Beach Blanket Publishing
Helping people find their dream house has always come natural to Caroline. She’s able to set the stage perfectly so her clients can imagine spending the holidays in their new home, even though she doesn’t decorate her own. When her boss assigns her to oversee the company’s first Christmas Tour of Homes, Caroline thinks she may be in over her head.
Luke has always made sure his daughter, Ella, had all that she needed for Christmas, including a home bursting at the seams with tinsel and holly. Even if it meant working extra shifts patrolling the town. So when a house of their own is at the top of Ella’s Christmas list, he can’t help but set out to find one.
As Christmas fate brings Caroline and Luke together, they just might be exactly what the other needs to make it through the holidays. Until Luke unknowingly stumbles across Caroline’s past. A past that keeps Caroline from looking to a future with Luke.
Can Caroline and Luke find their way to happily ever after? Or is the only thing keeping them from finding it, each other?
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The gravel crunched under the tires as Caroline’s car made its way up the long drive. As she reached the crest of the tree-topped hill, the driveway made a sharp turn to the right, then opened up to a small grassy field with an old but clean wooden house sitting squarely in the center of it. She pulled her car up to the side of the house and turned off the ignition. As she opened the door and swept her scarf around her neck, the cold air reddened her cheeks. She shivered.
The small porch that led to the front door was bare but for a pile of firewood. Caroline shook her head. Curb appeal was always important when trying to sell a home, even if the curb was a mile from the front door. First impressions count, and this curb was lacking appeal. She turned the key in the lock, and as she pushed the door open, she was hit with a gush of warm air filled with the scents of gingerbread and pine cones. She smiled. This was more like it. She made her way through the house, smoothing the bedspreads and tidying pillows on chairs.
As she straightened the table setting, there was a quiet knock at the front door. She ran her hands down her sides and put her friendliest smile on, then headed for the door.
“Come in, Dave and Sandra,” she said as she swung open the door. Her clients entered. “Let me take your coats.” She hung them on the hooks just inside the foyer, hoping it would help them envision living there.
“Caroline.” Sandra’s hands flew to her mouth. “It’s adorable.”
“Wait until you see the kitchen,” she added, then held her hand out to the side, encouraging them to explore. Caroline followed them through the kitchen, emphasizing the retro appliances, and out the back door to a large patio overlooking an expansive yard with a peaceful brook running along the side.
When they re-entered the house and passed through the living room, Sandra cuddled her growing belly in her hands and stopped, staring at the quaint space. “The piano would fit perfectly right there.” She pointed to the wall on the right.
“A Christmas tree would be really lovely over there.” Caroline pointed to a corner between the fireplace and a wall with a large, picturesque window.
Dave stepped in closer to Sandra and put an arm around her. “I can see us singing carols on Christmas Eve.”
She leaned in and whispered something back to Dave.
“I’m going to give you a few minutes to finish looking around and talk privately.” Caroline headed to the kitchen. She took a gingerbread cookie from the table and was about to take a bite when she realized it was in the shape of an elf. She giggled, then bit off his head.
She passed the time staring out the window, appreciating the lush evergreen trees and watching the robins flit from one tree to another.
“Caroline.” Dave stepped into the kitchen. “We’d like to put a bid on the house. It’s exactly what we’re looking for.”
She smiled. “Of course. I have the paperwork in my bag.”
As Dave and Sandra signed the house bid, Caroline glanced at her watch. It would only take her fifteen minutes to wind her way back down the drive, up the highway, and into town where she would meet Lauren for dinner. She waved goodbye as they drove off, then she locked up the house, heading on her way.
The hostess that greeted Caroline was dressed as an elf, pointy shoes and ears and all. She led Caroline to Lauren, who sat in a dim alcove illuminated by lights muted with Santa hats. A mug in the shape of a Santa boot sat on the table in front of her. Caroline tossed her coat on the booth and rolled her eyes at Lauren. “You chose this place on purpose, didn’t you?” She gestured at the decor around them.
“For someone that loves to celebrate the spirit of Christmas, you sure don’t like all the decorating that comes with it.” Lauren took a sip from her mug.
Caroline giggled. “You know I love Christmas. But all this is too much. It’s not what Christmas is about. It’s supposed to be about giving and kindness. This is all commercial.”
“You could at least get a tree. That’s not commercial.”
“You know me. I don’t decorate. I will provide a tree for someone else to help them feel the Christmas spirit, but—”
“No decorating. I know.” Lauren rolled her eyes. “How did the house showing go?”
“Spectacular. It was right on the outskirts of town like they wanted. They put an offer on it, and I expect it to be accepted. Which is great because it will help fund my Christmas spirit. How was work for you today?”
She shrugged. “You know. It’s heartbreaking to see so many people without a place to go day after day. But I’m doing my best to change that. The police department has been very helpful this year. They’ve even assigned us a delegate to make sure we are helping all the people we can. Plus, the shelter’s Christmas Eve dinner is going to be extra special this year.”
“That’s great. And that’s the Christmas spirit I’m talking about.”
“Speaking of that, I have just the thing you’re thinking of. They are a great family that has fallen on some hard times and need a little help.” Lauren pushed her curly hair behind her ears and dug in her purse. She pulled out a piece of white paper folded in half. “You know, it’s really great that you do this.”
Caroline took the paper from Lauren and tucked it into her purse, then plucked a menu from the end of the table. “I just want everyone to experience Christmas the way I did as a child. No one should miss out on that.”
Lauren nodded. “What should we order? Should we start with an appetizer?”
As Caroline drove home, passing through the neighborhoods with their lights strung and flickering in the night, she felt a tug at her heart. She slowed as she approached a home with wooden reindeer on the lawn and lit snowflakes hanging from the trees. Her dad used to love to hang snowflakes around their home. He always said he felt like it encouraged the snow on Christmas Eve.
A car behind her honked and she was brought back to the present. She waved an apology in the mirror and moved on, heading home for the night.
Mary was hovering by the door when Caroline arrived at the office. Her hair was immaculately coifed, and she held a steaming mug of coffee that read I Sell Houses—What’s Your Superpower?
“I heard the offer on the house yesterday was accepted. Good job.”
Caroline’s eyebrows raised. She should’ve checked her email before heading into the office this morning. “Thanks. I’m about to straighten out all the details now.”
“Great. I also have some exciting news at the meeting this morning. Don’t be late.”
Caroline nodded and stopped at the coffee machine before going to her office. “Good morning, Sarah,” she said to the office assistant, who was standing beside a large box with a long strand of tinsel wrapped in her arms.
“Hi, Caroline. Would you like me to decorate your office for you? You’re the only one that hasn’t done it yet.”
“I think I’m okay.”
Sarah’s eyes fell. “Oh, okay.”
Caroline paused. “Well, I guess you could maybe decorate the outside of my door. Would that work?”
Her eyes lit up. “Yes. I’d love to. I have just the thing.” She pulled the rest of the tinsel out and found a large, bright-red bell.
Caroline took a sip of her coffee then disappeared into her office to call Sandra and Dave and tell them the good news. Sandra squealed when she heard, and Dave sounded as though he was getting choked up. “Do you think we can be in by Christmas?” he asked.
“Maybe. It’s only about four weeks away, but I’ll see what I can work out with the sellers.”
Sarah knocked on the door just as Caroline was hanging up.
“The meeting is about to start,” she said.
“Thanks.” She grabbed her notebook and followed Sarah into the meeting room.
“Welcome everyone. We have a lot to discuss, so let’s get started right away.” Mary paced back and forth across the small room as she spoke. “This year, we have decided to partner with a local furniture store to do a fundraiser for Sweet River Children’s Hospital.”
Caroline turned her attention to the room. This was exactly the Christmas spirit that motivated her. Everyone looked to one another, nodding encouragement and smiling with delight. Mary stood, pleased, her hands folded in front of her, her shoulders back. Her short, straight bob swayed softly as she turned from one side of the room to the other to take in all the excitement.
“We are going to host a Christmas Tour of Homes featuring four of our properties that are currently for sale. Anderson’s Furniture Store will provide the decor and we will do the decorating. I have put together a team of agents that have shown interest in decorating and have selected one person to be in charge of the team and decorating the locations.”
Sarah raised her hand. “Is this the kind of tour where people buy tickets to visit the properties to see how we have decorated them for Christmas?”
“Yes,” Mary said, nodding. “We get a weekend of heavy foot traffic into the homes we are selling while raising money for the children’s hospital. It’s a win-win deal.”
Caroline gave a sigh of relief that she wouldn’t have to help. It may be for a good cause, but she was clearly not the one for the job. She turned her focus to her notebook and started making a list of things she had to do for her clients.
“Caroline.” Mary’s voice was clear and direct.
Caroline sat up straighter in her seat.
“Caroline will be leading the decorating team. Sarah is handing each team member a packet detailing the homes that will be on the tour and the proposed rooms to decorate.”
Caroline’s jaw dropped. She lifted her index finger to protest, but Mary continued.
“Of course, if you find you’d like to decorate additional rooms, that is at your discretion, Caroline. This is your project. You are in total control.”
Caroline shook her head, still unable to find the words. She looked to Sarah, who had sat back down. “I’m honored to be on your team,” Sarah whispered.
The rest of the meeting was a blur. Caroline tried her best to stay focused, but visions of tinsel and nutcrackers and tree ornaments the size of her head kept popping up in her mind. She tried to shake them free, but it seemed to only serve as encouragement. Her coworkers were encouraged, too. Before the meeting was over, she had already received eight emails from fellow agents and their ideas for the Home Tour.
As everyone exited the room, Caroline hung back, hopeful that she would get a moment alone with Mary. Surely, she would understand. She simply was not the one for the job.
When the last straggler had filled his plate with Santa-shaped sugar cookies from the snack table and made his way out, Caroline threw her shoulders back and approached her boss.
“Mary. I have some concerns about the Christmas Tour of Homes.”
“Of course. I knew you would. But timing is not an issue. Three weeks is plenty of time to get the homes decorated.”
“That’s not it. I just…” She had to pick her words carefully. She didn’t want her boss to think that she was refusing an important job.
No, she would do it happily, if she thought she was capable. “I’m not sure I’m the right person for this role.”
“Nonsense. I spoke with Sandra and Dave this morning, and as soon as they told me they bought the house because you helped them picture what Christmas would look like there, I knew you were the one to lead the team.” Mary gathered her paperwork and slid it into her briefcase. “You’d better get started. As I said, three weeks is plenty of time, but it will pass very quickly.”
She gritted her teeth together, wishing she had never mentioned the Christmas tree last night. They had been so concerned about where to put a tree in the previous homes she had shown them, it seemed like the logical thing to do at the time.
Now she was in charge of decorating four homes? Her back stiffened at the thought of it. She swallowed hard, then nodded as she watched Mary leave the room.
Looked like she’d be decorating this Christmas after all.
Angelina Goode began writing as a teenager. Though her first works
were poems about love-struck teenagers, she grew her craft while earning
her degree in Journalism and Creative Writing. A former grade school
teacher that loved teaching children to write, she enjoys finding
creative ways to present everyday events. Now she primarily writes
light-hearted contemporary women’s fiction. Angelina loves to travel and
weave places she’s visited into her novels. She lives in Los Angeles
where she enjoys people-watching and year-round sun.
Angelina Goode began writing as a teenager. Though her first works were poems about love-struck teenagers, she grew her craft while earning her degree in Journalism and Creative Writing. A former grade school teacher that loved teaching children to write, she enjoys finding creative ways to present everyday events. Now she primarily writes light-hearted contemporary women’s fiction. Angelina loves to travel and weave places she’s visited into her novels. She lives in Los Angeles where she enjoys people-watching and year-round sun.