I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for the holidays. A few years ago, I collaborated with some writer friends to write a sweet holiday romance set in the fictional town of Snow Creek, California. I loved writing these novellas! They are intense, emotional love stories set against the backdrop of a magical town and the miracles of Christmas. The Snow Creek Christmas Box Set contains One Silent Night and Miracle on Main Street.
One Silent Night features an almost-divorced couple, Ally and Nick Carpenter, who reunite to make a dying woman happy. They will get a second chance at love, if only they believe in miracles.
Miracle on Main Street features, Drew Decker, a hometown son who can’t wait to leave, and Britney Lamb, a damaged orphan who needs to stay. Can two broken souls be healed in a town that embraces the magic of love?
Read on for the first chapter of One Silent Night. <3
Christmas Eve, Main Street Diner
Ally Carpenter sat in the worn black Naugahyde booth and fingered a bundle of silverware wrapped in a white paper napkin. Someone had tried to dress it up with a sharp curl of ridged red ribbon.
A Muzak version of “Carol of the Bells” trilled from mounted speakers in muted cheeriness. Faded red and green Christmas lights blinked on and off in the smudged diner window. The waitress, a very young, exhausted-looking, hugely pregnant girl shuffled toward her booth. The girl’s light brown hair was restrained in a fun bun except she didn’t look like she’d had fun in a very long time.
Ally could relate.
The waitress placed the heavy utilitarian ceramic mug on the chipped Formica tabletop and deftly poured the steaming brew with an economy of movement, as if she couldn’t spare any extra effort. Then she passed Ally a menu. “One?”
Ally’s stomach curdled into a ball of dread. “Uh, actually I’m waiting for someone.” She ignored the feeling and glanced around the empty restaurant. A fierce wave of nostalgia overwhelmed her. This was the diner where she’d worked when she’d been in college and split her time between school, work, skiing, and Nick. Her heart cracked.
It was after 8:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve. The only people in the joint were the waitress, the cook,…and Ally. Everyone else was either at the annual Fezziwig Ball or at home with their families. Now that the Christmas Parade had finished, they gathered around a roaring fire, while kids, hopped up on candy, bounced around anxiously awaiting their visit from Santa. Husbands and wives shared covert smiles, their heads full of secrets and the joy of Christmas.
Snow drifted lazily to the ground and coated the world in a sparkly, shimmery layer of white. The deserted street outside looked like a fairy tale dream land. Except her life hadn’t been a fairy tale in far too long.
Ally glanced at the girl’s distended stomach and the ache around her heart intensified. She and Nick had longed for children. At first, she’d wanted four. But as their dreams dwindled she’d have settled for just one baby to love. One bundle of squirming child to save her fractured marriage and her broken heart. For her and Nick.
Even as the ache increased, her eyes remained dry. She’d shed her last tear months ago. And now she was just a dried-up husk of a woman. Subsisting, surviving, but not really living.
The bells hanging from the bar of the door jingled as the door blew open on a gust of wind and ushered in the formidable bulk of her soon-to-be-ex. He certainly hadn’t lost any weight. Snow dusted his hair and coated his eyelashes. Nick’s gaze swept the diner in one assessing glance and then headed straight toward her.
“I’m guessing he’s with you.” The waitress, whose nametag read Britney, plopped another menu on the opposite side of the booth.
Not anymore. Ally sunk into the booth, attempted to hide behind the dated tabletop. The fertility drugs had altered her body until she’d been bloated and almost unrecognizable. But since her last dose, she’d lost all the weight she’d gained and more. Her clothes hung on her frame. She’d been meaning to get out and buy some smaller outfits. But since the last treatment failed, she’d mostly just worked and taken care of her mother.
Nick slid into the booth across from her and nodded to the waitress. “Can I get a cup of coffee as well?”
“Sure thing. I’ll be back in a few minutes to take your order.” She deftly poured the steaming brew and then left them alone.
Ally finally faced him. He looked good. His blond hair was a little long. He’d probably forgotten to make his haircut appointment. When they’d been together she’d been the one who reminded him. Now that he was so close, she could see new lines around his striking green eyes and fine tension in the set of his shoulders.
His mouth tightened. Ally tried not to remember what it felt like to have those lips pressed against hers but as the scent of him—evergreen aftershave and pure man—hit her senses, a fierce longing plowed through her. She’d forgotten just how much she missed him.
“Al.” He dumped a packet of sugar in his coffee and stirred with a ting-ting-ting of the cheap metal spoon against the mug, concentrating so intently she began to wonder if he’d say anything else.
Ally cleared her throat. “Thank you for agreeing to this.”
“I still think we should tell her the truth.” Nick continued to stir the coffee as if his life depended on it and for a moment she wondered if he were nervous. Then she dismissed the idea. Nick didn’t get nervous. Ever. He had been, was, the most self-composed man she’d ever met. That quiet confidence, that surety of purpose, was what had originally attracted her to him.
“Mama’s dying,” she forced the truth out through numb lips.
“I still don’t like lying to Janine,” Nick confessed.
Ally fingered the handle of the mug and tamped down the urge to yell. She didn’t have any more tears but she had enough anger for three people. “I don’t want her upset,” she said sharply.
Her mother was in the final stages of terminal cancer and had no idea that she and Nick had split. It would break her mother’s heart. Mama adored Nick.
“I’m sorry.” He reached his hand toward her. His knuckles were bruised and a little swollen as if he’d knocked them against something hard, and his fingers were nicked with cuts. He’d obviously been “hands on” for some of his recent building projects.
His hand hovered halfway across the table before he pulled it back and gripped his own mug like a lifeline.
“Ya’ll decide what you want?” The waitress was back.
“Give us another minute.” Nick smiled warmly, his gaze shifted to her stomach and his eyes lightened.
She nodded tiredly and waddled toward the counter. Her bare, work roughened hands rubbed at her the dip in her lower back.
“Why don’t you go on home?” the cook behind the service window said to the waitress. Ally recognized the cook even though she’d never worked with him. David Wiseman, one of the three brothers who now owned the place, had inherited the diner from Old Man Woods. He pushed through the swinging doors that lead from the kitchen to the dining room.
David looked a lot like Paul Bunyan. Worn, plaid flannel shirttails hung out from beneath his chef’s apron. He had on chef’s pants, but no funky, no-slip clogs for him. He clomped to the counter in large construction boots.
He was a giant ox, with a black bushy beard, broad shoulders, and a frown that would have been a little scary if the tone of his voice hadn’t been so soft.
“I need to finish out my shift,” the girl said. Her mouth was set in a stubborn line and watching her, Ally knew she needed the money, but refused to take charity.
“We need to set our stories straight and let her get home.” Ally stared at the plastic menu sleeve trimmed in red piping. She focused on the food offerings. A bright green Post-it was slapped on the inside with the announcement, We now have Gluten-Free Buns! Along with free-range chicken, humanely-raised beef, and local organic produce.
Even though the menu hadn’t changed in years, the Wiseman brothers sure had stepped up the food quality. Desperately, Ally searched the menu selections for something, anything that didn’t sound like it would come right back up.
She’d lost her appetite about the time she’d lost her husband, and these days food was something she forced down rather than the sensory pleasure it used to be.
Nick lifted a hand and the waitress shuffled toward their table. Ally’s attention was riveted on the girl’s rounded stomach as the hard ball shifted and moved like an alien was getting ready to bust out.
“Ready?” She held the pencil over the little order pad, just like the ones they’d used ten years ago.
“I’ll have a tuna melt on rye.” Nick closed his menu with a slap and handed it to the girl.
The waitress’s fingers were worn and bony as if her body had taken every bit of nutrition and energy and sent it to her baby. Ally’s stomach twisted. God, she wasn’t going to be able to eat. “Just some wheat toast.”
Ally tried to hand over the menu but Nick stopped her. “Add scrambled eggs, two sausage links and a glass of orange juice to her order.”
As the waitress walked away, Ally tamped down another swell of resentment. She’d never be able to eat all that. But hadn’t that been their pattern while they’d been together? Nick would eat all of his and half of hers. It had become a sore spot when she’d gained so much weight on the fertility drugs, even though she’d actually been eating less.
With every month that they hadn’t conceived, she’d become bigger and bigger and more unhappy, while nothing affected Nick. Based on her reaction right now, it was still a sore spot.
Ally shifted in the booth, the final divorce papers crinkled in her coat pocket and reminded her why they were here. Ally pulled out the papers and handed Nick his copy.
“We only need to pretend for two days.” Just long enough to satisfy her mother. “Then we can sign and be done.”
Nick’s lips tightened. “Fine.” He tucked the papers into his shirt pocket.
The legal dissolution of their marriage had been a whole lot easier than the emotional one. Mediation had been a breeze. Neither one of them contested a single point. Her mediator said she’d never seen a couple so easy to work with. Ally didn’t have the heart to tell her that they’d fallen into an abyss, so numb that neither wanted to prolong the agony of disappointment.
Ally swallowed down bile and took a sip of coffee. “You’ve been working on several big projects at work, which is why you haven’t been to see her in the last few months.”
“I have been working on several big projects.”
“See. You aren’t even lying.”
She couldn’t afford to care about his aversion to lying. Her mother was in the final stages of her life. Ally had just taken a leave of absence with the plan to stay with her mother for the rest of her sickness. Everything needed to be about keeping Mama happy and calm.
“Okay.” Nick’s gaze was firmly fixed on the cook as he quickly completed their order. “And what have you been doing?”
“Work is going well. But I’ve been coming here every weekend to give my brother a break.”
She’d been coming to care for her mother almost every weekend for the past few months. The first month or so her mother hadn’t been suspicious, but lately, with no visits from Nick at all, Ally wondered if Mama had caught on that things were not right with her and Nick.
“What?” Nick’s attention was suddenly laser-focused on her.
Ally shrugged. If she could have gotten away with not telling him, she would have, but her mother was bound to make a comment about him missing Ally. “Yeah. If you could just be sure to tell her you don’t mind because you’re so busy, that would be great. She keeps worrying that you’re alone on the weekends.”
“You come every weekend to see her,” he said flatly.
“She’s dying, Nick.”
“But I thought….”
She knew what he thought. Her mother had been diagnosed right when they split. At first, Ally didn’t want to tell her mother that Nick had moved out because positive thinking was critical to getting better. She just figured she would break the news to her mother once she was finished with her treatment and she was healthy again. And initially the doctors thought treatment would be effective. But last month, they had gotten the grim news that her mother wasn’t ever going to recover. It was only a matter of time.
Ally shook her head. “No.”
Nick blinked, stiffened.
“Just follow my lead if Mama asks anything.” Basically cover for the fact that they hadn’t had a marriage in eight months. She rubbed the ache in the center of her chest. She didn’t know why thinking that caused her so much pain. But God, when would everything stop hurting?
In the end, they hadn’t been enough for each other. There was no shame in that. But she still couldn’t completely suppress her bitterness.
The waitress waddled toward their table, a plate in each hand. The scents of sausage, butter, and fried food wafted in the air. The waitress winced as she set down their food on the table.
“Can I get you—oh.” The young girl’s eyes widened and she snapped both hands to her back. “Oh, shit.”
“Are you okay?” Nick and Ally stood at almost the exact same moment.
Tears welled, highlighting the deep brown of her eyes, and panic on her face.
“Brit?” David Wiseman was already across the diner and standing next to the shaking girl.
She dropped her head and cupped her hands around her enormous belly. “My water just broke.”
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