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Melanie McLaughlin positioned her cursor on the SEND icon, double-clicked, and waited for the window telling her that her mail had been sent to pop up. She signed off her e-mail account, then moved her mouse to exit the complicated graphics program she'd helped design last year. It was her biggest job to date, and she was happy to be finished. She didn't want to work during the upcoming Christmas season. Fortunately, she was her own boss, so she made the rules. She just wanted to enjoy the holidays without any professional commitments, no last-minute all-night projects to finish. She'd worked diligently through the Thanksgiving holiday to make sure her schedule was completely cleared until after the new year.
She'd promised Stephanie Marshall, her best friend, that she'd watch her girls, Amanda and Ashley, today, so that Stephanie and her fiancé, Edward Patrick Joseph O'Brien, "Patrick" to his friends, could spend Black Friday Christmas shopping. She thought it very courageous of the couple to tackle the crowds. Melanie had promised the girls she would take them skiing at Maximum Glide, then they would come back to her condo, where they would spend the afternoon learning to knit.
Melanie had been an avid knitter since junior high, long before it was fashionable. Both girls were eager to learn, telling her they wanted to learn to knit so they could give their mother handmade Christmas gifts. Melanie smiled, remembering the first scarf she'd made for her own mother. Uneven stitches and a horrid fluorescent orange; her mother had been delighted with her gift. She'd kept the scarf packed in a shoe box in the back of her closet all these years. For safekeeping, her mother'd said. Personally, Melanie thought her mother kept it out of sight to prevent temporary blindness to those unfortunate few who'd been forced to admire her handiwork. At the time, Melanie had reasoned the color would stand out on the slopes, her mother easily spotted in case of an emergency.
She'd made sure to purchase plenty of red and green yarn for the girls' first project, a pot holder. No way would she subject Stephanie to such a horrific color as her mother's!
She pushed the POWER button to turn off her computer. For the entire month of December and what was left of November, she vowed not to turn it back on unless it was a dire emergency. That didn't mean she couldn't check her e-mail. She'd just do it from her cell phone.
Melanie rolled her chair away from the desk and almost ran over Odie, her three-year-old boxer. "Hey, bud, don't sneak up on me like that. You're liable to give me a heart attack."
"Woof, woof!" Odie stood up on all four paws, his shiny brown eyes beseeching her not to leave him behind.
She gave him a quick scratch between the ears. "You're a lucky boy today. I promised Candy Lee I'd let her dogsit, so there." Candy Lee, a high school student who worked part-time at The Snow Zone ski shop was a diehard animal lover. Melanie brought Odie to the store whenever she knew Candy Lee was working. Today would be crazy busy, but Melanie knew there were three staff members on loan from their ski-lift positions to assist Candy Lee since both Stephanie and Patrick had taken the day off.
An ear-piercing meow directed her attention to her newly adopted cat, Clovis. He had a rich butterscotch coat and giant jade-colored eyes, which were staring at her to demand her attention. Another ear-splitting meow. She reached down and scooped up the giant ball of fur. "I guess this means you want to come, too?" Another meow, and two quick slaps from his bushy tail, and Melanie knew she couldn't leave Clovis alone.
Weighing in at twenty-seven pounds when she'd spied him at the local animal shelter, he'd caught her attention two months ago when, on a whim, she decided Odie needed a pal. Though her intent was to adopt another dog, Clovis had glowered at her from his cage as she'd walked through the shelter. She'd heard his manlike meow, and decided a cat would be a perfect companion for Odie, who was docile and lived for belly rubs and the occasional bit of rare steak. A cat would be perfect given the boxer's disposition.
When she'd taken the husky feline out of his cage, he'd licked her face just like a dog. He'd captured her heart on the spot. The dog and cat had taken to each other like jelly to peanut butter.
She rubbed her nose against Clovis's before placing him on top of her desk. "Let me load up the ski equipment, guys," Melanie said, sure both animals understood her.
Odie dropped down on his haunches, and Clovis perched upright as though saying, "Okay, but speed it up."
She made fast work of getting her skis, poles, boots, and helmet from the front closet. She grabbed a tote that held her ski pants and all the miscellaneous gear one needed when skiing. She peered inside the bag just to make sure she had a full bottle of sunscreen. The morning sun blazed like a giant lemon in the powder blue sky. Given that and the blustering winds, sun- and windburn was a sure thing without proper protection.
That day, Melanie was thankful her condo had its own private garage. The temps were supposed to be in the low teens. Her Lincoln Navigator took forever to warm up when left outside. After stuffing her equipment in the back, she tossed her tote on the front passenger seat.
She made three trips to the condo and back to the Navigator before she had all her supplies. Since she was bringing Odie and Clovis to The Snow Zone, she'd brought their beds just in case Candy Lee needed them out of the way. Odie didn't like being shifted to the small office at the back of the store. Melanie was sure he understood the difference between the rows of sweaters and ski coats and the actual ski equipment. She'd often commented to Stephanie that if she were ever in a pinch, Odie was sure to be a great assistant. Neither animal liked being relegated to the back office, yet they seemed to make the best of their situation. Both animals got along famously. So far, they'd remained in the office without any signs of mass destruction.
Once they were all secured properly in their seats, Melanie made the short drive to Stephanie's little ranch house in Placerville. She grinned at the memory of last year's Christmas. She had purchased the little ranch home for Stephanie and the girls. She'd placed the deed and the rest of the paperwork that goes along with purchasing a house in a plain envelope as though its contents were unknown to her. Stephanie still told anyone who would listen what a grand gesture Melanie had performed.
Melanie had inherited millions when her grandmother died. Her parents had bought real estate when the market was hopping, before she was born, and they, too, weren't lacking in the financial department. This made their lives and that of many others better. Her mother always told her you get back what you give, tenfold, and it wasn't necessarily a monetary return. Melanie tried to practice on a daily basis what her mother preached. So far, she'd never been disappointed.
Melanie had come to love Stephanie like the sister she'd always dreamed of having. Adding her two adorable daughters, Ashley and Amanda, they completed the rest of the family she didn't have. Settling the three of them into a home of their own was the least she could do given all they'd been through. Married to an abusive husband, Stephanie had found Hope House for her and the girls. The secret shelter was for battered women and their families. Melanie's mother had long been a financial supporter of Hope House. It was there that Melanie found Stephanie and her girls. Grace Landry, the founder and a therapist, had taken the family of three under her wing and given them their first real chance for a normal life. The little garage apartment Grace had secured for them was owned by Melanie's parents. Melanie lived right down the road. And, as they say, the rest is history.
Melanie adjusted the heater controls on the dash, then stretched her arm over the seat to reach for a large blanket, which she placed over Odie and Clovis. Both readjusted their positions, allowing the blanket to drape comfortably around them.
She smiled from ear to ear as she engaged the four-wheel drive and skillfully maneuvered the steep winding road leading to Stephanie's. Careful not to slide off the side of the mountain, Melanie safely pulled into Stephanie's freshly shoveled driveway ten minutes later.
Patrick. It was his new mission in life to take care of Stephanie's every need, no matter how great or small. And the girls had him so tightly wrapped around their little fingers, their wish was his command even before they asked. Patrick of all men. A confirmed bachelor, he'd always intended to remain single. And then Stephanie Marshall entered the picture. Though they'd had a few rough patches, anyone who saw them together knew they were madly in love.
One evening after Stephanie had invited them all over for dinner, making her specialty, three-cheese manicotti and her famous homemade garlic-knot rolls, Melanie, Grace, and her husband, Max Jorgenson, who brought their new baby daughter Ella, listened intently as Patrick told them about Shannon, his niece. She had died of an extremely rare blood disorder on the day she was supposed to graduate from high school. Suddenly, Melanie had understood his fear of getting close to Stephanie and the girls too soon. He was afraid of being hurt all over again.
But Patrick, being a truly decent guy, had taken another look at Stephanie and her girls. And just as his best bud Max Jorgenson, famous Olympic Gold Medalist skier, had proposed to Grace, Patrick asked Stephanie to marry him. On New Year's Day, they were planning to take their vows at the top of the slopes and, together, as man and wife, they'd ski down Gracie's Way, and at the bottom of the run, all would celebrate the much-anticipated union of the couple.
* * *
Melanie hopped out of the Navigator, stomping her tan-colored Uggs on the cleared pavement. "You two sit tight. I'll be right back," she called out to her menagerie. She hurried up the short steps to the front porch, where she grabbed the doorknob, only to have it slip from her grasp before she even had a chance to twist it.
"Auntie M, Auntie M, are you really taking us skiing today? Are we still gonna go back to your house and learn how to ..."
"Shhh, Amanda. We're not supposed to tell, remember?" Ashley chastised her little sister.
Stephanie chose that moment to join them at the front door. "Seems like I almost overheard a secret."
Amanda and Ashley looked away, not meeting their mother's stern look. Melanie broke in before the girls revealed their afternoon plans. "I'm teaching the girls a new skill. We're just not telling what it is," Melanie said.
"Good. I don't know what I'd do if you were to ... to ... do something like you did last year."
They all broke out in laughter, even the girls. Melanie tossed her long blond braid over her shoulder. "I don't think I'll be able to top that gift, at least not for a while. At the rate you're all going, I'll be a hundred and six before you stop ragging me about that."
"It is the best, Mel. Have you seen the bathroom since I painted? Patrick installed granite counters, and it's just absolutely to die for, not that it wasn't in the first place, but this just feels so ... elegant. Come on and have a look-see."
"As much as I would love to, Odie and Clovis are waiting in the Navigator. They're staying with Candy Lee while the girls and I ski. I hope that's not a problem."
"Of course not. Candy Lee says Odie directs the customers to the ski equipment. Tell Candy Lee if Odie keeps this up, her job might be in danger."
"Mom!" Amanda shouted. "She needs this job. She's saving up for college."
Stephanie took her younger daughter in her arms. "Oh, sweetie, we're teasing. Candy Lee has a job forever if she wants."
Melanie knew the girls were a bit on the sensitive side. They'd seen so much violence from their father that, oftentimes, when the girls thought they or someone else was being wrongly disciplined or spoken to in a harsh manner, they spoke up for themselves and others. Melanie knew Stephanie was pleased with this, but didn't want them to take every word she said quite so literally.
"I would bet my last nickel Candy Lee gets that soccer scholarship she's applying for. She's a straight-A student and a killer soccer player," Melanie stated.
"How come you know all this, Auntie M?"
Melanie observed Stephanie as she lowered herself by her daughters and placed a hand on each of their pink-and-purple padded ski jackets. "It's not always polite to ask questions about situations that don't concern us. I'm sure Candy Lee will manage to get to college, so let's leave it at that. Now, Clovis and Odie are probably freezing their fur off in the Navigator. You two grab your bags, and I'll take care of your skis and poles." Stephanie looked at Melanie. "Keeping up with them wears me out sometimes, but it's the best worn-out you'll ever experience."
Melanie squinted her eyes and scrunched up her nose. "As Mom keeps reminding me, I don't have a man in my life, no children, and I just don't see either one happening anytime in the near future. At the rate I'm going, I'll be lucky to adopt another animal from the shelter, so I'll just take your word even though the time I spend with the girls is the best ever." She teared up at the thought of not having the two little sprites in her life. She was content to remain Auntie M.
With Odie and Clovis relegated to the rear cargo area and both girls safely ensconced in their seat belts, Melanie glanced in her rearview mirror one last time, making sure they all were where they should be. She recalled the last time she'd taken the girls skiing. They'd wound up lost in a snowstorm and had delivered a litter of pups. Now she could smile at the memory. Grateful that Stephanie still allowed her within pitching distance of the girls, she shrugged her thoughts aside, focusing on their plans for the day.
Black Friday was usually one of Maximum Glide's busiest days. Melanie dreaded the crowds, the long lines at the chairlifts, but spending the day with the girls was worth the hassle. Both girls were excellent skiers. Max, Grace's husband, had taught the girls how to ski properly. Black diamond runs were easy for both, but Melanie wasn't that comfortable with them, so they'd tackle the blue runs. She steered the Navigator carefully down the narrow road, mindful of the wet slushy conditions. Growing up in Colorado had its advantages. She'd learned to drive in foul weather at an early age, and while she wasn't excited at the prospect of driving up the mountain in such bad conditions, she was quite confident in her ability to do so safely. Snow chains and four-wheel-drive vehicles had nothing on her.
"Auntie M," Ashley called from the backseat. "Do you think you'll ever get married?"
Melanie almost lost control of the Navigator. She cleared her throat, needing the extra seconds to come up with an answer appropriate for an eleven-year-old. "I'm sure that someday I will." Lame, Melanie, lame, she thought as she glanced in her rearview mirror. Ashley wasn't buying it; Melanie could tell by the look on her face.
"That's not an answer! You sound just like Mom.
'Maybe' and 'someday' aren't real answers," Ashley stated in that clear and concise matter-of-fact way eleven-year-olds have.
Melanie chuckled. Ashley was right. "Truthfully, I don't know when or if I'll ever get married because I haven't dated anyone long enough to fall in love, so marriage hasn't been my number one priority."
"What's a priority?" Amanda asked.
"It means something that is very important, right Auntie M?" Ashley replied.
"Yes, that's exactly what it means. And right now my top priority is to arrive safely at The Snow Zone so we can drop Clovis and Odie off. I need to focus my attention on the road. It's incredibly slick."
Again, Melanie glanced in her rearview mirror. Ashley rolled her eyes.
"That means we're not supposed to ask any more questions about Aunt Melanie's personal life."
"Why?" Amanda asked.
With her engagement to Patrick, Stephanie talked about marriage constantly. It seemed the girls had acquired an avid interest in the topic as well.
Excerpted from Making Spirits Bright by Fern Michaels Copyright © 2011 by Kensington Publishing Corporation. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted February 5, 2012
Reviewed by Trudi LoPreto for Readers Favorite
"Making Spirits Bright" is four individual stories by Fern Michaels, Elizabeth Bass, Rosalind Noonan and Nan Rossiter. Each story takes place during the Christmas season, but this is a good book that I would read any time of the year.
”Making Spirits Bright” by Fern Michaels is about a single woman wanting a child so badly that she decides to try and adopt. Melanie goes to an agency that gives her anything but hope about becoming a mom, but that doesn’t stop Melanie from going through all of the necessary steps. At a Christmas party, she meets Bryce Landry, an old acquaintance, and instant sparks fly between them. Together Melanie and Bryce work through their demons and together they conquer all, finding love and much more.
“Runaway Christmas” by Elizabeth Bass shares with us the unhappiness of thirteen year old Erica, since the death of her mother and her father’s new wife and baby. Erica is feeling forgotten and unloved as she believes that her family has no time for her. She decides she will run away to spend Christmas with her Aunt Heidi in New York. Heidi too is feeling alone and lonesome. She has closed her café for the Christmas weekend, planning to spend the weekend in her pajamas watching old movies. Heidi’s plans soon include her niece, her upstairs neighbor’s young son and a blackout. She reopens the café, because it has lights and heat, it soon becomes a haven for several people in the neighborhood. As the weekend continues, love is realized, and we witness a roomful of strangers becoming friends and falling in love.
“Home for Christmas” by Rosalind Noonan takes place in the small perfect town of our dreams. Jo Truman is the owner of a Christmas shop that people visit all year long. Across the street is the beautiful country inn that is the center of Woodstock. Jo’s family is a big part of the success of the community and has lived here for many years. We soon feel Jo’s pain for the finance who was killed in a skiing accident and for the inn’s rumored sale. (the owner is trying to sell to a big-time realtor who will tear it down and build a new modern spa hotel). Sam Norwood is recently home from the service and has suffered injuries which have deformed his face. Sam is battling with the embarrassment of these scars and trying to decide how to fit in again back home in Woodstock. We share the ups and downs with Jo and Sam as they together work through their personal problems, as well as finding a way to save the Inn.
“Christmas on Cape Cod” by Nan Rossiter is the story of a little boy, Noah, whose parents have been in an accident, his new dad Asa, whom he loves very much, and Maddie, a woman trying to help both man and boy to get through the Christmas season as they travel to visit Grandma and Grandpa in Cape Cod. A small Christmas tree, a puppy and some Glug change the lives of Asa, Noah and Maddie forever. We share their memories and watch them grow and join together in love.
These four stories will make you cry and make you laugh. Each story is a “make you feel good, I can’t help but smile” with a “few tears mixed in” experience. We share in the many different ways of finding love and happiness found in each story. This book is a true winner for Fern Michaels, Elizabeth Bass, Rosalind Noonan and Nan Rossiter.
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Posted January 31, 2012
I've read other Fern Michael books and have really enjoyed. This one was just okay. Very short stories, but nothing really great.
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Posted January 12, 2012
Posted December 31, 2011
What is better than a Christmas story right around the holidays written by such talented authors. These are stories that are quick and easy reads with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Certainly a good, quick read for those cold days inside when you need a little Christmas magic, whether it is the holiday season or not.
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Posted December 17, 2011
This book has short stories that are easy to follow and keep you interested. Like most Christmas stories, everyone has a struggle which they overcome just in time for Christmas. Each story will leave you happy and uplifted.
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Posted July 27, 2013
Curl up by the fireplace and escape with four delightful Christmas stories. Finding love, starting a family, second chances and most of all enjoying the holiday season are major themes in each story.
Making Spirits Bright by Fern Michaels
Melanie McLaughlin runs a successful business and lives with her two beloved pets Odie and Clovis. While watching her best friend’s girls, Amanda and Ashley, Melanie starts to feel the pangs of not having a family of her own. After some soul searching, Melanie decides not to wait for Mr. Right and she contacts an adoption agency. Unfortunately, the adoption agency prefers perspective parents to be married. When Bryce Landry comes back to town, Melanie begins to wonder if she might have found the love and the family she has wanted for so long.
Making Spirits Bright is a fast paced story that flows easily. The chemistry between Melanie and Bryce is a bit awkward at the start. As the story progresses, their relationship grows to a slow burn. The relationships between Melanie and her friends are realistic and heart warming. Especially, the heartfelt moments Melanie has with Amanda and Ashley. The story comes to a satisfying end that will not disappoint the reader. Michaels’ captures the magic of Christmas and the importance of always believing in your dreams.
Runaway Christmas by Elizabeth Bass
Heidi Bogue, the owner of the Sweetgum Café, has the perfect Christmas planned. Heidi has been looking forward to spending the day alone in her pajamas watching movies. Erica, Heidi’s thirteen-year-old niece, also has the perfect Christmas planned. Erica concocts a plan to leave Texas and travel to New York to be with Heidi. A snowstorm, a runaway nanny, an adorable toddler and an unexpected guest are not what Heidi planned. Sometimes in life, those random moments of chaos, lead to a lifetime of bliss.
Runaway Christmas is a delightful story that will put a smile on your face. The dialogue is snappy and there are a lot laugh out loud moments. Bass introduces many characters at the beginning of the story. As the plot progresses, the characters and their back stories come together seamlessly. The character of Laura and her issues with pregnancy are quirky and fun. The interaction between Heidi and the secondary characters provide many humorous moments. Heidi’s developing relationship with Patrick is tender. Bass weaves the elements of humanity, compassion and love into delicious story. Relax, unwind and get comfortable in the Sweetgum Café.
Home for Christmas by Rosalind Noonan
Jo Truman is co-owner of Cousins’ Christmas Shop in lovely Woodstock, New Hampshire. Jo, determined to put the past behind her, works hard to support herself and daughter, Ava. Memories of the past begin to rise to the surface after Clarice Diamond visits Cousins’ Christmas Shop. Shortly thereafter, Sam Norwood, an old friend comes back to Woodstock after serving in Afghanistan. As Sam and Jo begin to discover their feelings for each other, Jo must fight for the future of her family and Woodstock.
Rosalind Noonan has crafted a well-written short story with multi-dimensional characters. Determination, forgiveness and family values are at the core of Home for Christmas. Noonan captures the essence of the picturesque small New Hampshire town. The chemistry between Jo and Sam sizzles from the start. As the story develops, their relationship deepens and they both begin to heal. The issues associated with returning to civilian life and dealing with injuries from the war is told in a realistic and honest tone. Home for Christmas is a story that will warm your heart and bring a tear to your eye. Review by Lisa. Book Provided by Publisher. Review Originally Posted @ Romancing the Book
Posted May 27, 2013
Posted May 12, 2013
Posted April 17, 2013
Posted January 28, 2013
Posted January 12, 2013
Posted December 28, 2012
Posted December 16, 2012
Posted December 4, 2012
Posted December 4, 2012
.Sugar, Spice & Romance Sprinkled with Mistletoe”
In’ “Making Spirits Bright”, wealthy graphics Designer Melanie McLaughlin seems to have it all,but lacks 2 precious items in her life—a special someone (that is until she is reunited with a friend from long ago, handsome Bryce Landry) & her heart aches for motherhood. Melanie summons her courage & calls the “World Adoption Agency”. Melanie and Bryce begin to get closer and closer as, unknown to Bryce, Melanie has her meeting with Adoption Agency Manager, caustic Olga Krause. Melanie is well prepared & all goes well until Ms. Krause informs her that the agency requires a private meeting with her husband. Uh-Oh! She doesn’t have one! Will that cancel her dreams of a long-awaited family? Will Bryce bow out of their possible relationship after he learns of Melanie’s maternal plans?In “Runaway Christmas” by Elizabeth Bass, we identify with 13 yr. old Erica’s sadness at Christmastime. Not only is she missing her late Mom, but her Dad has remarried & she’s coping with a new Step-Mom & infant Step-Sister, plus snarky & pregnant Aunt Laura & Uncle Webb have no Christmas Spirit, not even a tree! Erica feels unwanted, invisible & surrounded by babies ∧ babies-to-be. When Uncle Webb advises her to keep her eyes open & grab an opportunity when it presents itself, he never imagined the adventure that would unfold. Who would understand how she feels? None other than Laura’s nemesis & former Step-Sister, Heidi who lives & works in Brooklyn, N.Y.—a long way from Texas! Erica, Laura, Heidi, & Erica’s Dad, William learn a lot about the true meaning of Christmas.Rosalind Noonan’s “Home for Christmas” finds single Mom, Jo Truman, her cousin, Molly & 5 yr. old daughter working hard in their store, “Cousin’s Christmas Shop”. Sad memories of Jo’s late fiancé’/famous skier/ Ava’s Father, Shane Demerit haunt Jo, especially when a rude customer keeps poking at the past. But things take a wild turn when Jo learns the identity of the woman’s husband. Sid Diamond has come to town to purchase large amounts of real estate, demolish many structures & build one of his world famous spas! This includes “The Cascade House”, where Jo’s family works & even Jo & Molly’s shop! In the midst of it, a special person from Jo’s past arrives from his stint in Afghanistan. Both he and Jo have to come to grips with their past & present. If you have read Nan Rossiter’s works, you will be familiar with Asa Coleman & his son, Noah. We find Asa coming face-to-face with haunting memories of a love & friendship he is sure will never be equaled. Son, Noah will always be a reminder & Maddie Carlson is now a special part of his life & hopes to be more if she can help him past the memories & remove his blinders. Along with Asa’s parents, fond remembrances turn into the first of many wonderful Christmases to come. Don’t miss this heart-tugging volume—it will warm you like something fresh from the oven! Nancy Narma
Posted October 2, 2012
Posted May 27, 2013
True. xD *he sheinks into a mini-fairy, and pokes all the fairies.* I need meh sleep. \: Meh. Sweet dreams, Trinneh. Say 'night to Alex for moi. *he collapses, super sleepy.*Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 20, 2012
Posted July 16, 2012