Thursday, September 21, 2017

Sweet Christmas Kisses 4 Sneak Peek! First Chapter of Saving Mistletoe by Shanna Hatfield



Sweet Christmas Kisses 4  will releasing next week on September 26! I'm super excited to share my contribution to the boxed set with you today. You can read the first chapter of Saving Mistletoe below! Enjoy!



Chapter One

Portland, Oregon

“No, no, no, no,” Ellen Meade chanted, glaring at the blank, black screen of her cell phone in disgust. Hadn’t she charged it just a few hours ago?  With her luck, the charger hadn’t been fully plugged in and she’d failed to notice in her haste to get out the door.

What else could go wrong? This day, this whole disastrous week, or was it year, might give her ulcers if she survived it.

She stopped on the downtown Portland sidewalk and glanced around. Although she was only a dozen or so blocks from her office, she hadn’t visited this particular part of town for a long time and had no idea how to find her client.

With the client’s address and phone number trapped in her dead phone, along with directions on how to find Mr. Smith’s office, she experienced a moment of panic. Situations like this never happened to her. Ellen was always organized. Always. She planned everything with care and foresight, leaving no room for surprises or failures.

Yet, despite her best efforts, nothing had gone according to plan recently.

Last year, her best friend had gone to Atlanta for a brief visit, fallen in love with some hunky horse wrangler who turned out to be a wealthy plantation owner, and married him a short time later. Tara and Brett were the epitome of wedded bliss, especially with a baby on the way.

Not that Ellen begrudged her friend a single second of happiness. Truly, she was thrilled Tara was living out her happily ever after, even if it was in Georgia and Ellen remained in Oregon.

When they were younger, dreaming of how they would take life by storm, Ellen had set her goals and achieved them with startling precision. The list of achievements she pursued wasn’t long or complicated: graduate from high school with honors, earn a full scholarship to college, graduate at the top of her class, pass the bar exam, take a job with a firm that guaranteed promotions and prestige, earn a partnership and get married — all before she turned twenty-six.

After celebrating her birthday two weeks ago, she’d felt the twinges of disappointment plucking at her soul. She’d failed to live up to her own expectations. Without a boyfriend in sight, the possibility of getting married seemed even more far-fetched than gaining a partnership at the firm where she worked.

The partnership that opened up last month went, of course, to the nephew of one of the founding partners. The man was severely lacking brain cells, but Ellen couldn’t very well tell her boss that. She supposed they’d figure it out soon enough. In the meantime, she assumed additional responsibilities in her already overwhelming workload, including meeting with this client whom she had no idea how to find.

A quick glimpse at her watch confirmed she had less than ten minutes to find the building or she’d be late.

What she wouldn’t give for the good old days when public telephones, and telephone books, could be found every few blocks. If she had access to one, she could call her client. As it was, she knew she should have written down the address instead of relying solely on her phone.

The July sun beat down on her in an unexpected heat wave. Sweat trickled between her shoulder blades and slithered along her spine, increasing her discomfort. She should have taken a cab, one with air conditioning. Instead, she’d decided to enjoy the beautiful weather and take in the blue skies, blooming flowers, and sweetness of summer on a stroll to meet Mr. Smith. Now she was overheated, anxiety-plagued, dripping sweat, and about to be unforgivably late.

“This is just perfect,” she muttered, dropping her phone inside the leather bag she carried over her shoulder before adjusting the bag’s strap.

“Think, think, think,” she said, rubbing her temple with one hand and closing her eyes.

Her mind drew a blank. Not so much as a hint of the address came to her.  No sudden recall pointed her in the right direction. No burst of brilliance helped her remember the client’s phone number.

Frustrated and resolved to returning to her office to retrieve the information she needed, she spun around and smacked into something warm and extremely solid. Momentarily stunned, she was afraid of what she’d hit. She cringed as she considered the possibilities of what she’d done.

The scent of leather and a man’s masculine fragrance mingled with an aroma she vaguely recalled from summer camp when she was thirteen. She’d spent six weeks learning how to ride a horse among the other activities.

What in the world was a horse doing in downtown Portland and how had she blindly smacked into it?

Slowly opening her eyes, she glanced up at the scowling, tanned face of a police officer as he sat astride his large chestnut mount. The horse shook his mane and glanced back at her, as though he measured her worth and found her severely lacking.

She pushed against the man’s muscled thigh to regain her balance and took a step back. The contact with his leg left her further unsettled than she’d been mere seconds before.

Who had muscles like that, anyway? His thigh felt like it was made of steel. What was the guy, a fitness nut? The short sleeves of his uniform shirt only accented his biceps and broad shoulders.
A brief perusal that started at the top of his hat and ended at the toes of his shiny leather riding boots confirmed that the man was, indeed, in prime physical shape.

His gaze held a hint of scorn as he continued to stare at her with a disapproving frown.

“May I help you, miss?” he asked in a smooth voice that held the hint of a drawl. He didn’t sound Southern, exactly, but he wasn’t from Portland, that was for sure. The man had a rugged, outdoorsy look to him. His seat on the back of the tall horse only accentuated the persona.

“No, thank you,” she said. Another step back nearly carried her into two businessmen walking past her. One of them gave her a cool glare while the other shot her an interested glance.

“Are you sure, miss? You seem to be a little lost.” The officer’s expression didn’t soften as he held her gaze with eyes that were a surprisingly clear shade of blue. In spite of his gruffness, Ellen couldn’t help but notice the sculpted firmness of his lips, particularly the top one.

Unbidden, thoughts of kissing it flew into her head. The only explanation she could latch onto was the possibility she had lost her mind. That had to be it. Stress, too many hours on the job, and the fact her last real date had been back in college definitely contributed to her current enthralled state.

The officer leaned down from the saddle, studying her. “Are you an attorney?” The frown lines on his forehead deepened and angry sparks ignited in his eyes.

Shocked by his question, Ellen mutely nodded.

“Did you defend Jonathan Westmont a few months ago?” he asked, a hard edge seeping into his tone.

“As a matter of fact, I did.” Ellen couldn’t think of any reason this officer would know who she was, unless… She took a moment to picture him in a dress uniform, with fury riding his features as he offered testimony at the trial. If his hostile glares could have brought about her demise, she wouldn’t have made it out of the courtroom alive. The high-profile case and the fact she’d won earned her a hefty promotion and a promise she’d be considered the next time a partnership became available.

Ellen had experienced her share of doubts about her client’s innocence. However, her job wasn’t to judge him, but defend him. She’d done her job exceptionally well. Hopefully, her client would learn from his near miss with a prison cell as his abode and not find himself in a similar mess in the future.

“Johnnie Westmont is as guilty as sin and thanks to you the people he cheated won’t ever get their money back, or have any closure on the devastation he caused.” The officer straightened and gave her a loathsome look. “Not only that, but it’s just a matter of time before he does it again. You should feel proud of yourself for making certain a criminal was allowed to go free. If he’s the poster child for the types of people you represent, how do you sleep at night?”

“Why do you seem to have such a vested, personal interest in him, sir?” Ellen asked, affronted. In spite of her irritation, her curiosity sought satisfaction.  What did it matter to Officer Handsome-And-Hotheaded? How dare he condemn her for doing her best for the client?

“I don’t have a personal interest in him, but anyone smarter than an idiot could see he was guilty. One of his victims just happens to be a friend of mine. And I’m the one who found out about his scheme, which is why I testified.” He gave her a long, observant glance. “Is there some reason you’re wandering around here? Do you need assistance? Escorted somewhere? Arrested for assaulting an officer?”

From the dark look on his face, she got the idea helping her might give the man an acute case of indigestion. No doubt lingered in her mind that he’d take great pleasure in hauling her in and locking her in a jail cell.

“No thank you, Officer,” she snapped and turned back in the direction she’d originally headed. 

Conscience pricked by his condemnation, she didn’t want to think about all the concerns his questions stirred.

In fact, sleep had become an elusive wish at night since she’d accepted her first promotion at the firm. The higher up the ladder she climbed, the more she felt urged to leave behind the moral and ethical compasses that had always guided her. She didn’t like representing clients she thought were guilty, but when her boss told her to take a case, she took it without question.

Lately, it was getting harder and harder to help clients she knew were scamming, cheating, lying scum dressed in expensive suits.

Ellen had such big dreams, such high hopes about being a high-powered, successful attorney. Now, her dreams inched toward delusions while the power she’d fought hard to gain seemed false and empty at best.

Regardless, it wasn’t any of the police officer’s business and today wasn’t the day to allow her mind and heart to engage in a heated debate.

 Even if she was lost, she refused to admit to him how badly she needed to find her client’s office. Her boss had stressed the importance of keeping Mr. Smith happy. Ellen had a feeling showing up late wouldn’t sit well with the man.

The clip clop of the horse’s hooves on the sidewalk kept step behind her as she marched forward, with no idea where she needed to go. Half a block later, she tossed a glance over her shoulder to find the officer and horse right behind her. She took a step to the right and stopped, turning back with an accusatory glower.

“Is there some reason you are following me?” she asked, indignant and growing annoyed.

“Who says I’m following you. I’m on duty and this is part of the area I’m patrolling today.” He smirked. “Are you sure you don’t need help?”

Ellen swallowed her pride and narrowed her gaze. “Do you know where to find the office of Smith and Matlock? They have an investment firm somewhere in this area.”

The officer nodded. “I sure do.”

Out of patience, Ellen wanted to stamp her foot. “And? Where can I find it?”

Those enticing lips curved upward in an almost grin as he pointed to a building across the street. “Right there.”

“Oh.” Ellen looked at the building, noticing the sign out front and the street numbers that jangled in her memory. “Thank you, Officer…”

“Tipton, miss. Burke Tipton.” With surprising politeness, he tipped his hat to her then rode away.

Ellen watched him until he turned a corner before racing across the street. As she hurried onto the elevator, she pondered if she’d see the cranky officer again and felt vexed that she wanted to.




Pre-order Sweet Christmas Kisses 4 today for just 99 cents and have it delivered to your e-reader on September 26th!

Amazon  /  Nook  /  iTunes  / Kobo  /  Google Play


 ******



Be sure to join us at the Facebook Release Party on Tuesday, September 26th for books, giveaways, games, and more!



After spending her formative years on a farm in Eastern Oregon, hopeless romantic Shanna Hatfield turns her rural experiences into sweet historical and contemporary romances filled with sarcasm, humor, and hunky heroes.
When this USA Today bestselling author isn’t writing or covertly hiding decadent chocolate from the other occupants of her home, Shanna hangs out with her beloved husband, Captain Cavedweller.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Sweet Christmas Kisses 4 Sneak Peek! First Chapter of "Unique Christmas" by Beate Boeker

This month, you're getting plenty of sneak peeks into our anthology "Sweet Christmas Kisses 4, and today, it's my turn to post the first chapter of "Unique Christmas". I hope you'll enjoy dipping into the story!  

UNIQUE CHRISTMAS
by Beate Boeker


Tomorrow is Christmas. The thought should have made me happy. Instead, it made me feel tired. I rubbed my eyes as I mounted the last rickety steps into my office to get my coat before going home. Major mistake. My right foot got caught somehow, and I fell through the flimsy door into my shadowy attic office, landing on my knees.
Grumbling, I picked myself up. My clumsiness had started sometime in my teens, when my legs and arms had grown with a speed that was downright scary. At the time, people laughed at me and found me cute. But now, I was thirty-two years old, and I still had all sorts of accidents all the time, and it wasn't cute anymore. It was Embarrassing, with a capital E. At least, nobody had seen me this time.
I work as Public Relations Manager at the small but international advertising agency Bello & Pronto in Florence, Italy. This year, the agency had grown like my arms in my teens, and my boss had employed six new people. However, he had not really considered the need for all of us to sit and work somewhere, so the resulting space problem had given us a sardine-in-a-can-feeling.
When I had fallen over my colleague's feet for the sixth time in one week in September, which resulted in a hissing fit of said colleague (I admit, her legs were a bit blue), my boss had the brilliant idea to give me some more space and quiet – by placing me in the attic. Never mind that it wasn't really insulated. Never mind that you could only reach my new office by climbing the most rickety stairs you've ever seen.
For an instant, I had wondered if he was trying to throw me out of my job in some subtle way. Or murder me. However, I'd worked for my boss for six years already, and I knew he was a dear at heart. So I bought a rope to give myself something to hold onto when I mounted, and I accepted my new office. To my surprise, it was heaven. While writing the press releases I needed to churn out at an ever-increasing speed, absolute quiet helped me make the words sing, and when I lifted my head, I could look straight into the attic window on the house at the other side of the street.
Not that there was much to see. It was a dusty little window, and it showed an attic similar to mine, empty, with the exception of tons of dust and an old wooden cupboard at the far wall. That cupboard intrigued me. When I got stuck with my texts, I went to my window, opened it, leaned out and tried to imagine how that huge cupboard had ended up in the attic, and what it contained.
My office is in Via Montenerone, in the historic city center of Florence, but the street hardly ever appears on a map – it's simply too small. The distance between the houses is so narrow I can almost touch the opposite wall when I lean out the window and stretch out my arm. I only tried that once. With my propensity for falling, it's better not to press your luck when leaning out of windows. I contented myself with looking and speculating and admiring the fancy woodwork on the cupboard. Its doors were covered with little carved flowers I could easily discern when the sun shone in. That happened every day for about five minutes, but only until mid-September. Then the sun sank too low. I already looked forward to spring and wondered when the sun would make it above the roof tops again, so it could reach the room.
Now, I rubbed my knee and hobbled to my desk to get my handbag and coat. Ten days without work stretched out ahead of me, and I couldn't wait to crash and sleep and relax. It had been an exhausting year.
From the retreating voices downstairs, I knew I'd soon be on my own in the building. Not that this was anything new. I'm a night owl and had long since received the keys to the office. Besides, we'd just said good bye and Merry Christmas to each other with a bit of Prosecco and some snacks. The office was about to close for the year, about an hour later than planned, but we were getting there.
I sighed with happiness and suppressed the slight feeling of unease that pooled in my stomach. My parents had gone on a cruise this year, leaving me alone for the first Christmas since I was born. I'd told them to go ahead and enjoy the sunshine, but now that Christmas was here, I wasn't so sure anymore.
My sort-of boyfriend Rodolfo had also gone home to his parents in Milano for Christmas. I had to admit I'd waved him off with a lifting of my heart when his car had finally driven down the road. His stuffy presence had become unbearable these last weeks. Rodolfo was a lawyer and compliance manager at a big bank. He earned tons of money, making sure everyone in his bank stuck to every single law the governments of Europe and Italy had ever dreamed up. Some made sense. Most didn't. He didn't care about that. He spent his days enforcing all of them. When I got to know Rodolfo eight months ago, I had no idea a compliance manager had to have the most nitpicking personality imaginable. Talk about professional deformation: He quoted paragraphs at me even while undressing, and that really made me nervous.
On the other hand, he was a dear. He was sweet and reliable and steady. I did value that, which was why I tried to make a go of our relationship, but finally, a week ago, I gave up. I told him we needed to think about our relationship, and some time apart would help both of us to see clearer. He was devastated. I was relieved.
But now, with Christmas almost upon me, I hesitated. Was I going to be lonely? “Nonsense,” I told myself, trying to make my voice sound firm. “I'll finally have time to--” I lifted my head and stopped mid-sentence.
The attic window in the house next door, the one that had intrigued me, was alight. I could see it clearly, a rectangle in the dark, like a medium-sized television screen or a tiny theater stage. A man sat at a desk that seemed to have materialized out of nowhere. He had his profile to me, and I could see his strong jaw, his coffee latte skin, and his mop of dark curls as if I stood in the same room. He stared at the screen of a notebook with a frown that made his eyebrows bristle, and he was wearing an ugly, hand-knitted sweater made of some mottled brown wool. Where had he sprung from?
Mesmerized, I took a step forward. In all these weeks, I had never seen a soul up there. The attics had been my private area, giving me the feeling the roofs were my world alone, and now, just before Christmas, this guy had appeared like . . . like Father Christmas.
I smiled at myself. No, he didn't look like Father Christmas at all. I took my time to survey him a bit better. He looked like a teddy bear. A brown, cuddly teddy bear, particularly with that rough sweater and those unruly curls. A Christmas Teddy.
Actually, it was quite a nice view – a decided improvement. But what terrible timing! Would he still be sitting here in the New Year? I had spent my life in this attic these last weeks – at least, that's how it felt – and now, on the very day when I planned to go on vacation, he appeared. It wasn't fair.
Maybe I could say something nice to him? Something like Merry Christmas or equally meaningful stuff? Yes, that's what I would do. Maybe we could have a little chat and I could find out if he'd come to stay for longer.
I went to the window, took hold of the handle and yanked it open. The window had a tendency to get stuck, but I'd long ago learned the trick. If I pulled just so, with all my might, and twisted it a bit to the side, it would open with a little, familiar creak.
There it was. The creak.
Then I heard another creak. Only it wasn't a creak. It was a crash. And then, before I knew what was happening, the whole window became unstuck and crashed onto my head. I went down like a sack of potatoes.


To read the full story (and 13 other stories besides!), you can pre-order SWEET CHRISTMAS KISSES 4 for only 99 cents here: 
Amazon: http://a.co/600caJ1
 And don't forget to join us for our Facebook party on Tuesday, September 26th, noon-8:30 pm (EST)!  https://www.facebook.com/groups/SRRCafe1/?ref=br_rs
You will meet all the authors and there'll be plenty of prizes and fun! We hope you see you there . . .

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

September Book Release and Book Sale



THE MEMORY OF BUTTERFLIES was released on 9/5. 

This is a story about love and family, and what we’d do to protect them…and in so doing, protect ourselves. Hannah Cooper, living a secluded life in Cooper’s Hollow, made choices she kept secret and years later those secrets may need to be revealed. 

How far would you go to protect your loved ones? And will they forgive you when they find out? (Excerpt below)


THE HAPPINESS IN BETWEEN is on sale for the month of September for $1.99. http://ow.ly/6bN330eyGDK  I hope you’ll take advantage of the sale if you haven’t already read it. Here’s a brief description: 

Cassandra "Sandra" Hurst did everything right growing up and believed that would give her a bright future, but instead she got Trent Hurst. Her parents helped with the divorce but then she made the same mistakes all over again, and this time they won’s, but her aunt offers her the opportunity to house sit at the old family place on Shoemaker Road to regroup and recover herself. 

Sandra got lost between what she wanted in life and what she found. If she has the opportunity for a second chance, will she have the guts to try?


Excerpt from THE MEMORY OF BUTTERFLIES:

Prologue: 
 
My daughter, Ellen, will graduate from high school this year. The closer we get to graduation, the harder the past is coming at me, kicking like a living creature and forcing its way back into my life. With it, it brings happy memories but also those that were gladly forgotten—including the memory of how I lost my Ellen seventeen years ago, then found her again. I grew up in Virginia, in the woods of Cooper’s Hollow amid the leafy green shadows of Elk Ridge. The rough banks of Cub Creek cut through our land from north to south such that one was never far from the music of its dark water. 

Our small house had sheltered many generations of Coopers, including those resting in the family cemetery on the hill opposite the house. I never wanted to be anywhere else except for a brief time, eighteen years ago, when I, myself, was about to graduate from high school. Six years after that, our home in Cooper’s Hollow burned down, and we were forced to move into town—we being Ellen and me. 

The nearby town of Mineral wasn’t big by most people’s standards, but from my perspective, it certainly was. Moving into town was scary, in part because Ellen was kindergarten age. I’d never wanted to draw attention, and it would be noticeable if she didn’t start school. It was time for it anyway, and it turned out that when it came to school and being around teachers and other children, Ellen was like a lively duck landing in a sparkling lake—it was made for her. I’d taught her some at home, and the school administrators, recognizing her quick mind, moved her into first grade early. Our new life was a perfect fit for Ellen. So, while I talked for the next dozen years about rebuilding our house and going back to live in the Hollow, I never actually got around to doing anything about it. Instead, I settled into the daily life of being a mom, working at my pottery business, and even volunteering at church and with the ladies’ auxiliary. How my grandmother would’ve laughed at the idea of my toting a homemade pound cake or a pasta casserole to a function! But you fit in as you can where you find yourself, and residing in town was social. Very different from living in the Hollow. 

For these last several years, I’ve been biding my time, waiting until the timing was right for both of us—for Ellen to graduate and begin her college career and for me to return home to Cooper’s Hollow permanently—to finally face the past.

::-::-::-::-::

Grace Greene is an award-winning and USA Today bestselling author of women’s fiction and contemporary romance set in her native Virginia (Kincaid’s Hope, Cub Creek, The Happiness In Between, The Memory of Butterflies) and the breezy beaches of Emerald Isle, North Carolina (Beach Rental, Beach Winds, Beach Walk, Beach Christmas). Her debut novel, Beach Rental, and the sequel, Beach Winds, are both Top Picks by RT Book Reviews magazine. For more about the author and her books, visit www.gracegreene.com or connect with her on Twitter @Grace_Greene and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/GraceGreeneBooks.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sweet Christmas Kisses 4 Sneak Peek! First Chapter of Christmas in Walnut Creek by Raine English

Sweet Christmas Kisses 4  is releasing on September 26th, and I'm so excited to share with you the first chapter of Christmas in Walnut Creek, my contribution to the boxed set.



Will a Christmas blizzard reunite a couple and give them a second chance at love?


Chapter 1

Jillian McAdams had never seen snow come down at such a clip, and that was saying something, because she’d seen some storms that were real doozies, having lived in Walnut Creek her entire life. The quaint little town was nestled in the hills of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, the corner of the state against the Canadian border and the upper Connecticut River. When the forecast predicted snow, you got snow and lots of it. This was different, though. Talk around town had been that this Nor’easter was supposed to cripple the area. Wind and snow pummeled the inn’s large picture window, rattling the panes so hard, she feared they might break.
With a sigh, she turned away from the window and went over to the front desk to check the guest registry. The weather could wind up having a real impact on business. She’d already received numerous cancellations, leaving her inn less than half-full for the Christmas holiday—the busiest time of year. She needed to be booked solid this week and right through to the second week in January, if she was going to make any profit at all.
There’d never been a problem filling the Lakeside Inn, and why would there be? The bed and breakfast had twelve elegant guest rooms in the main house, each with a private bath, and eight cabins that were ideal for families or romantic honeymoons. The one-hundred-acre estate was laced with miles of hiking, biking, and cross-country ski trails. It sat beside Willow Lake—a deep glacial lake well-known for its gorgeous natural beauty—and was at the base of Mountain Top Resort—one of the best alpine ski areas in the state. And  she offered New England charm and hospitality too, along with providing equipment and storage facilities in one of the state’s prettiest and most undisturbed regions. None of that mattered, though, if her guests couldn’t get there.
Her stomach grumbled loudly, so she wandered into the kitchen for her fifth meal of the day. “I can’t believe I’m hungry again,” she said, walking over to the stove to see what Flora was cooking for dinner. The woman’s hair was pulled up into a bun at the top of her head, making her appear older than she really was. Life hadn’t always been kind to Flora Weber. She’d lost her husband three years ago due to a snow mobile accident, and then she lost her home shortly after that. The position at Lakeside was perfect for her. It included cooking, cleaning, occasional front desk work, and whatever else needed doing, in exchange for a good salary and a room at the inn. It had worked out great for them both, and Flora had become Jillian’s close friend.
The woman looked over at her and smiled. “Chicken and dumplings will be ready in about ten minutes.” Penny, a red Shiba Inu with a mischievous sense of humor, was lying at her feet, looking up at her as if waiting for something to drop into her mouth.
“I could use some comfort food right about now, even though I’ll be big as a house if I keep eating like this.”
“You don’t have anything to worry about, except taking care of that little one you’re carrying inside. Why, you’re skinny as a rail, except for that tiny bump.” Flora’s eyes swept over her approvingly.
“Yeah, I’m glad all my weight’s going to Macie.” Jillian ran her hands over her belly, hoping to feel the baby kick, but all she felt was a fluttering movement.
“It’s Macie now? Last week it was Noah. So you’ve decided it’s a girl?”
“When she moves, it feels like butterflies. That’s too dainty for a boy, don’t you think? Although I don’t care what I have as long as it’s healthy.”
“My gut’s telling me it’s a girl. Are you sure you don’t want to find out the sex?”
Jillian shook her head. “Nope. I want to be surprised.”
“Then I’ll make sure everything I get is yellow or green.” Flora gave the pot on the stove a stir. “I set the table for fifteen. Has anyone else arrived since last count?”
Jillian frowned. “No. Just more cancellations. I’m afraid what we have now is all we’re going to get. Anyone venturing out at this point would be very foolish. And just in case we lose power and need to use the generator, I moved everyone to the inn, except a couple on their honeymoon. They wanted to stay in their cabin. I have a room available, though, if need be.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll be fine, and Mac can handle anything we can’t. Besides, it’s not like we haven’t had to deal with a snow storm before.”
What Flora said was true, and Jillian was glad that Mac had come on board, but this was her first winter without Dane since opening five years ago. And what made it even more difficult was spending the holiday without him. They’d been together since college and had married shortly after graduation. Six months later, they decided to buy Lakeside. It had been in need of major repair, but they couldn’t have asked for a more perfect location for an inn. The first few years were wonderful, but everything changed when the hit TV show Winter Games came to town to shoot an episode at Mountain Top Resort. Along with needing a lot of extras, they also were looking for a local to play a ski instructor. Not only was that right up Dane’s alley, but with his Brad Pitt-like good looks, he was a shoo-in. At first she’d been as excited as he was about his guest role, but when it turned into a recurring character, she knew their lives would never be the same again.
They’d tried to make things work. And it had for a while. Dane had gotten a tiny apartment in New York and would come home whenever he had a break from shooting, but it was difficult trying to keep a long-distance marriage together, and five months ago, it came to an end when Jillian filed for divorce. She was tired of reading about Dane’s latest love interest in the gossip magazines and wondering if there might be some truth to them. She needed a husband by her side. Not an absentee one whom she barely knew anymore.
Dane didn’t contest it. And there’d been no arguing. No fireworks of any kind. Their marriage had simply fizzled out. Next month, the divorce would be final and the love of her life would be gone forever.
With a heavy heart, she went into the dining room. Mac Long was crouched in front of the fireplace, loading it up with logs. He was a good-looking guy with dark brown hair and eyes, the complete opposite to Dane’s light coloring. He looked over his shoulder at her when she entered.
“I’ll have this thing roaring in a minute,” he said with a wide smile. It was no secret he had a crush on her. Maybe once her divorce was final and her heart had healed some, she’d agree to go on a date with him. But before that, she couldn’t even consider it. No matter how attractive he was.
“Thanks, Mac.” She smiled back at him, but the way he was looking at her made her cheeks grow warm, and she quickly looked away. “Our guests should be arriving any minute now.” She’d just finished speaking when Sonny and Joan Potter came strolling in. They were an elderly couple who’d spent every Christmas at the inn, since its opening.
“Evening, Jilly,” Sonny said. “The storm has really picked up. I’m glad we got in when we did. If we’d waited any longer, we wouldn’t have made it here. Hope you don’t lose power.”
“I hope not too, but if we do, there’s no need to worry. We’ve got a permanently installed generator that’ll get us by.”
“Too bad Dane’s not here,” Sonny remarked. “It’s bad enough he’s working over the holiday, but to be in the midst of a blizzard…well, I’m sure you’re wishing your husband was here with you.”
Mac shot her a look of confusion as he lit the fire. Awkwardly, she cleared her throat. “I better go see if Flora needs some help. Have a seat. Dinner will be right out.”
Mac followed her into the kitchen. “What was that about?” he asked solemnly. “Sonny and Joan don’t know you and Dane are divorcing?”
She shook her head. “I didn’t know what to say. They love Dane, and when they didn’t see him around, they assumed it was because he was filming. I’ve been waiting for the right time to tell them.”
Mac crossed his arms over his chest. “It’s kind of late now, don’t you think?”
She chewed her bottom lip. “It’s getting more and more difficult, that’s for sure. I guess I should do it after dinner.”
“Honey, you do whatever feels right. Your personal life is just that…personal.” Flora brushed by them carrying a huge bowl of chicken and dumplings.
Jillian picked up a basket of biscuits and followed her into the dining room. Mac was right behind with a platter of green beans. All the guests had arrived except Tommy and Lana Sawyer.
“I’m not surprised our newlyweds haven’t ventured out of their cabin,” Jillian said to Mac with a grin.
“If you make up a couple of plates, I’ll take them over.”
“Are you sure you don’t mind?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Not at all. I need to shovel the sidewalk anyway before the snow gets so deep that it becomes an impossible task.”
Jillian’s brow furrowed. “You’re going to eat something first, though, right?”
“Don’t worry about me. I’m not going to starve. I’ll grab something later.” He set the platter of green beans on the table.
Flora filled two dinner plates with food, then handed them to Mac. “There’s tinfoil in the pantry you can use to wrap these.”
“Thanks.”
After he disappeared into the kitchen, Jillian took a seat at the head of the table, passing the basket of biscuits to the Beaumonts. They were from Georgia and had been hoping for a white Christmas. Boy, did they get what they’d wished for. Charlie and Rose had three children: Chrissy, who was ten, Davie, a well-behaved eight-year-old, and little Sarah, who was just three. Across from them were the Newtons from Tennessee—Ellen and Ira. They had a sixteen-year-old son, Jessie, who was a fantastic skier. And beside them were Nora and Bobbie Rogers, empty nesters who were really happy to be spending the holiday away from home.
“I’m so glad you all decided to spend Christmas at Lakeside,” Jillian said happily as Flora filled each plate with her fabulous chicken and dumplings.
When everyone had been served, Flora took the empty bowl into the kitchen. A few minutes later, Penny trotted into the room, positioning herself between the Beaumonts’ two oldest kids, Chrissy and Davie. The Shiba Inu was stubborn and clever, and when she wanted something, there was very little that would divert her attention onto something else.
“Penny’s a beggar,” Jillian warned. “We don’t feed her scraps from the table, because if we did, she’d be even worse than she is now.” Jillian shifted her gaze over to her dog, whose tongue was hanging out as she focused all her attention on the two children.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. McAdams. We won’t feed her,” Chrissy replied, garnering a huge smile from her dad.
“That’s right,” Davie replied, dunking his biscuit into the sauce on his dinner plate. But before he’d even taken a bite, Penny leapt up and snatched the biscuit out of his hand. The little boy burst into tears. “I didn’t give it to her. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I know you didn’t.” Jillian sprang out of her chair and began to chase the dog around the table. “Penny, drop it,” she ordered. But it was too late. She swallowed the biscuit. “I’m sorry, all, but I think it’s best if Penny doesn’t join us for dinner.” Everyone laughed, and she was glad to see Charlie hand his son another biscuit as she led the dog out of the room by its collar.
She walked Penny into the kitchen, where Flora was seated at the small round table in the corner having dinner. “This one just stole a biscuit right out of Davie Beaumont’s hand.” Jillian took a leash off a hook next to the back door and clipped it to the dog’s collar.
There was a thin smile on Flora’s lips as she tried not to laugh. “Where have your manners gone, Miss Penny?”
Jillian gave the dog a stern look. “They left with Dane.”
Suddenly, Flora’s face went grim. “You’re right. Penny was much better behaved when he was here. I’m no doggie psychologist, but I’ll bet she’s acting out because she misses him.”
Jillian bent down and rubbed the dog’s ear. “You’re probably right. Even though she’s used to him being gone for long periods of time, I think she can sense that he’s not coming back.” She and Dane had found Penny at a shelter when she was just a pup, and after a day or two, it was quite obvious who the dog preferred. But Dane’s apartment in New York didn’t allow animals, and even if it did, he wouldn’t be able to provide her the attention she needed with his work schedule. They’d both agreed Penny would be much better off staying here.
She handed the leash to Flora. “Would you mind keeping Penny with you until our guests have finished dinner?”
“Not at all, and I’ll make sure she doesn’t get my biscuit,” Flora replied with a wink, pushing her dinner plate toward the middle of the table.
Jillian returned to the dining room and took her seat once again at the table. She was happy to see that everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. The conversation was upbeat and revolved around Christmas that was just two days away. Hopefully, the storm will have moved on by then. Every year, she and her guests attended church in the center of town. It would be a shame to have to miss it this year.
“Dinner was fantastic. I need to get that chicken and dumpling recipe from Flora,” Ellen Newton said, wiping her mouth with a napkin.
“I’ll let her know that you’d like it.” Jillian had to eat quickly seeing as most of her guests were just about finished.
As she was clearing the table, she caught sight of Mac through the large picture window. He was shoveling the walkway to the front door, and his hulking frame was covered with snow. The wind was blowing swirls of white and seemed to be covering up the area he had just cleared. She gave him a lot of credit for fighting such a useless battle and hoped he would come inside soon.
The group moved downstairs into the game room for coffee and dessert. The kids immediately headed over to the arcade games, while the adults settled into the comfortable armchairs near the checkerboard tables.
After about an hour, Jillian said good night to her guests and headed back upstairs to help Flora in the kitchen, but she wasn’t there. Instead, Jillian found Penny tied to the table leg. Fear clenched her heart. She opened the back door and was hit in the face with a burst of wet snow. Jillian quickly slammed it shut. “I wish you could tell me where Flora went,” she said to the dog, but as expected, the Shiba Inu simply wagged her tail.
Jillian raced down the hall toward the front of the house, remembering the last place she’d seen Mac was outside shoveling the walkway. The front door was wide open and it looked like it had snowed inside the foyer due to the thick white covering on the floor. She walked carefully, being sure not to slip.
Outside, she spotted Flora helping Mac up the front steps. “What happened?” she yelled out the door.
“I slipped and twisted my ankle or something,” he replied. “I’m okay. Get back inside before you freeze.”
Jillian wrapped her arms around herself and had to admit she was already ice-cold. She stepped aside, giving Flora and Mac plenty of room to get by. She closed and locked the door before following them into the lobby area where Mac had collapsed on one of the sofas. “So let me ask again, now that we’re all inside. What happened?”
“I’d finished shoveling and was about to come inside when the heel of my boot hit some ice and I went down. Hard.” He unzipped his ski jacket, shucked it off, and then handed it to Flora so she could hang it out in the hall to dry.
“You need to put ice on your ankle,” Jillian advised. “If it’s not better in the morning, we’ll have to see about getting you to a doctor.”
He grimaced. “In this blizzard? Not likely. Besides, I’ll be fine.”
“Don’t worry,” Flora said, coming to stand beside the sofa. “I’ll help him get up to his room, and then I’ll get him that ice pack you recommended. We don’t need his ankle swelling like a balloon.”
“Sounds like a good plan, nurse.” One corner of his mouth twisted upward as he regarded her with amusement.
Flora rolled her eyes, and as Jillian looked from one to the other, she thought what a handsome couple they’d make if they were to fall in love. Hmmm, maybe the blizzard just might help with that…
“Well, since you two seem to have things under control, I’m going to go get my dog that’s tethered to the kitchen table and call it a night.”
Flora clamped her hand over her mouth. “Oh! I’m so sorry. I tied Penny there so she wouldn’t run out the front door when I was helping Mac.”
Jillian patted her arm. “You did the right thing. That dog would’ve bolted for sure, and she would’ve been oblivious to your calls. The last thing I needed to deal with tonight was Penny missing in this blizzard. Good night, you two!”
A little while later, she was settled in her gorgeous cherry sleigh bed with Penny nuzzled beside her. The spacious corner suite was located on the second floor. It had windows facing front and side that offered beautiful views, and the sitting area, with its comfortable couch and huge stone fireplace, was one of her favorite places to retire after a long day at work. Memories of snuggling up there with Dane surfaced, and she fought to control her swirling emotions. It would do no good to dwell on the past, she told herself. What’s done is done. She needed to focus on the future. With that thought planted firmly in her mind, she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.



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USA Today bestselling author Raine English writes sweet small-town contemporary romance, along with paranormal and romantic suspense. She’s a Daphne du Maurier Award winner and a Golden Heart finalist. To receive information on all her new releases, you can sign up for her newsletter, visit her website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.


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