Christmas is almost here and so is the release of A Christmas for Carrie, my first (and hopefully not last) holiday novella. In honor of the occasion, I thought it would be nice to give you an excerpt. This is the first scene from the first chapter.
The moment Carrie Jones stepped inside her favorite coffeehouse, the welcoming aroma of rich coffee beans enveloped her. It was Saturday, but unlike most Saturday mornings she wasn’t sleeping in. No, like the loyal employee she was she’d volunteered to help one of the associates prepare for an upcoming trial. So that meant caffeine. Lots and lots of caffeine.
Stepping up to the counter, she smiled at the young woman behind the cash register, ordered her usual dark roast blend and tried to ignore the Christmas music playing on the stereo system.
The current selection was the Pretenders’ version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” As an ‘80s music aficionado, Carrie adored the Pretenders, but her love for the band didn’t lessen the sudden tightness in her chest, or the urge to cover her ears to drown out the music. With a clenched jaw, she stared at the barista’s back as she poured coffee into a large to-go cup, and as the seconds stretched into what seemed like an eternity, Carrie silently prayed for the stereo system to either short-circuit or blow up. Unfortunately, the prayer didn’t work and the memories she was able to suppress the other eleven months of the year threatened to breach her defenses and run amok inside her head.
Get ahold of yourself, Carrie. With a shaky hand, she pulled a ten-dollar bill from the side pocket of her purse and laid it on the counter.
“Keep the change,” she said as the barista turned to hand her the cup. The young woman’s thank-you barely registered as Carrie grabbed the cup and dashed toward the exit.
Once outside, she breathed a sigh of relief and at the same time hated that something as innocuous as Christmas music had the power to evoke such powerful emotions inside of her.
Worse, Christmas was still three weeks away. Add in the week after Christmas and that meant an entire month of having to put on a cheerful face when all she wanted to do was curl up into a ball and forget the holidays altogether.
A gust of frigid air stung her cheeks and reminded her she was short on time. Galvanized into action, she headed for her car as a white SUV pulled into the almost empty parking lot and easily found a spot. Anxious to warm up, Carrie opened the door of her Toyota and slung her purse onto the passenger seat. Bending over, she reached inside and placed her coffee cup into the center-console cup holder.
“Jones? Is that you?”
Startled by the deep voice, she jerked upright and banged her head on the door frame. “Owww,” she muttered as she backed up and rubbed her head. Straightening, she turned and as she lifted her gaze to the man standing by her car, her heart stopped. Not literally, of course. But it seemed to stop and then, just as quickly, started beating again—correction—it pounded like a jackhammer on steroids. No surprise there. That had always been her heart’s standard response anytime she was within ten feet of Nick Johnson. One might think that would have changed after fourteen years but, nope, Nick still had the power to make her go weak in the knees.
“Nick?” She let her gaze roam over his face and quickly took in the changes. He’d been eighteen the last time she’d seen him and by the looks of things, the years had been kind. Very kind. Gone were the glasses and the braces, but his intelligent brown eyes still shimmered with good humor, and his killer smile was just as deadly. His dark hair was shorter than she remembered, but long enough so that it had that tousled just-got-out-of-bed look that, frankly, was sexier than hell.
“I thought that was you.” His gaze slid casually down her body before rising to meet hers. “I wondered if you were still in Grass Valley.”
Lifting her hands to adjust the knit cap she wore, Carrie smiled. “I’m still here.” She slipped her hands into her jacket pockets and pulled out her gloves. “What brings you home?” she asked as she slipped them on.
“Christmas.” The corners of his eyes crinkled as he returned her smile. “My parents usually make the trip to San Francisco to spend the holidays with me but this year we decided to change it up.” Nick glanced at his watch. “Seven-thirty might be a little too early to wake them, so I decided to stop for some coffee.” He searched her face and made her all too aware that she’d forgone makeup this morning. No doubt she looked like she’d just dragged her ass out of bed. Which she had and, sadly, it wasn’t her best look. “I’m glad I did, otherwise I wouldn’t have run into my favorite study buddy from high school.”
Study buddy. Much to Carrie’s teenage disappointment, that’s all they’d been. Buddies. Nick had never once noticed she was a girl. All she’d been was his math tutor, and the person he’d confided in about the great love of his young life—Alicia Walsh, the mean girl who’d never looked twice at Nick, and who, along with her popular friends, ruled their high school with a ruthlessness that often struck terror into the hearts of students who weren’t quite as good-looking or athletically inclined.
“You’re in town for Christmas?” Carrie asked, surprised. “It’s still three weeks away.”
“I know. But I can work from just about anywhere. All I need is a phone and my laptop.” He shifted to shove his hands into his pockets. The move drew her attention to his faded jeans. He’d been gangly in high school and although still lean, it was obvious he’d filled out—his thighs looked like they were made of solid muscle.
“There was a story about you in the Union last year,” she said, remembering the glowing article in Grass Valley’s local newspaper. And that explained the muscular thighs—the article had mentioned he’d taken up cycling several years ago. “You finally made it in the sports world.”
“Yep.” He cocked his head and gave her a wry grin. “Just not as a player like I’d always dreamed.” He shrugged. “It turned out for the best, I love what I do.”
“That’s great—” She broke off as the musical ringtone of her cell phone started to play. She glanced inside her car as the music stopped and the call went to voicemail. “That’s probably my coworker. I’m working today and running a bit late.”
“I’ll let you go, then. Hey, since I’m going to be in town for a while, we should catch up.” He pulled his phone from his jacket pocket. “Can I give you a call? Maybe we can grab some dinner.”
Her pulse sped up. “I’d like that,” she said and gave him her number. He entered it into his phone and then slid it back into his pocket.
“I’ll call you,” he said, then after giving her another one of those killer smiles that used to make her melt, he turned and headed for the entrance of the café. Carrie watched him until he disappeared inside and then slid into her car.
As she pulled out of the parking lot, she tried not to read too much into Nick’s parting words. Still, the thought of renewing their acquaintance lightened her mood and gave her something to look forward to. Suddenly, the month of December looked a heck of a lot brighter.
Available December 5th:
Text Copyright © 2013 by Alison Packard
Cover Art Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license.