JNThe #1 ew York Times–bestselling author kicks off a festive anthology featuring tales of mistletoe, merriment, and the melting of hearts.
“Christmas Passed” by Fern Michaels
Three years after her husband’s death, Brandy Heyers still finds that celebrating the holidays without him is anything but jolly. Then handsome widower Ryan Rogers shows her that moving on is possible, and her frozen heart begins to melt . . .
“A Glory Junction Christmas” by Stacy Finz
When Hannah Baldwin hears her ex is getting remarried, she’s ready to give up on Christmas, not to mention love. But the best gifts come in unexpected packages, and old friend Josh Garner is just the man to convince her that the coming New Year is going to be the happiest yet . . .
“Moonshine and Mistletoe” by Sarah Title
A holiday fling is all Emma Fallader expects when she meets gorgeous fiddler Abe Tate at her friend’s wedding—but after just days together, it isn’t all she wants. Can the spirit of the season work its special magic for two people separated by more than miles?
“An Apple Valley Christmas” by Shirlee McCoyNow that her beloved dad is gone, Emma Baily is facing the holidays alone—until her ex, Jack McAllister, shows up to help her close her father’s estate. After four years apart, only the magic of Christmas will show Emma that joy is a gift meant to be shared . . .
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About the Author
Stacy Finz is a New York Times bestselling author of contemporary romance. After more than twenty years covering notorious serial killers, naked-tractor-driving farmers, fanatical foodies, aging rock stars and weird Western towns as a newspaper reporter, she figured she finally had enough material to launch a career writing fiction. She lives in Northern California with her husband. Visit her website www.stacyfinz.com. And sign up for her newsletter to learn about upcoming releases and events at www.stacyfinz.com/newsletter/.
Sarah Title has worked as a barista, a secretary, a furniture painter, and once managed a team of giant walking beans. She currently leads a much more normal life as a mild-mannered(ish) librarian in North Carolina. She is the author of the Southern Comfort series, set in small-town Kentucky; Kentucky Home, her first novel, was published in 2013. She comments irregularly and insightfully on her blog, Title, Author, at www.sarahtitle.com, and if you like pictures of elderly poodles, follow her on Instagram (@titleauthor), Twitter (@titleauthor), and Facebook (facebook.com/sarahtitlebooks).
Shirlee McCoy spent her childhood making up stories and acting them out with her sister. It wasn’t long before she discovered Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, her mother’s gothic romances . . . and became an ardent fan of romantic suspense. She still enjoys losing herself in a good book. And she still loves making up stories. Shirlee and her husband live in Maryland and have five children. Readers can visit her website at www.shirleemccoy.com.
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
Read an Excerpt
The Most Wonderful Time
By FERN MICHAELS, Stacy Finz, SARAH TITLE, Shirlee McCoy
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Kensington Publishing Corporation
All rights reserved.
"We're not skipping Christmas again, Mom. If you want to, that's your choice, but Matthew and I want to celebrate Christmas. It's been almost three years," Keira said, putting extra emphasis on the last two words. "Dad would be so pissed!" she added before racing away.
Brandy took a deep breath and looked at the stack of boxes. Jeff would be pissed, but he wasn't here. He'd left her with this ... life, and she almost hated him for doing so. How could he? Hadn't he felt sick? Had he taken all the vitamins she so carefully measured out for him day after day? What did it matter now, she thought as she closed the door leading to the garage. He was gone. She wasn't. He had no life, and though she was here in the physical sense, she hadn't had much of a life since he'd died. Tears filled her eyes just thinking the words he died. Still, after all this time, she wasn't over the loss. She didn't want to be. In an odd way, her grief was comforting. Like a child with a pacifier. It was horrible when it's first taken away, but when they got used to another form of security, they forgot all about the pacifier. She was in limbo. She couldn't forget and didn't want to forget. Twenty of the best years of her life. It was wrong even to think about moving on. The kids were young. Their grief had diminished over time. That's what the grief counselor explained to her a few months after Jeff's death. The young were resilient. Their lives were focused on the here and now. Not the past. Their futures were ahead of them. They would grow old, and their father would be nothing more than a faded memory. The family she'd spent so much time caring for was gone, or at least the core no longer remained. Now they all simply existed, and Brandy knew this wasn't good. She had to do something, but Christmas?
She wasn't sure what to do.
She stepped inside the kitchen, where Keira was chatting on her cell phone with one of her friends. Matthew was in his bedroom, doing who knew what. Brooding, and most likely listening to rap music on his iPod. It was Saturday, and Brandy hated weekends. The atmosphere in the house was morose, miserable. She supposed she should ask the kids if they wanted to see a movie, then go out to dinner afterward, but again, that was lame. That's really all they ever did together as a family, and she could count the times they'd done this on only one hand. Jeff would be spinning in his grave. But he wasn't, and she was tired of worrying about the state of her life.
The house phone rang, and she took a deep breath. She still received sympathy calls after all this time. She hated them then, and even more now.
"Mom, are you going to answer that?" Keira asked in a smart-alecky tone.
"Yes," she said curtly, and picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Brandy, it's me," said Linda, her best friend since middle school. "Are you busy?"
That was the joke of the century!
"No, just moping around the house. What's up?" She knew she sounded about as enthused as dirty laundry, of which she had three giant heaps waiting in the laundry room.
"I just left the library. They're looking for someone to work part-time, three days a week. Knowing how much you love books, I thought of you."
She paused a few seconds before answering. "Is this your way of saying it's time to get off my rear end and look for a job?" She knew she needed to find something, but her heart just wasn't in it. However, her dwindling bank account told her it was time.
"You know me better than that. I just know how much you love books. I thought it would be perfect for you. If you're interested, I can put in a good word for you."
Linda's father-in-law was superintendent of the county libraries. If Linda put in a good word, she knew the job was hers.
"I don't know, Linda. The holidays are coming, I need to stay home with Matthew and Keira."
"Why? So the three of you can mope around the house together? You need to move on, Brandy. It's time. It's been almost three years. You're young, and you have the rest of your life ahead of you. Why don't you at least give it some thought? I'll tell George you're interested and to hold off hiring anyone."
Linda tried so hard, but she still had her husband, Dylan. Her nice little family, three girls and two dogs, plus one parakeet, which equaled the perfect family. She didn't have to go to sleep at night worrying about the future, at least her children's future. She really should look into this. "I'll do it," she said before she changed her mind.
"That's excellent! I'll call George, and tell him."
"You don't think I can get the job on my own merits?" Brandy asked. She hadn't worked in public since she was in her teens, and she would like to believe she was employable. She knew the library system front to back.
"Of course I do. A little help isn't going to hurt, Brandy. You need to take what's being offered." Linda's tone was serious.
"Okay, tell me what to do, and I'll do it." The kids needed her, and especially this time of year, as Jeff had passed away December twentieth. Holidays were tough, but Linda was right. It was time she started acting like a big girl.
"Fantastic! I'll call George as soon as I hang up. So, did you do it?" she asked.
Brandy knew what she referred to. She'd discussed this Christmas tree–decorating issue with her last week. Again. She said she wasn't ready, but the kids were past ready. Maybe it was time to at least think about pulling out a few decorations. She wasn't sure how far she could go with this whole Christmas thing, but she would try. And she knew this would make her children happy.
"I looked at the boxes stacked in the garage," she said.
"Brandy! You need to open them up and see what's inside. That's a start. And it would be even better if you took a few ornaments out, maybe let Matthew and Keira help."
"I know. Keira is ticked at me now. She told me she and Matthew were not going to skip Christmas this year, so I'm sure they'll be thrilled if I act like I'm excited about celebrating. That was always Jeff's thing. I'm just not sure if I can. I'm afraid of" — she stopped and took a deep breath — "the memories, and how much it's going to hurt."
"Are you still going to grief counseling?"
"No, I stopped that after the second appointment. I really didn't see any point in continuing though the kids went for a few months. I think it helped them to begin the healing process. They've got their whole lives ahead of them. It's hard for them to understand that I had spent the past twenty years of my life with their father, and I just can't wipe those memories out with a few grief-counseling sessions."
"Of course you can't, but Brandy, it's time. Jeff would want you to move on with your life. He would have, had it been the other way around."
True, she thought. Jeff liked being married, and he wouldn't have grieved this long. He would certainly have remarried by now. Maybe even had another child.
"I know, but it doesn't make it any easier. What am I supposed to do, Linda? Do I just wake up tomorrow and forget that I was married to Jeff for twenty years? Forget the three months of pure hell we, he went through? If you have a solution, or some ... magic words, please tell me. I really don't like feeling this way, and if I'm honest, I don't really like the person I've become. I'm so ... miserable, Linnie. I swear the kids hate me, and I don't blame them."
In a soothing tone, Linda said, "Calm down; don't be too hard on yourself. I haven't walked in your shoes, so who's to say how I would react? I just want you to be happy again."
Brandy raked a hand through her hair. It was so long, too long for a woman in her midforties. She'd neglected all personal grooming, other than the basic necessities, and had even been somewhat neglectful of those the past week. She hated December and all that it entailed. She wished she could hibernate and wake up after New Year's.
But she had to be a realist. Before she changed her mind, she said, "Can you call your hairdresser and make me an appointment? And as soon as possible."
"Sure, I can. I'll send her a text message now. Hang on a sec," Linda said. Brandy heard the lilt in her friend's voice. She smiled. Linda had been her best friend since eighth grade. They'd shared all the normal experiences two young girls could share. Grief, however, had never entered into any of their late-night phone calls. They'd both wanted to get married and have children and would spend hours discussing how they would live next door to each other, how they'd take turns babysitting so they could have date nights. And most of the things they talked about in those late-night conversations had come true. Except Jeff's death. They'd never gotten that far, and looking back, they were too young to even think about dying.
"Emily can see you in an hour," said Linda. "She had a cancellation. The girls are at soccer practice with Dylan. Pretty up, and I'll drive you. Maybe we can even go into one of those nail salons for a manicure and a pedicure. We haven't done this since ..." She paused. She didn't want to continue talking about Jeff. Brandy would never move on if she did, so instead she said, "Forever. My nails look horrid. So, are you game?"
If Brandy were going to apply for the job at the library, it only made sense that she "pretty up." However, she felt guilty treating herself to such silly things when Jeff couldn't. Plus, there was no one to appreciate her attempts at "prettying up."
"Brandy, yes or no?" Linda persisted.
"Give me twenty minutes. Just toot the horn when you get here. I'll run out, no need for you to get out of your car."
"This is a good sign. I'm proud of you. Now let me get off the phone. I'll see you soon."
In the early years, they had lived next door to each other, but Linda and Dylan had moved into a newer, fancier neighborhood when he made partner at the law firm where he worked. They'd both cried for days, but Brandy had insisted it was part of the lifestyle when one was married to an up-and-coming defense attorney. Though when she'd said this, Jeff was still alive. And she lived only a few minutes away from Linda. While their late-night ice-cream binges weren't as frequent, they'd still managed to sneak away from their families at least a couple times a month. Brandy couldn't remember the last time they'd done this.
She raced to her bedroom, the room she and Jeff had shared for so many years. She grabbed a pair of dirty jeans off the bed and a navy blouse she'd worn at least a half dozen times. Not only was she turning into a person she didn't like, she was turning into a total slob. That was one of the reasons she hadn't invited Linda to come inside; it was easier to run out the door and meet her in the drive. She'd never liked keeping a perfect house, but she'd never, ever been ashamed to invite her best friend inside. As soon as she changed, she ran a brush through her hair, then twisted it into a topknot, securing it with a claw clip.
"Keira, Matthew, I need you both in the living room. Pronto!" she shouted, and none too kindly.
Keira was still in the kitchen on the phone, and Matthew walked out of his room with earbuds crammed in his ears. He wore a pair of his father's boxers, his favorite pair, with the musical-note pattern. A silly Valentine's Day gift she'd given Jeff years ago.
Brandy's throat tightened, and she felt a flash of unfamiliar rage. "Take those off right this minute! How dare you take something that doesn't belong to you! You have no business being in my room!" She could feel her heart rate increase, a loud pounding in her ears. This wasn't good. Her and Jeff's bedroom remained unchanged since his death. She hadn't touched any of his personal items. His toothbrush was still in the holder next to hers.
Matthew yanked the earbuds out of his ears and threw them on the floor. "Here, take these. They belonged to Dad, too." With that, he turned around and went to his room, slamming the door behind him. Two minutes later, the boxers in question came flying out of his room, landing at the edge of the hall where she waited.
She reached for the boxers, clutching them to her chest. She felt violated in an odd way. Brandy always kept her bedroom door closed. She'd made it clear to both kids that this was her personal space and asked that they respect this. Apparently, Matthew had decided to take matters into his own hands and rummage through his father's chest of drawers. Gritting her teeth, she stomped down the hall to his room. She pounded on the door but didn't wait for him to invite her inside.
It had been awhile since she had been in his room and what she saw when she entered shocked her. Matthew had always been a very neat kid, almost to the point of obsessiveness. His bed was always made neatly, his clothes put away, books and DVDs had a place on the floor-to-ceiling shelf opposite his bed. Now, however, his bed appeared as though a tornado had swooped in and twisted the sheets and comforter into a tight knot. Clothes covered the floor. His once-cherished music books and his first-edition Harry Potter and Hunger Games novels were opened and tossed across the room as though he'd been using them for a Frisbee, or a boomerang. The odor of stale sweat permeated the darkened room. He sat in the swivel desk chair in front of the desk that she and Jeff purchased just a few months before his diagnosis. He now wore gray sweats, no shirt, and a scowl.
Brandy inhaled and slowly exhaled. She needed to calm down. The last thing she needed was to suffer a heart attack or stroke. Not wanting to sit on the filthy, unmade bed, she leaned against the door frame. "We need to talk." She cleared her throat. "No, I am going to talk and you are going to listen. You getting this?" she asked, raising her voice a few notches above normal. When she didn't get a response, she shouted, "Listen to me, dammit!"
That must've gotten his attention. Instead of staring down at the mess strung across the floor, he looked at her. His bright aqua eyes were shiny with unshed tears.
"When I told you my room was off-limits, I wasn't joking. That's my private space, and you can't just come and go as you please." She was shaking but didn't care. She needed this fifteen-year-old giant of a kid to understand the rules. And the main rule since their father died: Her room was her private space and off-limits. He looked past her, not daring to meet her gaze.
"Do you hear me?" she persisted when he failed to answer.
Before he had a chance to respond, Keira practically shoved her way inside the room. "Matthew, could you give us some privacy?"
He immediately stood, and, in three giant leaps, was out of the room.
"Sit down, Mom," Keira said in a tone that wasn't so much snotty as it was authoritative.
"Look, Linda is picking me up, I don't have time for your crap either, so make it fast." She wasn't going to give her eighteen-year-old daughter the satisfaction of sitting down. Besides, there wasn't a clean place to sit even if she wanted to.
Keira took Matthew's vacated seat. "You really don't have a clue, do you? You're so full of yourself and your grief, that you've forgotten how to be a mom! I can't wait until school starts so I can get out of this diseased house."
Here we go again, Brandy thought.
"Me either!" she yelled back in her best Mom-is-ticked voice. "I am sick of you and your brother. Me, me, me, that's all I hear from the two of you! What more do you want from me? I cook your meals, I see to it that you have a roof over your head. I even bought you a car, which I couldn't really afford! Tell me, Keira, what's wrong with that? Would you rather I not? If so, have at it. It's about time you and your brother learned how to cook your own meals and do your own laundry. I'm rather sick of this" — she made air quotes with her index fingers — "'diseased' place myself. Now, if you have something important, tell me now. I'm getting my hair done in thirty minutes. Linda will be here any second."
Keira just stared at her and shook her head. "No, Mom, you're right. Just forget whatever I said."
A horn tooted in the driveway. Brandy hurried from the room and grabbed her purse, leaving the two selfish little brats to themselves for a while. She really did need a break.CHAPTER 2
Grateful for the unexpected escape, Brandy sank into the luxury car's plush leather seats.
As always, Linda looked like a fashion model. Her shoulder-length chestnut hair was styled in the latest bob, her makeup was perfect. She wore Seven jeans and a bright yellow silk blouse. If she weren't her best friend, Brandy would be jealous. However, Linda was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside, and Brandy loved this about her the most.
"If you don't mind my saying, you look like poo warmed over." Brandy smiled. "And you don't smell so swift either," she added, but her tone was anything but playful.
"I know. I meant to take a shower last night, or the night before, but I was busy. Sorry to stink up your fancy car." This hurt her feelings a little, but Linda was right. She did smell a bit ripe, and her clothes were dirty.
Excerpted from The Most Wonderful Time by FERN MICHAELS, Stacy Finz, SARAH TITLE, Shirlee McCoy. Copyright © 2016 Kensington Publishing Corporation. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsBooks by Fern Michaels,
A Glory Junction Christmas,
Moonshine and Mistletoe,
An Apple Valley Christmas,
Crash and Burn Teaser,