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A Hole in the Plot: A Mackenzie Quinn Short Mystery (Bonus Edition)

A Hole in the Plot: A Mackenzie Quinn Short Mystery (Bonus Edition)

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A half-baked crime...

Zee loves the holidays. But it hardly feels like Christmas in the small town of Ashwood with no snow on the ground.

Good thing she has some freshly-made maple donuts to look forward to—at least until things take a turn for the worse, along with the weather.

With more than her own freedom on the line, can Zee play sleuthing Santa and save the day with her usual ally Detective Sharp out of town?

Enjoy a holiday-themed adventure with Zee (only her mother calls her ‘Mackenzie’) in this stand-alone short novel from the Mackenzie Quinn Canadian cozy mystery series.

(A mystery adventure more than a typical whodunit, this story takes place before the first novel in the Mackenzie Quinn series, The Author of His Demise.)

This edition includes a bonus chapter. (Direct exclusive.)

READ A SAMPLE

I love that feeling you get sometimes on early morning walks—where you feel like you’re the last person alive in a post-apocalyptic wilderness. (OK, maybe not a wilderness exactly. The asphalt path beneath my feet had been salted recently. And the fragrant, bristling evergreens and naked branches of forlorn looking maple trees were only a thin barrier between the path and the empty backyards that backed onto the greenbelt, but still…)

I hadn’t met so much as a dog walker this morning. Then again, most people were probably still curled up in their toasty beds, instead of puffing along the sidewalks and streets of Ashwood. Even though there was no snow yet, there was supposed to be some freezing rain on the way. My lungs burned from the chill, mid-December air and my cheeks felt stiff and numb. I was glad to be wearing my poofy, green parka and matching knitted hat, but I knew that despite the long underwear beneath my jeans, I would be scratching like crazy at my hive-covered legs as soon as my walk was over and I went inside. (How a Canadian can be actually allergic to the cold, I have no idea.) Granules of salt crunched beneath the soles of my boots as I maintained a brisk pace.

For once, I would have actually preferred snow. I’m not a huge fan of the white stuff, but Christmas was only a couple of weeks away, and a nice, light dusting would have helped to get me in the mood. Instead, it sounded like we were in for yet another green Christmas this year. (With a large helping of snow squalls sure to come in January. Yay.)

I inhaled the crisp, pine-scented air and tried to feel the early morning sun on my face. It still hung low on the eastern horizon, casting long shadows from where it peeked between rooftops and trees. A few chubby, dark squirrels were out and about, rooting around for anything that might augment their winter stores. They bounded between the trees and skittered up trunks, ignoring my presence on the path. That was fine with me. My mind was busy turning over a scene from my latest Marie Clifford mystery novel. My writing session had been fruitful that morning, but I still felt like there was something missing.

Normally, I would have been out walking with Barry Horton, the owner of the Reader’s Respite (Ashwood’s local bookstore). Barry and I had become walking buddies after he’d suffered a mini-stroke in late October. As someone who was both overweight and diabetic, Barry was considered high risk for a second episode, so I helped him to stay on track with getting some steps and fresh air in while he recovered. Since he’d hired me at the bookstore and accepted me as a tenant for the apartment above it, Barry had started off as my boss and landlord. But over the last several weeks, he had become more like an uncle to me. We had a shared passion for books (even though like practically everyone else, Barry had no idea I wrote and published mystery novels under a secret pen name), and we had hit it off right away. But Barry had texted me to let me know he’d had a rough sleep last night, begging off the early morning walk. I had promised to meet him in the afternoon instead to get some steps in when I dropped off his dinner. (Tomato soup with rice, lentils, corn, and broccoli.)

While I could have used Barry’s absence as an excuse to stay in my own toasty apartment with my feline fur babies, Hercule and Phryne, I couldn’t help but remember how much I used to enjoy my solo walks during the early morning hours, before most of Ashwood was awake and the day got started. Besides, I often found that getting outside the apartment and moving around was the perfect opportunity to shake the cobwebs loose and get my creative juices flowing. There was always something interesting to see on a walk through the greenbelt—squirrels, rabbits, the occasional fox, a falcon flying overhead…

Or a tiny, grey and white kitten wearing a bright red sweater.

I clutched at the shoulder strap of my grey satchel and stumbled to a halt. I blinked to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. The kitten looked up at me with wide, blue eyes and uttered a meow that actually sounded like it was saying ‘hello,’

I crouched and held out my green mittened hand. “Hello there. Who are you?”

“That’s Willow.” A male voice that sounded rusty with disuse spoke, making me look up.

“Oh!”

I blinked up at the old man, who seemed to have appeared from out of nowhere. His grey hair was in tufts, sticking out in all directions. (Somehow, this made me feel better about my own dishevelled strawberry blond curls, which had been mashed beneath my hat.) He wore a layered assortment of oversized clothing that was clearly second hand, along with various knitted items, all in different colours of wool. He was a wiry, scrawny man, which was only accentuated by the ill-fitting clothing. Still, his sunken cheeks looked freshly shaven, and his face was scrubbed clean. Despite his mismatched wardrobe, all of his clothing appeared freshly laundered as well.

“Morning, Vixen,” I greeted.

Vixen was a local homeless man. Although perhaps ‘homeless’ wasn’t quite the correct term. Rumour had it, he lived in a hut hidden somewhere in a wooded area of the greenbelt. Some of the local kids claimed to have found the place, but were freaked out by the strange voices they were said to have heard coming from inside. Vixen was never seen sleeping out in the streets, but Pastor Dave always offered him the shelter of the church for sleeping once winter set in.

The old man never panhandled or asked for handouts. But I had seen him from the windows of my apartment over the bookstore, wandering the empty main street at night, rummaging through trash bins to collect bottles or cans he could return for the deposit money, or anything else he might find useful. Several of the local restaurant owners made sure Vixen got any leftovers that would normally get thrown out at the end of the night, and I knew the owner of Get Your Knit Together supplied him with wool from the remainders bin to support Vixen’s knitting habit.

“Good morning, Miss Zee.” Vixen offered me one of his trademark, shy smiles.

(No one other than my mother ever calls me ‘Mackenzie.’ In that moment, I found myself wondering how he’d ended up with the name ‘Vixen,’ but it hardly seemed polite to ask. As far as I knew, no one in town knew Vixen’s real name, or where he had come from.)

“And good morning, Willow,” I said to the kitten, who after a cursory sniff of my mitten had decided to mash her face against my hand with an enthusiastic purr. “Did you make her sweater?”

Like everything Vixen knitted, the stitches were smooth and even. How he’d figured out a pattern for a kitten sweater, I had no idea. And as the owner of two cats of my own, I couldn’t imagine what putting the thing on had been like. Still, the sweater showed no signs of a struggle.

Vixen nodded. “She was the runt of the litter. Her mother abandoned her, so I took her in. The sweater helps me to find her whenever she decides to wander off.”

I gave the kitten a rueful smile. Vixen was always adopting the local wildlife or nursing injured birds back to health. He seemed far more comfortable around animals than he did with people. If not for Willow wandering into my path, I doubted Vixen would have come out from wherever he’d been hiding to talk to me at all.

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