Christmas in Serenity is a magical time of year Tj has always looked forward to with happy anticipation. This year her holiday spirit is marred by the impending arrival of two new men in her life. When one of them ends up dead, Tj must juggle community plays, Christmas tree cuttings, sleigh rides, and holiday shopping with a complex murder investigation. As the facts begin to unravel, she realizes she may have to risk everything to save someone she loves.
About the Author
Kathi Daley is the author of several cozy mystery series, including the Sand and Sea Hawaiian Mysteries and the Zoe Donovan novels. When she isn't writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, and gardening. Kathi lives in Lake Tahoe with her husband, Ken, and dog, Echo. Visit her at kathidaley.com.
AudioFile Earphones Award winner Coleen Marlo has earned numerous Publishers Weekly Listen-Up Awards and won an Audie Award for her narration of Snakewoman of Little Egypt by Robert Hellenga.
Read an Excerpt
Monday, November 24
"Look at all the lights," Gracie squealed with delight as Tj Jensen drove her sisters to play practice. It looked as though the community volunteers had been out in force over the weekend. Every window on Main Street was framed with white lights, and every lamppost sported a pine wreath tied up with a huge red ribbon. The fresh coat of snow that had fallen over the past few days gave the mountain hamlet the feel of an authentic Christmas village.
"Can we go look at the windows?" six-year-old Gracie asked as Tj began searching for a parking spot.
"Maybe after Thanksgiving. We have rehearsal tonight and tomorrow night and then a very busy couple of days making a huge feast for everyone we've invited for dinner on Thanksgiving."
"Kristi wants to come over early to watch the parade with us," Ashley announced.
"I'll have to talk to Aunt Jenna about it, but I imagine she'll come early as well since she's making most of the food."
"How come Aunt Jenna is making the food if it's at our house?" Gracie asked.
"'Cause Tj can't cook," Ashley explained.
"I can too cook," Tj defended herself.
"Really? You burned the toast we had for breakfast, and the eggs were so runny that Grandpa had to make us pancakes."
"Well, eggs are tricky."
Ashley rolled her eyes in the condescending way only she could.
"Are we going to be able to go to the tree lighting again like we did last year?" Gracie thankfully changed the subject.
Tj slowed as a group of shoppers crossed the street. With all the fresh snow, everyone was bundled up in heavy coats, knit hats, and scarves, making it almost impossible to definitively identify the passersby, but Tj was fairly certain the pedestrians were students who had skipped school today due to the sudden onset of a flu that had, interestingly enough, only affected their little crowd.
"Of course. We go every year," Tj said after making a mental note to speak to the students in question. There wasn't a single teen among them who could afford to miss class if they hoped to graduate at the end of the school year.
"Since it snowed, can we take the sleigh to the tree lighting?" Ashley asked.
"If Papa agrees," Tj answered.
"Can Kristi and Kari come with us?" Ashley added.
"I'm not sure we'll have enough room," Tj said. "We're having a visitor at the resort this year." She'd decided to take this opportunity to broach the subject she'd been steadfastly avoiding.
"A kid?" Gracie wondered.
"No, an adult. He's in the Navy and his name is Captain Tanner. He's going to be staying in one of the cabins until after Christmas, so I thought it would be nice to invite him to come along with us to the tree lighting. If he does want to come, we won't have room for Kristi and Kari unless we bring a second sleigh."
"Does Captain Tanner have kids?" Gracie asked.
"No," Tj choked. "It will be just him staying at the resort."
"He doesn't like kids?"
"I'm sure he likes kids, Gracie, it's just that as an officer in the Navy, he's away at sea a large portion of the time."
"Why can't he take his kids with him?"
"Don't be stupid," Ashley joined in. "People in the Navy live on boats. It's their job to be far out in the ocean. They can't bring their kids."
"I'm not stupid," Gracie argued.
"Let's not fight, and Ashley, don't call your sister stupid," Tj reprimanded. She really didn't want to talk about Jordan Tanner the man who turned her world upside down the previous summer when he had his attorney send her a letter claiming that he was Gracie's biological father.
"As long as we're on the subject of Christmas, what are you both planning to ask Santa for?" Tj slowed as they drove by the park, which was decorated with lights in the evergreen trees and outlining the gazebo. Once they lit the hundred-foot town Christmas tree on Friday, it was going to be spectacular.
"There is no —"
"Ashley ..." Tj warned.
Ashley stopped speaking. Tj had told her numerous times not to ruin her sister's fun by pointing out that the man in the jolly red suit was a mythological being and not a real, flesh-and-blood man.
"No what?" Gracie asked.
"No reason why we can't ask for more than one gift." Ashley cleverly used Tj's diversion to her advantage. "I've been really good this year, and I want a cell phone and a new computer."
"We talked about the phone thing," Tj reminded her. "Not until middle school."
"All my friends have phones," Ashley said.
"No," Tj corrected, "they don't."
"I want a doll," Gracie joined in.
"You got a doll last year," Tj said.
"I'm thinking about expanding my family."
Tj smiled. "Expanding your family?"
"That's what Kari told me Jenna and Dennis want to do, but the stork is having problems. I told them they should look on the internet for a baby. My teacher says you can get anything on Amazon."
Tj tried not to laugh at Gracie's serious tone of voice. She was really thinking through this expanding-her-family idea.
"I don't think you can get a baby on Amazon, but your teacher isn't all that far off otherwise. What kind of a doll would you like to ask Santa for?"
Gracie considered for a moment. "I'm not sure. Maybe one with curly brown hair like mine. The doll I got last year had long blond hair, and even though she's pretty, she doesn't look like she would be my baby. She looks like she would be Kari's baby, or maybe Kristi's, since Kristi and Kari both have long blond hair like Aunt Jenna."
"So about the computer ..." Ashley brought the conversation back around to her true desire.
"Computers are expensive," Tj pointed out.
"Which is why I'm asking Santa and not you." Ashley grinned. "Santa makes things in his workshop, so he doesn't have to worry about how much stuff costs."
"That's true," Gracie backed up her sister.
Tj sighed. It wasn't pretty when you were outsmarted by an eight-year-old.
"I'm not sure Santa brings computers," Tj tried.
"Three kids in my class got computers from Santa last year," Ashley insisted.
Tj didn't want to have this conversation in front of Gracie. Ashley could be sweet, but she could also be manipulative. If push came to shove, she might ruin Gracie's belief in Santa if she thought it would help her get what she wanted. In many ways, she was a lot like their mother. Tj hoped she'd come into Ashley's life early enough to turn things around for her.
"Okay," Tj gave in. "I guess it wouldn't hurt to ask Santa for a computer, but you should have a backup as well, in case Santa is out of computers by the time he gets to Paradise Lake."
"I won't need a backup," Ashley assured her. "Everyone knows Santa is branching off into electronics. I hear he has a whole crew of elves devoted to nothing but building and developing cool equipment. Not only does he bring things like cell phones and computers, but he brings iPods and televisions too. Next year I'm going to ask for a flat screen, but for now a computer is fine."
Tj groaned quietly as she calculated the cost of a new computer. Although, the more she thought about it, getting Ashley her own computer might not be such a bad idea. Her sister was smart. Really smart. She had a ton of potential and knew more about technology than Tj ever would.
"And I'll need a graphics card and extra memory too," Ashley added. "And a decent processor; not one of those ancient ones that takes forever to load. Oh, and a camera, so I can Skype. I'll write it all down for you."
Tj cleared her throat.
"For you to give to Santa," Ashley added.
"Do you think Santa has a doll with a red dress and brown eyes?" Gracie added.
Lord, I hope so.
"It's disturbing what a believable Gladys Ashley makes," Tj whispered to Jenna as the kids rehearsed their lines for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
The character of Gladys Herdman was a feisty, imaginative preteen who stuck up for herself and liked to fight. Talk about typecasting.
Jenna laughed as she watched the rehearsal from the back of the room. Tj's good friend Kyle Donovan was directing the play and had asked her to sit in the rear for a scene so they could get an idea of how well the kids could be heard from all parts of the makeshift theater.
"I have to admit, I was glad when Annabeth got the part of Imogene Herdman and Kristi got Alice Wendleken," Jenna replied. "Kristi wanted to be Imogene, but Kristi has a very vivid imagination, and I was afraid she'd channel the personality of the part she was going to portray. Alice is an annoying character, but she's still better than having a little rebel under my roof for eight weeks."
"How did you get Eric Clayton to play Ralph Herdman?" Tj asked. Eric was for all intents and purposes Ralph, a streetwise adolescent who took care of himself much of the time while his mom had been working two jobs to support her family after her husband left her.
"Kyle worked out a deal with him. I didn't want to know the details so I didn't ask, but I'm pretty sure he promised to help him out with Christmas gifts for his younger siblings."
"I'm sure the Clayton kids are on Dan's list anyway," Tj said. Pastor Dan Kensington of Serenity Community Church made certain all of the children in his flock were taken care of at Christmas.
"True, but I got the feeling Eric wanted something specific. Something expensive."
Tj rolled her eyes. "What is it with kids and expensive gifts? Ashley has all but blackmailed me into getting her a computer for Christmas."
"She's going to ask Santa for it. I have a feeling if I want her to keep the Santa secret for Gracie's sake, Santa will need to come through."
Jenna grinned. "The girl is crafty. What does Gracie want?"
"A doll that looks like her. One with a red dress." Tj sighed. "I don't know what I'll do if I lose her."
"You won't lose her."
"We don't know that," Tj argued. "Jordan Tanner is her biological father. I'm sure that if he sued for custody he'd get it. I'm only her sister. Her half-sister."
"First of all, you don't know for certain that Mr. Tanner is Gracie's father, and even if he is, the man is in the Navy. What would he do with a child?"
"Once he gets a look at that angelic little face, he's going to want her. I mean, really, who could resist?"
Jenna turned and looked directly at Tj. "Gracie is adorable, but you have to try to stay positive through this process. If you feel fear, the girls will sense it and be fearful as well. Are you going to tell them what's really going on?"
Tj tucked her feet up under her body. One advantage to being petite was that she could curl up in small places. She nervously nibbled on one of her thumbnails. "I haven't discussed it with Captain Tanner, but I'm hoping he'll see the wisdom in leaving well enough alone. If he wants to have some sort of relationship with Gracie, I hope he'll tell the girls he's an honorary uncle or something. My stomach gets all knotted up every time I consider the possible outcomes of this visit."
Jenna put her arm around Tj's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "I know you're scared, and I do understand. I don't know what I'd do if I was in your situation. I just want to remind you that I'm here for you."
"Thanks. I appreciate that."
"It went well tonight," Jenna commented to Kyle after he'd called an end to rehearsal and the parents had taken their little darlings home.
"Things are starting to come together," Kyle agreed. "Frannie came by earlier and worked with some of the kids who have the most lines. I think the extra rehearsal really helped." Kyle referred to Frannie Edison, the town's librarian.
"That was nice of her," Jenna said.
Kyle looked at Tj. "She mentioned she was coming to Thanksgiving at the resort and planned to bring her friend Arnie Jones, but she told me that she was going to ask you if it would be okay to invite Hazel as well. I told her I was sure it would be fine and I'd bring it up to you tonight."
"Fine by me."
"We're closing the Antiquery from noon Wednesday until Friday, so I'll come over on Wednesday and help you set everything up," Jenna offered. "There are quite a few things I can do the day before, like bake the rolls, make the pies, and chop the veggies."
"What about Bonnie and her new guy?" Tj asked. "Aren't you supposed to spend Wednesday making sure your hubby doesn't kill his new daddy?"
"Oh, yeah." Jenna sighed. "I guess I was blocking that out."
Jenna's mother-in-law Bonnie met a man named Bob King back in August, and he invited her to attend a conference geared toward restaurant owners and chefs in September. A few weeks ago, Bonnie flew out to visit him, and when she came home she announced that she was engaged and would be married shortly after the holidays.
"I'll help you on Thursday," Tj promised. "We can get everything ready in plenty of time."
"I can come over early on Thanksgiving as well," Kyle offered. "Just let me know if you need me to bring anything other than the salads my mom has already promised."
"You may need to restrain Jenna and me, depending on how our initial impressions of our out-of-town guests go, so handcuffs and some strong rope might be a good idea."
Kyle laughed. "I hope it doesn't come to that."
"It depends on whether this Navy man has designs on my Gracie."
"I keep telling you it'll be fine," Jenna reminded Tj.
"And you might really like Bonnie's new guy," Tj pointed out.
"Honestly, I hope I do. And I hope Dennis likes him even more. Bonnie has always had a level head on her shoulders, so maybe she really did meet the perfect guy."
"By the way ..." Tj turned to Kyle and lowered her voice. The girls were playing on the stage, out of earshot. "Ashley wants a computer for Christmas, and Gracie wants a doll with curly brown hair, brown eyes, and a red dress."
Kyle smiled. "I have the perfect computer in mind for Ashley. She'll love it. And it comes in colors too. I seem to remember her having a fondness for purple."
"Yeah, she does like purple. But I can't spend a fortune on Christmas gifts, so look for a deal."
"Don't worry. I have connections. I can get an awesome computer for less than a cheap one in a retail store."
"And the doll?"
Kyle grinned. "Just leave it up to Santa Kyle."CHAPTER 2
Wednesday, November 26
"He's late." Tj squeezed Hunter's hand as they waited for Jordan Tanner to make an appearance at Hunter's office. They had talked about it and decided it might be a good idea to talk to the man privately before they took him out to the resort and introduced him to the family.
"He's only fifteen minutes late," Hunter said. "His plane could have been delayed, and with the snow we've had the past few days, the roads are probably icy. He'll be here."
Tj actually hoped he didn't show. Ever. But she didn't say as much. She'd gone through every possible scenario in her head dozens of times, and any way you sliced it, the man posed a threat to all she held dear. Yes, he was in the armed services, and that was a noble calling. And yes, it was easy to see how a night of passion could lead to the unknown birth of a child. And everyone who knew of Jordan Tanner's existence had assured her on multiple occasions that the man likely had only the purest of intentions. But Tj didn't want Gracie to have a biological father who might come to love her and want to spend time with her. As selfish as it might be, she didn't want to share her baby sister with anyone. Did that make her a bad person? Maybe it did, but the mere thought of someone taking her place in Gracie's life filled Tj with a terror she had no idea how to deal with.
"And everything seemed okay when you spoke to him on the phone yesterday?" Tj asked for the tenth time.
"Everything seemed fine," Hunter assured her. "He was very polite and appreciative that we were going out of our way to accommodate his schedule. He reiterated that he would be shipping out after the first of the year, and he didn't say anything that led me to believe his intentions were anything other than what he'd already stated. He simply wants to meet his daughter and satisfy himself that she's in a good place. It sounded like he'd already checked you out and was happy about what he'd learned."
"He checked me out?" Tj tried for just the right amount of outrage.
"You had Kyle check him out," Hunter pointed out.
"I know." Tj got up and began pacing back and forth across the office. "I can't remember the last time I was this nervous. What if he turns out to be a creep? What if he really is after custody of Gracie? Or money? He probably wants money."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Christmas In Paradise"
Copyright © 2016 Kathi Daley.
Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Loved it! Love this series more with each book I read. TJ and her family are enjoyable. The story is full of love, laughter, family and of course, a dead body. Kathi Daley does a great job of keeping you wondering until the very end who did it. Can't wait to read the next one.
I was lucky enough to have won a copy of this book and this review is my honest opinion. I really enjoyed this book, Ms. Daley's books are as much about relationships, whether it be family or friends as murder and mystery. I love this because it really brings you into the book and makes you part of the mix. The characters seem so much more real. We have the introduction of Jordan who may be Gracie's father, of course you have a murder which takes us on a few twists and turns. My only drawback is I guessed the who but the reason for it I think is a little hard to figure out on your own, but it is well explained in the end. I will definitely continue on with this series.
Tj has adopted (inherited) her two half sisters when her absentee mother dies and she is doing her best to raise them with the help of her father, grandfather, and friends. In this edition, the possible father of the youngest sister has shown up and wants to get to know his daughter (who he knew nothing about until he received an anonymous letter after Tj's mother died). Also, the fiance' of Tj's best friend's mother-in-law is murdered during a community dinner and the search is on to find the killer. The killers in Kathi Daley's books are always someone you didn't expect and the solving of the crime is not that important to the book, because, as I said, these books are more about the people than the crimes.
Enjoy your holidays with TJ and the Paradise Lake crew. The story begins shortly before Thanksgiving and each day of the weeks that follow are filled with mystery, intrigue and action. What do you do when you trip over the body of a man that seemed so dislikeable the people who wanted him dead make for a very long list? What can you think when many of the people on that list are your family members and closest friends? While it seems that there are an exceptionally large number of characters involved in this story, Ms Daley keeps them all straight in the readers mind. Each one is described so well you find it easy to remember who is who and how they fit the storyline. And you wish they were your friends in real life. Of course it would not be a Kathi Daley book if it was a cut and dried murder mystery. In the course of finding clues to solve the main crime, other mysteries are brought to the surface. Plus the addition of an on again off again attraction between TJ and Hunter. (OK, mainly ON.) It takes an explosive ending to solve the murder case. I was gifted an advance copy but this is my honest review. If you love small town characters and cozy mysteries to warm your reading hours, Kathi Daley's books are for you.
I waited with little patience for the next Tj Paradise Lake Mystery book to come out. I just completed a cross state move. On the day the moving van came I was reading this as we followed the van to our new home. Actually happy to read that the book started at Thanksgiving and continued through that Christmas season. In the mist of all the holiday rush, yes there is a murder. Tj was compelled to try to solve this murder in an effort to save her friends. She was able to do all this and still give her sisters a wonderful holiday. I would never in a million snowmen guessed who the murderer was. I was sure I had it figured it out but was so wrong! I look forward to this series going on for many more books. You must read them all.
I loved this book! This fourth Tj book was as great as the first three. Like all of them, there is a murder mystery at the heart of the plot. What makes this series so appealing are the subplots and interesting characters you care about that intertwine with the main mystery. When book 3 ended, Tj had just received a registered letter. We find out it involves her youngest half-sister. Tj is the legal guardian of her two young half-sisters. Both kids appear frequently in this book, and I loved when they conversed with Tj-Kathi really nailed how kids this age talk and think. In this series you also come to care about Tj's best friends. In this story, her best friend and husband really need help. As usual, I did not figure out all the twists to the plots and was surprised at why the murder victim behaved as he did. You will be, too!! There is also an unsettled ending to the half-sister's situation that makes you want to read the next book right away. If you have never visited Paradise Lake, you really should go there for the mystery and stay for the romance.
Kathi's books are always a pleasure to read. Plot is excellent and the characters are like family. She keeps you guessing until the very end.
I truly enjoyed this story. It makes me long for Christmas and the winter season. Kathi has such a way of writing the details of the town that it makes you feel like you are there. Except for the murder that takes place, it seems like a really cozy little town. I can't wait to read the rest of this series to see what all I've missed. I highly recommend this book. You can't go wrong with Kathi Daley by any means.
Kathi's stories are as much about relationships, with others (friends, family, etc.), as the mysteries. At the start of Christmas in Paradise (TJ Jensen Paradise Lake Mysteries #4), TJ is preparing for a large crowd, for Thanksgiving dinner. Among the attendees, will be her friend Jenna, along with her husband, Dennis, and his mother, Bonnie. Bonnie has recently become engaged to a man, Bob King, who has come to town to meet the family. Dennis and Jenna do not like him or trust his motives. Thanksgiving dinner is served at TJ's family-owned resort, to a crowd of about thirty people, including family and friends. Bob King alienates even more people at the dinner. Shortly after, TJ stumbles across his dead body in the snow. Jenna's husband, Dennis, is the prime suspect. He's not the only suspect, once TJ finds Bob King has been to town before, under a different name. In the midst of trying to help find the killer, TJ is dealing with another visitor, to town, Jordan Tanner, who may be her sister Gracie's father. TJ is guardian of her two sisters, since her mother's death and fearful Jordan may want to take Gracie away. TJ, also, has a decision to make about her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, Hunter. There's a lot going on, as the story nears a conclusion, at Christmas, and the killer is revealed.