Mystery of Christmas Collection presents: Silenced Knight. Life is tough, and then Christmas kills you.
The Hartfield women are at it again. When a local woman is the primary suspect in a murder investigation, Alexa and Faye are off to prove her innocent and find the true killer before he or she strikes again.
Silenced Knight: a Christmas “Noella” in the Mystery of Christmas 2 Collection.
Traci and James Knight have enjoyed an almost idyllic marriage in their nearly twenty-five years of marriage. But when Traci decides to opt out of Christmas celebrations, things turn ugly between them and fast. James expects her help with their annual outdoor Christmas display and refuses to take her new convictions seriously.
So when James is found dead beside his newest yard decor acquisition, Traci is the first but not the only suspect. While the police do their job, local mystery thriller author, Alexa Hartfield, and her irascible aunt join forces to prove Traci innocent, seemingly against all odds! Silenced Knight: Who knew Christmas could be so sinister?
As Tracie Knight arranged candy bars in her favorite serving bowl, creating a sunflower of Halloween offerings, she fought back the rising panic that threatened to engulf her. You have to do it. Now. He’s forgotten.
At the table, her husband, James, pulled out his iPad and ripped open a new stylus. “I was reading about this one. It is so precise! We’ll be able to pinpoint every single light if we want to.”
Hands trembling, Tracie gripped the bowl with excess force and scurried to the table by the front door. There, she paused, took a cleansing breath, tried to formulate a coherent prayer, and failed. Lord… help?
James beckoned her to see his burgeoning layout and slipped an arm around her waist as she stood beside his chair. “I think if we switch these whites out to blue, it’ll give it an elegant quality. Unless…”
The use of a nickname should have warned him. But James didn’t seem to notice. “I heard about these new lights. They’re ‘champagne’ colored. They glow gold instead of yellow. Anya told me that she saw a moving display with them and they were fabulous.”
Anya. Do you have any idea how often you mention her? Do you have any idea how hard it is to stand here and listen to you talk about her? Would you ever cheat on me? I should be able to say no—assume no! But I can’t. She’s there with you. Every day. High above the clouds. Practicality added, And with a hundred or more other people. Get real.
But insecurities refuse to disappear that easily. As Tracie struggled to formulate the words she needed to say, words she wanted to fling at him raced past and tried to push their way through her lips. James squeezed again. “What do you think? Blue or switch out for champagne?”
Now or never! “Um, James. Don’t you remember what I told you in January? I’m not celebrating Christmas anymore.” Satisfaction built even as he stiffened beside her. There. That was forthright without being abrasive. Hard to do when he keeps ignoring my convictions.
“—thought you were over that.”
This time, Tracie stepped back and folded her arms over her chest. “What do you mean, ‘over that’?”
“C’mon, Trace. You get these wild hairs all the time. What was this one again? Pagan origins?”
“No…” She resisted the urge to throw remaining candy bars at him and tried again. “I can’t find it anywhere in Scripture. We’re commanded to celebrate Jesus’ death with communion. Technically, the Israelites did it with Passover before Jesus even died! But nowhere in the Bible is there even a hint of a command to celebrate Christmas.”
A transformation occurred as Tracie watched her husband react to what he considered to be “news.” Distance, hardening. Every bit of him morphed into the man who refused to allow people cheat him on a bill or out of a benefit he felt owed. In an attempt to settle things, Tracie seated herself beside him, took his hand into both of hers, and tried again.
“It’s not a judgment on you, James. You know that. But I can’t do it. It would violate my conscience.”
Tracie didn’t like throwing out those words, but after two years of researching the topic, debating it in online forums, and dreading this day, discussion didn’t appeal to her. But in the Knight home, no one ever pushed anyone to violate their own consciences, so she left it there, waiting for him to sigh, maybe urge her to study more, offer an opinion, but no matter what, he’d back down. It’s what Knights did.
James jumped from the chair, threw the stylus across the room, and began ranting. “—can’t believe you! Since when do you study anything and actually change your mind? Since when do you keep silent about something like this for nine months? I had no idea this was still a thing with you!”
At the beginning of his tirade, Tracie had felt herself cower. However, by the time he finished, a cold fury swept through her. “Since when? Since when?”
The doorbell rang.
Tracie strode to the front, jerked it open, and scowled at the trio of superheroes asking for treats and money for a fundraiser. “Toby needs a dog so he doesn’t die!”
Wait’ll Adele hears that one. On auto pilot, Tracie held out the bowl and called for James to bring the stack of dollars from her purse. A moment later, he thrust them at her. “Surprised you can participate in a pagan, Satan worshiping holy-day like Halloween with your enlightened views.”
In front of these kids? Really? Tracie peeled three bills from the stack and dropped one in each of the proffered bags. “There’s nothing wrong with being generous to children on any day!”
“Except on Christmas. That day is reserved for judgment of anyone who might want to create a wonderland to delight those children.”
“Who are you kidding?” All attempt to control her rising temper—gone. “This is about you! This is all about your little hobby. I studied this—for two years. And I won’t do it. And you knew it, too!”
“I thought it was like all your other crazy ideas.” The accusation hung between them. Internally, she pleaded with him not to go there. He did. “You know. Head coverings. Remember head coverings? You wore that stupid scarf on your head for six weeks until you came to your senses. I thought it was just another head covering thing.”
Hands and voice trembling, Traci forced herself to meet his gaze and infused every ounce of finality she could muster into her tone. “Well, it’s not. I did it last year with you because I still wasn’t sure, and I wanted you to have notice so it wouldn’t be some big shock. But I won’t do it this year. I won’t.”
Gap-jawed, James stared at her, his eyes darkening to a glittery black.
“I hate it when you get like this—self-righteous. Always looking for some way to be spiritually superior to everyone else. Well, you’ll regret it, Tracie. When this Christmas is the worst our sons have ever had, you’ll regret it.”
The door still hung open, a crowd of children and their gawking mothers stood just down the walkway as if unable to move. James stormed past the lot of them and told them to mind their own business. “Better get that candy now while you can. She’ll probably burn it once she figures out she’s in some sort of sin for daring to buy it.”
Tears coursed down her cheeks as Tracie dropped bar after bar and dollar after dollar into the treat bags. By the time the kids at the back made it to the door, no one spoke. No cute “Trick or Treat” quips or this year’s, “tip or treat” in favor of the fundraiser to buy a diabetic alert dog for a local boy. Nothing. Just sympathetic glances and pitying looks from the men and women now congregating in her yard.
The moment she closed the door, Tracie sagged against it and allowed herself to weep.