December 24th, 2020
The Blossom Café was filled with the citizens of Keeneston dressed in their finest attire. The wishes of Merry Christmas rang out. Will Ashton and his wife, Kenna, sat at the table with their best friends, Mo and Dani, and Cole and Paige. They watched their children, some of who were even now parents themselves, laughing with their friends. Will smiled as grandchildren’s screams of delight and happy coos filled the room.
“It seems as if we’ve always been here,” Kenna said to Dani.
Will slipped his arm around his wife and pulled her against his side. Every day he was thankful that Kenna found her way from New York City to Keeneston. By the way Mo was kissing his wife’s temple, Will knew Mo felt the same. Cole similarly pulled Paige near him as he absently twirled a piece of her hair that rested on her shoulder.
They were happy. They were fulfilled. They were blessed.
“Miss Lily, Miss Daisy, Miss Violet!” Kenna called out with a huge smile on her face. The Rose sisters were family. Not just to them, but to the entire town of Keeneston. “Thank you so much for inviting us all here. What a beautiful invitation,” Kenna said as she pulled the gold-trimmed invitation from her purse and set it on the table. “What a great idea for us all to get together.”
The Rose sisters shared a look and each dug into their purses that had to weigh more than they did. Three identical invitations were produced and laid on the table.
“We didn’t do this. We thought one of you did,” Miss Lily said.
“A Christmas mystery,” Cole said excitedly as his retired FBI skills kicked in.
“What did you say about a mystery?” Ryan, Cole’s son, said asked as he joined them with his wife, Sienna.
“Merry Christmas, Dad, Mom,” Sienna said, dropping a kiss on Will’s cheek before kissing her mother’s cheek.
“Did you say mystery?” Will’s son, Carter, asked as he joined with his wife, Reagan.
“Yes, we have a Christmas mystery,” Cole said, looking down at the invitations.
“Mystery?” Miles Davies’s deep voice boomed out from the table next to Will’s. The Davies brothers—Miles, Marshall, Cade, Cy, and Pierce—sat with their wives and all turned to see what was going on.
“What mystery?” Marshall asked. His retired sheriff instincts kicking in as everyone in the café quieted down.
“Is everyone here because of an invitation?” Miss Lily asked.
Everyone nodded and pulled out the same gold-trimmed invitation.
“Do they all say the same thing?” Miss Daisy asked.
Christmas is in the air. Meet at the Blossom Café to celebrate friends and family, old and new. December 24th at 7:00 pm.
“No return address on the envelope either,” Kenna pointed out. “In fact, mine was handwritten and addressed to us only by our first names. I thought you’d had someone just drop them in the mailbox.”
“It wasn’t me,” Aniyah said. She was busy getting ready for the next state legislative session.
“It wasn’t us,” the Rose sisters’ much younger cousins, Poppy and Zinnia, said.
Everyone in the café shook their heads. No one was admitting to sending the invitations.
The door to the café opened and people rushed inside. “We’re here!” Gavin Faulkner called out.
“Our Shadows Landing cousins!” Porter called out with cheer.
“Did Gator, Skeeter, and Turtle come too?” Annie asked.
“You bet your biscuits we did!” A big man in overalls said. “I taught ya to wrestle gators, and y’all promised me a ride on them rodeo horses.”
“Harper, Wade, Tinsley!” Greer called out to her cousins.
“Ryker,” Dylan said with a nod.
“Trent, Wade,” Jace Davies waved with Colton.
“Ellery, Darcy, Savannah, Dare, and Skye. Oh my! Merry Christmas,” Paige said, kissing the men and women who had married into the family.
“We’re so happy to see you all. What a wonderful surprise!” Marcy Davies, the Davies matriarch and the Shadows Landing great-aunt called out.
“Surprise?” Gavin said with confusion. “Didn’t you invite us all here?”
“I have the invite here,” Ellery, Gavin’s wife, said.
Cole rushed over and looked at it. “It’s the same as ours.”
“You didn’t invite us?” An older woman who resembled a chicken asked.
“I don’t think they did, Miss Winnie,” Tinsley answered.
“Well, we’re here anyway and I made special brownies.”
“We’re always happy to have any of your cooking, Miss Ruby,” Walker said from where he was hugging his sister, Edie. Walker and Edie were from Shadows Landing, but Walker had married into Keeneston when he married Layne Davies.
“Miss Ruby, Miss Winnie, you have to meet the Rose sisters,” Marcy said as introductions were made.
“I wonder if they’ll get in a fight over who makes the best apple pie?” Paige asked.
“There would be no downside to that,” Skye told them. “In Shadows Landing, they settle it with a bake-off.”
Will was about to ask about that when the door opened again. Will turned to see who had entered. Four couples stood with kids ranging from elementary to college age.
“I don’t think this is the right place,” the woman in a red suit whispered, but because everyone was so quiet, it seemed to echo around the café.
“It is,” the lethal-looking blonde at the end of the line replied. “I’ve been here before. Hello Ahmed. Hello Aiden.”
“Mallory Simpson,” Ahmed said, standing with a smile.
“Hello, Mal,” Aiden called out.
“Ryker? What are you doing here?” the man next to the woman in the red suit asked.
“Allegra?” Sydney, Marshall’s daughter, asked as she stood. “What are you doing here?”
“Who’s Allegra? Who’s Mallory? Who are all of you?” Miss Lily demanded to know.
“I’m Elle Simpson-Charles,” the woman in the red suit said. “This is my husband, Drake. Then these are my sisters, Bree and Allegra, and their husbands, Logan and Finn. Last in line is my brother, Reed, and his wife, Mallory.”
“And you know Ahmed and Aiden?” Miss Daisy asked Mallory.
“I do,” Mallory said with a grin. “I work in private security.”
“I know Reed,” Mo said. “We’ve done some real estate deals together.”
“And you know Sydney?” Miss Violet asked Allegra.
“Yes. I’m in fashion, just like Sydney.”
“And I know her husband, Finn. He’s my sports agent,” Trey Everett, former professional football player turned pro coach, said.
“I know Bree and her husband, Logan,” Piper, Tammy and Pierce’s daughter, said. “They helped with my lab.”
“And I’ve worked with them several times,” Ridge Faulkner added as they both smiled at each other.
“I know Elle,” Morgan Davies, Miles’s wife, said. “I do public relations for Simpson Global.”
“Drake and I do some business together,” Ryker told them.
“We’re sorry. We’re normally more welcoming than this,” Miss Lily said.
Half of the people in the room scoffed.
“Well, we are after some minor interrogation,” Miss Lily defended.
Cole stood up and picked up the invitation. “Sorry, y’all walked in in the middle of a mystery. We all got an invitation to meet here at this time, but we didn’t send it. We were trying to find out who did.”
Elle Simpson-Charles nodded and reached into a slim purse. She pulled out the gold-trimmed invitation. “You mean this invitation?”
Cole stepped forward and looked at it. “It’s in the same format and font as ours but says, Christmas is in the air. Take a trip of a lifetime to celebrate friends and family, old and new. December 24th at 7:00 pm, The Blossom Café, Keeneston, Kentucky.”
“And y’all came?” Miss Lily asked.
“We thought it was from our friends here. We all know someone in Keeneston,” Mallory told her as the rest nodded.
“Are you saying no one here sent us these?” Elle asked.
Everyone shook their heads.
The door opened again and Will held his breath as the Simpson family separated to let in the new arrivals.
“Mr. President,” Dylan Davies, Tammy and Pierce’s son, said as he quickly stood.
“Hey, I know you,” Jackson Parker, Cole and Paige’s son, said while pointing to a blonde and the man next to her.
“Nice to see you again,” the pretty blonde said with a smile as she looked around. “Wow, have you ever seen so many military personnel and feds in one room?”
“Nope. At least not one we weren’t trying to overthrow,” the man who looked slightly dangerous standing next to her said.
“Hi, Abby,” the third woman said. Cole took her in, and FED WITH ATTITUDE was practically stamped on her forehead. Next to her was a mountain of a man with an easy grin.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Miss Lily said, shushing them all. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” Miss Lily turned to the president and the first lady and rolled her eyes. “Well, we know who you are, but what are you doing here?”
“Didn’t you invite us?” the first lady, Tate Stratton, asked as she pulled out a gold-trimmed invitation.
Cole stepped forward and took it from her. “It’s like ours and the ones the Simpson family got.”
“Are you saying you all didn’t invite us?” the mountain of the man with a slight Scottish accent asked.
“Now my feelings are hurt,” the woman with the attitude said with a roll of her eyes.
Out of nowhere, a wooden spoon smacked her knuckles.
“What the heck?” she gasped as she shook her hand.
“Remember your manners, missy,” Miss Daisy scolded.
Cole chuckled under his breath at the woman’s sudden change of attitude.
“Do all of you know someone in the room?” Miss Violet asked the group as the Simpson family started to disperse around the room. Kids played with Keeneston kids, the husband and wives joined other husbands and wives, and introductions were made as they became part of the party.
“I know a lot of you,” the president said diplomatically as his wife nodded beside him.
“We know a couple of you too,” the blonde said while the dangerous one who stood next to her nodded.
“Yeah, us too,” the woman with the attitude said before stopping herself and staring worriedly at Miss Daisy. “I mean, yes, ma’am. We’re familiar with some of the people in the room.”
“I can’t believe you got her to use manners,” the dangerous looking man teased. “You ever thought about working for the government?”
Miss Daisy rolled her eyes. “You mean the amateurs?”
“I’ve noticed you haven’t introduced yourselves,” Miss Lily said with a pointed stare at the two couples.
“You noticed that did you?” the dangerous one said with a wink, and Miss Lily blushed. “Call me John.”
“You can call me Jane,” the blonde said with a smirk that told everyone these weren’t their real names. “And you can call her Janet and him Jim.”
“We have ways of getting people to talk,” Miss Lily said as she reached for her broom, but then the door opened again and everyone went quiet.
The group parted and in walked two old ladies, an attractive woman, and a scary-ass man in pleather pants.
“Agnes? Vilma?” Miss Lily said with surprise.
“Oh!” Miss Daisy cried as the Rose sisters hurried forward and hugged the older women.
“Zoey, Slade!” Luke Tanner, the deputy sheriff, said with surprise as he stepped forward with a big smile on his face. He hugged the pretty woman and shook hands with the scary dude. “How are things in Moonshine Hollow?”
Carter and Reagan rushed forward with several other members of Keeneston to welcome the people from the small Tennessee town that had helped search for Carter and Reagan after a plane crash.
“What a pleasant surprise!” Miss Lily said joyfully as she clasped her hands together. “But what are y’all doing here?”
“We got your invitation,” Agnes said, pulling out a gold-trimmed invitation.
“Another one,” Cole said, looking at it. “It matches the others.”
“What others?” Slade asked in his deep and serious voice.
“Is that pleather?” Miss Violet asked, poking the side of his hip.
“It’s easier to wash the blood off. I didn’t know what kind of party this was,” Slade said, looking down at her. Miss Violet only came up to mid-chest on him.
Miss Violet shrugged. “You never know with us. I wonder if I can make a dress out of that?”
Miss Daisy rolled her eyes. “You’d look like a dominatrix, Vi.”
“I have one you can try to see if you like it,” Aniyah called out.
Miss Violet grinned and looked up at Slade. Then she winked at him and the man suddenly looked a little worried. “I love the big ones. Come, give me a hug!” Somehow Miss Violet was able to yank Slade down, and his head disappeared into her pillowy bosom. Slade’s arms flailed as Zoey watched with amusement.
“Miss Violet does this. She usually stops before they suffocate,” Luke told his old friend from Moonshine.
Suddenly Miss Violet giggled. “Oh! That tingled.”
Slade broke free, gasping for air. “I was so close to death. I saw the goddess herself.”
“You’re next,” Miss Violet winked at the giant Scot, who suddenly went pale.
“But wait, are you saying you didn’t invite us?” Agnes asked, giving the Scot a temporary reprieve.
“No,” Cole told them. “No one here invited anyone, yet we’re all together.”
“I told you the pleather was a good call,” Slade said to Zoey as he put his arm around her and shoved her in front of him as if she’d be protection against Miss Violet.
Will watched from the table as the president and the first lady began to mingle. Even the other two couples with the fake names were smiling and talking to the Keeneston families and the Simpson families. The Rose sisters were sitting with Agnes and Vilma from Moonshine Hollow and pouring them some Rose sisters’ special tea. Normally the bourbon-heavy drink was iced, but it was warmed for the holidays. Luke and several other people from Keeneston were taking Zoey and Slade around.
Slade and Dylan Davies stood facing off and looking each other up and down. Then with a nod of respect, they smiled and shook hands. The mystery seemed forgotten as laughter took over.
“We brought gifts!” Agnes called out over the noise. “Slade, can you be a dear and get it for us?”
“I’ll help,” Dylan and Ryker volunteered. The three men headed outside as Miss Lily called over her young cousin.
“Did you make a big batch of the special tea? Everyone needs a cup,” Miss Lily asked Poppy.
“Zinnia is already making a second batch. It’ll be ready in just one second,” Poppy told them.
“Who wants some Rose sisters’ tea?” Zinnia called out.
“Young lady,” Miss Daisy said, pointing to the woman she’d smacked with a spoon. “You and your young friends come join us for a glass of tea.”
“Yes, ma’am. You can call me Janet.”
“For now,” Miss Lily muttered.
They took a seat at the round table as Poppy poured them an extra-large glass of special tea. Will shook his head. He should warn them.
“Poor suckers. They have no idea what’s about to hit them,” Katelyn, Marshall’s wife, said as she took a seat at Will’s table with Marshall.
The door opened and the three men came in carrying three large barrels. Agnes clapped her hands as they were set down. “This is the winner of the Moonshine Hollow yearly contest. Everyone gets a glass—or five.” Agnes flicked her fingers and suddenly, Zinnia walked out of the kitchen with a tray of shot glasses.
“I didn’t know we had these, but I turned around and there were trays and trays of them on the back counter,” Zinnia said with confusion.
“What a happy coincidence! Can you be a dear and pass out the moonshine?” Agnes asked.
“It’s like watching a train headed for the end of the rail and knowing you should warn them,” Will whispered as he watched the giant Scot take a hearty sip of tea.
“But this is way more fun,” Katelyn giggled. “That probably makes me a bad person.”
“Ouch,” Dani grimaced. “They all just took a shot of the moonshine after finishing off the tea.”
“For women over a hundred years old, the Rose sisters refilled that tea faster than I’ve ever seen,” Kenna whispered.
“Classic rookie mistake,” Marshall said, shaking his head. “They’re drinking it way too fast.”
“This isn’t even a fair fight,” Mo said with a sigh.
Cole looked around at all the smiling faces. “So, does no one care that everyone got invited here and that we have no idea who or why?”
Will shrugged. “It looks like whoever did it knew we’d all get along.”
“Come on, let’s go meet them all,” Kenna said, standing up from the table.
Will stood and took his wife’s hand in his. Sometimes a little mystery was a good thing. They made their rounds and met so many interesting people. All the former sports players surrounded Finn and Will nodded to his wife.
“Go, have fun. I’m going to talk to the president.” Kenna rose on her toes and kissed him quickly before walking off.
As Will passed the table with Marcy Davies, he saw that Poppy and Zinnia had joined her with Zoey, and they were talking about baking and family recipes. Harper pulled out a chair and began talking about drinks that could be paired with chocolate.
Groups of people with common interests all joined together. Will glanced at the Rose sisters and saw the Washington, DC group stand up and waver on their feet. Miss Lily had a triumphant smile on her face. Will looked at his watch. Ten minutes and she’d cracked them.
“Thanks for sitting with us old ladies for a while. You already know Abby and Dylan, but have you met Abby’s father, Ahmed? Elizabeth, I’m sure you studied him at Quantico.”
The blonde nodded her head, not realizing Miss Lily was calling her by her real name and not Jane.
“And Valeria, you will love Sophie. She’s the queen of weapons. She’s invented a slew of weapons I’m sure you don’t even know about.”
The woman Miss Daisy hit with the wooden spoon looked around the room until she spied Sophie waving her over. There went Janet. Will chuckled as Miss Lily called out to Aiden and Camila.”
“Grant, Aiden is from England and Camila is from Ireland. It’s a UK reunion.”
“UK?” Someone called out from across the room. “C-A-T-S!”
“Cats! Cats! Cats!” the rest of the café responded.
“You’ll get used to it,” Aiden muttered.
“I don’t get it,” Grant admitted.
“University of Kentucky Wildcats,” Camila said, filling him in.
“And Dalton,” Miss Lily said to the dangerous-looking man who had gone by John for all of ten minutes. “Have you met Walker? He was in DEVGRU.”
Miss Lily looked around. “Walker!” She called out. “Dalton was a parajumper in the Air Force.”
“Hello, froggy,” Dalton called out with a slight slur to his speech.
“Hello, pajama boy,” Walker shot back with a grin. “Meet my friend Wade Faulkner. He’s a puddle jumper.”
“What does that mean?” Will heard Morgan ask her husband, who had been in the military.
“Parajumpers are in the air force and are known as PJs. Puddle jumpers are coast guard.” Miles told her. “Excuse me, dear. I have to tease my son in law, nephew, and some conehead.”
Conversation flew all around. At one point, a bomb simulation was produced and a race to diffuse it was on between Sophie and Valeria. Drinks flowed. The Simpson family laughed as Kale and Drake had a computer hack-off to determine who was the best hacker. Miles’s daughter, Layne, was showing Slade how to kill someone with a spoon.
Gator hooked his thumbs in his overall straps and challenged Grant to a wrestling match. Slade called the winner.
And then there was Henry Rooney, the town’s defense attorney and pick up line extraordinaire. Will cringed as Henry found Tate Stratton, the first lady. “If you were president, you’d be the Commander of Hotness.”
Tate blinked in shock.
“If you were president, I’d call you Babe Lincoln,” Henry said with a grin.
Tate smiled then when she realized it was more a game than him actually trying to hit on her. “Nice pants. Bet I can tax you out of them.”
“We’d form the perfect union,” Henry shot back.
“You must be Uncle Sam because I want you,” Tate said with a grin. People started to gather around as if it were a dance battle.
“I bet I make you say ‘Oh’ more than Jackie-O!” Henry exclaimed.
“On a scale of one to America, how free are you tonight?” Tate asked.
“Theodore Roosevelt isn’t the only one with the nickname, Rough Rider,” Henry said.
“We can make more tapes than Richard Nixon,” Tate shot back.
“Speaking of deep throat,” Henry smirked.
“Okay!” Neely Grace, Henry’s wife, said, jumping in between them. “I declare a tie between the first lady and my husband with the worst presidential pick-up lines.”
Will and everyone in the café laughed. All around him was Christmas cheer. Who knew who had sent the invitations? Maybe they would never find out. But Will was thankful for whoever had done it for it brought a little magic to the holidays.
Her eyes blinked open long before the sunrise had brought Christmas day to one and all. She stumbled to the kitchen, past the tree with the presents wrapped and waiting underneath, and straight to the coffee pot. She snagged a cookie by the fireplace to eat as she went about making magic for her children.
As she waited for the sweet nectar to brew, she tossed her head back and groaned as panic hit her. “Did I move the elf?” she asked herself. She tiptoed through the house until she found the elf and tucked it away for another year.
Stumbling back to the kitchen, she took a seat and sipped her coffee. Pulling out her phone, she looked to see what was new. Merry Christmas! was posted across all of social media. With the tap of her finger, she found her way to the Blossom Café Reader Group.
What was this?
Was it real?
Had her Christmas wish come true?
Did you see it? The Aussie readers, who were hours ahead of most, had asked during the middle of the night.
It is true! The European readers added.
I read it with my cuppa this morning, a British reader posted.
She frantically searched the group to see with her own eyes if it were real.
Then what did she see, but her Christmas wish!
Did Kathleen really make a Christmas Keeneston, Moonshine, Shadows Landing, Women of Power, and Web of Lies Crossover Short Story? Her online café friend had asked.
Where is it? She had to know.
It’s in her Newsletter! someone commented.
But then what did she see?
Kathleen Brooks commented: This wasn’t me. I haven’t written a Christmas story. I’ve been busy trying to remember to move the freaking elf on a shelf.
Then who wrote it? she asked the reader group, her coffee long forgotten.
In the distance, bells jingled and she looked out the window as a deep voice boomed, “Ho-Ho-Ho! Merry Keeneston, Shadows, Moonshine, Women of Power, and Web of Lies Christmas to readers near and far!”
DON’T MISS ONE HOT SECOND OF THE STORY!
Get notified the moment something new drops off the press… we promise not to bug ya, and just like all good Keeneston gossip… you’ll only hear from us when it’s juicy.