’s best friend and co-detective.

“I don’t care what you say. I want to be a detective when I grow up. Just like Jared.” And Steven snuggled back into Lexi’s side and hugged her arm. “Read the last chapter again, okay?”

“Okay.” She smiled as Trista tried to feign indifference.

As she reread the ending, she was filled with a sense of contentment. She was reading her childrens’ favorite book in their beautiful new home.

Things hadn’t always gone so smoothly. She’d had some hard knocks. Her parents had died in a car crash when she was seventeen. She’d married her boyfriend in what she now realized had been a desperate attempt to create a family around her.

Unfortunately, on his twenty-fifth birthday, her husband decided family wasn’t what he wanted, and had taken off to “experience life.” Neither she nor the kids had heard from him since then.

She avoided relationships because she wasn’t about to lose someone else she cared about. And she supposed she was overprotective of her children, but they didn’t seem to mind.

Since the divorce, she’d been forced to fight her way up from the bottom of both the financial and emotional heap. And now, well, they were doing all right. She had been called a younger, fresher version of Martha Stewart. She’d just signed a lucrative five-year contract to continue hosting her one-year-old national television show. She and the kids had more money than they could have ever imagined. Enough money that she’d been able to buy this house, their first, which nestled on a lovely lane with maple trees shaking hands above the street.

At first she’d worried about making the move from San Diego to Salt Lake City. But everything seemed perfect here. The way the kids raced through the house laughing and loving it just as much as she did. The way they all seemed to fit into this home as if they’d lived here forever.

She hoped they’d fit into the neighborhood and school, as well. The neighbors seemed friendly enough. When the moving truck pulled up yesterday morning, six neighbor guys had shown up and helped unload the truck.

There were still two bedrooms filled with boxes, but the rest of the house was unpacked and decorated for the holidays.

The house and neighborhood were perfect. Through the windows, she could see cars driving by, their lights dimmed by drivers wanting to see the decorations on what was known as Christmas Street.

Besides, the kids were excited because the Jared Strong author, Kyle Miller, lived somewhere in the Salt Lake area. Of course, that area covered small entangled towns from Bountiful down to the Point of the Mountain, so the odds of running into him were minute. But the chance of going to a local book signing had still been an attraction.

Best of all, this year the kids seemed to be doing better than ever in school. And the three of them had settled into a nice routine. They didn’t need anything or anyone else in their lives. They had each other and that was enough.

Next Friday, they were going to splurge, attend the book signing at Fashion Place Mall, buy the fourth book in the Kyle Miller series, Jared Strong and the Mystery of the Haunted House on Walnut Grove, and get Kyle Miller, himself, to autograph it.

As she closed the book a second time and looked down at her children, she decided she didn’t want anything in her life to change. Life was perfect, just the way it was. Safe, secure, single...and happy.

If only she weren’t so nervous about starting over, this moment might seem perfect.





Chapter Two





SIX DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Jared stepped forward, taking care not to awaken the guard. He had to get to the bottom of this mystery, and he couldn’t do it without finding the...

What? What did Jared need to find?

And why was Kyle battling such a monstrous block on this plot? He’d tried a gazillion things so far. None of them had worked. And he wasn’t sure what he was going to do next.

He didn’t know where the villain hid the murder weapon. He didn’t know what Jared needed to find to solve the mystery. And he couldn’t make the ending work.

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