Make it a merry Christmas with four stories of the special way the holidays warm our hearts…
CHRISTMAS HOMECOMING * Fern Michaels
Former Air Force Pararescueman Kevin Matthews is back home in Texas, working at his family’s Christmas tree farm while deciding his next move. Or maybe he won’t move at all, if sparks keep flying with the town’s new surgeon, Kate Stafford . . .
AN UNEXPECTED GIFT * Kate Pearce
Widower Billy Morgan wishes his grown children still needed him. Good thing his longtime friend, Bella, does. She’s planning her son’s Christmas wedding and Billy is happy to help. Along the way they just might discover their own occasion to celebrate . . .
CHRISTMAS IN BLUE HOLLOW FALLS * Donna Kauffman
Attorney Moira Brogan expects her brother’s Christmas wedding to be a peaceful affair. She doesn’t expect to be cornered by an unwanted lothario, rescued by a gorgeous Aussie chef—or be swept off her feet by said chef. Nursing a broken heart, the last thing she wants is a new romance. But Hudson Walker has other ideas . . .
HOLIDAY HOMERUN * Priscilla Oliveras
Event planner Julia Louisa Fernandez dreams of a life in Chicago. But her family in Puerto Rico expects her to take over the catering business. Former pro baseball player Ben Thomas knows what that’s like—and when they meet, he might be the one to inspire a winning strategy, just in time for the holidays . . .
An Official Military Spouse Book Club Pick
|Product dimensions:||4.14(w) x 6.71(h) x 1.04(d)|
About the Author
FERN MICHAELS is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of the Sisterhood, Men of the Sisterhood, and Godmothers series, as well as dozens of other novels and novellas. There are over one-hundred ten million copies of her books in print. Fern Michaels has built and funded several large day-care centers in her hometown, and is a passionate animal lover who has outfitted police dogs across the country with special bulletproof vests. She shares her home in South Carolina with her four dogs and a resident ghost named Mary Margaret. Visit her website at www.fernmichaels.com.
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author KATE PEARCE was born in England in the middle of a large family of girls and quickly found that her imagination was far more interesting than real life. After acquiring a degree in history and barely escaping from the British Civil Service alive, she moved to California and then to Hawaii with her kids and her husband and set about reinventing herself as a romance writer. You can find Kate at her website at www.katepearce.com, on Facebook as Kate Pearce, and on Twitter @Kate4queen.
USA Today bestselling author of the Blue Hollow Falls series, DONNA KAUFFMAN has been gratified to see her books get rave reviews in venues ranging from Kirkus Reviews and Library Journal to Entertainment Weekly and Cosmopolitan. She lives in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains in western Virginia and loves to hear from readers! You can contact her through her website at www.donnakauffman.com.
PRISCILLA OLIVERAS is a USA Today bestselling author, 2018 RWA® RITA®double finalist and four-time Golden Heart® finalist who writes contemporary romance with a Latinx flavor. Proud of her Puerto Rican-Mexican heritage, she strives to bring authenticity to her novels by sharing her culture with her readers. She and her work have received praise from the Washington Post, New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Redbook, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist, amongst others. Priscilla earned her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and currently teaches the online class “Romance Writing” for ed2go. To follow along on her fun-filled and hectic life, visit her on the web at PrisOliveras.com or on Twitter and Instagram @prisoliveras.
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
Read an Excerpt
Kevin Matthews watched from his window seat as the tarmac faded from view. He was finally heading home to Texas after three tours in the military. Home for the holidays. The first time in six years.
At thirty-two, he was going to start his life all over again. Yes, again ... for the second time. Third if you were counting his birth. He had accumulated a lot of experience in the past several years, and his appreciation and vitality for living had been renewed.
Kevin was twenty-six when he joined the Air Force. A Special Forces group known as Pararescues — "PJs" for short. His proficiency at skydiving and scuba, hobbies from his high school days, had made him a much sought after airman. Throw in six years as an EMS volunteer, and he was the perfect candidate to join the group. And it was the perfect group for him to join.
He needed a serious change of scenery, and the French Foreign Legion was no longer an option. Did people really do that years ago? Join the Foreign Legion? He wondered. But being a Texan, it was hard to imagine joining any international organization that wasn't homegrown American, even if Texas would make noise about seceding from the Union every couple of years. He thought the new term "Texit" was hilarious. Nope. He was going to serve his country, the USA, and the PJs' slogan, "Relief from Above," was something he could easily adopt, especially since he was in need of relief as well.
Running his fingers through his full, black, wavy hair — a habit he had had since he was a kid — he hoped he could endure the next ten hours on the plane to Dallas. Sitting in one position for any length of time could get uncomfortable.
He considered asking the fellow in the aisle seat to switch with him, but the guy had his head buried in what looked like an Avengers comic book and simply grunted when Kevin approached the row. He didn't even make a move to allow Kevin easy access. When Kevin squeezed past him, the guy gave another annoying grunt. It was obvious he wasn't going to be very cooperative. As Kevin folded his six-foot-two-inch, lean, muscular body into the seat, he resigned himself to discomfort until he absolutely needed to move around.
Two years back, during a precision air-drop exercise, some of the supplies had plunged from the cargo plane too soon, and he had to jump to retrieve them. His chute got caught in a bizarre tangle that sent him spinning perilously to the ground. Fortunately, he was able to come out of free fall and managed to land safely but not well. Two operations later and he had his mobility back, though he still had a slight limp. No, sir. Rigorous activities were no longer an option. If he ever took a bad fall, the titanium that held his femur together would stay intact, but it would also cause the shattering of what remained of his own bone structure. Nope. Horseback riding wasn't on the menu, and neither was skydiving anymore — maybe scuba diving if he ever got back to Lake Travis. Hiking, fishing, and riding a bike would be his limit. He'd have to avoid anything that would threaten his Humpty-Dumpty leg.
He sighed and smiled at the same time. It was worth it, he told himself. The faces on the refugees as they clamored for the lifesaving supplies were more than a "thank-you," and the rescues from the earthquake in Japan that he participated in were experiences he could never have imagined. Knowing he actually made a difference in people's lives — total strangers, in fact — gave him a sense of satisfaction that nothing else on this earth could replicate.
The broken bones eventually healed. But the greatest recovery was his heart. It had been broken — devastated. Now he was whole, with the additional help of some titanium and screws, and an experience that gave new meaning to life and the little things in it.
Yes, he was thankful for it. He was still alive and heading home to his mom's skillet corn bread. During the flight attendant's safety speech, Kevin thought back to the circumstances that had brought him on this journey: the hobbies that would scare the bejesus out of his mother, and the breakup with Melissa. Funny thing about it — he was grateful. Grateful for the breakup, but at the time, he couldn't imagine what his future life would be like.
They had been high-school sweethearts. Getting married, having a family, and — one day — opening a sporting goods shop were the only things he envisioned. Yes, he was going to thank Melissa when he saw her, because running into her was inevitable. Cedar Park was a small town: the very reason he started his life all over for the second time, counting his birth. Now here he was again, starting fresh. This time, though, he had a much better attitude.
Kevin squirmed in his seat as he imagined what his homecoming would be like. Mom would have the house decorated, as in everything. There was not one tabletop, chair, or dresser that didn't have some kind of Christmas ornament. Even the vanity in the bathroom had elves doling out toilet paper. When he was in his teens, he thought it was totally corny. Almost embarrassing. Now it would be a sight for sore eyes, and he'd be thrilled to assemble the hundreds of pieces that were transformed into a Christmas village, surrounded by the miniature trains that would run around the entire perimeter of the living room. As soon as Mrs. Matthews gave it the seal of approval, Kevin and his dad would start working on the exterior of the house, stringing the thousands of lights collected over the years on every tree, bush, and shrub that had a branch. The giant Santa and his entire entourage would sit proudly on the front lawn. Yes, the Matthews house would rival anyone else's attempt at decorating. "Eat your heart out, Macy's!" would be his dad's battle cry when he flipped the switch. The only other place that presented any challenge was the Cedar Park Christmas Tree Farm, with acres of cedars. Hence the name of the town, Cedar Park. His grandfather had started the farm just under a century ago, and his dad started managing it when Pops retired. As soon as Halloween arrived and the hayrides were over, Mrs. Matthews would be in charge of decorating everything in sight at the tree farm, and everyone would joke about being able to see Cedar Park from the International Space Station.
* * *
They had been airborne for over an hour, and Kevin's leg was beginning to stiffen. He softly nudged the guy sleeping next to him. "Excuse me, sir, sorry to disturb you." His Texas drawl let the words drop politely from his mouth.
Suddenly, he got the attention of a very attractive young woman in a blue suit, whose name tag on her navy blue uniform said ALLISON. "Oh, sir. You're with the military, correct? Thank you for your service!" She beamed her very best flight attendant smile.
"My pleasure, ma'am." Kevin was never fully aware of the effect he had on women. He had always been ruggedly handsome, with his deep blue eyes and his tanned skin from the outdoors. But he and Melissa started going steady at fifteen, so the thought of dating other girls had never been on his radar. Then, after enlisting, he had no time for anything resembling a relationship. Once in a while he would have friendly drinks with other military folks, but a love affair was by no means on the table.
He winced slightly as he climbed over his drowsy seat partner. His leg was aching a bit, and he needed to walk the aisle. Noticing his slight limp, and the cramped situation he was in, the flight attendant touched his forearm, and whispered, "Follow me." She guided him into first class, where there was an unoccupied, sumptuous seat. Being aware his flight was gratis due to his military status, he immediately began to protest. "Ma'am, I do very much appreciate the gesture, but I'm fine." The words poured easily from his lips.
"It's the least we can do for our brave soldiers. The seat is empty, and I am sure you have more than earned it." Again, the beaming, gleaming white teeth, as she flirted with him. "Can I get you something to drink? Headphones? A snack?"
"I do appreciate your kindness, but I should be just fine." Kevin was almost embarrassed by her doting.
"Surely, you could use something?" She looked at him with puppy-dog eyes.
"Well, if you insist. I don't suppose you could wrestle up a very cold beer?" Kevin was beginning to fall into his easy Texas style.
"I think I could find something to your liking." Allison stared into his dreamy pools of azure blue and hoped she would be to his liking. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small plastic bag containing earbuds. "Here. There are a dozen music channels you can listen to, or you can watch one of the in-flight movies."
"Well, thank you very much, ma'am. I sure do appreciate your kindness. And this comfort is heavenly."
Allison headed toward the galley and reappeared minutes later with an icy cold beer and a platter of sandwiches.
Kevin was by no means a virgin, but he was unaccustomed to this kind of attention — even with his strapping good looks, he was surprisingly shy and unassuming. Noticing her name tag, he addressed her by name: "Allison. Thank you for making my journey home enjoyable. A man could get used to this! Don't you go spoiling me, now!"
Thinking she could get used to a few more passengers like Kevin, she lightly touched his arm and lowered her voice. "If you need anything, just ring that bell." She winked and turned her attention to the other passengers, who were noticeably antsy waiting for their unlimited supply of cocktails.
Reminding himself that this was "starting over" number three, perhaps it was time to begin looking at women from a different perspective instead of as heartbreakers. Even though the split with Melissa gave him the second start-over of his life, his subconscious continued to protect him from any sort of emotional entanglement. Allison's kindness struck a chord. This was the next new beginning, and maybe, just maybe, there was someone out there for him. Someone. Obviously, not Allison. She was, after all, the first pretty woman he had encountered in a while, but he wasn't going all gaga. No, she was there to remind him that there was hope. He laughed, and wryly observed to himself, Yes, old boy. You got a lot of catching up to do.
He settled into the lush leather seat, stretched his leg to a comfortable position, inserted the earbuds, and searched for a country music station. Contentment was beginning to envelop him, and he easily let it wrap him in its arms.
His long-overdue nap was interrupted by the flight attendant's announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen, we are beginning our final approach into Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Please turn off all electronic devices, make sure your seat back is in an upright position and your seat belt is securely fastened. We should be on the ground shortly."
This had been the longest part of his journey home. Almost ten hours. He had made his way to London via Germany, and before that from Istanbul. Four flights in almost twenty-four hours. It would be good to be on terra firma again. And this time in his home state.
As the plane touched down, the captain's voice came over the intercom. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Dallas, Texas — the United States of America." The cabin burst with applause as the captain continued: "And we would personally like to thank our military personnel for their service."
Kevin was surprised at his own reaction of getting a little teary eyed. It had been a long journey — emotionally and geographically. He could barely keep himself from salivating, just thinking about his mom's home cooking. When he had written to his family informing them he would be coming home, not just for the holidays, but for good, he jokingly said, "No parades, please."
Once the FASTEN SEAT BELT sign dimmed, he walked back to his original seat to fetch his duffel. His drowsy seatmate had commandeered both seats and was sloppily draped across the armrest, still snoring, and drooling on his Avengers T- shirt, which was about three sizes too small.
Now Kevin was grateful to Allison for two things: reminding him there was an entire gender with which he could become reacquainted and for saving him from having some strange dude inadvertently snuggle with him.
As he stepped off the Jetway, he headed toward the baggage claim area, where his father had said he would meet him. Looking for the carousel that would be hurling his duffel bag, he heard shouts and cheers: "Kevin Matthews, you are great! Welcome home to the Lone Star State! Kevin Matthews, you are great! Welcome home to the Lone Star State!" There must have been over twenty people surrounding his mom and dad, both of whom were sporting handkerchiefs soaking up the tears of joy and relief. He hurried toward his mom, picked her up, and in good old-fashioned Texas style, gave her a spin that almost knocked his father over!
His mother clung to him as if she would never let go, until his dad had to pry her off so he could give his son the bear hug he had been longing for.
As Kevin steadied himself, he noticed the banner with his name on it, KEVIN MATTHEWS, OUR HERO. He was trying hard not to be overwhelmed by this welcome, but the accolades mixed with holiday decorations were almost too much. He recalled his training, gained his composure, stood erect, smiled, and waved to the onlookers.
"Holy smoke! What a homecoming! Wow! I'm ... I'm ... blown away. Okay, maybe not the best choice of words." Shrieks of laughter came from the bunch. "Who knew I was this popular!"
When he was able to focus beyond his tear-filled eyes, he recognized friends of his parents and folks from the church. "Okay, Dad. Mom. Now that you have thoroughly humiliated me, can we please get home to some of that corn bread I've been dreaming about? Let me grab my bag, and let's get outta here!"
"Sure, son! The car is just outside. They let me leave it there because I told them I was picking up my son who had just served six years in the military." Kevin's dad beamed with pride as they exited the airport. A security guard standing next to the vehicle saluted, and remarked: "Thank you for your service." Kevin saluted back and wiped away the tears he had been trying to quell. Yes, this was a new, new beginning and his heart filled with joy and hope.
They piled into the car and jumped on the interstate, I-35, for the three-hour ride home. Kevin could have flown from Dallas to Austin, but his parents insisted on picking him up, and another plane ride would have been more than Kevin could tolerate. Even though it was a haul to Cedar Park, they could stop along the way and grab a bite to eat, stretch their legs, and catch up. "How did everyone else get here, Dad?"
"Well, it just so happened that there is a Christmas festival in Dallas tonight, and the pastor offered to bring people on the church bus."
"Remind me to put some extra coins in the basket next time I'm there." Kevin was still reeling from the welcome home he had just received.
"Coins? Maybe a few greenbacks would do! And by the way, speaking of green, we need to get the trees over to the church pronto. We're almost a week late."
"Home five minutes, and you're already putting me to work?" Kevin teased, but in reality he was thrilled to be working among the cedar trees again. Dust had become the only thing he had inhaled for a long time. The fresh green scent of the trees would be heavenly.
"How's that leg of yours? Will you be all right to cut, wrap, and carry the trees to people's cars?" Kevin's mom said with concern.
"I couldn't be better. Just a little stiff, but otherwise, I'm good to go!"
"Well, you better not be going anywhere anytime soon. The last time you were thinking about reevaluating your life, you ended up in the Air Force!"
"I learned a lot, Mom. A lot about discipline, a lot about loyalty, and a lot about family.
"When you're as far away from home as I was, and for as long as I was, the people you share life-and-death experiences with become part of a family. And it helped me appreciate my own family. Before I left, I was just going through the motions, living from one day to the next, not fully realizing what I had and what I could do with my life. Now I understand how important it is to be grounded. Be a part of something. The loyalty. The love. The unwavering attention you give to each other. Everyone needs to learn to love just a little more and learn to accept it."
"Oh, Kevin, you sound so grown-up! And philosophical!" His mother began tearing up again.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Season To Celebrate"
Copyright © 2018 Kensington Publishing Corporation.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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