I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
Two former friends turned enemies find themselves back in each other’s lives years later, and a shared bond and goal forces them to examine what they truly mean to one another in author Michelle Major’s “Mistletoe Season”, the second book in The Carolina Girls series.
Spend the holidays in Magnolia, North Carolina, where two lonely hearts find exactly what they need for Christmas.
Angi Guilardi needs a man for Christmas—at least, according to her mother. What she really needs is to grow her fledgling catering business. Partnering with Magnolia’s Firefly Inn holds promise, but when her mother falls ill, Angi’s drawn back to the family restaurant. Balancing work and her eight-year-old son, there’s no time for romance… until Angi runs into Gabriel Carlyle.
Temporarily helping at his grandmother’s flower shop, Gabriel’s plan isn’t to stick around, especially after he runs into Angi, one of his childhood bullies. Sure, she’s all grown up and gorgeous now, and when they find themselves under the mistletoe, their chemistry is undeniable. But it’ll take more than a Christmas miracle for Angi to break through the defenses of Gabriel’s well-guarded heart and find a love built to last.
The tension between the two protagonists was palpable as the story began. The way the author explores the past these two characters share with one another and the impact their families have had on them as well was so intriguing and engaging and made the impact of their growing romance that much more meaningful. The pain of their pasts both tougher and individually elevated their character arcs to new heights and allowed the reader to feel connected to their emotional states overall.
The small-town vibe and history of the characters and area really made this story what it was. The intimate moments between the protagonists and the holiday romance felt much more alive due to the connected way the town and its citizens interacted with one another, and the connection each protagonist had to the wellbeing and overall happiness of Angi’s son brought out the best of each of them, making this such an emotionally-investing narrative.
A memorable, hopeful, and well-written holiday romance, author Michelle Major’s “Mistletoe Season” is the perfect read for romance fans this winter. The world-building and character development the author captured here in this narrative was entertaining and emotional all at once, and the twists and turns their relationship takes will keep readers on the edge of their seats. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!
About the Author
USA Today bestselling author Michelle Major loves stories of new beginnings, second chances and always a happily ever after. An avid hiker and avoider of housework, she lives in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains with her husband, two teenagers and a menagerie of spoiled furbabies.
ANGI GUILARDI LET herself out of Il Rigatone, the restaurant her family had owned in Magnolia, North Carolina, for the past thirty years, and locked the door behind her. It was nearly eleven at night, and a brisk December wind whipped down Main Street. Although she should be wearing more than a white button-down, now stained with smatterings of red sauce, Angi welcomed the gust of air. At least it blew away the smell of sausage and tomato paste that clung to her like a barnacle.
Scents that seemed to be infused into her at this point, bringing back memories of years of a childhood spent in and out of the restaurant. It had been a long day, so she needed a shower and a glass of wine in equal measure.
She started toward her car, parked around the corner, but the sound of a door slamming nearby caught her attention. Downtown Magnolia rolled up the sidewalks early on a weeknight, so she didn’t expect anyone else to be out and about. She arched a brow at the woman approaching.
“Are you stalking me?”
Emma Cantrell gave an impatient snort as she moved closer. “That’s what it feels like, but it wouldn’t be necessary if you’d return my calls or answer messages.”
Angi turned to fully face her business partner—now former partner. “I’ve been busy,” she said, trying to make her tone dismissive. Instead, the words reeked of desperation.
“How’s your mom?” Emma asked gently, her annoyance with Angi temporarily put aside because, clearly, Emma was a good person. Too good for Angi to be ignoring her the way she had.
“Equally weak and ornery.” Angi dropped the oversize set of keys into her purse with a jangle. “The doctor says two more weeks, and then she can slowly begin to resume her normal activities.”
“Like running Il Rigatone?”
“We don’t know yet if she’ll ever return at the same capacity.” Angi bit down on the inside of her cheek until she tasted blood. “It doesn’t matter because I’m running it now.”
“But only temporarily,” Emma insisted. Or suggested, like saying the words out loud would make them true.
Oh, how Angi wanted them to be true.
She gave a small shake of her head. No more time for fanciful thoughts or big dreams about making her life her own. Unable to meet Emma’s sympathetic gaze, she looked across the street to the storefronts decorated in festive holiday cheer.
Colorful twinkle lights danced in the darkened window of the hardware store, and she could make out the shadow of garland wound through the sign for the dance studio. Boughs of greenery with bright red bows hung from every light post on either side of the street. Magnolia had gone all out on the holiday cheer this year.
Too bad Angi didn’t feel much of the holiday spirit. Sure, she’d gone through the motions of assembling the fake Christmas tree that had graced the corner of the restaurant’s small waiting area each December for as long as she could remember.
During a lull in customers yesterday, she and one of the waitresses had pulled out the totes of decorations from the storeroom, but nothing managed to conjure up the magic of the season. Not for her.
“I’m sorry I let you down,” she told Emma, thankful her voice remained steady. “I’ve got calls in to a couple caterers in the area to see if they can—”
“I don’t want another caterer.” Emma stepped forward. “You’re it, Ang.”
“I can’t…” She swallowed when a lump of sorrow lodged in her throat. “I should never have deserted my mom in the first place. If she hadn’t been working so much and upset about me as well, maybe the heart attack wouldn’t have happened.”
“Sweetie, you aren’t to blame for that.”
“She almost died,” Angi insisted, needing to make it clear. “Less than a year after my father. She collapsed in the restaurant’s storeroom, and I wasn’t here.”
“You were at the inn.”
“Having a grand old time, not a care in the world. My mom was fighting for her life, surrounded by employees until the EMTs got there, and I wasn’t with her. When she needed me the most—”
“Stop.” Emma held up a hand. “I remember that day, Angi. It was the McAlvey wedding, complete with the bride’s niece and her tiny Irish dancer friends pounding away on the parquet floor we assembled in the backyard. You made food for over a hundred guests. Plus lunch baskets for the Thompson reunion and their picnic at the beach. Five of the six online reviews that came from those two events mention the food being a highlight. You care a lot, so don’t pretend otherwise. Not with me.”
Emma still didn’t get it.
“I should have cared more about my mom. The way she did when I needed her. She looked so pale, Em.” Angi crossed her arms over her middle, squeezing tight. “I kept waiting for her eyes to pop open so she could start ordering me around or give me some kind of guilt trip, but she was still in the hospital bed with the monitors beeping and the smell of antiseptic permeating everything. She needs me now, and I can’t let her down.”
“What about letting yourself down? What about your happiness?”
Angi sniffed. “Doesn’t matter.”
“I’m sorry,” Angi said again.
She’d met Emma in the spring when the other woman bought an old mansion in town with a plan to turn it into a boutique inn. Emma had had her share of setbacks, but Angi admired her dedication to her dream. She also knew that leaving behind her old life had cost Emma her relationship with her mother.
Angi’s mom had been outspoken in the way only Italian mothers can manage when Angi walked away from the restaurant to partner with Emma on the inn. But Angi assumed that her mom would get over her disappointment. That they’d find a way to bridge the emotional distance between them. She loved her mom, even if Bianca Guilardi could be overbearing and autocratic. The willful matriarch had good intentions.
But they never got the chance to mend their fences because, a month earlier, Bianca had suffered a massive heart attack that led to double bypass surgery. In an instant, all of Angi’s plans changed.
She’d moved from her cozy apartment back to her childhood home, along with her ten-year-old son, Andrew, in order to care for her mom. She’d also stepped in at the restaurant, and in doing so, she’d left Emma in a pinch.
For that, she felt sick to her stomach with regret.
“If you can’t find someone to take care of the holiday events, I’ll still manage it,” she offered now, absently thinking about ways to clone herself.
“You can’t do both.”
Emma sighed. “My intention for tonight wasn’t to guilt you into more work.”
“Come on, I’m a master of guilt.”
“I know.” Emma gave her a pointed look. “That’s why I don’t want to add to it. I thought we were friends—business partners, as well. But you cutting me off as a friend is what hurts.”
Cue the remorse, Angi thought. She didn’t need anyone to lay it on her. She could do that very well for herself.
“It seems like all I’m doing lately is disappointing people. You and my mom.” She hitched a finger at the restaurant. “The staff who can tell I don’t want to be there. Andrew.”
“Wait. What’s going on with Andrew? I know you’re an amazing mother. That kid thinks the sun rises and sets on his mommy.”
Angi’s throat tightened again at the thought of her sweet, awkward, lanky string bean of a boy. He was everything to her, and now he was struggling and she didn’t know how to make it stop.
“He’s being bullied at school,” she confided. As difficult as it was to talk about, she appreciated the flash of supportive fury in Emma’s dark eyes.
“Give me the kid’s name.” Her buttoned-up friend spoke as if she were some kind of avenging angel.
“I don’t have it. Andrew won’t say anything, and his classmates are keeping quiet, as well. But he came home with a split lip and scrapes on his hands. I talked to the teacher and met with her and the principal. They said all the right things, but kids can be such jerks. Maybe if we lived in a bigger town or someplace where differences were more accepted, it would be easier for him to find his way. I hated growing up in Magnolia, and now I’m doing the same thing to him.”
Her nails dug into the fleshy part of her palms, and she welcomed the pain. At least it distracted her from the telltale scratchy eyes that foretold a bout of tears. She wasn’t going to break down in the middle of the sidewalk, even if it was deserted.
“How is it possible to hate it here?” Emma shook her head. “It’s idyllic.”
“Not for the Italian cannoli princess,” Angi muttered.
“Is that like a Midwestern Corn Queen at the state fair?”
“Not exactly. Never mind. My point is that I’m screwing up in every aspect of life. I’m sorry I ghosted you, Em. We are friends, but I didn’t want to admit that I was ditching the inn. You gave me the new start I wanted, and I can’t keep up my end of the bargain.” She let out a humorless laugh. “Here comes the guilt again.”
“I didn’t give you anything. You earned your place in our partnership, which I refuse to believe is over. At least until your mom fully recovers and we see what happens next. I’ll find someone to help with the nitty-gritty food prep and serving, but I’m going to take you up on your offer to manage things for the holidays. As long as it’s not too much. We can reassess in the new year.” She enveloped Angi in a gentle hug and couldn’t have known how much it helped. “Either way, the friendship stands.”
“Okay.” Angi couldn’t help but agree. She wasn’t ready to let go of her dream, even though she knew she had to. She dashed a hand over her cheeks. “Do you believe in Christmas miracles?”
“Me neither,” Angi agreed with a wry smile. “But I sure could use one.”
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
A hustle and bustle businessman hoping to convince his powerful parents that he isn’t alone asks a local bartender and working designer to pretend to be his girlfriend during the holidays, and soon sparks begin to fly in author Georgia Toffolo’s “Meet Me In London”, the first in the Meet Me series.
What do you do when your fake engagement starts to feel too real?
Aspiring clothes designer Victoria Scott spends her days working in a bar in Chelsea and her evenings designing vintage clothes, dreaming of one day opening her own boutique. But these aspirations are under threat from the new department store opening at the end of her road. She needs a Christmas miracle, but one is not forthcoming.
Oliver Russell’s Christmas is not looking very festive right now. His family’s new London department store opening is behind schedule, and on top of that his interfering, if well-meaning, mother is pressing him to bring his girlfriend home for a visit. A girlfriend who does not exist. He needs a diversion. Something to keep his mother from interfering while he focuses on the business.
When Oliver meets Victoria, he offers a proposition: pretend to be his girlfriend at the opening of his store and he will provide an opportunity for Victoria to showcase her designs. But what starts as a business arrangement soon becomes something more tempting, as the fake relationship starts to feel very real. But when secrets in Victoria’s past are exposed, will Oliver walk away, or will they both follow their hearts and find what neither knew they were looking for?
The author did such a great job of finding that perfect balance between slow-burn romance and in-depth character development. The theme of the class difference between the working class trying to keep their businesses afloat in the face of a massive launch of a megastore in the same neighborhood paired well with the wealthy businessman desperate to find a way to maintain his business and help out the local community all at once.
Yet it was the characters themselves that brought the romance aspect of this holiday read to life. The haunting past that Victoria is desperate to steer clear of and the struggle of Oliver to reconcile the man his family expects him to be with the man he wants to be is so fascinating to read, and the way this plays into their growing feelings for one another makes this such a heartwarming holiday romance.
A heartwarming, engaging, and truly thoughtful read, author Georgia Toffolo’s “Meet Me in London” is the perfect first installment in this brilliant romance series. The harmonious way the holiday setting and the character growth came together in this story and the twists and turns this relationship takes the characters into, especially when neither was looking for a romance, to begin with, was so entertaining to read and readers will be eager for more entries in this series. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!
About the Author
Georgia Toffolo is a broadcaster and TV personality. She has been a firm favourite with the public right from the start of her TV debut, Made in Chelsea, all the way to winning over the hearts of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here in 2018.
Georgia turned her eye to fashion and has curated two sell out collections with fashion retailer Shein. An ambassador for many British brands, both large and small, Georgia has also collaborated with Dyson, Baileys, Emma Bridgewater, Great British Racing, Foreo and Malibu amongst many more.
Most recently, Georgia has dived into the world of fiction by publishing her debut novel Meet Me in London with publishing house Mills and Boon. This is the first of an original series of four books following a group of lifelong friends and bringing personal anecdotes to life with humour and charm.
OLIVER RUSSELL COULD wrangle a wayward balance sheet back into the black, take failing stores apart and breathe new life into them, make difficult calls on staffing and personnel issues, make his shareholders happy and very, very rich. But he had never managed to curb his mother’s meddling in his private life.
Some things were just impossible.
Earth to Oliver. This is your mother asking about your Christmas Day plans. Will I need to set an extra place at the dinner table? Hint, hint. Your mother xx
Sitting on a stool at the bar in the upmarket wine bar The Landing, Oliver groaned as he interpreted the “hint” as yet another badly veiled attempt to discover his relationship status. Great one, Mum. Way to put pressure on a guy.
Could this week get any worse? He threw his mobile phone onto the sticky, beer-stained counter, gripped the tumbler in front of him and took a sip of a much needed fifteen-year-old Scotch. As the honey-colored syrup oozed down his throat and hit his stomach with a warming buzz he silently counted all the ways things had gone wrong in such a short space of time.
First mistake: allowing his mother to believe he was finally settling down when in reality his love life could only be described as…nonexistent. And now having to think up all the ways he could appease his parents over the holidays without going quietly insane.
Whereas other families had jolly traditions of games and church on Christmas Day, his parents’ idea of fun was to corner him in the living room, pin him down with laser stares and interrogate him for signs of commitment, a potential wife and progeny. A grandchild, or preferably many grandchildren, to spoil and give meaning to their later years, someone to carry on the family name and also an heir to entrust the business to. As an only child Oliver was expected to do so, as his father had done before him.
Trouble was, after his last romantic failure, settling down was not on Oliver’s bucket list. At least, not for a very long time.
Second mistake: in the spirit of keeping the family business afloat he’d agreed to clean up the mess his cousin was making of the new build. Ollie should have let him fall on his sword, but that would have meant his parents suffering too and there was no way he was going to allow that. So, here he was in a rowdy bar in Chelsea at ridiculous o’clock at night—or was it early morning?—having only just finished work, with the prospect of another seventeen-hour day tomorrow and the next day, and the next…
He took another sip of whiskey but almost choked as someone bumped into his hip, jolted his arm and sloshed the Scotch, rich but burning, down his throat.
“Hey, gorgeous.” A woman old enough to be his mother—and even though deep down he loved his mum, Lord knew he didn’t need two of them—appeared at his shoulder and beamed at him. Her eyes were wine-glazed and the lipstick smudged over her mouth almost up to her nostrils made her look like a startled fish. “I’ve got mistletoe, you know what that means, right?”
“That it’s time I left?” Scraping his stool back he stood, steadying the woman as she swayed, and then handed her into the waiting arms of her friends who were all dressed as…well, he wasn’t entirely sure, but there were glitter wings and feathery haloes involved, so he imagined they were supposed to be Christmas angels. In November?
As if knowing all about his work stress and family dilemmas even the music in the bar seemed to mock him. Too loud and too cheery and all about being home and in love at Christmas. He shuddered. No thanks.
Which brought him to his third mistake: choosing the bar from hell to drown his sorrows in. It wasn’t even December and yet here they all were screeching Christmas carols at the top of their tone-deaf voices. Christmas was everywhere. In the glittery tinsel that hung in loopy garlands across the ceiling and the fake tree in the corner. The soundtrack to the evening. The clothes people were wearing. Christmas was hurtling fast towards him and he was running out of time. He had so much to do to fix his first mistake before the doors of the new Russell & Co. department store opened, way behind schedule, but in time for the busiest, and therefore most lucrative time of the year.
He just needed some kind of miracle to make it happen.
On the counter his phone vibrated. He picked up and grimaced at another text, knowing what was bound to be coming but also knowing if he ignored her it would only get worse:Oliver? It’s a simple question. Blink once for yes. Twice for no. Are we finally going to meet your new girlfriend? Your mother xx.
Uh-oh. She was dropping the veiled interest and taking a more direct approach. This was serious.
He flicked a text back:
When your message flashes onto my screen it identifies you as my mother. There is also a little photo of you smiling at me at the top of your texts. You don’t need to tell me who you are.
He added two kisses, because, well, she was his mother: Ollie xx.
A pause while he watched three gray dots dance on his screen and then:
Not a single blink. How do I interpret that? We just want to see you happy. Your mother xxx
By happy, she meant married. As if you couldn’t be otherwise. Although he knew just as many people who were married and miserable as married and happy.
How was he even meant to send a blink by text anyway? He rolled his eyes instead. Nothing confirmed as yet.
Before he could say “Bah Humbug” her reply flashed on his screen:
When will you know? Your mother xx
Oliver: I don’t know.
If he told her the delightful Clarissa had moved on to a more malleable boyfriend his mum would be trying to arrange dates for him.
As if on cue another text arrived:
Is there something you’re not telling us? Is it over? So soon? Again? Oh, Oliver.
He could feel the disappointment coming through the airwaves as her next text quickly followed:
Perhaps I should invite the Henleys over on Christmas Day. I heard Arabella’s back from her Indian ashram trip and SINGLE. And stop rolling your eyes at me. Your mother xx
He couldn’t help but laugh at that, despite his growing frustration. He tried to stay noncommittal. Apparently, according to his ex, noncommittal was a strength of his:
Do NOT set any more dates up for me. Nothing’s confirmed re Xmas. I’ll let you know when I know.
Mum: At the new store opening then?
Just a matter of weeks away. She clearly wasn’t giving up. She never gave up. She wouldn’t give up until she was holding his first child. Or maybe his second—his second set of triplets.
That was the problem; she wasn’t giving up. He just needed to appease her. Or ignore her. So, he chose the latter.
Realizing he hadn’t finished his drink and grateful that the bar staff were now shuffling the off-tune singers outside, he sat back down and resumed his contemplation of the whiskey in front of him. At some point the staff would shuffle him out too, but for now he craved this brief peace and quiet, save for his mother’s infuriating but well-meaning texts and a muted conversation between the servers coming from a little room off to the side of the bar.
He could hear Paul, the guy who’d served him earlier say, “Hey, Vicki, are you OK to close up tonight? I promised Amanda I’d get home early. It’s our anniversary.”
“Of course.” A soft voice filtered through. “You helped me out by taking the early shift so I could teach my class, so I’m more than happy to hang around here for the stragglers. Sara said she’d stay on and help me clear up.”
Stragglers? Was that what he was now? Ollie looked around the bar at the three other solo drinkers—all male, all staring hopelessly into glasses of alcohol. He laughed to himself. Yeah, damned right he fitted that description; moving slowly. He didn’t want to hurry because the sooner he went home, the sooner tomorrow would arrive bringing with it all his problems.
“So how did class go today?” he heard Paul ask the owner of the soft voice. “Any more visits from the local cops?”
Police? Interesting. Ollie leaned forward to hear the mystery woman’s answer.
“Oh, that was all just a misunderstanding. Her brother gave her the iPad, Jasmine didn’t know it was stolen.” A pause. “Um. By her brother.” A rumble of soft laughter that sounded so free and bright had Ollie straining to see who the voice belonged to. It wasn’t the other woman who worked here because she was now collecting glasses from empty tables and her accent was Cockney through and through. This Vicki woman was from somewhere else. Southwest maybe, a tiny hint of something he recognized from holidays down in Cornwall. Laughter threaded through her intonation. “We sorted it out. The police dropped the charges against her.”
“So, one of the kids you’re teaching is harboring stolen goods. Great. You really need to stay away from trouble like that, Vicki.” Paul came back into the bar and started to wipe down the counter with a dishcloth.
The woman followed. “If I stayed away there’d be even more trouble for her, I’m sure. She’s so talented. You should see her designs, they’re stunning. Really fresh ideas. She could go a long way with the right guidance. I’m pulling out all the stops.”
“You’re too good to those kids.” Paul frowned. “Instead of focusing on your own career you’re spending all your energy on a bunch of no-hope teenagers who probably have never even heard the word gratitude.”
The Vicki woman turned and put her hands on her hips, giving Ollie full view of her face. Wow.
She was wearing a dress that looked like it had come straight out of the nineteen fifties; all slash neck and cinched waist in a fabric of cream and scarlet flowers. Her glossy, dark hair was loosely tied into a ponytail that was pulled forward over one shoulder. She had bright red lipstick on full lips—not smudged in the slightest, and the most intense dark eyes he’d ever seen.
In stark contrast her skin was pale; he wasn’t sure whether it was makeup or natural and he didn’t care. Oliver Russell had known a lot of beautiful women in his time, but she was next level. Quite simply, she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.
That gorgeous red mouth curled into a smile, but a little frown appeared over her eyes. “Paul, honestly, they’re struggling in so many ways. They have so much hope and potential and no one else seems to care. If I don’t help them, then who will?”
“I’m just saying, be careful, that’s all. Your heart’s too soft, Vicki, you’re going to get hurt.”
“It’s a fashion design class for underprivileged kids, Paul. Not target practice in the ’hood. Trouble is, we’re fast running out of opportunities for them to showcase their work. All the design schools have organized shows already and we’re lagging behind. I’m going to have to be creative with my thinking.” Her eyes wandered over the bar and settled on Oliver, just for a moment.
Instinctively, he smiled. She gave him the faintest of smiles back and didn’t look away immediately. A look of surprise flickered behind her eyes. Even from here he could see the flush of her cheeks as their gazes met and, as if someone had flicked a switch, a rush of heat hit him too. Interest. The flicker of awareness. Brief. So brief he checked himself; maybe he’d imagined it?
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
After her estranged and wealthy father passes away, Janessa is brought back to the small Texas town she spent one summer desperately trying to connect with the father she never knew, only to reconnect with the man she fell for that summer long ago, but as old wounds and secrets are revealed, a hitch in her father’s will forces her to spend the holidays in his home or else force several people to lose their jobs in author Delores Fossen’s novel, “Christmas at Colts Creek”, the second in the Last Ride, Texas series.
An unexpected inheritance rekindles a red-hot romance just in time for Christmas…
Janessa Parkman spent one long-ago summer in Last Ride, Texas, trying to bond with her estranged father, Abe. Turns out that was plenty of time to fall hard—and crash badly—for Brody Harrell, who managed Abe’s ranch. Everyone believed Brody would inherit Colts Creek one day, but now, fifteen years on, Abe’s will reveals the shocking truth—Janessa gets everything, and she must agree to stay in town for three months…through Christmas.
Brody’s attraction to Janessa burns hotter than ever. Though he refuses Janessa’s offer to give him the ranch, refusing her is impossible. Misunderstanding drove them apart once before, and secrets and betrayals run through both families. But what starts as a temporary Christmas fling might turn into a love strong enough to last every holiday season yet to come.
The author did a marvelous job of finding the fiery and passionate heat that romances surrounding either a cowboy or ranch-style setting tend to have while striking a unique chord with the holiday romance readership as well. The themes of family secrets, overcoming bad past relationships, and learning to trust in love are all felt so wonderfully in this narrative, and the setting of the small town itself really makes the story feel vibrant and alive as if you could walk right into the town this holiday season.
The characters themselves popped right off of the pages of this novel. The painful memories of the past that haunt the two protagonists of this novel really draw the reader into the narrative and the character’s journey together as they reconnect, discover the lies that tore them apart before, and find a way to rekindle the flame between them that never truly died. The vivid imagery and passion of their scenes together are definitely steamy and adult romance enthusiasts will not want to put down this story as both the character’s heated romance and the dramatic narrative keep them on the edge of their seats.
A memorable, entertaining, and deeply rich holiday romance story, author Delores Fossen’s “Christmas at Colts Creek” is a must-read novel this holiday season. The perfect winter read for those who enjoy western or ranch-style narratives with a romantic twist will thoroughly enjoy this read, and the honest and hopeful final chapters will leave fans wanting more from this incredible romantic series. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!
About the Author
USA Today bestselling author, Delores Fossen, has sold over 70 novels with millions of copies of her books in print worldwide. She’s received the Booksellers’ Best Award, the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award and was a finalist for the prestigious Rita ®. In addition, she’s had nearly a hundred short stories and articles published in national magazines.
Here is an Excerpt from “Christmas at Colts Creek”
THIS IS LIKE one of those stupid posts that people put on social media,” the woman snarled. “You know the ones I’m talking about. For a million dollars, would you stay in this really amazing house for a year with no internet, no phone and some panty-sniffing poltergeists?”
Frowning at that, Janessa Parkman blinked away the raindrops that’d blown onto her eyelashes and glanced at the grumbler, Margo Tolley, who was standing on her right. Margo had hurled some profanity and that weird comment at the black granite headstone that stretched five feet across and five feet high. A huge etched image of Margo’s ex, Abraham Lincoln Parkman IV, was in the center, and it was flanked by a pair of gold-leaf etchings of the ornate Parkman family crest.
“Abe was a miserable coot, and this proves it,” Margo added, spitting out the words the way the chilly late October rain was spitting at them. She kicked the side of the headstone.
Janessa really wanted to disagree with that insult, and the kick, especially since Margo had aimed both of them at Janessa’s father. Or rather her father because he had that particular title in name only. However, it was hard to disagree or be insulted after what she’d just heard from Abe’s lawyer. Hard not to feel the bubbling anger over what her father had done, either.
Good grief. Talk about a goat rope the man had set up.
“Do you understand the conditions of Abe’s will?” Asher Parkman, the lawyer, asked, directing the question at Janessa.
“Yeah, do you understand that the miserable coot is trying to ruin our lives?” Margo blurted out before she could answer.
Yes, Janessa got that, and unlike the stupid social media posts, there was nothing amusing about this. The miserable coot had just screwed them all six ways to Sunday.
Twenty Minutes Earlier
“SOMEBODY OUGHT TO put a Texas-sized warning label on Abe Parkman’s tombstone,” Margo Tolley grumbled. “A warning label,” she repeated. “Because Abe’s meanness will surely make everything within thirty feet toxic for years to come. He could beat out Ebenezer Scrooge for meanness. The man was a flamin’ bunghole.”
Janessa figured the woman had a right to voice an opinion, even if the voicing was happening at Abe Parkman’s graveside funeral service. Janessa’s father clearly hadn’t left behind a legacy of affection and kindness.
Margo, who’d been Abe’s second wife, probably had a right to be bitter. So did plenty of others, and Janessa suspected most people in Abe’s hometown of Last Ride, Texas, had come to this funeral just so they could make sure he was truly dead.
Or to glean any tidbits about Abe’s will.
Rich people usually left lots of money and property when they died. Mean rich people could do mean, unexpected things with that money and property. It was the juiciest kind of gossip fodder for a small town.
Janessa didn’t care one wet eyelash what Abe did with whatever he’d accumulated during his misery-causing life. Her reason for coming had nothing to do with wills or assets. No. She needed the answer to two very big questions.
Why had Abe wanted her here?
And what had he wanted her to help him fix?
Janessa gave that plenty of thought while she listened to the minister, Vernon Kerr, giving the eulogy. He chirped on about Abe’s achievements, peppering in things like pillar of the community, astute businessman and a legacy that will live on for generations. But there were also phrases like his sometimes rigid approach to life and an often firm hand in dealing with others.
Perhaps those were the polite ways of saying flamin’ bunghole.
The sound of the minister’s voice blended with the drizzle that pinged on the sea of mourners’ umbrellas. Gripes and mutters rippled through the group of about a hundred people who’d braved the unpredictable October 30th weather to come to Parkmans’ Cemetery.
Or Snooty Hill as Janessa had heard some call it.
The Parkmans might be the most prominent and richest family in Last Ride, and their ancestor might have founded the town, but obviously some in her gene pool weren’t revered.
Margo continued to gripe and mutter as well, but her comments were harsher than the rest of the onlookers because she’d likely gotten plenty of fallout from Abe’s firm hand. It was possibly true of anyone whose life Abe had touched. Janessa certainly hadn’t been spared from it.
Still, Abe had managed to attract and convince two women to marry him, including Janessa’s own mother—who’d been his first wife. Janessa figured the convincing was in large part because he’d been remarkably good-looking along with having mountains of money. But it puzzled her as to why the women would tie themselves, even temporarily, to a man with a mile-wide mean streak.
A jagged vein of lightning streaked out from a fast approaching cloud that was the color of a nasty bruise. It sent some of the mourners gasping, squealing and scurrying toward their vehicles. They parted like the proverbial sea, giving Janessa a clear line of sight of someone else.
Oh, for so many reasons, it was impossible for Janessa not to notice him. For an equal number of reasons, it was impossible not to remember him.
Long and lean, Brody stood out in plenty of ways. No umbrella, for one. The rain was splatting onto his gray Stetson and shoulders. No funeral clothes for him, either. He was wearing boots, jeans and a long-sleeved blue shirt that was already clinging to his body because of the drizzle.
Once, years ago on a hot July night, she’d run her tongue over some of the very places where that shirt was now clinging.
Yes, impossible not to remember that.
Brody was standing back from the grave. Far back. Ironic since according to the snippets Janessa had heard over the years about her father, Brody was the person who’d been closest to Abe, along with also running Abe’s sprawling ranch, Colts Creek.
If those updates—aka gossip through social media and the occasional letter from Abe’s head housekeeper—were right, then Brody was the son that Abe had always wanted but never had. It was highly likely that he was the only one here who was truly mourning Abe’s death.
Though he wasn’t especially showing any signs of grief.
It probably wasn’t the best time for her to notice that Brody’s looks had only gotten a whole boatload better since her days of tongue-kissing his chest. They’d been seventeen, and while he’d been go-ahead-drown-in-me hot even back then, he was a ten-ton avalanche of hotness now with his black hair and dreamy brown eyes.
His body had filled out in all the right places, and his face, that face, had a nice edge to it. A mix of reckless rock star and a really naughty fallen angel who knew how to do many, many naughty things.
A loud burst of thunder sent even more people hurrying off. “Sorry for your loss,” one of them shouted to Brody. Several more added pats on his back. Two women hugged him, and one of the men tried to give Brody his umbrella, which Brody refused. You didn’t have to be a lip-reader to know that one of those women, an attractive busty brunette, whispered, “Call me,” in his ear.
Brody didn’t acknowledge that obvious and poorly timed booty-call offer. He just stood there, his gaze sliding from Abe’s tombstone to Janessa. Unlike her, he definitely didn’t appear to be admiring anything about her or remembering that he’d been the one to rid her of her virginity.
Just the opposite.
His expression seemed to be questioning why she was there. That was understandable. It’d been fifteen years since Janessa had been to Last Ride. Fifteen years since her de-virgining. That’d happened at the tail end of her one and only visit to Colts Creek when she’d spent that summer trying, and failing, to figure Abe out. She was still trying, still failing.
Brody was likely thinking that since she hadn’t recently come to see the man who’d fathered her when he was alive, then there was no good reason to see him now that he was dead.
Heck, Brody might be right.
So what if Abe had sent her that letter? So what if he’d said please? That didn’t undo the past. She’d spent plenty of time and tears trying to work out what place in her mind and heart to put Abe. As for her mind—she reserved Abe a space in a tiny mental back corner that only surfaced when she saw Father’s Day cards in the store. And as for her heart—she’d given him no space whatsoever.
Well, not until that blasted letter anyway.
She silently cursed herself, mentally repeating some of Margo’s mutters. She’d thought she had buried her daddy issues years ago. It turned out, though, that some things just didn’t stay buried. They just lurked and lingered, waiting for a chance to resurface and bite you in the butt. Which wasn’t a comforting thought, considering she was standing next to a grave.
Reverend Kerr nervously eyed the next zagging bolt of lightning, and he gave what had to be the fastest closing prayer in the history of prayers. The moment he said “Amen,” he clutched his tattered Bible to his chest and hurried toward his vehicle, all the while calling out condolences to no one in particular.
Most of the others fled with the minister, leaving Janessa with Brody, Margo and Abe’s attorney, Asher Parkman, who was also Abe’s cousin. It’d been Asher who’d called her four days ago to tell her of Abe’s death, and to inform her that Abe had insisted that she and her mother, Sophia, come to today’s graveside funeral. Both had refused. Janessa had politely done that. Her mother had declined with an “if and when hell freezes over.” That was it, the end of the discussion.
I am honored to be sharing with everyone today six amazing holiday reads from six amazing authors. Thank you to Harlequin Press for giving me time to share these amazing reads with everyone. Be sure to check out these amazing books, along with their excerpts and promotional posts.
Author Bio:USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan writes hot, happy, contemporary romance and women’s fiction, and her trademark humor and sensuality have gained her fans across the globe. Described as “a magician with words” by RT Book Reviews, she has sold more than eleven million copies of her books. She was nominated three years in succession for the prestigious RITA® Award from the Romance Writers of America and won the award three times: once in 2012 for Doukakis’s Apprentice, in 2013 for A Night of No Return and in 2017 for Miracle on 5th Avenue. She also won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award in 2012 and has made numerous appearances in their Top Pick slot. As a child, Sarah dreamed of being a writer, and although she took a few interesting detours along the way, she is now living that dream. Sarah lives near London, England, with her husband and children, and when she isn’t reading or writing, she loves being outdoors, preferably on vacation so she can forget the house needs tidying.
This funny, charming and heartwarming new Christmas novel is USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah Morgan at her festive best!
In the snowy perfection of Aspen, the White family gathers for youngest daughter Rosie’s whirlwind Christmas wedding. First to arrive are the bride’s parents, Maggie and Nick. Their daughter’s marriage is a milestone they are determined to celebrate wholeheartedly, but they are hiding a huge secret of their own: they are on the brink of divorce. After living apart for the last six months, the last thing they need is to be trapped together in an irresistibly romantic winter wonderland.
Rosie’s older sister, Katie, is also dreading the wedding. Worried that impulsive, sweet-hearted Rosie is making a mistake, Katie is determined to save her sister from herself! If only the irritatingly good-looking best man, Jordan, would stop interfering with her plans…
Bride-to-be Rosie loves her fiancé but is having serious second thoughts. Except everyone has arrived—how can she tell them she’s not sure? As the big day gets closer, and emotions run even higher, this is one White family Christmas none of them will ever forget!
From Chapter One
When her phone rang at three in the morning, ripping her from a desperately needed sleep, Maggie’s first thought was bad news.
Her mind raced through the possibilities, starting with the worst-case scenario. Death, or at least life-changing injury. Police. Ambulances.
Heart pounding, brain foggy, she grabbed her phone from the summit of her teetering pile of books. The name on the screen offered no reassurance.
Trouble stalked her youngest daughter.
“Rosie?” She fumbled for the light and sat up. The book she’d fallen asleep reading thudded to the floor, scattering the pile of Christmas cards she’d started to write the night before. She’d chosen a winter scene of snow-laden trees. They hadn’t had a flake of snow in the village on Christmas Day for close to a decade. They often joked that it was a good thing their last name was White because it was the only way they were ever going to have a White Christmas.
She snuggled under the blanket with the phone. “Has something happened?” The physical distance between her and Rosie made her feel frustrated and helpless.
Everyone said global travel made the world smaller, but it didn’t seem smaller to Maggie. Why couldn’t her daughter have continued her studies closer to home? Oxford, with its famous spires and ancient colleges, was only a few miles away. Rosie had done her undergraduate degree there, followed by a master’s. Maggie had loved having her close by. They’d taken sunlit strolls along cobbled streets, past ancient honey-colored buildings and through Christchurch Meadows, golden with daffodils. They’d followed the slow meander of the river and cheered on the rowing crews. Maggie had hoped, privately, that her daughter might stay close by, but after Rosie had graduated she’d been offered a place in a US doctoral program, complete with full funding.
Can you believe it, Mum? The day she’d had the news she’d danced across the living room, hair flying around her face, twirling until she was dizzy and Maggie was dizzy watching her. Are you proud of me?
Maggie had been proud and dismayed in equal measure, although she’d hidden the dismayed part of course. That was what you did when you were a parent.
Even she could see it was too good an opportunity to turn down, but still a small part of her had wished Rosie had turned it down. That transatlantic flight from the nest left Maggie with email, Skype and social media, none of which felt entirely satisfactory. Even less so in the middle of the night. Had Rosie only been gone for four months? It felt like a lifetime since they’d delivered her to the airport on that sweltering summer’s day.
“Is it your asthma? Are you in hospital?” What could she do if Rosie was in the hospital? Nothing. Anxiety was a constant companion, never more so than now.
If it had been her eldest daughter, Katie, who had moved to a different country she might have felt more relaxed. Katie was reliable and sensible, but Rosie? Rosie had always been impulsive and adventurous.
“I’m not in hospital. Don’t fuss!”
Only now did Maggie hear the noise in the background. Cheering, whooping.
“Do you have your inhaler with you? You sound breathless.” The sound woke the memories. Rosie, eyes bulging, lips stained blue. The whistling sound as air struggled to squeeze through narrowed airways. Maggie making emergency calls with hands that shook almost too hard to hold the phone, the terror raw and brutal although she kept that hidden from her child. Calm, she’d learned, was important even if it was faked.
Even when Rosie had moved from child to adult there had been no reprieve.
Some children grew out of asthma. Not Rosie.
There had been a couple of occasions when Rosie was in college when she’d gone to parties without her inhaler. A few hours of dancing later and she’d been rushed to the emergency department. That had been a 3:00 a.m. phone call, too, and Maggie had raced through the night to be by her side. Those were the episodes Maggie knew about. She was sure there were plenty more that Rosie had kept to herself.
“I’m breathless because I’m excited. I’m twenty-two, Mum. When are you going to stop worrying?”
“That would be never. Your child is always your child, no matter how many candles are on the birthday cake. Where are you?”
“I’m with Dan’s family in Aspen for Thanksgiving, and I have news.” She broke off and Maggie heard the clink of glasses and Rosie’s infectious laugh. It was impossible to hear that laugh and not want to smile, too. The sound contrasted with the silence of Maggie’s bedroom.
A waft of cold air chilled her skin and she stood up and grabbed her robe from the back of the chair. Honeysuckle Cottage looked idyllic from the outside, but it was impossibly drafty. The ventilation was a relief in August but froze you to the bone in November. She really needed to do something about the insulation before she even thought about selling the place. Historic charm, climbing roses and a view of the village green couldn’t compensate for frostbite.
Or maybe it wasn’t the house that was cold. Maybe it was her.
Knocked flat by a wave of sadness and she struggled to right herself.
“What’s happening? What news? It sounds like you’re having a party.”
“Dan proposed. Literally out of the blue. We were taking it in turns to say what we’re thankful for and when it was his turn he gave me a funny look and then he got down on one knee and—Mum, we’re getting married.”
Maggie sat down hard on the edge of the bed, the freezing air forgotten. “Married? But you and Dan have only been together for a few weeks—”
“Eleven weeks, four days, six hours and fifteen minutes—oh wait, now it’s sixteen, I mean seventeen—” She was laughing, and Maggie tried to laugh with her.
How should she handle this? “That’s not very long, sweetheart.” But completely in character for Rosie, who bounced from one impulse to another, powered by enthusiasm.
“It feels so right, I can’t even tell you. And you’ll understand because it was like that for you and Dad.”
Maggie stared at the damp patch on the wall.
Tell her the truth.
Her mouth moved but she couldn’t push the words out. This was the wrong time. She should have done it months ago, but she’d been too much of a coward.
And now it was too late. She didn’t want to be the slayer of happy moments.
She couldn’t even say you’re too young, because she’d been the same age when she’d had Katie. Which basically made her a hypocrite. Or did it make her someone with experience?
“You just started your postgrad—”
“I’m not giving it up. I can be married and study. Plenty do it.”
Maggie couldn’t argue with that. “I’m happy for you.” Did she sound happy? She tried harder. “Woohoo!”
She’d thought she’d white-knuckled her way through all the toughest parts of parenting, but it turned out there were still some surprises waiting for her. Rosie wasn’t a child anymore. She had to be allowed to make her own decisions. And her own mistakes.
Rosie was talking again. “I know it’s all a bit fast, but you’re going to love Dan as much as I do. You said you thought he was great when you spoke to him.”
But speaking to someone on a video call wasn’t the same as meeting them in person, was it?
Maggie swallowed down all the words of warning that rose up inside her. She was not going to turn into her own mother and send clouds to darken every bright moment. “He seemed charming, and I’m thrilled for you. If I don’t sound it, it’s because it’s the middle of the night here, and you know what I’m like when I’ve just woken up. When I saw your name pop up on the screen, I was worried it was your asthma.”
“Haven’t had an attack in ages. I’m sorry I woke you, but I wanted to share my news.”
“I’m glad you woke me. Tell me everything.” She closed her eyes and tried to pretend her daughter was in the room with her, and not thousands of miles away.
There was no reason to panic. It was an engagement, that was all. There was plenty of time for them to decide if this was the right thing for them. “We’ll have a big celebration when you and your sister are here for Christmas. Would Dan like to join us? I can’t wait to meet him. Maybe we’ll throw a party. Invite the Baxters, and all your friends from college and school.” Planning lifted Maggie’s mood. Christmas was her favorite time of year, the one occasion the whole family gathered together. Even Katie, with her busy life as a doctor, usually managed to beg and barter a few days at Christmas in exchange for covering the busy New Year shift. Maggie was looking forward to spending time with her. She had a niggling suspicion her eldest daughter was avoiding her. Every time Maggie suggested meeting up, Katie made an excuse, which was unlike her because she rarely refused a free lunch.
Christmas would give her a chance to dig a little deeper.
In her opinion, Oxford was the perfect place to spend the festive season. True, there was unlikely to be snow, but what was better than a postlunch walk listening to the peal of bells on a crisp, cold winter’s day?
It promised to be perfect, apart from one complication.
Maggie still hadn’t figured out how she was going to handle that side of things.
Maybe an engagement was exactly what they needed to shift the focus of attention.
“Christmas is one of the things I need to talk to you about.” Rosie sounded hesitant. “I planned to come home, but since Dan proposed—well, we don’t see the point in waiting. We’ve chosen the day. We’re getting married on Christmas Eve.”
Maggie frowned. “You mean next year?”
“No, this year.”
She counted the days and her brain almost exploded. “You want to get married in less than four weeks? To a man you barely know?” Rosie had always been impulsive, but this wasn’t a soft toy that would be abandoned after a few days, or a dress that would turn out to be not quite the right color. Marriage wasn’t something that could be rectified with a refund. There was no reason for haste, unless—“Sweetie—”
“I know what you’re thinking, and it isn’t that. I’m not pregnant! We’re getting married because we’re in love. I adore him. I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.”
You barely know him.
Maggie shifted, uncomfortably aware that knowing someone well didn’t inoculate you against problems.
“I’m excited for you!” Turned out she could fake excitement as convincingly as she could fake calm.
Author Bio: Jennifer Snow lives in Edmonton, Alberta with her husband and four year old son. She is a member of the RWA, the Alberta Writers Guild, Canadian Authors Association and SheWrites.org. Her first Brookhollow book was a finalist in the Heart of Denver Aspen Gold contest and the Golden Quill Award. More information can be found at http://www.jennifersnowauthor.com.
In Alaska, it’s always a white Christmas—but the sparks flying between two reunited friends could turn it red-hot…
If there’s one gift Erika Sheraton does not want for Christmas, it’s a vacation. Ordered to take time off, the workaholic surgeon reluctantly trades in her scrubs for a ski suit and heads to Wild River, Alaska. Her friend Cassie owns a tour company that offers adventures to fit every visitor. But nothing compares to the adrenaline rush Erika feels on being reunited with Cassie’s brother, Reed Reynolds.
Gone is the buttoned-up girl Reed remembers. His sister’s best friend has blossomed into a strong, skilled, confident woman. She’s exactly what his search-and-rescue team needs—and everything he didn’t know he craved. The gulf between his life in Wild River and her big-city career is wide. But it’s no match for a desire powerful enough to melt two stubborn hearts…
Her arms full of patient files, Dr. Erika Sheraton tipped her head back as Darren, her premed intern, poured a double shot of espresso down her throat. The hot liquid delivered the instant adrenaline boost she needed to get through the rest of her fourteen-hour shift.
Dinner? A quick glance at the clock on the wall above the nurses’ triage station revealed it was almost nine. A late dinner.
“How are you not vibrating? That’s your third in two hours.” Darren crumpled the paper cup and tossed it into a recycle bin as they walked.
“Caffeine stopped affecting me a long time ago. Now’s it’s about the taste,” she said, only half kidding. Double course loads and all-nighters in college and then med school had prepared her for the long hours she put in now as a general surgeon and caffeine had been her best friend.
The twentysomething looked like he could use a cup himself, as he stifled a yawn. His sandy blond hair poked up in the back as though he’d crawled out of bed at the last possible minute and his hazel eyes were bloodshot. If he was tired now after only eight hours on shift, he’d be reconsidering this particular profession by midnight. The staff at Alaska General Hospital never rested. The revolving doors at emergency constantly rotated with broken bones, heart attacks and bleeding patients filing in. No day was ever the same. Unpredictability kept Erika alert and on her toes.
“After these rounds, I’m going to need you to check in on Mr. Franklin—he’s in recovery. His family is wondering when they can see him.” The man’s entire extended family was camped out in the surgical ward waiting room—fifteen or sixteen of them at least. They couldn’t see the man, but they all refused to leave. Each one took turns driving the nurses on duty crazy. “Make sure they know only immediate family can go in. He needs his rest.”
Darren nodded, but a look of hesitation appeared behind his dark-rimmed glasses.
“What?” She checked her watch.
“I just… Well, shouldn’t you talk to them? I know his wife wanted to thank you…”
Erika shook her head. “Keeping him on the low-cholesterol, low-sodium diet I’ve prescribed—and off my operating table—will be thanks enough,” she said, scanning the top folder on her stack.
She shot him a look.
“No problem. I’ll check in on him.”
“Thank you.” She continued down the hall toward the next high-priority patient.
“Don’t forget, your dad still wants to see you,” Darren said, struggling to keep up to her half sprint.
“I know.” And she could do without the hourly reminders. Her father rarely requested her presence during her rounds, so whatever it was wouldn’t be good. If she put him off long enough, maybe he’d forget.
“Top chart—Mr. Grayson. He’s scheduled for an appendectomy in a few hours,” she said, approaching the man’s hospital room.
Darren nodded as he smiled. “This old guy is hilarious. Did you know he was a stunt motorcycle driver in the circus in the ’80s?”
“No.” She knew he had an inflamed appendix and had waited far too long to come in. She knew his vitals and that in an hour, they’d be prepping him for surgery. Knowing personal details of a patient’s life didn’t make her job any easier or guarantee a better outcome. She juggled the files on one arm as she reached into her pocket for a new set of sterile gloves.
“Hey, before we go in there, can I talk to you?” Darren asked, stopping her outside the room. He stared at the checked patterned floor tiles.
Damn. “You’re requesting a transfer to a different physician.” He wasn’t the first medical student who’d gotten reassigned. She’d made it a month with Darren—a new record.
Another intern bites the dust.
He nodded, obviously relieved that he hadn’t had to vocalize it himself. “You’re amazing, Dr. Sheraton, and I feel so fortunate for the opportunity to work with you, but you’re also very busy and unavailable…”
The sharp sting of the words was familiar. She’d heard the same speech from interns and boyfriends alike. She’d successfully eliminated the problem in one group right after her first year of residency…interns were hospital assigned and therefore out of her control.
“I mean I just need all the training I can get and between patients and your research work…”
She didn’t need an explanation. She was busy. Too busy to have someone following her around in fact. This was totally fine with her. “I understand.”
“You’re not upset?”
“Only about having to get my own coffee from now on,” she said.
The joke missed its mark and the intern’s eyes widened. “I can still do that…”
Wow, was she really that scary? She was demanding and expected the students to put in the hours she did. She may not be the friendliest doctor on staff, socializing after work and remembering birthdays and such, but she gave these interns a real picture of their future in medicine. Wasn’t that what they were there for? “I was kidding, Darren.”
“Dr. Sheraton, please report to emergency. Stat.”
The call over the hospital intercom had her handing Darren the stack of folders. “Please take his heart rate and blood pressure,” she said, practically running to the elevators. “And don’t forget Mr. Franklin.”
“Got it,” he called after her.
The quiet twenty-six-second elevator ride to the first floor was the closest thing she got to a spa day. It was the only time she was forced to slow to a pace other than her own usual breakneck speed. But even that half a minute was too long. It gave her time to think. Think about her previous surgeries and replay the details—what went right, what went wrong, what she could do better next time. Constantly reevaluating herself made her a better surgeon, but too often it left her feeling like she was coming up slightly short of her potential. Her type A personality left little room for failure or complacency.
Checking her phone in her lab coat pocket, she scanned her schedule for the rest of the evening, evaluating what she could push back if this emergency demanded her immediate attention. The number of things marked urgent made her will the elevator to move quicker. She’d be lucky to get out of there by 2:00 a.m.
A text popped up from Darren.
If you change your mind about Mrs. Franklin…
She wouldn’t. She ignored the text from her intern—former intern—and put the phone away.
As the elevator stopped, she took a deep breath, expecting to see a flurry of organized chaos as the doors opened. Stretchers, ambulance lights flashing and sirens wailing outside, paramedics and nurses… Instead, she ran square into her father.
No emergency, just his six-foot-three frame and his usual neutral expression. It was impossible to read her father, as his face gave nothing away. His emotions were never too high or too low, just infuriatingly balanced no matter the circumstance. His calm presence and rational thinking made him fantastic at his profession, but sometimes he was irritating as shit as a father.
“Hi. I was just coming to see you.” Eventually.
“Walk with me,” he said, turning on his heel and nodding.
Her jaw clenched so tight her teeth might snap. This was so like him—assuming she could drop everything at his command. He may run the hospital, but he often had no idea how hectic her schedule was. “Can we talk as I do my rounds, Darren is…”
“More than capable,” he said, leading the way to his first-floor corner office. “And requesting to be transferred, I see.”
His tone made her palms sweat. He should be happy that she was pushing these interns to their limits. What awaited them once they graduated wasn’t for the faint of heart. Better to get used to grueling days and nights now, performing on little to no sleep, living on caffeine and leftover Halloween chocolate bars, than to realize they couldn’t cut it when lives were in their hands.
Unfortunately, he didn’t always agree with her beliefs . He wanted the interns to feel at home at Alaska General so they’d apply here once they graduated. The hospital was short staffed and more doctors would benefit everyone, but Erika preferred to work alongside the best.
Her father had an open-door policy—literally—so when he closed the office door behind her, she knew the head of General Surgery hadn’t called her in to discuss Thanksgiving dinner plans.
She glanced at his wall calendar as she sat. Especially since Thanksgiving was a week ago.
“Dad, this intern thing is just ridiculous…”
He held up a hand. “This isn’t about your inability to effectively manage others.”
Kick to the gut delivered and received. She clamped her lips together.
He opened his desk drawer and handed her a letter as he sat in the plush, leather chair behind his oversize mahogany desk.
Her eyes widened, seeing the Hospital Foundation logo on the top of the page. “Is this the final approval from the board for the clinical trials?” They’d submitted the application six months ago to start trials on a new antirejection drug after years of research, and they were waiting on the formal go-ahead to start with a test group.
Would Darren reconsider staying with her if he knew he could be part of a medical breakthrough? He’d been a lot of help in the past month.
“Just read it,” her father said.
She scanned the letter from the board of directors, feeling her excitement fade and anxiety rise with each word. “Recommended vacation? What is this?”
“I don’t like it either, but the board is reviewing policies and making sure we are following them,” he said, the edge indicating he’d been outvoted in this decision. He certainly didn’t believe in time off and had never encouraged her to take any. Her life was her career, just like him.
“But any day now we will be starting clinical trials on the new drug.” It had taken her father and his team almost three years to get the experimental antirejection product approved for testing on organ transplant patients and they’d finally gotten it. They’d worked around the clock for a year to make sure they did. Subjects were undergoing assessment right now to be ready for the trials.
Now was not the time to take a break.
Her father looked as though he’d made the same argument to the hospital board. “The team will have to handle it.”
So recommended actually meant forced. “Why now? I’m fine. I don’t need a break.” At twenty-nine, she was eager to prove herself as one of the top general surgeons in the state. Between her surgical success record and the research time she’d invested in this new drug, she was close. Helping her father get one step closer to winning the Lister Medal was high on her priority list. “Come on, Dad, you know I’m good. My last two operations were impossible surgeries…”
Erika clamped her lips together again, forcing her argument to stay put. It wouldn’t do any good. Three years working alongside her father and she’d yet to prove herself. Despite two back-to-back improbable surgeries that she’d performed successfully, he still doubted her abilities. His micromanagement over her research team had driven her insane, but he’d reluctantly agreed to let her run her own set of clinical trials on the antirejection drug, and she’d foolishly believed she was making progress with him.
Now she was being forced into taking a break.
What the hell was a break? She hadn’t had one since starting university. She’d graduated with her bachelor’s in three years instead of four by doubling up on courses and then had applied directly to med school. She’d interned at Alaska General and secured a position there shortly after graduation. She couldn’t remember the last day she had off, let alone…she glanced at the letter. Two weeks?
What the hell would she do with all that free time?
BIO: Brenda Novak, a New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author, has penned over sixty novels. She is a six-time nominee for the RITA Award and has won the National Reader’s Choice, the Bookseller’s Best, the Bookbuyer’s Best, and many other awards. She also runs Brenda Novak for the Cure, a charity to raise money for diabetes research (her youngest son has this disease). To date, she’s raised $2.5 million. For more about Brenda, please visit http://www.brendanovak.com.
Come home to Silver Springs for the holidays, where broken hearts learn to love again…together.
So much for forever. When Elle Devlin’s rockstar husband ditches her on his way to the top, she takes her two daughters to her sister’s place in Silver Springs for the holidays, hoping family can heal her broken heart. But comfort comes in unexpected packages when she crosses paths with Tobias Richardson.
The moment Tobias spots Elle, he recognizes a sadness he knows all too well. After spending thirteen years in prison paying for his regretful past, Tobias is ready to make amends, and maybe helping Elle is the way to do it. But offering her a shoulder to cry on ignites a powerful attraction, and a desire neither saw coming.
Fearing her reaction, Tobias doesn’t divulge his ex-con status, let alone the shameful details. So when Elle’s ex shows up in Silver Springs and reveals the truth in a bid to win her back, Tobias is sure he’s lost her for good. But, just maybe, this Christmas he’ll receive the forgiveness—and the love—he deserves.
Tobias Richardson couldn’t help noticing the petite blonde sitting at the old-fashioned counter of the diner—and not just because she was pretty. He was sure he’d never seen her before. With a population of seven thousand, Silver Springs wasn’t small enough that he’d recognize everybody, especially because he’d only been living here for five months. The town seemed to have gotten a lot smaller since the weather turned, though. It didn’t snow in this part of California, but it was the rainy season and the region was experiencing colder than normal temperatures. Tourists weren’t interested in visiting when it was chill and damp, and the same went for the many residents of LA, ninety minutes to the southeast, who had vacation homes here. This month, and probably for the next two or three, he guessed Silver Springs would be limited to the locals.
He blew on his hands, trying to warm them while waiting for the coffee he’d ordered when he first sat down. He’d managed to squeeze in a hike after work. He didn’t care that it was dark and wet by the time he was on his way back. He had a
headlight to guide him to the trailhead and was willing to put up with the rain. But he was chilled to the bone. After such an arduous hike, he was starving, too, and craving a hot shower.
Again, he glanced toward the counter. He didn’t want the woman to catch him staring, but something about her—besides her looks—drew his attention.
She didn’t seem happy…
“Here you go.” Willow Sanhurst, the barely eighteen-year-old girl who worked evenings at the Eatery, stepped between him and the woman who intrigued him, smiled broadly and put his cup on the table with a flourish. “Warming up yet?”
“I can’t believe you’ve been out hiking. It’s December!”
“Little bit of rain never hurt anybody.”
He’d traded out his muddy hiking books for a pair of clean shoes before coming into the restaurant. Other than that, he was only a little damp, so he wasn’t sure why she was making such a big deal of it.
“You must really like the outdoors.”
“I do,” he said.
“So do I.”
He got the impression he was supposed to follow that up with an invitation to go hiking with him sometime, but he didn’t.
Even though they’d already discussed his hike when he’d sat down and she’d brought him water, and the diner was full of people waiting for a chance to order, she didn’t move away as most waitresses would.
Before bringing the coffee to his lips, he looked up to see if there was something she needed.
As soon as their eyes met, she blushed a deep red, wiped her hands on her ruffled white apron and mumbled some remark about being careful not to burn himself—that the coffee was hot—before hurrying away.
Damn it. She had a crush on him. She’d clearly wanted to say something but hadn’t been able to gather the nerve, and that made him distinctly uncomfortable. After being released from prison in July he was committed to making better choices, to building a productive life. He couldn’t have some high school girl staring at him with the longing he saw shining in her eyes. If she started seriously pursuing him, he was afraid he’d end up in a bad situation just because he was so damn lonely.
With a sigh, he took a tentative sip of his coffee. This was his favorite place to eat—the comfort food and Norman Rockwell vibe reminded him of the wholesome existence he’d always secretly admired. But he’d have to quit coming here. He wouldn’t allow himself to be tempted. His brother, Maddox, said over and over that his first year out of prison would be the hardest, and although Tobias acted as though he was doing fine, that he had his life under control, his journey was not as sure-footed as he let on. Sometimes, especially late at night, he felt as though he’d been cast adrift on a vast ocean and might never find safe harbor. And that sense of being so small and insignificant made him crave the substances that had gotten him into trouble in the first place.
Willow kept looking over at him, obviously hoping to catch his eye. While he poured a dash of cream into his coffee, he considered canceling his meal. He could eat somewhere else—grab something to go and head home to shower. But just as he was about to slide out of the booth, his phone dinged with a text from Maddox, asking if he’d like to come over for dinner.
Already ate. Enjoy your night. See you at work tomorrow, he wrote back.
He knew his brother worried about him, was trying to help him adjust to life outside prison and didn’t want him to backslide and become like their mother. But Maddox had recently married the girl he’d loved since high school. He deserved to be alone with Jada, his new wife, who was now pregnant, and Maya, their daughter. The last thing Tobias wanted to do was get in the way of their relationship—again. It was because of him they hadn’t gotten together the first time around, and that had cost Maddox the first twelve years of Maya’s life.
As he slid his phone in his coat pocket, he saw that it was too late to cancel his food. Willow was once again coming toward him, this time carrying a plate.
“You texting your girlfriend?” she asked, flirting with him as she put down his meat loaf and mashed potatoes.
He allowed himself another glance at the blonde sitting at the counter. Her meal had come, too, and yet she held her fork, turning it over and over in one hand, staring at her food without taking a bite.
“Did you hear me?” Willow asked.
Putting his napkin in his lap, he picked up his fork. “I’m sorry. What’d you say?”
She looked over her shoulder in the direction he’d been looking and lowered her voice. “I see you’ve noticed Harper.”
“Harper?” he repeated.
“Yeah, Harper Devlin—Axel Devlin’s wife. She’s been in here before.”
“Who’s Axel Devlin?”
“Are you kidding me? He’s the lead singer of Pulse. They’re, like…the biggest band on the planet!”
He’d heard of Pulse, was familiar with their music and liked it. He’d also heard the name of the band’s lead singer many times. He’d just never dreamed Willow could be referring to that Axel Devlin—although there was no good reason why she couldn’t be. A lot of celebrities came to artsy, spiritually focused Silver Springs. Quite a few, especially movie people, retired here. And he often interacted with Hudson King, a professional football player, at New Horizons Boys Ranch, where he worked doing grounds and building maintenance. Hudson did a lot to help the troubled teens who attended the boarding school—both the boys’ side and the recently built girls’ school on the same property. He’d donated the money to buy an ice-skating rink both sides could use. “Do they live in the area?”
“No. She and her two kids are staying with her sister for the holidays. I overheard her talking to the owner.”
“She looks a little…” When he let his words trail off, Willow jumped in to finish the sentence.
“I was going to say ‘lost.’”
“Probably is. I watched an interview with Axel a few months ago. He said they were splitting up. Maybe that’s why.”
It was none of his business, but Tobias couldn’t help asking, “Did he give a reason?”
She seemed to like that they’d found something to talk about that wasn’t so strained and awkward for her. “Blamed it on the travel. He has to be gone too much. Yada, yada. What else is he going to say? That he’s cheating with a different girl every night?” she added with a laugh.
Tobias felt bad for Harper. It couldn’t be easy to be married to a rock star. She wasn’t that old, likely hadn’t been prepared for that kind of life. If Tobias remembered correctly, Axel was from a small town in Idaho, and he and his band had become famous almost overnight. Now he was sitting on top of the world.
But where did that leave her?
“You said they have kids?” he asked.
“Yeah. Two little girls. I don’t remember their ages—maybe eight and six? Something like that.”
So Harper had married Axel before he’d become a big success, and they’d started a family. That indicated she’d married for love. “Where are the kids?”
“With her sister, I guess.” Willow lowered her voice. “It would suck to be her, right? I mean, she has to see his name and his face everywhere, can’t escape the constant reminder.”
Now that he wasn’t paying as much attention to Willow’s hopeful smiles and nervousness when she was around him, Tobias could see others in the restaurant nudging their companions and pointing to Harper. Apparently a lot of people knew who she was—or word was spreading fast.
Poor thing. He understood what it was like to be the talk of the town. He’d been only seventeen when he’d been prosecuted as an adult and jailed for thirteen years. Returning to Silver Springs after his release this past summer had been like being put under a microscope. Suffering privately was one thing. Suffering publicly was something else entirely. That took what she was going through to a whole new level.
“Shouldn’t be too hard for her to find someone else.” He said it as though he wasn’t particularly invested, but Harper had caught his eye, hadn’t she?
“Are you kidding me?” Willow responded again. “How will anyone else ever compare?”
She had a point. It would be tough for a regular guy to match Axel, financially and otherwise. “True.”
“You’re not interested in her, are you?” Willow looked slightly crestfallen.
Apparently he hadn’t been as careful to hide his feelings as he’d thought. But he was an ex-con, making a modest wage working for a correctional school. He’d never known his father, and his mother was a meth addict, constantly in and out of rehab. He knew when he was out of his league. “No.”
“Good.” A relieved smile curved her lips. “Because I’ve been watching you for a while and…well… I hope there’s someone else in this restaurant you might be interested in.” She finished in a rush, couldn’t quite look at him and then hurried away—only to return with a slip of paper that had her number on it when she brought the check.
Harper shoved her garlic mashed potatoes from one side of her plate to the other as she listened to the hum of voices in the diner. Although surrounded by people, she’d never felt so alone.
“I’ve got a number five,” the cook barked out for the waitresses.
Harper checked the menu, which she’d left open at her elbow so she’d have something to look at. It was difficult to go out in public right now. After the documentary she did with Axel last year, trying to remove the stigma of depression and using a therapist when necessary, people often recognized her, so she had little privacy.
A number five was a chicken breast with lemon-dill sauce, steamed vegetables and a gluten-free corn muffin. She’d ordered a number seven—peppercorn steak, garlic mashed potatoes and green beans, which had sounded good at first, but the only thing she’d been able to make herself eat was part of the dinner roll. She doubted it was gluten-free. Axel had made a big deal about staying away from gluten, but he was allergic to it, not her. And although she thought it was probably wise to avoid it, she didn’t care about her diet right now. She didn’t care about much of anything since her marriage had unraveled. It’d been all she could do just to hold herself together for the sake of her kids, and now Christmas would be here in only three weeks. It would be her and the girls’ first Christmas without Axel. He was touring Europe and wouldn’t be back until after the first of the year, since his last big concert was scheduled for New Year’s Eve.
Now that everything had changed between them, they wouldn’t have spent the holidays as they had in the past, anyway.
He might’ve asked to take the girls, however.
She could only imagine how lonely she would have felt with them gone, and yet…she sort of wished he had taken them. She didn’t feel capable of holding up her end, of putting on a brave face and telling their children that everything was going to be okay when it felt as though the ground had given way beneath her feet. She had no interest in decorating, putting up a tree or buying presents, which was why her sister had insisted she come
for an extended visit, even if it meant having the girls transfer schools for a couple of months. Piper and Everly were at a church Christmas party tonight with their cousins—twin girls who were older than Everly by four years. But Harper needed to be ready to face them with a smile when they came home.
Her phone vibrated in her pocket, but she didn’t bother to get it out. No doubt it was her sister. They’d had an argument before Harper stormed out of the house. Karoline had grown angry when Harper told her how little she was getting for child support. According to her sister, she was letting Axel off far too easy.
He was making a fortune, but Harper didn’t want to fight. She was still in love with him. As soon as he’d made it clear that he didn’t want to be married to her anymore, that he was no longer willing to try to work through their differences, she’d settled for the first figure his lawyer had thrown out. Otherwise, she was afraid the media would start to claim they were going through a “bitter” divorce. As she’d told Karoline, she’d make it on her own somehow, even though she hadn’t worked in an official capacity since the first three years of her marriage, when Axel was trying so hard to get a start in show business and he’d needed her to cover their basic living expenses.
Maybe she was a fool to be so accommodating. But she couldn’t imagine Axel would consider keeping the family together if she turned into a bitch. Besides, she didn’t even know who he was anymore, he’d changed so much. She couldn’t decide what she had a right to demand. Had she let Axel down? Or had he let her down? He’d always suffered from anxiety and depression. Maybe she hadn’t done enough to help him—
“Is everything okay?”
She forced herself to look up. The waitress working the counter had paused in front of her, obviously wondering if there was something wrong with the food.
“Fine,” Harper mumbled. She hadn’t really come to eat. She just needed some time alone, couldn’t face going back to her
sister’s quite yet. As nice as it was of Karoline to provide a refuge during this difficult month, being with her only sibling wasn’t much easier than being alone, because now she had to constantly explain and justify her actions. And with her emotions zinging all over the place, she wasn’t being consistent, couldn’t be consistent. Most of the time, she wasn’t even making a whole lot of sense.
Elvis’s “Blue Christmas” came on the sound system as the waitress moved on to her other customers.
Harper took a sip of her coffee and braved a quick glance around. Although she liked this restaurant, she didn’t feel she belonged in Silver Springs. Why wasn’t she in Denver, where she and Axel had lived after their college days at Boise State?
Because as much as she and Axel had once believed that they’d be the exception to the rule, that nothing could come between them, they’d been wrong. Slowly but surely, Axel had lost all perspective and started caring more about his work than he did his family. Fame had destroyed their relationship like so many celebrities before them.
With a sigh, she took the bill the waitress had put near her plate and paid at the register. She owed her sister more respect than to make her worry. She had to go back and face Karoline whether she wanted to or not.
Harper hadn’t put on makeup for weeks, hadn’t done anything with her hair, either, other than to pile it in a messy bun on her head, so it didn’t bother her that it was raining. She was cold, though; couldn’t seem to get warm. Tightening her oversize coat—a castoff of Axel’s from the good old days when they were first married—she pushed out of the warm café into the bad weather.
Putting her head down, she stared at her feet, bracing against the gusts of wind that whipped at her hair and clothes while stepping over two or three puddles to reach the Range Rover
Axel had let her keep when they split. If she got desperate, she supposed she could sell it. It had cost a pretty penny.
She was opening the driver’s door when she noticed a tall, lanky man with longish dark hair crossing the lot toward her.
“Don’t be frightened,” he said, lifting one hand in a gesture intended to show he wasn’t being aggressive. “I just… I saw you inside and…”
Prepared to rebuff him, she set her jaw. She was not in the mood to be hit on. But when she met his eyes, something about his expression told her that wasn’t what this was about. Taking a long-stemmed white rose from inside his coat, he stepped forward to give it to her.
“Hang in there. It’ll get easier,” he said. Then he walked off before she could even ask for his name.
Christmas from the Heart
On Sale Date: September 24, 2019
$16.99 USD, $21.99 CAD
Fiction / Romance / Contemporary
USA TODAY bestselling author Sheila Roberts takes readers to a small, snowbound town, where a young woman fights to save her family’s charity that brings Christmas to families in need, and a stranded millionaire loses his heart and finds the true meaning of Christmas.
Sometimes you need to look beyond the big picture to see what really matters
Olivia Berg’s charity, Christmas from the Heart, has helped generations of families in need in Pine River, Washington, but this year might be the end of the road. Hightower Enterprises, one of their biggest donors since way back when Olivia’s grandmother ran the charity, has been taken over by Ebenezer Scrooge the Second, aka CFO Guy Hightower, and he’s declared there will be no more money coming to Christmas from the Heart.
Guy is simply being practical. Hightower Enterprises needs to tighten its belt, and when you don’t have money to spare, you don’t have money to share. You’d think even the pushy Olivia Berg could understand that.
With charitable donations dwindling, Olivia’s Christmas budget depends on Hightower’s contribution. She’s focused her whole life on helping this small town, even putting her love life on hold to support her mission.
When Guy’s Maserati breaks down at the edge of the Cascade foothills, he’s relieved to be rescued by a pretty young woman who drives him to the nearby town of Pine River. Until he realizes his rescuer is none other than Olivia Berg. What’s a Scrooge to do? Plug his nose and eat fruitcake and hope she doesn’t learn his true identity before he can get out of town. What could go wrong?
Sheila Roberts lives on a lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her novels have been published in several languages. Her book, Angel Lane, was an Amazon Top Ten Romance pick for 2009. Her holiday perennial, On Strike for Christmas, was made into a movie for the Lifetime Movie Network and her novel, The Nine Lives of Christmas, was made into a movie for Hallmark . You can visit Sheila on Twitter and Facebook or at her website (http://www.sheilasplace.com).
From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
To: Ms. Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Holiday Joy
Dear Ms. Thompson,
Happy Valentine’s Day to you! I’m following up our January newsletter with a special greeting as this is, of course, the month for love. Love for our sweethearts, our family and friends, and for those in need. As you could see from the newsletter, we put the money our loyal supporters donated to us to good use. So many families benefited from your generous donation to Christmas from the Heart last year and I just wanted to remind you that, even though the holidays seem far away they will be here before we know it. I hope we can count on Hightower Enterprises again this year. We have such a history together. Let’s keep up the good work!
To: Ms. Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Subject: Holiday Joy
Dear Ms. Berg,
Thanks for reaching out. Our fiscal year is just ending and I haven’t yet received word as to how our charitable donations will be dispersed this year. I will keep you apprised.
Best, Marla Thompson
CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
To: Ms. Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Holiday Joy
Thank you so much. Looking forward to hearing from you!
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference
From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
To: Ms. Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Happy May Day!
Dear Ms. Thompson, just wanted to wish you a happy May Day. The flowers here in Pine River are now in full bloom, and our organization has been busy helping people make their dreams bloom, as well. As you know, while our focus is primarily the holidays, Christmas from the Heart tries to help people all year round when needs arise. Of course, Christmas is our big thrust, and as there is no other organization working in this area, we are much needed. As are your kind contributions. I still haven’t heard and I do hope we can count on you.
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference
From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
To: Ms. Marla Thompson
Subject: Just checking
Reaching out again in case my last email went astray. I’m wondering if you have any news for me regarding Hightower’s involvement with our cause for this coming year.
Ms. Berg, sorry I haven’t been able to get back to you sooner. I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. It appears that the company is going to be scaling back on their charitable giving this year and funds have already been budgeted for other causes. I’m aware of the fact that in the past we’ve donated to your organization and I’m sorry I don’t have better news for you. I do wish you all the best in your search for other funding.
CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
To: Ms. Marla Thompson
Subject: Just checking
There must be some sort of misunderstanding! Hightower has always donated to Christmas from the Heart. The company’s founder, Elias Hightower, was my great-grandmother’s first contributor, and he promised her that Hightower would always be there for this organization. This is a company tradition! Please speak to your director.
From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
To: Guy Hightower, CFO, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Please reconsider
Dear Mr. Hightower, I understand from your corporate social resources director that Hightower isn’t planning on making any donation to Christmas from the Heart this year. There must be some mistake! Surely you’re aware of the long-standing relationship between your company and our organization. I’m sure I can count on you for some small amount.
Best, Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference
Guy Hightower frowned when he saw the email from Olivia Berg in his in-box. Marla Thompson had been forwarding her emails to him, keeping him abreast of Olivia Berg’s varied begging tactics, and had finally even come into his office, trying to dump the load of guilt the woman had laid on her from her shoulders to his.
“Don’t open it,” he told himself. He opened it anyway. Then he read it and swore.
Actually, he’d been swearing ever since meeting with his brothers to discuss the budget back in December. If either of them had listened to him three years ago, they wouldn’t be having to pull the company belt so tight now. This was the problem with being the youngest. It didn’t matter how many degrees you had, how smart you were or what your job title was. Big brothers never listened.
Hard to listen when you were going through your third divorce.
That was Mike’s excuse. What was Bryan’s? Oh yeah. He was a wuss. He always agreed with Mike, no matter what. And Mike hadn’t wanted to change directions. Never mind that the company was struggling, keep on doing the same thing. The definition of insanity.
Sorry, Little Miss Christmas. Times were tough all over. Hightower had kept its commitment to the more visible causes and turned the little fish loose. And that was how it worked in the corporate world.
He typed his reply.
Dear Ms. Berg, I regret that Hightower can’t help you this year. We’ve had to reassess our commitments to various causes. I’m sure you’ll understand.
Then he signed off with the time-honored adios: Respectfully, Guy Hightower.
And if she didn’t understand, well, not his problem. He had his hands full trying to keep the family company afloat. Maybe now Mike would be ready to take his advice and diversify.
Olivia Berg—Livi to her family and friends—read the email from Guy Hightower a second time. Yes, the message was the same. Really? Really? Who was this man, Ebenezer Scrooge the Second?
She plowed her fingers through her hair, the birthstone ring Morris had given her for her birthday catching in the curls. She was so angry she barely noticed.
With a snarl, she began to type.
You should be ashamed. Your great-grandfather is probably turning in his grave right now. What’s the matter with you, anyway, you selfish bastard?
She pulled her fingers off the keyboard with a gasp. What was she thinking? Was this any way to get someone to contribute to her cause? And what kind of language was this? Her great-grandmother would be turning in her grave right now, along with Elias. Adelaide Brimwell had been a lady through and through. So had Livi’s grandmother, Olivia, as well as Livi’s mom.
The thought of her mother made her tear up. How she wished Mom was still around to advise her. They’d always planned that Livi would take over running the organization one day, but neither had dreamed that day would come so soon. Her mother’s heart attack had struck like lightning. Livi’s brother had left town, moving to Seattle, which was just far enough south to keep the memories at bay. Livi had stayed put, holding on to every single one, weaving them together into a lifeline to cling to as she kept Christmas from the Heart afloat.
Oh, Mom. What should I do?
Try again came the answer.
Yes, her mother never gave up. She’d chased one potential donor for two years before he finally came through. Livi still remembered the day her mom left the house, clad in a Mrs. Santa costume she’d created—requisite white wig along with a frilly white blouse and a red skirt topped with a red-striped apron. She’d taken with her a batch of home-baked cookies nestled in a red basket and returned home with a check for five hundred dollars. The man had been a loyal contributor ever since. Livi still took him cookies every year.
“Persistence pays,” she told herself as she deleted what she’d typed.
She started over.
I’m asking you to reconsider. Your company is our major donor, and without you so many people will have little joy this Christmas. Any amount you can give will be greatly appreciated.
There. He’d have to be a heartless monster not to respond to that.
Guy trashed the guilt-inflicting email. What was he, Santa Claus? He had his hands full keeping his company solvent.
But then, people like Olivia Berg never considered the fact that a company might have needs of its own. What made them feel so entitled to sit at the edge of the salt mine while a man slaved away and then greet him with their hands out when he emerged broken and bruised? Maybe some of those people always begging for money should get out there and actually earn a living. Let them work their tails off, putting in seventy-hour weeks. Sheesh.
Anyway, the company had already met their good deed quota for the year. The only cause Guy was interested in now was Hightower Enterprises.
By the end of the workday, Guy Hightower still hadn’t responded to Livi’s last email. “You are a heartless monster,” she grumbled, glaring at her empty email in-box.
“No word yet?” her part-time assistant, Bettina Thomas, asked as she shut down her computer.
Livi sighed and shook her head.
“That is so wrong,” Bettina said in disgust.
It sure was. “They’ve been our major donor ever since my great-grandmother founded Christmas from the Heart. Without their contribution how will we put on the Christmas dinner at the community center? How many families won’t have presents under the tree or Christmas stockings or a Christmas turkey?” There was no Salvation Army in Pine River, no Toys for Tots— none of the usual organizations serviced this area. There had been no need. Christmas from the Heart had it under control.
“We’ve had to reassess our commitments,” Livi quoted. The words left a bad taste in her mouth and she frowned. “It sounds like something your boyfriend says when he’s dumping you.”
“They are dumping us,” Bettina pointed out. “But don’t worry. We have time. We’ll find someone else to come through.”
“Not like Hightower. There must be something I can do,” Livi mused.
“There is. Go home and eat chocolate.”
And try not to think bad thoughts about Guy Hightower.
In all fairness, he probably didn’t grasp the situation. She’d call him the next day and invite him to come to Pine River for a visit so she could let him see the need, show him a little of what Christmas from the Heart did for the community. She could take him to lunch, introduce him to some of the people in town, put a face—or better yet, several—to Christmas from the Heart. She’d top it all off by following in her mother’s footsteps and baking him cookies. Then how could he help but catch the vision his great-grandfather and her great-grandmother had shared?
Yes, that would do it. Sometimes you had to be a little patient, give people a second chance.
Author Bio:New York Times Bestselling author Maisey Yates lives in rural Oregon with her three children and her husband, whose chiseled jaw and arresting features continue to make her swoon. She feels the epic trek she takes several times a day from her office to her coffee maker is a true example of her pioneer spirit.
As snowflakes fall in Gold Valley, Oregon, will this rugged cowboy finally win the woman of his dreams?
Cowboy Caleb Dalton has loved single mom Ellie Bell, and her little daughter, Amelia, for years. But since Ellie is his best friend’s widow, Caleb’s head knows Ellie will always be strictly off-limits. If only his heart got the memo. So when Caleb discovers that Ellie has a Christmas wish list—and hopes for a kiss under the mistletoe—he’s throwing his cowboy hat into the ring. If anyone’s going to be kissing Ellie and sharing this magical time with her and her daughter, it’s him.
Ellie has dreaded the holidays since losing her husband. But this year, she’s finally ready to make some changes. She never expects the biggest change to be the heart-stopping kiss she shares with Caleb. For almost five years, Caleb has been her best friend, her rock, her salvation. This Christmas, can Caleb prove he’s also the missing puzzle piece of Ellie’s and Amelia’s hearts?
From Chapter Two
Caleb Dalton hadn’t had much to smile about for a long time. It had been a bear of a few years, since his best friend’s death, and while time might ease a wound, it wouldn’t ever bring Clint back.
But that permanence made space for movement, around the grief, around the pain. And finally toward a future he’d been planning for a long time.
Clint had been, honest to God, one of the best men on earth. The hole he’d left behind had been huge, and Caleb had dedicated himself to caring for his friend’s widow and child in his absence.
That had been his life, his whole life, for nearly five years. And it was fair, because it had been Ellie’s life, too.
He cared for Ellie. A hell of a lot. He’d met her because of Clint, but she’d been in his life now for more than ten years.
His feelings for Ellie were complicated. Had been from the beginning. But she’d been with Clint. And there was no doubt Clint was the better man. More than that, Clint was his brother. Maybe not in blood, but in every way that counted.
Caleb had never claimed to be a perfect friend. Clint was one of those people who’d drawn everyone right to him. He was easy to like. Caleb’s own parents had been bowled over by Clint from the time they were kids.
And Caleb’s jealousy had gotten the better of him once when they’d been younger. Something that made him burn with shame even now.
He hadn’t let it happen when they’d been adults. No matter how tempting it had been. No matter how much he’d…
A muscle in his jaw ticked.
He gave thanks that there was a space in front of the Gold Valley Saloon, and he whipped his truck there up against the curb, ignoring the honk that came from behind him.
He turned around and saw Trevor Sanderson in his Chevy, giving Caleb the death glare.
“Hold your damn horses, Trevor,” he muttered as he put his truck in Park.
He should have been quicker.
Hell, that was life in a nutshell. Sometimes, you were just too late. For parking spots, and for women.
He’d tried to get that image out of his head. More times than he could count over the past decade. Had tried to erase that first time he’d seen Ellie.
It was at his parents’ barbecue. Late one summer afternoon.
He’d been talking and laughing with his brothers, and he’d lifted a beer to his lips and looked out away from the party. Then he’d frozen.
It was like the world had slowed down, all of it centering on the beautiful blonde walking toward him. The golden light from the sun illuminated her hair like a halo, and her smile seemed to light him up from the inside out.
As she’d gotten closer, he’d taken in every last detail. The way the left side of her cheek dimpled with that grin; her eyes, a mix of green and blue and a punch in the gut. Her lips were glossy pink, and he wondered if it was that stuff that women wore that smelled and tasted like cherries. He couldn’t decide if he hoped that it was or not.
Twenty years old, more experienced with women than he probably should be, and ready right then and there to drop down to his knees and propose marriage to the one walking in his direction.
It took him a full minute to realize that the beautiful blonde was holding hands with someone.
And that that someone was Caleb’s best friend on earth.
It was a surreal moment. It had been a sea change in his soul. When his feelings for Ellie had tipped over from nothing to everything.
A revelation he hadn’t been looking for, and one he sure as hell hadn’t enjoyed.
It was like the whole world had turned, then bucked, like a particularly nasty-ass bull, and left him sprawled out on the ground.
It had been the beginning of a thorny, painful set of years. As he’d gotten to know Ellie, as his feelings for her had become knit deep into his heart, into his soul. She’d become more than his friend’s woman, and more than a woman he’d desired. She’d become a friend to him.
In many ways he was thankful for the depth of the feeling, because it was the reason he’d been able to put aside the lust. The idea that he’d fallen in love with her at first sight.
When Clint had first started dating her, she’d been in school, so she hadn’t been around all the time. But during the summers, and on breaks, she came around with Clint.
Went to the lake with them. Went fishing. Came to Christmas and Thanksgiving.
The summers at the lake, though, that had been a particular kind of torture. All of them swimming out in the water, her and her swimsuit. A tiny bikini that had left little to the imagination.
And he had been so very interested in imagining all the things that it did conceal.
And he’d felt like the biggest, most perverse asshole.
Then there had been the time that Clint had asked him to take her out riding.
Just the two of them.
Because Clint trusted him. Of course he did. Why wouldn’t he trust his best friend? So he’d done it.
Had taken her out on the trails that wound behind the Dalton family property, up to the top of a mountain. And he looked over at the view with her, watched the sunset. And everything in him had wanted to lean over and kiss her on the mouth. To act on the feelings that were rioting through his chest.
For just a breath she’d looked back at him, met his eyes. And he’d thought maybe she’d wanted it, too.
Yeah, it would have exploded his relationship with Clint, but for a minute it seemed like it might be worth it.
Then she’d looked away. And then he’d come back to himself.
Clint was his brother. In every way but blood.
And he couldn’t betray his friend like that.
Anyway, Ellie loved Clint.
She didn’t love Caleb.
And no matter how much he might not want to, he had to respect that.
So he hadn’t kissed her. They had ridden back down that mountain, and nothing happened between them. But late at night, Caleb had taken himself in hand and fantasized that it had.
Two days later Clint and Ellie had been engaged.
Caleb had agreed to be the best man.
She’d married Clint. And while his feelings for her had remained, they’d shifted. As they’d had to.
He wasn’t perfect. He’d never touched Ellie. Not like a man touched a woman, though that hadn’t stopped him from going over the accidental brush of fingertips, of their elbows touching, over and over in his mind if it had happened on accident.
It hadn’t stopped him from keeping and cherishing secrets with her, even when he knew he shouldn’t. Hadn’t stopped him from pushing some boundaries that not even Ellie had realized he’d been pushing at.
Ellie was the one who’d realized, for the first time, that he was dyslexic. And he’d sworn her to secrecy. And in that secrecy had come secret reading lessons.
And he’d…well, he’d lost control of his own feelings again. And once he’d recognized that, he’d cut them off. Cut her off.
But then Clint had died, just a month later. And everything changed again.
Since then, his relationship with Ellie was about their coming together to try and fill the gap Clint had left behind. His helping where she needed it.
Helping with the house, with her grief, with Amelia.
Author Bio:New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne finds inspiration in the beautiful northern Utah mountains where she lives with her family. Her books have won numerous honors, including six RITA Award nominations from Romance Writers of America and Career Achievement and Romance Pioneer awards from RT Book Reviews. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.raeannethayne.com.
Hearts are lighter and wishes burn a little brighter at Christmas…
Elizabeth Hamilton has been lost. Trapped in a tangle of postpartum depression and grief after the death of her beloved parents, she couldn’t quite see the way back to her husband and their two beautiful kids…until a car accident stole away her memories and changed her life. And when she finally remembered the sound of little Cassie’s laugh, the baby powder smell of Bridger and the feel of her husband’s hand in hers, Elizabeth worried that they’d moved on without her. That she’d missed too much. That perhaps she wasn’t the right mother for her kids or wife for Luke, no matter how much she loved them.
But now, seven years later, Luke finds her in a nearby town and brings Elizabeth back home to the family she loves, just in time for Christmas. And being reunited with Luke and her children is better than anything Elizabeth could have imagined. As they all trim the tree and bake cookies, making new holiday memories, Elizabeth and Luke are drawn ever closer. Can the hurt of the past seven years be healed over the course of one Christmas season and bring the Hamiltons the gift of a new beginning?
This was it.
Luke Hamilton waited outside the big, rambling Victorian house in a little coastal town in Oregon, hands shoved into the pockets of his coat against the wet slap of air and nerves churning through him.
Elizabeth was here. After all the years when he had been certain she was dead—that she had wandered into the mountains somewhere that cold day seven years earlier or she had somehow walked into the deep, unforgiving waters of Lake Haven—he was going to see her again.
Though he had been given months to wrap his head around the idea that his wife wasn’t dead, that she was indeed living under another name in this town by the sea, it still didn’t seem real.
How was he supposed to feel in this moment? He had no idea. He only knew he was filled with a crazy mix of anticipation, fear and the low fury that had been simmering inside
him for months, since the moment FBI agent Elliot Bailey had produced a piece of paper with a name and an address.
Luke still couldn’t quite believe she was in there, the wife he had not seen in seven years. The wife who had disappeared off the face of the earth, leaving plenty of people to speculate that he had somehow hurt her, even killed her.
For all those days and months and years, he had lived with the ghost of Elizabeth Sinclair and the love they had once shared.
He was never nervous, damn it. So why did his skin itch and his stomach seethe and his hands grip the cold metal of the porch railing as if his suddenly weak knees would give way and make him topple over if he let go?
A moment later, he sensed movement inside the foyer of the house. The woman he had spoken with when he had first pulled up to this address, the woman who had been hanging Christmas lights around the big, charming home and who had looked at him with such suspicion and had not invited him to wait inside, opened the door. One hand was thrust into her coat pocket around a questionable-looking bulge.
She was either concealing a handgun or a Taser or pepper spray. Since he had never met the woman before, Luke couldn’t begin to guess which. Her features had lost none of that alert wariness that told him she would do whatever necessary to protect Elizabeth.
He wanted to tell her he would never hurt his wife, but it was a refrain he had grown tired of repeating. Over the years, he had become inured to people’s opinions on the matter. Let them think what the hell they wanted. He knew the truth.
“Where is she?” he demanded.
There was a long pause, like some tension-filled moment just before the gunfight in Old West movies. He wouldn’t have been surprised if tumbleweeds suddenly blew down the street.
Then, from behind the first woman, another figure stepped out onto the porch, slim and blonde and…shockingly familiar.
He stared, stunned to his bones. It was her. Not Elizabeth. Her. He had seen this woman around his small Idaho town of Haven Point several times over the last few years, fleeting glimpses only out of the corner of his gaze at a baseball game or a school program.
The mystery woman.
He assumed she had been there to watch one of the other children. Maybe an aunt from out of town, someone he didn’t know.
Luke had noticed her…and had hated the tiny little glow of attraction that had sparked to life.
He hadn’t wanted to be aware of any other woman. What was the point? For years, he thought his heart had died when Elizabeth walked away. He figured everything good and right inside him had shriveled up and he had nothing left to give another woman.
Despite his anger at himself for the unwilling attraction to a woman he could never have, he had come to look forward to those random glimpses of the beautiful mystery woman who wore sunglasses and floppy hats, whose hair was a similar color to his wife’s but whose features were very different.
For the first time since he had pulled up to Brambleberry House, he began to wonder if he had been wrong. If Elliot had been wrong, if his investigation had somehow gone horribly off track.
What if this wasn’t Elizabeth? What if it was all some terrible mistake?
He didn’t know what to say, suddenly. Did he tell them both he had erred, make some excuse and disappear? He was about to do just that when he saw her eyes, a clear, startling blue with a dark, almost black, ring around the irises.
He knew those eyes. It was her.
There was nervousness in them, yes, but no surprise, almost as if she had been expecting him.
She flinched a little at the name. “No one has…called me that in a very long time.”
Her voice was the second confirmation, the same husky alto that had haunted his dreams every single night for seven years.
The other woman stared at her. “Sonia. What is going on? Who is this man? Why is he calling you Elizabeth?”
“It is…a really long story, Rosa.”
“He says he is your husband.”
“He was. A long time ago.”
The anger simmered hotter, flaring up like a controlled burn that was trying to jump the ditch. He did his best to tamp it down. He would not become his father, no matter the provocation.
“I’m still your husband. Nothing has changed. Until we divorce or you are declared dead, we are very much still married in the eyes of the law.”
Her mouth opened again, eyes shocked as if she had never considered the possibility. Maybe as far as she was concerned, her act of walking away without a word had terminated their marriage.
It had in every way except the official one.
“I…guess that’s probably true.”
“That’s why I’m here. I need you to come back to Haven Point so we can end this thing once and for all.” He was unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice. “It shouldn’t be that hard for you. You know the way. Apparently you’ve been back to town plenty of times. You just never bothered to stop and say hello to me or your two children.”
Her skin, already pale in the weak December afternoon light, seemed to turn ashen, and Luke was immediately ashamed at his cruelty. He tried to be better than that, to take the higher ground in most situations. He was uncomfortably aware that this unwanted reunion with his long-missing wife would likely bring out the worst in him.
The other woman looked shocked. “You have children? I don’t understand any of this, Sonia.”
She winced. “It’s so complicated, Rosa. I don’t know…where to start. I… My name isn’t Sonia, as you’ve obviously…figured out. He is right. It is Elizabeth Hamilton, and this…this is my husband, Lucas.”
The other woman was slow to absorb the information, but after a shocked moment, her gaze narrowed and she moved imperceptibly in front of Elizabeth, as if her slight frame could protect her friend.
It was a familiar motion, one that intensified his shame. How many times had he done the same thing, throwing his body in front of his mother and then his stepmother? By the time he was big enough and tough enough to make a difference, his father was dead and no longer a threat.
“Are you afraid of this man?” Rosa demanded. “Has he hurt you? I can call Chief Townsend. He would be here in a moment.”
Elizabeth put a hand on the other woman’s arm. It was clear they were close friends. The wild pendulum of Luke’s emotions right now swung back to anger. Somehow she had managed to form friendships with other people, to completely move on with her life, while he had been suffocating for seven years under the weight of rumor and suspicion.
“It is fine, Rosa. Thank you. Please don’t worry about me. I…I need to speak with…with my husband. We have…much to discuss. Go on inside. I’ll talk to you later and…and try to explain.”
Rosa was clearly reluctant to leave. She hovered on the porch, sending him mistrustful looks. He wanted to tell her not to waste her energy. He’d spent years developing a thick skin when it came to people suspecting him of being a monster.
“I’m here,” she said firmly. “I’ll wait inside. You only have to call out. And Melissa is in her apartment as well. We won’t let anything happen to you.”
“Nothing is going to happen to me,” Elizabeth assured her. “Luke won’t hurt me.”
“Don’t be so sure of that,” he muttered, though it was a lie. Some might think him a monster but he suspected Elizabeth knew he could never lay a hand on her.
First of all, it wasn’t in his nature. Second, he had spent his entire life working toward self-mastery and iron control—doing whatever necessary to avoid becoming his father.
After another moment, Rosa turned around and slipped through the carved front door, reluctance apparent in every line of her body. On some level, Luke supposed he should be grateful Elizabeth had people willing to stand up and protect her.
“How did you…? How did you find me?”
He still didn’t know everything Elliot had gone through to locate her. He knew the FBI agent had spent long hours tracking down leads after a truck driver came forward years later to say that on the night Elizabeth disappeared, the trucker thought she gave a woman resembling Elizabeth’s description a ride to a truck stop in central Oregon.
Somehow from that slim piece of information, Elliot had undergone an impressive investigation on his own time and managed to put the pieces of the puzzle together. If not for Elliot, Luke wouldn’t be here in front of this big oceanfront Victorian in Cannon Beach and this familiar but not familiar woman.
Thinking about Elliot Bailey always left him conflicted, too. He was grateful to the man but still found it weird to think of his former best friend with Megan, Luke’s younger sister. After several months, he was almost used to the idea of them being together.
“I didn’t.” He jerked his attention back to the moment. “Elliot Bailey did. That’s not really important, is it? The point is, now I know where you are. But then, I guess you were never really lost, were you? We only thought you were. You’ve certainly been back to Haven Point in your little disguise plenty of times over the years.”
It burned him, knowing he hadn’t recognized his own wife. When he looked closer now, knowing what he did, he could see more hints of the woman he had loved. The brows were the same, arched and delicate, and her lips were still full and lush. But her face was more narrow, her nose completely different and her cheekbones higher and more defined.
Why had she undergone so much plastic surgery? It was one more mystery amid dozens.
“What do you want, Luke?”
“I told you. I need you to come home. At this moment, the Lake Haven County district attorney’s office is preparing to file charges against me related to your disappearance and apparent murder.”
“Elliot has tried to convince the woman you’re still very much alive. He hasn’t had much luck, especially considering he’s all but a member of the family and will be marrying my sister in a few months. The DA plans to move forward and arrest me in hopes of forcing me to tell them where I hid your body.”
“Wait—what? Elliot and Megan are together? When did that happen?”
He barely refrained from grinding his teeth. “Not really the point, is it? This has gone on long enough. I’m going to be arrested, Elizabeth. Before the holidays, if my sources are right. The district attorney is determined to send a message that men in her jurisdiction can’t get away with making their wives disappear. I’m going to go to jail, at least for a while. Our children have already spent enough Christmases without one parent. Do you want them to lose the other one?”
“Of course not.”
He didn’t know whether to believe her or not. How could he? He didn’t even know this woman, despite the fact that she had once been closer to him than anyone else on earth.
1.Is it more (or less) challenging to write your book with the holiday element? If so, what are those challenges?
Brenda Novak: For me, it’s more challenging. Themes of love conquering all and redemption appear in many of my books, which fit nicely at Christmas, so that part’s easy. Trying to weave in the celebration while the characters work through their individual conflicts is what can be tricky. I compare it to a juggler who adds just one more ball. 😉
Sheila Roberts: I love Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday. So I find it great fun writing a holiday tale.
Jennifer Snow: My favorite books are those set at Christmas time. If I could write all my romances with a holiday theme, I wouldJ I think the holiday element can make the book easier to write as it provides a timeline and sense of urgency to the story already and also adds a layer of stress to the main characters, whether they love the holiday season or are dreading it. However, it can be challenging to create new, fresh situations and scenes that readers haven’t read before.
RaeAnne Thayne: I adore writing Christmas books, mainly because I love reading them! There’s something so comforting and warm about settling in to read a good book set during the holidays. It’s the perfect way to relax and unwind during all the hustle and bustle. Setting books during this season of hope and joy fits so perfectly with the kind of books I love to write, about families, community, togetherness. It can be a challenge to bring a fresh new angle to Christmas, especially because I’ve written so many of them, but I find that my characters bring new traditions to each book.
2.Do you lean more toward humorous or poignant when you’re writing a holiday romance?
Brenda Novak: I definitely lean toward poignant. I’ve had a lot of my readers write me to say they teared up while reading CHRISTMAS IN SILVER SPRINGS. I think it might be a new reader favorite!
Sheila Roberts: I love humor, love to laugh, so somehow, something funny always sneaks into my stories. But because life is the way it is, I like to think I manage some poignant moments as well. Don’t we all love it when a character has a bittersweet moment or is touched by something special, learns an important lesson? I think a story, especially a Christmas story, should touch our hearts.
Jennifer Snow: I love humor and despite what my husband says, I’m actually very funny;) So, my books tend to be humorous, slightly on the snarky, sarcastic side, but I do like writing heartwarming scenes as well. Good banter between characters is my favorite part of the writing process.
RaeAnne Thayne: Both, I would have to say. My books are tender and emotional, usually about flawed characters trying to find their way to a happy ending but I definitely try to bring lighter moments into the story as well. Christmas is such a time of joy that I find those happy, bright times are easy to find.
3.What’s your favorite holiday cookie or dessert?
Brenda Novak: My mother’s homemade cheesecake with sour cream topping is absolutely divine! (You even have to crush graham crackers to make your own crust.) I’ll never forget the first time I tasted it. I was only about ten years old, and it’s been my favorite ever since.
Sheila Roberts: I have to pick a favorite? Oh, that’s cruel. How about I give you my top three? Red Velvet Cake, frosted sugar cookies and Andes mint cookies (the Andes mint serves as the frosting.) I think I gained five pounds just thinking about those goodies!
Jennifer Snow: Anything chocolate. Cold, hollow chocolate balls are my weakness.
RaeAnne Thayne: I love English toffee but have never found a great recipe for it that’s easy enough for someone like me. I also adore snickerdoodles and have used those in several books. I consider them the perfect Christmas cookie!
4. Tell us about your favorite Holiday tradition.
Brenda Novak: I have five children. Each year I enjoy trying to figure out which book I will buy each one–and whether I can get an autographed copy (I get very excited when I can). They get to open their new book on Christmas Eve, which puts it separate from their other gifts. I hope none of them will see this, but I’m all set for this year, and they are all signed! I got George R.R. Martin’s A KNIGHT OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS, Malcolm Gladwell’s TALKING TO STRANGERS, Mitch Albom’s FINDING CHIKA, Lee Child’s BLUE MOON and Louise Penny’s A BETTER MAN.
Sheila Roberts: Gathering with my big, extended family for Christmas Eve. Been doing this since I was a child and it is really special – games carols, and, of course, a reading of the real Christmas story from the Bible. That used to be my oldest brother’s job but we lost him two years ago and now middle brother has taken over. Bittersweet.
Jennifer Snow: I have so many! Christmas is a really big deal for my family. We go all out and usually start decorating and celebrating mid-November. Growing up, it was always a very special time of year. We’ve had a lot of traditions change throughout the years as we’ve moved provinces, the family has grown and expanded, etc…But, my favorite tradition was always lunch and shopping with my mom on Christmas Eve. It would always be just the two of us. Now, we’ve switched things up a little to do lunch and an annual fashion show to support the local University Hospital Foundation but I still love that one on one time with her as we prepare for the holidays.
RaeAnne Thayne: My family has many cherished traditions. One of my favorites has gone by the wayside now that my kids are older but I still remember it with great delight. Each November I would wrap up 24 Christmas picture books collected over the years (or sometimes borrowed from the library!) and put them in a basket. My children would unwrap a new book each night as a way of counting down to Christmas and that’s the book we would read for bedtime. It was something we all looked forward to each day, finding out which book we would read that night.
5. What Holiday treat is on your must-make, or must-eat, December to-do list?
Brenda Novak: I’m huge on hot chocolate, and I love mint hot chocolate best. I also love peppermint ice cream! A friend makes a delicious baked Alaska with hot fudge and peppermint ice cream, and it’s amazing! These are all things on my must-have list!
Sheila Roberts: The cake and cookies I mentioned, of course. By the way, I’ve been making Red Velvet Cake for Christmas ever since my kids were little. We’d always light candles and sing happy birthday to Jesus. My kids are grown now, but still come home for Christmas. One year I thought it would be nice to try a different cake. Let me tell, you, that went over about as well as Santa not stopping by with presents. Both kids wanted to know where the Red Velvet Cake was. Some traditions you just can’t do away with.
Jennifer Snow: I can’t bake to save my life, though I am obsessed with holiday baking shows. Someday, I’ll learn.
RaeAnne Thayne: I guess it’s a holiday treat since I rarely make it any other time of year but my family loves my Make-Ahead French Toast recipe made with pecans and a delicious creamy brown sugar sauce. I always put it together Christmas Eve and then throw it in the oven on Christmas morning to bake while we’re opening presents.
6. What’s the most memorable Holiday gift you’ve ever received or given?
Brenda Novak: I just moved, so while I was sorting through boxes in the attic, I came across a box I’ve kept for most of my life. It contains a “Baby, Alive!” and some handmade clothes for the doll that my mother had someone sew–a gift I received from Santa when I was only six or seven. The clothes are so well made, and they came in the cutest little suitcase, which I also still have. That’s my most memorable Christmas, and I can’t wait until my granddaughter is old enough to inherit my most beloved baby doll, which is still in near perfect shape, despite the many hours I played with her.
Sheila Roberts:I still remember the Christmas when my husband and I were having some lean times. My parents, who weren’t exactly rolling in the green stuff either, gave us a Christmas ornament… wrapped in five ten dollar bills. It saved the day.
Jennifer Snow: My parents gave me an old fashioned typewriter that I’d been eyeing in an antique store. I love it!
RaeAnne Thayne: One year when times were very tough for us and we were emotionally and financially drained from medical bills for our special needs fragile baby, my amazing husband surprised me with a used laptop I knew we couldn’t afford. I wept when I discovered he had cashed out his hard-earned vacation for the next year so I could use it to write while taking our son to appointments or had to stay overnight at the hospital with him. It’s ancient and probably won’t turn on now but I’ll never part with it.
7. What are some of your favorite novels? What do you like the most when writing
Brenda Novak: I’m such an eclectic reader, and yet I don’t read Christmas books. I’m not sure why–except that writing one seems to fulfill that need. As far as favorite books, I absolutely devoured WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ and THE NIGHTINGALE, so I would name them as a few of my recent favs.
Sheila Roberts:If we’re talking Christmas, I must say the Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is the best Christmas tale ever written. Brilliant. And such a great message. Wish I’d written it! 🙂
Jennifer Snow: My favorite novels are everything Debbie Macomber publishes lol. She was the first romance author I read and I adore her holiday themed stories. The thing I like most about writing Christmas themed books is the way I get to enjoy my favorite season all year round lol. With publishing schedules, I’m quite often writing Christmas stories in July lol, so it’s fun to be able to stay in that spirit outside of December.
RaeAnne Thayne: I have so many favorite books, it’s hard to choose! I adore historical romances set at Christmas. For some reason, they put me in the holiday spirit like nothing else. What I love most about writing Christmas-themed books is the chance it gives me to think about the things I love most about this time of year, that feeling of joy and hope and promise, and try to recreate that feeling for my readers.
8.What inspired you to start writing novels? What do you hope are some of the key takeaways from of your latest holiday novel?
Brenda Novak: I caught my daycare provider drugging my children with cough syrup and Tylenol while I was working as a loan officer more than twenty years ago and was so freaked out I quit my job to stay home with them myself. But I needed to figure out a way to make a living. I was searching for something I could do from home when my sister sent me Jude Devereux’s KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR, telling me I would love it. She was right. It also gave me the idea to become a novelist. I remember closing that book and thinking, “I wonder if I could do this.” I started the next day!
CHRISTMAS IN SILVER SPRINGS is a touching and poignant story about a man who’s recently been released from prison for a mistake he made just before he turned eighteen, so it’s definitely a redemption story. I would hope that readers take away the fact that love and understanding can change lives.
Sheila Roberts:I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. I think story tellers just have to tell stories. That imagination muscle demands being used. I hope readers will enjoy Christmas from the Heart, and come away inspired to donate to their favorite worthy causes. There are so many organizations in need. If we all picked one and pitched in we could make a big difference in the world.
Jennifer Snow: I’ve been writing stories since I was five years old. At fifteen, I submitted my first YA romance manuscript to Harlequin and I think I tried to pitch them a new line lol. I had no idea how publishing worked, but I knew I wanted to be an author. Needless to say, that manuscript was rejected, but the letter from the editor was so wonderfully encouraging, it helped me stick with it through university and pregnancy and marriage and finally I got my ‘yes’ from Harlequin in 2012. It was a dream come true and I’m so happy that I get to do what I love for a living.
In my latest holiday novel, An Alaskan Christmas, the heroine is a work-aholic and she’s not sure how to balance her career and her love for the hero, so I’d love for readers to read it and watch the heroine struggle and overcome her own challenges in finding her happily ever after and be inspired by that. We can have it all if we are willing to work for it and be brave enough to follow our hearts.
RaeAnne Thayne: I’ve always been a voracious reader. When I was in high school while writing for my school newspaper, I discovered I loved telling stories too. I pursued a career in journalism and after graduating from college I started working for a daily newspaper. I loved the challenge of it but still dreamed of writing a romance novel one day, the kind of books I had been devouring since middle school. I finally started my first book when I was home on maternity leave with my first child and have been doing it ever since.
My latest book, COMING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, is a reunion story about two people who definitely deserve to find the joy of Christmas. Luke and Elizabeth Hamilton have been separated by circumstances beyond their control for more than seven years. It’s an emotional, tender story about courage, forgiveness and second chances. Their journey back to their happy ending is a difficult one but turned out to be one of the most rewarding books I’ve ever written.
9. When did you start writing Christmas/Holiday-themed stories? What was your inspiration for your latest holiday novel?
Brenda Novak: I’ve been doing them for a number of years now. My first was WHEN SNOW FALLS, which I think is still one of my best.
The inspiration for CHRISTMAS IN SILVER SPRINGS came from the book before it–UNFORGETTABLE YOU. In that book, the hero had a brother in prison. I wanted to explore what Tobias might be like after the life he’s lived so far. My fascination with Dan Reynolds and Imagine Dragons (I’m a huge fan!) supplied the rest of the inspiration, although the rock star in this book wasn’t portrayed in the most positive light, I have nothing but respect for Dan Reynolds, so I had to twist a few things to make a good story. 😉
Sheila Roberts: My first contemporary Christmas novel was On Strike for Christmas (inspired by my husband, who was being naughty). Ever since I’ve been writing a Christmas story almost every year. This year’s offering came about because I wanted to write a Scrooge story of my own, my nod to Mr. Dickens.
And I guess there’s no better way to end this interview, after saying thanks for allowing me to join you, than, to quote Mr. Dickens himself. “God bless us, every one!”
Jennifer Snow: My first novel was a Christmas themed story…and so were the next three after that lol. I’m obsessed with them and plan to write as many as Harlequin will let meJ
The inspiration for An Alaskan Christmas was meeting my local search and rescue and just being in awe of what they do, the challenges they face and how brave and selfless they are. And I’ve always loved Alaska, so I wanted to set a series there.
RaeAnne Thayne: My first Christmas book was THE COWBOY’S CHRISTMAS MIRACLE, set in my Cowboys of Cold Creek series. It was the only book I’ve ever written where the story came to me fully formed in a dream! I emailed my editor the next day with a blurb and she loved the idea and immediately offered me a contract. I wrote 15 books in the Cold Creek series and about 10 of those were holiday books!
The inspiration for my current book was really one of those throw-away plot points in a previous book. In my book SNOWFALL ON HAVEN POINT, the hero, a sheriff, was injured while investigating a mysterious tip on a long-cold case of a missing woman. I didn’t know any details about who the woman was, why she was missing or about the people she had left behind. All of that developed while I was writing subsequent books in Haven Point. COMING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS answers all those questions I first had more than four years ago.
The award-winning children’s fantasy series returns in a grand fashion as Fawn finds herself facing a whole new danger: the outside world. The third book in the holiday series takes the story to all new heights in author Al E. Boy’s novel “Far and Yet So Near (The Adventures of Fawn #3)”.
Far And Yet So Near is the exciting, award-winning third installment in The Adventures of Fawn, and finds the young reindeer and her faithful friends on yet another rescue mission. All of the adult reindeer suddenly fall under the control of a mysterious stranger, and mindlessly march off towards directions unknown. Fawn and company must trail the reindeer and try to bring them back home again.
After surviving dangers like ‘Hangnail Pass’ and the ‘Wandering Bridge’ the group are led to an underground cavern where they are confronted by the stranger, who intends to steal the reindeer team. Santa and Wajic turn up in the nick of time…and it looks like everyone is safe. But the stranger has a few tricks up his sleeve, and explosions unexpectedly rock the cavern as he makes good his escape. But not before he ‘reindeer-naps’ Fawn.
She soon finds herself a pet in an English manor house near London. Will Fawn ever return to the North Pole and Santa’s Village? Will anyone ever be able to find her? Did Santa, Wajic, Doctor Weather, Bunny and the others all perish in the explosions? What will become of Fawn? What will become of Christmas? Read “Far And Yet So Near” to find out!
While the book began with a lot of action and edge of your seat thrills, the novel overall felt much more personal and emotional than the previous novels in the series. The author did a marvelous job of focusing more on the emotional journey of Fawn, her parents, and everyone in Santa’s close-knit circle as they searched for the missing Fawn and fought to survive the initial attack. Along the way Fawn finds herself bonding with a young girl suffering from a terrible illness, and discovers that the two worlds she has lived in, (the human world and the magical world at Santa’s Village), may not be as incompatible as they once believed.
Readers will love delving into this story as characters backstories like the powerful and mysterious Wajic are explored when an old foe from his past comes back to haunt him and his makeshift family. The book also expertly explores Fawn’s journey as she grows up in her months away from her home, and showcases the heartbreaking affects of losing a child both in Comet and Vixen’s narrative and the story of the young girl’s parents whom Fawn has found herself bonding with.
Overall this was a well written, emotional and magical tale that solidifies the series as a new holiday favorite. An evenly paced read that focuses more on personal storytelling aspects rather than the larger than life magic of past novels, this story felt like the most connected the reader has ever been with Fawn, and brought a whole new element to the series that fans will love. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy of “Far and Yet So Near” by Al E. Boy today!
Through almost 40 years as a Santa Claus, Al E. Boy developed quite a repertoire of tales to explain and answer the many questions children ask about Santa, the North Pole, his reindeer, and his friends, the elves.
It was this collection of tales which prompted him to begin writing The Adventures of Fawn. Through the young daughter of legendary reindeer Comet and Vixen, he’s been able to weave an exciting, colorful, imaginative world which will delight readers of all ages!
Mr. Boy not only hopes you enjoy these tales, but make reading them part of your Christmas traditions, as well.
Additional info: ‘Til the Last Snowflake Falls was awarded the Bronze Medal in Dan Poynter’s 2017 Global E-book Awards, is listed as ‘Recommended Reading’ with The US Review of Books, and was awarded an Honoree Medallion by indieB.R.A.G.. In addition, it has garnered a number of favorable reviews.
Enjoy a good holiday book series to read with your kids? Look no further than author Al E. Boy’s “The Adventures of Fawn” series. Read the review of the latest in the series here! #holidaybooks #bookreviews #bookblog http://www.authoranthonyavinablog.com
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
A family’s life gets a humorous and holiday twist in authors Kirsten and Kurt Johnston’s novel “Letters from a Christmas Elf: Unexpected Humor for Any Season. Here’s the synopsis.
One of Santa’s trusty Elves is assigned to report on the Johnstons. He follows the lives of Kirsten & Kurt and their eight children, along with a few cats and a dog. The family has gotten older, but wisdom still eludes them as they continue to find new ways to get laughed at without even trying. These letters tell the truth most sane people won’t admit — the naughty, the nice and the nonsense. Does this family deserve anything from Santa? You decide.
Letters from a Christmas Elf: Unexpected Humor for any Season is 25+ years of real Christmas letters chronicling the witless antics of an ordinary family — resulting in extraordinary humor.
This was such a fun book to read. While I would bill it as the perfect holiday read (and just in time for the holidays no doubt), this is the kind of humorous book you could enjoy all year round. Blending a mix of fiction and non-fiction, it’s fun to see the lives of the Johnston family through the magical, holiday lens of this narrator Elf.
The story is written with a voice that speaks of honesty and humor that showcases the unique bond between this family. What really shone through was how relatable and yet entertaining this family and their story was. They feel like the next door neighbors you bond with instantly, or the fun distant relatives you never knew you had.
Overall this was a truly fun read. With the holidays over, this book not only brings that holiday spirit back but shows how the spirit of the holidays (which in essence is about the family you spend time with or the people you surround yourself with and make you feel loved) never leaves you when the holidays pass. No matter how stressful, chaotic or painful life may get or how troublesome family members can be, a true family shines brightest when the bond between them is strong and love is in their hearts. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy of Letters from a Christmas Elf: Unexpected Humor for any Season by Kirsten and Kurt Johnston today!
Kirsten & Kurt Johnston have celebrated 25 Christmases together. Firm believers in Santa, K&K are always hoping for a good review in the annual Elf Report. They are gratified to know that they are not always on their children’s naughty list.
The Christmas vlog is up guys! The weekend edition of Vlogmas brought fun family moments, gifts and relaxation. Go check it out now on my @youtube channel and like, comment favorite and share if you enjoy it. Link in the bio! #😃 #vlogger #vlogmas #vloggers #vlogfamily #youtube #youtuber #youtubers #youtubecrew #christmas #christmas2015 #christmastime #holiday #happyholidays #holidayseason
First photo of Christmas Day 2015! Sammy and I aren’t really early morning risers… #holiday #happyholidays #holidayseason #christmas #christmas2015 #christmastime #puppy #puppiesofinstagram #cute #dogsofinstagram 🌲🎁
Here is a special holiday poem I wrote called Holidays of the Heart. I hope you guys will enjoy it this holiday season. Hold your family close, surround yourself with friends and loved ones, and know I am thinking of you guys this holiday. Thank you for all your support this year. Everyone have a fantastic weekend holiday! #christmas2015 #christmas #christmastime #holiday #happyholidays #holidayseason #poetry #poem #poems #instapoem #poemsofinstagram #poemsporn