A Keepsake Christmas – A Sweet Christmas Anthology

8 Special Ornaments,
8 Special Women,
8 Memorable Christmases.
Bring the spirit of Christmas
into your heart with this collection
of all new sweet holiday romances
set in the popular series of
eight bestselling authors.

A Keepsake Christmas

Featuring

The Last Cottage on Pinewood Lane by Melissa McClone
The Cowboy’s Christmas Wish by Kristen Ethridge
I’ll Be Home For Christmas by Tess Thompson
No Matter How Far by Barbara Hinske
Blessings on State Street by Rachael Bloome
A Lot Like Christmas by Kathryn Cantrell
One Unforgettable Christmas by Tammy L. Grace
Tinsel and Teacups by Elle Rush

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The Last Cottage on Pinewood Lane

Melissa McClone

Will performing during a Christmas fundraiser bring a former figure-skating star the healing and love that have eluded her? Or will being back under the glaring spotlight only lead to more heartache and regrets?

Retired figure skater Natasha ‘Tasha’ Ramson manages the ice rink her parents built in their hometown for her brother Alec and her to practice. Her pairs then individual and him hockey. This year however her parents decided to sell the rink without telling anyone. As the rink closes breaking her heart, Tasha decides to spend Christmas alone in Berry Lake. She needs to figure out what she wants to do with her life.

Elias Carpenter, is technically the youngest partner in his family’s law firm. In reality he’s being overworked by his father and grandfather. Now with the holiday’s coming his father puts even more in his lap. His grandmother is having heart issues and she won’t slow down unless her husband does, which means Elias gets the brunt of it all.

I love the way these two meet while she’s skating and his dog gets away from him.

So was Elias, but he would never admit that to Grammy. “It’s not so bad. The Berry Lake Cupcake Shop provides dessert and Brew and Steep brings coffee.”

“That’s the spirit.” Grammy’s enthusiasm filled Elias with warmth. “Did Sabine drop off the foster dog?”

Elias gripped the phone. “About fifteen minutes ago.”

“Tell me about the dog.”

“His name is Higgins, and he’s potty trained. Sabine said he’s chill.”

The clicking of paws made Elias look over at Higgins. A blur of blue headed out the front door. His stomach dropped. “Grammy, I need to go.”

“Talk to you later, dear. I love you.”

He disconnected from the call. “Dog. Higgins. Stop.”

Pulse pounding, Elias raced out the door. His feet sank into the snow covering his front yard.

Higgins ran toward the end of Pinewood Lane. The blue leash dragged behind him like a malfunctioning kite tail.

The dog wouldn’t get far. Elias’s legs and strides would overtake the dog’s shorter legs soon.

His breath huffed. At least no cars. “Higgins!”

The dog didn’t slow but sped up.

So much for Higgins being smart and chill. The dog needed obedience lessons.

Or a new foster.

Elias picked up the pace, ignoring the stitch in his side and the burn in his thighs. He’d been away from the gym for too long if a brief run wore him out.

Higgins ran past the last cottage. He veered between the tall pine trees onto the path that led to the lake. For a dog who’d only arrived, he seemed to know where he wanted to go.

Please don’t go on the ice.

The lake remained frozen most of the winter, but Elias didn’t want Higgins out on the ice. It was solid enough near the edges for people to skate, but farther out wasn’t as thick.

“Higgins.” His voice hung on the wind.

Elias cleared the trees to a snow-covered area known as Pinewood Beach in the summer. Higgins sat facing the lake at the edge, where a short ridge of snow had built up. He walked slowly so as not to spook the dog.

Movement caught Elias’s attention. He glanced past Higgins to the lake and squinted.

Someone was on the ice. He did a double take. A figure skater, wearing black— except for her skates and a multicolor beanie— glided across the ice. Her graceful movements with outstretched arms and fast spins reminded him of the ice show his grandmother dragged him to when he was twelve. He’d gotten snacks, which made the two hours pass quicker, but he would have rather watched the Mariners or Seahawks. That was well before the Volcanoes, an expansion hockey team, arrived in Seattle.

No music played, yet she skated as if performing for a packed arena. She… captivated Elias.

The skater must have tucked her hair inside the beanie, and he wanted to know what color her hair was. Eyes, too, but he stood too far away.

And then he remembered…

Higgins!

The dog sat facing the skater.

Elias took a slow, careful step and then another. The dog didn’t flinch.

Only another two feet to go. Snow crunched under his left foot. He inhaled sharply.

Higgins bolted across the ice directly in the path of…

“Stop!” Elias yelled.

Neither the dog nor skater listened. The leash slid across the ice right in front of the skater, who skated with her chin up.

“Be careful!”

The scene played out in slow motion. Higgins froze. Her right skate hit the leash, and she stumbled. The skater tried to keep her balance by sticking her arms out, but her action didn’t stop gravity. She hit the ice with a thud.

Higgins jumped on top of her and licked her face.

The skater laughed. She reached into her jacket pocket. “Well, this is a first. Where did you come from, cutie?”

Her voice wrapped around Elias, as warm and comfortable as a fleece blanket. He wanted to hear it again, only he wanted her to speak to him.

He stepped onto the ice, taking small steps to keep from falling. “Are you okay?”

The skater looked at him.

Gorgeous green eyes. Elias’s mouth went dry. He nearly fell flat on his back.

Forget speaking. All he could do was breathe.

“Is this your dog?” she asked.

“Sorta.” He came closer, unsure why he found himself so tongue-tied. A friend from law school had once told Elias that dogs were a chick magnet. But Higgins running into this woman seemed more like luck. “I’m fostering him for the holidays.”

She rubbed Higgins with a gloved hand. “Friendly.”

“He’d been in my house for less than five minutes when he took off. I’m sorry. Did you hurt yourself?”

She grabbed onto the leash, placed Higgins on the ice, and carefully stood. “I’ve taken much harder falls over the years, but thanks for the concern.”

“You skate a lot?” he blurted.

“Yes.” The amusement in her voice matched the twinkle in her eyes. “Not a fan of the sport?”

He shrugged. “I prefer hockey.”

“Of course, you do.” She appeared more resigned than upset. “Here you go.”

He took the leash from her.

“Thanks. I’m Elias.”

She hesitated. “Tasha.”

Tasha. The name suited her. “You’re not from around here.”

Tasha brushed off the snow from her backside. “No.”

Only locals came to this part of the lake unless… He remembered seeing a car he didn’t recognize drive by when he’d brought in the mail before he ate lunch. “You’re staying in the last cottage on Pinewood Lane.”

Tasha stiffened, and her eyes narrowed. “How do you know that?”

“I live in the second house on the right. The one you’re in is the only rental on the lane.” That might change. Dalton Dwyer had bought the cottage where Tasha was staying and would take possession in January. No one knew Dalton’s plans yet.

She laughed. “Small towns are always the same.”

“Everyone knows your business.”

Tasha nodded. “Aren’t you freezing out here?”

Elias wasn’t wearing a jacket, but somehow, he was warm. “I ran after Higgins, so I’m not cold.”
Melissa McClone; A Keepsake Christmas: A Sweet Romance Anthology – The Last Cottage on Pinewood Lane(Kindle Locations 564-571).

As Elias does the things necessary for his Grandmother and the Christmas Fund raiser, Tasha helps with an idea.

This brings them closer to each other and also to resolutions regarding their futures.

A lovely Christmas story with a special Christmas ornament sealing the moment.

5 Contented Purrs for Melissa!


The Cowboy’s Christmas Wish

Kristen Ethridge

Sarah Murdoch knew bringing her daughter, Jamie, halfway across the country to Port Provident, Texas would cause more anxiety than feel-good Christmas memories. But when Jamie bonds with Grant McCray, the owner of Beachcomber Stables, she begins to come out of her shell.

A family Christmas far away from home is not what Sarah would have chosen, especially the way her daughter Jamie’s anxiety ramps up during their travels. Port Provident is the small town her parents have chosen to gather and rented a home on the beach.

Grant owns Beachcomber Stables and he’s the first person Jamie sees as he’s riding down the beach with two other horses behind him.

Jamie’s apparently done a bit of research on her own and she really wants to go horseback riding. Sarah on the other hand is a bit conflicted what with business calls coming in, she obviously needs some down time as well.

This is a favorite scene.

Grant McCray adjusted the black hat atop his head. A breeze decided to blow in off the water today. It felt good. It didn’t feel like Christmas, exactly, but he was a native Texan. Grant had grown used to Decembers not feeling like they were described in the refrains of holiday songs.

He’d also grown used to early morning silence. It soothed his soul.

During the spring and summer, the lines at Beachcomber Stables formed early and lasted until the sun began to drift out of the sky. But in the winter, the tourists didn’t usually think about horseback riding first and foremost. Visitors to Port Provident were more interested in the party-like Santas on the Street annual event or the recently-revived Victorian Christmas goings-on. His horses would be participating in the Christmas Day parade, but that was about as close as he would get to holiday events this year.

Grant kind of liked it that way. He took a deep breath and smelled the salt in the air. Some people preferred pine and cocoa this time of year. But Grant thought salt and sand— and a little horse— smelled perfect, no matter what the date on the calendar said.

“Do you offer horseback rides here?” A woman’s voice behind him bounced off the roar of the waves.

Grant turned back toward the edge of the dunes. “Welcome to Beachcomber Stables. How can I help you, ma’am?”

The dusting of a smile passed across the blonde woman’s lips. The ladies loved the “ma’am.” The number one rule of riding horses for a living and wearing a cowboy hat was always call the ladies ma’am. It was an unbreakable part of the cowboy creed.

And women who felt special and respected tended to tip better. No sense in denying that fact, either, since the number two rule was to never tell a lie.

She pointed at a short, skinny young girl next to her. The blonde was fair as a snowflake, but the skin of the young girl was as strong as espresso. Her eyes reminded Grant of the color of the skin on the outside of an almond. They focused sharply on the crest of his black Resistol.

“My daughter would like to ride a horse if you have availability today.” She squeezed the little girl’s shoulder gently.

Grant nodded. Time to get to work. “We don’t have any appointments booked this morning. Would you like to go now?”

The little girl wore a pair of neon-pink closed-toe tennis shoes. They’d do. Grant would just need to make sure her feet were settled well in the stirrups.

She nodded, just barely enough to make her intentions known.

Grant reached the edge of the wooden-framed stable area and pointed to a dappled, older gray. “Great. I’d like to introduce you to my friend Master Y.”

This time, the little girl’s head shifted from side to side. “Chewie,” she said.

Grant looked at the palomino in the first stall. “Chewie is a great horse, but he’s usually the one that I ride. We go back a long way.”

The little girl bit her dusky-rose lip. She took a deep breath and held it, then let it out slowly.

“Is there any way that she could ride Chewie?” She dug in her purse and pulled out a credit card. “I’ll pay extra, if that makes any difference.”

It wasn’t the first time someone had tried to pay Grant to bend some rule or go back on something he’d said.

But as Grant’s eyes locked with the almond-brown center of the little girl’s own eyes, he knew it would be the first time he’d ever given in.

“Does she have any experience riding horses?”

The woman’s blonde ponytail bounced and strands of hair danced in the Gulf air. “No. This is her first time.”

Grant shrugged. He couldn’t explain it, but something in the little girl’s eyes tugged at his soul. She didn’t say much and the words she did say were barely above a whisper. Despite being on the beach and next to a stable of horses— two of Grant’s favorite places— the little girl hadn’t even cracked the smallest hint of a smile.

And Grant wanted to see her smile. There wasn’t much to envy about his life these days, but one of the perks was getting to see little faces light up with delight.

“Chewie’s a gentle giant. I’m sure they’ll get along well. I’ll ride Master Y. Are you going to ride with us? Luke Skytrotter would be happy to take you out.”

Grant walked into the equipment area of the stable and pulled out a black child-sized riding helmet, then gave the interior a spritz of disinfectant— he didn’t like to take chances with clients’ safety, whether it was protecting them from a fall or from sharing more than just the helmet.

Suddenly, a sound like tinkling windchimes cut through the air. The woman pulled a sleek cell phone out of her purse with no hesitation.

“Mama? Could you come?”

The woman’s thumb stopped a hair’s breadth above the rectangle on her screen that would connect the call. She hesitated, and Grant felt the stretch of tension in the air. She pursed her lips, then looked down at the glass-and-metal encased technology. Grant could see the color of the screen change as the call stopped ringing.

“It went to voicemail.” The look on her face seemed similar to the aftermath of sucking on a lemon. “I guess I can call them back in a bit, Jamie.”

As the phone slid back in her mother’s saddle tan leather purse, Grant saw the little girl’s shoulders slip into a more relaxed station.

Jamie. The shy little girl’s name was Jamie.

And somehow, Grant knew they’d be friends. It was her uptight mother he just wasn’t sure about.
Kristen Ethridge; A Keepsake Christmas: A Sweet Romance Anthology – The Cowboy’s Christmas Wish(Kindle Locations 2232-2277).

A horseback tour of the area and the Lighthouse begins a relationship that can’t be denied. Jamie speaks more freely and is more relaxed than ever before. Especially when she’s with Grant and her mother.

A beautiful Christmas story with hope, laughter and a special Christmas Ornament.

5 Contented Purrs for Kristen!


I’ll Be Home For Christmas

Tess Thompson

High school sweethearts Jennifer and Jack were supposed to be together forever. But Jack’s one night mistake tore them apart. Will they have the ultimate second chance at love more than 30 years later? Or is the secret she kept from him too much to forgive? Can the magical spirit of Christmas in Emerson Pass bring forgiveness and healing for these two star-crossed lovers?

Jack and Jennifer were high school sweethearts. They planned to go to college in Seattle together, but Jack’s summer indiscretion with Malinda changed everything.

Jennie was pregnant too, but she never told Jack. He married Malinda, his daughter Brandi the only glue to that marriage until it wasn’t enough and they divorced. Jennie moved to Seattle and has only returned a couple of times. Her daughter Crystal now lives here in Emerson Pass.

It’s been thirty years, Brandi and Crystal have been friends for a long time. Crystal spent summers here growing up. Now it really didn’t come as a surprise that Jack would want to see her. Even though it was more of a confrontation.

This is a favorite scene.

The server arrived with our food, saving me from having to answer. I hoped he’d forgotten the question he’d asked earlier, but no such luck. He dangled a French fry from his fingers. “You’ve stayed away because of me, haven’t you”

I smashed an avocado with the tines of my fork. “Not you. Seeing you with her.”

“It would have pretty much destroyed me if I’d seen you with anyone.”

I swallowed, unsure what to say. He needn’t have worried about me with anyone. I dated no one during the entirety of Crystal’s childhood. After she moved out of the house, I dated some, falling for a few men, only to be cheated on by each one of them. Why I evoked betrayal from men I initially thought were good was beyond comprehension. My therapist thought it was wrapped up in the original betrayal by Jack. That perhaps I purposely chose cheaters to prove to myself that they were all cheaters, regardless.

Jack draped his arms over the table. “And I hate thinking of you leaving the place you loved so much. Worse, that it was my fault.”

I pushed a slice of boiled egg nearer the blue cheese crumbles.

“Jennie?”

I jerked my head up at the sound of my old nickname. When I moved to Seattle, I’d made sure no one ever called me anything but Jennifer. “Yeah?”

“There hasn’t been a day I haven’t thought about you and felt deep remorse.”

“Time heals all wounds.” That’s what my mother had told me when they sent me off to school with assurances that all I needed was time and a few new boys to turn my head. I’d forget all about Jack, my mother had promised me. What a joke that had proved to be. Still, one goes on. What other choice do we have?

“That’s not what you really want to say, is it?” Jack watched me with wary eyes. “What do you really want to say to me?”

I wanted to tell him about my first year in Seattle. How alone and sad I’d been. Because of you, I wanted to shout at him. You wrecked everything.

I’d lived in the apartment that Jack and I had rented, all the while hiding my belly with large sweatshirts. Fortunately for me, it never stopped raining in Seattle. Sweatshirts were the attire of choice during almost all seasons for everyone, not just a girl with a hidden pregnancy.

“Jack, I don’t understand what we’re doing here. We were kids back then. You can stop carrying around all this guilt. It’s nothing to me now.

“Whatever happened to the soda fountain?” I asked, changing the subject. “When did it close?”

“Back in the nineties, I think.” He ran a hand through his silvery blond hair. “I’d forgotten about that place.”

How could he forget? We’d shared so many laughs in the back booth of that place. Hoping to hide my hurt, I asked another question. “Someone should open another one. For all the old-timers in need of nostalgia.”

“Brandi’s bakery is kind of the new soda fountain. Only it’s coffee everyone wants these days.”

“And her scones,” I said. “Do you know she used to practice her recipes in my kitchen in Seattle?”

His deep sigh caused his shoulders to rise and fall. “I didn’t.”

“Did I say the wrong thing?” I asked.

“No, it’s not you. I wish she’d been able to do more of that at our house. Malinda was always too worried about her messing up the kitchen.”

“I never worried too much about any of that,” I said with a chuckle. “Crystal was the one in our house who kept everything tidy and organized. She loves a good spreadsheet and her lists.”

“I like spreadsheets and lists.”

I looked down at my salad, afraid to meet his eyes for fear he’d see right through me.

“Jennie, who was Crystal’s father?”

My turtleneck seemed to have grown tighter around my throat. I slipped a finger between the collar and my skin. “No one. A fling. I didn’t even know his name.”

For my parents and anyone else who cared enough to ask, I made up a story that just days after I moved to Seattle, I’d met a guy at a bar and had a one-night stand that produced a baby. A stranger, I told them. I hadn’t even known his name. My mother bought it, or seemed to, anyway. She and my father were as smitten with the baby as I.

“That seems unlikely,” Jack said.

“What do you mean?”

“You always remembered every detail about people. Their names and anything else you could draw out of them.”

“I was drunk,” I said. “You’re not the only one who could have a meaningless night of sex.”

“It wasn’t like that with Malinda. I mean, the night of sex. It was over in a second.”

I cringed and covered my face with my hands. The pain that image caused was undeniable.

“See there,” Jack said. “Whatever you’re thinking, that’s what you should say to me.”

“How could you have done that? After what we had?”

Jack let out a deep breath, looking for a moment like the man I’d once seen have his dislocated shoulder put back in place. “I was an idiot. There’s no explanation. What’s even worse— it was the only impulsive thing I’ve ever done. Trust me, I regretted it the moment it was over. If you’d known Malinda you might understand better— she was relentless like that. A dog with a bone. If she desired something, she wore a person down until she got what she wanted.”

“You broke my heart,” I whispered. All pretenses were gone. Tears had gathered at the corners of my eyes.

“When I heard you’d had a baby, I couldn’t believe it,” Jack said. “I assumed you’d met someone the minute you moved to Seattle. Should I continue to assume that?”

My throat was so dry and tight, I could barely get the words out of my mouth. “I already told you that.”

“There’s something missing from your story,” Jack said.

“None of this is any of your business. You decided you didn’t want any part of my life the minute you cheated on me.” I stuck my fork into a cherry tomato. Seeds and juice exploded onto its neighboring piece of turkey.

“Have you ever noticed how Crystal looks like my mother?”

The floor seemed to fall out from under me. I sank into the depths of a hole as dark as my secret.
Tess Thompson; A Keepsake Christmas: A Sweet Romance Anthology -I’ll Be Home For Christmas (Kindle Locations 3209-3255).

The startling revelation leads to telling their girls they’re sisters and all that goes with that. Even as the two of them get closer again.

A tearful Christmas tale that gets brighter and a special Christmas ornament plays a role as well.

5 Contented Purrs for Tess!


No Matter How Far

Barbara Hinske

Where hidden treasures can hold the key to a heart and offer an unexpected path home…

Judy Young and her mother had a special sort of relationship with William Olsson, the owner of the Victorian Mansion behind their store. He gifted them gorgeous hand carved ornaments at Christmas, no two were the same. William died in 1990 and up until about 4 years ago the property had been well maintained. Now it’s showing some damage and as she approached in the back alley Judy notices a paper attached to the front door. The house is being auctioned for back taxes, not wanting the property to go into the hands of some developer, Judy enters the fray and wins. It takes a while but finally the property is legally hers and she can figure out what to do with it. But first she’s going to explore and get estimates from her best friend’s husband. She finds a box of ornaments meant for his nephew Jeffrey. It becomes a goal to find him and give him the ornaments that should be his.

Jeff Carson lost his wife to cancer, his son and daughter-in-law are now helping him clear out the house they shared. Jeff is ready to move on, but before he settles in a place for himself he’s going to travel a bit. As he’s going through some of the things for sale he finds a Christmas ornament gifted to him by his Uncle William and realizes he doesn’t want this particular box to be sold, it’s his only link to his mother and uncle.

Judy’s best friend Maggie’s daughter Susan helps her find Jeffrey and she emails him not expecting to hear anything since it’s Thanksgiving night. She does get a reply though along with a phone number and time to call the next night.

This is part of that conversation and a favorite scene.

“You can’t force someone to accept help. Sometimes people are on journeys that we wouldn’t choose for them, but we have to let them live their lives,” Judy said. “You said in your email that you found the ornament in your mother’s things?”

“Yes. I sold Mom’s house, furniture and all, and had her personal effects boxed up and sent to me. I put them in storage and didn’t touch them. I’d forgotten about the ornament— I hadn’t seen it in decades— until last fall when my son and daughter-in-law helped me with a garage sale. In fact, I found it in a bin, priced to sell.”

“Oh, no!” Judy looked at the box containing the wooden ornaments that William had carved for his nephew. “Do you remember your uncle?”

“Very vaguely. He stopped at our home one Christmas when he first came to this country from Sweden. He brought me the ornament that I sent you the photo of. He said that he made it. I remember being fascinated with it as a child.”

“So, William and Alma were on good terms?”

“At the time,” Jeff said, “but like she did with everyone else, she became suspicious of him and paranoid, and finally cut him out of her life.”

“The notes on these ornaments testify to the fact that your uncle loved you a great deal. He never forgot you, Jeff.”

Jeff swallowed hard against the lump in his throat.

“You must have these in time for Christmas,” Judy said, sensing his emotion. “Where can I send them to you? I’m happy to use an overnight delivery service, and I’ll insure them. Just give me an address. I’ll get them out tomorrow.”

Jeff had answered the call planning to ask Judy to mail the ornaments to Jason’s house at his expense. So, he was surprised to hear himself say, “Do you mind if I pick them up? I’m starting a road trip in about three weeks. I’m going to end up with my cousin in Phoenix for Christmas, and I’ll be driving right by Westbury on the way.” He winced as he said this since he knew Westbury was at least two hundred miles out of his way. He hoped she wouldn’t realize that.

“Sure,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere during the holiday rush. I’ve always wanted to close the shop for a week during January and go somewhere warm, like Phoenix. One of these years, I’m going to do it!”

“Great. I don’t want to risk the ornaments getting lost in the mail,” Jeff said. “And I’d love to meet you. I’ve enjoyed talking to you.”

“Me, too. This has been fun. I’ll keep them in the back room at Celebrations. I’ll email you the address.”

“Terrific.” He did some quick mileage calculations in his head. “I’ll plan to be there in the middle of the day on the twenty-first.” That would allow him ample time to complete his drive to Phoenix.

“I’ll be at the shop.”

“I’m looking forward to meeting you,” Jeff reiterated.

“Have a safe trip. See you soon.” Judy swiped to end the call and clutched the phone to her chest.
Barbara Hinske; A Keepsake Christmas: A Sweet Romance Anthology – No Matter How Far (Kindle Locations 4875-4899).

Their meeting is both sweet and serious as she offers him a tour of the home. She explained the massive repairs needed and he took quite the interest.

I truly enjoyed how this relationship grows so quickly yet perfectly.

5 Contented Purrs for Barbara!


Blessings on State Street

Rachael Bloome

Abigail Preston wants nothing more than to skip Christmas this year. But her holiday-free hideout in the quaint, charming town of Blessings Bay comes with a mysterious and unexpected house guest. Can two heartbroken strangers find hope and healing in the most Christmassy town on the coast?

Abby Preston is cancelling Christmas, what better place to do that but at a house she didn’t know her husband owned. She found out after Donnie, her test pilot husband, died in an accident last Thanksgiving. Facing another Christmas surrounded by memories of how he loved the holiday wouldn’t do. Blessings Bay seemed the perfect plan, a small town and a house she needs to figure out why was kept from her.

We meet Logan Matthews as he’s trying to rescue his neighbor’s Christmas decorations from the mud produced by the raging storm. Verna would be devastated at the destruction so he’d do what he could. Even though he’s mostly a recluse she won’t stop trying to get him to participate more around town. Little does he know he’s going to be getting company.

It was close to midnight as Abby arrives at the house, she got drenched between the car and the door. The darkness made her wish her phone hadn’t died so at least she’d have the flashlight. A noise from upstairs puts her on alert and she tasers the man who comes down the stairs.

This is a favorite scene.

Logan wasn’t sure which hurt worse, the cattle prod to the rib cage or his face getting cozy with the hardwood floor. Either way, he wouldn’t let his attacker get away with the cheap shot.His fingers curled, prepared to fight back.

“Who are you? And what are you doing here?” a strong yet feminine voice demanded in the darkness.

His assailant was a woman?

He hadn’t seen that coming. But then, he hadn’t seen the electrified metal prongs before they’d zapped him, either.

Whoever this woman was, she had gumption.

Detecting the faintest warble of fear in her words calmed his self-preservation instincts and he uncoiled his fist.

“Logan Mathews. I live here. Who are you?” He rolled onto his back, but didn’t get up, in case the movement provoked her again. While he was pretty sure a standard-issue Taser couldn’t cook his vital organs, he didn’t want to risk it.

“Abigail Preston. I own this house.”

He squinted, straining to glimpse her features in the shadows. But although he couldn’t see her face, a clear picture formed in his mind.

Abigail Preston… Donnie’s wife.

In all the years they’d served together in the Air Force, no other man had been prouder of his better half than Donnie. Even in boot camp, he’d taped a photo of her above his bed for everyone to see. Nothing crass or inappropriate, like some of the other guys posted.

In fact, all things considered, the snapshot had been fairly simple— a dark-haired woman at some restaurant, but Donnie couldn’t remember which one. She held a glass of ice water in one hand, her head thrown back, laughing at something Donnie said. As he told it, late afternoon sunlight had hit her just right, creating a halo effect. She’d looked so beautiful, so captivatingly blissful, he’d snapped a photo to preserve the memory.

What had stood out to Logan the most was the woman’s smile— the kind that lit up the world, but also seemed to belong only to you.

While it was a pleasant visual from the past, he had a feeling Abigail wasn’t smiling right now.

“I’m a friend of Donnie’s. We were in basic training together.”

“Really?” She didn’t bother hiding her skepticism, and he envisioned her dark eyebrows raised, her lips scrunched to the side. “I’ve never heard of you.”

He sighed inwardly, suppressing a groan.

Of course she hadn’t.

“What about Nugget?”

You’re Nugget?”

“The one and only.” He rose, stretching his full six foot two frame, hoping to regain some dignity.

He’d loathed that call sign every single day of his service. If he’d been smart, he would’ve participated in some good-natured bribery, which was how one of his buddies wound up with the name Shooter.

But no, he’d taken the moral high ground, and they’d named him after the sugary, walnut-laden dessert bar his grandmother sent him in regular care packages. But hey, at least they were delicious.

Besides, if he had a choice, he’d give anything to be back in the cockpit of an F-16, even if it meant reclaiming a call sign as humiliating as Nugget.

“Donnie used to talk about you all the time. And weren’t you the one who sent the box of desserts the day of the funeral?” Her words blended with a mixture of gratitude and something softer, something close to affection.

At the time, he’d wondered if he should’ve sent flowers instead, but the homemade Nevada Nuggets seemed more fitting, somehow. At least, Donnie would’ve gotten a kick out of it. “They’re an old family recipe. I hope you liked them.”

“I did. They were wonderful. So much better than flowers.”

Her tone carried a hint of a smile, and he was surprised by how badly he wanted to see it. “Why don’t we move into the sitting room? The power’s out because of the storm, but there’s a fire in there and I can scrounge up a couple of battery-operated lanterns.”

As she followed him into the next room, Logan mentally rehearsed half a dozen ways to ask the awkward yet all-important question— what was she doing here? And how long did she plan to stay?

But no matter how he phrased it, he couldn’t bring himself to form the words, realizing his future hung on her response.

After all, she owned the place. If she wanted to kick him out, she could.

The smoldering embers cast a peripheral glow, allowing Logan to glimpse Abigail for the first time.

Even dripping wet and a little worse for wear, she did something to his insides that closely resembled internal combustion. Only, in this case, it was ignited by striking hazel eyes instead of jet fuel.

Abruptly looking away, he rummaged through a desk drawer for a flashlight, then moved to the closet and retrieved two lanterns.

Clicking them on, he set them both on the coffee table, turning to look at her again.

Her eyes were fixed on his bare chest, and when he caught her staring, she flushed, quickly averting her gaze.

“The fire feels nice.” She stepped toward the hearth, stretching out her hands to gather warmth. And maybe mask the sudden rosiness in her cheeks.

“There’s a fireplace in the master bedroom, if you’d like me to build one in there for you….” He intentionally let his words trail off, hoping she’d fill in the blanks with her plans for the foreseeable future. When she didn’t, he added, “My room is upstairs, so you’re not putting me out or anything.”

He didn’t want to go into the morose psychological reasons of how he’d chosen the smallest room in the house over the large master suite because he didn’t feel he deserved it.

And thankfully, she didn’t ask.

She stood in an uneasy stance, kneading her lips together as though massaging the right words out of them. “I’m sorry to intrude like this. I had no idea you were living here. How, uh, how long has it been?”

“A couple of years. Donnie didn’t tell you?”

Something flashed in her eyes. Embarrassment? Sadness? Perhaps a mixture of the two. She shook her head.

Guilt clawed at Logan’s stomach. Why hadn’t Donnie told her? Was he worried she wouldn’t approve of the arrangement?

Logan always knew his friend had been far too generous. Sure, he paid the utilities and maintained the property, which wasn’t exactly easy considering large historic homes needed a ton of work. But Donnie would have made a small fortune selling the place. Maybe he hadn’t told his wife to avoid the conflict.

Logan hated the thought of being a wedge in their marriage even more than he hated being a burden.

“I’m sorry for the… mix-up tonight,” he said, putting it mildly. He’d likely have a nasty burn on his side in the morning. “This is your house. If you need me to leave, just say so. Only, I’d prefer to wait until after the storm, if that’s okay. Otherwise, the moving boxes might get a little soggy.” He grinned, hoping to add some levity to an all-around uncomfortable situation.

The corner of her mouth lifted, giving him a small taste of the smile he remembered. “That won’t be necessary. Honestly, I don’t really know what I plan to do with the place long-term, but for now, I was just hoping to get away for the holidays. Or more accurately, get away from the holidays.” She hesitated, slicking a strand of damp hair behind her ear. “I suppose we could work something out for the next few weeks. Find a way to coexist without getting in each other’s way. Would that be okay with you?”

She met his gaze, and his heart rate skyrocketed like the first time he experienced g-force. Coexist? As in, live within the same four walls? He wasn’t used to sharing his space with anyone, let alone someone like Abby.

His brain shouted, Eject! Eject!

But the rest of his body didn’t heed the warning. “Sure. We can make that work.”

“Great. I just have one… request,” she said in a tone that indicated it was more of a nonnegotiable. “I’m skipping Christmas this year. Which means no decorations, no tree, no holiday music, nothing festive whatsoever. Is that going to be a problem for you?”

“No, ma’am.”

He could handle nixing Christmas.

The real question was whether he could handle living with his attractive new houseguest.
Rachael Bloome; A Keepsake Christmas: A Sweet Romance Anthology – Blessings on State Street (Kindle Locations 5479-5546).

An overboard Main Street, a child falling out of a tree and an attraction Abby can’t deny, changes her feelings on celebrating this year.

Plus that special Christmas ornament to remember.

5 Contented Purrs for Rachael!


A Lot Like Christmas

Kathryn Cantrell

The place where destiny is the ultimate matchmaker. All you have to do is believe.

I have to say even though Iris Duncan believes in love at first sight, and believes Wesley is her one and only. The reason she’s in his father’s antique store is quite naïve. She’s tracking down her grandmother’s Christmas ornament, it’s signed by Lillian Davenport, the film star, who was her grandmother. She assumes she would just have to identify it and he would just hand it over.

Of course, Wesley can’t and won’t do that. Even though she says it was stolen and it was reported, he needs to go through proper channels, it’s his father’s store after all. After calling the sheriff, an ice storm begins, preventing the Sheriff from getting there and also them going anywhere. Fortunately, there is an apartment above the store where Wesley has been staying.

As soon as she got that ornament. Then she’d get started on their happily ever after. Her gran came first.

When the phone rang, a sinking feeling told her who would be on the other end of the line.

Wesley’s mouth firmed into a flat line as he listened. When he hung up, she held up a finger. “Let me guess. The sheriff isn’t coming.”

Wesley shook his head and her stomach dropped.

“The storm is much worse than forecasted,” he told her with a grimace. “The roads are impassable. He doesn’t think he’ll make it out until tomorrow morning at the earliest.”

Looked like she’d be staying in Superstition Springs then. She nodded once, mentally preparing for an overnight stay sans an overnight bag. “Is there a hotel nearby?”

He shrugged. “I’m not sure. Probably in La Grange. If you want me to call around for you, I don’t mind.”

La Grange was thirty miles away. No way was she putting that much distance between herself and that ornament. Plus she had a feeling that he’d mentioned it strictly as a ploy to get her to go away. Not happening. “I thought you just said the roads are bad. I meant here. In town.”

The very long pause did not reassure her. For someone who liked calculators so much, he sure wasn’t adding two and two together very fast.

“Maybe the roads aren’t too bad out here.”

She shot him an incredulous look. “In the boondocks? Sure. In Texas, bad weather always veers away from wide open spaces with few residents. Let’s check and see about that.”

Weaving through the furniture, she headed for the front to peer through the window. Big, white flakes fell from the sky at an alarmingly rapid rate, obscuring her vision.

“It’s snowing!” she called back to Wesley, charmed by the picturesque scene. “So beautiful. I guess I should have checked the forecast before driving this far from home. I mean, I knew it was cold. Can’t miss that. But snow in Texas? It’s been ages since it actually snowed here.”

She sensed him coming up behind her, an odd anomaly where she could feel his presence that she didn’t recall ever experiencing before with another person. It had been happening since she’d first noticed him, made more pronounced by her new understanding of why they’d been brought together— to help him believe in love again.

“Wow,” he said, sounding a bit dazed, his gaze roving across the landscape on the other side of the glass. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen snow. Especially that much of it.”

In the hour or so she’d been in the shop, white had coated every surface as far as the eye could see. Odd bumps stuck up every so often in a straight line edging the street. Bushes of some sort, the leaf tips dark against so much white.

“Christmas miracle,” she murmured cheerily.

“If you still think I should try to drive to La Gran—”

“You can’t drive in that.”

Well, then. She hid a smile. He’d cut her off a good two sentences before she’d expected him to. “Is there another choice? Someone who might have an extra room?”

His lid slammed shut and he heaved a sigh. “Yeah, someone as in me. My dad’s apartment is above the shop. It’s two bedrooms. But I can sleep down here in the store.”

“Oh, hmm.” She pretended to think about it, mostly because she had a feeling she’d overplay her hand if she jumped all over the invitation as lightning quick as she wanted to. His heavy sigh had told her scads. He was a good guy who had no intention of letting a woman drive alone in bad weather, but he was also a guy who didn’t enjoy having his self-imposed relationship moratorium challenged.

Also, she could be completely misreading the situation, and he really had a second career as an axe murderer.

Her best tactic here would be treading very lightly.

She held up her cell phone. No bars. But he’d warned her that would be the case already. Did axe murderers tell their victims cell service sucked? How would she know? She never watched those kinds of movies. In her world, good guys with well-defined shoulders always played the hero.

“You don’t have to sleep down here,” she said. “I would feel terrible for putting you out. Besides, I have a concealed handgun in my purse, just so you know.”

His brows shot up. “Really?”

Caught in the lie, she debated and finally shook her head. “No. I’d probably shoot myself before I shot anyone trying to harm me.”

“That’s okay.” He looked like he was trying not to laugh. At her. “I used to be a SEAL, so firearms are kind of my specialty. I won’t hurt you. I know that’s what someone with nefarious intentions would say, so probably it’s a small comfort.”

She wasn’t scared of him, if that’s what he’d meant. Maybe she should be, but she’d been alone with him for a while now already and she’d gotten no sense of him being a threat.

“Can I call my Gran to let her know I won’t be home tonight?” she asked with a nod to the corded phone behind the register. “So she won’t worry.”

Which doubled as a mechanism to make sure she didn’t disappear, never to be heard from again. Well, technically, that could still happen, but at least they’d know where to start looking.

“Of course.” He jetted back to the register and lifted the receiver, holding it to his ear, then extending it to her. “It’s working.”

That sealed it. An axe murderer definitely wouldn’t make sure the phone was operational and then let her make a call. She took a moment to study him surreptitiously as she dialed and waited for the call to connect.

Man, he was something to look at. Almost too pretty to be considered handsome, but his face had a rugged quality matched by his brawn that was too masculine to call him anything other than smoking hot. His eyes killed her. The color was something in and of itself, but after you got past the bright green/ hazel/ topaz combo, a depth shone from them. This guy had dimensions and she wanted to know about all of them.

Especially the name of the incredibly stupid woman who had worked him over to the point that he refused to even entertain the idea of a casual movie with another of her species. That was some next-level hurt he carried around inside.

The private nurse Iris had hired to look after Gran answered on the second ring. She explained the situation and gave the woman the number displayed above the dial, which she assumed was assigned to the shop. Not as good as the number upstairs at the residence but better than nothing.

It would have been lovely to actually speak with Gran but she’d been so confused lately. It wouldn’t have done any good to spend ten minutes explaining who she was, plus it hurt Iris’s heart to have to.

That ornament could be the key to unlocking a flood of Gran’s memories. It had to be.

“Well, that’s done,” she told him brightly instead of dwelling on things she couldn’t change. “Care to show me to my room so I can settle in?”

Which would take about two minutes since she had no luggage or even a toothbrush. Her host’s hospitality probably only extended so far, or she’d ask for some basics, and she’d rather save what good will she might have at the moment to fry bigger fish.

Silently, Wesley extended a hand to the rear of the shop, where thankfully, a staircase unfolded upwards to the second floor. She’d envisioned a building this old having an external staircase, requiring a stout constitution to brave the cold in order to get to the residence.

“Oh, this is lovely,” she exclaimed as the staircase led straight to the open living room and kitchen.

Glass comprised most of the far wall, giving her a bird’s eye view of the nothingness spreading beyond the edge of the town. A blanket of white covered everything, a smattering of trees and scrub brush standing sentinel, but she had a feeling it was just as breathtaking without the snow.

The owner had selected some of the best pieces from his business, choosing to furnish his personal space with honey-red finishes. German influences mostly, judging by the ornate legs on the wardrobe converted into an entertainment center. The fabric couch stuck out as the lone modern hold out, which was unsurprising given the fussy patterns often favored by furniture makers of the previous centuries.

“The extra room is this way,” he said and she didn’t miss the stiffness.

He didn’t like her being here, but he didn’t feel like he had a choice, so he was making the best of it. Which she appreciated. Everyone had choices and he could have kicked her out into the storm. The snow still fell in furious swirls, easily the worst snowstorm she’d ever seen in real life. The fact that he’d instantly assessed the weather situation and made the difficult choice spoke to her soul in a way she’d never have anticipated.

That’s okay. She fully intended to reverse the way he thought about her presence in his life. There was no telling how long she had to make that happen, but the weather had certainly done its part to assist fate. She’d make full use of the opportunity presented to her.
Kathryn Cantrell; A Keepsake Christmas: A Sweet Romance Anthology – A Lot Like Christmas (Kindle Locations 7741-7813).

The progression from strangers to something more is rather interesting as Iris pushes and Wesley retreats.

However, there is something about snow in Texas, Christmas and being stuck together.

A beautiful ornament, secrets, and the beginning of a romance.

5 Contented Purrs for Kathryn!


One Unforgettable Christmas

Tammy L. Grace

An exhausted ER doctor looking to escape the city. A beach-loving workaholic executive stuck in a snow-covered valley. Will the charm of the town and the magic of the holidays be enough to mend their broken hearts?

Hugh Whitman just got the surprise of his life. His Aunt Betty left him not only her home in Snow Valley but also her bookstore and rental properties, but there’s a catch. He can’t sell anything or hire a manager for the book store until he’s worked there for 30 days. He really prefers LA and beaches to the cold of Snow Valley but he couldn’t just turn his back on it all.

The cold is getting to him since he really doesn’t have the proper clothing. Thoroughly chilled he first stops at Latte Dah for coffee enjoying the warm atmosphere as he arranges the time off. He’d also need to find some appropriate clothing for his stay. He has lunch at Rosie’s diner, where he meets Harper. It’s snowing as he heads towards his aunt’s house observing the prime location of the book store. He doesn’t get very far before he slips and falls flat.

He’s rescued by Harper, who lives just past his aunt’s Victorian home. With his ankle injured, she assists him inside only to realize he won’t be able to maneuver the stairs. She property she’s renting is one of his Aunt Betty’s and has a small guest cottage so she offers that to him. I got a real kick out of him thinking her dog Duncan was a guy.

Hugh begins his time at the book store and discovers the closeness of the community as the Christmas spirit seems to come alive.

Harper’s mother, Allison is coming to town for the holidays. Allison is an overworked ER doctor and her contract is ending. She’s hoping her time with her daughter in Snow Valley will help her sort out what her next steps should be.

Hugh invites Harper to bring her Mom to dinner at the Mistletoe Lodge as his treat and a thank you for the help she’s given him. There’s going to be quite the surprise coming.

This is a favorite scene.

She met his eyes and stifled a gasp. The deep blue eyes she hadn’t seen in over twenty-five years, widened. Hugh stepped closer, his face inches from hers. She could smell the woodsy scent of his aftershave and detected notes of sandalwood along his strong jawline.

He grinned and said, “Allie Oop? It is you.”

Harper’s brow furrowed as she looked at Hugh and then her mother. “That’s what Grandpa always called you. You two know each other?”

Allison swallowed hard. “Uh, yeah, a hundred years ago.” Her eyes met his again. “Hugh, I can’t believe you’re here and, uh, well, I just can’t believe it.”

He wrapped her in a long hug, and then took her hands in his. “You look just as stunning as ever. You haven’t changed a bit.” He smiled and moved to pull out a chair. “Please sit down.”

He did the same for Harper, who sat wide-eyed between them. Both she and Hugh rearranged their place settings to accommodate their left-handedness. Harper turned toward her mom. “So, I met Hugh a couple of weeks ago. He fell on the sidewalk and hurt his ankle. He’s Betty’s nephew.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Well, you know that. Anyway, I offered to let him stay in my guesthouse because of all the stairs at Betty’s.”

Allison ran her finger along the edge of the menu. “I can’t believe you didn’t mention him.”

The color rose in Harper’s cheeks. “I didn’t want you to worry. I know you aren’t wild about me renting out the guesthouse.” She winked at Hugh. “To total strangers who could be serial killers.”

He chuckled. “I told her the same thing. I’m back at Betty’s now. I didn’t want to be in the way when Harper’s mom came to visit. She never said your name or I might have put it together.”

They studied the menus. “Everything looks terrific,” said Hugh. “My treat, so you ladies order whatever you like. Lobster, steak, the sky’s the limit.”

Harper shook her head. “No lobster for me. I’m allergic to shellfish.”

Hugh’s head snapped to face her. “Me, too. I can do fish, but not shellfish. I don’t need any more medical visits while I’m here.”

The waitress came to take their orders. As much as Allison had been looking forward to dinner, her appetite had disappeared and nothing sounded good. She settled on a chicken dish, and since Harper was driving, a glass of merlot.

“So, your ankle is better?” asked Allison, before taking a healthy swallow from her glass.

“Not one hundred percent, but much better.” He stuck his foot out. “Doc Archer gave me a brace and I’ve been diligent about wearing it.”

“Ah, good old Doc Archer. He’s a sweetheart.” Allison brought her hand to her mouth in such a hurry, she almost tipped over her wineglass. “I forgot to say how sorry I am about Betty. She was such a lovely person.”

Hugh pressed his lips together. “Oh, thank you. She was a much better aunt than I was a nephew, I’m sorry to say. I have a new appreciation for her after spending these last weeks trying to fill her shoes.” He took a sip of water. “She was my only family and now she’s gone. It’s really made me think.”

“I’m truly sorry. We lost my mom almost two years ago and my dad before that. I understand that horrible sense of loss.”

He nodded. “I’m so sorry, Allie.” He met her eyes with such intensity, she looked away and took another drink from her glass.

He turned his attention to Harper. “So, is your mom excited about your news?”

“News?” Allison turned toward her daughter and watched her eyes widen and smile fall.

“Uh, well, I haven’t told her. I meant to, I’ve just been so busy and we haven’t had time to talk much.” She looked between Hugh and her mom. “I’ve decided I want to stay in Snow Valley and be a teacher, like Grandma.” She went on to say she’d looked into online programs and that she could complete her degree and then get a student teaching job at the local school district.

It warmed Allison’s heart to hear the excitement in Harper’s voice and the idea of her following in her mom’s footsteps. But that her daughter had discussed her future with Hugh, a relative stranger, made her eyes sting with unshed tears.

Harper rambled on, telling her she’d been helping Hugh, and Duncan had been staying at the bookshop while she worked. Allison half-listened to the conversation as she watched her daughter.

Her daughter with the same dark hair and blue eyes as Hugh, who was allergic to shellfish, and left-handed. She watched the two of them and wondered how she was going to tell him. Her stomach buckled at the idea. How would Harper react? Would Hugh figure it out?

She asked the waitress for another glass of wine.
Tammy L. Grace; A Keepsake Christmas: A Sweet Romance Anthology – One Unforgettable Christmas (Kindle Locations 9374-9411).

The attraction between Allison and Hugh is apparent, and her secret won’t remain that way long.

I thoroughly enjoyed the way this romantic tale plays out, with love, laughter and some tears as well.

5 Contented Purrs for Tammy!


Tinsel and Teacups

Elle Rush

A bubbly barista and a shy, single-father antique dealer must set aside their rivalry to find the best Christmas teacup ever when they are nominated to run the Holiday Beach food bank fundraiser. Will the spirit of Christmas overcome their competitive streaks?

Rachel Best is on the hunt for tea cups, she does a holiday auction at her coffee shop, By The Cup, to provide for the food bank.

Owen Daye is already at the Christmas craft and antique sale and Rachel is sure he’s already snatched up all the good stuff. Owen’s grandfather owns Golden Daye Antiques and Owen has been taking over for him. Unlike his grandfather, Owen hadn’t responded to her request to partner with her on the auction.

The last straw for Rachel was when he bought a rare Prairie Pioneer a style from the days of the Great Depression. Unfortunately it was her fault she was stunned to see it, her mind going in all directions as she stared at it, not processing when he asked if she wanted it.

There’s an interesting catalyst in this story, a cat named Holly. Apparently the stray goes between Rachel’s shop and Owen’s. His young son Ritchie has befriended the cat who spends time in their storage area.

This is a favorite scene.

The next afternoon, Owen was ringing up a customer’s purchase when Rachel slipped in through the front door. She’d arrived early to ensure nobody else purchased the Prairie Pioneer before she had a chance to, but she didn’t see it on it any of the shelves in the housewares area. She moved through the fine arts corner and came up empty there too. She was preparing to start a row-to-row search, when Owen approached her holding a massive red latte cup covered in white polka dots.

“It’s on the house,” Owen said when he handed it to her. “Pops was upset when he realized you didn’t contact the store to for our usual donation. Maybe you’ll accept this as part of our contribution.”

That was strange. And slightly accusatory. “I understand nobody returning my calls with both Goldie and your father being in the hospital, but I also sent a letter asking Golden Daye Antiques if they wanted to participate. I assume you still had somebody going through the mail to pay bills and such. I still didn’t get any response. So please tell your grandpa I didn’t forget about him and his previous generosity.”

The shocked look on his face seemed genuine. “I don’t remember any letter. But the store was in such upheaval when I arrived, it could have accidentally been thrown out. I’m very sorry if it had been. Pops is all about being active in the community but can’t do a lot this year, which is why he volunteered me.” Owen grabbed a sheet of tissue paper from underneath the counter and gave it a flick.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t pay attention to the direction, and the delicate wrapper flapped against the bulletin board and dislodged several of Richie’s masterpieces. The rectangular drawings flew across the counter and onto the floor. “Nuts!” he exclaimed.

Rachel scooped up two that landed by her feet, turning them over so she could see the drawings. “Your son has a thing for snowmen,” she said as she offered them back, “but it’s a clever way to keep him occupied at the counter.”

Owen didn’t take them. He was staring at the letter in his own hand. The unopened letter, she noted, with her name as the return addressee. Owen flipped it to the backside to look at what might be a horse and cowboy according to the hat, then returned to the front. He handed it to her.

“This is the letter I sent,” she said after a quick glance.

“I didn’t see it. By the looks of it, Richie confiscated it for his artwork before any of us had a chance.” Owen slit it open and withdrew a plain sheet of printer paper. Rachel knew what he was reading: best wishes for a fast recovery, and a request for her to come by the store to discuss teacups if Goldie was feeling up to it at a later date.

Rachel pinched her lips together. The whole situation was a dumpster fire. Nobody would benefit if she continued to let it burn. “I guess it’s kind of pointless to be mad at the next Picasso simply because he escaped supervision,” she said.

“I am really sorry. I didn’t realize we hadn’t opened your letter before he drew on it—”

“It’s not your fault.” She gave a little snort. “Okay, it’s ninety percent not your fault. At least I know now that you weren’t ignoring me on purpose. I was starting to wonder.” Then she gave Owen a truly friendly smile for the first time. “Can I start over?”

“Sure.”

“Hi, I’m Rachel Best, and I own By the Cup. It’s a coffee shop on Lakeside Drive. I know you’re new to Holiday Beach, but would you like to contribute to my annual fundraiser for the local food bank and donate a teacup to a good cause?” She stuck out her hand.

He gave it a hearty shake. “Hi, Rachel Best. I’m Owen Daye, the new manager for Golden Daye Antiques. My son and I just moved to town, and I’d love to participate in your fundraiser.”

“Daddy, why are you holding the lady’s hand?” A blond boy raced over to him from the front door.

“We just agreed to work together, so we shook hands to make a deal,” Owen explained. He lifted the now-opened letter, but Rachel shook her head, letting him know he didn’t have to mention it now. Instead, he introduced Rachel to his son Richie.

“Are you going to work here now?” Richie said. “Do you know old stuff?”

“No. I work at a coffee shop.”

Without warning, Richie pivoted and changed the conversation.

“I have a cat.”

“I have a cat too. Well, half a cat. She doesn’t live with me all the time,” Rachel said.

“My cat lives in the store. I’m going to go play with her now.” Owen’s son didn’t even say goodbye before he took off, leaving a trail of dirt and melting snow on the floor.

“That was Richie,” Owen said. “On a cookie high, apparently.”

“We napped really hard after day care. We needed to refuel,” Goldie said, as he stomped the snow off his boots at the front door. “In fact, I could use some caffeinated fuel, so I’m going to run. Rachel, it’s lovely to see you again.”

“You too, Mr. Daye.”

“Are you and Owen all organized?”

“We’re just about to start.”

Owen ushered Rachel through the store to the large storage room. She heard Richie talking to somebody in one corner, but Owen led her in the other direction and showed her two conveniently empty metal storage units against the far wall. “Will these work?” he asked.

“I think they’ll be fine. I can’t imagine that we’ll get enough to fill all those shelves.”

“I think you’re underestimating your appeal. I’ll bet you a beer at the Escape Room that all these shelves are full to bursting by the time the auction’s over.”

Owen might be new to Holiday Beach, but that didn’t mean he was wrong. Christmas was the season of giving, and Josh had already sent her the names of two businesses wanting to make donations. She was certain the various businesses around town would fall over themselves to be part of the auction. “Bet accepted. I’ll happily pay up if I’m wrong.”

“While I have you here, I want to apologize about the antique show the other day,” Owen said.

She froze. The revelation about her letter going astray had completely shoved their antique show confrontation and her intention of asking for the Prairie Pioneer out of her mind. Owen’s apologetic green eyes and his adorable son were dangerous distractions. “Before you say anything, I have to ask a huge favor,” she interrupted. “Do you still have the Prairie Pioneer in stock? I want it. Badly.”

Before he could respond, there was a crash at the other end of the room. Then one word. “Daddy!”

Rachel didn’t have kids, but she could differentiate between a “come and see” and a “I need help” scream. Owen could too; he was already halfway there before her feet moved.

They found Richie surround by a sea of shattered glass and crockery. The little boy’s tear-stained face looked up at them in fear. “Daddy,” he cried again. An art piece that was balancing precariously on the edge of an upper shelf trembled at the noise.

Owen strode through the broken shards, shoved the glass sculpture further onto the shelf, then scooped up his son and handed him off to Rachel. She backed away and watched Owen study the scene.

“Are you okay, kiddo?”

“I didn’t do it.”

“I know you didn’t.” Rachel could see the little boy couldn’t reach that high. “Did you see what happened?” Owen asked gently.

Richie sniffed in her arms. Rachel dug a tissue out of her coat pocket and wiped his nose. “Are you hurt, Richie? Did you get cut?”

“No. Daddy, the cat did it! She was walking on the top shelf and I told her no and I said get down and then she pushed the thing and it crashed and then she got scared and pushed more things off when she ran away.” Richie sniffed again.

“I know she’s normally good about staying off the shelves, but I also don’t usually put light breakables up on them either.” He looked around the storeroom. “Richie, do you know where she went? I should make sure she’s not cut either.”

“She ran away out the window.” Rachel guessed it was Owen’s steady manner that calmed Richie so quickly. His tears dried, and he twisted in her arms as he took in the shattered glass and china on the floor. “Wow, she really made a mess.”

“She sure did. Will you go with Miss Rachel while I sweep it up? I don’t want any little boys or cats to cut themselves.” He raised his eyebrows to her as he spoke to his son, and she nodded. She could watch a child for a few minutes while he cleaned the disaster zone. Rachel spotted busted wine glass stems, pieces of a large bowl and a pitcher handle, and more broken cups and saucers than she could count, all laying in a puddle of water.

She was glad it wasn’t her cleaning up. “My cat likes fish a lot. What does your cat like to eat?” she asked Richie as she took him back into the store.

By the time Owen was finished cleaning, Rachel had to get back to the coffee shop. She was restocking sugar packets when she realized that she’d never received an answer about buying the Prairie Pioneer.
Elle Rush. A Keepsake Christmas: A Sweet Romance Anthology – Tinsel and Teacups (Kindle Locations 10333-10405).

From the injured cat to the elusive Prairie Pioneer cup, to the silent auction this is a wonderful Christmas romance.

5 Contented Purrs for Elle!


Melissa McClone’s Bio and Links

With a degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University, Melissa worked for a major airline where she traveled the globe and met her husband. But analyzing jet engine performance couldn’t compete with her love of writing happily ever afters.

Her first full-time writing endeavor was her first sale when she was pregnant with her first child! When she isn’t writing, you can usually find her driving her minivan to/from her children’s swim practices and other activities.

Melissa lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, three children, two spoiled Norwegian Elkhounds, and cats who think they rule the house. They do!


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Kristen Ethridge’s Bio and Links
Kristen Ethridge is a USA Today Bestselling Author who writes Sweet Escape Romance— stories with hope, heart and happily-ever-after. You can find Kristen in her native habitat— a Texas patio— where she’s likely to be savoring the joy of a crispy taco, along with a glass of iced tea.

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Tess Thompson’s Bio and Links

Tess Thompson is the USA Today Bestselling and award-winning author of contemporary and historical Romantic Women’s Fiction with nearly 40 published titles. When asked to describe her books, she could never figure out what to say that would perfectly sum them up until she landed on, Hometowns and Heartstrings.

She’s married to her prince, Best Husband Ever, and is the mother of their blended family of four kids and five cats. Best Husband Ever is seventeen months younger, which qualifies Tess as a Cougar, a title she wears proudly. Her Bonus Sons are young adults with pretty hair and big brains like their dad. Daughters, better known as Princess One and Two, are teenagers who make their mama proud because they’re kind. They’re also smart, but a mother shouldn’t brag.

Tess loves lazy afternoons watching football, hanging out on the back patio with Best Husband Ever, reading in bed, binge-watching television series, red wine, strong coffee and walks on crisp autumn days. She laughs a little too loudly, never knows what to make for dinner, looks ridiculous kickboxing in an attempt to combat her muffin top, and always complains about the rain even though she chose to live in Seattle.

She’s proud to have grown up in a small town like the ones in her novels. After graduating from the University of Southern California Drama School, she had hopes of becoming an actress but was called instead to writing fiction. She’s grateful to spend most days in her office matchmaking her characters while her favorite cat Mittens (shhh…don’t tell the others) sleeps on the desk.

She adores hearing from readers, so don’t hesitate to say hello or sign up for her newsletter.

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Barbara Hinske’s Bio and Links

Barbara Hinske is an attorney who recently left the practice of law to pursue her career as a full-time novelist. Her latest novel, Guiding Emily, was conceived during a tour of The Foundation for Blind Children. She was inspired and moved by their mission and is donating half of her proceeds from the book to the Foundation. Barb is also the author of the bestselling Rosemont series and the murder mysteries in her ‘Who’s There?!’ collection. Her novella The Christmas Club was made into a 2019 Hallmark Channel Christmas movie.

She inherited the fiction gene from her father who wrote mysteries when he retired and told her a story every night of her childhood. She and her husband share their own Rosemont with two adorable and spoiled dogs. A true homebody, she is besotted with decorating, entertaining, cooking, and gardening.

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Rachael Bloome’s Bio and Links

Rachael Bloome is a hopeful romantic. Joyfully living in her very own love story, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two rescue dogs, Finley and Monkey. When she’s not writing, helping to run the family coffee roasting business, or getting together with friends, she’s busy planning their next big adventure.

Torn between her small-town roots and her passion for traveling the world, she weaves both into her stories ~ and her life.

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Kathryn Cantrell’s Bio and Links

Kathryn Cantrell is the sweeter version of USA Today bestselling author Kat Cantrell. She read her first Harlequin novel in third grade and has been scribbling in notebooks since she learned to spell. What else would she write but romance? When she’s not writing about characters on the journey to happily ever after, she can be found at a taekwondo tournament, watching Big Bang Theory or dancing with her kids to Duran Duran and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Kathryn, her husband and their two boys live in North Texas. As Kat, she’s a Harlequin So You Think You Can Write winner and a former RWA® Golden Heart® finalist for best unpublished series contemporary manuscript.

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Tammy L. Grace’s Bio and Links

Born and raised in Nevada, Tammy L. Grace loved reading at a young age. With the help of her middle school teacher, she discovered the joy of writing. After spending a career in local and state government service, she retired and finally has the time to dedicate to writing.

When Tammy isn’t working on ideas for a novel, she’s spending time with family and friends or supporting her addiction to books and chocolate. She and her husband have one grown son and a spoiled golden retriever. Sadly, she lost Zoe in 2017, but is training her new golden puppy, Izzy, to be her writing buddy. Zoe was the inspiration for all the canine companions in her books.

She enjoys a variety of fiction, but is always drawn to characters she loves and wants to be transported to another place when reading. She hopes you’ll feel at home as you meet the small-town characters in the picturesque setting of Friday Harbor in her best-selling Hometown Harbor Series. She’s also created equally memorable and interesting characters in her Cooper Harrington Detective Novels. She released the first book, Beach Haven, in her Glass Beach Cottage Series and plans two more in the coming years.

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Elle Rush’s Bio and Links

Elle Rush is a contemporary romance author from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. When she’s not travelling, she’s hard at work writing books which are set all over the world. From Hollywood to the house next door, her heroes will make you sigh and her heroines will make you laugh out loud.

Elle has a degree in Spanish and French, barely passed German, and has flunked poetry in every language she ever studied, including English. She also has mild addictions to tea, her garden, bad sci-fi movies, and HGTV.

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