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Quilted by Christmas
By Jodie Bailey
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2014 Jodie Bailey
All rights reserved.
4 ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ..." The small crowd's voice rose in pitch and trembled with the chill as the lights flickered into life on the eighteen-foot tree in the small park in Hollings, North Carolina. Along Main Street, lampposts and white lights popped to life and bathed downtown in a warm glow.
Taryn McKenna shoved her hands deeper into the pockets of her coat to keep from blowing on her fingers again. All it did was make them colder. What global warming? It felt like every year the temperature dipped lower than the one before. The wind coming off the mountain tonight had a particular bite to it, like it had heard the same news as Taryn and wanted to make sure she felt it inside and out.
"Have you seen him yet?" Her younger cousin Rachel leaned close and did her best to whisper, though over the small crowd it seemed more like a shout.
Even Ethan, Rachel's recently adopted thirteen-month-old son, thought his mom's voice was too loud. He pressed four chubby fingers against her mouth with a wet, "Shh ..."
For a minute, Taryn forgot she was supposed to be vigilant. She arched an eyebrow so high she could almost feel it touch the knit cap she wore over her shoulder-length dark hair. "It's pretty bad when the baby tells you to keep it down."
Rachel flicked honey-blonde hair over her shoulder and planted a smacky kiss on the little boy's cheek, eliciting a high-pitched squeal. "Come on, Mr. Manners. Let's go down to the fire station and see if we can find Daddy." She headed off to walk the three blocks out of downtown. "And we'll get Aunt Taryn out of the crowd before she can have an uncomfortable moment."
Taryn, who wasn't really Rachel's aunt even though her cousin had always called her that, shoved her hands deeper in her pockets and planted her feet. And after a comment like that, she should stay right here and let Rachel make the trek back to find her EMT fiancé all by herself. She looked over her shoulder toward her own house, two streets over from the park defining the center of Hollings. If she started walking now, she could have hot chocolate in hand and It's a Wonderful Life on the TV in under ten minutes.
Not as if she'd be hiding the way Rachel implied. She'd simply be warm and comfortable away from the crowd jostling her as they headed for the community center where the county's Christmas craft festival was cranking up.
The craft festival. She winced. "Rach?"
Several feet ahead of Taryn, her cousin miraculously heard her and turned around. "You coming?"
"I promised Jemma I'd come over and help with her craft booth." Jemma. The name was warm on her tongue. Born of the time her tiny toddler mouth couldn't quite get the grandma to work like it was supposed to. Her Jemma. The constant love in her life. As much as she wanted to go home and tuck in under a quilt, Taryn had promised, and she wouldn't let her grandmother down. "She's got some quilts she's selling in the community center."
Rachel's gaze bounced between the small brick building at the edge of the park and the fire station, invisible down the street and around the corner, where her fiancé probably waited for her to show up with his chicken and pastry dinner from the little church on, yes, Church Street. "I'll come with you and visit your grandmother for a second. I need to thank her for the cute little fireman quilt she made for Ethan's bed. I can't wait until he sees it on Christmas morning." She hefted her son higher on her hip without missing a step. "Mark is hoping the house will be ready by then so we can take Ethan over after he wakes up and have our first Christmas morning as a family in our own house, even if it's empty of everything but a tree."
"That's the single sappiest thing I've ever heard. And maybe the sweetest."
Ethan giggled like he knew exactly what Taryn had said.
Taryn knew better than to offer to take the boy for some snuggles of her own. This was all still new and joyful to Rachel. Give it a month. She'd be begging for a babysitter, and Taryn would be more than willing to oblige. The way her arms ached to snuggle the wiggling, giggling bundle told her so. She shoved the longing aside and slid sideways between two people. "Excuse me."
"Where did all of these people come from, anyway?" Rachel fell a half step behind her as the crowd thickened to funnel through the double doors into the community building.
"It's Christmas in the mountains, and it's tree lighting night. Half of them are tourists."
"Sure enough," said an older gentleman with a Boston accent. "Cold down here is a lot better than cold up north."
"Cold is cold." Taryn smiled into his kind face.
"But here, with all the evergreens and the rolling hills ..." He breathed in deeply. "Feels like you ought to be able to catch Christmas in a bottle up here. Sell it maybe. It's like Christmas magic."
Okay, right. Because there was such a thing as Christmas magic. Where all your dreams came true. Taryn fought the urge to screw up her lips. Never going to happen. She scanned the crowd again, wanting to spot a familiar face and yet dreading it at the same time. It was miserable being torn in two by your own emotions.
"I know what you're thinking." Rachel was right on top of her, one hand holding Ethan's head to her shoulder protectively. "It will happen for you too. Who knows, maybe with what you heard tonight ..." She wiggled her eyebrows.
Taryn knew her expression hardened, just from the way her jaw ached. "No. Don't start."
"You can't hide forever. Especially helping Jemma. If he's looking for you, this is the first place he'll go."
"If he was looking for me, he would have found me before tonight. Frankly, I told Jemma I'd help her before I knew he was in town, and had I known, I'd be home right now avoiding a scene." Maybe she should make an appearance, tell her grandmother she wasn't feeling well, and leave fast. It wouldn't be a lie. Her stomach was tying into deeper knots by the second. If she wasn't careful, the country-style steak Jemma had cooked for dinner might just make an encore appearance. "He won't look for me. He's home to see his family. And I'm not his family."
"You could've been if you hadn't been so stubborn." Rachel may have meant to mumble under her breath, but it came just as a lull in the crowd's conversation dropped, making it a loud and clear indictment.
Taryn stopped right in the flow of traffic just inside the door and turned to look Rachel hard in the eye. It was a mantra she'd stopped telling herself a long time ago, but hearing it now from her cousin, out loud for the first time, the words fired anger and released pent-up emotions Taryn thought she'd tamed long ago. "What did you just say?" The words bit through the air, hanging with icicles.
"Taryn ..." Rachel's eyes widened like the eyes of a deer Taryn had once hit heading down the mountain into Boone. She looked just as frozen too. "I never should have spoken out loud."
"So it's okay to think it?" Was that how everyone saw Taryn? As the poor girl who let the love of her life get away? Waving a dismissive hand, Taryn turned and stalked off as best she could, leaving Rachel frozen in the crowd. Good. She deserved it. All those years she'd had Taryn's back, and now the truth came out. The whole mess was Taryn's fault, and even her cousin thought so.
By the time Taryn arrived at Jemma's tables, she was angry and over-stimulated. The crowd was too loud, the lights too bright, and the air too stuffy. More than anything, she wanted to pack a bag, hike up to Craven Gap, and pitch a tent for a week. She huffed into a spare metal folding chair and crossed her arms over her chest, garnering a warning glance from her grandmother, who was chatting with their preacher. Taryn sat up straighter and dropped her hands to her lap. She might be thirty, but Jemma still knew how to put her in her place.
Taryn let herself scan the room, filled with familiar townspeople and stranger tourists alike, but no jolt of adrenaline hit her at the sight of any of the faces. It disappointed and relieved her. Over the past dozen years, she'd managed to bury every emotion about those months deep down, so deep she hadn't realized how badly she wanted to see Justin Callahan.
Despite the longing, a conversation with him couldn't end well. Still, her eyes wouldn't stop searching, even though something told her she'd know if Justin walked in, whether she spotted him or not. From the time she was a child, her heart had always known when he was nearby.
Rachel stood on the far side of the room at Marnie Lewis's booth, which overflowed with all manner of jams and jellies. If she could, Taryn would slip over there and lay her head on Marnie's shoulder, unburdening herself of the tense anticipation knotted in her stomach. Where Jemma was all practicality, her best friend, Marnie, was the soft shoulder for Taryn's many tears. There had only been once when she'd had to refuse Marnie's comfort because the secret of those tears would have been too much for the older woman to bear.
But there was no time for pouring it all out now. Taryn shoved out of the rusting metal chair and busied herself straightening the quilts hanging from curtain rods hooked to a painted black peg board. Her fingers ran down the stitches of a red-and-white Celtic Twist, one of Jemma's latest creations. This one was done on the trusty Singer machine in the upstairs sewing room at the white house in the center of the apple orchard. Tourists loved Jemma's work, so she packed up the quilts she stitched by day and brought them to large craft fairs around Asheville and smaller ones in tiny valley towns like their own. The more tiny Hollings made its mark on the map as a North Carolina mountain tourist spot, the more out-of-towners discovered they had to have Jemma's work. Her Celtic designs practically walked out the door right by themselves.
Taryn ran her hands over a complicated Celtic Knot to smooth the wrinkles as a shadow fell over the fabric. "This one's a beauty, isn't it?" She angled her chin up, ready to put on her selling face to the latest tourist.
Instead, she met all too familiar hot chocolate brown eyes. His brown hair was shorter than she'd ever seen it, though the top seemed to be outpacing the sides in growth. His shoulders were broader under a heavy black Carhartt coat, his face more defined. Every muscle in her body froze even as her stomach jumped at the heat of seeing him. She'd known this day would come, knew he was in town now, but still, she wasn't ready.
Clearly, neither was he. He looked at her for a long moment, opened his mouth to speak, then was jostled by a tourist who stopped to peruse the lap quilts on the small plastic table. "This was a bad idea." Justin shook his head and, with a glance of what looked like regret, turned and blended into the crowd, leaving Taryn to watch him walk away. Again.
* * *
"What exactly was that all about?"
When Jemma offered Taryn a ride home as the craft show wound down for the evening, Taryn figured she was safe. After all, Jemma hadn't said one word about Justin's awkward appearance and rapid disappearance. Maybe she hadn't even noticed the entire exchange. In the bustle of answering questions and selling quilts, all she'd asked was if Taryn would come over tomorrow and spend part of her Saturday decorating the Christmas tree and working on Rachel's wedding quilt with her.
But now, as she pulled Taryn's kitchen door shut behind her, Jemma revealed just how much patience she had. About three hours' worth.
Taryn pulled two chunky diner-style coffee mugs down from the white wood cabinets and thunked them onto the ancient butcher block countertop. "What's all what about?" It was a long shot, but maybe the question had nothing to do with Justin at all. Maybe this was more about how she'd stalked into the booth and plopped into her chair like a three-year-old in full pout. Taryn rolled her eyes heavenward. Please, God? I'm not ready to have the Justin conversation yet.
"The little two-second exchange between you and a man who looked an awful lot like Justin Callahan all grown up."
Nope. It was exactly what Taryn had feared it was about. She yanked open another cabinet and dug out a plastic container of Russian tea. Every year, when the first breath of winter blew along the valley, Taryn mixed instant tea with dried lemonade, orange drink, and spices just like her mother always had. It kept her close, made Taryn feel like she could close her eyes and have her mother reappear whenever she needed her. Boy, did she ever need her tonight. "Want some tea?"
"It was him, wasn't it, Taryn?" The voice wasn't demanding, just gentle, maybe even a little bit concerned.
Demanding would have been better.
Taryn turned and leaned against the counter to find Jemma still by the back door, arms crossed over her red-and-green turtleneck sweater. "I asked you to come in for something warm to drink, not to answer questions I don't have answers to." She threw her hands out to the sides. "But yes, it was Justin. And why he came over to speak to me, I have no idea."
Jemma nodded, one gray curl falling out of place over her temple. "Looked to me like he wanted to talk to you and thought better of it once he looked you in the eye. Can't say I blame him. You looked scared to death."
Yeah. Because she didn't want him reading her mind and ferreting out all of her secrets. She might have done the right thing for him nearly twelve years ago, but it didn't mean he ever needed to know about it. "I was surprised."
"You always knew he'd come home someday. I'd have never thought it would take him this long. The army's kept him pretty busy, I'm guessing."
"He's been stationed overseas a lot. Too far to come home often. When he has been home, he's kept to Dalton on his side of the mountain. I'm pretty sure he hasn't been to Hollings since we were in high school." The minute the words left her mouth, Taryn wished she could pull a Superman and make the world spin backward just long enough to stop herself from saying them in the first place.
Jemma's eyebrow arched so high it was a wonder it didn't pop right off her forehead. "You kept track?"
"I'd run into his mom occasionally. Rarely. Every once in a while." Awkward encounters for Taryn because Ellen Callahan was always so friendly, so open, as though Taryn and her son hadn't flamed out in a screaming match in their front yard the night before he left for basic training. While she told Jemma almost everything, she'd kept those brief conversations a secret. The less they talked about Justin, the better, because talking about him kept her from pretending anything ever happened.
"I'll have some Russian tea." Jemma finally answered the long-asked question, then pulled a spoon from the drawer by the sink and passed it to Taryn. "You're going to have to talk to him sooner or later."
Taryn dug the spoon into the fall leaf-colored powder and dumped it into a mug. "I never plan to talk to him. At least not the way you're implying. And aren't you the one who told me for years that not talking to him was the better option?"
A car hummed by on the road in front of the house, loud in the sudden silence of the kitchen. Jemma didn't move, then she shook her head. "Opinions change. Maybe ... Maybe I was wrong."
"No, you were exactly right. Besides, he's home for Christmas this year, and then he'll be back off to parts unknown in the world. If history is any indicator, he won't be back in Hollings for another dozen years, and by then ..." She shrugged a no big deal. By then, she'd probably still be Taryn McKenna, schoolteacher, living in the small green house on School Street, except maybe she'd have half a dozen cats for company. It was what she deserved, and it was likely what she'd get.
With a long-suffering sigh, Jemma pushed herself away from the counter and ran light fingers down the back of Taryn's dark hair. "It's your choice, but I'll be praying."
Something in her tone froze Taryn's fingertip on the button for the microwave. "Why?"
Jemma let her touch drift from the crown of Taryn's head to the tips of her shoulder-length hair, just like she had when Taryn was a child, then planted a kiss on her granddaughter's temple. "Because I had a little chat with Marnie while you were taking down the booth tonight. You know how she knows everything about everybody."
"And you're nothing like her at all, are you, Jemma?" Taryn smiled in spite of the dread. If anyone knew the business of everybody on the mountain, it was her grandmother.
"Don't be cheeky, hon. Your mother and I taught you better."
The spoon clinked against the ceramic of the coffee mug as Taryn stirred her grandmother's tea, the spicy orange scent like a much-needed hug from her mother. The restlessness in her stomach settled. In a couple of weeks or so, Justin would be gone again, and she wouldn't have to worry about running into him, wouldn't have to worry about the split-in-half feeling of wanting to see him, yet wanting to hold him at a distance. "What did Marnie say?"
Jemma pulled Taryn close to her side and pressed her forehead to Taryn's temple. "Justin's not home for Christmas. He's out of the army. He's moved home to Dalton for good."
Excerpted from Quilted by Christmas by Jodie Bailey. Copyright © 2014 Jodie Bailey. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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
Each of the Quilts of Love novels are perfect for a little romance with a quilt as the setting around which the story itself revolves. Any of them can be read in any order even though they all belong in the series. Quilted by Christmas from Jodie Bailey takes an Irish Chain Quilt and weaves a story of high school romance that is given an opportunity for a second chance. After reading this one, it makes me want to break out my quilting supplies again while my daughters are still single. Taryn McKenna and Justin Callahan grew up as best friends who fell in love before they turned eighteen. Through a series of arguments that dealt with the differences in how each of them were raised, they soon parted ways. Now that Taryn has turned 30, she is wonders if all those secrets from her past will keep them apart when she learns that Justin has come home after serving in the Army. If she can only find a way to tell him the one thing she should have 12 years ago that may or may not have changed where they find themselves today. Jemma, Taryn's feisty grandmother is in the process of passing down a time honored tradition of hand sewing an Irish Chain quilt for Rachel, her niece since both girls have lost their mothers, Jemma is all they have left to ensure that the family tradition of handing down the quilt as a marriage gift continues on. She also knows how much Taryn has loved Justin and the circumstances that have kept them apart. In fact, she knows just how to make all the necessary arrangements to ensure they spend time together as Christmas nears and she has so much to do. I received Quilted by Christmas by Jodie Bailey compliments of Litfuse Publicity and Abingdon Press for my honest review. I did not receive any monetary compensation for a favorable review and the opinions expressed here are strictly my own. This is the story of redemption, forgiveness and second chances which I believe the author expressed beautifully in the characters of Taryn, Justin and Jemma. It outlines in a carefully constructed way the consequences of keeping some secrets that should never be kept. In the conclusion of the novel the author exemplifies the true meaning of unconditional love through Justin's actions towards not only Jemma but also in dealing with Taryn's secret. "It also exposes that love isn't something you earn. It's not something you have to be good enough for. Real love is freely given, not taken away because you don't do what someone else wants." (99). Such a perfect way to spend a cold crisp December evening, curled up by the fire and reading an exceptional romance such as this. A well deserved 5 out of 5 stars. There is a sneak peek of Swept Away by Laura V. Hilton and Cindy Loven and a Reader's Discussion Guide at the conclusion of this novel as well.
Jodie Bailey in her new book, “Quilted By Christmas” Book Twenty-Two in the Quilts of Love Series published by Abingdon Press brings us into the life of Taryn McKenna. From the back cover: Taryn is keeping a secret she never should have kept. Taryn McKenna believes she’s easy to forget. Abandoned by her parents and left behind when her high school sweetheart joined the army, she vows to never love again and throws herself into her love for the outdoors and the pursuit of a college degree-something no one else in her family has ever accomplished. Her goal, as a young teacher in the hills of North Carolina, is to leave a legacy in the lives of the middle-schoolers she teaches.When Taryn’s grandmother Jemma, the only other person who ever held her close, has a heart attack that reveals a fatal medical condition, Taryn is corralled into helping Grandma work on a final project-an Irish chain quilt that tells the story of her history and the love Jemma knows is out there for Taryn. As the pieces of the quilt come together, Taryn begins to see her value. Can she learn to believe that God will never leave her behind even though others have? Twelve years before Taryn and Justin had a great relationship but secrets broke them apart. Now Justin is back in town and Jemma, Taryn’s grandmother, knows exactly what to do to get them back together again. “Quilted By Christmas” is all about what happens when we are not open and honest with one another. They cause a great deal of pain and misunderstanding which, of course, gets in the way of the relationship. Ms. Bailey has given us a great deal of story that all works itself out over the creation of the Irish chain quilt. There are moments of great fun and moments of high emotion but through it all there is lots of love. This book will keep you thinking. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Crave a snowstorm? Want to imagine Christmas and the smell a fresh cut Frasier Fir in August? Pick up Jodie Bailey’s Quilted By Christmas novella! This novella is a page turner with a complex plot and deep characters as Taryn traverses a serious hospitalization for her beloved grandmother, Jemma, her only relative, and reconnects with her high school sweetheart, Justin. All three have long-kept secrets that, when revealed, change the course of their lives. Author Jodie Bailey evokes emotion from the reader with the depth of her characters and the realism of the setting. The genuine characters, light-hearted humor, and sweet Christmas setting make this a must-read!
I really enjoyed this story. The characters were entertaining. I had a grin on my face every time I imagined a big tough soldier with a neefle and thread in his hand.
I am so glad to have discovered the writing of Jodie Bailey because I loved everything about her newest book, Quilted by Christmas, and believe all who read it will be blessed. While I've enjoyed every book I've read in the Quilts of Love series, some stand out for various reasons, and Quilted by Christmas falls into that category for me. With its character-driven narrative, small-town setting, engaging characters, emotional romance and plot, this is a story that pulls at the heartstrings. Each book in this series stands alone, with the making of quilts with special meaning being the unifying theme. The quilt in this story is the Irish chain, a long-standing tradition in the McKenna family as mothers make hand-sewn quilts for their children when they marry. Quilted by Christmas opens as the small town of Hollings, nestled in a valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, is preparing for Christmas. I've spent many family vacations in these mountains and appreciated the sense of place that Jodie vividly conveyed. And there's a realness in the characters, flaws and all - or maybe because of their flaws. Hurt by her father's uncaring attitude while growing up and made to feel she didn't matter, the 18-year-old Taryn searched for something to fill that void and latched on to Justin, even to the point of trying to manipulate him out of neediness into staying in Hollings. In Marnie's words, "Justin was your addiction and you were always afraid he'd vanish." And the result was that she kept a secret that she shouldn't have, a secret that wasn't hers to keep. Now more than a decade later, Justin returns to Hollings in the opening pages and Taryn is faced with the guilt of a past that is no longer hidden. Jemma, Taryn's grandmother, is at the heart of this story and quickly captured my heart. Jemma is feisty, a force to be reckoned with, and she "could pretty much get anything she wanted with a well-pointed stare." And with her loving nature, a servant's heart, and a fierce protectiveness, she reminds me of my own grandmother. One of the story's themes is about doing the right thing, even when the reasons are wrong or misguided. Spiritual elements are strong and feel like a natural part of the characters' lives, such as Taryn's crisis of faith where she comes to understand the heart of a truly loving Father. I highly recommend Quilted by Christmas and hope many readers discover Jodie Bailey's stories. Jodie is a writer of quality and I would love to see more family relationship stories from her with the same Blue Ridge Mountain setting. Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Quilted by Christmas is such a great novella! While it was at times predictable, the story moved quickly enough for it not to matter too much. Bailey's characters are well developed and realistically flawed, and you'll find yourself rooting for them. The length of the story allows it to be read on a cozy afternoon or evening while listening to Bing Crosby or Harry Connick Jr. croon Christmas songs. Quilted by Christmas is highly recommended for fans of inspirational novels, contemporary romance, holiday novellas, and the Quilts of Love series. (I received a digital ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.)
You know it is hard to pick a favorite with these great QOL books. Everytime I read a new one I think this is my favorite. I enjoyed this story so much. It is the first book I have read from this author, and I hope it is not the last one. A great story that we could all relate to. The rejection Taryn had felt all her life was paltable and my heart broke for her every time she replayed scenes of her past during the story. I loved Jemma, she is a fireball and I thought it was a cute nickname for a grandmother. Over all this story was a great read and I highly recommend it as a wonderful holiday story. 4.5 stars from this reviewer.