Posts tagged with: Christmas

Happy Boxing Day 2016!

Well, it’s official.  The calendar has turned to a new page, and Christmas 2016 is over.  I feel as though I hardly had time to anticipate it before it was here, and now it’s gone.

Some of you celebrate the holiday, and some of you don’t.  If you do, I hope yours was merry, and if you don’t, I hope you had a relaxing day. I hope those of you who celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa are having a happy one.

img_3655Our tree is a Fraser fir, with the same ornaments we use every year.  It looks much like very other tree I’ve posted a picture of on the blog, so I decided instead to post a photo of a favorite ornament, the little house depicted at left.  The dh and I got this in a Christmas shop on our honeymoon.

After the Great Water Disaster and subsequent floor refinishing, the living room floor is nice and smooth and shiny. The guys took extra care not to scratch it when they put the tree up.  I hope they’ll be as successful when they take it down.

We have our holiday meal on Christmas Eve, so we did that this year, too.  Yesterday morning, we got up and had coffee and explored what Santa had brought.  I got DVDs of Captain America: Civil War and Season 1 of Poldark, along with a couple of research books I’d needed, so that was all great.

Then the dh made Swedish pancakes, per his mom’s recipe, for brunch, and we opened presents.  Because we’re in no rush to open gifts, that took a while, though it went faster than in the days when everything periodically stopped while the boy played with whatever new toy he’d just opened.

img_3635Pictured at right is our candle tower.  We’ve used it for years, but this year, the dh couldn’t get candles for it.  The one place that always had them informed him they had none, that they’d stopped carrying “stick candles” because they were a fire hazard.  And tea lights just won’t cut it.

Luckily, he had enough spares from previous years to make the tower work.  We’re not sure what we’ll do next year, though the boy is confident that the proper candles can be obtained online.

And yes, those are books in the dining room. *sigh* They sort of spilled out of the main book places and had to go somewhere.

During lulls in the day, I thought about what my imaginary friends, better known as my characters, would be doing.  Griff and Val, I figured, would spend the day with his family in Macon.  After years of being without them, he wouldn’t want to miss a holiday, and Val has become part of that circle.  She has no family of her own, and those who’ve read Renegade know what happened to her guardian. Of course Griff’s sister and brother-in-law, Caroline and Rick Moore, would be with them.

Warrior_FINAL_3I have a deleted scene from Warrior I’d hoped to have up on my website but didn’t get to.  It’s a snippet from Griff and Val’s first Christmas together, his first in six years with his family.  If I can get it posted this week, I’ll update this post to include the link.

Edie and Josh are outdoorsy people, so they went to Colorado to see her family and go skiing for part of the holiday.  The rest, they’ll spend in California at his aunt’s house, with his sisters and his dad.

Stefan and Mel decided to alternate years spending Thanksgiving with her family and Christmas with his.  Right now, she’s still living in Atlanta and he’s still based in Brunswick, though that could change soon. He drove to Atlanta for the holiday, and her family came down from North Carolina to join them.

Will and Audra had a quiet holiday at the home of her mentor in Atlanta.  Tomorrow, they’re flying out to join Will’s parents in Paris.  Audra’s very excited because she has never been there.  If she knew Will was scheming to get her to the Alps and teach her to ski, she’d be a little nervous, too!

Roland met Peri’s family at Thanksgiving, and she’s meeting his this Christmas.  He knows they’ll adore her, but Peri’s anxious to make a good impression.

Kelsey Mitchell and Greg Reed aren’t together this holiday season. Work has taken a toll on their budding relationship, but I have plans for them in 2017.

the-magic-christmas-guy-finalAnd of course, Jenny Bridges and Mike McLean are currently seeing where the attraction between them can go in “The Magic Christmas Guy.”

So that was my Christmas day.  How did you spend yours?

Just to satisfy my curiosity, do you like to read deleted scene snippets?  Are you disappointed if they’re just snippets instead of a story with a beginning, middle, and end? Does your opinion depend on whether you’ve already read the book?

Do you watch Poldark? Have you read the books (I haven’t)?

Finally, do you have books in a place where most people wouldn’t expect to find them?

The Magic Christmas Guy

This was a fun story to write.  I’m a sucker for holiday decorations, and I enjoyed creating a situation where the decorations played a central role.

There used to be a young man in our neighborhood who decorated his small house and yard to the max every Christmas.  He had “Merry Christmas” spelled out in lights on his fence, outlined his entire house (including the windows) in lights, and had inflatables in his yard and on his roof.  We loved his Christmas kitsch so much that we drove by several times each year to admire it. Never having met him, we didn’t know his name. We just referred to him as Christmas Guy.

barcelonadecorations1I don’t have any photos of Christmas Guy’s magnificent efforts, but I like this photo of a hotel in Barcelona, Spain, when the city was decorated for Christmas. The red lights at left, about halfway up, are made of light strings in loops, several of them hanging together.  Apparently Antoni Gaudi, the famous architect, used a similar device to create in inverted arches.

Like I said, I’m a sucker for decorations.  Unfortunately, lights don’t always photograph clearly on my little camera.

Anyway, getting back to the story…

Because I so enjoy decorations, I knew I want them to play a big part in “The Magic Christmas Guy,” and the title obviously had to have Christmas Guy in it.  And I wanted to use the town of Wayfarer from my Light Mage Wars series because small towns make a bigger thing of their Christmas celebrations than big cities.

christmastree1The small town near my high school had a Christmas parade every year, and our band marched in it.  My hometown had a big pine tree on Main Street that was decorated with lights every year–until Hurricane Hugo took it out.

So this was going to be a story set in Wayfarer, and the perfect foil for Christmas Guy was a woman who didn’t celebrate the holidays.  She’s not a grinch, but her family suffered a holiday tragedy that led them to avoid all things Christmas-related as much as possible.

Here’s the description:

A Heart Scarred by Loss

Who knew that the small town of Wayfarer, Georgia, was freaking Christmas Central?  Accountant Jenny Bridges, haunted by the Christmas Eve death of her twin sister, plans to ignore the twinkling lights and festivities and focus on her new job, which she desperately needs. Her boss, however, insists that Jenny help her hunky neighbor across the street—who just happens to be a mage like she is—with the town’s annual holiday carnival.

A Magic Man

Deputy Mike McLean loves Christmas. Every wreath, every colored bulb, every ho, ho, ho. Each December for decades, his family has hosted the town’s annual charity carnival at their old Victorian home, and this year his pretty new neighbor adds extra zing. Lo and behold, she’s a mage, too, but as the attraction between them sparkles like the lights on the holiday trees, Jenny sees it, and him, as a betrayal of her sister’s memory.

A Season for Miracles

What Jenny doesn’t know is that along with holiday spirit and magical gifts, Mike has patience in spades. Can the hope of the season heal her wounded soul, and make the kind of magic that lasts forever?

And here’s a look at Mike and Jenny’s first meeting:

Chapter 1

the-magic-christmas-guy-finalMaybe moving here was a mistake.

As the grocery checkout line moved forward, Jenny Bridges steeled herself for the conversation at the register. How could anyone guess that Wayfarer, Georgia, a town famed for its love of New Age woo-woo, would also be totally gaga for the holiday that had scarred her soul?

Anyway, it wasn’t as though she’d had a lot of choices about where to start over. She’d been tarnished by association after her unexpectedly scuzzbucket ex embezzled from a client of the Atlanta accounting firm where they both worked. On top of that, he’d billed hours he hadn’t worked. Jenny’s own records had been scrutinized like a new microbe in a plague zone. They were clean, of course, because she was honest. That had saved her from being fired, but the taint persisted.

Even worse, word had gotten around in the professional community, as word always did, and Jenny had become about as desirable an employee as a mangy dog. If her uncle hadn’t approached an old friend who ran a firm here in Wayfarer, Jenny would’ve been caught in the limbo of a disgraced employee with no chance for advancement and no alternate prospects.

“Merry Christmas, Lissa,” the cashier said to the thin, graying woman picking up her bag. “Happy Solstice, too. Y’all havin’ a party?”

“Not this year. We’re goin’ to my sister’s. Merry Christmas to you, too, Estelle, and Happy Kwanzaa.”

Lissa Whoever moved on, and the lanky guy behind her with the gold wire-rimmed glasses and unruly mop of brown hair stepped up. His easy smile lit his lean, solemn face and made him downright handsome. “Y’all getting ready for Christmas, Estelle?”

“Working on it, Reverend. How’re things at the shelter? You gonna have a full house for the holidays?”

“I hope not. People are happier when they’re settled somewhere.”

He must be the director of the community shelter. Jenny’d heard good things about it in the six weeks she’d lived here. She tuned out the conversation. Two more people ahead of her.

Two more holiday conversations, and then she was up.

But her family’s loss wasn’t these well-intentioned, friendly people’s problem. So she would do what she always did during the Christmas season, suck it up and deal. She would smile and say something neutral and hide the grief that had never gone away.

And she was definitely buying her groceries in big loads until the holiday was over. If she hadn’t forgotten it was her turn to bring the office coffee, she wouldn’t be here this morning.

At last, Jenny reached the register. She set the coffee on the cashier’s stand and braced herself.

“Well, hey, Jenny. That’ll be thirteen ninety-three, please. You all set for Christmas?”

“More or less.” Relaxed, easy tone, smile in place. All good. Jenny passed over the money. “My parents are coming, but we don’t really celebrate the holidays, so there isn’t much to do.”

Estelle didn’t need to know that the Christmas Eve death of Jenny’s twin sister twelve years ago, when they were fifteen, had pretty much demolished the holiday at the Bridges house. Nor could she know that Josie’s death had been caused by the dark magic users known as ghouls. No Mundane, or normal person, could know that. Or that ghouls kidnapped mages and Mundanes as breeders or snacks or just to torment for the hell of it.

Whatever the ghouls had intended for Josie, at least she’d escaped that.

Smiling, Estelle bagged the coffee and handed it over. “Well, there’s a lot to be said for a quiet day or two. You have a good one.”

Jenny thanked her. Hurrying toward the market’s glass front, she let out a relieved breath. That wasn’t so bad.

People did mean well, and the difficult part of the year lasted about a month. If everyone else was as laid back as Estelle, Jenny could deal. She’d come to like this pretty, friendly, somewhat eccentric town.

People were so informal here. The cashier at her grocery store in Atlanta had never learned her name. But cashiers there tended to come and go. Jenny’d heard that Estelle had run the register at Wayfarer Market for more than twenty years.

A man in the khaki shirt, green trousers, brown ball cap, and leather jacket of the Wayfarer County Sheriff’s Department was on his way in. He stepped back, holding the front door for Jenny. Before she could thank him, a faint magical vibe brushed her skin as it resonated with her own power.

He was a fellow mage. What were the odds that she would meet another mage in this town?

When she looked up in surprise, he said, “Hey, neighbor.”

His familiar face stopped her in her tracks, and her heart did a pit-a-pat. “You live across the street from me.”

“Sure do.” He let the door swing shut and extended his hand. “Mike McLean. I’ve been meaning to come say hello, but I’ve been on the night shift. Makes for a weird schedule.”

“I bet.” She shook the offered hand, and the contact generated a little buzz of excitement that had nothing to do with both of them being mageborn.

“I’m Jenny Bridges,” she added, recovering. She tugged at her hand, and he released it. His warm smile, though, said he’d been reluctant to let go and didn’t care that she knew it. He was confident.

And way too attractive. Glimpsing him from across the street, she’d found the view very appealing. Up close, he was seriously hot.

She continued, “The few times I’ve seen you, I’ve been running late, so I didn’t introduce myself.”

“We’ve fixed that now.” He grinned, and Jenny naturally grinned back. He was one of those people whose mood was infectious. His open, friendly smile was such a contrast with her sleazoid ex, Grant’s, calculation.

Mike also had sheer, male presence to back up his broad-shouldered, muscular build and rugged features. The short, brown hair and brown eyes didn’t hurt either. The intense interest in those eyes made Jenny’s heart flutter.

Scrambling for something intelligent to say, she came up with, “Your house is so gorgeous. Victorian, right?” Set on a huge lot, it was a warm shade of slate blue, with white gingerbread trim along the eaves.

“That’s right, and thanks. I grew up there.”

“I imagine you’ll be glad when all the work on it’s finished.”

“Work?” He looked baffled.

She raised her eyebrows. “You know, the electricians and bucket trucks and carpenters and even landscapers in your driveway?”

“Oh, them.” He smiled, and his eyes held a glint of humor. “You hadn’t heard that I host the Wayfarer Christmas Carnival?”

Christmas. Oh, no. Jenny forced a smile. “No wonder things have been so busy over there. I’ve heard enough to know the carnival is a big event for the town.” It was an annual fundraiser for the town’s library and community shelter, but she hadn’t paid much attention. “I’m surprised no one at work mentioned that it was across from my house.”

“Maybe they figured you knew.” He shrugged. “It’ll all be done this afternoon, though. I’ll have the lights on at seven. Swing by, and you’ll see it all.”

“I’m sure it’s beautiful, but I don’t really celebrate Christmas. Thanks, though.”

His smile faded a bit. “Sure. If you change your mind, you’re always welcome.”

“Thanks.” The disappointment in his face was subtle and definite. And flattering. Her own regret was sharper than she’d expected. But no way was she immersing herself in something that celebrated all she’d lost with Josie’s death.

An elderly couple who looked past retirement age started out of the market. Mike grabbed the door for them. They exchanged greetings, and he introduced Jenny. The couple, Bert and Sally Dickson, moved on with a “See you tonight, Mike.”

Mike turned back to Jenny. “You on your way to work?”

“Yeah. I imagine you have, er, perps to catch or something.”

“Not many perps in Wayfarer.” He grinned again, making her pulse, unfortunately, skip. “We mostly get neighborly disputes, the occasional kid shoplifting to see if it feels cool, and some out-of-towners speeding. But I should get back to it. Good to meet you at last.”

“You, too.”

Opening the door again, he doffed the ball cap and jammed it into his back pocket.

Jenny hurried back to her car. He was friendly and hot and a mage, but hosting the carnival meant he was also, unfortunately, a serious Christmas Guy. Just what she didn’t need. He was the first attractive guy she’d met since dumping Grant, and he was all wrong for her. Absolutely.

Too bad.

#

So that’s a brief look at “The Magic Christmas Guy.”  In the real world, we got our Christmas tree today, though we won’t decorate it until the weekend.  That’s when we’ll also pull out the boxes of decorations accumulated over the years and dig out the wrapping paper and really dive into the holiday.

img_1707One of the decorations I always make sure actually goes on the tree is pictured at left, a plastic reindeer I saved when my parents downsized.  I think he used to have eight companions, but he was the last one left.  I saved him because he’s a piece of Christmases past, a tangible reminder of holidays long gone by.  My parents probably got him at a dime store (what we had before big boxes like Target), but he has lasted a long time.

I’ll be back the day after Christmas, aka Boxing Day, hanging out and chatting with whoever drops by.  I hope you’ll be able to pop in. Today, though, let’s talk decorating.  What’s your favorite holiday decoration, either at Christmas or for another season or you celebrate?

Snippets from Christmas Day at the Ferrell’s

Amid the chaos that happens in a house with five kids under the age of seven, twin babies and a puppy just over a year old on Christmas Day, I found time to enjoy and observe the family (sometimes known as the thundering horde that invades my peaceful domain–said with great love and affection). So I thought I’d share some of that evening with you.

The meal was lovely and we noted more eating was taking place at the adult table and lots of giggling was happening over at the kids’ table. This could be that the kids were having more fun or perhaps the adults were realizing this is the “Only happens on Christmas” meal and were devouring it with great intent? (Menu: Grilled flank steak, grilled Atlantic Salmon, Shrimp cocktail platter–made by me and not prefrozen, Augratin potatoes, crab stuffed mushrooms and bacon and broccoli salad.)

Then we dug into the Christmas stockings.

all-natural-beef-shank-bone-for-dogs-1Oh, wait. FIRST we neutralized the investigative nose of one very curious and energetic boxer/redhealer mix puppy. Yes, Rusty Puppy got a BIG beef ribeye bone to keep him out of the chaos. Of course that didn’t stop him from lying right in the middle of the family room while he gnawed happily on his gift!

Tradition continued. So, stockings…Lots of candy, do-dads, guitar/bass/mandolin strings (we have three guitarists in the family), ornaments, and toys for the kiddos. But the biggest hit, heard said by at least four adults, “We got toothbrushes. Yea! Mom forgot those last year.” Seriously people, traditions are strong with this bunch. Forget the toothbrushes once and you hear about it for years!

Almost all the presents were given out and opened, when the Jazzman got one from me to him and all the grandkids. It’s a book titled, The Book Without Any Pictures. They all gathered round and he read it to them, complete with crazy expressions and funny voices. It was a hit. Lots of giggling going on. (I couldn’t video tape it as I had my hands full of one baby and a bottle, but here is a Youtube of a teacher reading it so you can imagine the story at our house! http://youtu.be/0JXc2K0sVE8)Whole Foods Bag

Funniest thing. At one point I notice my oldest grandson walking around with a paperbag, with handles, carrying everything he got inside. No matter where he went in the house, that bag went with him. 🙂 Cracked me up, but I had to know why? His answer: Because Grandma Suzie, when I was at Nanny’s house (his other grandmother) I forgot a present and it made me cry. I don’t want to forget anything this time.” I’m still laughing over it!

Odd moment. I was listening to my oldest granddaughter read to me from her new read alone books, when I noticed the grownup kids in a circle on the far side of the room. Focusing my attention a moment, I realized they were discussing the flaws in the newest Superman movie to the actual comic story. Uhm, who knows the cannons of comic books so well that they can have a heated discussion on the merits of the new movie vs the actual original story? My kids/in-laws!

51SG6-Q8c4L._SY300_Quiet moment. My second grandson, who sort of does his own thing, brought me his new Planes book and asked me to read it to him. He crawled up beside me with a sugar cookie in his hand. He told me the name of each plane as we went and listened to the story of Dusty Crophopper. When I finished, he said, “I’ll be right back.” He returned with another cookie, cuddled up close and said, “Read it again, Grandma.” Which, of course, I did.

Peaceful scene. My son’s girlfriend got the girls big poster size coloring pages from the Frozen movie. Well, the crayons in the stockings were all spanking new, so the youngest granddaughter and the girlfriend’s little boy hunkered down in a spot and colored quietly and with great purpose.

Finally, the Jazzman was starting to doze off and the last family was packing up to leave. As soon as they went out the door…silence. No seriously, the entire house seemed to settle down into peace, quiet and ready for a long nap.

What your favorite moment from your holiday celebration? Any traditions started? Any you forgot and will now here about for an entire year?

Christmas Book Exchange, Plus Contest News

Merry Christmas from the Banditas

Thank you so much for joining our informal little holiday fete. We offered to give the cabana boys the day off, but the sweet lads couldn’t think of anywhere else they’d rather be. They’ve brought several large, cushy sectionals into the Lair, their glistening muscles softly lit by the twinkling lights on our beautiful tree.

Her Christmas Earl: A Regency NovellaThere’s a variety of finger foods over by the fireplace. It’s a potluck, so I hope you brought a dish to share.

It’s a very low-key sort of festive, the perfect setting for our virtual Christmas Book Exchange. It’s sort of like Secret Santa, Bandita style. What book did you bring, and what do you love about it? (No fair bringing a book that you wrote!)

My contribution is HER CHRISTMAS EARL by our very own Anna Campbell! Not only is this the perfect treat for keeping that Christmas feeling going just a little while longer, but the red on the cover matches our holiday décor.

The party is very come-and-go today. We’re all spending the day with our families, and popping in as we have time to visit with our wonderful friends here.

Speaking of which… you should pop over to the Secret Room at KateCarlisle.com to enter the Paperback-a-Day Bookapalooza. Which is just what it sounds like… during the month of December, I’m giving away a book every single day.

Kate Carlisle Contest

Again, wishing you the very happiest of holidays! May your day be filled with love.

What finger food did you bring to the party? And more importantly, what book did you bring to the book exchange?

Festive Fun – English Style – Quick Five!

IMG_1839Yes, it’s ‘the most wonderful time of the year’! Only two more sleeps! (Assuming you can sleep on Christmas Eve!)

I know it’s fashionable to be all ‘bah humbug’ about Christmas (or Hannukah/Festivus/Kwanzaa etc), but I really do love this holiday season. From the twinkling lights, the decorated tree and house, the festive food, the cheesy, schmaltzy films to the presents, celebrations and traditions. Speaking of traditions, I thought it would be fun to share with you some our English Christmas traditions.

Because we don’t have Thanksgiving over here in England, the period between Christmas and New Year is extra-special for us. It’s a time when most people try to have a few days off, so they can do the rounds of the family and also chill out!

Also related to not having Thanksgiving, we don’t decorate until the 1st of December at the earliest. And we’re very strict about decorations having to be down by midnight on twelfth night (Jan 5th) – it’s believed to be unlucky. Unfortunately, as we’re away at a new year wedding, we’ll have to take them down on the 6th this year. Hopefully, if it’s still the 5th somewhere in the world, we’ll be okay!

DSC_2272We’re very traditional about our food too. Yes, some people do actually make a point of having goose or try to be different with turducken or beef, but most of us stick with turkey. It’s always served with sage and onion stuffing, bread sauce, brussel sprouts, roasted parsnips and roasted potatoes. Often, there will be added accompaniments like pigs in blankets (little sausages wrapped in bacon) or a chestnut dish and even Yorkshire Pudding. In recent years cranberry sauce has made an appearance on many tables. Most families also have their own traditional extra dish. In our family, it’s cream cheese stuffed mushrooms.

Another one of our traditions is Christmas crackers. We all pull crackers, wear the silly paper hats, share the terrible little jokes  and laugh at the usually useless prize inside. (That’s me pulling a cracker with Doc Cambridge’s dad!)

DSC_0077 - CopyAfter lunch, or as dessert if you have room, there is the flaming Christmas pudding (often with a sixpence or silver treat inside – the person who finds it is very lucky!), Christmas cake and/or mince pies with brandy butter or cream. I’m not one for Christmas pudding, but I love Christmas cake and mince pies. My favourite dessrt, though, is trifle!

In the past, everyone listened to or watched the annual Queen’s Speech. Even those Brits around the world and people in Commonwealth countries would tune in to the BBC World Service, to hear what she had to say. These days, with social media, the internet and everyone needing to have a scoop, the text is available in advance. Also in the past, because we had very few channels, and no videos or DVDs, there would be a battle between the two major stations (BBC and ITV) for the big Christmas blockbuster movie premiere – which was usually at least a year old! These days, everything gets to TV so quickly and there are so many other options available, that the Christmas line-up, while still featuring a movie premier, concentrates more on Christmas specials of favourite shows like Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey, and the evening soaps.

A Perfect CatchMany families also avoid the TV and play board or card games! I find it’s the perfect time to sit down and read a book, uninterrupted except for someone handing you a mince pie or a drink!

And then there is Boxing Day – but those of you who have been with us in the Lair, know all about that! One of my old Boxing Day posts – which includes my famous Boxing Day Soup is here.

So, without further ado, it’s time for you to share your holiday traditions in the special festive edition of Quick Five! As part of the annual 12 Bandita Days of Christmas, not one, but two lucky commenters will win a signed copy of A Perfect Catch – and receive it before it’s released on Feb 1! If you’ve also signed up for my newsletter, you can receive a bonus exclusive Anna Sugden keyring (let me know in your comment).

1. Let’s talk lights – coloured or white, twinkling or static, just on the tree or elsewhere too?

2. Christmas lunch – what do you have and what’s your family’s traditional extra?

3. Christmas dessert or sweet treats – what’s your favourite?

4. Traditional Christmas activity – watch TV, play games or something else?

5. Do you open presents on Christmas Eve, in the morning or in the afternoon? Are you a rip into them all at once, or savour each one carefully? Does everyone open all at once or do you take turns?

Close To Christmas Weddings

Wh2c32c4b2bf91d7a296545f98fd37ee1aen I was a teenager, my older cousin Cindy got married.

It was in Ohio.

In December.

In the cold and snow.

I was all of 13, but fit in well with two of her sisters who were a year older and younger than me, so I was quickly enlisted in the bridesmaid corp. It was my first winter wedding. It was my first wedding as part of the wedding party.

We wore burgundy velvet, floor length gowns. Our hair pieces were head bands with silk poinsettias glued to them and instead of bouquets of flowers, we carried white furry muffs with another poinsettia pinned to the front of them. It was an afternoon wedding, but the grey winter sky that threatened more snow made it feel like late evening, almost dusk.

I remember little about the ceremony itself. My cousin married the man who is still her husband nearly 40 years later. My cousins and I had fun getting ready, doing our hair, walking down the aisle and partying with everyone later.

That was a much different wedding than the other important December wedding in my life, the one that took place between my mother and father.

They decided to get married 3 days before Christmas. They had very little money, so they just went to the Justice of the Peace in their little hometown to elope. No months of pre-wedding planning. No bridesmaids, no bestmen/ushers, no flowers, no cake. Just two people deciding they wanted to spend their lives together.

And they did.

For the next 61 and 1/2 years they stayed together. Through thin times (and there were many of those in the beginning) and through thick. Through rich and poor. Through sickness and health. Through three kids, three in-laws, eight grandchildren, and a bunch of great-grandkids. Through ups and downs. They stuck it out. Close to Christmas final

The last fall I was home before my daddy passed away, I noticed something. They touched each other often. Daddy would walk by Mom as she sat at the table talking to me. He’d just pat her shoulder and she’d reach up and pat his hand. Then he’d head to the family room. This happened several times a day. It seemed the older they got, the more the need to touch each other became. When I asked Mom about it, she said, “We just like to remind each other we’re glad we’re here.”

When I moved away from home many, many years ago, I decided it would be fun to send my parents a flower arrangement for their anniversary. It was usually a centerpiece of holly and evergreen and red candles for their dining room table or poinsettias for their fireplace. Sending it on the twenty-second let me surprise them on their anniversary and know they could enjoy them through the holiday season.

The last two years, since Daddy died, I’ve made sure there were red roses in the arrangement. See, he grew roses, Mom’s favorite flower, and every day during rose season, (May-Sept in Ohio), he’d cut fresh roses for her vases in the kitchen and family rooms.

So, when I decided to write a Christmas novella for the Westen series, I naturally titled it CLOSE TO CHRISTMAS. And when I think of the phrase close to Christmas, it reminds me of my parents anniversary which was always…close to Christmas. 🙂 And winter weddings can be such fun.

Here’s the blurb for the novella:

It’s been a long dangerous year for the town folks of Westen. A celebration is just what they need. It’s four days before Christmas and the town is not only decked out in their holiday best, but looking forward to the wedding of Sheriff Gage Justice and his love, Deputy Bobby Roberts.

First Bobby’s lawyer sister, Chloe comes to town looking over her shoulder, which has the quiet deputy, Wes Strong wondering what has her running scared. Then problems start to happen with the wedding plans.

Has Chloe brought trouble to Westen?

Or does someone in town want to ruin the wedding this close to Christmas?

And I even borrowed my parents wedding anniversary for the date Gage and Bobby are getting married. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

So, do you know anyone who was married close to Christmas? Have you ever been in a winter wedding? Do you think they’re romantic? Have you been a bridesmaid? How many times? (I was 6 and a matron of honor once.) 

Since this is a little launch party and I’m celbrating my parents anniversary in two days, how about I give out 2 print copies for CLOSE TO CHRISTMAS as part of the Bandita 12 Days of Christmas?

 

Holiday Twists

I love the holidays and am a big fan of traditions.  But sometimes, twists are even better.  I have been laughing so hard at the various videos and memes out this season that either twist, tweak or simply torture those traditions.  They are so fun, and better, funny!  I think thats one of my favorite joys of the holiday season–the laughter and lighthearted fun.

Here are a few of my favorites.

 I adore all things Star Trek:TGN and giggled my way through watching this (four or five times), then had an almost uncontrollable urge to start watching the entire 7 seasons.  But we’re in holiday movie mode right now, so I decided to hold off on my Picard love until the new year.  Although I am watching the Patrick Stewart version of A Christmas Carol tomorrow.   evil elf

I shared this meme with my sister-in-law with instructions to hide it from my niece, who loves the Elf on a Shelf tradition.  I’m having more fun watching the mocking of the Elf on a Shelf than having anything else.  whore in a drawerAnd then there’s the alternate to Elf on a Shelf (sorry, I know it’s totally inappropriate but I laugh like crazy whenever I see it) Whore in a Drawer.

There are a lot of holiday light memes floating around. The palm tree one makes me snicker every time I see it but I figured I was pushing the bounds of politeness posting Whore in a Drawer so I figured I wouldn’t post that one (you can google it though *g*). xmas lights So here’s a fun light meme that I’d love to do some year!

xmas cat And then there are those holiday truisms, like cats and trees are a combination for a funny mess.

And, okay, this is from last year apparently but I just saw it this week so I had to share.  Vrai Anna, this ones for you!!!

Are there any twists on tradition videos or memes that you’ve enjoyed this season?

And since I’m heading into the cave until the end of the month, I’m sending you all Holiday Hugs and Happy Wishes!! I hope your season is filled with joy, laughter and fun.  

It’s A Wonderful Life

Just like George Bailey, I thought we’d take a trip back to Christmas’ past in the Bandit time machine. Come closer….gaze with me into the crystal ball. See what we were up to in 2008:popcorn

We’ve been very busy here in The Lair getting ready for the holidays. Demetrius cut down the Christmas tree with his gladius and Lucien has been stringing popcorn which has taken longer than we anticipated as he eats two bowls of the stuff for every  one that makes it on the string! The GR was in charge of ornaments, flapping up to the boughs to place each ornament just so….which also took extra long as he kept getting distracted by all the shiny balls. The hockey hunks solved that by replacinbroken ones with pucks!

Marcus keeps shaking the packages while Sven insists that today is NOT the first day of Bandit Christmas but Lucia day….a tradition from his home country where it is believed man and beast require extra nourishment……..Stop! Boys! Stay away from the cookies!!!cookies

Sigh.
Yes, we are steeped in tradition, steeped in good will, steeped in eggnogg…..Oh, wait! That’s just Anna C.  and AC  (squints at shoes sticking out from beneath the table) maybe….Suz???

xmas tree

Tawny, Jo stop standing under the mistletoe winking at the glads….no…no. ack! Jeanne! Stop shaking the packages! No, there is not C4 in the green one…no! Really! Don’t. Shake. It.

Oh, wonderful. Anna S. just breezed in from England with a huge bowl of wassel….like we NEED more alcohol…and now she’s taking down the mistletoe and chasing the hockey guys around!
What? Yes, yes Donna that corset is very pretty in green and red. Oh, my…it lights up…and in the most interesting places. Look, Susan and Kate have just arrived from the cave…..nice Elf hats girls. Do ya’ll hear that? What is that carol Nancy, Caren and Christie are singing? “Deck the Halls with SuperHero Figures”…no, I think the words are…
Stop! Stop! Kirsten, honey really I don’t think doughnuts will hold up as a wreath..the glaze don’t you know. Ah, Christine…just in time….I need help with….what have you got on your head? A candle wreath? You say you’re name is Lucia??? Sven! Sven…come back here and finish the wreath! Beth, Trish….step away from the long, weapon like package KJ just put under the tree…um, don’t put it close to that green package!
Now, excuse me….Cassondra is putting TRUCK NUTS in the stockings!!!!
This party is getting out of control and we haven’t even served the cake…er, pie…er, cake.
(Collapses against reindeer) Never mind. Let’s get on with the Christmas trivia.
**Wow, that was so much fun! Remembering those early days in The Lair. Fond memories of our Bandits who are trailing other paths. Memories of fun with the young cock….er…GOLDEN Rooster! Yeah, that’s the ticket. He’s kind of creaky in the wishbone nowadays. A lot of wonderful BB’s and more characters than you can shake a cock..er, a chicken, er a magical shillelagh at. I’ll need all of you to get us through the day. I’ll be at work and will only be able to pop in now and again. So once you answer these Christmas trivia questions, post one of your own. Grab some eggnog and let’s do it!

"Naughty, naughty, ooo...nice..."

“Naughty, naughty, ooo…nice…”

 

1. What do the carolers in the song “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” insist they be given?

2. Who wins the decorating contest in “A Charlie Brown Christmas?”
3. Where did the Grinch steal Christmas?
4. When a Ukrainian finds a spider web in their Christmas tree, what does it signify?
5. Who was the first ghost to appear to Ebenezzer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol?”
6. What Christmas song was introduced in the movie “Holiday Inn”?
7. What non-traditonal Christmas movie sports the character Oogie Boogie?
8. What actor won an Academy award playing Santa Clause?
9. What branch of the American military is associated with Toys for Tots?
10. What did Carol Brady lose that jeopardized the Brady’s Christmas celebration?

Party Hearty!

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Hi Everyone!

Have you heard about our Facebook Holiday Extravaganza  tomorrow? (That’s the 12th of December. The details of the event are here. Make sure you join us throughout the day as we celebrate the holiday season and give away lots of prizes!

The best thing about virtual parties is you can have anything you want–neither expense nor reality is a consideration. Hire a tropical island and some cabana boys, get Paolo and Sven (not to mention Sven’s taciturn brother, Lars) making cocktails, giving massages, the hockey hunks and Romans mingling with the croU135P200T1D353428F8DT20101224023730wd and… Wait, that sounds very familiar…

Our lair parties are the stuff of legend, but how about something a leetle more sophisticated? A marquee on the lawn with an oyster bar and Champagne? Or how about the great old Aussie barbie, with lashings of seafood and ice cold beer? A Spanish theme with paella and sangria?

Then there are the costume parties, which can be a lot of fun. These seem to be getting fewer and farther between for me these days but there’s nothing better to break the ice than checking out how ridiculous everyone looks.

Of course, if you’re in the northern hemisphere right now you’re probably thinking about mulled wine, roasting chestnuts and eggnog, but above all, you’re thinking about having your Christmas party somewhere warm.

Party_and_event_planning_disco_resizeMeanwhile, we in Australia are trying to beat the heat. For those of us who insist on doing the traditional things, Christmas fare can be a bit of a mixed blessing! The difference in season doesn’t stop us singing all the old traditional carols like “Let it Snow” and “Jingle Bells”, though. Our children grow up a tad confused about the whole Christmas thing.

What’s your favourite sort of party? What’s the last costume party you went to and what did you go as? Are you going to join us for Christmas frivolity tomorrow?

This is my last blog for the year, so I want to thank you all for the wonderful times we’ve had in 2014 and with you happy holidays and a fabulous New Year!

Exclusive Excerpt from Her Christmas Earl

Earl low resHartley Manor, Wiltshire, Christmas Eve, 1823

HER HEART RACING, Philippa Sanders inched the massive oak door into the bedroom open. She prayed that nobody emerged into the lamplit corridor and caught her in a place where no lady of good reputation should be. Especially near midnight.

Quick and silent as a cat, she slipped into the shadowy room and carefully closed the door after her. In the stillness, the latch’s snick resounded like a gunshot. Her breath jammed in her throat, and she stood still and trembling, waiting for someone to investigate the noise. But the rambling old house remained quiet. She sucked in some desperately needed air and berated herself for being a jumpy widgeon.

The room, as she’d known it would be, was empty. Before coming here, she’d checked that Lord Erskine remained downstairs, carousing with his drunken cronies. If the last three nights were any indication, his flirtation with the brandy bottle would continue into the early hours. That left Philippa plenty of time to search his belongings undisturbed.

The thought did little to calm her nerves. Should anyone catch her alone in a gentleman’s bedchamber, worse, such a notorious gentleman, there would be the devil to pay.

If only the stakes weren’t so high. If only her sister Amelia wasn’t such a ninnyhammer. If only Erskine wasn’t a man who turned even sensible women silly.

Philippa sighed and straightened away from the door. “If only” wouldn’t help. It was imperative that she found and destroyed the compromising letter her henwitted sister had sent Erskine before her engagement to Mr. Gerald Fox had been announced last night.

Then Philippa would take to her heels and never think about the rakish Lord Erskine again.

By the light of the fire blazing in the hearth, she surveyed her surroundings with a jaundiced air. The chamber was large and luxurious. Her aunt must be trying to turn Lord Erskine up sweet, in the hope that he’d offer for her horse-faced daughter Caroline. Given the trouble his libertine lordship had caused, Philippa almost wished her vile cousin on him. Over the last few days, she’d observed him closely. She couldn’t approve of the cynical light in his eyes and the way he arrogantly assumed that any chit in his vicinity must swoon at his merest word.

However Philippa wouldn’t be female without admitting that he was a spectacular specimen of masculinity.

She’d worried that it might take too long to locate the letter, or that he might carry it as a trophy, but her gaze immediately fell on a beautiful mahogany writing slope left open on the window seat. She could hardly believe her luck. Pulses kicking with relief, she rushed toward the window.

Then stopped on a horrified gasp when she heard the doorknob squeak as it turned.

Lord save her…

Frantically she dived across the few feet of floor to the dressing room. She had time to notice dark coats hanging from rows of pegs and shelves neatly stacked with clothing. Hands shaking, she tugged the door closed until she cowered in thick darkness. Thick darkness redolent with leather and soap and sandalwood—and something undefined that teased her senses.

Dizzy with fear and that unfamiliar but pleasant scent, she silently prayed that whoever had come in would finish what they were doing and go. Much as she strained, she couldn’t hear a thing, even with her ear pressed to the door. The thick wood blocked all sound, just as it blocked all light.

The dressing room door jerked open, unbalancing her. She only just saved herself from tumbling to the floor in an undignified heap. As she stared up at the looming figure above her, panic hammered through her, turned her blood to ice.

“What have we here?” The Scottish burr in the deep drawl brushed across her nerves like sandpaper.

Sick with dread, Philippa lurched away, crowding against the coats lined against the back wall. This was beyond awful. What must he think? What might he do?

Lord Erskine’s chest was bare and a white shirt dangled from one elegant hand. The wall lamp near the doorway spilled gold over a terrifying expanse of gleaming skin. His lordship’s sardonic green gaze focused on her.

His calmness only built her fright. One would imagine that he was accustomed to discovering well-bred virgins huddled in his undergarments. Curse him, he probably was. Philippa had only met Blair Hume three days ago, but like most of the nation, she knew his reputation for subverting even the most virtuous ladies.

“My lord—” Desperately she struggled not to stare at his impressive chest with its scattering of dark hair.

“Miss Philippa Sanders.” With unconcealed irony, he bowed. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

To her horror, he stepped into the confined space. The dressing room had been tiny before. Now it was suffocating. Her heart pounded with fear. That cursed elusive scent made her head swim as she wedged herself into the wall, wishing she could disappear altogether.

Still his tall body remained scant inches away. Surely it was only in her imagination that a subtle heat radiated out to envelop her.

“I mistook the room,” she stammered.

She made the error of glancing at his chest. Broad. Powerful. Sculpted with muscle. She gulped for air. Watching the farm workers from a distance without their shirts wasn’t at all the same as facing down a half-dressed rake in his bedroom.

A wry smile curled the rake’s thin, expressive lips. “By a whole wing, apparently.”

She straightened and glared at him, struggling to ignore the way his thick black hair was ruffled and his eyes devoured her. A gentleman would pretend to believe her, however feeble her lie.

Clearly Lord Erskine was no gentleman.

“It’s late,” she said with hard-won steadiness, telling herself that if she kept her head, she might yet escape unscathed. By Lord Erskine or by scandal. “I must return to my room.”

He didn’t step aside to let her pass. Definitely no gentleman. “Not quite yet.”

Meeting his gaze required every ounce of faltering courage. “Not before you return my sister’s letter at any rate.”

Surprisingly he laughed. “Huzzah, Miss Sanders. I knew there was more to you than the little shadow glowering at me from the corner.”

She flushed with chagrin. She’d had no idea this darling of the ton had noticed her, let alone remarked her disapproval. “My lord, I insist that you give me Amelia’s letter immediately.”

“Or what?” Dark eyebrows tilted in supercilious inquiry. At least he’d stopped staring at her like he meant to gobble her up like a Christmas bonbon. “You’ll unfold all my shirts and stamp on them?”

Welcome anger bolstered her defiance. “A man of honor would return the letter.”

“I’m afraid that’s impossible.”

“Why?” Her fists clenched at her sides as the urge to clout him thundered through her. “What do you intend to do with it?”

His smile broadened, and in spite of irritation, frustration and fear, his male beauty made her throat tighten. No wonder Amelia had made such a fool of herself over him. Right now, even clever, pragmatic Philippa Sanders felt a little giddy to have all that glorious virility focused on her humble self.

“I intend to do precisely nothing, my sweet little Yuletide burglar.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What does that mean?”

His smile intensified. “It means that I burned it immediately after I read it.”

She drew her first full breath in what felt like days. Since Amelia’s tearful confession of her arrant stupidity, apprehension had knotted Philippa’s belly. If Erskine wanted to cause trouble, he could use her sister’s letter to spark an awful scandal—not to mention scupper Amelia’s newly minted engagement to a nice young man of substantial means.

Philippa paused, knowing she owed Lord Erskine her heartfelt thanks for his unexpected chivalry and, even more urgently, an apology for invading his room. But her response sounded grudging, even in her own ears. “That was…generous of you.”

The mocking smile didn’t fade. “I’m glad you think so.”

All night, anger had lurked beneath her fear. Firstly at Amelia for being such a rattlebrain and creating this mess, then at herself for getting caught. Most futile of all was her anger at Lord Erskine for coming in at such an inopportune moment. Although at least now she knew what had happened to the letter. “I must go.”

“No rush, my fascinating Miss Sanders.” He shifted closer and the light behind him lent his face a suddenly sinister expression.

“I’m not your Miss Sanders,” she snapped with a resurgence of dread. A chill trickled down her spine. Awareness of her own danger swamped any gratitude for Amelia’s reprieve.

“Not yet, at any rate,” he said mildly, pulling the door shut behind him.

Darkness wrapped around them. Rage and terror spurred Philippa to surge forward, shoving hard at Lord Erskine. Her hands met smooth, warm skin and an immovable male body. The silky hair on his chest created soft friction against her palms. “Let me out of here.”

“Devil take you, do you never say please?” He shifted to break the contact, but not nearly quickly enough for her peace of mind.

As he leaned away, she pushed past him to tug madly at the doorknob, but even using both hands, she couldn’t budge it. As she struggled, her shoulder brushed Erskine’s arm. To her surprise, he made no attempt to hinder her departure. If he intended seduction, he was insultingly half-hearted.

Hardly surprising. She wasn’t nearly beautiful enough to appeal to that famous connoisseur of female loveliness, Blair Hume.

She told herself she didn’t mind. And didn’t believe it for a minute.

“Stop this nonsense immediately and open this door,” she demanded breathlessly.

“Have I persuaded you against breaking into anyone else’s room?” he asked without shifting. “Especially if the anyone else is a man.”

Shock made her hand drop away from the doorknob. “You’re trying to teach me a lesson?” she hissed incredulously.

That familiar soft laugh played up and down her backbone like music, and she realized with an unwelcome frisson that the evocative scent filling the room was Lord Erskine’s own. The intimacy of recognizing his personal essence scared her more than being trapped with a rake.

“I am indeed.” In the tight space, she was close enough to hear him draw breath. More encroaching intimacy. “Step aside and I’ll set you free, chastened but unharmed. And hopefully a little wiser.”

Her snort was derisive. If her mother had heard the unmannerly response, she’d have a fit. But then so much of what Philippa did gave her mother the vapors. “Who on earth do you think you are? What a cheek.”

“Miss Sanders, I feel some humility is called for.” He still sounded as though he found her endlessly diverting. “If you’re as clever as you think you are, you wouldn’t be stuck here with a rake while your sister sleeps comfortably in her own bed, safely beyond scandal’s reach.”

The comment’s justice rankled. “You’re a very annoying man,” she muttered, wishing to heaven she’d left Amelia to solve her own problems.

“Undoubtedly,” he said without inflection. “But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong about you needing to temper valor with discretion.”

She bit back a blistering response about profligate libertines following their own advice and waited impatiently for him to let her out. She very much feared that if she spent much longer with the irritating Earl of Erskine, she’d strangle him with one of his neck cloths.

For what seemed a ridiculous length of time, Erskine rattled the doorknob.

“Stop playing games,” she said sharply, tired of his antics. He might find his teasing funny. She just wanted to leave this room and say goodnight and never see him again. “Unlock the door and let me out.”

He stopped tugging on the doorknob. A fraught silence fell. For the first time when he spoke, no trace of humor warmed his deep voice. “It’s stuck.”

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