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.”
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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  1. I love your first chapter, Raine. So excited to read more!

    1. Thank you, Josie! So glad you enjoyed it. :)

  2. Sounds like a great read. Good luck with the new release.

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