Mistletoe, magic, twinkling lights, and stolen kisses... Experience all the wonders of the holiday season with these four irresistible stories...
"Holiday Magic" by Fern Michaels
Ski shop manager Stephanie Marshall is counting on a holiday bonus so she can put a down payment on a home for herself and her daughters. But her handsome boss, Eddie O'Brien, has his own Christmas wish--one that could lead to a lifetime of loving...
"A Very Merry Christmas" by Cathy Lamb
Meredith Ghirlandaio's to-do list is already overflowing, between keeping her B&B afloat, directing the town's holiday concert, and trying to avoid rancher Logan Taylor. Doesn't he know Meredith's through with men--even rugged, alpha, drop-dead-gorgeous men? Then again, some vows were meant to be broken...
"A Very Maui Christmas" by Mary Carter
Tara Lane has the perfect plan to avoid another hellish family holiday--fly to Maui. Too bad her family decided to follow suit. But a laid-back handyman is about to prove you don't need snow to have a sparkling, sexy Christmas...
"A Cedar Key Christmas" by Terri DuLong
Single mom Josie Sullivan is proud of her young daughter, Orli, for helping local fisherman Mr. Al restore his crumbling home. And when Mr. Al's nephew, Ben, pays a visit, Josie realizes just how much Christmas magic one good deed can bring...
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October 26, 2010
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Excerpt from Holiday Magic by Fern Michaels
November 26, 2010
Stephanie glanced at her watch again, making sure she wasn't running behind her self-imposed schedule:
5:50 A.M. They were opening the doors at seven o'clock sharp as today would be the busiest day of the year at Maximum Glide's ski shop, Snow Zone, where Stephanie had been working as manager for almost two years. With an hour to go before the doors opened, she adjusted the volume on the hidden stereo filling the ski shop with the soulful sounds of Michael Bolton singing "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas." She took four large cinnamon-scented candles from beneath the counter, grabbed a pack of matches, then lit and placed each candle in a secure place where it couldn't be knocked over by a customer reaching for something or an accidental bump from a ski. Though there were signs posted at the main entrance and throughout the shop stating NO SKIS ALLOWED INSIDE, that didn't mean that customers always paid attention to the posted rules. She'd brewed coffee and heated water for hot chocolate and bought several dozen donuts for the early risers. Judging by the amount of sugar consumed, shopping must be hard work.
Stephanie smiled, thinking about the upcoming Christmas season. For the next four weeks, Maximum Glide would be packed with vacationers from every part of the world, and, of course, the locals, who came in droves on the weekends. Scanning the shelves one last time, she refolded three bright red sweaters with matching scarves and toboggan caps. The many styles of ski boots on sale were stamped with bright orange stickers. Last season's waterproof gloves were placed next to this season's newest designs. People could decide for themselves if the price difference was worth purchasing the latest style. Personally, Stephanie thought they were pretty much the same except that the current style had a zippered pocket for an extra set of hand warmers.
She adjusted the Spyder jackets and the North Face ski pants, making sure they were evenly spaced on the racks. These were the biggest-selling items in the shop. She'd ordered more than she had last year, not wanting to risk running out before the holidays were over. Last year, the general manager of Maximum Glide, Edward Patrick Joseph O'Brien, who preferred to be called Patrick though privately she always thought of him as Eddie, like that cute kid on Leave It to Beaver, insisted that she place the order on her own. After checking her inventory, Stephanie had decided they had enough ski pants and jackets in stock for two seasons. What she didn't know then was that the famous ski shop, part of a resort owned by an Olympic gold medalist, attracted skiers with bushels and barrels of money to spend. She'd ended up placing another order, then had to spend hundreds of the ski shop's dollars for an overnight delivery. A lesson learned. More secure in her position this year, she'd placed her order with confidence, knowing she'd be lucky to have anything left after the holidays. For the moment, Stephanie was sure she'd ordered enough to get them through the busy holiday season. She wouldn't get a day off until after New Year's, but she didn't mind. She needed the extra money this year. With all of the overtime pay, plus her Christmas bonus, she would finally be able to afford the down payment on her very own home, a first for her and her two daughters, Ashley, ten going on twenty, and Amanda, an adorable seven-year-old. She'd been searching the paper for months and had finally found a perfect three-bedroom, two-bath ranch- style house that she adored and could afford.
Last week she'd made a special trip into town to Rollins Realty, who'd listed the property. Jessica Rollins, a smartly dressed woman in her mid-fifties, took her to the house, and Stephanie was immediately smitten. She'd practically salivated when she saw the deep garden tub in the master bath, a luxury she hadn't counted on. When Jessica saw her reaction, she explained that the former owners were avid skiers. Stephanie figured that covered about three-quarters of Colorado's population but knew a good soak in a tub of hot water was considered a necessity after a day on the slopes. After she viewed the house of her dreams, one she could actually afford, she had made a silent promise to herself and her girls: They would have a home of their very own, and unbeknownst to the girls, she planned to surprise them with a new puppy sired by Ice-D, Max's Siberian husky. She intended to keep both promises no matter how hard she had to work.
Placerville was her home now. She'd hated leaving Gypsum, but she was only a twenty-minute drive from Telluride. Grace and Max often made the four- hour drive to visit the resort. They always stopped at the shop to see her, and, of course, Grace wouldn't dream of missing a chance to see the girls. Grace was like the sister and best friend Stephanie had never had.
For nearly two years, Stephanie and the girls had been living in a one-bedroom garage apartment that Grace had found for her when they left Hope House, a shelter for battered and abused women. Grace, along with her new husband, Olympic skier Max Jorgenson, who just happened to own the ski resort where Stephanie worked, had announced yesterday during the Thanksgiving dinner they'd shared that they were expecting their first child. Grace had made jokes about her age, and Max had insisted she didn't look a day over twenty-one. Almost forty, and finally Grace's dream of having a child was about to come true. Funny, how it had all come together. If anyone had told her two years ago she and the girls would be on their own, happily on their own, she would have told that person he was out of his mind. Women like her couldn't support two young girls on their own, certainly not without financial help or a husband.
Well think again, buster!
So far she'd proved herself wrong, and she intended to keep doing so. She'd escaped from her abusive husband, high school-sweetheart Glenn Marshall, who was now serving eight years at the State Penitentiary in Canon City, Colorado, a maximum-security prison, for escaping the minimum-security prison he had been sent to when he'd originally been jailed for abuse. Stephanie cringed as she remembered how he'd managed to escape while being transported to another minimum- security facility.
It had been her first week at Hope House, just a few days before Christmas. She'd allowed Grace to take the girls to see The Nutcracker at Eagle Valley High School. On her way back to Hope House, Grace had to take another route because roadblocks had been set up along I-70 in an attempt to catch the escaped convict. She'd gotten lost with the girls, wound up searching for help at the first house she'd located, which just happened to be the home of Max Jorgenson, the famous gold medalist Olympic skier. Stephanie recalled the horror-filled night she'd spent when Grace did not return to Hope House with her girls. Fortunately, Grace and the girls had found Max's log cabin on Blow Out Hill and remained there until the roads could be cleared, but not before Glenn, lost and on the run, also found Max's cabin and the girls. When Max found Grace tied up and the girls frightened to death, he'd made quick work of returning Glenn to the deputies who'd lost him in the first place, but not before delivering a few choice knocks that shattered Glenn's nose. Stephanie detested violence, but secretly she'd been delighted when she heard that Glenn had received what he'd dished out to her on a daily basis. And as they say, the rest is history. Almost two years later, Max and Grace were married and expecting their first child. Stephanie couldn't think of a better gift for the couple. They were made for one another.
Unlike her and Glenn.
Two years ago had found her beaten down and afraid to do anything to change her life. With no immediate family, and no close friends to speak of, Stephanie had resigned herself to a life of misery until she'd read an article on battered women. She remembered the part that convinced her she had to make a change, and she'd best make it fast.
It wasn't uncommon for the abuser to turn his anger on his children. . . .
Stephanie knew then she had to get away from Glenn no matter how difficult it proved to be. Two police officers had escorted her and the girls to Hope House immediately after Glenn's arrest. Since they'd been living with Glenn's best friend and drinking buddy, Stephanie had nowhere to go. Shamed, hopeless, and frightened for her children, she'd swallowed what little pride she had and allowed the officers to whisk them away in the middle of the night. Grace had greeted her and the girls like old friends, made them feel welcome, made Stephanie feel as though she was more than just another woman who'd remained in a bad marriage for the sake of the kids. Grace had set Stephanie on a path that had changed her life, and the girls' lives, too.
No longer did she feel worthless and afraid. The girls were resilient, just as Grace had predicted. Though Stephanie knew they were well aware of Glenn's violent behavior, she didn't allow them to dwell on it. Instead, with Grace's effective therapy, they'd acknowledged that some men hit women, and those that did needed to be punished by the proper authorities. Though Glenn wasn't eligible for early parole, Stephanie knew the day would come when he would be released. Until that day arrived, she would continue to work hard to provide a safe and happy home for Ashley and Amanda.
Melanie McLaughlin, her landlord's daughter, had just finished her last year of college when she answered Stephanie's ad for a sitter, explaining that she wanted to take a break before she headed out into the business world. Stephanie was delighted, and the girls adored her. Two mornings a week, Stephanie had to open the shop early for deliveries, so she'd needed someone to see the girls to the bus stop and be there when they returned. Melanie had been a godsend the past two years. She'd started a computer graphics business from her new apartment, which allowed her to continue caring for the girls. This week, they were out of school for Thanksgiving break. Melanie, ever the trouper, was bringing the girls to Maximum Glide later in the day to spend the afternoon on the slopes.
That night was the official lighting of the resort's main Christmas tree. Stephanie had promised the girls they could attend. It would be a long day for all of them, but fun. And she would see Patrick. He'd asked her out several times when she first started working at the shop, but she'd always told him no, saying she wasn't going to date until her divorce from Glenn was final. He'd said he respected that and would ask again. The day her divorce was final, she called to tell Grace, who informed Max, who then let Patrick know. That evening, he'd arrived on her doorstep with flowers for her, two Disney movies for the girls, and a piping-hot cheese pizza for all. She hadn't the heart to turn him away. They'd been out three times since then.
On their last date, they'd gone to the movies. She remembered the movie was a romantic comedy about a couple who each had six kids and married in spite of the antics the kids pulled hoping to keep the couple apart. As expected, the movie ended happily. Stephanie had enjoyed the movie immensely and remarked to Patrick how wonderful it was that the children finally accepted their new stepparents in spite of their earlier misgivings. He hadn't called since. Something was up with him, though she hadn't known what it could be and didn't ask. He was her boss, and she wasn't going to jeopardize her job by asking him why he hadn't called again. If she were completely honest with herself, she would admit it'd hurt her feelings when he hadn't bothered to call or offer an explanation for his sudden lack of interest in her. Even worse, Amanda and Ashley continued to ask when Patrick was coming over again. She'd put them off, telling them it was the busy season at the resort. They'd accepted her answer, but Stephanie knew it was more than that.
Putting all thoughts of her personal life aside, she inspected the store one last time. Everything seemed to be in place. Last but not least, Stephanie plugged the extension cord into the outlet, filling the small shop with bright twinkling lights on the eight-foot blue spruce. Candy Lee Primrose, a bright and witty high school senior and part-time employee, had spent the day before Thanksgiving decorating the tree. Tiny sets of skis, tiny snowboards, miniature sets of ski poles, scarves, brightly colored mittens, and hats hung from its branches. Fresh pine perfumed the air, reminding Stephanie of the giant pines that flanked her favorite blue run, Gracie's Way.
Glancing at her watch for the umpteenth time, Stephanie booted up the computer, clicked a few keys to record the time, then counted out the cash drawer. The credit card machine was up and running for a change. She replaced the white spool of paper with a brand-new one, then went to the alarm panel and punched in the security code to turn off the alarm.
Twenty minutes later, Candy Lee raced through the back door. "Smells wonderful in here," she said as she removed her snow boots and replaced them with a pair of tan Uggs.
"It does, doesn't it?" Stephanie said as she took in the shop, decorated in all its Christmas finery.
She took a deep, cleansing breath.
Here we go, she thought, let the season begin.