It's Christmas Eve, and all is neither calm nor bright
With a storm paralyzing New England, the O'Boyle household becomes prey to a pair of brutal escaped killers desperate to find refuge.
Skyler O'Boyle is convinced the only way they can live through the night is by playing a daring psychological game to throw the convicts off their guard. Threatened by a pair of Smith & Wessons, she has to pray that the rest of the family will play along, buying them time. Her one hope for rescue is that the men are unaware that her daughter, Kat, has escaped into the blizzard. But as the wind and snow continue to rage with all the vehemence of a maddened banshee, her prayers that Kat can somehow find help seem fragile indeed.
When Kat stumbles on a third felon, half-frozen and delirious, her shock deepens, because she recognizes Craig Devon immediately. What is the onetime love of her life doing back in town -- and in such company? With the threat of death hanging over the O'Boyles, Craig is desperate to unload a vital secret that could change their destiny. But can he trust Kat with the truth? Because one false move and everything he's sacrificed will shatter -- and this could be everyone's final Christmas alive.
In veteran novelist Graham's satisfying holiday latest, three jewelry store thieves stall out in a snowbank and have a disagreement that leaves only two of them standing. Meanwhile, the O'Boyle family is spending Christmas at their rural Massachusetts home, snowed in and bickering, until the doorbell rings. Brandishing guns, the two thieves threaten to kill Skyler, the family matriarch, who hopes that Kat, her college-aged daughter who has remained hidden upstairs, will figure something out. As the O'Boyles struggle to survive their horrific ordeal, they soon discover the strength of their family bonds in the face of despair. (Nov.)
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-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 31, 2007
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Excerpt from The Last Noel by Heather Graham
The stereo was on, playing songs of Christmas cheer. Skyler O'Boyle took a moment to listen to a woman with a high, clear voice who was singing, "Sleigh bells ring, are you lis'nin'..."
Then, even over the music and from her place in the kitchen, she heard the yelling.
"I said hold it. Hold the tree!"
Christmas. Home for the holidays, merry, merry, ho, ho, ho, family love, world peace.
In her family? Yeah, right.
The expected answer came, and the voice was just as loud. "I am holding it," her eldest son insisted.
"Straight, dammit, Frazier. Hold it straight," her husband, David, snapped irritably.
In her mind's eye, Skyler could see them, David on the floor, trying to wedge the tree into the stand, and Frazier, standing, trying to hold the tree straight. That was what happened when you decided "home for the holidays" meant everyone gathering in the old family house out in the country. It meant throwing everything together at the last possible moment, because everyone had to juggle their school and work schedules with their holiday vacation.
"The frigging needles are poking my eyes. This is the best I can do," Frazier complained in what sounded suspiciously like a growl.
His tone was sure to aggravate his father, she thought.
Some people got Christmas cheer; she got David and Frazier fighting over the tree.
Where the hell had the spirit of the season gone, at least in her family? Actually, if she wanted to get philosophical, where had the spirit of the season gone in a large part of the known world? There were no real Norman Rockwell paintings. People walked by the Salvation Army volunteers without a glance; it seemed as if the only reason anyone put money in the kettle was that they were burdened by so much change that it was actually too heavy for comfort. Then they beat each other up over the latest electronic toy to hit the market.
"It's nowhere near straight," David roared.
"Put up your own fucking tree, then," Frazier shouted.
"Son of a bitch..." David swore.
"...walkin' in a winter wonderland."
Please, God, Skyler prayed silently, don't let my husband and my son come to blows on Christmas Eve.
"Hey, Kat, you there?"
Great, Skyler thought. Now David was getting their daughter involved.
"Yeah, Dad, I'm here. But I can't hold that tree any straighter. And I hope Brenda didn't hear you two yelling," Kat said.
Skyler headed out toward the living room, ready to head off a major family disaster, and paused just out of sight in the hall.
Had she been wrong? Should she have told her son he shouldn't bring Brenda home for the holidays? He'd turned twenty-two. He could have told her that he wasn't coming home, in that case, and was going to spend the holidays with Brenda's family. And then she would have been without her first-born child. Of course, that was going to happen somewhere along the line anyway; that was life. With the kids getting older, it was already hard to get the entire family together.
"Oh, so now I have to worry--in my own house-- about offending the girl who came here to sleep with my son?" David complained.
David wasn't a bad man, Skyler thought. He wasn't even a bad father. But he had different ideas about what was proper and what wasn't. They had been children themselves, really, when they had gotten married. She had been eighteen, and he had been nineteen. But even as desperately in love as they had been, there was no way either of them could have told their parents that they were going to live together.
Current mores might be much wiser, she reflected. Most of her generation seemed to be divorced.
"What century are you living in, Dad?" Frazier demanded. Apparently his train of thought was running alongside hers. "There's nothing wrong with Brenda staying in my room. It's not as if we don't sleep together back at school. You should trust my judgment. And don't go getting all 'I'm so respectable, this girl better be golden.' We're not exactly royalty, Dad. We own a bar," he finished dryly.
"We own a pub, a fine family place," David snapped back irritably. "And what's that supposed to mean, anyway? That pub is paying for college for both you and your sister."
"I'm just saying that some people wouldn't consider owning a bar the height of morality."
"Morality?" David exploded. "We've never once been cited for underage drinking, and we're known across the country for bringing the best in Celtic music to the States."
"Dad, it's all right," Kat said soothingly. "And you...shut the hell up," she said, and elbowed her brother in the ribs. "Both of you--play nice."
Skyler held her breath as Frazier walked away and headed upstairs, probably to make sure his girlfriend hadn't heard her name evoked in the family fight.