Friday, December 09, 2011

Mistletoe Mayhem; His Holiday Family

Mistletoe Mayhem
By Jill Elizabeth Nelson
Novella in anthology entitled Season of Danger Love Inspired Romantic Suspense – December 2011

A romance-shy veterinarian and a widowed health inspector hunt the killer who used mistletoe extract to poison pets and people in a Tennessee mountain town. After being jilted by her fiancé, Kelly Granger buries her broken heart in her work as a veterinarian in her home town of Abbottsville, Tennessee, located in the Great Smoky Mountains. She and her assistant, Tim Hallock, battle to save community pets from a violent and mysterious illness. Is this sickness a danger to humans? Her question is answered when state health inspector Matt Bennett is sent to investigate local eating establishments, including Kelly's sister's restaurant, for the cause of poisoning among the patrons. Kelly refuses to believe that her sister served toxic mistletoe extract to her customers—yet mounting evidence points in that direction. Kelly puts herself in harm's way, facing down a vicious dog and even more vicious people, to uncover a common denominator between the human and animal illnesses. Matt has his hands full keeping up with her, as well as proving himself worthy of her trust—and hopefully, her love. Unless she has her heart set on her veterinary assistant, Tim Hallock. The question won't matter if his investigation sends Kelly's sister to jail. She'll never have anything to do with him then. They need to uncover the truth. But will the answer cost them more than their romance? Will it cost them their lives?


Kelly Granger stared into Nick Milton's bloodshot eyes and suppressed a shiver. It wouldn't do to betray her fear of him, any more than to give that advantage to a wild animal. Beefy face taut, Nick leaned toward her over the counter of the veterinary clinic's reception area. "If my dog don't perk up and shake off that drug you pumped into him, I'll come lookin' for you. He's been layin' around all afternoon, worthless as a tick." The slurred words betrayed the alcohol he pickled himself in daily. How did Chelsea live with this guy? "Mr. Milton, Brutus's behavior posed a danger to himself, the staff and other animals. In order to give him his check-up and vaccinations, it was necessary to administer a mild sedative first. I assure you, he will be himself by morning, barring a little stiffness in the vaccination site, which will also disappear." There, she'd delivered a reasonable explanation, and her voice didn't even quiver. If she'd discovered any sign of abuse on Nick's Doberman, she would have turned the dog over to the SPCA to get the animal away from his disgusting owner. "Highfalutin, la-de-da doctor!" Nick shook a ham-sized fist in her face. "I'm holdin' you to them words." Kelly gripped the edge of the counter. She would not back away. This creep might have a reputation for temper, but she was not going to be cowed. This was her clinic, and she'd done nothing wrong . . . except send her assistant, Tim Hallock, home early. Tim might be half Nick's size, but at least he could have called the cops. Nick turned and stomped out the door, admitting a burst of chill air, which washed over Kelly. She allowed herself a shiver. Some people needed a muzzle and leash more than their pets. She wouldn't mind calling the police to let them know that Nick Milton was driving drunk again, except he wasn't driving. The Milton's beat-up van sat in a parking spot outside the clinic's picture window. Nick's son, Greg, perched behind the wheel. Kelly's glance met the teenager's, and kid offered his usual juvenile leer. She marched to the door and turned the deadbolt as the van chugged out of the parking lot, spewing dark smoke from its tailpipe. Releasing a breath, she looked out the picture window, which revealed a panorama of white-topped mountain ridges looming over the struggling business district. Even with Christmas nearly upon them, traffic was thin this early evening. Vehicle headlights vied with the twinkle of Christmas lights adorning the facades of buildings. Thankfully, no one seemed headed for the veterinary clinic. She'd dealt with enough excitement for one day. Brutus had been the easiest patient—a routine well-check. Six other pets, cradled by distraught owners—one of them Kelly's sister—had been presented this afternoon, each animal exhibiting the same awful symptoms. She was keeping most of them overnight on IVs to rehydrate them. Her patients would live, but more by the grace of God than human skill. She'd never seen anything like it and prayed she never would again. Had Tim remembered to prepare the biological samples for submission to the state lab? They needed to discover what had made the pets so ill. Kelly headed for the pharmacy, loafers squeaking faintly on the linoleum. Her pharmacy was more like a large closet than a room. The package lay wrapped and labeled on the counter. Kelly smiled. Reliable was Tim's middle name. A note in his handwriting sat by the box. She picked it up and read, "Courier service unable to make the pick-up until late tomorrow afternoon. One of the hazards of living in a Tennessee mountain town." Kelly groaned. Compared to the frenzy of her Nashville vet school experience, she'd loved returning to the gracious pace of life in Abbottsville, nestled in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains. But around here, tomorrow was soon enough for anything to happen. Might as well get home and put her feet up. On the drive to her modest bungalow, her thoughts refused to wind down. What if the illness was an epidemic—something bacterial . . . or even viral? Or maybe it was as simple as a contaminated batch of pet food? But what if this was a contagion that could affect people? What if . . . Whoa, girl! No point in stressing over what had hit the pets in Abbottsville until the lab returned results. Darkness had fully fallen when she turned the final corner onto her street. She accelerated and then eased off the gas pedal. What was up with this? The automatic timer on her Christmas lights should have had her place aglow with festive decorations, but the single-story home was dark. A faulty timer? Better than some expensive electrical issue. It wasn't a power outage. The porch light glowed on the two-story house next door, but no holiday decorations. Probably because her yet-to-be-seen neighbor had moved in only yesterday. Kelly wheeled the Explorer into the driveway, and the headlights passed over a scene of Christmas decoration carnage strewn across her snow-dusted lawn. What in the world? She halted the SUV at an angle and scanned the mess of tinsel, strings of lights, straw from the crèche and holly and pine garland. Her stomach knotted. Who would do such a thing? Then she spotted the vandal, and her jaw dropped.

Excerpt. © Jill Elizabeth Nelson, 2011.

Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Available at fine bookstores everywhere, plus outlets at Walmart and Target, as well as on-line bookstores.

For more information and a chance to win a signed copy of the book, drop by

Merry and Blessed Christmas to All! Jill Elizabeth Nelson

* * *

His Holiday Family

 (1st book in A Town Called Hope Series)

By Margaret Daley
Love Inspired, December 2012 ISBN #978-037387711-9 Margaret Daley's website://

Purchased the book following link on this page:

In the aftermath of a hurricane will Kathleen Hart and Gideon O'Brien, two scarred people, find hope and love?

Blurb for His Holiday Family: When Hurricane Naomi tears through a small Mississippi town, a daring rescue unites two heroes. Nurse Kathleen Hart is a single mom racked by guilt over her husband's death. Firefighter Gideon O'Brien—orphaned as a young boy—has lost too many people he cared for. To rise above the storm's devastation, Gideon helps Kathleen and her sons rebuild their home. As Christmas approaches, they discover that even the strongest of storms can't destroy a romance built on the foundation of faith.

Excerpt from His Holiday Family: Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Gideon O'Brien hopped down from Engine Two and assessed the chaos in front of him. Strapping on his air pack, he started toward his captain. A hand gripped his arm and stopped his forward progress. He turned toward the blonde woman who held him, her large blue eyes glistening with tears. She looked familiar, but he couldn't place where he knew her from. His neighbor's daughter, perhaps? "My two sons and my cousin—their babysitter—must still be inside. I don't see them outside with the other tenants." Her voice quivered. She tightened her hand on his arm and scanned the crowd. "I'm Kathleen Hart. My sons are Jared and Kip. I tried Sally's cell but she didn't answer. Please get them out." A tear slipped down her cheek. "Where are they?" Gideon moved toward his captain, his palm at the small of her back, guiding her in the direction he wanted her to go. Yes, he realized, she was his neighbor Ruth Coleman's daughter. "Sally's second-floor apartment is on the east side, the fourth one down on your right. Number 212. Hurry." Her round eyes fastened on the fire consuming the three-story apartment building on Magnolia Street. Gideon paused in front of Captain Fox. "Mrs. Hart says her sons and babysitter are still inside. Pete and I can go in and get them." He looked toward the west end of the large structure where the men of Engine One were fighting the flames eating their way through the top level. "There's still time." "Okay." His captain surveyed the east end. "But hurry. It won't be long before this whole building goes up." The scent of smoke hung heavy in the air. The hissing sound of water hitting Magnolia Street Apartments vied with the roar of the blaze. Gideon turned toward the mother of the two boys. "We'll find them." He gave her a smile then searched the firefighters for Pete. When Gideon found him a few feet away, he covered the distance quickly. "Let's go. There are three people trapped on the second floor. East end." At the main entrance into the building Gideon fixed his mask in place, glancing back at the blonde woman standing near his captain. He had seen that same look of fear and worry many times over his career as a firefighter. He wouldn't let anything happen to her sons and Sally. Gideon switched on his voice amplifier and headed into the furnace with Pete following close behind him. Through the thick cloud suspended from the ceiling in the foyer, the stairs to the second floor loomed. Crouching, he scrambled up the steps. The higher he went, the hotter it became. On the landing, he peered to the right, a wall of steely smoke obscuring his view. To the left, the way he needed to go, the gunmetal gray fog hovered in the hallway, denser at the top. Gideon dropped to his hands and knees and crawled toward Sally's apartment. Sweat coated his body from the adrenaline pumping through him and the soaring temperature. The building groaned. Visibility only three feet in front of him, he hugged the wall, his heart pounding. He sucked air into his lungs, conscious of the limited amount of oxygen in his tank. Calm down. Not much time. In and out. Mindful of every inhalation, he counted the doors they passed in the corridor. One. Two. Three. The next apartment was Sally's. His breathing evened out as he neared his goal. At number 212's door, Gideon tried the handle. Locked. He rose and swung his ax into the wooden obstruction, the sound of it striking its target reverberating in the smoke-filled air. When a big enough hole appeared, Pete reached inside and opened the door. A pearly haze, not as heavy as in the corridor, engulfed the room. His partner rushed into the apartment, Gideon right behind him. In the small foyer, he noticed a large television on in the living room but didn't see anyone in there. "I'll take the left. You the right," Gideon said, making his way down the short hallway to the first bedroom. "Fire department, is anyone here?" His gaze riveted to a double bed. He quickly searched everywhere two young boys might hide. Nothing. For a few seconds a memory intruded into his mind, taking his focus off what needed to be done. He shoved it away, went back in the hall and crossed to the other bedroom. After checking it, he came back out into the corridor and opened the last door to a bathroom. Empty. He pictured his neighbor's daughter next to his captain, waiting for them to bring her sons out safely. The thought that he might not be able to quickened his breathing for a moment. When he met up with Pete in the small entryway, his partner said, "All clear in the kitchen as well as the living and dining rooms." "The same in the bedrooms." "Gideon, Pete, get out. Mrs. Hart sees her children and their babysitter. They just arrived and are safe," his captain's deep gravelly voice came over the radio. "We're on our way." Relieved the two boys and Sally were all right, Gideon and Pete made their way back into the main hallway. The smoke had grown thicker, darker. The crackling and popping sounds of the fire overrode the rumbling noise from the water continually bombarding the structure. A warning went off, signaling Pete only had five minutes of air left in his tank. Our time is running out.

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