Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Sneak Peek-1st Chapter Excerpt of Sweet Peppermint Kisses by Josie Riviera

Hi Everyone,
I’m so excited to be part of Sweet Christmas Kisses 5!

Fill your holiday stocking with love and 9 sweet romance novellas, from USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly, and award-winning authors.

Sweet Christmas Kisses 5 brings you contemporary romances that celebrate the joy of the season around the world, including snowy Maine and the sun-kissed skies of Florida, the mountains of Colorado to small-town Illinois and Virginia, New York to San Francisco, and even the glittering lights of Paris and the old-world charm of Florence. The Sweet Christmas Kisses 5 bundle features all-new, standalone novellas that will make you smile and warm your heart with the Christmas spirit.

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Today, I’m sharing Chapter One of my contribution, Sweet Peppermint Kisses:

Chiara Johnson sat on a chair near the chrome table in her kitchen, inhaling the enticing scents of vanilla and almond wafting from the oven as her cookies baked. Sighing, she peered around her modest apartment. Although she categorized the first day of December as the beginning of the holiday season, it didn’t feel much like Christmas.
“Sugar cookies,” her mother had always said, “were the answer to all life’s problems.”
Well, maybe they were.
Nostalgic images of baking with her mother and sister brought misty tears. These pangs of nostalgia erupted at the oddest moments, although in December, homesickness was justifiable.
Of course, she would volunteer at the women’s center. Chiara believed in giving back, especially to an organization that had indirectly affected her. Adeline, one of her co-workers, had been homeless for a while until she secured a job. The shelter had enabled her to get back on her feet.
Besides, Chiara thought, volunteering gave her a sense of purpose.
It was just … well, … she hadn’t imagined herself still living in Turning Point, Virginia after three years.
Sure, she’d made friends. Adeline had even launched a book club that met in town every Friday evening, and the women were a delight to be around. However, with Chiara’s work schedule, she had attended only a couple times.
She turned the volume louder on her cell phone as “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” the 1943 version sung by Bing Crosby, came on. One of her favorite holiday tunes, she sang along to the last few bars: “If only in my dreams.”
Dabbing the tears from her eyes, she stood to check on the sugar cookies.
Her cell phone rang and she answered, recognizing the incoming caller’s ID.
“Hi, Emma,” she said as she settled back in her chair.
“Are you sure you can’t move home by Christmas?” her younger sister asked.
“You read my email? Yes, I’m positive.” Chiara cradled the phone to her ear. “I accepted a full-time job for December to help pay off my last tuition bill.”
“Couldn’t someone else in your nursing agency work instead of you?”
Emma was a typical nine-year-old girl. She had a lot to say about every subject, couldn’t see any side of the story except hers, and regarded Chiara as the world’s best sister.
Chiara smiled. It was wonderful to feel adored.
“Everyone else in the agency either has a significant other or children or both,” she replied. “And they all had holiday plans. I didn’t, and I was available. Plus, the agency was scrambling to fill the position on such short notice.”
“Mom and Dad said you’re an awesome nurse. They say you genuinely care about people.”
“Thank goodness parents put us on a pedestal, right?” Chiara laughed. “Between classes and other expenses, I’ve worked hard to make ends meet. Right now this job is necessary.”
Wasn’t that the understatement of the year?
Obviously, she couldn’t ask her parents for money. Due to the recent economic downturn, they struggled financially. The Midwest had been hit particularly hard.
However, Chiara was determined to succeed. She’d studied hard to earn her RN degree at a high-quality Virginia university and planned on securing a stable, well-paying position.
“So, you start your new job right away?” Emma asked. She was chewing on something, presumably a fruit snack. The little girl ate fruit snacks endlessly.
“Monday is my first day, and it’s a live-in position above a garage, so I’ll be saving rent money,” Chiara said. “My client is a woman recuperating from a fall and a concussion.”
“Did she trip or something?”
Chiara went to the sink to run water into the mixing bowls. “She was riding a horse. The woman lives on a horse ranch.”
“Horses? Lucky you! I want a brown and black pony for Christmas.”
“Umm, horses are way too big for my liking and can be extremely dangerous. Also, it’s not my ranch, and I won’t be riding any horses.”
“Maybe Santa will bring me a horse from the ranch. Tell him.”
“I’ll be staying in a guest apartment over the garage, and I probably won’t run into Santa.”
Chiara wondered if the over-the-garage apartment would be an improvement over her current home. The bland beige walls in the galley kitchen screamed for a colorful face-lift, and the bland vinyl flooring was outdated. A dose of Christmas decorations should have been on her to-do list. Unfortunately, between her classes and home-nursing appointments, she was beyond exhausted.
“Doesn’t Santa come to Virginia?” Emma asked.
“I’m sure he does, although I’ve never seen Santa ride a horse.”
Emma paused. “Do you think you’ll see one of his elves?”
“You never know.”
“Well, one of his elves riding a horse is almost as good as the real Santa.”
“I agree.”
“Just in case, I’ll tell Santa I want a pony when I see him at the mall.”
Chiara chuckled. “You do that.” Homesickness welled again. She blew out a breath and kept her voice light. “I’ll Skype all of you on Christmas Day, okay?”
She envisioned her parents and Emma attending the festival of lights exhibition in Kansas City. Oh, how her family delighted in the festivities, marking off the four Sundays before Christmas on the Advent calendar, skating every weekend on the city’s outdoor rink. Emma would be the first one on the ice, gliding fearlessly, not afraid to fall.
Her chest squeezed. Family togetherness was the most significant part of the holidays, and she’d once again miss those days with the people she treasured most.
As she listened to Emma’s excitement about the cool Harry Potter book she was reading, Chiara opened the oven to an eruption of heat. According to the recipe, the cookies were done. According to her eyes, they weren’t. However, the last time she baked cookies, she had burned them until they were unrecognizable.
To be prudent, she removed the raw-looking cookies from the oven and set the trays on the stove. Hopefully, they didn’t taste the way they looked.
“Are you still there? Did you hear what I said?” Emma asked.
“Yes. I’m overjoyed you’re liking the Harry Potter books.” Chiara nodded into the phone. “I’m baking sugar cookies for my agency’s holiday party and had to take them out of the oven.”
“Remember how we try out different recipes for our gingerbread houses?” Emma giggled. “And how they always collapse?”
“We’ll experiment with another recipe this year, an easier one.” Chiara bit into a cookie before realizing it was burning her tongue. Gingerly, she chewed, swallowed, then groped for a glass of water. “Royal icing will stick the pieces together like cement.”
“When? If you’re not here, we won’t be able to build a gingerbread house.”
“I’ll be home by New Year’s Eve. This nursing gig is only for December.”
If she lasted that long. The last wealthy family she’d worked for had treated her poorly. She remembered them well—five people residing in the same home, each settled into their separate spaces and hardly conversing with one another, disregarding her as nothing better than invisible hired help. Defensive, she’d managed her job professionally and kept to herself.
What gave some people the right to be so dismissive to others just because they had money?
She pushed away the memory and finished the cookie. It had hardened already and tasted delicious even without icing and sprinkles.
“Promise?” Emma was asking.
“And if you see Santa at the horse ranch—”
“I’ll mention your pony request.” Chiara glanced at the clock. “I should get ready for my agency’s Christmas party, so we’ll talk soon. I love you.”
“I love you too and I’m giving you a cyber cuddle.”
This was Christmas, Chiara wanted to say. She needed more than a cuddle. She needed to be with people she cherished.
“Be good and tell Mom and Dad I send my love.” She returned Emma’s blown kisses and then ended the call.
That squeeze in her chest again, an ache of loneliness. Lips pressed tight, she moved to the counter where her laptop sat and switched her computer on. Quickly, she scrolled through the job listings on the nursing agency’s website.
There it was. Her one-month gig.
Home Nurse. Temporary live-in position assisting a woman with self-care, companionship and everyday tasks. Immediate opening.
The agency’s report stated the patient was recovering from a concussion and broken ankle after missing a vault in a high-stakes horse competition.
Just like Kevin.
Despite her efforts to never think about him, her mind brought up an image of her ex-boyfriend. Of course, his concussion and broken wrist hadn’t been the result of a horse show. It had been the result of a bar fight.
Why, why, why were his violent tendencies so clear in hindsight? Fortunately, he’d never hit her. But if only she’d had that knowledge beforehand, had understood that a man’s online dating profile didn’t necessarily reveal who the man really was. Despite her parents’ reservations, she had left home and relocated to Virginia to be near him. A few months after their relationship began, she realized he wasn’t the guy for her and broke it off.
Although she longed for all things Kansas, by that point she’d enrolled in a nursing degree program and had secured a full-time job.
So here she was, three years later. Overdrawn on her bank account, in a town she didn’t consider home, not so much as a hint of a boyfriend, and celebrating Christmas by herself.
Focus on the future, not the past, her favorite pastor had once preached, and bring your views on life into context. A home was more than a building, more than a place. A home was where she was a participant, not a consumer who followed from the sidelines.
As she contemplated this, a message popped into her inbox:
“Miss Johnson, a change in plans. My sister has a late morning doctor’s appointment. Please report for your position on Monday afternoon after lunch.”
“Is four o’clock okay?” she quickly typed. “It would be better for me and give me more time to pack my things.”
She pressed send, then felt her body freeze in place.
Since when did a person who’d just gotten a job tell her employer what hour was best to meet?
An immediate reply appeared.
“Make it five. The front gate will open when you drive up. Thanks. Vance Thatcher.”
* * *
On Monday afternoon, Chiara heaved her suitcases into the living room. She tugged on red patent leather boots and buttoned her new cream-colored jacket, which had been an early Christmas gift to herself for completing her degree. Peering into her bathroom mirror, she styled her blonde curls into a side bun and applied natural lip gloss. She wore no other makeup, so there was nothing she could do about the vivid spots of pink on both cheeks. She was eager, she told herself, anticipating her newest job. Or, she realized with a wry grin, she was punch-drunk from exhaustion.
As a result of late-afternoon traffic and bad weather, her trip took longer than expected. She drove her ancient Ford Escort slowly along the rain-slicked roads.
Strings of garland adorned the businesses on Post Avenue, the main street in town. Streetlights added a mellow glow to the silver puddles, and she saw a sign advertising horse-drawn carriage rides.
All this fanfare because the town of only 20,000 inhabitants had been voted one of the most festive in America.
She couldn’t contain her smile. The description was so fitting, notably at Christmas.
Sometimes, she marveled at how the townspeople did it. A week earlier, harvest flags and gourds had been everywhere. Now there wasn’t a pumpkin in sight.
So why had she never seemed to belong, forever pining for Kansas’s flat grasslands, the fields of wheat, the meat-falling-off-the-bone barbecues? The likelihood of a white Christmas in Kansas City was generally assured. In Virginia, December was commonly a rainy month. Turning Point averaged seven inches per year, so snow at Christmas was hit or miss.
If she were honest, she didn’t even like snow, except between Christmas Eve and New Year’s. Nevertheless, she loved four distinctive seasons, and Virginia had that commonality with Kansas.
Minutes later, her cellphone’s map brought her to a street address at the north point of town. Her agency had detailed the property as an equestrian estate and, as she drove past, limitless tracts of farmland looked untouched. As she neared the final turn, she slowed and then stopped at a red light.
Further down, she sighted a gated driveway leading to a luxury log cabin mansion, sitting on acres of land and resembling a wooden lodge. The ranch even had a name—Wellington Acres. And according to the agency’s information, the home bordered a pond.
So large. So beautiful. Despite the fluttering in her gut, Chiara dismissed her intimidation. She could do this.
Several horses grazed in pastures, and one tossed its head toward her. Behind the fencing, a white horse with big brown eyes seized a mouthful of grass, then greeted her with a whinny.
Emma would love it here—outside in nature, with all this open pasture to run wild and play. Age-old pine trees lined muddy trails. Whatever else happened, Chiara thought, Wellingon Acres was an extraordinary place to spend the holidays.
Perhaps she’d purchase a miniature evergreen tree for her garage apartment and spruce it up with bright gold tinsel. For Christmas, Emma wanted Judy Blume books, a portable piano keyboard, and a hair straightener for her unruly blonde curls. With part of her salary, Chiara could give Emma a special Christmas, and the items would easily fit into her luggage.
Except for the pony. Chiara grinned. Well, her sister would need to wait, unless ponies learned how to fly.
She fiddled with the radio while she waited for the light to change. On the other side of the highway, a bright-red Corvette sped toward the light, apparently intending to run the yellow. Despite the rain and swiftly falling darkness, the car had no headlights and was cruising well over the twenty-five-mile zone. The teenage boy behind the wheel glanced down, doubtless studying his cellphone. Then he gestured to another teen boy in the passenger seat.
A drumming sound grabbed Chiara’s attention. A large black horse had galloped onto the road. Wildly, she looked around. Where had the horse come from?
The Corvette sped closer. The horse’s eyes were wide with fright as it whinnied in terror.
The driver of the Corvette looked up in time and slammed on the brakes. The car fishtailed on the wet road, coming precariously close to the horse. The driver overcompensated, and the car swerved off the road, hurtling through a pasture fence. The horse spun in a circle and loped away.
Noise exploded all around Chiara—horses in the pasture neighing, the boys screaming.
She jerked her car over to the curb, shut off the ignition, and dashed across the road. The sharp cold air seemed to slice through her as she raced to reach the boys.
Clearly shaken, they emerged from the Corvette. One was crying as he wiped at his bleeding forehead. The other was shaking and whimpering. As she pulled her cell phone from her purse, he pleaded for her not to call his parents.
She didn’t know his parents’ phone number, she thought to reply. Instead, she stayed quiet, and, with disciplined focus, she examined them both for injuries and spoke quietly to calm them. Then, supporting the wounded boy’s head in her lap, she punched in 911.

Sometimes the best gifts are hiding right under your heart.

His emotions were once trampled flat. Can he throw his heart over the fence toward the ultimate Christmas gift—a future filled with love?

Pre-order your ebook copy of Sweet Christmas Kisses 5 today. Only $.99!

Josie Riviera is a USA TODAY bestselling author of contemporary, inspirational, and historical sweet romances that read like Hallmark movies. She lives in the Charlotte, NC, area with her wonderfully supportive husband. They share their home with an adorable shih tzu, who constantly needs grooming, and live in an old house forever needing renovations. 

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