And a Dead Guy in a Pear Tree

By: Leslie Kelly

Chapter One

With a crew from a Chicago-area travel show arriving in mere hours to do a story on Holly Cavanaugh’s struggling B&B, the last thing she wanted to see was a dead guy on her living room floor.

Well, maybe not the very last thing. An eviction notice on the door—that would be awful. Or, the expression on her grandfather’s face if they lost his family home. That’d be worse.

But a stiff on the floor was pretty damn close.

“Oh my God. Is that what I think it is?” Regina Bates, Holly’s maid asked. Her heavily shadowed eyes had grown to the size of Frisbees.

“If you’re thinking it’s a corpse, then yes.” Holly couldn’t believe the calmness of her tone, especially because her heart was cart-wheeling in her chest.

Other than it, the Hollyberry Inn looked postcard-perfect. From the laurel wreath on the door, to the loops of greenery festooning the foyer, to the sheen on the freshly-polished oak floors, the whole place exuded warmth and holiday cheer. Each immaculate room invited people to visit—now.

Well, each room except this one—the room where the dead guy had just fallen out of the Christmas tree.

“Are we, like, on some practical-joke TV show?”

“I don’t think so.”

Too bad. When they’d cut the tight, plastic binding off the huge fir and a body had fallen from its branches, their expressions had probably been Emmy-worthy.

But a TV crew couldn’t have set this up. They couldn’t have known her grandfather would come in here last night and—against express orders—jack up the radiator so it fried Holly’s perfectly decorated Christmas tree, leaving needles in a thick moat around it. Nor could they have known she’d dash to the nearest tree lot and buy a replacement without even looking at it. She’d been so panicked, she’d just demanded the tallest one they had, not even wasting a few precious minutes to have them unbind it. And they couldn’t have counted on her and Regina dragging the monstrous tree inside, putting it in the stand and then cutting off the binding so Mr. Corpse could tumble down, crashing against the nativity set, sending a heavenly angel flying and Baby Jesus spinning.

Baby Jesus was okay, thank God. But that was more than she could say for the man sprawled at her feet.

“Are you sure he’s dead?” Regina asked. Holly didn’t exactly consider herself an expert, but judging by the stiffness of the guy and his wide-open eyes, she felt pretty confident. The short-statured man’s skin was bluish, but otherwise there wasn’t a mark on him. “He’s dead,” Holly confirmed.

“Do you think he fell into that tree binding machine?” Regina asked. Her face paled even beneath her Goth makeup. “My boyfriend worked at a tree lot last year and he and his buddies used to dare each other to dive through one.”

Having met said boyfriend, she was impressed that he’d had the brains to refuse.

“They never died or nothin’.”

Scratch that.

“I’d better go call 911,” Holly murmured, though a big part of her recoiled at the idea. Calling 911 would mean police and ambulances and inquiries. All her work would be destroyed by crime scene tape and the swarm of law enforcement who would inevitably follow.

It was a scene out of CSI—not the featured story on the Weekend Getaways show, the special that was supposed to save them all.

Turning her grandfather’s century-old, historic mansion into a bed and breakfast had been Holly’s idea. It was supposed to help them hold onto it, but they’d had to mortgage heavily. If they didn’t get some serious business coming in, the bank would foreclose on that mortgage. Her grandparents would be homeless.

So, with no bookings at the busiest travel time of the year, Holly cold-called the travel show and got her first break. They’d scheduled the taping and Holly had believed that her luck was turning—until the dead guy fell out of the tree. No TV crew would film around cops, rescue vehicles and corpses. And even if she could get the producer to reschedule, it would be too late. Her grandparents would lose everything.

And it would be entirely Holly’s fault.

Chapter Two

Zach Weldon was, of course, not the only reporter covering the robbery of millions in loose stones from a Chicago diamond importer—but he was the only one with an advantage. A detective friend had tipped him to the last known address of one of the suspects, knowing Zach had once lived in that same town. Naturally, it was pure quid pro quo. Zach would have to call in right away if he actually found anything.

His friend said that the Chicago PD had ruled out the connection, but Zach figured a lead was a lead—which was why he was currently in Wheaton, Illinois, the dinky town he’d lived in during high school. His father had died shortly after he’d left for college and his mother had remarried and moved away. The one other reason he’d had for returning to visit had dumped him. So he’d never gone back.

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