The Trouble With Christmas by Debbie Mason
Resort developer Madison Lane is about to lose the one thing she loves most in the world – her job. Dubbed “The Grinch Who Killed Christmas,” Madison spoiled a deal that would turn quaint Christmas, Colorado, into a tourist’s winter wonderland. Now the citizens want her fired but the company gives her one last chance, sending Madison to the small town to restore the holiday cheer.
For Sheriff Gage McBride, no hotshot executive from New York City is going to destroy the dreams of the people he loves. But one look at this beautiful woman and it’s his heart that may be broken. In just a few days, Madison causes more trouble than he’s had to deal with all year. He can’t decide if she’s naughty or nice, but one thing is for certain- Christmas will never be the same again…
Praised as a “writer to watch” by RT Book Reviews, Debbie Mason also writes Scottish-set historical paranormals as Debbie Mazzuca. Her MacLeod series debuted in April 2010 and is said to “combine the passion of Hannah Howell’s Highand romances with the seductive fantasy of Karen Marie Moning’s bestsellers.”
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Madison gritted her teeth as the midmorning sun glared off the snow-covered mountains and the GPS cheerfully informed her she was going in the wrong direction. She wasn’t. The problem was the town of Christmas was off the grid. She’d been lucky to find a map that showed it actually existed. And Harrison had the nerve to insinuate her visitor projections were too low? Like hell they were; no one would be able to find the place.
As the number of protesters grew yesterday, she’d practically had to tackle Joe to stop him from picking up the phone and reopening negotiations. He’d only relented once Madison had offered, as a last-ditch resort, to go to Christmas and turn the public relations nightmare around. She hadn’t figured out exactly how to do that, but she would. Hartwell Enterprises’ survival depended on her.
Harrison had pulled out all the stops in his campaign to be sent in her place. He’d gone from charming to butt-kissing to whining in a New York minute. But three hours later, Joe had conceded that Madison was the best one to convey her findings to the people of Christmas. Of course, she was to do so in such a way that they would understand the decision was in everyone’s best interest.
Which meant she was supposed to charm and cajole the citizens of Christmas and kiss a baby or two—so not her strong suit. But she’d suck it up and get the job done. Otherwise, she might not have one.
She’d flown out on the red-eye, arriving early this morning at the Denver airport, wasting an hour trying to locate the car and driver Harrison offered to arrange for her. Only to find out it had never been ordered. She should’ve known better. Harrison was probably sitting in her office dreaming of her demise, which was highly likely given her limited driving experience and the hairpin curve she’d just rounded in the rented SUV.
The man in the car behind her blasted his horn as he sped by. If she wasn’t terrified of letting go of the wheel, she would’ve flipped him the bird. She needed something to calm her nerves. She slowed down to turn up the radio when “Independent Women” by Destiny’s Child came on.
Madison loved to sing, even though her friends encouraged her not to. No matter what they said, she didn’t believe she sounded that bad. Her confidence returned as she belted out the empowering lyrics. The town of Christmas wouldn’t know what hit them. She’d have them eating out of her hand in no time once she expounded on the evils of bringing corporate America to their sleepy little town.
She glanced at the clock on the dashboard. She’d been on the road for over three hours. According to the map, she should be approaching the turnoff to Christmas right about now. Perfect. There it was. If the meeting went as planned, she’d be back on the road by 2:00, which meant the most hair-raising part of her drive would still be in daylight.
Her breath caught as she made the turn. The town, nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains, looked like it belonged in a snow globe. Sunlight sparkled on snow-laden evergreens and danced off the pastel-painted wooden buildings in the distance. It was postcard perfect and exactly the ammunition Madison needed to convince the town that Hartwell Enterprises had done them a favor by backing out of the deal.
She’d focus on the town’s positive attributes and not the negatives that had made the case against them. Like this road, she thought, her good mood evaporating as her tires spun out beneath her. She slowed to a crawl, a white-knuckled grip on the wheel. Three-quarters of the way down the treacherous hill, as she was about to release the breath she’d been holding, a movement to her right caught her attention. A deer leaped from the woods, darting in front of her. She braked hard, the car fishtailing as she slid along the road. From behind a cluster of evergreens at the side of the road, a twelve-foot Santa holding a “Welcome to Christmas” sign seemingly sprang out in front of her like a giant jack-in-the-box.
Madison screamed. Her foot mistakenly jumped to the gas instead of the brake. She watched in slow-motion horror as the car kept moving and crashed into the sign. Santa loomed, teetered, then fell on the hood, his maniacal, smiling face leering at her through the cracked windshield.
Her last thought before the airbag slammed into her face was that she’d finally succeeded in killing Santa.
Twas the Night Before Mischief by Nina Rowan
When Penelope Darlington is persuaded to elope with a most unsuitable suitor, she wastes no time. With visions of passion and adventure dancing in her head, she steals away in the middle of the night, just before her father’s Christmas feast.
Fearing for his daughter’s reputation, Henry Darlington begs Darius Hall, the Earl of Rushton’s daring yet discreet son, to bring Penelope home. When Darius finally catches up to Penelope he is shocked. She’s not the silly little girl he expected, but a beautiful woman with a sharp mind and an allure that cannot be ignored.
Now forced to kidnap Penelope in order to bring her home, Darius and his new charge spend the next several days-and nights-in very close quarters. Penelope wanted passion and adventure, but she never could have imagined the pleasures Darius can provide . . .
Originally from California, Nina Rowan holds a PhD in Art History from McGill University, Montreal, with a specialization in 19th century French and Russian art. A librarian-at-heart, she also has an MA in Library and Information Sciences. Nina lives in Wisconsin with her atmospheric scientist husband and two children.
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“You’re standing beneath the mistletoe,” he said. Again, the remark simply emerged without prior formation. He was beginning to feel unbalanced by the strange effect this woman had on him.
“I beg your pardon?”
Darius pointed upward to where a sprig of ribbon-wrapped mistletoe dangled from the doorway just above Penelope’s head. She followed his line of sight, two spots of color appearing on her cheeks as her lips parted. He half expected her to step away from him, but instead—unless he was imagining it—she seemed to shift an infinitesimal degree closer. Warmth unfurled in his blood.
“One who stands beneath the mistletoe requires a kiss,” he continued, unable to follow the direction of his thoughts, which no longer seemed to be his own.
Neither did his body, which had surrendered to the wild beating of his heart and an odd shortness of breath. He wanted to unfasten his cravat and feel cool air against his skin because this proximity to Penelope was making him hot from the inside out, and nothing he told himself would quell the sensation.
He could not stop staring at her lips. They were pink and plump, with an indentation in the top lip. If he were to place his finger there, it would fit perfectly within that little notch. So too would the tip of his tongue.
Columna. Colures. Comata.
An inflammation of light and heat. He felt the explosion in his chest at the thought of settling his mouth against Penelope Darlington’s perfect lips, feeling her body pressed to his, sliding one hand to the back of her neck so he could angle her head and deepen the intensity of the kiss…
“I don’t believe in such fables, Mr. Hall.” Her clear voice sliced through his imaginings.
Darius didn’t have imaginings. At least, he hadn’t before now. Certainly not ones about kissing Penelope Darlington, her hands clutching his shoulders and her hips arching into his…
Darius drew in a hard breath and attempted to regain control of his unruly thoughts and even more uncontrollable body.
“You’d take the chance, then?” he asked.
“What chance?” she asked, resting one slender hand against the doorjamb as if for support. She still hadn’t moved away from him. Her cheeks were still flushed pink, and her scent filled his head.
“If a woman is denied a kiss while standing beneath the mistletoe, it is foretold that she will not marry the following year,” Darius said.
“Is that so?”
Penelope laughed that bell-laugh again, and for an instant Darius thought she had read his desires.
“Oh, Mr. Hall, I assure you,” she said, and then she took a step away from him. A cool breeze swept into the empty space where she had just been standing.
“I shall marry,” Penelope said. “Most certainly, I shall. And I need not even wait until next year.”
Darius frowned. His analytical brain fit the pieces of that puzzle together with ease. And he did not like the result one bit.
“I didn’t know you were planning a wedding, Miss Darlington.”
“You don’t know much about me at all, Mr. Hall.”
“I know you’ll not find any exhilaration with Simon Wilkie.”
Her eyes widened, and she took a startled step back. “W-what?”
“If that is what you still seek, he is not the one who will provide it.”
“What do you know of such things?” Penelope asked, her voice tightening. “In all those years you visited my father’s shop, I’d never known a more serious, practical person. Far more interested in gears, levers, and the workings of machines rather than…than…”
“Exhilaration?” Darius supplied.
The color darkened on her cheeks. “Rather than life, Mr. Hall.”
He stared at her. The obedient, dutiful Penelope Darlington was telling him he didn’t know how to properly live?
“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about,” he said.
“Of course you don’t because you’ve never felt it.” She extended a forefinger and poked him in the chest. “When I tried to explain it to you, you looked at me as if I’d gone mad. People like you know nothing about intangibles, all those things someone can feel inside and not have any idea what to do with. Things that have nothing to do with duty and practicality and everything to do with wanting to feel.”
“I know how to feel, Miss Darlington.” He moved closer to her, lowering his voice a notch. “I assure you.”
“You do not.” She lifted her chin, though a visible tremor went through her. “That day when I tried to tell you about being daring and bold, feeling joy and, yes, exhilaration, you started talking about the components of the atmosphere. I mean, really, of all the ridiculous things one could say to a girl who simply wanted a—”
All thought fled from Darius’s brain. He grasped the back of Penelope’s neck and lowered his head. Combustion.
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