It has taken me awhile, but I’ve published a new Tracy Hayes book. Did you miss her? It didn’t seem like such a long stretch between this and the previous book, but it’s been a full year. For me, that is. For Tracy, it’s only been about four weeks from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
If you’re not familiar with Tracy, she’s a Brooklyn waitress who, after losing her latest job to almost no fault of her own, becomes an apprentice to a private investigator. Jackson is everything she’s not: enigmatic, calm and competent. He also yells a lot, but Tracy usually deserves it, like after almost getting shot. Other characters include Tracy’s family, her two brothers and a sister who all are over-achievers, whereas she’s a college drop-out; Cheryl the office goddess and her dog Misty Morning, and Jonny Moreira, a mafia henchman Tracy can’t help liking even though they’re on the opposite sides of law. The stories are fast-paced and fun—most of the time—and more cosy than hard-core.
In the latest book, Tracy Hayes, from P.I. with Love, it’s a couple of days before Christmas and Tracy is one present short of starting the holidays. But when she finally finds the exact thing she wants, the vendor turns up dead. And it may be the killer wants the same item she does. She also has to solve a number of thefts from old people in retirement homes, and go to her first date in six years. If you’ve read the previous books, you’ll know it’s kind of a big deal for her. You can read the first chapter here. And if you haven’t read the previous books, you can start with the first one, Tracy Hayes, Apprentice P.I. And the latest book you can find here.
I love Christmas in New York. It’s loud, colorful, and bright, and it fills me with energy and good-will that carries me through the darkness and dreary weather. I’d thought I was a real early-bird for starting my gift-shopping and putting up decorations in my small apartment the first day of December. But I’d met my match in Cheryl Walker, our office goddess at Jackson Dean Investigations where I worked as an apprentice P.I.
Cheryl had filled every available surface in the two rooms of the agency with decorations—complete with a large plastic tree in the corner next to Jackson’s desk—the day after Thanksgiving, and had played her favorite Christmas songs non-stop ever since. Three days before D-day—or C-day?—I was heartily bored with even my favorite carols, and the office good-will would’ve been in serious jeopardy, if I hadn’t deleted the most annoying tunes from her playlist when she was in court one afternoon.
That was Jackson’s idea, by the way. He even provided the list of songs he wanted removed.
This morning, however, I welcomed the music. I was browsing the internet for one last Christmas gift that had eluded me for weeks, and I needed all the inspiration I could get—excluding All I Want for Christmas, which was mercifully no longer on the playlist. Also helpful would’ve been the use of all my fingers, but my hands were currently covered in thick mittens that I wouldn’t remove unless I absolutely had to, so I had to settle with following a link after another by clicking the mouse.
We were experiencing unseasonably cold weather that had reduced all but the most foolhardy fashionistas to walking advertisements for winter clothing if we hazarded the outdoors, and occasionally indoors too—like at the agency today. We were located in an old but fairly nice building on Flatbush Avenue near Barclay’s Center that the management generally kept in good repair. But they hadn’t anticipated this weather. The heater had decided it didn’t like the extra work the cold spell put on it and had stopped operating completely. It was the second morning of no heat and it was freezing in there.
In addition to the mittens, I was wearing a black down coat several sizes too large for me. I’d salvaged it from the closet of my brother Trevor, who was quite a bit bigger than me. It wasn’t at its peak of usability anymore, but I could fit a thick sweater Mom had knitted for me underneath, plus a couple of other layers too. I also wore a colorful woolen scarf around my neck and a tasseled beanie in my head.
The last piece of clothing really annoyed me. I wasn’t hipster enough to pull it off, and it hid my one distinguishing feature: my hair, shoulder-length and fire-engine red again after a brief period of cotton-candy pink. Wearing it, my average face went unnoticed, except for the slightly frost-bitten nose and cheeks, which it emphasized. Not an improvement. But I was freezing even with it on, so it would stay.
Jackson’s concession to cold was to wear a black, long-sleeved T-shirt instead of his usual black, short-sleeved T-shirt. I swear that man had to have hot lava running in his veins to be able to sit by our frosted-over windows and not freeze to death. That, or his muscles created kinetic energy even when he was in repose, keeping him warm. They were very fine muscles, so who knows what sort of feats they were capable of.
Lately, he’d begun to hint that I should start working towards similar muscles too, just so I would able to tackle a bad guy if the need arose. He’d even promised to buy me a membership in an inexpensive gym near his home that he went to. So far I had heroically resisted, preferring my hard-earned round parts, even if some of those stubbornly clung to my waist. It was bad enough he made me jog regularly.
When he went out, he didn’t wear a hat, even though his dark brown hair was currently very short after Cheryl had made him have it tidied and the cold had to bite his scalp particularly sharply. He would occasionally put on gloves, but he only remembered to close his winter parka if I or Cheryl reminded him of it. But at least he wore the coat.
Cheryl, for the first time that I’d ever seen her, was wearing trousers. Pink, naturally, like pretty much everything she wore. Honest-to-God Ugg boots protected her feet—also the first time I’d seen her in flats. The pink angora sweater she had on today was so fluffy it practically doubled her already ample girth. Misty Morning, her Border terrier-Yorkie mix, wore the cutest pink down coat and boots when she went out, but she refused to wear them indoors. She was currently sleeping next to me on the couch that was my workspace, leaning against my thigh and warming it nicely.
On top of the cold spell, the snowstorm of the century—because we’re not at all prone to hyperbole—was predicted for Christmas Day, causing everyone to panic and creating a hoarding frenzy. The latter included my mother. Her pantry was so well-stocked by now that the entire family, spouses and grandchildren included, would survive until after the New Year.
I wasn’t panicking. Mom would feed me, and even if the storm hit earlier than predicted, paralyzing the city, I had all my Christmas preparations done—apart from that one gift. My sister Theresa and I had done our traditional Christmas shopping trip to Manhattan two weeks ago. I had helped her select her presents, and in return she had paid for mine. It’s not quite as exploitative on my part as you might think. Tessa is a brilliant doctor, with a clinical mind, but she absolutely lacks imagination and the initiative to buy presents. She doesn’t quite understand the need for the ritual of exchanging gifts, and in her opinion only practical gifts should be given. Since she earns well as a doctor—and doesn’t have any student loans—whereas I had barely survived on minimum wage and tips when I was waitressing, the arrangement suited us both. I was doing better now as an apprentice P.I., but I saw no reason to alter the arrangement. I might need that money later.
The presents that I’d paid for myself, for Jackson, Cheryl, and Jarod, my roommate, I’d bought online well in advance. Jackson would get a T-shirt with a picture of Sherlock Holmes and the text “On par with the best” on it. I thought it described him perfectly. Plus it wouldn’t put undue strain on our boss-apprentice relationship. Things had been slightly weird since Thanksgiving, largely because he’d kissed me. He’d been worried to death for me, which explained it, and though it was a great kiss, I needed things to be back to normal. He hadn’t even yelled at me lately—much.
Everything I’d ordered had arrived as advertised and in good time, and was now wrapped nicely. Online shopping was so easy that I hoped Tessa would never learn about it. Not solely so that she could keep paying for my presents, but because the shopping trip was the only time we went anywhere as sisters, and I didn’t want to lose that. We seldom saw each other as it was, if you didn’t count my all too frequent visits to her ER since I started as an apprentice P.I.—which, sadly, I did.
Tessa was the cause of my frantic browsing this morning. The one last Christmas present that eluded me was hers for her live-in partner, Angela. I’d known Angela for such a short time that I had no idea what she would like. The only facts I knew about her were that she was a pediatrician, Italian, and Catholic, none of which helped me to figure out what she might like from the woman she loved. Tessa, obviously, was no help. She would’ve wanted to buy her an espresso machine, and couldn’t understand at all when I said it wasn’t romantic enough for their first Christmas.
I tried to imagine what I would want from the person I loved, but my ex-husband, in addition to being a bastard band-leader who cheated on me, had been utterly negligent when it came to presents. I would’ve been happy even with the espresso machine, just as long as he would’ve remembered. Frustrated, I sighed loud enough for Jackson to give me a questioning look.
“What are you giving Emily for Christmas?” I asked, a true testament to how stuck I was.
A panicked look spread on his face. His was a manly face, clean lined, with dark brown brows and eyes, and it could express a wide range of emotions from amusement to anger and then revert to curiously plain and unnoticeable. But what it never, ever expressed, was panic. He was thirty-five, eight years older than me, and a former Marine turned homicide detective turned private eye. He had seen it all, and had the eyes of a seasoned cop to go with it. Nothing ever fazed him. Except, apparently, the thought of buying a Christmas present for his girlfriend.
“I don’t know. Why do you ask? Could you suggest something?”
I rolled my eyes, blue and as seasoned as any Brooklyn waitress’s. “If I had any inkling, I wouldn’t ask you. But never mind. Cheryl!” I yelled through the open door to the reception area. “What should Tessa give Angela for Christmas?”
“A locket,” she immediately answered, and I perked, excited.
“Excellent idea.” I instantly googled for lockets and inspiration abounded.
“Can I give Emily a locket too?” Jackson asked hopefully.
“No!” Cheryl and I answered simultaneously, and he pulled back, baffled.
How to explain? “It’s a more intimate gift than what your relationship seems to be,” I said carefully. They’d been together for about three months and he’d intended to end the relationship many times already. Why he hadn’t, I had no idea.
“So no jewelry?” he asked, not terribly upset by my estimation.
“You can give her earrings,” Cheryl consoled him, entering the office in her pink gorgeousness. “And I know just the place where you can get both your presents. Bundle up, and follow me.”
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You can read the next chapter on my webpage. And if you liked the book, you can find purchase links here.