Authors: Sawyer Bennett,The 12 NA's of Christmas
Tags: #coming of age, #Romance, #new adult, #christmas
All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2013 by Sawyer Bennett
Published by Big Dog Books
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
No part of this book can be reproduced in any form or by electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without the express written permission of the author. The only exception is by a reviewer who may quote short excerpts in a review.
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I step out of the elevator and head toward The Great Hall, nervously wiping my hands on my jeans. The heels of my boots clack against the slate floor, providing a rhythmical noise that keeps me slightly centered. Sneaking a glance up at the vaulted and beamed ceiling of the lobby, I feel overwhelmed with awe by the magnificence of this room. I pass in front of the fireplace, large enough to fit an entire high school football team in it. There are several rocking chairs lined up in front of the hearth, with hotel guests sitting there quietly conversing while they stare into the jumping flames. The heat coming off the roaring logs is comforting, while the crackling and spitting noises of the combusting wood puts me in a cheerful mood.
A hopeful mood.
Because this scene transports me back to just one year ago, when I met the man who I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to spend the rest of my life with.
It’s Christmas Eve and there are more people here than I would have imagined. But The Montgrove Inn, located in the picturesque city of Asheville, North Carolina, is a Christmas dream come to life. The Great Hall is called The Great Hall, because...well, it’s “great”. It’s a massive, three-story vaulted room, which houses matching fireplaces of a monstrous size on each end. In between, low-slung leather couches and cozy tables are scattered, offering residents a place to relax and enjoy the beauty of the Inn. Christmas trees stud the stone floors, decorated in crystal confections of red, blue, silver, and green. The west end of the hall has floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the sun that is starting to set over the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I walk up to the bar that sits in the corner of the Hall and take a seat at the end. Wiping my hands again, I wish I wasn’t so nervous. But the truth is, my gut is churning and my heart feels like it’s about to explode out of my chest. Because there is a chance I will see Jack again... tonight... and it’s all I’ve wanted for the past year.
The bartender approaches and I ask him for a glass of Cabernet. He asks to see my ID and I willingly produce it from my back pocket. I just turned twenty-two last month so I’m not surprised. After he sets the glass of ruby liquid in front of me, I take a small sip, hoping the alcohol will calm my nerves. I resist the urge to gulp it down, wanting the courage it will give me.
As I sip my wine, I keep glancing at the lobby doors. Every time they open, I hope to see Jack come sauntering through.
I’m disappointed, time and again. Every minute that passes that he doesn’t arrive, I can feel more disappointment laying over me like a heavy blanket.
I finish my wine and motion to the bartender for another. Just as he sets it down in front of me, I feel a presence at my back as someone steps up to the bar. I can tell it’s a male body by the subtle hint of cologne as he starts to take the seat next to me. I close my eyes and inhale deeply.
With elation rising in my chest, I open my eyes with a smile and turn to face the man. He turns to look at me with an appraising glance, but the smile slides from my face and my heart bottoms out in my stomach.
It’s not Jack and I can’t help but be crushed by this letdown.
I offer the man an apologetic smile and mumble, “Sorry, I thought you were someone else.”
“Ah... that’s a pity,” he remarks. “That smile you gave me was enough to make me believe in Santa.”
The man sitting next to me is charming and handsome, his voice cultured. He’s flirting with me, and I can tell by the style of his clothes and hair that he is sophisticated and wealthy. Every girl’s dream.
But he’s not Jack.
I struggle to turn the corners of my mouth upward, hoping he will just leave me alone. Instead, he sticks his hand out to me. “I’m Chris.”
My manners step up to the plate—my mother would be so proud—and I shake his hand. “Hope.”
“That’s a lovely name. It fits the lovely girl sitting next to me.”
I give him one more—and hopefully last—apologetic look. “I’m sorry... but I’m waiting for someone. My boyfriend.”
Chris’ smile stays warm but easy acceptance flashes in his eyes as he stands from his seat. “My loss. Have a good evening.”
“Thank you,” I say softly as I watch him retreat to the other end of the bar.
I shake my head slightly. If I were any other woman, his words would have warmed me. If it were Jack sitting here saying those words, I would have crawled up on his lap and kissed him soundly. But neither of those scenarios are playing out, and I turn away to take another sip of my wine. It tastes bitter, just like my feelings right now.
Who am I kidding? Jack isn’t going to come.
I’m a pathetic mess of a woman who has pined after a man that I haven’t even spoken to in a year. A man who captured my heart, and then slowly enslaved it.
And then he left me.
He had told me not to think about him. He told me not to wait. The only thing he offered me before he headed off to war was a vague promise that we could meet again on Christmas Eve. At the same exact spot where we first met... here at The Montgrove Inn.
He had told me, “Hope... I’ll be here on Christmas Eve. And we can move forward. But only if I make it back. Only if I return.”
Those words echo in my head, sounding more hollow as I sip at my wine and wait for my heart’s desire to meet me. I have no idea if he’ll show. The most I can do is hope for a Christmas miracle, and that my Jack will walk through those doors soon.
I close my eyes again, idly running my finger over the rim of my wineglass.
I think back to the day I first met Jack...
372 Days Ago
“Oh, Hope... look at that.”
I glance up from my iPhone and look out the cab window as we pull up to The Montgrove Inn. The hotel is a monstrous, gray stone structure covered with a red-tiled roof that has vestiges of the last snowfall still clinging to the edges.
The main part of the Inn is six-stories high and was built almost a hundred years ago. Over time, it has been added on to and the newer part of the resort actually dribbles down the backside of the mountain, with a world-class spa built underground.
My sister, Audrey, has her nose practically resting against the glass window as she ogles the hotel. I sigh in contentment, very much looking forward to this Christmas vacation nestled in a winter wonderland.
I’m only here by Audrey’s invitation. She’s the maid of honor in her best friend’s wedding. A Christmas Wedding to be more specific. I don’t know the bride, Jenna, all that well, but it was either come here with Audrey or go to St. John with my parents. They like Christmas a little warmer.
And while the idea of spending the holidays on a tropical island has merit, I’m not about to pass up a chance to see snow on Christmas for the first time in my life. Plus, Audrey is not only my older sister—she’s my best friend in the entire world. While I love my parents, my obvious choice would be to spend my time with Audrey.
As the cab comes to a slow halt, Audrey’s door is opened by a handsome bellman wearing a dark green parka to protect him from the biting cold. He holds a gloved hand out to Audrey and she takes it, giving him her most flirtatious smile. Rolling my eyes at Audrey’s antics, I turn to pay the cab driver, giving him a soft, “Happy Holidays” before sliding out of the backseat.
Audrey is chattering away to the bellman while he removes our suitcases. I stuff my hands in my coat pockets to warm them up, and watch the activity around me. Several bellmen stand around, directing cars as they arrive. Mercedes, BMW, Audi... this resort is for the privileged and, as far as I can see, we’re the only ones that have arrived by cab, having just flown into the Asheville Airport.
I’m not out of place here though. Audrey and I come from money. Our parents are both pediatricians and operate a successful practice in Orlando, which is where we’re from. Still, I can’t help but be a little intimidated, as this is the first time I have traveled without my parents.
Audrey seems to be in her element though, as she follows the bellman into the hotel, gesturing for me to come along. Hoisting my purse up over my shoulder, I start toward the Inn. As I walk closer, I gaze up at the huge structure in front of me, awed and impressed by the beauty of the stonework. The building is a true work of art and it makes me feel small and insignificant as I walk toward the front doors.