The Road to Christmas by Sheila Roberts Blog Tour #bookreview #contemporary #romance #holiday #Christmas

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Title: The Road to Christmas

Author: Sheila Roberts

Publisher: MIRA

Publication Date: September 20, 2022

Page Count:  289

My rating: 4 stars

About the book:

From USA TODAY bestselling author Sheila Roberts comes a multi-generational Christmas road trip story filled with humor and heart, set against the snowy mountains of Washington state.

Michelle and Max Turnbull are not planning on a happy holiday. Their marriage is in shambles and the D word has entered their vocabulary. But now their youngest daughter, Julia, wants everyone to come to her new house in Idaho for Christmas, and she’s got the guest room all ready for Mom and Dad. Oh, joy.

Their other two daughters are driving up from California. Audrey from L.A., picking up Shyla in San Francisco and hoping to meet a sexy rancher for Audrey along the way. What they don’t plan on is getting stranded on a ranch when the car breaks down.

The ones with the shortest drive are Grandma and Grandpa Turnbull (Hazel and Warren). They only have to come from Medford, Oregon. It’s still a bit of a trek and Hazel doesn’t like the idea of driving all that way in snow, but Warren knows they’ll have no problem. They have a reliable car for driving in the snow—and snow tires and chains if they need them. They’ll be fine.

Surprises are in store for all three groups of intrepid travelers as they set out on three different road trips and three different adventures, all leading to one memorable Christmas.

Find this book online:

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Excerpt:

MICHELLE TURNBULL WOULD HAVE TWO turkeys in her house for Thanksgiving. One would be on the table, the other would be sitting at it.

“I can’t believe he’s still there,” said Ginny, her longtime clerk at the Hallmark store she managed. “You two are splitting, so why not rip the bandage off and be done with it?”

Rip the bandage off. There was an interesting metaphor. That implied that a wound was healing. The wound that was her marriage wasn’t healing, it was fatal.

She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and went to unlock the door. “Because I don’t want to ruin the holidays for the girls.”

“You think they aren’t going to figure out what’s going on with you two sleeping in separate bedrooms? Don’t be naive.”

Ginny may have been her subordinate, but that didn’t stop her from acting like Michelle’s mother. A ten-year age difference and a long friendship probably contributed to that. And with her mother gone, she doubly appreciated Ginny’s friendship and concern.

Michelle turned the sign on the door to Open. “I’ll tell them he snores.”

“All of a sudden, out of the blue?”

“Sleep apnea. He’s gained some weight.”

Ginny gave a snort. “Not that much. Max may have an inch hanging over the belt line but he’s still in pretty good shape.”

“You don’t have to be overweight to have sleep apnea.”

“I guess,” Ginny said dubiously. “But, Michelle, you guys have been having problems on and off for the last five years. Your girls have to know this is coming so I doubt your sleep-apnea excuse is going to fool anyone.”

Probably not. Much as she and Max had tried to keep their troubles from their daughters, bits of bitterness and reproach had leaked out over time in the form of sarcasm and a lack of what Shyla would have referred to as PDA. Michelle couldn’t remember the last time they’d held hands or kissed in front of any of their daughters. In fact, it was hard to remember the last time they’d kissed. Period.

“You have my permission to kick him to the curb as of yesterday,” Ginny went on. “If you really want your holidays to be happy, get him gone.”

“Oh, yeah, that would make for happy holidays,” Michelle said. “Audrey and Shyla would love coming home to find their father moved out just in time for Thanksgiving dinner and their grandparents absent.”

“If you’re getting divorced, that’s what they’ll find next year,” Ginny pointed out.

“But at least they’ll have a year to adjust,” Michelle said. “And this is Julia’s first Christmas in her new home and with a baby. I don’t want to take the shine away from that.”

The coming year would put enough stress on them all. She certainly wasn’t going to kick it all off on Thanksgiving. That wouldn’t make for happy holidays.

Happy holidays. Who was she kidding? The upcoming holidays weren’t going to be happy no matter what.

“Well, I see your point,” said Ginny. “But good luck pulling off the old sleep-apnea deception.”

Their first customer of the day came in, and that ended all talk of Michelle’s marriage miseries. Which was fine with her. Focusing on her miserable relationship didn’t exactly put a smile on her face, and wearing a perpetual frown was no way to greet shoppers.

After work, she stopped at the grocery store and picked up the last of what she needed for Thanksgiving: the whipped cream for the fruit salad and to top the pumpkin and pecan pies, the extra eggnog for Shyla, her eggnog addict, Dove dark chocolates for Audrey, and Constant Comment tea, which was Hazel’s favorite.

Hazel. World’s best mother-in-law. When Michelle and Max divorced he’d take Hazel and Warren, her second parents, with him. The thought made it hard to force a smile for the checkout clerk. She stepped out of line. She needed one more thing.

She hurried back to the candy aisle and picked up more dark chocolate, this time for her personal stash.

Hazel and Warren were the first to arrive, coming in the day before Thanksgiving, Hazel bringing pecan pie and the makings for her famous Kahlua yams.

“Hello, darling,” Hazel said, greeting her with a hug. “You look lovely as always. I do wish I had your slender figure,” she added as they stepped inside.

“You look fine just the way you are,” Michelle assured her.

“I swear, the older I get the harder the pounds cling to my hips,” Hazel said.

“You look fine, hon,” said Warren as he gave Michelle one of his big bear hugs. “She’s still as pretty as the day I met her,” he told Michelle.

“Yes, all twenty new wrinkles and five new pounds. On top of the others,” Hazel said with a shake of her head.

“Who notices pounds when they’re looking at your smile?” Michelle said to her. “Here, let me take your coats.”

Hazel set down the shopping bag full of goodies and shrugged out of her coat with the help of her husband. “Where’s our boy?”

Who knew? Who cared?

“Out running errands,” she said. “I’ll text him that you’re here. First, let’s get you settled.”

“I’m ready for that,” Hazel said. “The drive from Oregon gets longer every time.”

“It’s not that far,” Warren said and followed her up the stairs.

Half an hour later Max had returned, and he and his father were in the living room, the sports channel keeping them company, and the two women were in the kitchen, enjoying a cup of tea. The yams were ready and stored in the fridge, and the pecan pie was in its container, resting on the counter next to the pumpkin pie Michelle had taken out of the oven. A large pot of vegetable soup was bubbling on the stove, and French bread was warming. It would be a light evening meal to save everyone’s tummy room for the next day’s feast.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the girls,” Hazel said.

“So am I,” said Michelle.

She hated that all her girls had moved so far away. Not that she minded hopping a plane to see either Audrey or Shyla. It wasn’t a long flight from SeaTac International to either San Francisco International or LAX, but it also wasn’t the same as having them living nearby. Julia wasn’t as easily accessible, which made her absence harder to take. She’d been the final baby bird to leave the nest, and dealing with her departure had been a challenge. Perhaps because she was the last. Perhaps because it seemed she grew up and left all in one quick motherly blink: college, the boyfriend, the pregnancy, marriage, then moving. It had been painful to let go of her baby. And even more so with that baby taking the first grandchild with her.

Maybe in some ways, though, it wasn’t a bad thing that her daughters were living in different states because they hadn’t been around to see the final deterioration of their parents’ marriage.

Michelle hoped they still wouldn’t see it. She consulted her phone. It was almost time for Audrey’s flight to land. Shyla’s was getting in not long after.

“Audrey’s going to text when they’re here,” she said.

“It will be lovely to all be together again,” said Hazel. “Family is so important.”

Was that some sort of message, a subtle judgment? “How about some more tea?” Michelle suggested. And more chocolate for me.

Another fifteen minutes and the text came in with Max and Warren on their way to pick up the girls, and forty minutes after that they were coming through the door, Shyla’s laugh echoing all the way out to the kitchen. “We’re here!” she called.

“Let the fun begin,” said Hazel, and the two women exchanged smiles and left the kitchen.

They got to the front hall in time to see Max heading up the stairs with the girls’ suitcases and Warren relieving them of their coats.

“Hi, Mom,” said Audrey and hurried to hug her mother.

Shyla was right behind her.

“Welcome home,” Michelle said to her girls, hugging first one, then the other. “It’s so good to have you home.”

“It’s not like we’ve been in a foreign country,” Shyla teased.

“You may as well be,” Michelle said. “And before you remind me how much we text and talk on the phone, it’s much better having you here in person where I can hug you.”

“Hugs are good,” Audrey agreed.

“We brought you chocolate,” Shyla said, handing over a gift bag.

Michelle knew what it was even before she looked inside. Yep, Ghirardelli straight from San Francisco.

“I know you can get it anywhere, but this is right from the source,” said Shyla.

More important, it was right from the heart.

“And you don’t have to share,” Audrey said. “We brought Dad some, too.”

Sharing with Dad. There was little enough she and Max shared anymore. “That was sweet of you.”

“We figured you might need it,” Audrey said.

Was she referring to Michelle’s troubled relationship with their father? No, couldn’t be.

“After last Thanksgiving,” Shyla added.

Michelle breathed a sigh of relief. Of course, they were talking about the power outage, which had ruined both the turkey and the pie she’d had in the oven.

The girls had loved it, settling in to play cards by candlelight. Michelle had been frustrated. And far from happy with her husband who’d said, “Chill, Chelle. It’s no big deal.”

It had been to her, but she’d eventually adjusted, lit the candles on the table and served peanut butter and jelly sandwiches along with olives and pickles and the fruit salad she’d made, along with the pie Hazel had brought. Hazel had declared the meal a success.

Max had said nothing encouraging. Of course.

“Oh, and this.” Shyla dug in the bag she was still carrying and pulled out a jar of peanut butter. “Just in case we have to eat peanut butter sandwiches again.”

Hazel chuckled. “You girls think of everything.”

“Yes, we do,” Audrey said, and from her capacious purse pulled out a box of crackers. “In case we run out of bread.”

“Now we’re set,” said Michelle and smiled. It was the first genuine smile she’d worn since the last time she’d been with the girls. It felt good.

“Oh, and I have something special for you, Gram,” Shyla said to Hazel. “It’s in my suitcase. Come on upstairs.”

Michelle started. She didn’t need Hazel seeing where the girls were staying and wondering why they were stuffed in the sewing room and not the other guest room. “Why don’t you bring it down here?” Michelle suggested.

“I should stir my stumps,” Hazel said and followed her granddaughter up the stairs.

Audrey fell in behind, and Michelle trailed after, her stomach starting to squirm. Suddenly she wasn’t so sure about that excuse she’d invented for changing her husband’s sleeping arrangements. But the excuse was going to have to do because she didn’t have time to think of anything better.

They passed the first bedroom at the top of the stairs, which had once been Audrey’s and had been serving as a guest room ever since she’d graduated from college and got her first apartment. It was where Warren and Hazel slept when they came to visit. Then came the second room, which had been Julia’s but was serving as Max’s new bedroom. The door was shut, hiding the evidence. Shyla reached for the doorknob.

“Not that room,” Michelle said quickly. “I have you girls together,” she said, leading to Shyla’s old room, which was serving as the sewing room. It still had a pullout bed in it for overflow sleeping when Michelle’s brother’s family came to stay. Bracing herself, she opened it, revealing the girls’ luggage sitting on the floor.

Audrey looked at Michelle, her brows pulled together. “We’re in the sewing room?”

“You girls don’t mind sharing a room, right?” Michelle said lightly.

“What happened to Julia’s old room?” Shyla asked.

“We’re not using that room for now,” Michelle hedged.

“More storage?” Shyla moved back down the hall and opened the door. “What the…”

“Your father’s sleeping there,” Michelle said. Hazel looked at her in surprise, igniting a fire in her cheeks.

“Dad?” Audrey repeated.

“He snores,” said Michelle. “Sleep apnea.”

“Sleep apnea,” Hazel repeated, trying out a foreign and unwanted word.

“Has he done a sleep test?” Audrey asked.

“Not yet,” said Michelle. She kept her gaze averted from her daughter’s eyes.

“Gosh, Mom, that’s a serious sleep disorder.”

“How come you didn’t tell us?” Shyla wanted to know.

“Is he getting a CPAP machine?” Audrey sounded ready to panic.

“Don’t worry. Everything’s under control,” Michelle lied. Audrey looked ready to keep probing so Michelle hustled to change the subject. “Shyla, what did your bring Gram?”

“Wait till you see it. It’s so cute,” Shyla said, hurrying to unzip her suitcase. “I found it in a thrift shop.”

“Still shopping smart. I’m proud of you,” Hazel said.

“I learned from the best—you and Mom.” She pulled out a little green stuffed felt cactus inserted in a miniature terra-cotta pot and surrounded by beach glass. “It’s a pin cushion,” she said as she presented it.

“That is darling,” said Hazel.

From where she stood by the doorway, Michelle let out a breath, then took another. Like a good magician performing sleight of hand, she had diverted attention to something else and pulled off her trick. Now you see trouble, now you don’t.

How long could she keep up the act?

Excerpted from The Road to Christmas by Sheila Roberts. Copyright © 2022 by Sheila Roberts. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

The Road to Christmas by Sheila Roberts is a contemporary novel that does have a bit of romance and is set during the Christmas season. The story in The Road to Christmas is one that changes the point of view between several characters during the book.

Michelle and Max are at a point in their marriage that divorce is being thought of by both now that their girls have all grown. Even with their marital troubles tough they can’t say no to their youngest, Julia, when she asks for the family to all come see her new home in Idaho.

Audrey and Shyla are Julia’s older siblings and of course they agree to Christmas with their younger sister and set out together to make the journey. And then Hazel and Warren, otherwise known as grandma and grandpa to the girls, also need to make a drive to get to Julia but are determined to do so too so that the whole family will be together for Christmas.

Even though I’ve read several books by Sheila Roberts and enjoyed them I think The Road to Christmas would have screamed read me regardless of the author as I love a good travel read and I love a good Christmas tale. With three pairs setting out on their own road trips I couldn’t stop turning the pages to see what would happen. As much as I loved the story and all the action that came along though I did kind of think to myself just how realistic would it be for all three pairs to have such an adventure so I settled on four stars although the adventures certainly had me hooked!

I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

About the author:

Sheila Roberts lives on a lake in Washington State, where most of her novels are set. Her books have been published in several languages. On Strike for Christmas, was made into a movie for the Lifetime Movie Network and her novel, The Nine Lives of Christmas, was made into a movie for Hallmark. You can visit Sheila on Twitter and Facebook or at her website (http://www.sheilasplace.com).

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Whispers in the Waters by Sarah Chislon blitz with giveaway

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Whispers in the Waters
Sarah Chislon
Publication date: September 27th 2022
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Mystery

Ladies don’t shame their families.

Ladies don’t confront Otherwordly threats.

Ladies certainly don’t admit some taint of the fae has touched their souls—unless they wish to find themselves confined to an Institution.

Gently-bred herbalist Jessa Caldwell is trying to be a lady. She conceals her true nature amongst her plants and her sketches—where she can almost shut out the whispers she alone hears. But a threat to her beloved aunt forces her from the comfort of home to a town perilously near an Otherworldly Crossing, with its ever-present risk of fae incursions.

To protect her aunt and the townsfolk she comes to care for, she must uncover the individual responsible for a series of increasingly dangerous attacks—but to find this saboteur will require embracing the part of herself she fears most, an act that could cost her dearly. In a world where Vigilists lock up fae-touched mortals, Jessa must decide if she’s willing to risk exposing her true nature to obtain the truth and protect those she loves.

Whispers in the Waters, a gaslamp fantasy novella, serves as the prequel to Tattoo of Crimson, the first book in the Blood of the Fae series. If you like quick-minded heroines who solve cases with logic and intuition, Otherworldly intrigues, and beautiful yet deadly fae, then you’ll love this mystery set in a world of manners and mythical monsters.

 

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EXCERPT:

I rounded a bend, and the slight woman I’d seen in the stratesman’s shadow when we’d arrived in Milburn stumbled down the lane, her gown of muslin streaked with dirt and littered with forest debris. She clutched a ragged silk shawl around her shoulders, as though it could shield her from notice.

Nelda, Mrs. Wilkins had called her. Her palm dripped blood, and tears streaked her cheeks. For a moment, I remained rooted in place. If the townsfolk were to be believed, Nelda had brought a vengeful attack against Melle and her family. But the downcast lines of her body spoke of brokenness and distress, not malice.

“Nelda?” I hoped she wouldn’t take offense at the use of her given name from a stranger. I hurried forward. “You’re hurt. What happened?”

“I . . . I don’t know.” Nelda lifted her hand and watched as blood wept from it, one drop after another splatting against the dusty surface of the road. The wound cut deep.

Could Mrs. Wilkins have been right when she’d suggested madness? I shifted the bundle of clothes from one arm to the other. “Can I accompany you home and find someone to tend your injury?”

She laughed, a wild, off-key sound. “Home? I have no home.”

“Then where are you staying?” I lowered my voice in an attempt to soothe her. “I’ll help you there and fetch an herbalist, if it suits you.”

“Staying? No one will house me. Not after what’s happened at the mill.” She jabbed toward the trees with her uninjured hand. “I stay in the forest. At least here, I’m close. Close to where home used to be.”

I drew in a sharp breath. To live in the forest, this close to a Crossing? It was unthinkable. Otherkind might lurk anywhere, not to mention natural predators. Had the entire town truly forsaken her, simply because she’d wed the wrong man and he’d abandoned her? Or was there more that I missed? Society offered swift condemnation for those who failed to abide by its strictures, but other than a poor choice in a husband, what wrong had she done?

She swayed, and I rushed to steady her. “You can’t stay out here. You need proper shelter and someone to look at your wound. Come with me into Milburn, and we’ll find an herbalist.”

“No, I can’t.” She backed away, every scrap of color leeching from already-pale features. “No one here wants to help. They’d only try to lock me up!”

 

Author Bio:

Sarah Chislon lives in Virginia with her husband and three daughters. When she’s not writing, she’s homeschooling her children and running a web development business with her husband. As an avid reader and a lifelong story-weaver, she delights in creating fantastic worlds and exploring them alongside her characters.

 

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Mermaid of Venice Series by Jincey Lumpkin blitz with giveaway

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Mermaid of Venice
Jincey Lumpkin
(Mermaid of Venice, #1)
Publication date: March 15th 2021
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Romance

IndieReader Approved with 4.8 of 5 stars: “MERMAID OF VENICE is an electrifying series starter that immerses readers in a world filled with glamor, sex, murder, and mermaids.”

Dive into the extremely glamorous life of Gia Acquaviva, an ultra-rich Venetian mogul with a portfolio of clubs and casinos around the globe. Gia harbors dark secrets––and an underwater graveyard filled with the bones of her former lovers.

Her family’s roots descend from the mythological sirens of ancient Greece, but she’s taken every precaution to protect her anonymity and the existence of other mermaids. Gia lures in men with a beguiling façade, but inside lurks a deeply troubled soul, severely damaged by a mysterious past.

Despite her sinister desires, she longs for true intimacy and believes she may have found her match in Cameron Langley, a successful London-based banker and dead ringer for Chris Hemsworth. He offers Gia her first real opportunity for lasting love. They share an intensely passionate, deeply sensual connection… but is her growing affection for new lover enough to lull the murderous cravings she feels building within?

Fans of Killing Eve and Big Little Lies will love Mermaid of Venice, a sexy psychological thriller with lush fantasy elements. The setting is modern day Europe with all the chic locales, hot spots and vistas of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley and a juicy splash of the lavish lifestyle in E. L. James’s 50 Shades series. This is not the Little Mermaid you grew up with. Gia’s out for blood.

Mermaid of Venice is the first installment in a series of 6 books about Gia Acquaviva.

The complete series:

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The full series is out NOW! Get started on it today!

EXCERPT (book 1):

In a dark corner of the canal, Gia Aqcuaviva sat on the curved wooden edge of her Riva doing what most locals did during the Venice Film Festival: She observed celebrities. Mega-yachts littered the Grand Canal—no doubt there were many billions in global currencies floating on the water.

She was not a star-struck teen. On the contrary, she’d crossed paths with her fair share of the glitterati on the floors of her casinos and in the VIP rooms of her clubs in Paris and Berlin and Monte Carlo. Gia preferred the shadows, though. On this particular evening, she was staked out for one particular star, Nicolás Ángel Fernández, her lover.

Nico was scheduled for the red carpet at five o’clock, a prime slot for maximum exposure to the paparazzi. His handlers would make sure he hit every mark and, then, that he would be smuggled out of the theater’s side door just as the lights went down. He couldn’t stand the sight of his own famous face on the screen. Never mind that he’d attained “Sexiest Man Alive” status several times over.

He didn’t even like to see himself on directors ’monitors. The lack of vanity, the self-loathing, it was all part of his appeal. He preferred, instead, to look at Gia. Her deep brown hair, nearly waist long. Her pearly skin. She was almost fifty, but he didn’t know that—almost no one did. Those fortunate enough to meet her assumed that she was a rich woman in her late twenties or thirties. Her beauty defied logic, except that it didn’t.

Author Bio:

Jincey Lumpkin is a writer who splits her time between NYC and Lisbon. She has been profiled by Dateline NBC, Vice, and GQ, among others. Out Magazine listed her in its “OUT 100,” naming her as one of the world’s most influential LGBTQ+ people, alongside celebrities like Laverne Cox and Ricky Martin. Sign up for exclusive content at JinceyLumpkin.com

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Cover Reveal: A Realm of Ash and Shadow by Lara Buckheit

A Realm of Ash and Shadow
Lara Buckheit
Publication date: July 2023
Genres: Fantasy, New Adult

After eighteen years in exile, Princess Valeria Breault is forced to return to Empyrean only to discover her place as heir to the throne is in danger, her every idea of family is not what she believed it to be, and that sometimes, enemies make the best allies.

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Author Bio:

Lara Buckheit was born and raised on the Eastern Shore. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Wilmington University, is a 2021 WriteMentor Mentee, an avid writer (and reader) of spice, and one time she met Taylor Swift’s dad.

She started writing at a very young age, mostly fanfiction centered around women with swords and men with devilish grins. And she hasn’t stopped since.

When not writing, Lara can be found drinking tea, hustling for her day job, reading from her endless TBR pile, or hanging out on her body confidence Instagram.

Lara currently lives in Charlottesville, VA, with her husband, dog, and thirteen houseplants named after fictional characters.

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Holidays in Virgin River (Virgin River #7.5, 10.5) by Robyn Carr Blog Tour

**This post contains Amazon affiliate links which will allow me as an associate to earn a small commission on any purchase made through the link of the products I share. This commission in no way changes the pricing of any items for the buyer.**

Title: Holidays in Virgin River

Author: Robyn Carr

Publisher: MIRA

Publication Date: October 4, 2022

Page Count: 368

About the book:

A special gift Christmas hardcover anthology of 2 Virgin River novellas by #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr plus an introduction from the author and select recipes and explanations of the holiday traditions celebrated in Virgin River.

Contains two Virgin River novellas: Under the Christmas Tree and Midnight Confessions along with at least 10 recipes and anecdotes written by Robyn Carr about why the recipes are special to specific characters from VR. We’ll also have an introduction written by Robyn explaining why she wrote Virgin River in the first place and why it resonates so strongly with audiences today. Examples of recipes are: The VR cookie exchange (Gingerbread cookies, Traditional Scottish Shortbread, Lemon Bars, Chocolate Chip Cookies) Hot drinks to enjoy as they decorate the town Christmas tree (mulled wine, homemade hot chocolate) Preacher’s famous meatloaf and garlic mash, to name a few.

Find this book online:

Goodreads  /  Amazon  /  Harlequin  / BookShop.org / Barnes & Noble / Books-A-Million / Powell’s

Excerpt:

Because of a box full of cold, hungry, barely moving puppies, Annie had all but forgotten the reason she’d ended up in Virgin River. It was three weeks till Christmas and her three older brothers, their wives and their kids would descend on her parents’ farm for the holiday. Today was one of her two days off a week from the beauty shop. Yesterday, Sunday, she’d baked with her mom all day and today she’d gotten up early to make a couple of big casseroles her mom could freeze for the holiday company. Today, she’d planned to cook with her mom, maybe take one of her two horses out for a ride and say hello to Erasmus, her blue-ribbon bull. Erasmus was very old now and every hello could be the last. Then she’d planned to stay for dinner with her folks, something she did at least once a week. Being the youngest and only unmarried one of the McKenzie kids and also the only one who lived nearby, the task of looking in on Mom and Dad fell to her.

But here she was, hearthside, managing a box of newborn puppies. Jack rustled up the formula and cereal and a couple of warm towels from the dryer. Preacher provided the shallow bowls and mixed up the formula. She and Chris fed a couple of puppies at a time, coaxing them to lap up the food. She requisitioned an eyedropper from the medical clinic across the street for the pups who didn’t catch on to lapping up dinner.

Jack put in a call to a fellow he knew who was a veterinarian, and it turned out Annie knew him, too. Old Doc Jensen had put in regular appearances out at the farm since before she was born. Back in her dad’s younger days, he’d kept a thriving but small dairy farm. Lots of cows, a few horses, dogs and cats, goats and one ornery old bull. Jensen was a large-animal vet, but he’d be able to at least check out these puppies.

Annie asked Jack to also give her mom a call and explain what was holding her up. Her mom would laugh, knowing her daughter so well. Nothing would pry Annie away from a box of needy newborn puppies.

As the dinner hour approached, she couldn’t help but notice that the puppies were drawing a crowd. People stopped by where she sat at the hearth, asked for the story, reached into the box to ruffle the soft fur or even pick up a puppy. Annie wasn’t sure so much handling was a good idea, but as long as she could keep the little kids, particularly David, from mishandling them, she felt she’d at least won the battle if not the war.

“This bar has needed mascots for a long time,” someone said.

“Eight of ’em. Donner, Prancer, Comet, Vixen, and…

whoever.”

“Which one is Comet?” Chris asked. “Dad? Can I have Comet?”

“No. We operate an eating-and-drinking establishment,” Preacher said.

“Awww, Dad! Dad, come on. Please, Dad. I’ll do everything. I’ll sleep with him. I’ll make sure he’s nice. Please.”

“Christopher…”

“Please. Please? I never asked for anything before.”

“You ask for everything, as a matter of fact,” Preacher corrected him. “And get most of it.”

“Boy shouldn’t grow up without a dog,” someone said.

“Teaches responsibility and discipline,” was another comment.

“It’s not like he’d be in the kitchen all the time.”

“I run a ranch. Little hair in the potatoes never put me off.” Laughter sounded all around.

Four of the eight pups were doing real well; they were wriggling around with renewed strength and had lapped up some of the formula thickened with cereal. Two were trying to recover from what was certainly hunger and hypothermia; Annie managed to get a little food into them with an eyedropper. Two others were breathing, their hearts beating, but not only were they small, they were weak and listless. She dripped a little food into their tiny mouths and then tucked them under her shirt to keep them warm, hoping they might mistake her for their mother for now, all the time wondering if old Doc Jensen would ever show.

When yet another gust of wind blew in the opened front door, Annie momentarily forgot all about the puppies. Some of the best male eye candy she’d chanced upon in a long while had just walked into Jack’s Bar. He looked vaguely familiar, too. She wondered if maybe she’d seen him in a movie or on TV or something. He walked right up to the bar, and Jack greeted him enthusiastically.

“Hey, Nate! How’s it going? You get those plane tickets yet?”

“I took care of that a long time ago.” He laughed. “I’ve been looking forward to this forever. Before too long I’m going to be lying on a Nassau beach in the middle of a hundred string bikinis. I dream about it.”

“One of those Club Med things?” Jack asked.

“Nah.” He laughed again. “A few people from school. I haven’t seen most of them in years. We hardly keep in touch, but one of them put this holiday together and, since I was available, it sounded like an excellent idea. The guy who made the arrangements got one of those all-inclusive hotel deals—food, drinks, everything included except activities like deep-sea fishing or scuba diving—for when I’m not just lying on the sand, looking around at beautiful women in tiny bathing suits.”

“Good for you,” Jack said. “Beer?”

“Don’t mind if I do,” Nate replied. And then, like the answer to a prayer she didn’t even know she’d uttered, he carried his beer right over to where she sat with the box of puppies. “Hello,” he said.

She swallowed, looking up. It was hard to tell how tall he was from her sitting position, but certainly over six feet. Annie noticed things like that because she was tall. His hair was dark brown; his eyes were an even darker brown and surrounded with loads of thick black lashes. Her mother called eyes like that “bedroom eyes.” He lifted his brows as he looked down at her. Then he smiled and revealed a dimple in one cheek.

“I said hello,” he repeated.

She coughed herself out of her stupor. “Hi.”

He frowned slightly. “Hey, I think you cut my hair once.”

“Possible. That’s what I do for a living.”

“Yeah, you did,” he said. “I remember now.”

“What was the problem with the haircut?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Don’t know that there was a problem,” he replied.

“Then why didn’t you come back?”

He chuckled. “Okay, we argued about the stuff you wanted to put in it. I didn’t want it, you told me I did. You won and I went out of there looking all spiky. When I touched my head, it was like I had meringue in my hair.”

“Product,” she explained. “We call it product. It’s in style.”

“Yeah? I’m not, I guess,” he said, sitting down on the raised hearth on the other side of the box. He reached in and picked up a puppy. “I don’t like product in my hair.”

“Your hands clean?” she asked him.

He gave her a startled look. Then his eyes slowly wandered from her face to her chest and he smiled slightly. “Um, I think you’re moving,” he said. “Or maybe you’re just very excited to meet me.” And then he grinned playfully.

“Oh, you’re funny,” Annie replied, reaching under her sweater to pull out a tiny squirming animal. “You make up that line all by your little self?”

He tilted his head and took the puppy out of her hands. “I’d say at least part border collie. Looks like mostly border collie, but they can take on other characteristics as they get older. Cute,” he observed. “Plenty of pastoral breeds around here.”

“Those two are the weakest of the bunch, so please be careful. I’m waiting for the vet.”

He balanced two little puppies in one big hand and pulled a pair of glasses out of the pocket of his suede jacket. “I’m the vet.” He slipped on his glasses and, holding both pups upside down, looked at their eyes, mouth, ears and pushed on their bellies with a finger.

She was speechless for a minute. “You’re not old Doc Jensen.”

“Nathaniel Junior,” he said. “Nate. You know my father?” he asked, still concentrating on the puppies. He put them in the box and picked up two more, repeating the process.

“He…ah… My folks have a farm down by Alder Point. Hey! I grew up there! Not all that far from Doc’s clinic and stable. Shouldn’t I know you?”

He looked over the tops of his glasses. “I don’t know. How old are you?”

“Twenty-eight.”

“Well, there you go. I’m thirty-two. Got a few years on you. Where’d you go to school?”

“Fortuna. You?”

“Valley.” He laughed. “I guess you can call me old Doc Jensen now.” And there was that grin again. No way he could have grown up within fifty miles of her farm without her knowing him. He was too delicious-looking.

“I have older brothers,” she said. “Beau, Brad and Jim McKenzie. All older than you.”

At first he was startled at this news, then he broke into a wide smile. Then he laughed. “Are you that skinny, fuzzy-haired, freckle-faced, tin-mouthed pain in the neck who always followed Beau and Brad around?”

Her eyes narrowed and she glared at him.

“No,” he said, laughing. “That must have been someone else. Your hair isn’t pumpkin orange. And you’re not all that…” He paused for a second, then said, “Got your braces off, I see.” By her frown, he realized he hadn’t scored with that comment.

“Where is your father? I want a second opinion!”

“Okay, you’re not so skinny anymore, either.” He smiled, proud of himself.

“Very, very old joke, sparky,” she said.

“Well, you’re out of luck, cupcake. My mom and dad finally realized a dream come true and moved to Arizona where they could have horses and be warm and pay lower taxes. One of my older sisters lives there with her family. I’ve got another sister in Southern California and another one in Nevada. I’m the new old Doc Jensen.”

Now it was coming back to her—Doc Jensen had kids, all older than she was. Too much older for her to have known them in school. But she did vaguely remember the son who came with him to the farm on rare occasions. One corner of her mouth quirked up in a half grin. “Are you that little, pimply, tin-mouthed runt with the squeaky voice who came out to the farm with your dad sometimes?”

He frowned and made a sound. “I was a late bloomer,” he said.

“I’ll say.” She laughed.

Excerpted from Holidays in Virgin River by Robyn Carr. Copyright © 2022 by Robyn Carr. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

About the author:

Robyn Carr is an award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than sixty novels, including highly praised women’s fiction such as Four Friends and The View From Alameda Island and the critically acclaimed Virgin River, Thunder Point and Sullivan’s Crossing series. Virgin River is now a Netflix Original series. Robyn lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Visit her website at http://www.RobynCarr.com.

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