Genre: Cozy Mystery, Christmas
Published by: Avon
Publication Date: October 25th 2016
Number of Pages: 352
ISBN: 0062382322 (ISBN13: 9780062382320)
Series: Santa Fe Cafe Mystery #3
Read an excerpt:
Mom stopped mid-stroll, thumping one hand to her chest, gripping a hip-high adobe wall with the other.
“I need to catch my breath, Rita,” she declared, rather accusatorily.
I murmured, “Of course,” and issued my best good-daughter sympathetic smile.
I did, truly, sympathize. At seven thousand feet above sea level, Santa Fe, New Mexico, can literally take your breath away, and my mother had flown in only a few hours earlier from the midwestern lowlands. Adjusting to high altitudes takes time. About a week, the experts say, although I’ve called Santa Fe home for over three years and still blame the paltry oxygen when I pant through my morning jog and puff under overladen burrito platters at Tres Amigas Cafe, where I’m a chef and co-amiga. I’ve even postulated that the thin air makes my thighs look larger. Lack of atmospheric compression, that unscientifically tested theory goes. The more likely culprit is my steady diet of cheesy chiles rellenos, blue corn waffles, green chile cheeseburgers, and other New Mexican delicacies.
Mom took deep breaths beside me. I wasn’t too worried. If Mom was at risk of anything, it was overacting. I strongly suspected she was making a point, something she likes to do indirectly and with drama.
Things Mom doesn’t like? High altitudes, dry climates, hot chiles, and disturbance of her holiday routine. I knew she wasn’t thrilled to spend Christmas away from home. My goal was to win her over, and lucky for me, I had Santa Fe’s holiday charm on my side.
I leaned against the wall, enjoying the warmth of solar-heated adobe on my back. A group of carolers strolled by, harmonizing a bilingual version of “Feliz Navidad.” String lights and pine boughs decorated the porticos along Palace Avenue, and pinon smoke perfumed the air. To my eyes, the self-proclaimed “City Different” looked as pretty as a Christmas card. Once Mom got over the initial shock of leaving her comfort zone, she’d come around.
I hoped . . . Mom reached for a water bottle in her dual-holstered hip pack. “Hydration,” she said, repeating a caution she’d first raised nearly two decades ago, when I embarked for culinary school in Denver and its mere mile-high elevation. In between sips, she reminded me that proper water intake was the key to fending off altitude-induced illnesses ranging from headaches to poor judgment. She tilted her chin up and assessed me through narrowed eyes.
“You’re not drinking enough, Rita. I can tell. Your cheeks look dry. Your hands too. And your hair...”
Mom made tsk-tsk sounds. “Perhaps a trim would keep it from getting so staticky. You do look awfully cute when it’s short.”
I patted my shoulder-length locks, recently cut into loose layers that emphasized my natural staticky waves. I could use a drink. A tart margarita on the rocks with extra salt would do. My mouth watered. Behave, I chastised myself. It wasn’t even two in the afternoon, way too early for tequila. Plus, I loved my mother and her cute silver-flecked pixie cut. Most of all, I was delighted that she’d come to visit me and my teenage daughter, Celia. It was nice of Mom. No, more than nice. The visit bordered on maternal sacrifice.
As far as I knew, my mother, Mrs. Helen Baker Lafitte, aged sixty-eight and three quarters, of Bucks Grove, Illinois, had never left home for Christmas before, nor had she wanted to. Mom is a retired high school librarian, a woman of card-catalog order and strict traditions, otherwise known as doing the same thing year after year. Under usual circumstances, Mom keeps our “heirloom” artificial Christmas tree perpetually decorated and stored in the garage until the day after Thanksgiving, when she takes it out, dusts it off, and installs it to the left of the living-room fireplace. She places electric candles in each front window, hangs a wreath on the door, and wraps the holly bush in tasteful, nonflashing white lights. All of her holiday cards are mailed by the twelfth of December. Food traditions are similarly strict. The Christmas Day lunch begins promptly at noon and is typically attended by my Aunt Sue, Uncle Dave, Aunt Karen, and younger sister Kathy and her family. Kathy’s husband, Dwayne, watches sports in the den, while their three kids hover between completely exhausted and totally wired from their morning gift frenzy. My mother and aunts whip up a feast of roasted turkey and stuffing, scalloped potatoes, sweet potato casserole with mini-marshmallows, Tater Tot hot dish, amazing monkey bread, Aunt Sue’s famous (or infamous) Jell-O surprise featuring celery and cheese cubes, and my favorite dish: pie, usually apple, mincemeat, and/or pumpkin. It’s a lovely meal, which I truly miss when I can’t attend. However, I also love Santa Fe and want to make my own traditions here.
“That’s one benefit for your sister,” Mom said, polishing off her second water bottle. I swore I heard her stomach slosh. “The beach is at sea level.”
“Yep, that’s the beach for you,” I replied in the perky tone I vowed to maintain for the rest of Mom’s visit. “Kath and the kids must be loving it. What a treat! A holiday to remember!”
“I warned Kathy about jellyfish,” Mom said darkly. “Rip currents, sharks, sand, mosquitoes. . . . It simply doesn’t seem right to be somewhere so tropical for Christmas, but Dwayne went and got that package deal.”
Mom’s tone suggested Dwayne had purchased a family-sized case of hives. I gave Mom another sympathetic smile, along with the extra water bottle she’d stashed in my purse. Of course she was out of sorts. Once the kids learned that they’d get to open their presents early and go to Disney World and the beach, Mom and the holiday hot dish hadn’t stood a chance. I, meanwhile, saw my chance to get Mom to Santa Fe. I employed some of the guilt she usually ladled on me, telling her truthfully that Celia and I couldn’t get away this year between my work and Celia’s extracurricular activities.
Mom, the master of loving manipulation, countered with how much my Illinois relatives would miss us. I was also single, she needlessly pointed out, implying that I could easily uproot. Furthermore, I lived in a casita, a home with tiny in its very name. She wouldn’t want to put me out, she said. Mom then played her wild card, namely Albert Ridgeland, my junior prom date. Wouldn’t you know, Mom had said. She’d recently run into Albert and he was divorced just like me, and with his own successful dental clinic and a mostly full head of hair and he sure would love to catch up. Mom might be indirect, but she’s never subtle. Ever since my divorce from Manny Martin, a policeman with soap-opera good looks and accompanying philandering tendencies, Mom’s been after me to move back “home.” She sends me clippings of employment ads and monitors eligible bachelors. Peeved that Mom had dragged a divorced dentist into the debate, I went for the guilt jugular, reminding Mom that she was retired yet hadn’t visited in nearly two years.
My tactic worked, possibly too well. Mom was staying for nearly three weeks—to get her money’s worth out of the flight—and I’d feel terrible if she didn’t have a good time. I looked over and saw Mom eyeing a brown paper lunch sack perched a few feet down the adobe wall. The bag was open at the top and slightly singed on the sides. I could guess the contents. A votive candle nestled in sand. Mom stepped over to peek inside.
“It’s a wonder this entire state doesn’t burn down,” she declared. “Remember when your middle school band director, Mr. Ludwig, put on that world Christmas festival in the gymnasium? He almost set the bleachers on fire with one of these . . .” She paused. “What do you call them?”
“A farolito,” I said, proud to show off my local knowledge. “Some people call them luminarias, but Santa Feans are very particular about terminology. Here, luminaria refers to small bonfires. Farolitos are the candles in paper bags. There are electric farolitos too. You’ll see a lot of those along the rooflines of hotels and businesses. They’re pretty but nothing compared to the real ones on Christmas Eve. You’ll love it, Mom. You’ve never seen anything like it.”
Mom shuddered, likely imagining Santa Fe bursting into a spontaneous inferno rather than aglow with thousands of flickering lights. I decided not to tell her about the amazing three-dimensional paper lanterns I’d once seen soaring above the adobe city, lifted by the energy of the candles burning inside them. I needed to work on Mom before I exposed her to flying flames or peppers for breakfast. Mom was rooting around in her hip pack.
“I thought I had a granola bar. This time change and the lack of air are making me light-headed. You need to keep eating too, Rita.” Eating, I always had covered. I also had a better idea than a squished fanny-pack snack.
“It’s the holidays, Mom. Let’s get some pie.”
I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review.