On a Snowy Night: The Christmas Basket\The Snow Bride

BOOK: On a Snowy Night: The Christmas Basket\The Snow Bride
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Praise for the novels of
#1
New York Times
bestselling author
Debbie Macomber

“Debbie Macomber whips up a delightful concoction of zany Christmas magic as delicious as chocolate steeped with peppermint….”

—
BookPage
on
The Christmas Basket

“A fast, frothy fantasy for those looking to add some romance to their holidays.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
The Snow Bride

“Macomber offers a very human look at three women who uproot their lives to follow their true destiny.”

—
Booklist
on
Changing Habits

“Macomber is known for her honest portrayals of ordinary women in small-town America, and this tale cements her position as an icon of the genre.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
16 Lighthouse Road

“As always, Macomber draws rich, engaging characters.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
Thursdays at Eight

“A multifaceted tale of romance and deceit, the final installment of Macomber's Dakota trilogy oozes with country charm and a strong sense of community.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
Always Dakota

“Sometimes the best things come in small packages. Such is the case here….”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
Return to Promise

“Popular romance writer Macomber has a gift for evoking the emotions that are at the heart of the genre's popularity.”

—
Publishers Weekly

Christmas 2004

 

Dear Friends,

 

Anyone who knows me is well aware of how much I love Christmas. For the past few years I've written a story each year set during the holiday season, and
On a Snowy Night
includes two of my favorites.
The Christmas Basket
and
The Snow Bride
are both romantic comedies that were originally published as gift-sized hardcovers.

 

The Christmas Basket
is the story of two feuding mothers who are forced to work together to create charity baskets—with hilarious results. Meanwhile, their adult children are falling in love with each other (for the second time) and are looking for ways to mend this silly feud. The story's climax takes place on Christmas Eve in the middle of a Pacific Northwest ice storm.

 

The Snow Bride
is the story of a hardworking single woman who goes to Alaska to meet her Internet hero and become a mail-order bride (or, I guess, an e-mail-order bride). Only, she doesn't get the chance—she's sort-of kidnapped and taken to a one-woman town on the tundra. There she gets involved with an assortment of interesting characters (and, of course, her sort-of kidnapper). Naturally, the one woman who normally lives in Snowbound is away…. I do promise you'll laugh.

 

I think both stories will make you chuckle and occasionally sigh, but mostly I hope you'll fall in love.

 

Have a wonderful Christmas.

 

Debbie

D
EBBIE
M
ACOMBER
O
N A
S
NOWY
N
IGHT

The Christmas Basket

To
Mr. and Mrs. Dale Macomber
(my son and Laurie)
Merry Christmas
Your first as husband and wife

NOELLE McDOWELL'S JOURNAL

December 1

I did it. I broke down and actually booked the flight to Rose. I have a ticket for December 18—Dallas to San Francisco to Portland and then the commuter flight to Rose.

All my excuses are used up. I always figured there was no going back, and yet that's exactly what I'm doing. I'm going home when I swore I never would. Not after what happened…Not after Thom Sutton betrayed me. I know, I know, I've always been dramatic. I can't help that—it's part of my nature.

When I was a teenager I made this vow never to return. I spoke it in the heat of passion, and no one believed me. For that matter, I didn't believe me, not really. But it proved to be so easy to stay away…. I hardly had to invent excuses. While I was in college I had an opportunity to travel to Europe two years in a row. Then in my junior year I had a summer job and was a bridesmaid in a Christmas wedding. And when my senior year rolled around, I was working as an intern for the software company, and it was impossible to get time off. After that well, it was just simpler to stay away. Without meaning to, my family made it convenient. I didn't need to visit them; they seemed willing enough to come to Dallas.

All of that is about to end. I'm prepared to face my past. I joined
Weight Watchers. If I happen to see Thom Sutton, I want him to know exactly what he's missing. I've already lost five of the ten pounds I need to get rid of, and by next week he'll hardly recognize me—if we even run into each other. We won't, of course, but just on the off chance, I plan to be prepared.

Good ol' Thom Sutton. I wonder what he's doing now. Naturally I could ask, but no one dares mention the name Sutton to my family. It's the Hatfields and McCoys or the Montagues and Capulets all over again. Except that it's our mothers who started this ridiculous feud.

If I really wanted to know about Thom, I could ask Megan or Stephanie. They're the only two girls out of my entire high school class who still live in Rose. But I wouldn't do that. Inquiring about Thom would only invite questions from them about what happened between the two of us. As far as I'm concerned, the fewer people who know, the better.

He's bound to be married, anyway. Good. I want him to be happy.

No, I don't.

If I can't be honest in my journal, then I shouldn't keep one. Okay, I admit it—what I really want is for him to have suffered guilt and regret all these years. He should have pined for me. His life should be a bleak series of endless days filled with haunting memories of me. It's what he deserves.

On a brighter note, I'm thrilled for Kristen. I'll return home, help her plan her wedding, hold my head high and pray that Thom Sutton has the opportunity to see me from afar, gorgeous and thin. Then I want him to agonize over all the might-have-beens.

Chapter One

I
t would be the wedding of the year. No—the wedding of the century.

Sarah McDowell intended to create the most exquisite event possible, a wedding worthy of
Vogue
Magazine (or at least a two-page spread in the Rose, Oregon,
Gazette
). The entire town would talk about her daughter's wedding.

The foundation for Sarah's plans rested squarely on booking the Women's Century Club for the reception. It was why she'd maintained her association with the club after
that
woman had been granted membership. She was outraged that such a fine institution would lower itself to welcome the likes of Mary Sutton.

Sarah refused to dwell on the sordid details. She couldn't allow herself to get upset over something that had happened almost twenty years ago. Although it didn't hurt any to imagine Mary hearing—second- or third-hand, of course—about Kristen's wedding. As Sarah understood it, Mary's daughter had eloped. Eloped, mind you, with some
riffraff hazelnut farmer. Sarah didn't know that for sure because it was her Christian duty not to gossip or think ill of others. However, sometimes information just happened to come one's way….

Pulling into the parking lot of the Women's Century Club, Sarah surveyed the grounds. Even this late in the year, the rose garden was breathtaking. Many of the carefully tended bushes still wore their blooms, and next June, when the wedding was scheduled, the garden would be stunning. The antique roses with their intoxicating scents and the more recent hybrids with their gorgeous shapes and colors would make a fitting backdrop for the beautiful bride and her handsome groom. It would be
perfect
, she thought with satisfaction. Absolutely perfect.

Sarah had stopped attending the Women's Century Club meetings three years ago. Well, there wasn't any need to obsess over the membership committee's sorry lapse in judgment. For many years Sarah had chaired that committee herself. The instant she stepped down, Mary Sutton had applied for membership to the prestigious club—and received it. Now the only social event Sarah participated in was the annual Christmas Dance. Mary Sutton had robbed her of so much already, but Sarah wasn't letting her ruin that, too.

Sarah did continue to meet with other friends from the club and managed to keep up with the news. She understood that Mary had become quite active in the association. Fine. Good for her. It gave the woman something to write about in her column for the weekly
Rose Gazette
. Not that Sarah read “About Town.” Someone had told her it was fairly popular, though. Which didn't bother her in the least. Mary was a good writer; Sarah would acknowledge that much. But then, what one lacked in certain areas was often compensated in others. And Mary was definitely lacking in the areas of generosity, fairness, ethics…. She could go on.

With a click of her key chain, Sarah locked her car and headed toward the large, two-story stone structure. There was a cold wind blowing in from the ocean, and she hurried up the steps of the large veranda that surrounded the house. A blast of warm air greeted her as she walked inside. Immediately in front of her was the curved stairway leading to the ballroom on the second floor. She could already picture Kristen moving elegantly down those stairs, her dress sweeping grandly behind her. Today, evergreen garlands were hung along the mahogany railing, with huge red velvet bows tied at regular intervals. Gigantic potted poinsettias lined both sides of the stairway. The effect was both festive and tasteful.

“Oh, how lovely,” she said to Melody Darrington, the club's longtime secretary.

“Yes, we're very pleased with this year's Christmas decorations.” Melody glanced up from her desk behind the half wall that overlooked the entry. The door to the office was open and Sarah heard the fax machine humming behind her. “Are you here to pick up your tickets for the Christmas dance?”

“I am,” Sarah confirmed. “And I'd like to book the club for June seventh for a reception.” She paused dramatically. “Kristen's getting married.”

“Sarah, that's just wonderful!”

“Yes, Jake and I are pleased.” This seriously understated her emotions. Kristen was the first of her three daughters to marry, and Sarah felt as if the wedding was the culmination of all her years as a caring, involved mother. She highly approved of Kristen's fiancé. Jonathan Clark was not only a charming and considerate young man, he held a promising position at an investment firm and had a degree in business. His parents were college professors who lived in Eugene; he was their only son. Whenever she'd spoken with Jonathan's mother, Louise Clark had sounded equally delighted.

Melody flipped the pages of the appointment book to June. “It's a good idea to book the club early.”

Holding her breath, Sarah leaned over the half wall and stared down at the schedule. She relaxed the instant she saw that particular Saturday was free. The wedding date could remain unchanged.

“It looks like June seventh is open,” Melody said.

“Fabulous.” Sarah's cell phone rang, and she reached inside her purse to retrieve it. She sold real estate, but since entering her fifties, she'd scaled back her hours on the job. Jake, who was head of the X-ray department at Rose Hospital, enjoyed traveling. Sarah no longer had the energy to accompany Jake and also maintain her status as a top-selling agent. The number displayed on her phone was that of her husband's office. She'd call him back shortly. He was probably asking about the time of their eldest daughter's flight. Jake and Sarah were going to meet Noelle at the small commuter airport later in the day. What a joy it would be to have all three of their girls home for Christmas, not to mention Noelle's birthday, which was December twenty-fifth. This would be the first time in ten years that Noelle had returned to celebrate
anything
with her family. Sarah blamed Mary Sutton and her son for that, too.

“Should I give you a deposit now?” she asked, removing her checkbook.

“Since you're a member of the club, that won't be necessary.”

“Great. Then that's settled and I can get busy with my day. I've got a couple of houses to show. Plus Jake and I are driving to the airport this afternoon to pick up Noelle. You remember our daughter Noelle, don't you?”

“Of course.”

“She's living in Dallas these days, and has a high-powered job with one of the big computer companies.” What
Sarah didn't add was the Noelle had become a workaholic. Getting her twenty-eight-year-old daughter to take time off work was nearly impossible. Sarah and Jake made a point of visiting her once a year and sometimes twice, but this couldn't go on. Noelle had to get over her phobia about returning to Rose—and the risk of seeing Thom Sutton. Oh, yes, those Suttons had done a lot of damage to the McDowells.

With Kristen announcing her engagement and inviting the Clarks to share their Christmas festivities, Sarah had strongly urged Noelle to come home for the celebration. This was an important year for their family, and it was absolutely necessary that Noelle be there with them. After some back-and-forth discussion, she'd finally capitulated.

“Before you leave, there's something you should know,” Melody said hesitantly. “There's been a rule change about members using the building.”

“Yes?” Sarah tensed, anticipating a roadblock.

“The new rule states that only members who have completed a minimum of ten hours' community service approved by the club will be permitted to lease our facilities.”

“But I'm an active part of our community already,” Sarah complained. She provided plenty of services to others.

“I realize that. Unfortunately, the service project in question must be determined by the club and it must be completed by the end of December to qualify for the following year.”

Sarah gaped at her. “Do you mean to say that in addition to everything else I'm doing in the next two weeks, I have to complete some club project?”

“You haven't been reading the newsletters, have you?” Melody asked, frowning.

Obviously not. Sarah refused to read about Mary Sutton, whose name seemed to appear in every issue these days.

“If you attended the meetings, you'd know it, too.” Mel
ody added insult to injury by pointing out Sarah's intentional absence.

Despite her irritation, Sarah managed a weak smile. “All right,” she muttered. “What can I do?”

“Actually, you've come at an opportune moment. We need someone who's willing to pitch in on the Christmas baskets.”

Sarah was trying to figure out how she could squeeze in one more task before the holidays. “Exactly what would that entail?”

“Oh, it'll be great fun. The ladies pooled the money they raised from the cookbook sale to buy gifts for these baskets. They've made up lists, and what you'd need to do is get everything on your list, arrange all the stuff inside the baskets and then deliver them to the Salvation Army by December twenty-third.”

That didn't sound unreasonable. “I think I can do that.”

“Wonderful.” A smile lit up Melody's face. “The woman who's heading up the project will be grateful for some help.”

“The woman?” That sounded better already. At least she wouldn't be stuck doing this alone.

“Mary Sutton.”

Sarah felt as though Melody had punched her. “Excuse me. For a moment I thought you said
Mary Sutton
.”

“I did.”

“I don't mean to be catty here, but Mary and I have…a history.”

“I'm sure you'll be able to work something out. You're both adults.”

Sarah was stunned by the woman's lack of sensitivity. She wanted to argue, to explain that this was unacceptable, but she couldn't think of exactly what to say.

“You did want the club for June seventh, didn't you?”

“Well, yes, of course, but—”

“Then be here tomorrow morning at ten to meet with Mary.”

Numb and speechless, Sarah slowly turned and trudged toward the door.

“Sarah,” Melody called. “Don't forget the dance tickets.”

Dance. How could she think about the dance when she was being forced to confront a woman who detested her? The feeling might be mutual but that didn't make it any less awkward.

 

One across. A four-letter word for fragrant flower. Rose, naturally. Noelle McDowell penciled in the answer and moved to the next clue. A prickly feeling crawled up her spine and she raised her head. She disliked the short commuter flights. This one, out of Portland, carried twenty-four passengers. It saved having to rent a vehicle or asking her parents to make the long drive into the big city to pick her up.

The feeling persisted and she glanced over her shoulder. She instantly jerked back and slid down in her seat as far as the constraints of the seat belt allowed. It couldn't be.
No, please
, she muttered, closing her eyes.
Not Thom
. Not after all these years. Not now. But it was, it had to be. No one else would look at her with such complete, unadulterated antagonism. He had some nerve after what he'd done to her.

Long before she was ready, the pilot announced that the plane was preparing to land in Rose. On these flights, no carry-on bags were permitted, and Noelle hadn't taken anything more than her purse on board. Her magazines would normally go in her briefcase, but that didn't fit in the compact space beneath her seat, so the flight attendant had stowed it. She had a
Weight Watchers
magazine and a crossword puzzle book marked
EASY
in large letters across the top. She wasn't going to let Thom see her with either and stuffed them in the outside pocket of her purse, folding one magazine over the other.

Her pulse thundered like crazy. The man who'd broken her heart sat only two rows behind her, looking as sophisticated as if he'd stepped off the pages of
GQ
. He'd always been tall, dark and handsome—like a twenty-first century Cary Grant. Classic features that were just rugged enough to be interesting and very, very masculine. Dark eyes, glossy dark hair. An impeccable sense of style. Surely he was married. But finding out would mean asking her sister or one of her friends who still lived in Rose. Coward that she was, Noelle didn't want to know. Okay, she did, but not if it meant having to ask.

The plane touched down and Noelle braced herself against the jolt of the wheels bouncing on tarmac. As soon as they'd coasted to a stop, the Unfasten Seat Belt sign went off, and the people around her instantly leaped to their feet. Noelle took her time. Her hair was a fright. Up at three that morning to catch the 6:00 a.m. out of Dallas/Ft. Worth, she'd run a brush through the dark tangles, forgoing the usual routine of fussing with mousse. As a result, large ringlets fell like bedsprings about her face. Normally, her hair was shaped and controlled and coerced into gentle waves. But today she had the misfortune of looking like Shirley Temple in one of her 1930s movies—and in front of Thom Sutton, no less.

BOOK: On a Snowy Night: The Christmas Basket\The Snow Bride
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