All's Fair in Love and Arson
Bella is back at her childhood home. When her mother took a fall in the Nuisance Grounds (garbage dump) and broke her leg, Bella came back to help her and run her shop, Izzie's. Soon Bella discovers she's also been handed Izzie's role in the town's Christmas theatre production, a musical version of a well-known mystery that threatens to become more bizarre each day. A serial arsonist is frightening the townspeople, a family feud threatens young romance, and intrigue and rumors are the order of the day. On top of everything, Bella's high school sweetheart Jake, who dumped her for a cheerleader, is now Chief of Police. Poor Bella! Christmas in St. Christopher's is not what it used to be.
Bella sat next to the window, three rows behind the driver. The bus was nearly empty as St. Christopher was close to the end of the line. It had been full when she’d boarded with noisy, hyper travelers.
Now they were rounding the last bend, coming in from the west, catching a glimpse of the tiny lake that sat on the southwest side of town. Bella began to pick out familiar spots—the side lanes she and her friends had ridden their bikes along and the fruit trees on the Kosmaniuk farm where they would swipe crabapples then throw them away because they were so sour. One old haunt was gone, she realized with a start. They’d once used the old derelict Matthews barn as a clubhouse, in spite of parental cautions it was a safety hazard. Now, only a black ruin marked where the barn had once stood.
It was still afternoon, but the sky was beginning to darken. She would have to get used to it. There was still nearly a month until the shortest day of the year.
They pulled up in front of a car dealership. The door to the little office at the end of the building marked “Bus Stop” opened, and a man in a logoed work jacket and cap trundled a cart behind him to load up the boxes that remained. Strands of tinsel lined the bus stop door, and a garland swung along the front rail of the cart.
She clambered down and retrieved her two suitcases from the driver as he pulled them from the underbelly of the bus.
Christmas lights and decorations hung from the lamp standards along the street, and she could hear dim strains of O Little Town of Bethlehem coming from a nearby business, probably the car dealership. The dealership was lit up to the nines, and a super-sized tree in the display window was hung with twinkling lights and colored balls, and flanked by two new trucks. St. Christopher was ready for Christmas, with only a month to go till the actual date. Bella hoped a little of the Christmas spirit would rub off on her during her stay.