Chapter One Excerpt – 2016 Love, Christmas Collection – White Christmas by Rebecca York

Nothing is more fun than writing a holiday story, and here’s the first chapter of White Christmas, the Christmas novella I’m contributing to the Love, Christmas boxed set.

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Craft shop owner, Amelia Parsons, is too upset to be paying attention to her surroundings.  When she’s hit by a car, she wakes up far from home.  Here’s the first chapter of the story.

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CHAPTER ONE

Amelia Parsons was too upset to see the car speeding toward her through the swirling snow.  One moment she was crossing the ice-rutted street in St. Stephens, Maryland, and worrying about a call from the police—plus a missing shipment of Christmas ornaments for the hospital tree.  In the next she was flying into the air.  She heard someone scream.  Maybe it was her.  Then she sank into thick blackness that lasted for minutes—or maybe it was years.

When her eyes blinked open, she was standing in the cold again, wavering on unsteady legs as big flakes came down around her like she was the star attraction in a giant snow globe.

Main Street was gone.  Instead, in her blurry vision, she saw pine trees, their branches weighted down with a layer of ice.

Her head hurt and her mind felt muzzy.  She thought she heard holiday music drifting toward her on the wind—White Christmas, she thought.  Or was it only ringing in her ears?  And were the warm lights in the distance real?   Through the falling snow and the trees, she could just make them out.

She’d been downtown, half a block from The Wild Side, her arts and crafts shop, which sold the work of local artisans as well as native crafts from around the world.  Now somehow she was out in the woods, but the lights must mean she wasn’t far from civilization.

The snow on the ground was almost to the top of her boots.  As she struggled toward the vague outline of several oversized Swiss chalets, she tripped against a root, going down on her hands and knees.

For a few moments, she fought a pitched battle to keep from blacking out again. When her vision cleared, she pushed herself up and had to grab the trunk of a tree for support.

“Get it together, Amelia,” she muttered as she started struggling toward the lights again.

Before she had gotten more than a few yards, she heard an ominous rumbling that seemed to be coming from high up and to her left.  It thundered closer, and the image of an avalanche hurtling down the side of a mountain leaped into her fogged mind.

All she could do was scramble for safety, floundering through the drifts like a seal out of water, trying to reach the building ahead.  A torrent of white enveloped her, and she knew she wasn’t going to make it. Just before she went under, a running figure grabbed her, swooping her up in strong arms.

She had a quick impression of dark hair under a fur trimmed hood, fierce eyes, and a clenched jaw as he ran with her, lumps of ice pelting down on both of them. He must have zoomed out of the main mass of the avalanche because she sensed it rumbling behind them as he kept going, heading for the closest building.

When he crossed the threshold and carried her inside, she realized they were in a barn where animals were making snorting and chattering sounds.  But when she peered into a couple of stalls, there were no cows or horses.  Instead she saw beige- and brown-colored beasts with antlers.  They looked like some kind of deer?  But who kept deer in a stable?

Strange as it seemed, she would have sworn they were talking excitedly to each other, or was that just the ringing in her ears?  At any rate, she couldn’t understand what they were saying.  And before she could figure it out, her rescuer took her to an unused stall and set her down while he threw back his hood and brushed snow off his shoulders.

Unsteady on her feet, she backed up and landed in a large pile of hay.

Now that they were out of danger, she could get a better look at the guy towering over her.  He was a hunk wearing jeans, a dark coat and heavy gloves.  Under other circumstances, she might have tried to get friendly, but his icy eyes stopped her.

“Thank you for saving me,” she tried as a kind of, um, icebreaker.  When he didn’t reply she kept talking.  “I mean, I know I put you in jeopardy.  I’m sorry.”

His answer wasn’t what she’d expected. “What are you doing here?”

Her fogged brain struggled to process the question. “I don’t know.  I mean I don’t even know where I am.”

He glared down at her.  “I think you know all right. Who sent you?”

“Nobody.”

As she spoke, she heard footsteps in the corridor between the stalls.  A short man dressed in jeans and a red coat over a red flannel shirt stepped into the stall.  His thick white hair was mussed, and his bushy white beard hid the bottom half of his face.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“I found her out in the snow.  I think she’s a spy.”

Amelia stared at him in disbelief.  “A spy?  I don’t even know where I am,” she repeated what she’d said earlier, then added, “My name is Amelia Parsons.  I own a craft shop in St. Stephens, Maryland.  I was minding my own business when . . .” She stopped and pressed her fingers to her mouth.  “Oh Lord, I think I was hit by a car.  I was so upset about that call from the police—plus the Santa’s Workshop shipping delay.”

They both stared at her.  “What do you know about the problems at Santa’s Workshop?” the hunk demanded.

Again she struggled for coherent thoughts. “Nothing.  I was supposed to get a discount order of ornaments, for the hospital tree, but the distributor can’t get anything from them.”

The men exchanged glances.

When the older one started to speak, the younger guy shook his head.  “Need to know basis.”

Amelia blinked.  “Huh?”

The bearded man turned back to Amelia. “We’ve had some problems lately.  I guess I should be more cautious, but it’s hard not to expect the best from people.”

“Would you mind telling me your names?” she asked, her gaze swinging from one of them to the other and back again.

The hunk opened his mouth, then closed it again.

The older man supplied, “He’s Daniel.”

“Okay,” the hunk agreed.

Was she still too out of it to hear that right?

“You just gave him a name?” Amelia asked.

The older man flushed.  “Well, a code name, you know.”

“Why?”

Daniel jumped back into the conversation. “We’ve had sabotage here lately.  And an innocent looking woman like you could be a decoy, sent to make us let down our guard.”

END OF EXCERPT

The title of each story in the collection is a holiday song.  And our readers selected the songs.  I’m so excited that Sharon L. Gage gave me my title. Thanks so much Sharon.

Here’s a link to the Love, Christmas Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/tenbrides/?fref=ts

Dividends of Guilty Pleasures

I think of my writing career like the Kenny Rogers lyric, “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.”

Of course, you have to kind of twist the poker analogy for the metaphor to work. In this case, it means knowing when to sit there and work and when to go out and play.

I know I have the discipline to plant myself in front of a computer, putting words on the screen. But I also know it’s important to get up and recharge my batteries.

You might call some of my guilty pleasures unusual. I put bowls of cat food on my front porch and sneak peeks at stray cats who come to have a meal. And when it gets dark, it’s even more fun to watch baby raccoons sidle up to the porch to enjoy the free lunch. (Look for some raccoon cameos in my next Decorah werewolf novel, Hunting Moon.)

Continuing the nature theme, I enjoy spying on an eagles’ nest in Decorah, Iowa, that is under video surveillance 24/7 and broadcasts on Ustream. Currently Mom and Dad Decorah are adding sticks and corn husks to their new home in preparation for egg laying season. (This is their third nest. They abandoned the first. The second blew down when the tree split in a bad storm, and human volunteers started a replacement one for them in a nearby tree. All of us ‘eagleholics’ were relieved when Mom and Dad accepted this new nest because that’s where the cameras are planted.) I could spend hours watching the site, and in fact, that’s where I got the name for my Decorah Security romantic suspense series. I also featured the eagles in a Harlequin Intrigue, Carrie’s Protector.

As we get into Christmas season, I start taking time to create tree ornaments out of cast-off cardboard (like from tissue boxes) and inexpensive glitter such as decorative pipe cleaners and sequins.

But even when I’m gluing sparky stuff to cardboard, story ideas churn in the back of my mind, and bits and pieces of my fun activities end up in my novels.

Cover-200wLike the Christmas decorations in my latest Off-World novella, Firelight Confession, out this week. It’s one of my stories about the planet Palomar, settled by men and their sons after a plague wiped out all the women on their home planet. The boys are grown up now and waiting for bride ships, but none of them has any experience with women, which gives me lots of opportunities to explore how macho virgin guys handle the brave new world of sex and intimacy.

In Firelight Confession, Carin Tully almost derails her marriage to Gabe Cooper in the first months they are together. Gabe’s so angry when he learns the secret Carin has kept from him that he picks up the Christmas tree they’ve put up and throws it across the room—shattering the antique ornaments hanging on the branches.

I’d make him some replacements, but he’s not in the mood for my help. What he needs is a heart-to-heart with Carin.

What are your favorite activities that you consider guilty pleasures? How do you weave them into the rest of your life—or into your writing? Or do you just enjoy them on their own?