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About the author:
Adele M. Cooper is a mother, wife, and artist. When she’s not busy taking care of her family, she does everything from gardening, crafts, sewing, painting, traveling and writing cozy mystery stories. In another life, she would have loved to have been a female Inspector Poirot! As she’s also a hopeless romantic, there is always a touch of romance in her stories.
What inspired you to write your book?
This book is the fourth in the Sea Oak Mystery Series with the cast of characters expanding and developing.
Here is a short sample from the book:
“Dashing through the snow . . ." Dressed in a red Santa top and green pants, April Longmont swirled and kicked, dancing next to the Salvation Army’s Christmas kettle. She held two red and white pom-poms in her hands as she swayed to the music. Walkers along the sidewalk slowed as they approached. Most of them smiled and even laughed as they watched the Christmas cheerleader. “Over the fields we go, laughing all the way . . ." Wind blew snowflakes toward her. The breeze fluffed her brown hair over her face. But the snow assault didn’t slow April down. She twirled again and gave a cheerleader kick that astounded the crowd gathering around the kettle. Several men and women opened their wallets and inserted five and ten dollar bills into the slot. “Thank you! Merry Christmas!” April yelled. It was evident the “Pom-Pom Santa" as the newspaper had called her, was having a merry time. So was everyone else who walked by her. April had volunteered to be one of the Santas, ringing Christmas bells for the Salvation Army. The donated money would be used to buy needy children Christmas presents and purchase a Christmas dinner for their families. To April, that was a worthy and noble cause. She had offered her services, and the Salvation Army readily accepted. But they didn’t realize April had her own ideas of what a Christmas Santa should be. It involved singing, dancing, cheerleading kicks, and not being exactly passive when people walked by the kettle. At first, Salvation Army officers didn’t know quite what to make of their dancing Santa but soon found the donations in April’s kettle were three times the average amount other kettles were taking in. So they decided discretion was the better part of collecting Christmas donations. “Laughing all the way," April sang. She waved the pom-pom at an acquaintance who walked by. He waved back. April frowned as a snowflake landed on her lip. She pointed to the kettle. The acquaintance brought out his wallet and dropped money into the slot. “A man with the Christmas spirit!” she yelled. She danced around the kettle again and waved at Joe Dinera, a fellow Santa on the next block. He had fewer people around his kettle, but he wasn’t singing either. As the crowd thinned out, April sang, “I wish you a merry Christmas . . . " Several members of the crowd joined in. April thought even the snowflakes danced in tune with the music. She stopped prancing for a moment and stood beside the red kettle. “Folks, a brief commercial announcement,” she said. “We are collecting funds to make sure every child in this county has a Christmas present and has a great Christmas dinner. So let’s give.” She raised her finger. “And if you don’t give, I’ll start singing again.” The dozen people standing around her laughed. One tall, middle-aged man with premature graying hair pulled his hand from his jacket with gobs of dollar bills in his fingers. “No, not that!” he said, laughing. He scooted through the snow to drop the money in the kettle. April laughed. “In the spirit of Christmas, I’m going to overlook what some might take as an insult.” She turned toward the crowd. “And who will match this kind and generous gentleman’s donation?” A young woman with blond hair, wearing a green dress and green coat, raised her hand. “I will, but I want you to keep singing,” she said. “What a wonderful group of givers. Because of you, Christmas will be a wonderful time this year,” April said. She sighed and leaned back against the wall of Anthony’s, a high-fashion, women’s clothing store. The owners had given permission to install the kettle on the corner. She had two hours remaining on her shift. Then she would go inside and get warm. She glanced to her right and saw Joe Dinera wasn’t at his kettle. He must be taking a break. He was a nice guy but had mentioned he was fighting an infection. She wondered if he should be out in the cold. “How’s business?” came a familiar voice. “Clay! What are you doing here?” Clay Augustine, in a bright-blue winter jacket, his hair blowing in the wind, smiled. “Doing some Christmas shopping and roaming around enjoying the cool weather.” “Working this week?” He shook his head. “No. Right now I am between clients, so I have the week off. Or more than a week off depending on if I get another client.” “In two hours come back. That’s when the shift ends. At that time you can buy me a cup of hot cocoa. I’m going to need it.” “I sure will. In fact, because this is Christmas, I will buy you two cups of hot cocoa.” She smiled. “The holiday spirit is breaking out all over.” She glanced down the block again. Joe hadn’t come back yet. She frowned and grabbed a red-and-white Christmas cap from her pocket. She reached up and put it on Clay's head. “Take over for me for two minutes, Clay. I need to go check on a friend.” “Oh . . . er . . . what’ll I do?” April giggled. Her fiancé always seemed to know how to deal with any situation, until now. He looked befuddled. “Just stand and look impressive. Say ‘Merry Christmas’ once in a while. Smile at people. Hand out business cards. I’ll be back in a minute.” April trotted toward the next corner. When she was almost at the second kettle, Joe stepped from the alley. He waved. “Joe. I was just coming to check on you.” “Thanks. I wasn’t attracting a crowd like you were. So I had time to take a break.” His voice sounded a bit strained. “You feeling all right? You can take the rest of the day off.” He shook his head. “I’m fine. The infection isn’t really painful, just a bit discomforting and really embarrassing. Bladder infections take a long time to heal even when you’re taking antibiotics. It’s really not bad but I just have to go a lot. The Emlet people left their exit door open and the store’s bathroom is right inside.” Emlet’s was the sports and hunting store right next to Anthony’s. Like the ladies' store, it had a steady stream of customers. “Thanks for checking on me, April. I appreciate it.” “We Santas have to stick together. Joe, that high-profile job may have contributed to your health issues. Stress can cause a lot of problems. Might want to take a week off,” she said. Joe was the assistant county planner at a time when there was considerable growth in the area. He wheezed and rubbed his stomach. “It’s not the best time to be a planner. There’s a lot of work these days and a lot of pressure. Especially from the chamber of commerce and the Blue Sands people.” “Blue Sands?” “The corporation that wants to build a hotel and resort on the beach close to the county line.” “Oh, yes. I should have recognized the name. The newspaper has done a few stories on the project.” April took a long look at Joe. He was a young man, only in his early thirties, but he looked old. Perhaps it was due to his medical issues, but he looked at the world through weary eyes. The occasional groan deepened the few lines in his face. Generally his hair was combed, but today long, black strands fell over his eyes. He swept them back with his hand. ‘Why don’t we take a break and go across the street for some coffee or hot tea?” April said. Joe waited for a moment then nodded. The Coffee Tree restaurant stood directly across from them. The menu not only had a dozen varieties of coffee and two dozen varieties of teas, it had an almost infinite number of cinnamon buns and other breakfast treats. As she checked the colorful ad posters on the front window, a red car from the Salvation Army pulled into a parking space. The driver, wearing a Salvation Army uniform, climbed out and smiled. April waved at him. Jim Faraday was the officer in charge of the Kettle Drive. “Hello, just making my regular rounds. How is everything?” he said. “You came at just the right time, Jim. We need to take a break. Can you handle this for about fifteen minutes?” April said. “Sure. Hand me the bell. I can ring with the best of them.” “That’s because you are one of the best, Jim,” she said. She grabbed the bell and handed it to Faraday. With her hand on Joe’s arm she helped him cross the snowy street to the Coffee Tree. They sat at a small table toward the back of the restaurant. April raised two fingers as a waitress walked toward them. “Two Alpine coffees and two raspberry donuts,” she said. The waitress nodded and walked back to the counter. April patted the Salvation Santa Claus on his face. “Joe, I think you should be home in bed. If you have an infection you shouldn’t be out in the snow. The county has a good benefit plan for employees. Take a few days of sick leave, stay home and watch the second-rate bowl games ESPN is showing,” she said. He shook his head. “I can do that in a few days. Next week the county will basically shut down. Won’t be much stress. The Blue Sands people will probably be taking the rest of the year off too. For the past few weeks a representative must have been in the office almost every day—an obnoxious representative. They should get better public relations people.” “That’s another reason why you need some time off.” The waitress returned and placed two large, steaming mugs of Alpine coffee in front of them. “Thank you,” April said, as she sipped the coffee. “Ah, they have the best coffee here.” Joe sipped some too. He nodded. “To be honest, I don’t need the time off. Mr. Rockingham does. They’re putting more pressure on him than me. He’s the planning director. I’m only the assistant. He only has one, maybe two more years with the department before he retires. At times, I wonder if he’s going to make it. He has a heart condition and high blood pressure. If you’re a planning director with a huge multimillion-dollar project on your desk, the last thing you need is high blood pressure. The blood pressure will spurt up all on its own when you deal with a big project,” Joe said. April sipped her coffee and nodded. “I can see where that would be a big problem.” She had met County Planning Director, Edward Rockingham, but didn’t really know him. With his amiable smile beneath silver hair, she thought he was a nice guy in a job that had become too complicated for him. Sheffield County had a growing population and all the resultant problems of rapid growth. Until recently most of the growth had been in Sea Oak. But for the past three years, the county had recorded a five percent population increase annually. The Sheffield County Planning Office, once an agency that operated with rural slowness, now had to move with urban speed to keep up with all the demands and site plans. Rockingham, the sixty-two-year-old department head, had been chewing tranquilizers and drinking Maalox for a number of months. “So can’t you tell the Blue Sands people to bug off?” April said. He nodded. “We can and we have. They keep coming back. The chamber is on our back too. Grady Eversall is a nice guy and really doesn’t twist your arm, but he does remind us occasionally what a great economic benefit the Blue Sands hotel/resort/condo would be for the county. I think they want to make this North Carolina county look like Palm Beach down in Florida.” “Yeah, I’m sure a lot of Florida City and county planners can tell you how great their county is with all those condos along the shore.” “Yes. But growth does have a lobby and an effective lobby, both here and in many other places.” “You still should take some time off.” The waitress returned and placed the two raspberry donuts on the table. Joe reached for a fork and cut into one. “I will take time off to eat,” he said. He shoved a piece of the donut into his mouth then shook his head. “April, the thing is this project has got the whole county involved, one way or the other. There are many vocal supporters of the project, and there are just as many equally vocal opponents. After the Planning Commission vote, the stakes and the loudness got even louder.” He paused and sipped his coffee. “I can understand Grady’s view on the issue. I understand the business community’s view. Most want the project approved—not all. There are some dissenters who feel the proposed development won’t help their business one bit, and I think they’re right. I certainly understand the opposing view. It’s not specifically this one project that they oppose. The Blue Sands proposal appears to be a first-rate hotel and condominium. The company is not cutting corners. The construction will provide hundreds of high-paying jobs for the community and there is the additional tax revenue that the project will bring.” April sipped her coffee. She didn’t want to burden Joe with her views, but she was opposed to the project. She had attended the county planning commission meeting on the project. She was tempted to walk to the podium, and ask the commission to deny the zoning change needed to build the Blue Sands project. But as a newspaper reporter, she knew she had to remain publicly neutral. Even so, she bit her lip when the commission voted four to three to approve the zoning change. The project was then forwarded to the Sheffield County Commission. The commissioners could approve or deny the project, and currently, no one was sure if the commission would say yes or vote the project down. “If the Blue Sands project could be limited to just one, I don’t think there would be as much resistance, but the concern is more and more motels, and condos, and more buildings, will be constructed. Many residents here think the Blue Sands project, if approved, will open the door to concrete and asphalt galore on the beaches of Sheffield County,” Joe said. “Which it would,” April said. He nodded. “That’s . . . that’s probably true. Which explains all the bitter feelings in town nowadays. And in a sense, Mr. Rockingham and I are in the center of it.” April chewed her donut, swallowed, and washed it down with coffee. “Yes, that’s true. I was at the planning commission meeting, and Rockingham did not give a recommendation. He said it was his job to present the facts about the project, which he did, and he did a very good job. But, the county commission will be asking him for his recommendation, and they won’t take no for an answer. Do you know what he’s going to tell them?” “I think so. The chamber, and Blue Sands, and certain people in the business community have leaned heavily on him. I think he’s leaning toward approving the project.” “Sorry to hear that.” Joe lifted a finger and pressed it against his lips. “Confidentially, Blue Sands has also hinted to Mr. Rockingham that it will need a planner to help with future projects. The salary would be . . . considerable; more than he’s making with the county and that he would be a fine candidate for the job. But you didn’t hear that from me.” “That’s a bribe,” April said. “Well . . . not legally. No money has exchanged hands, and there’s been no promise made. It was hinted and alluded to, but it’s nothing that can be proved in a court of law. Mr. Rockingham is a year or so from retirement. He might like to have a good-paying job for a few years before stopping work entirely. If he retires from the city and works just two or three years for Blue Sands, he could build a nice retirement nest egg.” “Rockingham seems to be a good man, but that offer would be difficult to forget,” April said. Joe nodded. “I think he’s leaning their way. If he’s going to recommend a yes vote, I will have to make a statement.” April raised her eyebrows. “What do you mean?” “In years past the planning department has, of course, given our recommendations to the county commission. Most of the time the county commissioners went along with us. Not always, but most of the time. If Mr. Rockingham recommends the commission approve the project, I will have to ask to address the commission. I will recommend against the project. I have marshaled my arguments and I think I can make an effective case against it.” “Does your boss know about this?” April said. “Not yet. I’m feeling kind of guilty. I merely said I’m opposed to the project—strongly opposed to the project. After I told him, I think he took a double shot of his ulcer medication.” “Boy, he has a heart condition and an ulcer and you have a bladder infection. Our county planning department isn’t exactly a healthy place to work.” “And it won’t be until the commission meeting in January,” Joe said. “Know which way the commission is leaning?” “I don’t, not for certain. I heard rumors that two are leaning for, and two are leaning against, and one commissioner, Elizabeth Sherwood, is genuinely on the fence. But those are rumors—only rumors,” he said. “That January meeting should be interesting and there will be standing room only.” “No doubt. But I will say this for Adam Lundmark, the Blue Sands public relations guy. He is good at his job. He not only brings a ready smile and friendly manner to commission meetings; he always has facts and figures on the tip of his tongue. He studies whatever issue is before him and can fire both his verbal shotgun barrels in a debate. I’ve never seen him lose his temper, or take a cheap shot at an opponent. That’s one reason why he’s so effective.” He shrugged. “Anyway we should get back. Jim may be getting cold.” April swallowed the last bite of her donut. “OK, but it you need to take a break just wave at me. I’ll keep an eye on the kettle.” “Thanks.” When they walked back to Joe’s station, Faraday willingly relinquished the kettle. “Boy, when that wind is blowing it gets a bit chilly out here,” he said, laughing. “Thankfully, the Salvation Army has a dedicated workforce. We’re like the postal service. Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor wind, will stop us from our appointed bell ringing,” April said. “I want to check on all our staffers.” He walked over to April and whispered. “I know about Joe’s medical condition, so I know you took that break to help him. I can come back in about thirty to forty-five minutes and give you a real break, April,” Faraday said. “Thanks. I appreciate it. Now it’s back to my pom-poms.” “April, you have revolutionized our Kettle Drive. It may never be the same.” April laughed. “And next year I will revolutionize how we celebrate Thanksgiving.” As she walked back to her kettle through the swirling snowflakes, the five people standing around Clay applauded as she picked up her pom-poms. “Give the people what they want and they’ll come out and give,” Clay whispered. She glanced toward her kettle partner and breathed easily when he looked steady. Joe rang the bell with gusto and shouted, "Season's greetings!" to pedestrians. She smiled and raised the pom-poms. “Remember folks, we prefer cash, but, if like most people, you don’t carry much, due to credit cards, we will take checks. If you only have credit cards I’ll get my little computer and we’ll work something out. This Christmas no child will be without a Christmas present!” The crowd clapped its approval and several people shoved cash into the kettle’s slot. “You’re so enthusiastic. Do you get a cut of the proceeds?” Clay said. “Of course not. If I did I’d donate them to the cause,” April said.