Read an Excerpt
A VERY HOLLY CHRISTMAS (Chapter 1)
After that Christmas strike...
Joy Robertson held her breath. "So, is it too many?"
Her husband, the former Bob Humbug, shrugged. "No. Go ahead and invite whoever you want to the Christmas party."
Had she heard right? This from the man who, only a year ago, poo-pooed all things Christmas related. "Are you sure?" she called after him as he went down the hall to his writing room.
"I'm sure," he called back.
Who would have thought one little strike by the women in the town of Holly would bring about such changes? Joy thought as her husband shut the door behind him. This was going to be an awesome Christmas.
She spent the afternoon happily baking cookies and, later that day, when Bob was running errands, she slipped into the office to snag her laptop so she could send out internet invites to their Christmas bash.
Bob was already hard at work on a new mystery. With his writing career starting to take off, it seemed like he was always at work on a new book. She saw some pages sitting on his desk and couldn't resist snooping. The Holiday Bash read the title. Oh, clever. He'd typed a little summary of the book under the title: Frustrated husband plots to murder wife at family's Christmas gathering.
Frustrated husband. Was that Bob? It had been a whole year since she accidentally started the strike that led to his life-changing epiphany. Bob had seemed so sincere when he claimed he was a changed man and that he wanted to enjoy all the holiday festivities with her. Now, with Christmas chaos bearing down on him, was he thinking of serving up a little revenge and bumping her off in a book?
She frowned. They were middle-aged with grown children. Surely they had gotten past playing these games.
After what went on last Christmas? Who was she kidding.
"Okay, Bob Humbug," she growled, opening her laptop. "Guess what. The guest list for the Christmas party just doubled."
Sharon Benedict left the mall on Saturday with her car loaded with new Christmas decorations - tasteful decorations to beautify their house both inside and out. Pete and the boys may have taken over the tree last year, but this year was going to be different. Yes, they were already planning their next holiday monstrosity, hoping to win Holly's tree decorating contest again, but she had news for them. Their tree would be relegated to the family room. She was going to put a flocked tree with rust and gold ornaments and bows in the living room. It would be stunning. And the outside of the house would, of course, tie in perfectly, with gold festoons along the porch and pretty little icicles hanging from the roof.
But she pulled up in front of her house to find that her men had already been decorating the front yard. No, not decorating. Destroying, vandalizing, ruining! She got out of the car and staggered up the walk. A gigantic blow-up Santa with sunglasses waved at her, his hat whipping in the breeze. Reindeer and candy canes lay scattered across the lawn. A Rudolph was already set up and when she walked past the thing it belched at her. "Oh, my Lord," she whimpered.
Her son, Pete Junior, emerged from the garage carrying a bundle of multi-colored lights. "Hey, Mom. How do you like it so far? Dad says we're sure to win the contest for the best yard this year."
Sharon thought of all her lovely decorations in the car and felt a sudden urge to stomp that stupid reindeer to death. But her mama raised her to be a lady, so she resisted.
"Hey, babe," called Pete from the roof. It was a good thing he was way up where she couldn't reach him. "How was shopping?"
"Pete Benedict, you are going to fall and break an arm," she scolded.
"Nah, I'm being careful. Oh, and don't worry about the mess in the kitchen. We'll clean it later."
Sharon frowned. "Mess? What have you all been doing while I was gone?"
"Baking gingerbread boys," said Pete Junior. He snickered. "We've got some great ones this year."
She remembered the anatomically correct gingerbread boy from last year and could only imagine what kind of naughty cookies they had baked in her absence. It was only the first week in December and her perfectly planned holiday was already starting to unravel. Was it just last year that she'd been complaining about having to do everything herself? Be careful what you wish for.
Now the other two boys were on the lawn, filling the nippy air with squeals and laughter. "This is fun!" cried James.
Fun. For whom?
But later that week as a light snow fell and she and Pete walked the neighborhood holding hands as they checked out the competition, the boys running ahead, laughing and throwing snowballs, she found herself smiling. They were doing things as a family like never before.
"Christmas at the Benedict home will never be Martha Stewart perfect again," she confessed to her friends when they gathered for their weekly knitting group at the Stitch in Time yarn shop. "But it will be perfect in other ways."
"You sound like a Disney movie," teased Laura Fredericks. "And I can't believe you haven't had a nervous breakdown over this."
"Well, they may have taken over the yard, but I have reclaimed the house," Sharon said with a satisfied nod.
Laura frowned at the same scarf she'd been working on all month. "I think I need to reclaim some territory myself. Glen dropped Joseph putting up my nativity set and shattered him."
"As long as you've got Jesus and Mary you're still all right," Kay Carter assured her.
"I guess," said Laura. "We're putting up the tree this weekend. God knows what he'll break then."
"Well, bless his heart, at least he's trying," said Sharon. "You've got the help you wanted."
Laura rolled her eyes. "Some help."
"Sugar, if you could see the X-rated gingerbread boys my sons have been passing out to all their friends you'd be glad you only lost your Joseph," Sharon told her.
Their last two members, Carol White and Jerri Rodriguez came in. Jerri's hair had grown back after the chemo and she now wore it short and spiky. Carol was looking good with her blonde hair freshly highlighted. And she was wearing something new.
"Oh, my Lord!" exclaimed Sharon, grabbing her left hand to check out the diamond and emerald ring. "You did it!"
Carol nodded, her smile matching the sparkle of the diamond. "We're engaged."
Everyone was up and hugging her, knitting projects forgotten. "I'm so happy for you," said Joy. Carol had been too sweet and pretty to stay a widow forever, but last Christmas it had seemed that was what she was determined to do. What a difference love made!
Except in a certain humbug, Joy thought grumpily as she drove home later. Bob was on the verge of a holiday relapse, she could just feel it.
"So, how are the Stitch 'N Bitchers?" he greeted her as she came through the door.
She couldn't answer. She was too busy blinking in shock, trying to take in what she saw. Their Christmas tree was up - beautifully, perfectly decorated. "You did the tree."
Bob grinned, pleased with himself. "Yep. I did something else, too. Think your family wants to do another mystery party this Christmas?"
He walked over to her and handed her a sheaf of typed papers. "I hope your sister-in-law won't mind getting bumped off."
Joy looked at the top page. The Holiday Bash. "This isn't the new book," she said stupidly. He wasn't publicly killing her off in a book? He'd been working on a fun activity for her big, noisy, family gathering, the same gathering he'd complained about only a year ago?
"I'm working on the book. But I wanted to have this done in plenty of time this year." He looked at her funny. "You seem surprised."
She grinned and threw her arms around him. He really was a changed man. Like Scrooge, he'd learned to keep Christmas in his heart. "Not at all," she lied.
A VERY HOLLY CHRISTMAS Copyright 2008 by Sheila Roberts.