To Catch the Christmas Spirit

Two days before Christmas, Vittoria embarked upon an excursion to the provincial village of Overbee. She was to meet her dearest friends there for a holiday retreat. It was just the thing they all needed: escape from big city life and away from the gossip that hounded them. Time to let Vittoria’s scandal blow over, Nicolette’s movie flop to be forgotten, and Sybil to forgive her mother’s most recent callousness.

Yes, a quiet holiday was exactly what they needed.

Nicolette had invited them to join her in Overbee—she shot a film there over the summer and fell in love with the picturesque setting, as well as one of the rich locals, whom she was visiting. Sybil had arrived before Vittoria, securing their rooms at a renowned inn at the town’s market district, since there was no room for them at Nicolette’s lover’s estate.

Sybil’s last correspondence had caused Vittoria some concern, however.

“Take the ferry to the village from Comstock. I will meet you at the dock. Do try to get there before sundown, though. There have been rumors of unsavory things happening after dark, and the dock is away from town enough that it would be best to make our way in the light.”

Vittoria had allowed plenty of time for her journey, but after a series of unfortunate encounters, she was behind schedule and missed the mid-day ferry across.

“Double damn,” she muttered as she watched the ferry disappear into the fog. With a heavy sigh, she paid the man at the ticket booth to lock up her belongings before she went to do some last-minute Christmas shopping in Comstock proper.

By the time she returned to the ferry’s dock, the sun had set, and a deep chill had permeated the air. She was the only passenger for the last trip over.

“The ferry knows its business. It won’t cast off again until you and all of your parcels have disembarked,” the ferry master said as he reinforced the magical command to take her across. “You have someone to meet you? Help with your luggage?” He nodded to her bags.

“Yes. A friend.” Perhaps she should have packed more lightly.

“You are set to go. Return trip, first of the New Year, correct?”

Vittoria nodded.

“Happy holidays, then.” And with a wave of his hand, the ferry slid away from the dock and into the sluggish river.

Vittoria kept to the middle of the ferry during the ride, noting that the narrow railing around the boat looked precarious. A shuttered lantern cast a thin light in the immediate vicinity, but soon all she could see was black water all around her.

When the Overbee dock came into view, she felt a surge of relief, although the feeling was quickly replaced with dread. The dock looked to be half-submerged in the water—had nobody bothered to care for it in so long? The bank was steep, covered in a light dusting of snow, and a frozen muddy foot path led up toward the village past the rise of the hill.

For a moment, Vittoria thought she saw a hooded figure standing at the edge of the dock, and fear roiled in her gut. Perhaps she should have waited for the ferry first thing in the morning. Sybil had said it wasn’t safe after dark. Was there a way to interrupt the ferry’s spell to turn back around to Comstock?

“Tori, darling!” came a cry from above.

Vittoria looked up to see Sybil picking her way down the steep embankment. Relief washed over her yet again, although she stole another glance at the dock.

The dark figure was gone. Perhaps it had never been. An overactive imagination, most likely.

Vittoria gave Sybil a reserved wave and braced for the ferry to bump against the dock. It slid beside it easily, only scraping on the remnants of ice in the water.

Sybil slid a bit making her way down the bank, but gave her an easy grin and a quick embrace before an exaggerated eye roll.

“Welcome to Overbee. I promise the village isn’t quite as foreboding.”

Vittoria followed Sybil up the trail, each laden with one of her bags. Cold air stung their lungs and faces, clouds of breath puffed in the air from their exertion, and Vittoria vowed that she should work to be in better shape in the coming year.

As they crested the rise, Vittoria let out an involuntary gasp.

“See what I mean?” Sybil teased.

Strings of jolly lights twinkled ahead, hung jauntily from rooftops, and street lights glowed with warm halos in the mist. The quaint strip was like something out of a painting, and the warmth beckoned to her, frozen to the bone as she was. She rushed forward, and Sybil laughed as she struggled to keep up.

“Oh, I should warn you.” Sybil had slowed to a stop just outside the inn. “There’s a bit of a shindig going on. The owner assures me it won’t go late.” She gave an apologetic shrug and led her inside.

The patio of the inn was enclosed by a low railing, and there were people standing around talking loudly. The door opened when several people poured out, and more went in to replace those who had left.

Vittoria squeezed in after Sybil, clutching her bag to her chest. Inside, they were greeted by warmth and noise and people. The entry had a reception desk, which was unmanned, and beyond that was an overlarge living room with a roaring fire and an elaborately decorated Christmas tree. There was a dining room on the other side of the living room. It was crowded with tasteful furniture, a table loaded with hors d’oeuvres, and clusters of people in twos and threes, drinking and smoking and shouting to be heard over each other.

“This way,” Sybil said and gestured to a staircase on the opposite side of the reception desk. The pair struggled past more people on the stairs, lugging Vittoria’s bags behind them. On the upper level was another lounge area, also crowded with people. There was a makeshift bar on the far side.

There were people everywhere as they made their way down a hallway. More rooms were filled with people—a library, a den, and a billiard room—all with roaring fireplaces to stave off the chill, and all merrily decorated for the holidays.

Sybil caught Vittoria’s expression and grimaced. “They’ve assured me the guest rooms are closed to the party-goers. Here we are.” She set Vittoria’s bag down and pulled out a key.

As the pair pushed into their room, Vittoria came up against Sybil, who had stopped short.

There were two couples in the room. Two women sat on one of the beds looking fearful, one woman clasping the other’s hands in hers. One of the men was standing over them, looking angry, while the other leaned against mantle, arm braced against it, staring into the fire.

“Excuse me, this room is occupied,” the standing man said, his dark eyes glinting dangerously in the fire light.

“Oh dear, we’re so sorry for interrupting,” Vittoria said, taking a step back.

“Excuse us. This is actually our room. That we paid for. With money. Party is out there.” Sybil jerked a thumb over her shoulder.

The angry man opened his mouth, but the man at the fire place spoke first. “Calm down, Rutger.” He didn’t look at his companion, but Rutger stayed quiet. The man made a formal bow. “Our apologies. We only wished for a quiet place to converse.” He turned back to the women on the bed. “Ladies? Don’t go far.”

“But Vincent—” Rutger began.

“Don’t argue with me. These guests are entitled to their space.” With that, Vincent glided from the room without a backward glance.

The two remaining women stood and rushed past Sybil and Vittoria, the first ducking her head as she fled, the other staring at them defiantly before moving past them.

“Liliana, wait,” the bold woman said as the other dashed down the hall.

“Moriah, a word.” Rutger’s hand closed over the closer woman’s arm before Sybil sagged against the door, slamming it shut.

“Phew. I thought we’d never have quiet.” Sybil tossed Vittoria’s bag on one of the beds and sunk into a chair in front of the fire.

Vittoria tilted her head, still able to hear the great ruckus from the party in the rooms around them.

Sybil gave her a wry smile. “Well, quiet being relative.”

“What do you suppose all that was about?” Vittoria asked, gesturing toward the door.

Sybil shrugged. “Who knows? None of our business, anyway. Pour me a drink, since you’re up?”

Vittoria went to the side board and poured brandy into two glasses. She downed one—to help warm her—and handed Sybil the other.

“So, how are you doing? Do you want to talk?” Sybil asked as she sipped her brandy.

Vittoria shook her head. “I’d really rather not. What’s done is done. James wants a divorce, and Harrison decided to stay with his wife.”

“James will change his mind.”

Vittoria went back and poured another drink. “I don’t think so. Not this time.”

“Maybe Harrison will, then,” Sybil said with a sigh.

“Unlikely.” Vittoria drank the second brandy and turned back to her friend. “What about you? Do you want to talk about your mother?”

Sybil snorted and finished her drink. “No. I’ve already forgiven her. This retreat will give time for the ire that would result in cutting remarks to dissipate. We’ll be back to normal by the New Year. As healthy as normal is between the two of us, anyway.”

Vittoria gave her a small smile.

They both jumped when there was a loud rap on the door.

“Now what?” Sybil groaned and went to the door. One of the innkeeper’s errand boys stood there frowning.

“Can we help you?”

“The innkeeper says you must come. Your loud actress friend is outside causing a scene.”

Sybil blinked. “Well, send her up then.”

The boy shook his head. “She is not allowed inside.”

“What? Why?” Vittoria demanded.

“She causes too many problems with our guests.”

Sybil raised an eyebrow. “That must be why she’s staying with Leopold.”

“Please come,” the boy insisted.

The pair still hadn’t removed their coats, so after a shrug from Sybil, they followed the youth out the door. Instead of going for the stairs, though, Sybil went across the hall to a sitting nook with a big bay window.

“There she is. What is she doing?”

Vittoria joined her at the window, and below them was Nicolette in a stylish parka, holding a large square object in her arms and shouting loudly at the innkeeper.

“My friends are up there. Look! I brought this for my friend’s birthday! I know what you said before, but you have to let me go up!”

Vittoria unlatched the window and leaned out. “Nicolette, we’re here. We’re coming down. Stay there!”

Sybil laughed as Nicolette waved and nearly dropped what she was holding.

“Come on. She’ll get us banned from this establishment, too, if we’re not careful,” Vittoria muttered.

Once outside, Nicolette squealed and collided with them, trying awkwardly to hug them and not lose her parcel.

“Vittoria, I got this for you. A late birthday gift.” She hefted the object into Vittoria’s gloveless hands.

“Cold!” Vittoria shouted, and the other two giggled.

“It’s an ice sculpture,” Sybil said wryly.

And it was. It was a little larger than a brick, and had a gorgeous engraving on one side. “What’s this picture?”

Nicolette shrugged. “I couldn’t tell you. I just thought it was pretty.”

“Thank you, darling. I guess…I’ll leave it out here? I can’t very well take it inside.”

Nicolette’s smooth face wrinkled into calculated disappointment. “Won’t someone walk off with it?”

Vittoria suppressed a sigh. “I suppose I will see if the innkeeper has one of those freezer boxes. Wait here.”

“We’ll be at the Foggy Dog, dear. It’s only a few buildings down, just there. I am simply frozen and need brandy.” Nicolette linked arms with Sybil and pulled her along. Sybil looked over her shoulder and raised an eyebrow at Vittoria, who sighed as she struggled past people back into the inn.

The brick must have had a weak spell on it, for it didn’t begin to melt until after several minutes of Vittoria looking for the innkeeper. She finally found the staff kitchen and was directed to the basement by a hefty woman brandishing a large wooden spoon.

The stairs were well lit, but the basement was musty and freezing. The spell on the freezer box was strong, though—she could see its faint glow of blue light in the corner. She put the engraved ice sculpture into the box, not sure what she’d do with it once she returned to Comstock, or even in the meantime.

As she came back up the steps, she nearly ran into one of the gentlemen from earlier. Rutger, the angry one. He narrowed his eyes as she squeezed past, but she ducked her head and murmured a quiet apology, hoping he didn’t recognize her.

Once back outside, she looked over her shoulder. He hadn’t followed, and she breathed easier as she rushed down the street to the tavern where her girlfriends were waiting for her.

The tavern was full of merry lights and mulled wine. Nicolette assured them that it was quieter than usual because of the shindig at their inn, however it was still rather too crowded for Vittoria’s taste. But the spirits flowed freely and so did the laughter, and the crowd ceased to be a bother. The lights began to blur, and for the first time that trip, Vittoria was glad she had come.

#

Vittoria jerked awake when the pounding on the door began. Sybil groaned from her bed, and Nicolette let out a delicate curse from the floor.

“I knew we shouldn’t have smuggled you in,” Vittoria grumbled. “We’re in for it now.”

“Oh hush, we’re fine. The doorman was more than happy to let me up,” Nicolette said as she stood and straightened her garments.

Sybil snorted. “You made it difficult for him to say no, my dear. Honestly. What would Leopold say?”

Nicolette gave a tiny titter. “He probably would have asked to lend me a hand. He’s had eyes for the doorman for quite some time.”

Vittoria felt her eyes go wide, but then she flinched when the pounding on the door resumed, followed by a stern voice demanding they open the door.

Vittoria wrapped a robe around her and threw open the door. The constable and two officers stood there.

“My name is Constable Shaw. We’re here for Miss Nicolette Pearce.”

Vittoria blocked their way but gave a panicked glance over her shoulder.

“Tori, please. I can handle them.” Nicolette strode forward and put her hand on Vittoria’s shoulder, but Vittoria shrugged her off.

“No! We’re so sorry, officers. I know she isn’t technically allowed here, but it was so cold last night, we didn’t want to make her walk all the way back to her residence,” Vittoria pleaded.

The constable narrowed his eyes. “We’re not here for that. She’s wanted for murder.”

“Murder?” the three women said in shocked unison.

“But that’s impossible,” Vittoria said. “She was with us all night.”

Shaw raised an eyebrow. “Indeed. Which is why the two of you are to be detained for questioning.”

“Well, won’t that be fun,” Sybil said as she picked clothes up off the floor. She gave the men a significant look. The two officers immediately blushed and turned around. The constable narrowed his eyes, but did turn around.

Vittoria scrambled for her clothes, darting looks between her friends and the officers. “This can’t be happening.”

Nicolette didn’t appear flustered, though, as she pulled on her boots. “And who is it I’m supposed to have murdered, then?”

“The esteemed Liliana Fortenberry.”

Nicolette let out a gasp, and the boot she was holding fell from her fingers. “Lily is dead?”

Shaw whipped around at the noise. Sybil glared at him, but the three were decent.

“Quite dead, I’m afraid.”

“What happened?” Nicolette asked hoarsely.

“We’ll give you the details at the station. Come along now, ladies. It will go better for you if you don’t make a fuss.”

#

The details were gruesome. Liliana had been bludgeoned to death and found half-submerged down by the dock. It didn’t shock Vittoria in the least to find that’s where it had happened. She shivered just thinking about the ominous feel of the place—the hooded figure she’d seen when she had arrived.

It hadn’t been waiting for her apparently, but a different blonde.

They were being detained because the imprint left on Liliana’s body was the very same pattern that had been on the ice sculpture that Nicolette had given Vittoria.

“But I put that in the freezer downstairs! Anyone could have grabbed it!” Vittoria insisted. Then she gasped. “That man! He went down right after me.”

“Man?” Shaw grunted.

Both Nicolette and Sybil looked at her in confusion. Nicolette’s eyes were puffy from crying—she and Liliana had become good friends when she’d stayed there during the film shoot—and Sybil’s usually wry humor had been replaced by grim shock.

“The man that was in our rooms when we arrived, Sybil,” Vittoria said, waving her hand.

“The menacing loud one or the menacing quiet one?”

“The loud one.”

“I need a description, please,” Shaw said tiredly.

Vittoria and Sybil provided descriptions of the four they had interrupted.

“You are describing the mayor and secretary of this town, young lady. I find it unlikely they were involved in this,” one of the officers said haughtily.

But Constable Shaw looked thoughtful. “There may be something to that, Marcus. We’ve long suspected their ties with the local organized crime family.”

The officer grunted. “Want me to round them up, sir?”

Shaw shook his head. “No. Best if I go myself.” He stood and put on his hat and coat. “The three of you are free to go for now. But don’t leave town. Marcus, please escort them back to the inn.”

“Escort, indeed,” Sybil grumbled, but the three obediently made their way back, Marcus trailing behind them.

As they crossed the town square, there was a hysterical shriek that stopped them all in their tracks. Marcus rushed forward, putting himself between the women and the commotion.

“It’s the woman from the room the other day,” Vittoria said as they looked across the square. The men in question—Vincent and Rutger themselves—were with the woman, Moriah. Rutger had his hands on her arms, and she was yelling and pounding ineffectually at him with her fists.

Marcus uttered a curse as Vittoria rushed toward them, Sybil and Nicolette on her heels. The poor woman had been through enough, losing her friend. It was unjust that she should be harassed further by the two who likely had been responsible for her demise.

Before they’d crossed the square, Vittoria came up short. Moriah’s eyes had gone wide, fear filling them as a dark, cloaked figure materialized over her. The woman went limp, slumping against her assaulters.

Vittoria frantically tugged on Marcus’s arm. “Officer, stop them! They’ll kill again!”

Marcus frowned. “Whatever do you mean, my good woman? It appears to me she is assaulting them, not the other way around.”

Vittoria looked from the officer’s skeptical expression to the confused looks of her companions, then back to the ominous figure descending toward the limp Moriah.

“Can you not see it?”

Marcus squinted. “See what?”

Sybil looked from Moriah to Vittoria and shrugged. Nicolette chewed her lip and shook her head.

It was up to her, then. Vittoria pushed past Marcus and dashed toward the group.

Vincent took one look at her quickly approaching, officer and companions in tow, then grimaced. He glanced toward the horrifying spectre above them, then with a gruff word to Rutger, the two disengaged from Moriah and slipped away into the crowd.

Vittoria reached Moriah’s side just before she slumped to the ground. Vittoria, not strong enough to keep her up, sank to the ground with her, cushioning her fall.

“My dear, are you quite all right?”

Moriah’s eyes fluttered open. Confusion crossed over in to recognition, then fear. She struggled to her feet, putting distance between herself and Vittoria.

“No. Nothing is all right. Liliana is dead, and I will be next!”

“She’s hysterical,” Marcus said as he helped Vittoria to her feet.

“What makes you think that, dear?” Nicolette asked, wrapping an arm around the shaken woman.

“Oh Nikki, they warned us what would happen if we tried to go to the police. They’ve already killed Lily, and they’ve put the cursed spirit on me, now. It’s only a matter of time before it finds a way to end my life.”

Nicolette blinked. “What spirit?”

Vittoria looked around, but it had faded when the men had gone. “I saw it. A hooded black shade hovering over her. I saw it on the docks when I arrived, as well.”

“You can see them?” Moriah asked, eyes wide.

Vittoria compressed her lips. “Well, I saw something.”

“Vincent had already called it down upon Lily when you came upon us in your room yesterday. Nobody lasts the day once it has been called.”

“Hocus pocus and gibberish,” Marcus scoffed. “Now, I must insist I take you back to your inn so that I may continue solving the actual murder.”

Sybil snorted. “Seems to me you have a fair lead, with Miss Moriah here.”

Marcus scowled. “We don’t chase ghosts here, only men. Now if you please.” He gestured across the square to the inn.

“Come with us?” Vittoria said and extended a hand to Moriah.

Moriah hesitated. “I shouldn’t drag you into this.”

“We already are in it, dear. Come along.” Nicolette laced her arm through Moriah’s to guide her after Marcus.

Marcus left them the second they crossed the threshold of the inn. It was blissfully quiet compared to the previous night’s cacophony, and they settled into the sitting room next to the roaring fire, each with sniffers of brandy to take off the chill.

“So that’s it, then? They keep their hands clean by summoning spirits to dispose of those who would oppose them?” Vittoria asked once they’d all downed a glass.

Moriah shook her head. “Their hands are not clean by any means. The spirit is just a bad omen, drawing whatever misfortune it can. It feeds off fear even as it causes it, making the cursed lose all reason, enabling whatever could possibly go wrong go worse. I don’t know who wielded the ice block that ended Lily’s life, but the spirit drew whoever it was to her.”

“You don’t think it was that distasteful Rutger? He seems the type who would willingly get his hands dirty for Vincent,” Sybil surmised.

“I suppose it’s possible.” Moriah clutched the glass in her hands, fingers white. “Either way, I am as good as dead, now.”

“Don’t worry, my friend. We won’t let anything happen to you,” Nicolette insisted, doling out another round of brandy.

Vittoria swirled hers in her glass as she thought.

“Can anyone else see the spirit? Someone who works for the police?”

Moriah gazed blankly for a moment, then blinked. “They say the constable himself is a sensitive. Why?”

Vittoria threw back her brandy and grimaced. “Because, my friends, I believe I have a plan.”

“Plan for what?”

Vittoria allowed herself a small smile. “A plan to save a life, our reputations, and possibly even our holiday.”

“That, my dear, seems entirely too ambitious, but whatever it is, I’m in,” Nicolette exclaimed.

Sybil’s expression was doubtful, and Moriah simply stared blankly, but as Vittoria revealed her plan, blank and skeptical looks turned thoughtful.

“You know, despite the score of ways this could go entirely wrong, it just might work,” Sybil concluded.

Vittoria raised an eyebrow. “Have you got a better idea?”

“You know I don’t.”

“That settles it! Let’s get started.” Nicolette hopped up from the chair and wrapped herself into her coat with a flourish. “I love a good sting operation.”

Vittoria rolled her eyes, but as always, she appreciated her dramatic friend’s enthusiasm.

The plan was simple. Lure the shade—and Moriah’s assailants—to a place of their choosing and have the constable show up just in time to catch them in the act.

But Sybil had called it correctly. Any number of things could go wrong and end in catastrophe. Ultimately it was Moriah’s decision, however, as she was the one to be used as bait.

“I don’t suppose I’ll live anyway if we don’t try. What have I to lose?”

The first step was to cause a great deal of stink in the town square about how Moriah didn’t feel safe and planned to leave town on the evening ferry. Moriah would cause such a scene with Nicolette’s help. Then, Nicolette would serve as a distraction in any way she could while Moriah slipped away. Sybil would then rush to the police station and explain the plan, making sure the constable came to the docks to catch the criminals.

That left Vittoria to escort Moriah to the docks and make sure no ill befell her before the constable arrived.

#

The plan had seemed scary yet exciting when she’d thought it up and explained it to her companions, but huddled in the dark, cold penetrating her very bones down by the dock where Moriah awaited the ferry, the plan seemed flimsy and dangerous.

“I do hope they hurry,” Moriah muttered under her breath, rubbing her arms for warmth.

Vittoria wondered if she meant the bad fellows or the good ones, but after several more minutes crouching in the mud, she didn’t have a preference which came, as long as someone did.

Vittoria’s heart sank as the ferry approached the dock. Perhaps her plan hadn’t worked, after all. They had relied on Nicolette to spread the news of Moriah’s departure, but if the news hadn’t reached the men, then their whole farce was pointless.

Moriah cast a panicked glance over to where Vittoria hid as the ferry slid in next to the dock. Vittoria bit her lip and was just about to leave the cover of the bushes, when a freezing chill of dread overtook her.

Moriah must have felt it, too, for she took a step back and let out a scream. The spirit materialized on the bank and glided toward her.

Vittoria looked frantically to the top of the bank, but there was no sign of her friends, the police, or even the two thugs. This wouldn’t do at all. They all needed to be there, or the plan wouldn’t work.

As the shade glided closer, Moriah trembled violently and took another step back, her foot hitting the end of the dock.

Vittoria dashed from her hiding place in time to grab Moriah by the arm so she didn’t pitch backward into the freezing water. She clutched the shivering woman tightly, putting herself between the shade and its quarry.

“Unfortunate timing and placement, my dear woman.”

Vittoria jerked her head around, and there was Vincent himself, emerging from behind an ancient oak tree on the bank.

She turned to face him, uncertain what to do. The shade was standing right before her, seemingly confused about what to do with this other woman before it.

“Now, I’m sorry to say, your fate will be hers.” Vincent made a subtle gesture, and the spirit advanced on Vittoria now. She felt compelled to step backward into the freezing water, away from the threat, away from the feeling of doom, into the safe embrace of death. She had had no idea how powerful the spirit could be when directed upon oneself. She understood Moriah’s despair better.

But Vittoria forced herself to stand fast. She swallowed hard and squared her shoulders, placing herself firmly between the spirit and Moriah. She pressed her eyes closed as the thing reached for her face.

“Call it off, Vincent!” came a shout from the bank.

Above them, torchlights blinked and shone directly on to them, illuminating the dark and causing the shade to flinch.

The constable himself stepped forward, training his flintlock on him.

Relief flooded through Vittoria as the spirit shrank back and was no more, and warmth flowed through her as she saw her friends standing behind Shaw, waving enthusiastically at her.

Officers swarmed down the bank and apprehended Vincent, whose squinty eyes never left Vittoria. But the spirit was gone and Vincent rendered impotent, and moments later, both she and Moriah were in their friends’ warm embrace.

“Is it over?” Moriah asked, still dazed.

Vittoria watched as the officers manhandled Vincent up the bank. Above them, Rutger was already in custody.

“I’d say so,” Sybil said. “And I could sure use a drink after all that. That was entirely too close!”

Vittoria wondered, though. Was it truly over? She hoped so. She allowed her friends to lead her back to the inn, where they sat around the Christmas tree drinking away their chill.

Moriah still looked haunted, but she had just lost her friend, so Vittoria could understand. Her friends excitedly reenacted the caper again and again, much to the delight of the innkeeper and his patrons. Moriah begged off an hour later, and after a round of profuse thanks for saving her life, Nicolette locked her safely in their room.

Much later, after the lights had dimmed and conversation had subdued to a low murmur, the constable arrived at the inn.

“That was a very brave thing you all did today. Brave and stupid.”

Nicolette gave him an impish smile. “That would be us. Brave and stupid. Although Vittoria was the only one in any real danger.”

Shaw turned his hard gaze on her, but something in her countenance softened his expression.

“I’m glad you are safe, my lady. And we are in your debt. You saved Miss Moriah’s life, and we’ve been trying to solve this mystery for some time. We could not have done it without you.”

Vittoria smiled at the constable. “Buy us a round of drinks, and perhaps we can call it even.”

The constable raised an eyebrow as he surveyed their still mostly full glasses. “You all sure do enjoy your spirits.”

Vittoria felt herself pale at the mention of spirits—she’d had quite enough specters for one holiday—but Nicolette and Sybil both giggled and agreed as he headed to the bar.

Shaw returned just as the clock struck midnight, and he smiled. “Well. Merry Christmas, then. Cheers.”

“Looks like we caught the Christmas spirit after all,” Sybil said wryly, raising her drink.

Nicolette gave her a wink and clinked glasses with her own.

Vittoria rolled her eyes. It was, perhaps, too soon to joke about spirits, and for a moment, she lamented the absence of the nice, quiet holiday they’d all wanted. Still, when it came to the three of them, it never could have happened that way. She raised her glass and drank.

Sara is a Kansas-grown author of the fantasy and horror persuasions. She is convinced that fantastical things are waiting for her just around the corner, and until she finds the right corner, she writes about those things instead.

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