The Twelve Books of Christmas
17th Bibliophile Mystery
The first ever Christmas mystery in the beloved New York Times bestselling Bibliophile Mystery series!
San Francisco book-restoration expert Brooklyn Wainwright and her hunky security-expert husband, Derek Stone, face a locked-room murder mystery during the holidays in Scotland.
In the middle of a wonderful Christmas holiday in Dharma, Brooklyn and Derek receive a frantic phone call from their dear friend Claire near Loch Ness, Scotland. The laird of the castle, Cameron MacKinnon, has just proposed to her! They plan to be married on New Year’s Day, and they want Derek and Brooklyn to be their witnesses. And while they’re visiting, Claire hopes that Brooklyn will be able to solve a little mystery that’s occurred in the castle library—twelve very rare, very important books have gone missing.
Once in Scotland, Brooklyn starts working on the mystery of the missing books but is soon distracted by all of the thumping and bumping noises she’s been hearing in the middle of the night. You’d think the Ghost of Christmas Past had taken up residence. But when one castle employee meets an untimely end and a guest is killed by an arrow through the heart, Brooklyn and Derek know this is not the work of any ghost. Now they must race to find a killer and a book thief before another murder occurs and their friends’ bright and happy future turns dark and deadly.
My darkly handsome husband Derek quirked an eyebrow. “Regrets already, darling?”
“God, yes.” I tried to laugh, but the sound bordered on hysterical. “We couldn’t settle for a cozy dinner for four, could we? No way. We had to invite thirty-four people for dinner on Christmas Eve. Thirty-four people! Or is it thirty-five?” Did it really matter? Either way, we were about to be besieged in our brand new house. With family and friends, but still. “Are we crazy?”
“Of course not,” he said, his distinguished British accent lending extra credibility to the statement. “It’s a perfectly respectable thing to invite favorite friends and family members over for Christmas Eve dinner.”
“Is it?” I wondered. “We’re likely to cause a frenzy.”
He laughed. “Would that be so bad?”
I gaped at him.
“Maybe they won’t all show up,” he said, but he was still laughing.
“Oh, please,” I said. “You know they’ll all be here.”
He gently rubbed my shoulders. “All the people we love best.”
“It’ll be lovely,” Derek insisted.
“It’ll be chaos.”
He chuckled and rubbed his hands up and down my arms. “As it should be, darling. After all, it’s Christmas.”
I tried to remember to breathe. “Christmas. Right.” I watched another limo drive up and park. It sounded extravagant, but we had gone ahead and ordered a number of limousines so our friends wouldn’t have to drive through the hills after a long night of good food and lots of wine. It just made sense.
Derek kissed me, then slowly let me go and gazed out the window. “Look on the bright side. At least you don’t have to cook.”
“Good point.” I was the absolute worst cook in the world and everybody knew it. Happily, the entire evening was being catered by my sister Savannah’s fabulous restaurant in downtown Dharma. Most of her staff had been here all day, prepping and cooking a huge feast, using our brand new clean garage as their backstage area. Across the living and dining rooms, tables had been beautifully set for dinner. Tasting stations had been arranged outside on the terrace where Savannah’s staff would serve cocktails, wine, and a number of yummy hors d’oeuvres and munchies before the dinner began.
The entire house looked festive and smelled wonderful. Our Christmas tree was magical with flickering fairy lights and at least a hundred handmade ornaments covering its boughs. I had to admit I’d gotten carried away with crafting dozens of tiny three-dimensional books—with tiny first-chapter pages included!—that we would be giving to our guests as Christmas ornament takeaways. As a bookbinder specializing in rare book restoration, I considered it my duty to always give books as gifts and I tried to be creative about it.
Scattered under the tree and spreading nearly halfway across the living room were oodles of beautifully wrapped gifts. Most were for the children and yes, we had gone overboard, but why not? This was our first time hosting Christmas Eve and we wanted it to be special.
When the front doorbell finally rang I took a few more seconds to silently freak out, then rested my head on Derek’s strong shoulder. Smiling bravely, I said, “I’ll get it.”
He reached for my hand. “We’ll go together.”
An hour later, the chaos that I’d warned Derek about was upon us. But okay, it wasn’t quite as horrifying as I’d imagined. People were chatting and laughing while enjoying the wine and appetizers. Christmas carols were playing in the background and the children were sneaking peeks at all the goodies under the tree. For the most part everyone was having a lovely time.
My oldest friend Robin held court on the living room couch with baby Jamie, my darling new nephew. There was some minor controversy brewing since Jamie’s dad—my brother Austin—had taken to calling the little guy Jake. But whatever they decided to call him, the wee one was constantly being whisked away by anyone with an urge to cuddle an adorable baby boy. And who didn’t have that urge once in a while? He was such a good baby and just one more reason why Derek and I had decided to build a home here in Dharma. I loved all my brothers and sisters and their kids, but I’d especially wanted to be near Robin when she had her first child. Derek and I both wanted to be a part of their lives and that wasn’t always easy to do while living and working in San Francisco. This way, we could have the best of both worlds.
A few years ago, Derek’s parents had surprised us all by buying a vacation home in Dharma after we’d introduced them to my parents before our wedding. Now the four of them were best friends and part-time neighbors, too.
My sister China, who was seven months pregnant with her second child, sat down next to Robin and the two began exchanging childbirth horror stories. Anyone was welcome to join in, but seriously? I loved them both, but I was steering clear. Mainly because I’d heard the worst of their stories before, but also because, yuck. Am I right?
From across the room, I met Robin’s gaze and her eyes gleamed with mischief, knowing that all the childbirth talk tended to make me a little queasy. I was pretty sure she did it on purpose, but I loved her anyway. Even when she regularly warned me that “you’re next,” which was often followed by a spine-chilling, blood-curdling laugh .
I regularly assured her that I wasn’t next, but she still enjoyed taunting me with all the grisly details of her labor pains as though that might be some kind of temptation. I personally thought she spiced up the stories just for me. We had been besties from day one when my family and I arrived in Dharma and I first saw her, a skinny little eight-year-old, clutching her bald Barbie doll. Even at that early age, I recognized a fellow misfit when I saw one.
I smiled at the memory, took a sip of champagne, and nibbled on a melted brie mini-quesadilla as I made my way across the room, checking that everyone was enjoying themselves. I savored the brie as well as the eclectic bits of conversation I overheard as I moved through the crowd. I couldn’t wait for everyone to open their presents, especially the ones I’d made. In the past my sisters had given me some grief for always giving books as gifts. But what did they expect? Books were my life. I made my living by restoring rare books. What else would I give as a special gift to the people I love ?
I was happy to hear that this was the year that everyone finally wanted books again, especially the parents of the youngsters who were just learning to read. Both Derek’s and my family members were voracious readers so they had made it clear that books as gifts were once again in vogue.
Still, I had decided to venture a bit farther afield with my gift giving, especially for the adults in the family. It had taken me months to complete everything, but I had managed to make every gift by hand, mostly using recycled books, and I was excited to see the reactions they got.
A few of my sisters would be receiving something I called a Butterfly Book—an old book that when opened, revealed dozens of delicate paper butterflies flitting out from the pages. It was charming , if I did say so myself.
For each of my brothers, I’d fashioned a nightlight taking pages torn from an old book, singeing the edges, and placing a red light in the middle so that when it was turned on, it looked like the pages were on fire. I knew they would love it.
For Robin, who had every intention of returning to her sculpting work eventually, I had taken an old Barbie doll and manipulated it into a sitting position, then used my old decoupage training to cover the doll entirely with text from the pages of another old book. The final touch was to give Barbie her own little book to read. Again, it was book-oriented, but whimsical enough that I thought Robin would get a kick out of it.
I stopped at one of the food mini-stations and a waiter poured me another glass of champagne. I took a sip and happened to glance at the front door, which was standing open to let in the cool evening breeze. I saw my mother perched on the railing of the front porch talking to her friend Ginny Morrison. I’d only met Ginny twice, but I liked her. A little girl with curly blonde hair was huddled against Ginny’s legs and I wondered if she was too frightened to venture inside to meet anyone else.
“Oh, Brooklyn,” Mom said, waving me over. “You remember my friend Ginny?”
“Of course.” I walked out to the porch and gave the woman a brief hug. “Merry Christmas, Ginny. And who is this?”
The three of us stared at the little girl clutching Ginny’s legs. “This is my daughter, Charlotte,” she said, stroking the child’s hair.
“Hi, Charlotte,” Mom and I said in unison.
She gazed up at both of us. “Hi.”
“Merry Christmas,” I said.
Her smile was tentative. “Yesterday was my birthday.”
“My goodness,” Mom said. “Happy Birthday, sweetie.”
“Happy Birthday, Charlotte,” I said. “How old are you?”
“I’m five years old.” She held up five fingers.
“Isn’t that wonderful?” Mom said softly.
“Would you both like to come inside and sit by the Christmas tree?” I asked. “It’s so pretty and it smells really good. And we have lots of tasty food if you’d like something to eat.”
Charlotte said nothing, but stared up at her mother. I could tell she was intrigued.
“That’s sweet of you,” Ginny said quickly. “And I think Charlotte is very tempted. But we really can’t take up any more of your time. I just wanted to stop by and give your mother a little Christmas gift.”
“And I love it.” Mom whipped out a skinny little tree branch and whisked it back and forth through the air. I figured it had to be some kind of a wand, since Ginny was a fellow member of Mom’s local druidic Wiccan group. Mom had recently been re-elected Grand Raven Mistress of the coven and Ginny had been elected Treasurer.
I had no idea what the treasurer of a coven did, but I suppose it meant that she was good with numbers.
“It’s pretty.” I reached out and touched the wand. “It feels good. Stronger than I thought it would be.”
“It’s cherry wood,” Ginny said. “It has a warm, feminine energy and it’s good for healing.”
“And it’s especially excellent for detecting other magical properties,” Mom added, and her eyes narrowed. “Can’t wait to put that to the test.”
Ginny smiled at me. “And a cherry wood wand doesn’t mind being shared.”
“Yeah?” I said, my tongue planted firmly in my cheek. “Maybe I’ll take it for a spin sometime.”
“That would make me very happy,” Mom said. “But I know you’re just teasing me.”
I gave her a one-armed hug. “Sorry, Mom. You know it’s not my thing.”
She kissed my cheek. “I love you anyway.” Then she turned back to Ginny. “Now we have plenty of room at the table and lots of food. We would love to have you join us.”
“That’s very sweet,” she said. “But I think we’re just going to go home. We’ve had a long day.”
Gazing up at me, Charlotte whispered, “My daddy went to heaven.”
“Oh, no.” Tears instantly filled my eyes and without another thought, I knelt down and met the little girl on her level. “I’m so sorry, honey.”
She said nothing, simply wrapped her arms around my neck and began to cry.
I was well-known for my sympathetic tear ducts, but even my tough big brothers wouldn’t have been able to withstand this little girl’s pain.
I wondered how her father had died, but now wasn’t the time to inquire.
Ginny placed her hand on my shoulder and quietly explained, “We picked up Hank’s ashes today. Charlotte wants to buy a pretty box to put them in.”
“She’s a sweet little girl,” I murmured.
Mom gave her friend a hug. “Why don’t we all go inside and warm up around the Christmas tree. Just for a few minutes.”
After another sniffle, Charlotte loosened her grasp and looked up at me. “Mommy said you have a cat.”
I smiled. “I do. Would you like to meet her?”
“It’s a girl cat?”
“Yes. Her name is Charlie.”
She managed a watery giggle. “It sounds a little like my name, except Charlie is for a boy.”
I smiled at her. “I think some girls might like the name, too.”
She thought about it and nodded. “Maybe so.” Without consulting her mother, Charlotte took my hand and we walked into the house and headed for the stairs. I took a quick look back at her mother and got a nod of approval.
“Your cat isn’t coming to the party?” Charlotte asked.
“No, she’s pretty shy. She likes to stay upstairs when there’s a lot of people in the house.”
“I can stay with her,” she whispered.
“Okay. Let’s go find her.” In the bedroom, I sat down on the floor next to the bed and whispered Charlie’s name.
“Is she under there?” Charlotte asked.
I nodded. “This is where she usually hides.”
“Do you think she’ll come if I call her?”
“Maybe,” I said. “Give it a try.”
Charlotte nodded, then whispered, “Charlie? Hello? Charlie?”
Sure enough, after a few seconds the cat peeked out from under the bedspread. “There she is.”
She flashed me a tremulous grin. “She came out.”
“She must like you,” I said, then reached for the cat. “Come on, sweetie. I want you to meet my friend Charlotte.”
Charlie came into my arms and draped herself bonelessly over my shoulder. I stroked her soft fur, then angled her toward Charlotte. “Charlie, this is Charlotte. She wants to say hello to you.”
The little girl tried to follow my lead by patting Charlie’s back. It was an awkward move, but the cat didn’t seem to mind.
“Hi, Charlie,” Charlotte said tentatively. “Hi, Charlie.” She looked at me. “Will she let me hold her?”
“I think she’d like that. Why don’t you sit down on the floor and lean back against the bed? I’ll put her in your lap.”
I stroked Charlie a few more times, then gently passed her over to Charlotte, who wrapped herself around the cat.
“Hi, hi,” she whispered in Charlie’s ear. “Hi, Charlie.” She closed her eyes and swayed slightly from side to side, as though she were rocking the cat to sleep. Charlie seemed to like it because I could hear her purring. She was such a good cat.
I glanced at the doorway and saw that my mother and Ginny had followed us upstairs. They stood by the door, watching the action, and I could see tears in both their eyes.
I quietly pushed myself off the floor and walked over to my mom. “I was thinking of getting something to eat. Do you think Charlotte would like some hot chocolate if I brought it up here?”
Ginny looked from me to Mom and took hold of our hands in hers. “You are both so kind. Thank you. I’m sure Charlotte would love it.”
The little girl was still clutching the cat so I said, “I’ll be right back.”
Downstairs in the kitchen, I ran into my sister Savannah. “Can I add two more for dinner? Another one of Mom’s Wiccan friends and her little girl came by to give Mom a present.”
“Aw, that’s nice.”
“Yeah. Turns out, her husband just died.”
Savannah exhaled. “Oh, Brooklyn, no. That’s terrible. Yes, we can absolutely make room for them.”
“Thanks, Bug.” She rolled her eyes at the nickname and went dashing off. My parents had come up with quirky middle names for each of us and Savannah’s was Dragonfly. At some point in her early childhood, “Dragonfly” had become “Bug,” and we still called her that.
I pulled a packet of hot chocolate mix from the cupboard, then filled a mug with water and heated it for two minutes in the microwave. I poured in the powder and mixed it well, then I walked back upstairs and stopped when I noticed that my bedroom door was closed. Mom and Ginny stood in the hallway talking quietly.
“Everything okay?” I asked, warming my hands around the mug of chocolate.
Mom nodded. “Charlotte was curled up on the carpet with Charlie and fell right to sleep.”
“The poor thing is exhausted,” Ginny said. “We’ve had a long, sad day.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “Do you think she’ll still want the chocolate when she wakes up?”
Ginny smiled softly. “Oh, trust me. She’ll drink it even if it’s ice cold.”
I turned to Mom. “Charlie stayed right with her?”
“She hasn’t left Charlotte’s side.”
I noticed Ginny’s eyes fill again. “What a dear creature she is.”
I was ridiculously proud of Charlie for keeping watch over Charlotte. She seemed to have an innate sense of the child’s needs.
Ginny reached for the mug. “Let me hold that for you. You must want to go down and mingle with your guests.”
Mom jumped in. “Yes, Brooklyn, you go find Derek and enjoy your party. We’ll be down shortly.”
I chuckled. “It’s everybody’s party, Mom. But I should go make sure everything’s running smoothly.”
“You’ve planned this party down to the matching tartan napkin rings,” Mom said with a laugh. “What could possibly go wrong?”
A shiver ran across my shoulders. I gave her a look as I rubbed the chill from my arms. “Don’t be tempting fate, Mom.”
And that’s when my phone began to ring.
“Delightful cozy that combines Christmas, Scottish customs, and food.”
—Library Journal (read more)
“Pleasing characters and vivid descriptions of glorious Scotland.”
—Kirkus Reviews (read more)
“The perfect read to curl up with on a cold, soon-to-be winter day.”
—Fresh Fiction (read more)
“Carlisle is a top-notch writer. She has a mastery of words and description, is excellent at character development and planning… and plots a clever, clever mystery every time.”
—It’s All about the Book (read more)
“Carlisle offers readers a complex mystery enriched by a peek at Scottish traditions… an excellent addition to her Bibliophile Mystery series.”
—Fresh Fiction (read more)
“The setting is perfection… The plot is perfectly paced and I found myself reading the book all in one day.”
—Kim Davis, author of Sprinkles of Suspicion