First off, a big “Thank you” to the Chocolate Box Writers for giving me this guest blog spot!
I’ve always loved fall: the beautiful colors, the relief from the heat of summer and, I admit it, anticipation of the holiday season. So, I suppose it’s fitting that my first Christmas novel should launch in October.
Yep, I know. Early thoughts of the holidays make some people want to cover their eyes and ears. Others can’t wait. And that’s fitting, too, because my heroine in “No Christmas Like the Present” has one foot planted in each camp. She doesn’t hate Christmas … she just wishes she had more time to enjoy it. And, somehow, to get it “right.”
That’s where we find Lindsay at the beginning of Chapter One….
* * *
December sixteenth, and she’d barely started on her Christmas cards.
Lindsay Miller sat in the living room of her apartment, the TV tray in front of her stacked high with cards and envelopes. Every year she promised herself she’d get started early, and every year she ended up behind. The whole first paragraph of the notes in her cards used to be an apology for being late, apologies for not writing during the year, and pledges to do better next year. At twenty-nine, she’d given up on the annual litany of excuses. They’d heard it too many times before. But every year, she still vowed to herself that she’d surprise them all.
Lindsay sighed and brushed a handful of light brown hair behind her ear again as she bent to her task. She flipped her worn vinyl address book to the G’s. Only the seventh letter of the alphabet.
Out of the corner of her eye, she sneaked another glance at the old black-and-white version of A Christmas Carol they were showing on television. It was her favorite scene, as Scrooge’s jolly nephew Fred once again explained the joys of Christmas to his uncle. And it was her favorite version of the film, because this Fred was exceptionally handsome. Elegant and dark-haired, with warm dark eyes and exquisite features, resplendent in his long, trim overcoat, top hat in hand.
“I have always thought of Christmas time as a good time,” he said in his rich voice, with that cultured British accent. “The only time I know of when men and women seem, by one consent, to open their shut-up hearts freely….”
Right, Lindsay thought wryly. Just as soon as I finish these cards.
But she felt a pang. Another holiday season was passing by. She’d gotten her packages sent, at least, but she still had more shopping to do . . . more batches of fudge to make . . . and these cards . . . all to fit around eight hours a day at the office. To really do it right, she had a feeling Christmas would be a full-time job in itself.
She pulled her eyes away from Fred and brought her attention back to the next name in the address book. Ruth Gillespie. Her old college roommate. When was the last time they’d talked? She made the annual mental vow to call her in January, once the holiday rush had passed.
As Fred stubbornly wished Scrooge a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year, Lindsay’s doorbell rang. She checked the pendulum clock hanging on the living room wall. Almost seven P.M. During the summer, when it was still light outside, she wouldn’t have thought twice about someone coming to the door at this hour, but now that it was well after dark, it gave her pause.
Frowning, she approached the door and tried to peer out the peephole. No good. She’d decorated her door with gift wrap the first week of December, when she still had hopes of getting Christmas right this year. Reluctantly, Lindsay opened the door about twelve inches, her hand still clutching the knob, and peered out.
It was Fred.
The same Fred she’d just seen on television, from a movie made over fifty years ago.
Lindsay turned to check the TV screen, and there stood Fred, framed in the door of Scrooge’s counting house. She turned back to her visitor, framed in her own doorway, and blinked. Hard. The same long, slender overcoat. The same top hat. And the same handsome face, down to the ready smile and the glimmer in his eye. Except that this Fred was in living color.
He removed his hat, revealing a head of wavy dark hair that did nothing to lessen the resemblance.
“Miss Lindsay Miller?” he said, and his voice even held the same trace of a British accent. Not the kind of accent you heard every day here in Lakeside, Colorado.
Eyes didn’t twinkle in real life. And they certainly couldn’t dance. The very thought was corny beyond belief. Or at least Lindsay would have thought so. This man’s eyes appeared to be doing both, and while it made her stomach flip, it wasn’t from nausea. But what was with the nineteenth-century getup? He must be a walking advertisement for one of those chimney-sweeping services. Someone should tell him the fireplaces in this apartment complex were all the ornamental, natural-gas kind.
Somehow, he knew her name. Maybe it was a singing telegram. Who would send her a singing telegram?
She tightened her grip on the doorknob. “Yes? What can I do for you?”
“For me? Not a thing. I was sent here strictly for your benefit.”
It had to be a sales pitch, or worse. Lindsay steeled herself against the laughing eyes that gleamed at her under her porch light. “I’m sorry,” she said, and started to close the door. “I’m not interested in buying anything tonight—”
A smooth black walking stick jutted out, blocking the swing of the door. A walking stick?
“No, no, Miss Miller, you misunderstand. I came because I was told you’ve been missing out on the spirit of Christmas—”
That did it. He was crazy. Lindsay shoved harder against the walking stick and slammed the door. The stick got stuck in the doorjamb, and she froze in alarm; then, mercifully, it slid back outside, and she shut the door the rest of the way. She leaned her shoulder against the door as she first bolted it, then turned the lock on the knob, then resolved to get one of those security chains. And never to answer her door again after dark.
She started toward the phone in the kitchen, ready to call the police if the strange man outside gave her any more trouble.
She got halfway to the kitchen before she nearly walked into him. He stood in the middle of her apartment, right where the living room led into the kitchen.
It couldn’t be. A scream tried to make its way out of her throat, but her breath stuck in her windpipe. How in the world had he gotten in?
He took a step back and held up his hands in front of him, as if to show he meant no harm. The walking stick dangled loosely between his fingers. Halfway down, it was slightly bent, as if it had been slammed in someone’s front door.
“Please,” he said, “give me just a moment. We’ve gotten off to a bad start.”
His dark eyes looked absolutely guileless, but that didn’t lessen her alarm. He stood between her and the kitchen phone, her lifeline to the sane world. Maybe she could get her hands on a weapon.
Lindsay cast her eyes furtively in search of a blunt instrument. “You’re breaking and entering.”
“Nonsense. I haven’t broken anything.” He held the walking stick out to her, still hanging it loosely from his fingertips. “Here. Take this, if it makes you feel better. All I ask is that you hear me out.”
She snatched the stick and thought about cracking him over the head with it, but his steady gaze was so far from menacing, somehow she couldn’t. Instead, she angled the walking stick toward him, reinforcing the distance between them. “Who gave you my name?” She started to sidle around him, toward the phone.
“That’s a little hard to explain. I was sent by my supervisors.” He maneuvered, too, always a safe distance away, but still keeping himself between her and the phone. His words came a little faster. “Miss Miller—may I call you Lindsay?”
She didn’t answer. They’d nearly reached the countertop where the phone rested, and he stood in front of it.
“You’re missing out on the most wonderful season life has to offer. And I’m here to help.”
She switched tactics, tentatively advancing toward him with the stick extended. He backed away. Whatever else he might be, he didn’t seem aggressive—or, at least, not physically violent. Although he was every bit as stubbornly persistent as Scrooge’s nephew.
He went on, “You spend every Christmas rushing to get things done, without ever stopping to enjoy it. You know there’s more to be gotten out of Christmas, and every year you try to find it. That’s why I’m here.”
With the help of the prodding stick, Lindsay reached the white-tile counter. She groped for the phone, never taking her eyes away from the stranger in front of her.
“Lindsay, you need my help.” Her searching hand knocked over the jar of pens next to the phone, and continued to fumble for the handset. He started to tick items off on long, slender fingers. “You’ve spent the past week making batch after batch of fudge to send to your aunts, uncles, and cousins. You spent the rest of that same week organizing the children’s choral performance at the community center—which I understand was lovely, by the way. You’re drowning in a hideous stack of cards for people who never hear from you the rest of the year. You have a carton of eggnog in your refrigerator that expires in two days, and you haven’t even opened it.”
She didn’t remember the date on the eggnog, but she knew she hadn’t opened it yet. Her skin crawled. He’d been in her apartment, had gone through her things, and he’d been watching her. That was the only explanation. Lindsay seized the phone.
“And when you were ten years old, you peeked at your biggest Christmas present, but you never did it again because it spoiled the surprise.”
She almost dropped the handset. No one knew that. Not even her parents.
He added, “A tape recorder, I believe.”
Impossible. He must have found out somehow.
Lindsay firmed her grip on the cordless handset and turned it on. But when she raised the phone to her ear, she didn’t hear a dial tone. Instead, soft strings played “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Lindsay squeezed the phone hard, and the room swam as if she were seeing it through a wet pane of glass.
She glanced up at her strange visitor. He regarded her quietly, still a safe distance away, although she’d forgotten to brandish the walking stick.
Lindsay switched the phone off, then back on. This time she heard “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”
In addition to everything else, apparently, he knew her two favorite carols.
She stared at him numbly. “How did you do that?”
The swirling room darkened to black, and she barely felt the arms that caught her before she could hit the floor.
* * *
Sierra Donovan is a wife, a mother of two and a writer, though not always in that order. Her job and greatest joy is helping people find true love on the printed page. She is a firm believer in old movies, Christmas, chocolate fudge and happy endings. Her holiday romance, “No Christmas Like the Present,” is now available from Kensington Publishing.
Amazon author page: www.amazon.com/Sierra-Donovan/e/B001JS7V54
Kensington Publishing author page: http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/author.aspx/30546