White Christmas by Tanya Stowe
About White Christmas
After his very public break-up from his fiancee, Chad Fletcher is convinced that a healthy marriage and his rising political career won't mix, and Christmas at his Aunt Nell's home in White, Arizona is a great way to start fresh. Political watch dog, Tessa Conway, plans to spend her vacation enjoying her grandparents' ranch before they must sell it, so she is not pleased with Grandma Sophie and Aunt Nell's efforts to throw her and Chad together. Chad begins to believe Tessa may be the perfect antidote to his unhealthy relationships of the past, but when he decides to take support from a company with questionable ethics, his perfect bubble is burst. Fearing Chad is not the godly man she believed him to be, Tessa ends their budding romance. Will Chad find the strength and courage to do what's right even if it costs him his career?
As he left the crowd behind and ran into the quieter, cooler part of the street, he shivered. He’d forgotten about the cold. During the summer months, the cooler temperatures of the White Mountains were a welcome break from the blistering heat of Phoenix. In the winter, however, those same higher elevations could lead to snow. As he thought about it, not such a bad image. White, Arizona covered in snow.
It felt good to stretch his legs out. He’d missed his daily run and the short trip back to the car actually helped work out some of the kinks. He found Nell’s red gloves on the front seat and jogged back in less than five minutes. Nell had not yet returned to Pioneer Square so he waited, watching the people gathered around the tree.
One young woman was surrounded by four or five children. Something about her struck Chad as familiar. She had long, strawberry blonde hair and it curled, uncontrolled beneath her purple knit cap.
Naturally curly. He smiled, seeing the way it tried to frizz around her face in the cold damp air. It gave her an uninhibited quality he liked. She turned at that moment and caught him staring. Though she was a red-head, he could only see a sprinkling of freckles across her heart-shaped face. Even from a distance of ten feet, a pair of the brightest blue eyes he’d ever seen sparkled back at him.
He returned the smile before lowering his gaze. Now that was exactly the kind of small-town girl Aunt Nell wanted him to meet. Glancing back at her laughing face and bright eyes, the idea didn’t seem half bad.
She chose that moment to glance his way again and they caught each other’s gaze. Another half-smile and Chad turned away, feeling his momentary pleasure slip away. The last thing he needed was to give this young woman any ideas. Besides the two- or three-year-old standing next to her had the same curly, strawberry-blonde hair. Probably her daughter.
He looked around, hoping to see his aunt, but she was nowhere in sight. His gaze drifted back to the young woman and once again, she looked at him, this time with a slight frown between her eyebrows.
Great. She’d recognized him. Sooner or later, she’d work her way to his side and casually introduce herself. He looked around again. Where was Nell?
With his back to them, he heard the children around the woman say “Santa.” One little girl squealed and clapped her hands. Fortunately for Chad, he turned just at that moment, because the little girl spun and charged right into him. She bounced off his legs and landed flat on her bottom.
Sitting splayed out with her hands behind her, she stared up at him with her blue eyes wide. Her hair curled rebelliously around her navy-blue knit cap. She looked so adorable, Chad bent to pick her up before he remembered her mother had recognized him.
“Emma!” The other children came running up. “Say you’re sorry,” said the oldest girl, who looked to be about ten.
“Sorry,” mumbled little Emma who ducked her head and looked up at him through the longest, darkest eyelashes he’d ever seen on a blonde, let alone a red-head. Did her mother have the same eyelashes?
“It’s all right, Emma,” he said. “It was an accident.”
She nodded and strawberry curls bounced. “We’re going to see Santa,” she exclaimed and flashed a smile that captured Chad’s heart. “He’s going to be so glad to see me!”
Chad almost laughed out loud, but thought better of it. “Well, than I guess you need to get over there.”
He looked up in time to see the woman joining them.
“It looks like the Santa line is finally moving,” she said to the oldest girl. “Why don’t you take the kids back?”
“OK.” The girl started toward the road.
“And hold Emma’s hand while you cross the street. I don’t want any accidents on my watch.”
Chad couldn’t help noticing that her eyelashes were as long as Emma’s. Even with the dark mascara covering them, they looked luxurious. He was so amazed by them, he spoke without thinking. “Your watch?” he said.
She smiled. “I love my oldest sister to death but she’s a safety Nazi. I always feel like I’m on duty when I’m watching her kids. Frankly though, I don’t blame her. Emma can be a handful.”
“She looks so much like you I thought she was yours.” Again he spoke without thinking, something he’d learned as a politician never to do.
“No, poor baby,” she replied. “She just inherited her aunt’s willful hair and pasty complexion.”
There was nothing pasty about the peaches and cream complexion he saw in front of him. In fact, it was so creamy, it tempted him to run his fingers along it just to see if it was real. But he didn’t and he didn’t say anything out loud. He was beginning to get his wayward thoughts under control and he certainly wasn’t going to give her anymore openings for conversation. He just nodded and looked up at the trees.
He groaned inwardly. Here it comes. The questions. The comments good and bad…usually bad…about the job he was or wasn’t doing as an assemblyman. Or the fawning attention, the one he found the most annoying, because his face had been in the gossip columns so much.
“But aren’t you Assemblyman Fletcher?”
He clenched his teeth and pulled the brim of the cap down lower. “Yes, I am, but promise me you won’t tell. I’m trying to escape notice.”
The sound of her soft laughter caught him off guard. He glanced up and she leaned forward. “It’s not working,” she said in a near whisper, “every single girl on the street has already noticed you. And frankly it wasn’t working in Phoenix, either.”
About the Author
Tanya Stowe is an author of Christian Fiction with an unexpected edge. She fills her stories with the unusual…gifts of the spirit and miracles, mysteries and exotic travel, even an angel or two. No matter where Tanya takes you…on a journey to the Old West or to contemporary adventures in foreign lands…be prepared for the extraordinary.
The First Noelle by Delia Latham
About The First Noelle
Noelle Joy stopped celebrating Christmas ten years ago, when Trevor Holden skipped out on their long-planned Christmas Eve wedding. He destroyed her trust in men, crushed her belief in God, and left her cynical about love. Gone is the bright, cheery spirit of the girl she thinks of now as “the first Noelle.” Stronger and savvier, the new Noelle would never be found waiting at the altar for a groom who didn’t show.
When a famous-but-mysterious architect commissions her to decorate his mansion for a holiday event, Noelle finally returns to her hometown. Even as she finds an unexpected peace in facing ghosts from the past, her fiercely private client disturbs her. Michael Holliday is kind and considerate, but far too handsome…and hauntingly familiar.
Holliday didn’t choose Noelle to make his home a Christmas wonderland by accident. She’s the only one who can do the job he has in mind—and once she’s in his mansion, he never wants to let her go. But he’s hiding a secret that could destroy any chance of a relationship with the beautiful decorator.
A false persona. A shattering secret. Can love break down these insurmountable walls?
She pulled to a stop at a pair of imposing gates fronted by a guard shack. To her surprise, her heart pounded with expectation. Her mind wouldn’t be quiet either, tossing out a horde of unanswered questions.
Was Holliday an older man, or was he young for his accomplishments? Was he handsome? Maybe he was hideous, like the fairy tale beast, and that’s why he maintained such a fiercely private existence. Was he kind, as seemed to be indicated by the media-inspired title? Or was that all hype? Perhaps the whole Phantom Philanthropist thing was a ruse to hide his real personality, which might be anything from a mouse to a monster.
A man’s voice crackled across the air. “Identification, please.”
Holliday should be expecting her. Why all the cloak-and-dagger? Well, his house, his rules. She dug out her driver’s license and the guard took it, his alert gaze darting back and forth, side to side, as if expecting an attack.
Noelle bit back a giggle when he broke from his fastidious survey of the surrounding countryside to peruse her license, seemingly line by line. What did he expect to find there?
At last, he returned her ID and gave a single, terse nod. “When I open the gates, follow the drive and park by the front steps. A valet will take your car.”
Sure enough, a uniformed valet met her at the base of a series of steps leading to massive oak doors that would have served well in any medieval castle. The man actually smiled as he took her keys. Having passed the intense scrutiny of the portly guard, it seemed she’d earned a bit more friendliness.
“Mr. Holliday will meet you at the door, Miss Joy.”
Potted plants lined each side of the wide steps— gorgeous bursts of azalea, bonsai-shaped miniature wisteria, hoya, plumeria, fuchsia, and a number of plants Noelle didn’t recognize and was almost certain shouldn’t survive the cold of the Northern California mountains. Holliday must have a sizeable greenhouse.
The door opened as she reached the top step. A man stepped outside but seemed reluctant to venture beyond the shade of the overhang. He towered well over Noelle’s five feet, nine inches. Muscles strained at the cloth of his sleeves and across his chest.
“Good afternoon, Miss Joy.”
Something caught in Noelle’s heart, and she swallowed repeatedly. Had she heard that voice before? Why did it make her want to cry…or maybe scream and throw rocks through the beautiful stained glass windows that fronted the huge estate?
She allowed her gaze to travel beyond the broad chest to a firm, square chin, and upward. Nicely shaped lips curved into a smile that seemed a little shaky around the edges and revealed perfect white teeth. A straight nose, not too long, or too short. High cheekbones.
For some reason, she avoided his eyes, instead moving on to take in slightly longish, golden-brown hair with a smidgen of gray at the temples.
“Miss Joy?” A hint of concern tinged the oddly familiar voice.
Noelle swallowed again and forced her cowardly gaze to his, only to be caught in a dizzying vortex of confusion and familiarity. I know this man. I’ve met him before. Where? She stood up straighter, hiked her chin, and mentally donned the ice cloak that had stood her in good stead over the course of her career. Holliday wasn’t the only one with a media-dubbed moniker. She had one of her own, and the Ice Princess of Design wouldn’t be put off by a furrowed brow and a tense expression. “Mr. Holliday. I’d like to get started right away, if you don’t mind.”
Forced to meet his gaze—his eyes were hazel, but somehow she’d known they would be—she saw a flicker of something that made her breath a little shallow. She was way off her game. Was it because those eyes held a strange familiarity?
“Of course. Come in, please.”
He indicated she should precede him into the house…no, the mansion. “House” didn’t even begin to describe the residence. Noelle had seen a great number of multi-million-dollar homes in her line of work but nothing that compared to the one in which she now stood.
“This is…quite lovely.” She was careful to maintain the chill in her tone. “Professional distance at all times” was the mantra by which she’d lived for the past decade. It had served her well. No need to change it now, just because something about Michael Holliday made her skin tingle and sky-rocketed her heartbeat. “If anything needs improvement, it’s well hidden.”
His low laughter sent something almost unbearably electric skittering up her spine. “It isn’t improvement I’m looking for, Miss Joy. It’s a mood, a certain look…an ambiance, if you will. And since my event will be held on Christmas Eve, it must be themed very specifically around that holiday.”
She nodded, despite the rock of dread that landed in her stomach with a thump. Up until now, the only Christmas event she’d ever created had been her doomed wedding a decade earlier. After that, she never again celebrated the holiday she’d once loved most. She refused to have a tree in her home and never sent a Merry Christmas card to a single soul. Stockings, mistletoe, and hot apple cider—things she’d once loved—were now just unavoidable traditions she muddled through every year while counting down the hours until the bells stopped jingling, the carolers’ songs died away, and her favorite radio station started playing real music again.
Joy Designs absolutely never, ever, ever accepted a design job with a Christmas theme.
Delia Latham lives in East Texas with her husband and a spoiled Pomeranian named Kona. She writes inspirational romance and devotions.
A former newspaper Staff Writer, Delia is now blessed to have twenty-three published novels/novellas. She designs cover art and marketing materials; is a former acquiring editor; and offers editing/proofreading services. Connect with Delia: Website, Amazon Author page, Facebook Author Page, or Twitter.