Monday, December 12, 2011

Mistletoe Mayhem

Mistletoe Mayhem
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.

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Merry and Blessed Christmas to All!

Jill Elizabeth Nelson

Jill Elizabeth Nelson is an award-winning author of mystery and suspense. She writes what she likes to read—tales of adventure seasoned with romance, humor, and faith. Jill speaks regularly at conferences, writer’s groups, library associations, and civic and church groups. When teaching classes for writers, she delights in bringing the “Ahah! moment” to her students, so they can make a new skill their own. Jill and her husband live in rural Minnesota where they raised four children and are currently enjoying their grandchildren. Visit Jill on the web at: or look her up on Facebook or Twitter:  

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