So glad you’re here checking out what’s new in my writing world! How’s it going? Are you as excited about the holiday season as I am? My Christmas tree is up, the holiday music is turned on, I’ve been watching Christmas movies w/friends via Zoom, and I’m almost done with my gift shopping–woot!
I’m also very thankful for Zoom right now because it’s been my social outlet. You may know that I’m so NOT tech-savvy, but I manage to log on to my free Zoom account and I can even initiate the free 40-minute Zoom meetings (progress!). I’ve also been chatting w/people daily via FaceTime (sometimes Google Duo) as I find it more beneficial for me socially right now to be able to see people in addition to talking w/friends and family on the phone.
I’ve also been reading romance books, of course. Speaking of which… Are you looking forward to Lacey’s story, A Sugar Plum Christmas? Oh, good! I’m glad to hear it. But you need to stop jumping up and down for a second because . . . I’m going to give you a sneak peek at her novel. Yes, for real! Here you go:
A Sugar Plum Christmas
Copyright © 2020 by Susan Hatler
I stepped out of the cab and into a winter wonderland that made me realize I should not have worn high heels to Christmas Mountain, Montana in December. Big mistake. This climate was no friend to my knock-off Christian Louboutin’s, that was for sure.
As the tops of my feet started to freeze and the cabbie pulled my luggage from the trunk, I stood on the sidewalk looking at the expanse of holiday décor on Main Street and thought wow. This small town had clearly been named Christmas Mountain for a reason.
With only two weeks until Christmas, wreaths, ribbons and twinkling lights were aplenty, complimenting the white snow lining both sides of the sidewalk. I thanked my lucky stars I’d purchased snow boots and had stuffed them into my luggage before I left New York City, knowing that traveling this far into the wilderness—as my boss had called it—wouldn’t warrant city attire. Unfortunately, I’d had no time to take my new boots out of the box yet or put together an appropriate outfit for this weather thanks to pulling an all-nighter at work (again).
What else could I do? I’d pitched a new concept for Fourteen Days Till Forever that had led me here to check out Christmas Mountain for a potential season shoot. The first three seasons of our reality dating show had taken place in Bora Bora, St. Barts and The Big Island of Hawaii. The show had been a huge hit so far with everyone and their mothers following our three happily married couples on social media. As producer of this uber popular show, I made a pitch to the executive producer to do something fresh for season four: small town America and snow.
Tons of ideas hit me last night and I couldn’t sleep until every last idea was down on paper. The last guy I’d dated had dumped me saying I was a workaholic—as if that were a bad thing. Work meant security, which was something I’d never had growing up. At twenty-eight years old, I still longed for a permanent place to call home and if I pulled this new idea off then I’d finally have it.
So, I’d be spending the next two weeks here in Christmas Mountain doing research for the show. If my location gets approved then I’d be looking at a substantial bonus. Did I care that I’d have to work over the holidays? Kind of a bummer, but it wasn’t like I had a family to visit. A tinge of sadness pierced my heart at that sad fact. But I forced myself to focus on getting this bonus and buying my own apartment.
I turned to ask the cab driver where I could find the best coffee in town before heading to the Sugar Plum Inn for check-in, but as I leaned down to peer through the open passenger window he pulled away with a cheery ‘have a nice day’.
“I’ll have a nice day when I can get to the inn and warm my feet,” I said, looking around. “But first things first . . .” I needed caffeine before I dozed off right here on the sidewalk.
“Do you need help, dear?” a woman asked, giving me a puzzled look before noticing the luggage at my feet. “I’m Addie Wilcox,” she said, holding out her hand.
“Lacey Lane,” I said, taking her gloved hand in mine. “Nice to meet you.”
“Are you looking for somewhere to stay?” she asked.
I shook my head, surprised at her friendliness. “Just an espresso.”
She nodded. “You want Jingle Bells Bakery. Their coffee is excellent, but, more importantly, you can also get one of their famous cinnamon rolls.”
My tummy rumbled. I’d eaten the pretzels the airline handed out but nothing else for lunch. “A cinnamon roll sounds delicious right now.”
“The rolls from Jingle Bells Bakery are simply to die for. You’ll love them. I’d walk you there myself but I’m late for a hair appointment at the C.M. Salon.”
“No problem.” I held my palms up then put them together in the prayer position. “You’ve already been most helpful. Long flight. Need the caffeine boost.”
She smiled and then tilted her head. “You in town for pleasure?”
“Business,” I said, taking hold of my suitcase handle.
“What kind of work do you do?” she asked, blinking at me intently. “If you don’t mind my asking . . .”
“I’m in the entertainment business.”
“Magazine?” she prodded, raising her eyebrows.
Hmm. . . This Addie Wilcox lady seemed like quite the busybody. But, a harmless busybody. “I’m a producer for Fourteen Days Till Forever, the—”
“Reality dating show,” she exclaimed, with a loud squeal. “That is my favorite TV show. I never miss an episode.”
I smiled. “We love to hear that.”
“I have a question for you, Lacey.” She leaned toward me, putting a hand on my arm. “Can you tell me if Gabrielle really dismissed Jeremy in episode seven last season because of his past? I never got the feeling she was telling the truth.”
Ha! That’s because Jeremy had been planted for the drama aspect and had never been a real bachelor candidate.
“I heard her say that, same as you,” I said, truthfully, while keeping our show’s secret to myself.
“Mmm . . .” She tapped her finger to her cheek just as her cell went off in her purse. “That’s my alarm. I’m really late now. May I ask where you’re staying, Lacey?”
“The Sugar Plum Inn,” I said.
She nodded. “Randall and Betty Curtis’s place. You’ll love it.”
“Good to know,” I said, as she turned away from me with a wave. “Thanks again.”
She nodded. “Bye-bye now!”
I pulled a recorder from my purse and spoke into the microphone. “Two minutes in Christmas Mountain and I’ve already met one of the townspeople. Super friendly, small town feel. Addie Wilcox enthused about the show and recommended Jingle Bells Bakery for coffee and cinnamon rolls. Sugar and caffeine are just what I need right now and just what our contestants will need during shooting. This is going to work,” I said, keeping a positive attitude while slipping the recorder back into my purse and heading toward the cheerful looking awning with the big gold bells on either side of its business sign.
“This is a quaint little town, tucked away in the Rockies. The viewers will love it,” I had enthused when I’d pitched the idea to my boss, Melvin Pennington. My friend Carol Bennett had moved here last year, which was how this little mountain town had appeared on my radar.
I pulled the handle of my black bought-on-sale suitcase as I strode in the direction of the shops, but realized pretty quickly that the wheels on the bottom of the case were built for city streets and not the icy, snowy streets of Montana.
Grunting, I pondered having to carry the bag as I struggled with the weight from all my various electrical items nestled inside: flat iron (for when I wanted to look business-like), my curling iron (for when I wanted to look cute), my hairdryer (because I didn’t want to freeze by going outside with wet hair) and my laptop, my tablet, my spare tablet, and the array of chargers and cables that went with them all. Maybe I’d overpacked a little, but it’s better to be prepared.
At the other end of Main Street, I spotted a magnificent mountain jutting up and providing a breathtaking backdrop. The mountain top was laden with pristine white snow, making it look like an iced cake with dark lower levels resembling a rich chocolate sponge. Small houses (at least they looked small from where I was standing) dotted the mountain. I thought about how peaceful it must be to live up there, looking down on the town. Strings of cables zigzagged above the ribbon of road, dangling multi-colored lights. I couldn’t wait for dusk to fall to see them light up like a glowing rainbow connecting both sides of the road.
As I walked along the sidewalk, I marveled at the store names, and the little girl inside me couldn’t help but get excited that this was definitely the place to shoot next season. I spotted Jingle Bells Bakery, The Sleigh Cafe, and a furniture store named Parker’s, which appeared to share the same retail space as a beauty salon—what a random concept. I smiled, thinking it was all so quaint that the contestants on the show couldn’t help but fall in love, both with the town and with each other. With this new location, season four would be the biggest hit yet!
As I wandered along, scene ideas popped into my head. I imagined contestants laughing as they threw snowballs at each other, and couples strolling arm in arm along the festively lit street as they ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ at the charming stores. It would be all woolly hats and mittens, with the woman taking her scarf off to wrap around a newly-built snowman’s neck, and her date taking his scarf off and wrapping it around her neck so she would stay warm as he tenderly kissed the tip of her nose. . .
Ding-ding! Ding-ding! Ding-ding!
I shook my head, visions of the imagined show scene evaporating as I came out of my fog and realized my phone was ringing. I pulled one of my gloves off with my teeth before fishing around in my pocket to find my cell. I glanced at the screen, which read: MELVIN
I tapped on the ANSWER button and greeted my boss, “Hi, Mel. How are you?”
“Depends. How’s it going there?”
I grinned. “It’s perfect. You should see it.”
“Not my scene. Give me the sun, sea, and sangria any day. You can keep the snow for the contestants. When it airs, I’ll watch from the deck of my yacht.” He let out a croaky laugh, the result of too many cigars and expensive whiskeys.
“That works,” I said, feeling a little disappointed he wouldn’t come to the shooting if the idea gets approved. Then again, Mel could be a bit intense. Maybe it would be better if he steered clear. But I owed him a lot for taking a chance on an unknown like me three years ago and I didn’t want to disappoint him.
“Mel, I’m going to phone you back on a video call. You need to see this place. It’s like Christmas come to life. I’m heading to get coffee at a place called Jingle Bells Bakery. For real,” I said, before ending the call.
I dialed Mel’s number and a moment later his face filled the screen as he answered.
“Okay, Mel. I’m going to turn you around so you can see Main Street and the town square. Are you ready for this?” I pressed the flip screen button so Mel could see the view as I walked, dragging my suitcase with one hand while holding the phone up to show my boss the sights. “This town is the epitome of Christmas. The viewers are going to love it.”
“Prancer’s Pancake House?” he asked, letting out a throaty chuckle. “The ratings are going to soar!”
I laughed. “A lot of the shops seem to be named after Christmas in one way or another. I saw a sign for Silver Bell’s Luxury Tours as I got out of the cab. When I check into the inn, I’ll have to ask about it.”
“Find the cutesiest places you can, Lacey,” he said, pausing and audibly puffing on his cigar. “The more fanciful the town is, the more viewers will tune in, and it’s all about the ratings.”
“Right, the ratings,” I said, knowing that was our business priority. But, finding the perfect location for contestants to fall in love was equally important to me. “I’m going to go into Jingle Bells Bakery now. I’ll call you lat—” My voice cut off as my shoulder suddenly rammed into a metal ladder in my way and the phone flew out of my hand.
Beside me, I heard a loud thump followed by a grunt, and a flash of denim flashed out the corner of my eye. I gasped in horror as my brain processed what just happened: A man had been up on the ladder. I’d knocked into the ladder (which seemed way too far out on the sidewalk in my opinion). The man fell into a giant pot of poinsettias. Oops.
“Oh, no!” I exclaimed, holding my hand out to the man who was sprawled backward with his head against the window of the bakery. The producer in me couldn’t help but make a mental note that this would make an intriguing scene between two contestants. “Here, let me help you up.”
“You could’ve just said hello,” the man said, before taking my hand and standing up. A generous amount of snow covered his shoulders and beanie hat. Perhaps my fault?
“I’m sorry, I just—” I lifted my lashes to explain my clumsiness and stopped short when I gazed into deep blue eyes that seemed to peer right into my soul. A zap zipped through my belly. Oh, my. I bit my bottom lip, taking in the rest of the man’s handsome face, noting the blond hair peeking out from beneath a navy-blue beanie hat. “Um, yeah, sorry.”
“New to town?” he asked.
“Visiting,” I said, realizing his hand still held mine. Or was I holding his hand? Oh, great, that was the part I was focusing on when I’d almost killed the guy? “Are you all right?”
“Nothing seems broken,” he said, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “I’m guessing you’re from the city.”
I tilted my head. “Why do you say that?”
“You were walking full speed while on a video call and—”
“Whoa, wait a minute.” I blinked and then remembered I’d hung up on Mel. Er, that or he was still on the line wherever my phone had landed. Argh! “My phone . . .”
I let go of the man’s hand and scanned the sidewalk, but my cell was nowhere in sight. Where had it gone? I’d been trying to impress my boss with a fabulous idea, not get fired due to my penchant for clumsiness. A dark-haired woman walked by on the sidewalk and gave me a sympathetic smile that said she’d seen the entire thing. Great. Ten minutes in town and I’d already made a spectacle. So not my intention.
“Here,” the man (aka: my victim) said, brushing the snow off his shoulders and then holding his other hand out to me. “Found this in the hood of my jacket. Must be yours.”
“Yes, thanks!” I exclaimed, my cheeks heating as I took the cell phone from him. “And, I am from the city, actually.”
“No kidding,” he said, the corners of his mouth twitching.
Wait, was he laughing at me? My eyebrows came together.
“Are you trying to infer that people from the city make more mistakes than people from a small town?” I asked, raising an eyebrow and waiting for him to look remorseful for that smirky look on his handsome face. “I did apologize.”
“You don’t look overly sorry with that scowl,” he said, which annoyed me—mostly because he was probably right.
“Well, you didn’t accept my apology, did you?”
The corner of his mouth lifted. “New York City. Am I right?”
My mouth dropped open. “What are you implying?”
“Just asking because—”
“Because you’re judgmental?” I said, straightening my coat and then lifting the handle of my luggage for the umpteenth time since I’d arrived. “Look, just because I was on the phone and just because I was walking fast doesn’t mean I’m from New York City.”
“Fine, I’m from New York City,” I said, throwing my hands up because there was no getting around that fact. “I may have knocked into your ladder by accident. An accident, by the way, is what you call it when something is not done on purpose, you know. But I do feel bad for knocking you into the pot of poinsettias, so, again, I’m sorry.”
He slipped his hands in his front pockets. “I can tell.”
My eyes flared. Why couldn’t he just accept my apology like a nice human being? Why did he insist on teasing me while looking so hot?
“Look, I’m tired,” I said, holding my palm up. “I thought I needed a coffee, but now I just want to rest. Laugh at my obvious remorse all you want, but would you please tell me where I might find the Sugar Plum Inn?”
“The Sugar Plum Inn is right over there,” he said, leaning against the ladder with an almost imperceptible nod of his head. “Take a left at the town square and it’s up the street past The Falls.”
“Thank you very much,” I said, giving him a firm nod as I squeezed the handle of my luggage and turned to head up the street. “Again, I’m sorry.”
“Hang on,” he said, still not accepting my umpteenth apology. Instead, he surprised me by coming up beside me and taking hold of my luggage. “I’m heading that way, actually.”
“You’re staying at the inn, too?” I asked, noting that the thought made me a little excited.
He shook his head. “Visiting my parents.”
“Your parents?” I asked, blinking.
“They own the Sugar Plum Inn,” he said, giving me a sideways glance. “And . . . I work there.”
“You do?” I asked, blinking.
“Jacob Curtis,” he said, holding his hand out.
“Lacey Lane,” I said, taking his hand, and a little rush rolled through me at the feel of his hand in mine again.
“Yeah, I know. From New York City. We’ve been expecting you.”
My cheeks heated. So that was why he’d asked if I was from New York City. He’d known because I was a guest at the inn, not because he was making fun of me for walking fast and talking on the phone. I felt like such an airhead . . . wait, my phone!
I turned the cell phone over in my other hand, pressed the flip button and saw Mel’s face gazing back at me. I stared at the screen as I walked up the street. “Mel, you’re still there?”
“Yes,” he said, blowing cigar smoke into the lens. “And if that little exchange was any indication of the conflict and tension we’ll be shooting in that town then this season is going to be a huge hit. Get to work, Lacey. I’m counting on you.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, hanging up the phone.
“Welcome to Christmas Mountain,” Jacob said, as we approached the front door of the charming inn. “Hope you enjoy your stay.”
“Thanks,” I said, turning to him. The corners of his mouth curved upward and my belly did a cartwheel that made me lightheaded. What was going on?
Okay, yes, Jacob Curtis was attractive. One couldn’t have eyes and not admit that fact. But I was not here to swoon over the innkeeper’s son. He may work at the inn where I’d be staying for the next two weeks as I did my research for the show, but that didn’t mean I would let him distract me. I was here to do my job, and nothing else. End of story.
Are you ready for a giveaway?! On Friday, I’ll be giving away 5 e-book copies of The Christmas Compromise. To enter to win, please comment below with your favorite aspect of Christmas Mountain or any small town.
Good luck on my giveaway and happy reading!!
** Receive a FREE sweet romance book when you sign up for Susan’s Newsletter: http://susanhatler.com/newsletter **