characters in LAST CHRISTMAS, the novella I’m writing for our LOVE CHRISTMAS
throwing a man and a woman together and proving to them that they are made for
each other. Oh, and creating the small towns in my stories is great fun too. In
LAST CHRISTMAS, I found Estacado, an old ghost town in the Texas Panhandle that
was perfect for my needs. I renamed it New Estacado, a Spanglish combination
that made it perfect for the Texas setting.
just post the first chapter since it’s my turn to give you a sneak peek from my
unedited manuscript? I’m excited about LOVE CHRISTMAS, our 2016 Holiday Romance
Collection. I hope you enjoy this excerpt because I’m having a blast writing
Last Christmas_1000x1500LAST CHRISTMAS
by Joan Reeves © 2016
heart to heal? Annabelle Cooper stared at the framed photograph she’d pulled from
the packing box. To her dismay, her hand trembled and her chest tightened,
making her lungs feel as if all the air in her bedroom had been sucked out into
the cold December night.
swore she could hear it over the blustering north wind that swept down through
the Texas Panhandle and rattled the old-fashioned windows in her grandmother’s
Victorian house. Annabelle couldn’t stop herself from lifting the photograph
and studying the smiling couple, each wearing a Santa hat. She looked so happy,
so…innocent, in the photograph taken last Christmas at her friend Mary Beth’s
derision. She hadn’t been innocent. She’d been pathetically dumb. Scorn at her
naiveté dampened the pain as Annabelle stared at the photograph. Her eyes
stung, but she wouldn’t allow herself to shed another tear over what had been
the worst mistake she’d ever made.
Rick Lassiter from her mind and her heart, the photograph shattered the
illusion that she was over the man who’d swept her off her feet and into a
weekend of passion, unlike anything she’d ever experienced. She blinked
rapidly. The trouble was she had experienced very little in her twenty-five
years. She had been nearly as virginal as a heroine in the Regency romance
novels she’d always loved. In all honesty, an urban teen probably had more
sexual experience than Annabelle had possessed a year ago.
her as no man ever had. His ebony hair was hidden by the Santa hat, but his
laughing eyes—so dark they appeared black—drew her gaze even now. His smile
compelled a smile in return. Her hands were clasped on his shoulder, but his
arms were folded, his chin resting on his hands. She was the one clinging to
him. The clinging was not mutual. That should have been her first clue.
voice warbled up to the second floor.
released it slowly before answering. “Yes, ma’am?”
guests are getting out of their cars.”
called. She imagined her grandmother, the original Annabelle Edna, was peeking
through the lace curtains over the front windows like an excited little girl
instead of like the white-haired senior citizen she was.
framed photo she still held. Her hand tightened on the wooden frame until her
knuckles whitened. She wanted to fling it against the wall and smash it into a
million pieces the way Rick Lassiter had smashed her heart.
depression, acceptance,” she whispered as if they were her mantra. “You are at
acceptance. You will not regress,” she vowed in a fierce whisper. She loosened
her fingers and let the framed photograph fall to the jewel-toned oriental rug.
It landed with a soft thud. Deliberately, Annabelle stepped on the photo and
heard glass break.
graduated from the anger stage of grief.
early arrivals since she saw them just about every day now that she’d moved
back to New Estacado, Annabelle lingered over the box. She found a “Playbill”
from Houston’s Theater Under the Stars, a ticket stub from the blockbuster
movie that had been showing last December, and a menu from her favorite Mexican
restaurant. Damn. Everything in the box was a memento of—what? Her love affair?
neighbor in the Houston apartment complex, had called it a fling. Mary Beth had
lots of flings so she hadn’t understood why Annabelle had been so distraught
when Rick had disappeared. When she’d learned that much of what he’d told her
were lies, she’d been devastated.
had packed all of this rather than consigning the lot to the dumpster as
Annabelle had instructed after the April flood had invaded their respective
ground-floor apartments and destroyed everything in its smelly, muddy path.
December, and the swollen Cypress Creek had taken most of her possessions—even
her little Toyota in the parking lot. Aggravated that she was again obsessing
over what had happened with Lassiter, she folded the flaps of the cardboard box
closed. Maybe Mary Beth liked dwelling on her old flings, but Annabelle didn’t.
She’d left Houston, hoping to leave her mistakes in the past. That’s where a…a
reprobate like Lassiter belonged. In the past.
reprobate was old-fashioned, but she was old-fashioned too even if her
strait-laced morality was over-compensation for the apathetic neglect of a
mother who was the embodiment of promiscuity.
waste of skin walking the planet. That’s what Lassiter was. She’d certainly
treat him differently if she met him today. She’d recognize him now for what he
was. A lying, manipulative scum of the earth man-slut. Annabelle slapped the
carton. After the party, she’d toss the photograph and everything in the box
into the trash where it belonged.
in the Queen Anne cheval mirror told her she hadn’t messed up her hair or
wrinkled the full skirt of the emerald velvet evening gown. Fortunately, her
exterior didn’t reveal the emotions seething within. She looked fine. She
practiced a smile, took a deep breath, and left her bedroom, closing the door
floated to her as she started down the steep staircase. The college girl who
had been hired to play Christmas carols on the baby grand piano situated in front
of the bay window in the living room had begun with a jazzy version of “Jingle
carefully , in deference to the black silk evening shoes with four-inch heels.
Sexy shoes weren’t necessarily safe on steep stair treads. When she’d been a
child, she’d never bothered with the steps when going downstairs. She smiled at
the memory of riding the banister from her turret bedroom to the black and
white marble tiles of the foyer.
door heralded more guests arriving. Chilled, she stepped onto the polished
tiles. The noise level wasn’t uncomfortable. Yet. The pianist segued into “O
Holy Night.” People in various styles of holiday dress—some in evening attire,
some in cowboy shirts and stiff blue jeans—milled around, propelled inward
every few minutes by new arrivals. Waiters, college students home for the
holidays, circulated with trays of champagne flutes and platters of finger
grandmother. Her Namesy. When she’d been a child, she’d heard the word namesake
often and had come to think namesake meant her grandmother. Her toddler’s
effort to pronounce the word namesake had come out as “Namesy” to the delight
of her grandmother who immediately adopted the name as being far more original
than any of the other grandmother nicknames.
in Namesy’s ear. “Go to the living room and hold court.”
strolled away as the pianist launched into “Blue Christmas.”
acquiesced so easily, Annabelle assumed the duties of hostess at the door.
“Merry Christmas and welcome to the Gazette’s Christmas Open House,” she
greeted, taking a minute or two to chat with each guest and direct them to the
buffet in the dining room. By the time Vince Sanchez, her late grandfather’s
best friend, arrived, Annabelle was convinced that the house couldn’t hold
another person. She was beginning to think the velvet might have been a poor choice
because she felt overly warm in the crush of the party guests.
and welcome to the Gazette’s Christmas Open House.” The portly Hispanic man
who’d been mayor for as long as she could remember, bellowed a holiday greeting
to her and chucked her under the chin as if she were still ten years old.
hearing aid turned on, Mayor?” She pantomimed the question.
devices out his coat pocket and put one into each ear. “Is that better?” he
asked, his voice starting loud and then lowering. He cocked his head and
listened. “Hey, Edna did get that kid to play her piano for the party. Nice.”
piano keys and then launched into “The First Noel.” Annabelle smiled. “Yes the
music is good and so is your volume now.”
chin again. “Funny girl. I’ve got a scoop for you, Annie Belly.”
grandfather always called her, Annabelle’s throat tightened. “And what might
that be, Mayor?” she asked, smiling fondly at him and at the memory.
opened again and a blond woman Annabelle’s age rushed in, shutting the door
behind her with a bit more force than was needed.
won’t move to Miami, or at least Galveston. These Panhandle winters are too
damned cold. It’s already iced over out there. I might as well be on a
mountaintop in Montana,” the blonde complained.
sigh. Namesy called Brianna Walker the town’s richest daughter. Annabelle had a
different noun to describe the whining party girl. She’d oped Brianna would
have had a red carpet in Hollywood to strut or a late dinner at Tavern on the
Green in the Big Apple to jet off to. But, no. Apparently, the daughter of one
of the richest men in the Texas Panhandle had nothing better to do than bring
her pseudo sophistication to Namesy’s Christmas open house.
as she’d done the other guests. She wasn’t surprised when Brianna shrugged out
of the full-length mink coat and tossed it to Annabelle. “Take care of this for
me, will you, Annabelle? Put it where I can get it when I’m ready to leave,”
she ordered. “And be careful with it. You wouldn’t be able to pay for it if you
damaged it. I’m in serious need of a drink to warm me up.”
said only, “Sure thing, Brianna. Excuse me, Mayor. I’ll be right back to
discuss your scoop.”
the front door and opened double doors that led into what had been her
grandfather’s domain, the library. She wadded the coat into a rough round
shape. “Here you go, Brianna,” she muttered and hurled the coat at the small
sofa against the windows. The coat landed halfway between the doors and the
sofa. Annabelle nodded. “Coat taken care of.”
Christmas.” That had been one of her Annabelle’s favorite Christmas songs. She
loved the Wham version and the more recent Taylor Swift version too. Or she had
loved it until last Christmas when she’d been foolish enough to give her heart
to a man who truly had thrown it away. Lassiter. Was everything about Christmas
going to make her think of him? She snagged two glasses of champagne from a
passing waiter’s tray and found the mayor who hadn’t moved very far from the
know it’s not beer, but you know champagne and eggnog are the only drinks
Namesy serves at her Christmas party.”
onto those two glasses. I’ve got someone I want you to meet. You can give him
that soda pop with the bubbles.”
meet? I already know everyone in the three towns that make up the Gazette’s
newcomer in town. He just got in today. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised
Brianna roped him into bringing her to the party. I guess he’s parking the car
since she came in alone.”
sigh. “The only new male in the Panhandle, and Brianna already has him lassoed.
I didn’t even get a shot at him,” she joked.
He shrugged his broad shoulders. “You snooze; you lose.”
busy since moving back.”
city council meetings. Your grandmother is still covering those. If you had,
you’d have met the new guy because he was at the last two monthly meetings.”
city council meeting?”
sure it would be a sign that they were ice skating in hell if she ever came to
a city council meeting. Personally, I think the girl has guy radar that picks
up any male within a hundred miles.”
waved at someone standing behind her. “Here he is. Annabelle, I want you to
meet our new Sheriff.”
masculine voice corrected.
Annabelle’s brain. She forgot to breathe. The tiny hairs on the back of her
neck rose in alarm. Buzzing like that of a million bees filled her ears. She
couldn’t turn to see the source of her danger. From the corner of her eye, a
man entered her field of vision. Her eyes widened as he stopped in front of
the century. I’ve got us a guy with actual law enforcement background,” the
Mayor prattled. “Say hello to…” The mayor’s voice trailed off. “Annie Belly,
are you all right? You look kind of funny.”
the nearly black eyes of the handsome man in a charcoal gray suit, white shirt,
and red-patterned silk tie. She could only stare as she felt every last drop of
blood drain from her face. She couldn’t move. Couldn’t speak. Couldn’t think.
the man said gravely, as if he didn’t know her from Adam.
created by the absence of thought and words. Annabelle murmured, “So nice to
meet you too.”
both champagne flutes into Rick Lassiter’s face.
You can find all of my romance novels on my Amazon Author Page (also available at most other ebook sellers). In fact, I’d be delighted if you follow me on my Amazon Author Page, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. I’ll happily follow you in return.
Sign up for WordPlay, my email list/newsletter for readers and be the first o hear about new releases and swag bag giveaways. Plus, you get a free book for subscribing!