Hope is immediately charmed by the setting, modeled on a Bavarian village, and by her grandmother’s handsome, mysterious neighbor. Still, there’s scant trace of celebration within the family. Joy’s main motivation for visiting is to secure start-up funds for a coffee shop. Faith, oblivious to her children’s unhappiness, is preparing to announce that her marriage is over and she has a new love. With a festive schedule of candy-cane martinis, hot tubs, and snowball fights, Hope tries to expose and heal old resentments, but moving forward as a family will take more than a little seasonal goodwill . . .
|Product dimensions:||6.70(w) x 4.10(h) x 1.20(d)|
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Home with My Sisters
By MARY CARTER
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Mary Carter
All rights reserved.
Bells jangled as Austin Rhodes held open the door to the bustling Winter Biergarten. The scent of bratwursts sizzling on the grill leapt out to greet him, and he could already taste the first tangy sip of his India Pale Ale. Add a heaping scoop of German potato salad and these simple pleasures would go a long way to soothe him when he lost yet another Scrabble game to Yvette Garland. "Silent Night" rose above the chatter of customers, and Christmas lights strung about the room cast everyone in a cheery glow. A giant wreath topped with a big red bow hung above the stone fireplace already crackling and popping with a roaring fire even though it was just a little after noon. Snow was predicted later on and folks were hunkering down as if it had already arrived and making a festive day out of it. Winter was the busiest season of all for this Bavarian town nestled in the Cascade Mountains, thanks in part to the many festivities designed to charm the snow pants off the tourists. Yes, indeed, there was no better place to celebrate the holiday season than Leavenworth, Washington. Even a Scrooge like him could feel a little bit of magic in a day like today. Austin tucked the Scrabble board under his left armpit and extended a hand to his elderly neighbor who was taking her time coming up the walk. "No ice or snow yet," she said, ignoring his hand and instead grabbing the doorframe and hoisting herself up into the space.
"Maybe I just wanted to hold your hand," he said with a wink.
"Stop grinning and winking. People are going to think we're Harold and Maude."
Austin raised an eyebrow. "Who are they?"
She waved him off and headed for their usual booth along the window. Besides walking slower than usual, when she lowered herself into the booth, she failed to disguise a wince. Austin immediately looked away. Yvette Garland was not only a fiercely proud woman, she could also strike like a rattlesnake if you were foolish enough to irritate her. Austin was reminded of something his grandfather always said about getting old: It's a hell of a time of life and I'd avoid it if I were you. At least they had a good meal coming and undeniably the best view in the house.
From here they could see the Cascade Mountains framing the background, and all along the base towering pines colored the landscape with emerald green, striking a vibrant contrast with the gunmetal gray sky. Austin had lived here for ten years and hadn't once tired of the view.
However — if one was to tire of the mountains, and sky, and the towering emerald pines, a simple shift of the gaze was all it took and one could absorb the sights and sounds out the window. Boutiques, and pubs, and restaurants spilled out on either side of them, drawing tourists and locals alike. It was a shifting panorama of people, shopping bags, children, ice skates, and careening sleds. Teams of horse and carriages were making pilgrimages around the town, their drivers suited up in traditional Bavarian garb: suspenders, flowing shirts, and hats adorned with decorative plumes. A young mother walked by with a child tugging on each gloved hand, a bounce in their step as they eagerly awaited the first few flakes to fall. You could smell snow in the air. Austin loved that smell. Heck, he loved everything about Leavenworth, and nothing had surprised him more. He always thought he'd be a wanderer, yet here he was, a homebody.
Austin set up the board as the waitress brought their tea and pint. She set the tea in front of Austin, and the Pale Ale in front of Yvette. Yvette waited for her to leave before rolling her eyes and switching their drinks. "She's horrendous," Yvette said in a loud voice. "She didn't even take our order."
"She's new," Austin whispered.
"She doesn't care, and that's horrendous."
"You never know what a person is dealing with," Austin said.
"You're bringing your work home with you again," Yvette chided.
Austin laughed. He was a manager at a suicide prevention hotline center. Sadly, this was one of their busiest times of year. "I'm too caring?" he said.
"Exactly. She doesn't care, so why should I?"
Austin shook his head. Yvette said whatever was on her mind. And there was a chance she was right. Maybe the waitress wasn't carrying around a world of ennui, maybe she just didn't care. Austin would rather live his life erring on the side of caution, but he wasn't going to antagonize Yvette with his philosophies.
Yvette glanced in the direction of the waitress again. She was standing by the register painting her nails. Yvette turned back and treated Austin to a long look. He laughed. "In my day, jobs were scarce. When you got one, you appreciated it." Yvette removed a flask from her purse and added whiskey to her tea. "Fights off colds," she said when Austin gave her a look.
"Uh-huh." Austin knew the doctor had told her to stop drinking — it wasn't a good mix with chemo — but she wouldn't hear a word of it. He knew she had just gotten her latest scan results, but so far she hadn't said a word about them. He wouldn't push. He set up the Scrabble board as the waitress finally caught on to Yvette's glares and sauntered over to take their order. Austin ordered his usual, a cheeseburger and fries.
Yvette, who usually devoured a bratwurst and sweet potato fries, and apple pie à la mode, shook her head. "I'm not hungry."
Austin knew it would happen, but he loathed watching this powerhouse of a woman lose her appetite. "Maybe some soup?" Austin suggested. He looked at the waitress. "What's the Soup of the Day?"
The waitress looked at Austin as if she wanted to stab him in the eye with a fork. "I don't think there is one."
Yvette shook her head and threw up her arms. "There's always a Soup of the Day."
"Is that what you want, then?" The waitress smacked her lips.
"How should I know until I know what it is?" Yvette barked. The waitress simply stood and stared.
"Maybe you should go ask another waitress, or one of the cooks," Austin said gently. The waitress flounced away. Yvette shook her head until she returned.
"There's no Soup of the Day," the waitress announced in a smug tone. "There are soups. More than one." Austin and Yvette waited, the waitressed simply stared.
"Why don't you tell us what they are?" Austin prodded.
"Broccoli and cheese, or lentil." The waitress twisted her pencil in a strand of her hair, snapping her gum as if to keep her from dying of boredom.
Yvette gingerly lifted her tea and stuck out her pinky. "This will do."
"That will do what?" the waitress asked, staring at Yvette's pinky as if expecting it to perform tricks.
"Bring us a bowl of the broccoli and cheese, and extra crackers," Austin said before the waitress could flee. "I'll eat it if you don't," he added as he doled out their tiles. "Ladies first."
Yvette began to hum along with the Christmas carol playing in the background as she placed her first word on the board. There it was, her tongue poking out of the side of her mouth that always showed up when she was thrilled with her word. He stared at it for a long while before challenging her. "Glitty?" She smiled and nodded. "What the hell is 'Glitty'?"
"Language!" She smiled nonetheless, then gestured around the restaurant. "All the Christmas lights and sparkling snow makes Leavenworth all glitty," she said. "Triple score."
"Uh-huh," he said. He stared at his letters, then at the board. Outside the sun struck an icicle hanging from an eave outside. It was kind of glitty.
"Hurry up. I don't have much time left."
Austin played Gulp. Yvette played Stay. Austin played Hope. Yvette gasped and threw open her arms just as the waitress arrived with the soup. Austin reached across the table the second he registered the impending collision, but it was too late. Yvette smacked the bowl, and cheese soup splattered all over the waitress. She screamed.
"Oh no." Austin was on his feet, thrusting his napkin into the waitress's hand.
"Look what you did," she wailed at Yvette. "This is the worst thing that could have happened."
"That's the worst thing that could have happened?" Yvette asked.
"You could have scalded me!"
"But I didn't. You know how I know? Because that soup has been sitting in the window for ten minutes. It's probably not even warm, let alone scalding."
"Lucky for you or I could have sued you!"
One of the older waitresses scurried over. "Is everything all right?"
"She poured soup all over me," the waitress cried.
"It was an accident," Austin said to the waitress. "I'd give you some water, but —"
"She didn't bring any," Yvette finished for him.
"Go get cleaned up, these things happen," the older waitress said. The younger one stomped off. The older waitress sighed. "Sorry. She's new."
"The worst thing that could have happened," Yvette muttered. "Charmed life, that one."
"No worries," Austin said with a nod to the older waitress, who finally took off. He looked at Yvette. "What's going on?"
"I told you I wasn't hungry." Yvette pushed the board away and tears came into her eyes.
"It was an accident," Austin said as he reached to touch her hand across the table. "She'll be fine."
"Of course she will," Yvette said. "She's young and healthy, isn't she? The worst thing that's ever happened to her is some old lady spilled cheese soup on her." She jerked her hand away and took out her flask. Her hand was shaking. Austin had never seen her this upset.
"What is it?" he asked again.
"Put it away." She eyed the board as if it were her mortal enemy, then turned her head and refused to look at it. Austin quickly ditched his joke about winning by default and put away the board.
"What about apple pie à la mode?" he said. She shook her head. "Yvette, what is it?"
She stared out the window. "I know I'm an old lady and this is what happens when you're old, so I can't believe how utterly shocked I feel." She turned to look at Austin. "My cancer has spread." She ran a shaky hand along the tabletop. "They're stopping chemo. He said I probably won't see more than a few days into the new year." Austin stared at her, mouth open, searching for something, anything to say. When he couldn't think of a single darn thing, he reached for her flask and helped himself to a generous swig. They sat in silence as "Frosty the Snowman" began to play and lights twinkled, and outside the first few flakes of the winter storm began to fall. Yvette tilted her head in the direction of the music. "At least it isn't 'Silent Night' again." She glared in the direction of the speakers. "That's just the song a dying woman wants to hear."
Austin leaned forward. "Doctors are wrong all the time."
"Can it. I'm dying. And that's the least of my worries."
Austin took the bait. "That's the least of your worries?" Yvette nodded. "What then?"
She reached across the table, grabbed Austin's hand, and squeezed it hard. "What are we going to do about Roger?"CHAPTER 2
Yvette said she didn't want anything from the store, but Austin stopped anyway, insisting she needed to have a few things on hand in case the snowstorm hit hard. She stayed in the truck while he picked up soup, milk and cereal, apples, cheese and crackers — her favorites — plus some salt for her walk. She was dying, and he couldn't believe whom she was most worried about.
Roger. The creepy caretaker who squatted on her property. Lived in the cabin out back and shuffled around, mumbling to himself. Austin didn't know if he was a drunk, or on drugs, or was mentally disabled. And if that was the case, he felt bad, he really did, but Yvette shouldn't carry someone else's burden to that degree. Why was she so worried about him? Yvette wasn't exactly the warm and fuzzy type. Maybe it was just the fact that Roger had been around for so many years, or maybe there was a lot more to the story than he'd ever been told. Austin didn't like people prying into his business; he heard enough of people's pain all day long at work, and he wasn't the type to pry. But he couldn't stand seeing her so worked up. He'd ask around at the churches; maybe there was a shelter or home Roger could move into, maybe that would help ease Yvette's worries. She certainly couldn't expect whoever bought the property to let the old man keep living there.
Austin was almost out the door when a silver ornament dangling on a display tree caught his eye. Silver letters spelled out the word JOY. Neither he nor Yvette had celebrated Christmas in a long time. And she'd probably hate it. But maybe she wouldn't. Maybe it would make her smile. He returned to the register to pay for the ornament, then tucked it into the bag and headed for his truck.
"Why did you buy those?" she asked, pointing to the apples the minute he returned to the truck.
"They're good for you."
"Don't be a fool." She shook her head. "It's too late to keep the doctor away."
"It's never too late."
"If I didn't know better I'd say you're hoping for a Christmas miracle."
"Would that be so bad?" As Austin started the drive back home, he purposefully avoided her gaze. He needn't have bothered. Yvette stared out the window.
"The real miracle is that I made it this far," she said.
Me too, Austin thought, but he didn't voice it. Would have sounded cruel coming from a thirty-two-year-old regardless of the fact that quite often that was exactly how he felt. Life could do a number on you if you let it. They fell into an uneasy silence as he took the curves and climbed higher up the mountain road to her sprawling property. He couldn't help but wonder who would inherit her estate. The place had belonged to her late husband, Rupert Harris, who had run a sled and skating outfit in town in the winter and horseback riding all other times of year. Rupert Harris had come from money and his first wife died in a car accident. She passed young so there were no kids, and by the time he fell in love with Yvette, both of them were well into their sixties. Yvette had a son from her first marriage, but Austin had never met him, and the one time he pressed Yvette on it she simply said: He's gone. The set of her mouth and the pain reflected in her eyes made him back off. Austin didn't know whether that meant he had passed away or he had taken off. He never brought up the subject again.
If Yvette had any other family or friends, they didn't come around. She had twenty acres and a gorgeous log home that resembled a mini ski lodge. He hoped whoever inherited or purchased it would love it and take care of it the way she had.
Leavenworth was such a charming place; he'd hate to see the house abandoned or torn down for God knows what a developer might come up with. A hotel, or actual lodge, he supposed. With its twenty pine-tree-filled acres, and skating pond, and hills to sled, surely someone would be thinking along those lines. He'd buy it himself if he could afford it, but he could barely afford his own three-room cabin and two acres next door. Not that he needed more room, it suited him perfectly fine. But he sure didn't like the thought of having new neighbors. Not that this was any time to be thinking about himself. He had to find a way to cheer her up. They pulled up to the black iron gate that secured the entrance. Austin rolled down the window and punched the key code into the security system. A few seconds later the electronic gates slid open. He thought it was cool that Rupert had combined modern technology with the old-fashioned gates. Austin pulled in and took the half-moon drive up to the house where he put his truck in park. Then he grabbed the groceries with one hand and with the other he helped Yvette up the steps to the wraparound porch and into her house.
They entered into a mudroom. Austin put the groceries down and pulled off his boots, then hung his winter coat on the rack on the wall. Yvette had already slipped out of her coat and boots and had headed into the house. Austin followed.
The main floor reminded Austin of an expansive loft apartment. There was a fireplace with a stone chimney that took center stage on the main wall, towering at least fifteen feet up to the start of the second level. An arrangement of soft leather sofas faced the fireplace, and a bank of windows overlooked the expansive grounds. A few feet behind the sofas was a marble island with stools all around, delineating the chef's kitchen behind it. With so many windows, the place definitely had an indoor-outdoor feel, and the natural light helped offset all the wood — from the thick planks in the floor to the logs in the walls. Had it been closed in, the effect might have been suffocating, but with all the space and cathedral ceilings, it transformed into something artistic and welcoming.
Excerpted from Home with My Sisters by MARY CARTER. Copyright © 2016 Mary Carter. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
HOME WITH MY SISTERS is a cute holiday read. The characters are all people you can imagine running into in real life, and their complicated family dynamics come across as authentic. The Leavenworth, Washington setting is perfect for this type of Christmas novel and really draws the reader in. The sisters' relationships with one another and their family is at the heart of the story, but the author does a good job of weaving in some more serious issues without dampening the overall feel-good tone. I was distracted by a couple small inconsistencies, and at times the writing is a little choppy and the story is almost too sappy, but overall it was an enjoyable read. Disclosure: I won an uncorrected advance copy of this book in a giveaway.