From Melissa Hill, the internationally-bestselling author of A Gift from Tiffany’s comes another New York Christmas love story make you fall in love all over again.
"Readers will get in the holiday spirit as Hill’s sentimental story brings them to various New York landmarks and beloved scenes from famous movies. A big twist near the end will come as a major surprise, deepening the tale’s poignancy." Booklist
Hollywood movies are Beth’s passion. She hopes her life will always be filled with classic movie moments, where magical things happen every day. Her boyfriend Danny has always been the embodiment of her perfect Hollywood herothough after seven years together the initial silver-screen romance has settled into something more predictable.
Then one morning at work just before Christmas, Beth receives an anonymous gift of a take-out coffee cup with a cryptic message. From there, she is given a series of other gifts and riddles directing her to some of NYC’s most popular landmarksa treasure trail using unique rom-com-related prompts perfect for a movie-lover like Beth to decipher.
And she is forced to wonder: has Danny realized their relationship needs a boostor could it be that charming new work colleague Ryan with his intense gaze, flirtatious smile, and almost encyclopedic movie knowledge, wants to sweep her off her feet? How would she feel about taking a chance on a leading man who seems determined to give her the Christmas gift of a lifetime...
"A sweet, romantic tale...readers won’t want to put it down." Romance Reviews Today
About the Author
Melissa Hill is the international #1 bestselling author of more than ten novels, including A Gift from Tiffany's, and her books have been translated into twenty-five languages. She lives with her husband Kevin, daughter Carrie, and dog Homer in South Dublin.
Read an Excerpt
The Gift of a Lifetime
By Melissa Hill
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Melissa Hill
All rights reserved.
It was an idea that never failed to entrance Beth Harper, the notion that a simple object – well, two actually – could be so utterly transformative. Just ask Dorothy Gale.
Positioning a pair of sequined red heels onto the black-and-white-striped-clad 'legs' she'd fashioned from a couple of cardboard tubes, Beth stood back and evaluated her work.
The famed ruby-red slippers were of course unmistakable, but perhaps the polystyrene farmhouse looked a little off? No, Beth figured most shoppers would get the theme. The Yellow Brick Road (hand-painted at home in her apartment the night before) was a giveaway.
Anyway, it wasn't as though she could call on Hollywood resources for her displays – nope, all Beth had at her disposal were basic craft supplies, her own imagination and, of course, some of the world's most beautiful shoes.
Thankfully she also had her boss's blessing, especially when the management of Carlisle's – the popular Lexington Avenue department store in which she worked – realised that Beth's movie-themed shoe displays not only delighted shoppers, but attracted tourists to the shoe room in droves, during the holidays especially. Her in-store displays weren't quite as popular a tourist attraction as Saks' Christmas windows, but they were getting there.
For Beth, the opportunity to utilise her greatest passion – the movies – in her day-to-day work was a dream come true, and she loved delighting Carlisle's customers and staff all year long by using beautiful shoes to help recreate some of Hollywood's greatest movie moments.
Satisfied that her latest masterpiece was complete, she made a final check that everything was in place in the shoe department, before the store opened its doors to the public that morning. December was a time when people from all over flocked to the city for Christmas shopping, Broadway shows, outdoor ice-skating and the many other festive activities that made New York great.
Irish by birth, Beth had lived in Manhattan for the better part of ten years, and over that time had learned to appreciate the ramped-up energy of the city during the busy holiday season. Even though the accompanying chill wind played havoc with her hair ... That thought made Beth double-check that her medium-length blond ponytail was still in one piece after all her creative endeavours. It wouldn't do for her own appearance to let her down when the whole shop was decked in finery.
Christmas cheer exploded throughout Carlisle's, almost as though Santa's elves had come to do the décor. Delicate tree branches dusted with snow lined the ceiling, and fairy-lit pine cone garlands danced around the beams. Elegantly decorated fir trees twinkled on every floor, and beneath them were selections of the best Christmas fare the world's most famous luxury brands had to offer. The holiday merchandising team had even hung random bunches of mistletoe in different spots around the store, encouraging customers to join in the fun.
But while she loved this time of year in the city, just then Beth couldn't help but think about warmer climes. She and Danny, her boyfriend of seven years, had planned to leave for a long weekend with friends in South Florida today, but due to a pressing work issue on his part, they'd had to make a last-minute cancellation. Which was why Beth found herself on the sales floor in the first week of December, busying herself with a festive Wizard of Oz theme, and covering a shift for one of the part-timers in the department.
The distraction of setting up the new display was working wonders in helping keep her spirits up, but deep down she was a little disappointed. She had really been looking forward to a relaxing break away before the Christmas retail rush kicked off in earnest, but more importantly, she'd wanted some time alone with Danny. They lived together – had done so for the past five years – but there was something extra romantic about a break away with the one you loved, far from humdrum day-to-day habits and responsibilities.
Still, she thought, straightening a crystal and satin Kate Spade pump (which worked brilliantly as one of Glinda's Silver Shoes) on the central display, it was no great hardship to be here surrounded by such prettiness.
While her love affair with the movies had been inspired by her grandmother Bridie – who had introduced Beth to all the Hollywood classics at a young age – she guessed her appreciation of shoes had also begun with the first glimpse of her grandmother's vintage Mary Janes when she was a child.
She and her mother had found the wedding shoes amongst Nana's things after she died, and 12-year-old Beth, who had never known Bridie to wear anything other than comfortable lace-up brogues, had been entranced by this completely unexpected glimpse into her grandmother's past.
White satin, adorned with white fluffy ostrich feathers and tiny jewelled roses on the vamp, and in the low-heeled Mary Jane style that was the fashion of the time, they were impossibly glamorous and Beth had fallen in love almost immediately. And she listened captivated as her mother told her what little she knew about her own parents' wedding day, other than that Bridie and James had married just before the Second World War, and James had died in battle a year later while Bridie was pregnant with Beth's mother.
There were no photographs of the event, so no clue as to what her grandmother's wedding dress had been like. Beth's mum recalled Bridie talking about having to pawn her wedding ring to keep them afloat after James died, leaving the shoes as the only memento of that special day.
From there on in Beth had spent countless hours trying to imagine the wedding and how her grandmother had managed to hold on to those shoes when other, more valuable possessions had been lost. They must have been particularly precious to Bridie.
She realised then that her grandmother's great passion for 1920s Hollywood glamour wasn't just restricted to the silver screen, and that the romantic classics so beloved by her – and readily shared with Beth – had been an escape of sorts, a vicarious glimpse into the kind of romantic life Bridie had imagined for herself before her marriage was so cruelly cut short.
Beth remembered wonderful nights at home in Galway at her grandmother's house, tucked up under a blanket on the sofa in the darkness, she and Bridie watching rapt while Humphrey Bogart proclaimed his love for Lauren Bacall, and swooning as Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn played out their great passion onscreen.
Her grandmother had been a huge influence on Beth, but had died when she was twelve, and she guessed evoking the movies was her way of holding on to those memories of her beloved nana so many years on, and especially now when she was so far away from home.
Thankfully, Beth's mum had let her hold on to Bridie's shoes, and to this day they remained in her New York wardrobe; in the original worn box, wrapped in the old delicate tissue paper. They were about her size, and Beth promised herself that as a tribute to Bridie, when (or if) she ever walked down the aisle to marry the love of her life, she would be wearing her grandmother's beloved Mary Janes.
Now, standing in front of the display shelves, she gently ran her fingers along the various shoe designs, caressing the soft silky material. As was her habit, she tried to imagine where each pair would end up, the kind of women that would wear them and the adventures they might have.
The sparkling silver and gold sandals were easy to place: these were ideally suited to glamorous, sophisticated events, a night at the opera or a gala ball at the Met. While the easily identifiable red-soled slingbacks were sexy and fun, perfect for a cocktail party or a girls' night out, the glorious satin crystal-encrusted creations were so exquisite that they were surely destined for a romantic encounter worthy of one of Bridie's beloved silver-screen classics.
Beth looked at her own feet and smiled as she imagined herself as a movie heroine wearing the shoes; her blond curls pulled up in a sophisticated chignon à la Grace Kelly, her petite figure dressed in a gorgeous flowing gown (Oscar de la Renta, maybe?) and in Danny's arms, dancing to Sinatra in some beautifully picturesque location ... under the Eiffel Tower or at the base of the Spanish Steps in Rome, beneath a sky awash with stars.
Her face broke into a grin as she allowed her imagination free rein, and heard the accompanying film soundtrack swell in a spectacular crescendo in her mind as she pictured Danny wearing a tux, his dark hair slicked back Clark Gable-style, and his aquamarine eyes shining as he leaned forward and softly placed his lips on hers ...
Her idyllic Hollywood daydream was interrupted when a couple meandered into the department.
Ah – her first customers of the day.
Glancing around, the woman immediately made a beeline for Beth's Wizard of Oz display and, stopping in front of it, she smiled and gleefully clapped her hands. The man pulled her close and planted a kiss on her cheek.
Buoyed by this obvious show of appreciation, Beth smiled and, smoothing down her red knee-length woollen dress, moved to greet the couple. 'Hello there – is there anything I can help you with?' she asked cheerfully, her green eyes sparkling with warmth.
The young woman turned her attention to Beth and beamed. 'I just love the holiday displays in here – this one is so wonderful, and Oz is one of my favourite movies!'
'Thank you. I love that movie too.'
The customer reached out and picked up one of the silver heels. 'But much as I love them, I don't think sparkling ruby slippers will quite work for what I need,' she giggled. Her face flushed happily, and she looked ready to burst with excitement.
Beth recognised that look. 'Ah, so you're planning a wedding then?' she ventured coyly, before the younger woman could say anything more.
She burst out laughing, and glanced at her companion. 'Well, yes, I suppose I am – we are. Though I didn't realise it until a couple of hours ago ... we've just got engaged!' She offered her left hand, which, sure enough, was home to a gorgeous princess-cut diamond.
'How wonderful. Congratulations.' Beth looked back and forth between them. 'Nice job on the ring,' she added, offering the guy a wink. 'It's beautiful.'
He ran a hand through his dark hair and a blush crept up his neck, finding a home on his cheeks. 'Thanks.'
His fiancée grinned. 'I still can't believe it! We just arrived in the city yesterday for some holiday shopping. We were taking a stroll in Central Park this morning, and when we reached the Bow Bridge, it started to snow, and then out of the blue, Josh ...' she giggled, indicating her companion, 'got down on one knee, and it was like ... time just froze. It was surreal. I mean, we have been together for ages now – three whole years – and of course we've talked about it ... but I mean, wow. So unexpected. And right there, with the snow falling all around us, it was so romantic it almost felt like something out of a —'
'Movie,' she and Beth finished in unison and they both laughed. The bride-to-be (clearly a kindred spirit) who introduced herself as Katie, was overjoyed and Beth was only too happy to be taken up in the excitement. She came across many would-be brides in this line of work, and she loved meeting couples at this newly engaged point, when everything was still fresh and romantic, before all the wedding preparations became overwhelming.
She also knew that such a time was strictly for browsing, with a heavy dose of wish-fulfilment thrown in.
Well, she could understand that.
'I'm so happy for you both. What a lovely time to get engaged. Have you set a date?'
'We're thinking this time next year. A Christmas wedding maybe?'
'Perfect. Well once you start planning, and find your dress, I'd be delighted to help you with shoes and accessories, if you want. I see you like those Kate Spades.'
'They're so beautiful. And thank you; that would be great. I know it's too early to be looking now. It's strange, though, because as soon as he asked me, I could almost envision the whole day in my head ... what Josh would look like as I walked down the aisle ... and I have this vision of me too, of what I will look like on the day, the dress I'll wear, and the shoes on my feet. Especially the shoes. Is that weird?' She glanced from her fiancé back to Beth.
Beth threw a quick look of reassurance to the guy, who had a perplexed look on his face. Understandable; everyone knew men didn't share the shoe – or indeed the 'Big Day' – gene.
'Oh, I'd say that's pretty normal,' she said. 'I think most women, myself included, have a pretty good idea of what they want their day to be like.'
Katie was shaking her head sagely. 'Exactly. And did yours turn out the way you envisioned it? Your wedding day, I mean,' she added when Beth looked blank.
'Oh ...' She opened and closed her mouth in quick succession, understanding at once that her words had been taken out of context. 'Well, I'm not married, actually,' she mumbled pleasantly.
Katie looked uncomfortable. 'I'm sorry, it just sounded like you knew so much about what I was talking about ... I was sure you'd gone through it too.'
Beth shrugged, keeping a smile on her face. This wasn't the first time she had gone down the 'gosh, you're not married?' route. At thirty-four years old and possibly a good ten years on the girl in front of her, she guessed she should have expected it. 'No, I'm not married. I mean, not yet, and I'm not sure if we ever will,' she added, laughing a little. 'My boyfriend and I have been together seven years and —'
'Seven years and no ring?' Katie gasped, cutting her off. Then spotting Beth's reaction, she immediately began to backpedal. 'I mean, sorry. It's not like ... it's just ... I thought three was long to wait ...' She trailed off and shook her head. 'But of course, every couple is different, right? Some people have things figured out, without all that stuff. It sounds like you do, anyway. I mean, some people never get married at all.'
At this point the guy nudged her, as if trying to signal to his beloved to take her foot out of her mouth. Beth remained calm and unaffected. After all, Katie wasn't insinuating anything; she just had a different perspective. Anyway, Beth was sort of used to it. This wasn't the first time someone had reacted with surprise when they realised just how long Beth and Danny had been together, yet seemed to have no intention of tying the knot.
'Anyway, I'm sorry. I'm blabbering now,' Katie blushed.
'It's no problem. Like you say, everyone's different. My boyfriend and I always joke that if we got married, all the romance in our relationship would just wither and die,' Beth chuckled, trying to keep the mood light, before backtracking herself when she spotted the expression on her audience's faces. 'I mean, not that the romance is going to be dead for you two when you get married.' She gulped. 'It's just a silly in-joke of ours. In any case, best of luck to you both and congratulations again. I'm Beth and here's my card. Feel free to give me a call when you're back in town and ready to choose your wedding shoes.' She extracted a card from her pocket and handed it to the girl. 'And Merry Christmas.'
'Thanks, and same to you ...' The young couple hurriedly took their leave, the bride-to-be regaining her sunny disposition, and her fiancé looking mildly relieved.
Beth smiled after them as they walked away and put the conversation out of her mind. It made no sense to think too deeply about it. That sort of exchange had happened before, and just like she did at other times when faced with the question of why exactly she and Danny weren't married, she decided to sidestep the issue in favour of cheerier thoughts.
'Let me guess, yet another bride-to-be salivating over the satin Manolos?' Beth jumped in surprise as Jodi Cartwright, her longtime co-worker in the shoe rooms, sidled up to her.
Beth laughed. 'The Kate Spades, actually. They just got engaged. Down on one knee on the Bow Bridge in the snow. The park is such a perfect backdrop for a marriage proposal at this time of year, isn't it? So romantic.'
Excerpted from The Gift of a Lifetime by Melissa Hill. Copyright © 2016 Melissa Hill. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's 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
Beth has always loved movies; especially movies set in New York. She believes she has found her perfect leading man in Danny and has spent seven years with him but wonders why the spark has gone out of their relationship recently. Working in the shoe section of a department store allows her to decorate using her love of movies but also introduces her to Ryan – a man who shows interest in her and makes her question her relationship with Danny. Suddenly a scavenger hunt with clues based on her favorite movies starts and it leads her to some interesting places in New York. Her desire is to find out who and what she will find once she solves all the clues. I have to say this is a heartwarming story that would make a wonderful Hallmark movie even though I was a bit skeptical at the beginning thinking that Beth was a fool for investing seven years in a dead end relationship. The ending was a surprise and one that I applaud the author for because I am not often surprised. Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the ARC of this novel in exchange for my honest review.