Friday, September 1, 2017

Sweet Christmas Kisses 4 Sneak Peek! First Chapter of "Loving Winter" by Lyn Cote

Loving Winter by Lyn Cote--

A chapter for you to sample~

Welcome to Steadfast, a small town 
whose people and mysteries you may never forget~

Chapter One

Winter Woodard preferred well-worn jeans to bridesmaid gowns and the one she was wearing was a doozy. At the front of the packed church on an early October afternoon, she felt trapped in yards of amber satin. And thoughts about what was scheduled at her greenhouse after the wedding ceremony kept prickling her mind.
To distract herself, she looked past the bride and groom and caught a glimpse of the best man, standing opposite her. Tall, dark and brooding in a black tux, Clayton “Clay” Dixon looked as if he’d rather be anywhere but here. What was with him anyway? But then who could figure out men? Not me. Not now. Not ever.
The rest of the ceremony proceeded without a hitch and soon Winter prepared to follow the happy couple out of the church. The bride, her cousin Sage, and groom Deputy Garrett Connolly had been joined at the front by Sage’s three-year-old son Tucker who now rode piggyback on his new dad’s shoulders, beaming. A happy sight.
Nonetheless, Winter sighed. Why had her cousin chosen their dresses with such full skirts—and hooped at that? Perhaps since Sage wore a deputy uniform in her day job, she’d wanted to go extra “girly” for her wedding. Whatever. Winter cautiously moved her feet, making a graceful turn in her billowing dress with its antebellum hoop.
Clay stared at her, his arm crooked, waiting for her hand so they could start after the bride and groom. “What’s taking you so long?” he muttered.
Winter beamed an artificial smile up at him. “This is a wedding, not a race.” She took his arm. 
He tried to start off, pulling her along with him. 
She countered this with a backward tug on his sleeve. “Whoa, this isn’t the forty yard line,” she whispered. “I’ve got to go slowly to control the swing on this crazy skirt.”
He halted. “Sorry, I didn’t realize. Sorry.”
“And be careful not to step on my hem,” she cautioned him. “If you do, the hoop will lift up my skirt. All the way up. And I will have no secrets left.”
Obviously appalled at this possibility, Clay looked at her hem as though the skirt might spring to life. “Okay.” He again offered her the use of his strong arm, now for support as she negotiated each step.
“Thanks, Clay,” she whispered at the bottom.
He gave her a little smile and she forgave him. Though the logistics of the hooped skirt had been explained to him at the rehearsal, a man couldn’t be expected to remember how tricky a hoop skirt could be. Again, Clay snared and held her attention against her will. How could any woman ignore him? 
He was well over six feet tall, broad-shouldered and slim-hipped. He looked just like what he was, a former high-school and college football star and now the local high-school football coach. Make that the highly successful and popular football coach. Winter forced herself to focus on Sage and her new family.
Finally, they were on their way down the aisle but slowly. Sage and her groom Garrett were stopping to greet people on their way out of the church, letting each pew empty after they’d greeted the happy couple.
“What’s taking them so long?” Clay grumbled.
“Lighten up. This is a way of avoiding a formal receiving line,” Winter said, switching her bouquet into another hand and running quick fingers through her short red hair. She liked it to look just a bit spiky rather than curly.
“What’s wrong with a receiving line?” He tugged at his collar which seemed too tight for his formidable neck.
Poor man. He probably didn’t like formal dress. “Receiving lines are re boring,” Winter explained patiently, “and we’d be standing shaking hands for over an hour. Most of Steadfast and a few from LaFollette have turned out for Sage’s wedding. This way, the bride and groom alone perform the civilities, so when we arrive at the reception hall, the party begins on time.” And just before that, we’ll have time for the special visit to my greenhouse.
“Who invented big weddings anyway?” Clay asked in an obvious rhetorical aside.
As a florist who did many weddings a year, she was ready for Clay’s question. She gave him a playful grin. “Obviously men.”
“Men?” He stared at her, both dark eyebrows lifted.
“Yes, centuries ago, men realized weddings were big business. They purchased all the fabric, designed all the clothing, hired the seamstresses to sew milady’s gowns and tailors to sew m’lord’s raiment, sold the flowers, crafted the rings and then they pocketed all those hefty profits.” She knew she was being provocative and she was enjoying it. Just try to blame all the wedding stuff on women, Clay.
Clay shook his head at her and then smiled at last. She could sympathize with him. Clay wasn’t that unusual. Few men enjoyed weddings. He just put into words what most men thought. And he didn’t seem to mind that their eyes were almost at a level. Some men didn’t appreciate her being almost six feet tall. But Clay didn’t look one bit intimidated. A definite point in his favor.
So, letting Sage’s happy occasion restore her mood, she grinned at the wedding guests. Finally, they stood on the steps of the church in golden October sunshine. Instead of throwing rice, people were blowing bubbles from little plastic bottles in the direction of the bride and groom. 
“Okay, I have to ask,” Clay said near Winter’s ear, “how did you get your name? I’ve never met a Winter before.”
She glanced up at him. “Winter was my mom’s favorite season. She loved snow and being out in it. My father said--”
Suddenly Sage was laughing, interrupting Winter at just the right moment. Why had she thought of her father here and now? She never did. Sage waved for Winter and Clay to get into the limo.
Garrett with Tucker in hand was smiling as they got into the streamer-decorated limousine which would drive the wedding party around Steadfast, honking and celebrating. For a moment Winter remembered Sage’s late husband who had died too young. She was happy for Sage’s second chance at love and sincerely hoped for a bright future for her and Garrett and little Tucker.
Winter and Clay sat in the limo facing the newlyweds. Winter waved out the window and laughed at the people on the sidewalks who stopped in their tracks to watch the wedding party drive by. But her mind lurched back to fretting over the recent pressure on her business. Would what she’d planned for today work? Would it be enough to start to make a difference in her slipping bottom line?
At last, they drove up to Winter’s family greenhouse on the outskirts of Steadfast. Garrett helped Sage out of the car and Clay did the same for Winter, looking puzzled at stopping here. She didn’t have time to explain. The videographer she’d hired was waiting for them, looking antsy. The weather, at least, had cooperated with the festiveness of the day. “Where do you want us?” Winter called to the videographer. 
“Let’s start with the bride and groom beside your sign first,” replied the harried-looking man with video camera in hand.
Sage and Garrett obligingly posed by the wood sign, etched with pine trees and dark green letters: “Woodard Greenery.”
Clay leaned toward Winter and asked, “Why are we here?”
“I wanted to use Sage and Garrett in a round of new media commercials.”
“Yes,” Sage chimed in, “isn’t it a great idea? Garrett and I will be on TV and in the paper.”
Clay muttered something Winter couldn’t hear, for which she should probably be thankful. She didn’t have time right now to deal with any distraction. This had to go quickly and smoothly so the newlyweds could get on to their reception within fifteen minutes or so.
The videographer motioned Winter and Clay to join the newlyweds inside the greenhouse and then outside walking through the children’s “Nursery Rhyme Village,” which every fallWinter created with painted and carved pumpkins, gathered corn stalks and costumed scarecrows. Clay obeyed, but stiffly. The videographer followed them, filming and giving instructions. 
Finally in front of the tree farm area, the videographer said, “Now I want only the bride and maid of honor together holding their bouquets. That’s right. Face each other. Have the bouquets touching. Look happy. Look pleased.’’ More filming.
When he asked the groom and best man to pantomime cutting down a Christmas tree in that part of the nursery, Clay nearly growled, but finally went along. What was with the guy?
At last, the videographer said, “That’s all I need. Great. Really great stuff, Winter. This should give you the edge you want right when everyone is gearing up for the holidays.”
“Thanks,” Winter said. “I’ll be looking forward to seeing the finished product.”
“I’ll give you a call as soon as I’ve got the video and clips ready to go the Rhinelander TV station,” the videographer replied, making sure he had all his equipment packed correctly.
Garrett helped Sage back into the limo. Clay nudged Winter in after the bride. Just as Winter bent to enter, the best man stepped on the back of her hem. The metal hoop reared up and smacked Winter’s nose. “Ouch.”
“Sorry. Sorry,” Clay apologized. “Are you all right?”
Winter’s face warmed with embarrassment. Over her shoulder, she gave him a disgruntled look as she edged into the limo. He’d been so grumpy but surely he hadn’t done that on purpose, had he? Then both of the men climbed inside with the ladies and the driver pulled away from the curb, heading toward a local supper club for the reception. Clay said nothing. His expression announced irritation and held a trace of chagrin.
The man was unhappy about something and she guessed that the chagrin was from his stepping on her hem. She gave him another smile, saying “No hard feelings.” 
He didn’t respond, just looked away.
Mentally shaking her head, she turned to the bride. “Thanks again,” Winter said, ignoring the masculine thundercloud beside her. “You’re such a great-looking couple I couldn’t see passing up a chance for such a good shoot.” 
“Well, Garrett cleans up well.” Sage grinned and punched her groom’s arm. He faked pain. “I hope the ads do the trick,” Sage declared. “I can’t believe that Henderson’s is trying to grab your business. Don’t they have enough customers over in LaFollette to keep them busy?” 
Winter shrugged, her stomach burning. The nearest nursery, Henderson’s, had set up a farm stand just down the road from her place over a month ago to compete with her fall bouquets, pumpkins, gourds, etc. And they’d had begun advertising a new slogan: “Henderson’s--the greenhouse for LaFollette and Steadfast.” She said, trying to pass it off, “Competition is just part of being in business.” 
The limo pulled up in front of the venerable whole-log supper club beside a lake surrounded by a thick forest with walking trails. The wedding party got out and paraded up to the door. Inside, Winter was swept up into the festive occasion. 
After dinner, the groom led bride to the table where they cut the cake and fed each other a tidbit. Then the staff began distributing the tempting dessert. At the head table, Winter forked up one of the pink roses and savored the sweetness. And tried to think why the best man beside her gave the impression of a pot about to boil over.
“I can’t see how you can eat that,” Clay said with a look of distaste.
What was with him? She looked over at him and smiled sweetly. “I get the feeling weddings aren’t your thing.”
He grunted.
She chuckled, his bad mood in the midst of all the smiles and cheerful voices amusing her. “If you didn’t want to do all this, then why did you agree to be best man?”
“I value Garrett. He’s a solid friend.”
“He seems like a good guy.” She forked up more gooey frosting, just to tease him. “You were friends when you went to college in Iowa, right?”
“What? Do you want my life history?” he snapped.
Now Winter didn’t disguise her displeasure, stabbing her cake with her fork. “I’m just trying to make polite conversation. I see it’s lost on you.”
“At least, I don’t use my relatives on their wedding day for cheap publicity for my business.”
His scathing tone sliced through Winter and the explanation of his obvious displeasure was now revealed. For once, she couldn’t speak. Too many words jammed in her throat. She picked up her cake before she gave into temptation and tipped it into his lap and swished away to Sage’s older sister Wendy, sitting at a nearby table. Wendy’s father and her mother had been cousins and Winter and Wendy and her sister Sage had been close since childhood.
“What’s wrong?” Wendy asked as Winter sank into the chair beside her.
To her horror, Winter felt tears start in her eyes. Clay’s cutting words echoed in her mind. She pursed her lips. “Do you think I was awful to ask Sage to pose for publicity photos and video today?” she asked.
“It was up to Sage. She loved the idea of being able to help you out,” Wendy replied immediately. “And Sage is lovely and the bridal bouquets! Winter, you outdid yourself.” 
Winter swiped away the moisture in her eyes.
“What made you think anything was wrong with the shoot?” Wendy asked.
“Clay Dixon.” Winter felt her face drawing down into a grim expression. “He said I was...‘using my friends’—”
Wendy shook her head. “You must have hit one of his nerves.”
Winter sent her a quizzical look.
“We all have them, don’t we? Sore spots?”
Winter considered this. And she recalled that Garrett was his best friend and Garrett was a great guy. He wouldn’t be best friends with a jerk. What was she missing?
“And Clay’s generally leery of women,” Wendy continued. “Didn’t you know that? He even glares at the cheerleaders during the football games.” Wendy grinned.
“I’m not into sports, as you well know.” Winter grimaced. “I know he did a great job with last year, his first year as football coach here, because that’s all anyone talked about.”
“Well, you know people around here take their local sports very seriously.” Wendy waved at someone as they passed the table. The place hummed with happy voices. “From what I hear he’s notorious,” Wendy added. “He gave all the single mothers of his team short shrift. Turned down every invitation to a ‘home-cooked meal.’”
Winter grinned suddenly. “I’ll just bet he did.”
The call for all the single women to come forward for the tossing of the bouquet trumpeted through the hall. Winter ignored it.
A plus-sized and silver-haired woman, “Ma” Havlecek, so named because she was beloved by many, marched over with little Tucker by the hand. “Winter, get up there.” 
“Ma, I did the flowers,” Winter replied drily. “I have a greenhouse of flowers.” She wasn’t interested in catching Sage’s bouquet and getting all that ‘you’re next’ action.
“Up!” Ma literally yanked Winter up and herded her to the small cluster of giggling single women. Winter rolled her eyes. 
“Ready or not!” Sage called out and let loose her bouquet. Startled, Winter looked up just as the bouquet landed in her hands. She groaned with dismay. Now everybody here would have something to say about why she was still single, etc, etc. She looked around for an escape but found herself surrounded by the other single women, all laughing and teasing her. She groaned again. 
Standing at the edge, Ma beamed at her. “You’re next,” she mouthed in the din. 
No, Ma, I’m not.
Over Ma’s shoulder, she glimpsed Clay Dixon still staring at her. Or was he glaring at her? Whatever.

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1 comment:

  1. Lyn, I loved this excerpt! Thanks so much for sharing.