When a friend of Tj's is injured in a car accident during a blizzard, Tj takes responsibility for the litter of puppies left behind. Meanwhile, she works with Kyle, Jenna, and the gang to catch the person responsible for the death of a close family friend.
When it turns out that the main suspects are also close to the Jensens, Tj must deal with one of the most difficult decisions she's ever had to make.
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
Wednesday, March 11
How do you measure a mental meltdown? Seven thousand, nine hundred, and eighty-two minutes? One hundred thirty-two and two thirds inches? Eighty-three bags of rock salt? Fourteen broken shovels? Five used vacation days?
Tj Jensen loved snow. She really did. She was an avid skier and snowboarder as well as a homegrown mountain girl. It took more than a few flurries to damage her calm, but it had been snowing nonstop for almost six days and she found that she was at the end of her proverbial rope.
Not only were her half-sisters, Ashley (9) and Gracie (6), going stir crazy after being locked up in the house for so long after all of the schools were closed due to the storm, but one of her fellow teachers at Serenity High School, where Tj worked as a physical education teacher and coach, had been in a serious automobile accident that had left her clinging to life in Serenity Community Hospital. Usually with such a serious accident the patient would be airlifted to a larger and better-equipped hospital in the valley, but with the heavy snow and strong wind, moving Stella Blake had been impossible.
Tj wanted to help, but other than taking in Stella's Bernese mountain dog, Kai, and Kai's three adorable but mischievous puppies, there really wasn't much she could do. She knew that Stella was in good hands so Tj shoveled snow and prayed, and then shoveled more snow and prayed some more. Her routine had changed little in the past few days, but with each new shovelful of the white powder, her emotional stability seemed to decrease just a tiny bit.
"I heard we're going to get another eighteen to twenty-four inches before it lets up," Tj's father, Mike Jensen, informed her as they shoveled the walkways at the resort for the sixth time that day.
"Kill me now." Tj groaned as a mound of snow fell from a tree, hitting her squarely on the top of her head. "I feel like we're in the middle of Noah's flood, only with snow instead of rain. I can't help but wonder if it will ever end."
"Maybe we should start working on an ark." Mike chuckled. He'd lived in the Paradise Mountains his entire life and had seen storms much worse than this.
"It'd have to be an ark on ski runners." Tj sighed. She looked at the snow that was piled higher than her five-foot one-inch frame and wondered where they were going to put the snow once they could no longer heave it up onto the wall they had created as they'd maintained the walkways.
"Why don't you take a break?" Mike suggested. "You look exhausted."
Suddenly, Tj's meltdown turned into a guilt fest. Her father was more than twenty years her senior and he wasn't complaining about the back-breaking work that seemed to have taken on a life of its own.
"No, I'm fine." Tj tried to smile. "I'm just worried about Stella."
"Have you heard from Hunter?"
"I talked to him when I went inside to warm up."
"And?" Mike asked.
"He didn't know. Stella is unconscious and in critical condition. It could go either way. I wish I could be there for her."
"I know, sweetheart. But Hunter is a good doctor. She's in good hands."
Hunter Hanson was Tj's friend who might be more than a friend and the chief of staff at Serenity Community Hospital. Although at thirty he might be considered by some to be too young to fill the position, Hunter's grandfather, Jake Hanson, had built the hospital more than sixty years ago, and having a Hanson at the helm had become an expectation. There had never been a doubt in anyone's mind that Hunter would take over as the head of the medical facility once his father retired.
Tj placed her glove-covered hands on the small of her back and leaned into them. She was in good shape, but the endless shoveling was starting to do a number on her muscles. "When exactly is the snow blower supposed to be fixed?"
"I'm not sure. The roads are closed, so we can't go down the mountain to get parts, and the delivery service can't come up the mountain to deliver them. At least we're only partially booked this week. I can't imagine what we'd do if we had to shovel the entire resort."
Maggie's Hideaway, the lakeside resort where Tj lived with her father, grandfather, and two half-sisters, was nestled on the shore of Paradise Lake. It featured a seasonal campground, a twenty-room lodge, and twenty-five individual cabins. The resort hadn't been fully booked when the storm hit, so Mike had moved everyone over to the lodge.
"Have you heard when they might get the roads open?" Tj asked. Not only could they not get parts for the snowblower, but those guests who were at the resort at the time of the closure were stuck there, and everyone with reservations to come up for a ski holiday was unable to do so. Of course the ski resorts were closed as well, so Tj supposed those guests waiting to come up the mountain weren't impacted as much as the ones who wanted to return home.
"So far there's no word on reopening them. I guess it depends on whether the storm lets up a bit." Mike looked up toward the lake, which was completely veiled by the thick wall of snow that seemed to have no end in sight. "The roads around the lake are navigable with a four-wheel drive but all the roads going up and down the mountain are closed indefinitely.
"Do you think they're still going to film the commercial this weekend?" The tourism committee that represented Paradise Lake and the surrounding ski resorts had brought in a crew to film a commercial that would highlight the many wintertime activities the area had to offer. Kyle Donovan, the newest member of the town council, had been asked to show them around, and Tj had agreed to help. The crew had arrived on the same day the storm hit the area, so filming had yet to begin. The committee was lodging the two actors and three camera and technical crew at the inn in town.
"It's hard to say, but the weather report this morning indicated that the storm should pass by Friday. I'm afraid the committee isn't going to be able to keep an actress as popular as Andrea Washburn in the area for much longer. I'm sure she has other commitments. I'm actually kind of surprised she agreed to do the commercial at all," Mike said.
"Kyle said she lived in Serenity when she was younger. She even went to Serenity High School. She was ahead of me in school, so I don't remember her. I asked Kyle about her, and he said she only lived in the area for a short time when she was a teenager. Kyle seems to think that her short residency in the area made quite an impression on her," Tj informed Mike.
"Guess this storm must be making a different kind of impression," Mike speculated.
Tj looked into the sky. The air was so thick with snow she could barely see trees that were just ten yards away. She knew Kyle had worked hard to make the commercial a reality. It would be a shame if it didn't work out. She had to admit, however, that after being snowed in the past week it would be a miracle if Andrea and her costar, Brad Portman, would be able to pull off big smiles as they skied, ice skated, and romped in the snow.
Tj dug her shovel into the snow and continued down the path she was working on. On a positive note, she wouldn't need to go to the gym anytime soon. Trying to keep up with the shoveling when the snow was falling faster than they could remove it had turned into a round-the-clock job for her dad, herself, and the resort staff that had managed to make it out to the property in spite of the road conditions.
Tj paused as she watched her Grandpa Ben make his way through the snow. She felt bad that he'd been stuck in the house with her sisters and some of their friends. The kids had been bouncing off the walls with suppressed energy, creating an underlying tension that was affecting them all. Tj knew Ben loved the kids, but she also realized he'd rather be shoveling snow with a tablespoon than be cooped up in the house with the kids for six days straight. Yet, unlike Tj, he'd never complained once about the situation that circumstances had thrust upon him.
"What's up?" Tj asked when Ben finally made his way to where she was waiting.
"I think something might have happened to Nolan."
Nolan Rivers was a retired deputy sheriff and one of Ben's best friends. He'd lived in Serenity Nevada since before Tj was born and was considered to be an honorary member of the Jensen family.
"Why do you think that something happened to Nolan?" Tj wondered.
"I was talking to him on the phone about that cold case he's been looking into, and right in the middle of the conversation the phone went dead."
"Maybe he just lost his connection."
"No, it was more than that. We were talking and he said someone was at the door. He set the phone down and I could hear him greet someone, and then there was the sound of a struggle in the background. A few seconds later the line went dead, and he hasn't called me back. It's been an hour and I've tried calling him several times, but it goes straight to voicemail. I'm really worried. I think someone should check on him."
"Maybe we should call the sheriff's office," Tj suggested.
"I did. There was a big pileup on the highway just this side of the road closure. It sounds pretty bad. Everyone is at the scene, trying to save those they can. I know you're busy, but I was hoping you'd be willing to drive me over to Nolan's."
Ben hadn't been cleared to drive since suffering a stroke several years earlier.
"Okay, warm up the truck and I'll tell Dad what we're doing."
The drive into town was slow. Really slow. The snow was falling too fast for the plow drivers to keep the roads clear, and unless you had four-wheel drive with a high clearance you weren't going anywhere. Luckily, the resort owned a workhorse of a truck that had a high-quality drive system and extra high clearance. Still, the falling snow created whiteout conditions, and it was all Tj could do to follow the plow poles that paralleled the road.
Ben sat quietly as Tj drove through the normally busy retail section of Serenity, now all but shut down on account of the storm.
It was odd to see all the dark storefronts in the middle of the day. Serenity was a cute mountain hamlet that had been planned to appeal to the out-of-town visitor. On any other day the mom-and-pop shops that lined the main street paralleling the lake would be lit up like Christmas trees, inviting customers in to warm up with cups of coffee while they shopped for trinkets to remind them of their time on the mountain.
"Looks like Murphy's is open today," Tj said as she turned off Main Street onto the side street that led to the highway where Nolan's house was located.
"Yup, looks like a full house. Nolan and I spent our share of time warming barstools the last time we were snowed in. I hope it won't be the last time we will be able to do that. I'm really worried about what we're going to find when we get to Nolan's."
"I'm sure it'll be fine," Tj assured the older man, even though she wasn't sure she believed her own statement.
Tj pulled up in front of the two-bedroom house where the retired deputy lived. From the road it looked to be deserted but Tj supposed it was possible that Nolan simply preferred not to turn on the lights in spite of the dark and dreary day.
"The drive hasn't been plowed. I'll go and knock on the door. Why don't you wait here?"
"I'll come with you."
"The snow is pretty deep and I think I'm going to need to use my snowshoes to make it up to the house. I only have the one pair. I'll come right back and let you know what is going on as soon as I find out."
"Okay," Ben agreed with a reluctant tone in his voice. "But be careful. I have a bad feeling."
As Tj began the trek to the front door she was glad she had thought to bring both her snow gear and her snowshoes. If she hadn't she would never have been able to make it from the road to the house without having to wade through the waist deep snow.
"Nolan," Tj called as she knocked on the front door.
When there was no answer she tried the knob and found the door unlocked. She tried to mentally prepare herself for what she might find as she unhooked her snowshoes and left them by the front door. She walked slowly through the small house, calling Nolan's name as she went. The house wasn't big, so it didn't take her long to determine there was no one home. Tj pulled her cell out of her pocket and called Ben.
"There's no one here, and no sign of a struggle," she informed her grandfather. "Maybe he just went out."
"In this weather?"
"Yeah, I guess he wouldn't have gone for a walk, and there were no tracks to indicate that he'd taken his car out of his garage."
"Nolan likes to work out in the shed he converted into an office. If he isn't in the house, there's a good chance he was out there when I was speaking to him."
The shed was located behind the house, so Tj strapped her snowshoes back on and headed out the back door. She was beginning to regret her decision not to bring her dog, Echo, with her. He was always good to have around in a dicey situation, but he'd been playing with Kai's puppies when they'd left and she'd hated to pull him away from the fun he was having. Besides, she'd expected to find Nolan alive and well, with a broken phone or some other logical explanation as to why he hadn't called Ben back after they'd lost their connection.
The shed Ben referred to contained a desk, a sofa, and several file cabinets. Nolan had officially retired as a deputy sheriff quite a few years back, but he liked to poke around in cold cases, so he'd set up the shed as a sort of makeshift squad room. There were maps and whiteboards on all of the walls, as well as bookshelves full of information any good detective might need.
Although there were files on the floor and one file drawer was open, the room was devoid of a human. Tj picked the files up as she looked around for a clue as to what might have happened to Nolan after the phone went dead. She didn't see any blood on the floor, but there was a cup of coffee on the desk, additional open file folders on top of the file cabinets, and smears on the whiteboard where something seemed to have been hastily erased. It looked to Tj as if someone might have broken into the small office.
"He's not out here," Tj reported to Ben after she'd had a moment to look around, "although it looks like he had been out here recently. Any idea where I should look next?"
Tj heard Ben sigh, although he didn't answer right away.
"Do you want to try calling him again?" I suggested.
"I tried while you were walking between the house and the shed," Ben said. "If he was in the shed this morning there should be footprints or at least an indentation in the snow left by his passing. Did you notice anything like that?"
"Yeah. When I came out it was obvious that someone had used snowshoes to get between the house and the shed within the past few hours. The snow along the path is packed down so I'm going to guess that someone accessed the path more than once. I didn't notice any other tracks, so I'm willing to bet Nolan used the same path to get from the shed back to the house. Although," Tj added, realizing that when they'd pulled up to the house there hadn't been any other tracks leading from the street to the house, "if Nolan was already in the house and simply made his way back to the shed there would be only the one set of tracks between the house and the shed. If he struggled with someone, then the someone must have entered the property from another direction; there were no tracks from the street to the house when we first arrived. I'm going to look around some more outside. I'll call you back. While I'm doing that, you call Kyle to see if he can run a trace on Nolan's phone with his fancy tracking software."
It was convenient to have a friend like Kyle who was a computer genius able to hack into or track most anything. Before moving to Paradise Lake after his grandfather died and left him his lakefront estate Kyle had been a software developer and a darn good one at that.
Tj strapped her snowshoes back on and headed back out into the storm. Tj really hoped Kyle would find Nolan's phone and that it would lead them to Nolan, alive and well. When Ben had initially asked to come out to check on Nolan Tj had been only mildly concerned, but the longer she looked for the missing man the more concerned she was that he had come to harm.
The shed was situated at the back of Nolan's property. Behind that was national forest. It only took a quick survey of the property to ascertain that someone had indeed snowshoed in through the woods and then accessed the shed from the rear.
Tj followed the tracks, which were mostly covered by this point, for a while before deciding that the snow was falling too heavily for her to risk venturing much farther into the woods. By the time she returned to the shed Ben had spoken to Kyle, who had informed him that Nolan's phone was somewhere on the property.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Puppies 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
I love this series, and this story is just as good as the others. I enjoy reading about the people and the town of Serenity. The book contains laughs, love, family, friends and of course, a murder. Kathi does a great job weaving the tale. I had no idea who was involved until it was revealed. Well written. Looking forward to reading the next one. Would highly recommend this series.
I really enjoyed this book. I love T.J. and all the other characters, the interaction and how they jump in and help each other. It sort of goes with "it takes a village" theory and I love that. This story has a murder tied in with past cases which leaves you guessing until the end. Very enjoyable and I will be moving on to the next in the series.
Kathi Daley out does herself book after book. And PUPPIES IN PARADISE is no different. This book is truly a wonderful installment in the Tj Jensen Paradise Lake Mystery series. Not just wonderful, the best so far.
I loved it! This is the perfect cozy Winter book! It is book five in the TJ Jensen series. TJ is taking care of a friends dog and her litter of puppies when she gets involved in another murder mystery. This book has a mystery within a mystery, and it was a lot of fun to read. I really like TJ, and her sisters that live with her. Ashley and Gracie are two of my favorites characters in this series. I love the sense of family with them and TJ. This book also has a bit of a romance going on, and I will be very happy if it goes where I want it to!! I didn't stop reading until I finished the book, I was very surprised at who the killer turned out to be. Looking forward to the next in the series!
Definitely four and and a half stars for the newest installment in this Kathi Daley series, as my rating falls between I like it and I love it, I am rounding up. Great setting up of the mystery, as usual with this author's crimes, I suspected everyone and was surprised at the murderer. A little bit of time has passed between this book and the last book, which I like because in so many cozy series set in small towns there just aren't murders every week. Also, Tj (likeable main character) and her friends don't just stumble into solving the crimes, they work at it and they spend time backtracking. While the crime was wrapped up, the book seemed to end suddenly. Also, there are hints as to what could be happening for the characters in the future.
Just when you think you knew how it was going to end, the story makes a turn and leaves you in the dust. This time TJ delves into a cold case thought solved only to discover things were not as they seemed. It ended well, but one could not say it was a happy ending. Still a satisfying book and I look forward to the next one.