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Shakespeare's Christmas : Lily Bard Series : Book 3 - Charlaine Harris

Shakespeare's Christmas

Lily Bard Series : Book 3

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Even in a sleepy Arkansas town, the holidays can be murder. Lily Bard is going home for the holidays. More comfortable in baggy sweats than bridesmaid's frills, Lily isn't thrilled about attending her estranged sister's wedding. She has moved to Shakespeare, Arkansas, to start a new life, cleaning houses for a living, trying to forget the violence that once nearly destroyed her. Now she's heading back to home and hearth--just in time for murder.

The town's doctor and nurse have been bludgeoned to death at the office. And Lily's detective boyfriend suddenly shows up at her parents' door. Jack Leeds is investigating an eight-year-old kidnapping and the trail leads straight to Lily's hometown. It just might have something to do with the murders...and her sister's widowed fiancé. With only three days before the wedding, Lily must work fast to clean up the messy case before her sister commits...marriage!

About the Author

Charlaine Harris is the internationally bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse books, now the Emmy Award-winning TV series True Blood, as well as the Aurora Teagarden and Lily Bard mystery series. She lives in southern Arkansas with her family.

" Fresher, more unusual, than any other mystery I've read lately."
--"The Washington Post Book World"
" This one works on every level. The writing and plotting are first-rate."
--"The Washington Times"
" A seamless story...In her Lily Bard novels, Charlaine Harris blends a noirish atmosphere with a traditional mystery."
--"Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel"

My situation was as surreal as one of those slo-mo nightmares Hollywood uses to pad B movies.

I was sitting in the bed of a moving Dodge Ram pickup. I was enthroned on a wobbly plastic lawn chair, thinly disguised by a red plush couch throw edged with fringe. A crowd lined both sides of the street, waving and yelling. From time to time, I dipped my hand into the white plastic bucket settled on my lap, coming up with a fistful of candy to pitch to the spectators.

Though I was clothed, which I understand is not the case in many dreams, clothes were hardly typical. I was wearing a red Santa hat with a big white ball on the end, bright new green sweats, and I had a disgusting artificial holly corsage pinned to my chest. I was trying to smile.

Spotting a familiar face in the crowd, a face pasted with an unconcealed smirk, I pitched the next peppermint with deliberate accuracy. It smacked my neighbor, Carlton Cockroft, right in the middle of the chest, wiping off that smirk for at least a second.

The pickup paused, continuing a familiar and irritating pattern that had begun minutes after the parade had started lurching down Main Street. One of the bands ahead of us had stopped to blare out a Christmas song, and I had to smile and wave at the same damn people over and over until the song was finished.

My face hurt.

At least in the green sweats, with a layer of thermal underwear underneath, I was fairly warm, which was more than I could say for the girls who had enthusiastically agreed to ride on the Body Time float directly ahead. They also were wearing Santa hats, but below the hats they wore only scanty exercise outfits, since at their age making animpact was more important than staying comfortable and healthy.

"How you doing back there?" Raphael Roundtree called, leaning out of the pickup window to give me an inquiring glance.

I glared back at him. Raphael was wearing a coat, scarf, and gloves, and the heat in the cab of the truck was turned on full blast. His round brown face looked plain old smug.

"Just fine," I said ferociously.

"Lily, Lily, Lily," he said, shaking his head. "Slap that smile back on, girl. You're gonna scare customers away, rather than pick some up."

I cast my gaze to heaven to indicate I was asking for patience. But instead of a clear gray sky, I found myself staring at tacky fake greenery strung across the street. Everywhere I looked, the trappings of the season had taken over. Shakespeare doesn't have a lot of money for Christmas decorations, so I'd seen the same ones every holiday in the four-plus years I'd spent in this little Arkansas town. Every alternate streetlight had a big candle suspended on a curved "candleholder." The other streelights sported bells.

The town's seasonal centerpiece (since the manger scene had to be removed) was a huge Christmas tree on the courthouse lawn; the churches sponsored a big public party to decorate it. In consequence, it looked very homey rather than elegant--typical of Shakespeare, come to think of it. Once we passed the courthouse, the parade would be nearly over.

There was a little tree in the pickup bed with me, but it was artificial. I'd decorated it with gold stiffened ribbon, gold ornaments, and gold and white artificial flowers. A discreet sign attached to it read, TREE DECORATING DONE BY APPOINTMENT. BUSINESSES AND HOMES. This new service I was providing was definitely designed for people who'd opted for elegance.

The banners on the sides of the pickup read, SHAKESPEARE'S CLEANING AND ERRANDS, followed by my phone number. Since Carlton, my accountant, had advised it so strongly, I had finally made myself a business. Carlton further advised me to begin to establish a public presence, very much against my own inclinations.

So here I was in the damn Christmas parade.

"Smile!" called Janet Shook, who was marching in place right behind the pickup. She made a face at me, then turned to the forty or so kids following her and said, "Okay, kids! Let's Shakespearecise!" The children, amazingly, did not throw up, maybe because none of them was over ten. They all attended the town-sponsored "Safe After School" program that employed Janet, and they seemed happy to obey her. They all began to do jumping jacks.

I envied them. Despite my insulation, sitting still was taking its toll. Though Shakespeare has very mild winters as a rule, today was the coldest temperature for Christmas parade day in seven years, the local radio station had informed us.

Janet's kids looked red-cheeked and sparkly eyed, and so did Janet. The jumping jacks had turned into a kind of dance. At least, I guessed it was. I am not exactly tuned in to popular culture.

I was still stretching my lips up to smile at the surrounding faces, but it was a real strain. Relief overwhelmed me as the truck began moving again. I started tossing candy and waving.

This was hell. But unlike hell, it was finite. Eventually, the candy bucket was empty and the parade had reached its endpoint, the parking lot of Superette Grocery. Raphael and his oldest son helped me take the tree back to the travel agent's office for whom I'd decorated it, and they carted the plastic chair back to their own backyard. I'd thanked Raphael and paid him for his gas and time, though he'd protested.

"It was worth it just to see you smile that long. Your face is gonna be sore tomorrow," Raphael said gleefully.

What became of the red plush throw I don't know and don't want to know.

Jack was not exactly sympathetic when he called me from Little Rock that night. In fact, he laughed. "Did anyone film this parade?" he asked, gasping with the end convulsions of his mirth.

"I hope not."

"Come on, Lily, loosen up," he said. I could still hear the humor in his voice. "What are you doing this holiday?"

This seemed like a touchy question to me. Jack Leeds and I had been seeing each other for about seven weeks. We were too new to take it for granted that we'd be spending Christmas together, and too unsure to have had any frank discussion about making arrangements.

"I have to go home," I said flatly. "To Bartley."

A long silence.

"How do you feel about that?" Jack asked cautiously.

I steeled myself to be honest. Frank. Open. "I have to go to my sister Varena's wedding. I'm a bridesmaid."

Now he didn't laugh.

"How long has it been since you saw your folks?" he asked.

It was strange that I didn't know the answer. "I guess maybe . . . six months? Eight? I met them in Little Rock one day . . . around Easter. It's years since I've seen Varena."

"And you don't want to go now?"

"No," I said, relieved to be able to speak the truth. When I'd been arranging my week off work, after my employers got over the shock of my asking, they'd been almost universally delighted to hear that I was going to my sister's wedding. They couldn't tell me fast enough that it was fine for me to miss a week. They'd asked about my sister's age (twenty-eight, younger than me by three years), her fiancé (a pharmacist, widowed, with a little daughter), and what I was going to wear in the wedding. (I didn't know. I'd sent Varena some money and my size when she said she'd settled on bridesmaids' dresses, but I hadn't seen her selection.)

"So when can I see you?" Jack asked.

I felt a warm trickle of relief. I was never sure what was going to happen next with us. It seemed possible to me that someday Jack wouldn't call at all.

"I'll be in Bartley all the week before Christmas," I said. "I was planning on getting back to my house by Christmas Day."

"Miss having Christmas at home?" I could feel Jack's surprise echoing over the telephone line.

"I will be home--here--for Christmas," I said sharply. "What about you?"

"I don't have any plans. My brother and his wife asked me, but they didn't sound real sincere, if you know what I mean." Jack's parents had both died within the past four years.

"You want to come here?" My face tensed with anxiety as I waited to hear his answer.

"Sure," he said, and his voice was so gentle I knew he could tell how much it had cost me to ask. "Will you put up mistletoe? Everywhere?"

"Maybe," I said, trying not to sound as relieved as I was, or as happy as I felt. I bit my lip, suppressing a lot of things. "Do you want have a real Christmas dinner?"

"Turkey?" he said hopefully. "Cornbread dressing?"

"I can do that."

"Cranberry sauce?"

"English peas?"

"Spinach Madeleine," I countered.

"Sounds good. What can I bring?"

"Wine." I seldom drank alcohol, but I thought with Jack around a drink or two might be all right.

"OK. If you think of anything else, give me a call. I've got some work to finish up here within the next week, then I have a meeting about a job I might take on. So I may not get down there until Christmas."

"Actually, I have a lot to do right now, too. Everyone's trying to get extra cleaning done, giving Christmas parties, putting up trees in their offices."

It was just over three weeks until Christmas. That was a long time to spend without seeing Jack. Even though I knew I was going to be working hard the entire period, since I counted going home to the wedding as a sort of subcategory of work, I felt a sharp pang at the thought of three weeks' separation.

"That seems like a long time," he said suddenly.


Having admitted that, both of us backed hastily away.

"Well, I'll be calling you," Jack said briskly.

He'd be sprawled on the couch in his apartment in Little Rock as he talked on the phone. His thick dark hair would be pulled back in a ponytail. The cold weather would have made the scar on his face stand out, thin and white, a little puckered where it began at the hairline close to his right eye. If Jack had met with a client today, he'd be wearing nice slacks and a sports coat, wing tips, a dress shirt, and a tie. If he'd been working surveillance, or doing the computer work that increasingly formed the bulk of a private detective's routine, he'd be in jeans and a sweater.

"What are you wearing?" I asked suddenly.

"I thought I was supposed to ask you that." He sounded amused, again.

I kept a stubborn silence.

"Oh, OK. I'm wearing--you want me to start with the bottom or the top?--Reeboks, white athletic socks, navy blue sweatpants, Jockeys, and a Marvel Gym T-shirt. I just got home from working out."

"Dress up at Christmas."

"A suit?"

"Oh, maybe you don't have to go that far. But nice."

"OK," he said cautiously.

Christmas this year was on a Friday. I had only two Saturday clients at the moment, and neither of them would be open the day after Christmas. Maybe I could get them done on Christmas morning, before Jack got here.

"Bring clothes for two days," I said. "We can have Friday afternoon and Saturday and Sunday." I suddenly realized I'd assumed, and I took a sharp breath. "That is, if you can stay that long. If you want to."

"Oh, yes," he said. His voice sounded rougher, darker. "Yes, I want to."

"Are you smiling?"

"You could say so," he affirmed. "All over."

I smiled a little myself. "OK, see you then."

"Where'd you say your family was? Bartley, right? I was talking to a friend of mine about that a couple of nights ago."

It felt strange to know he had talked about me. "Yes, Bartley. It's in the Delta, a little north and a lot east of Little Rock."

"Hmmm. It'll be OK, seeing your family. You can tell me all about it."

"OK." That did sound good, realizing I could talk about it afterward, that I wouldn't come home to silence and emptiness, drag through days and days rehashing the tensions in my family.

Instead of saying this to Jack, I said, "Good-bye."

I heard him respond as I laid the receiver down. We always had a hard time ending conversations.
Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris has been a published novelist for over twenty-five years. A native of the Mississippi Delta, she grew up in the middle of a cotton field. Now she lives in southern Arkansas with her husband, her three children, three dogs, and a duck. The duck stays outside.

Though her early output consisted largely of ghost stories, by the time she hit college (Rhodes, in Memphis) Charlaine was writing poetry and plays. After holding down some low-level jobs, she had the opportunity to stay home and write, and the resulting two stand-alones were published by Houghton Mifflin. After a child-producing sabbatical, Charlaine latched on to the trend of writing mystery series, and soon had her own traditional books about a Georgia librarian, Aurora Teagarden. Her first Teagarden, Real Murders, garnered an Agatha nomination.

Soon Charlaine was looking for another challenge, and the result was the much darker Lily Bard series. The books, set in Shakespeare, Arkansas, feature a heroine who has survived a terrible attack and is learning to live with its consequences.

When Charlaine began to realize that neither of those series was ever going to set the literary world on fire, she regrouped and decided to write the book she’d always wanted to write. Not a traditional mystery, nor yet pure science fiction or romance, Dead Until Dark broke genre boundaries to appeal to a wide audience of people who just enjoy a good adventure. Each subsequent book about Sookie Stackhouse, telepathic Louisiana barmaid and friend to vampires, werewolves, and various other odd creatures, has drawn more readers. The southern vampire books are published in Japan, Great Britain, Greece, Germany, Thailand, Spain, France, and Russia.

In addition to Sookie, Charlaine has another heroine with a strange ability. Harper Connelly, lightning-struck and strange, can find corpses . . . and that’s how she makes her living.

In addition to her work as a writer, Charlaine is the past senior warden of St. James Episcopal Church, a board member of Mystery Writers of America, a past board member of Sisters in Crime, a member of the American Crime Writers League, and past president of the Arkansas Mystery Writers Alliance. She spends her “spare” time reading, watching her daughter play sports, travelling, and going to the movies.

Visit Charlaine Harris's Booktopia Author Page

ISBN: 9780425224977
ISBN-10: 042522497X
Series: A Lily Bard Mystery
Audience: General
For Ages: 17+ years old
For Grades: 12
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 209
Published: November 2008
Country of Publication: US
Dimensions (cm): 17.15 x 10.8  x 1.91
Weight (kg): 0.11