The Twelve Books of Christmas
I pressed the button and said, “Claire! Merry Christmas! How are you? How’s Cameron?”
“Brooklyn! Is it really you?”
“Of course it’s me.” I laughed. She sounded almost frantic. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, of course!”
But there was a slight hysterical edge to her voice so I decided not to push her, and to bide my time until she was ready to tell me what was going on. “So how are you? How’s Cameron? How’s life in Castle MacKinnon?”
“Everything is wonderful. Cameron is wonderful. I’m so glad to hear your voice. I remembered that you were having a holiday party, but I really needed to talk to ye. I’m so glad you picked up the phone .”
“So what’s up?”
“Is Derek there with ye?”
I had to smile. Since moving back to Scotland, her brogue was growing stronger every day. “He’s here somewhere. I’ll go get him.”
“No, no. That’s all right.”
Mom caught my eye. “I’ll go find Derek,” she whispered, and tiptoed toward the stairs.
“Thanks, Mom.” I turned back to the phone. “Now, come on. What’s up, Claire? Something’s going on. Is Cameron okay?”
She began to laugh. “He’s fine. He’s wonderful. If you must know, he just asked me to marry him.”
I had to take a breath, then I began to bounce up and down like a kid. “Oh-my-God-oh-my-God! Oh Claire, I’m so happy for you! I knew it! I could tell he was smitten with you from the first day we all met. I’m happy for him, too. What a wonderful surprise. Have you set a date yet?”
“Brooklyn, slow down!” She giggled. “Yes, we’ve set a date. That’s why I’m calling. He wants to get married on New Year’s Eve. Well, after midnight, so technically it’ll be New Year’s Day.”
“New Year’s Eve? But …” I mentally pictured my calendar and blinked. “Claire, that’s only a week away. Actually, it’s less than a week. You can’t pull off a wedding in one week. I mean, less than a week, because…” I stopped. What was wrong with me? I sucked in a breath and pressed the speaker button so I could hold the phone away from my ear and pace while I talked. I could concentrate better that way. “What I meant to say was, how wonderful! I’m absolutely thrilled for you.”
“Thank you.” She was laughing again. “I know it’s crazy. But yes, of course I can pull it off because I have Mrs. Buchanan to help me. The woman is a magician, as you know.”
Mrs. Buchanan was the head housekeeper and resident miracle worker of Castle MacKinnon.
“She really is,” I agreed.
“But here’s the real question, Brooklyn,” she said slyly. “Can you pull it off?”
I frowned at the phone. “Beg your pardon?”
“The reason we’re calling you on Christmas Eve is because Cameron and I would love it if you and Derek would stand as our witnesses.”
“You…you’re flying to San Francisco to get married?”
Her laugh was musical. “Oh, Brooklyn, no! We want you and Derek to come to Scotland. We’ll take care of the expense, and of course you’ll stay in the castle. We’ll have so much fun!”
“You … you want Derek and me to fly to Scotland?”
“Yes? Doesn’t that sound wonderful?”
“It does. I mean, it really does.” I took a steadying breath. It honestly did sound wonderful. “I’m so honored and grateful that you thought of us.” I glanced around. “You know, I should track down Derek and let him in on your big news.” I took another deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I should mention that there’s one little glitch. You see, we were planning to hang out with my Mom and Dad over New Year’s since we really haven’t been able to spend much quality time with them this whole year.”
Saying it out loud, it sounded ridiculous. From our home in San Francisco to my parents’ in Sonoma was less than an hour away. We could visit them anytime we wanted to. But the fact was, we hadn’t been able to really get together in months and now I felt like we’d be deserting them if we simply flew off to Scotland.
And yes, it really did sound ridiculous. I mean, who wouldn’t want to fly off to Scotland? With all expenses paid? It was nice that Claire had offered, even though it wasn’t necessary. Mom and Dad would understand, wouldn’t they? I quickly tried to calculate the logistics of flying to Scotland in the next few days to make it in time for their wedding. We would have to drive back to San Francisco for our passports and our heavy winter clothing. I assumed it would be snowing in Scotland or at least extremely cold.
I pictured my mother’s expression as I announced that we were flying off to Scotland instead of spending the week with her and my Dad. The four of us had planned to visit some new wineries and also check out a goat farm near Petaluma that made the most delicious cheeses in the world.
All these thoughts sped through my head in a matter of seconds. And now I didn’t know what to say.
“But that’s perfect!” Claire cried. “You must bring them along! I would love to see your Mum and Dad again and I know Cameron will adore them the instant they all meet.” She hesitated, then added, “That is, if they’d like to come for a visit.”
“Oh. Well. Hmm,” I said with my usual flair .
“We’d love to come!” Mom shouted from the hallway.
“Hoorah!” Claire cried.
“I guess you heard that,” I said dryly.
“Yes, and I’m so happy!” Claire raised her voice to add, “Becky, that’s lovely! We’ll have a grand time!”
“We can be packed in one hour,” Mom added cheerfully.
Claire laughed. “Wonderful.”
Apparently my mother had been hovering at the top of the stairs listening to every word of our conversation. Why was I surprised?
And she wasn’t the only one tuned in to our chat. I spied Derek standing a few steps down on the stairway wearing a smirk as he watched me.
“Did you hear what we were talking about?” I asked.
“I caught the gist of it.” He held up his phone. “And I also took a brief call from Cameron.”
“Ah.” But of course Cameron would’ve called Derek. The two men had bonded last year over the discovery of a secret passage under the castle. “And what do you think?”
“Daphne and Duncan are here for two more days,” Derek said. “We can hitch a ride to Inverness from them.”
Daphne’s family owned an airline company and their planes flew for the British military. “Including my parents?”
He winked at my mother. “Naturally.”
I spoke into my phone. “Did you hear all that?”
“Yes,” Claire said, “and I’m beyond ecstatic.”
“So I guess we’re flying to Scotland.”
“Wonderful! Now we can work out the logistics later, but I did want to pass on some details while I’ve got you on the phone.”
I wasn’t sure why, but there went that shiver across my shoulders again .
“What are those details?”
“Well, first, I’m hoping you can bring your bookbinding tools. I have a gift for Cameron that needs some refurbishing.”
I smiled. “A book, I assume.”
“That’s no problem,” I said, since I brought my tools with me whenever I traveled anywhere.
She hesitated, then added, “And second, I may need your help in solving a wee mystery in the castle library.”
“Brooklyn does love a good library mystery,” Mom said .
It was true, but still. “What’s the mystery?” I asked.
“It seems we’ve a few books gone missing.”
“A few missing books?” I said. “How many?”
“Um.” Claire was hesitant, but then admitted, “Twelve.”
Twelve books were missing? That was very specific. “Any idea what happened to them?”
Derek was more to the point. “And how do you know there are exactly twelve books missing?”
“Good question,” she said with a smile in her voice. “I recently hired a part-time librarian to inventory and organize the books.”
I hesitated, then asked, “Do you trust her?”
“Yes, of course. She works part time at the village library.”
“So she knows what she’s doing.”
There was the briefest hesitation, then she said, “Absolutely.”
“Okay, good,” I said, but wondered why she hesitated. Maybe I was imagining things. “That was smart of you to hire a professional librarian.”
“It was your idea,” she said brightly. “Remember?”
“Very smart, darling,” Derek said, grinning at me.
“Okay,” I said. “If the books are still in the castle, I can try to track them down. Do you have titles?”
“Yes, of course,” Claire said. She hesitated before adding, “Believe it or not, at least half of them are Christmas books.”
I frowned. “Do you think that’s why they were taken?”
“I have no idea.”
“Are they simply missing? Or do you think they were stolen?”
“Honestly, I haven’t a clue. But maybe you can look into it when you get here.”
I mulled over that. “And some of them are Christmas books?”
“Yes. Isn’t that fun?”
Fun? It would be more fun if they weren’t missing, but I didn’t say it aloud. Was Claire suffering from wedding-induced delirium? If half of the books were related to Christmas, I had to wonder who would steal them from the castle library. Maybe the Grinch was alive and well and living on a mountaintop nearby the tiny village of Oddlochen, Scotland.
One look at Derek’s clenched jaw and I knew he agreed with me.
“Fun wasn’t the word I was thinking of,” he said.
Claire chuckled. “Oh, I know. But I’m certain Brooklyn can solve the mystery.”
“I’ll do what I can,” I said. “Are the books valuable?”
She hesitated again, then said, “Yes. Our copy of A Christmas Carol was recently value at twenty-five thousand pounds.”
And it’s one of the missing?”
I felt my stomach sink. “Can you email me a list of the titles and any details you know about the books ?”
Chances were, most of the books had already been sold to a collector and we would never find them. But we might find the thief, I thought brightly, because I was a glass-half-full kind of girl .
We spoke for another minute and I promised to call tomorrow with our flight information. We ended the phone call shortly after that.
“That’s exciting, isn’t it?” Mom said. “They’re getting married! And you two were there right from the start.”
“Yes, we were.” I gazed at Derek and got the feeling we were both experiencing the same memories. Hunting down a missing person. Confronting a killer in the tower of the castle. Finding a dead body on the Clava Cairns. There were happier memories, but those were the ones that brought me back to Scotland .
“It’ll be nice to see Claire again,” Mom said. “And I’m looking forward to meeting her Laird.”
“I’m so happy for them,” I said, then rubbed my hands together and tried to think positively. “And I can’t wait to track down all those missing books.”
“Talk about a mystery,” Mom said with a cheery smile. “And as we all know, any mystery that involves Brooklyn and books invariably ends in murder.”
Derek’s expression was suddenly as grim as I’d ever seen it.
And there went those shivers again.