Authors: Ginny Baird
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Holidays, #Romantic Comedy, #Contemporary Fiction, #Humor
MISTLETOE IN MAINE
Winter Wedding Press
All Rights Reserved
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Characters in this book are fiction and figments of the author’s imagination.
Edited by Linda Ingmanson
Cover by Dar Albert
Carol Baker imagined herself in the snowy scene… An idyllic Victorian mansion sat high on a hill, overlooking a frozen lake. Holly draped from the railing of the wide wraparound porch, and a cheery Christmas wreath hung on its old oak door. She smiled beneath her warm woolen hat as fourteen-year-old Will and nine-year-old Ashley put the final touches on their snowman. Suddenly, Ashley turned on her big brother, hurling a snowball. “Oh no, you don’t,” he charged with a grin, scooping up some snow of his own and pelting back. Carol laughed heartily, joining in the fray. It was the first time she and her kids had enjoyed each other’s company in months.
Carol sighed and closed the cover of the glitzy brochure she’d been perusing, setting it on the dining room table. How she wished she could really take her kids on that kind of family holiday.
“What’s that?” Ashley asked. Her daughter had just come indoors from a rousing game of basketball, during which she’d no doubt whipped the tail of the ten-year-old boy next door. Her cheeks were pink from the nip in the air, her sweatshirt slightly speckled with moisture.
Carol glanced out the window, noting dark clouds rolling in. “Is it raining?”
Ashley pulled off her hoodie. “Just started. It’s getting really windy too.” It seemed they were in for another winter storm—all rain, with temperatures hovering right around forty. If only they had luscious snow like Carol had been dreaming about in New England.
Will emerged from the kitchen, snacking on a meatloaf sandwich. The boy always seemed to be eating these days. Perhaps that was because he was growing like a weed. “Is that where we’re going on vacation?” he asked, motioning to the brochure on the table.
Ashley took it in her hands, fanning it open. “The Love Inn?” she said with a big, broad smile. “Sounds sweet!”
Will polished off his sandwich, peering over her shoulder. “Yeah, Mom, look. They’ve even got dog sledding.”
Yes, Carol had looked in to that, and its incumbent price tag. She could nowhere afford that kind of fun on her public-schoolteacher’s salary. “Dog sledding’s expensive,” she said with a sympathetic smile. “I’m afraid we can’t swing that this year. In fact, we won’t be making it to Maine at all.”
Ashley shot her a worried look. “But you said we were going skiing.”
“Yes, honey, and we will,” Carol said brightly, producing a new pamphlet. “In Asheville!”
Her kids’ faces fell as they studied the dismal brown condos hugging the side of a craggy mountain. Their placement looked Photoshopped as log-shaped lettering proclaimed:
Discount Family Vacations.
Lightning crackled outside, and the sky opened up in a downpour.
“Oh,” Ashley said with a frown.
“For Maine, we’d have to buy airline tickets,” Carol explained. “Asheville’s within driving distance.”
“Looks cool, Mom. Really.” Will nudged his sister.
“Yeah,” Ashley said, brightening. “I’m sure it will be great.”
Just then, the doorbell rang. Carol glanced down at her sweatshirt and jeans. She’d been so busy grading papers, she hadn’t even bothered to put on makeup today. “Are you two expecting anybody?”
Will and Ashley shrugged and shook their heads.
“Probably just a delivery person,” Carol said, straightening her short brown ponytail.
Carol pulled open the front door to find a curly-headed man holding Christmas packages. Behind him, rain came down in droves.
“Hi, Carol, nice to see you.”
“Jim.” Her stomach clenched, making her feel ill all over. “You could have called.”
“I thought I’d surprise the kids on my way to the airport.”
Carol noted his dark sports car parked in the drive. A stunning, young blonde waited inside. Naturally, Jim was headed to the airport. He and Brenda hadn’t stopped traveling since they’d hooked up. When he’d been married to Carol, he’d never taken her anywhere.
“Is that Daddy?” Ashley called from inside. She rushed out on the porch and wrapped her arms around him. “Daddy, it
you!” she said with a happy laugh. “Come in the house. You’re getting wet!”
“Merry Christmas, angel,” he said with a happy grin.
Carol burned to rail at him for every single Christmas, birthday, and special event he’d missed. Instead, she pressed her lips together and cleared the way for him to walk indoors.
Will ambled in from the next room and cast his dad a wary eye.
“How you doing, son?” Jim asked in a jovial tone.
Will’s gaze panned out the door seconds before Carol shut it. He’d obviously seen the sports car too. “We’re headed out of town ourselves,” he said, his gaze back on his father’s.
Jim turned toward Carol. “That so?”
“Where are you going, Daddy?” Ashley wanted to know.
Jim chortled, apparently pleased with himself. “Brenda and I are headed down to St. John, little island in the Caribbean.”
“That sounds nice,” Ashley said, in all her innocence.
Carol squared her shoulders and spoke resolutely. “I’d prefer a white Christmas myself.”
Jim stared at her, then glanced at the kids. “Just where is it you’re off to?”
“Ash—” Will began, before Carol cut him off.
“Actually, we’re going to Maine!” She didn’t know why she’d blurted that out, but suddenly she’d been unable to stop herself. There stood Jim, with his expensive new car and high-maintenance wife, bragging…
… to them all about yet another extravagant vacation he would take. Well, she could be extravagant too, couldn’t she? Her kids were worth it. Didn’t matter how long it might take to pay down the credit card.
Will’s jaw dropped, but Ashley didn’t miss a beat. “Yeah,” the little girl crowed. “We’re staying in a
house that’s sixteen stories tall! On the top floor even! We’re going dog sledding and everything!”
“Dog sledding? In Maine? Imagine that.” He slowly shook his head. “Your mom always was one for crazy ideas.” He handed one of his two small gifts to Ashley. “This one’s for you, sweetheart.”
She accepted the flat, square box with a hopeful grin. “You want me to open it now?”
Jim nodded, crossing his arms over his chest. Carol could ask him to remove his coat and invite Brenda into the house. She could check herself into the insanity ward at the local hospital too, but she wasn’t close to doing either.
Ashley eagerly unwrapped the small package and studied it with a wrinkled brow.
, Carol thought,
not another one of Jim’s homemade DVDs
“It’s a picture story album,” he told his daughter. “Complete compilation of all my trips.”
Will glanced at Carol, and she knew what he was thinking. He’d likely gotten one too. Jim was nothing if not unoriginal in his gift giving. He handed a second package to Will that looked to be identical. The boy unwrapped it, seeing he’d received the same thing as his sister. “Thanks, Dad,” he said with a tight smile.
“Wait!” Ashley spouted. “Don’t go anywhere! We’ve got something for you.”
She returned with a couple of boxes. Jim opened hers first, extracting a handmade tree ornament. “It’s beautiful. Real special, sugarplum.”
Ashley beamed while Will shifted uneasily on his feet. How Carol hated this for her children, the way Jim just popped in and out of their lives. If only she could figure a way to give them a better, more consistent one, she would.
Jim opened Will’s gift and hooted, holding up the expensive, patterned tie. “Well, I’ll be! I sure as heck won’t be wearing
down in St. John!”
Carol shot him a look, and he self-corrected.
“Oh, right. Right,” he said, softening his tone toward his son. “Very nice, Will. Ultra sharp. I’ll be using it a bunch, I’m certain.”
Carol followed Jim onto the porch as thunder boomed. “You can’t keep doing this,” she said as rain poured down all around them. “It’s been two months—
—since you’ve seen them.”
He averted her gaze. “Brenda and I’ve been busy. We’re building the new house and—”
“So busy you missed your own son’s birthday? Again?” She felt fire welling in her throat but spoke past it. “He sat around all day, jumped up every time the telephone rang…” The memory of that day haunted her still. Though he was a young teen now, in his heart, Will was still that tender little boy his dad had walked out on. For Jim hadn’t just left her; in many ways, in his midlife rush to find himself, he’d abandoned all of them.
Jim pursed his lips and turned toward her, rain splattering the back of his coat. There was a look in his eyes she hadn’t seen there before, something akin to remorse. “I’m sorry, Carol,” he said hoarsely. “Sorry about a lot of things.”
Then he turned toward the car and walked away through the drowning rain.
In a faraway corner of northwestern Maine, Paul Love steadied the ladder in front of the Christmas tree and directed his son. “A little more that way. Yeah.”
Daniel leaned back, appraising his handiwork. “I think the star’s straight now.”
Paul tried to deflect the deep sadness taking hold. Something about this time of year always left a raw ache in his heart. “Somehow this doesn’t seem right without your mom here.”
Daniel stepped down from the ladder and stood beside him. “I know it’s still hard, Dad.”
Paul thoughtfully studied his son. Though he was only seventeen, he looked just like Nancy in so many ways. He clearly had her bright blue eyes, but they were offset by Paul’s dark hair. “When did you get to be so old?”
“I’m almost eighteen now. I know a thing or two.”
“Let’s just hope you don’t know too much,” Paul teased.
Daniel draped an affectionate arm around his father. It struck Paul that Daniel was nearly as tall as he was, six foot one. He’d likely surpass him in height by this time next year. “I’m going to college in the fall, you know.”
Paul met his son’s gaze with a mixture of pride and melancholy. Daniel had been accepted to Brown, Paul’s alma mater, and would be leaving the nest soon. “I know, and I’m going to miss you.”
Daniel tugged his dad toward him in a one-armed hug. “Maybe you should, you know?” He lifted his brow.
“What?” Paul asked, perplexed.
“Think about getting a life of your own.”
“I have a life.”
“No. You have a business.”
“And business is good. So good that I’m thinking of giving it up, in fact.”
Daniel removed his arm with a start. “What are you saying?”
Paul walked to the window beside the huge stone fireplace crowned with an enormous moose head. Snow beat down furiously outdoors, coating the pines surrounding a frozen lake. Snowmobilers blazed trails across its glassy surface, while ice skaters pirouetted in the rink abutting Pruett’s Barn. “I’m selling the inn.”
But, Dad, you can’t!”
Paul faced his son, who ran a hand through his hair.
“Found a nice little place up in Montreal. Nice and peaceful, overlooking the water.”
“Canada? You must be joking. Things are tough enough for Amy and me as it is with me going off to Rhode Island. How do you think it will work with me gone summers and breaks too?”
“I’ll fly you—and Amy—up whenever you want. Besides, your grandma’s still in Greenville. I’m sure she’ll make a place for you if ever you get the hankering to visit.”
Daniel set his hands on his hips, then hung his head. “I can’t believe you’d sell this place, after all this time.”
“Aren’t you the one who was just telling me to get a life?”
Daniel looked up. “I meant, in
“Things will all work out, you’ll see.”
“In the meantime,” Paul said, jerking a thumb toward the window, “the powder’s looking awfully good out there.”
Daniel cocked his chin in a challenge. “Don’t make me embarrass you, now.”
Paul chuckled aloud. “I wouldn’t go counting any chickens before they hatch, if I were you.”
One hour later, they were all suited up and on the ice, mounting matching snowmobiles. “Ready to ride?” Daniel asked as snow streaked down hard.