Christmas time is very much on my mind.
On October 21, 2018 | 0 Comments

Amanda's BVS Book BLOG

Christmas! I love it.  Christmas time is very much on my mind. We have a couple of Christmas books due out for release any time now; the first is Secret Santa by Keren Hughes. Available to pre-order now at the bargain price of $1.99 until the publication date 29th  October.  I will be letting you read the Prologue and Chapter one, in a moment.  Our second book is The Christmas Wedding by K.L. Ramsey.  It is the second book in The Harvest Ridge Series and is available to pre-order now! At an offer price of $1.99 until the publication date 1st  November.  The third book is a double deal from Starla Kaye Christmas Love which comprised two books Holly’s Big Bad Santa and Cowboys in Charge in a special Christmas edition.  This book is also available on KU.

As promised here is the Prologue and Chapter one of Secret Santa by Keren Hughes.

 Prologue

Once upon a time, here in the small town of Snowflake, everything was as close to perfect as you could get. The town thrived, stores always did good trade and the people always smiled like their hearts were full to bursting. We chatted, we laughed, we all got along. That was until the new mayor came along. She wanted to introduce—what she called “better”—business strategies. She brought with her a shit-ton of pie charts, graphs, all sorts of things that someone with a background in business, someone with a degree in it, would bring with them. The new mayor sucked. Literally. She drained the life out of our small town. Instead of attracting business, she pushed it away…in droves.

Soon the once thriving businesses were going bust. What had gone wrong? The mayor couldn’t answer that. But I could. She’d come in on her high horse with her grand plans to renovate an already thriving town and she’d decimated just about everything instead. How? That I’m not sure about. Maybe she made the business owners unhappy. Maybe she thought that there was room for improvement—even though nobody else in town felt that way. Maybe she backed people into a corner and, rather than suffer under her, they decided to move away, taking their business to where it could continue to do well, out of her reach.

I’m not saying that some of her ideas weren’t good. I’m not saying that everything she suggested was wrong. But when Snowflake started looking like a ghost town, that’s when she finally gave up trying, decided to resign as mayor and hightailed it out of town, back the way she’d come. Only this time, she wasn’t on a high horse. She no longer lived in an ivory tower, ordering people to “do as she said”. This time, she knew that not even her business degree was going to save her.

What could our small town do to attract business owners back? What could we do to bring people back to line our streets with smiles on their faces? It seemed that very little could be done, and we were going to fade into insignificance while our neighboring towns continued to enjoy the boost to their economy.

The day Preston Wolfric Fitzgerald III arrived in Snowflake was a day we’d never forget. He came promising he’d undo all the bad that the previous mayor had done. He swore he’d help heal our town. Trouble was, his heart wasn’t really in it. He’d been sent by his grandfather, Preston Wolfric Fitzgerald I, a man who made his fortune off the misery of others. He strode around like he was untouchable—his ice-cold manner doing nothing to endear him to people—and he razed everything to the ground so he could continue to build his empire. I never met the guy and I can’t say I was sorry when I heard he’d passed away. His son had died at the tender age of forty-three, a heart attack by all accounts. So, his grandson had inherited the company and everything that went with it. That’s when he came to Snowflake and started to help us rebuild.

Preston Wolfric Fitzgerald III was just as untouchable as you would think a man with a name like that would be. He was rich, filthy rich, and outrageously handsome—so handsome it should be a crime, for which he’d end up in jail for a life sentence—his dark hair and dark, brooding eyes made him painful to look at. His chiseled jaw and slick-backed hair made him look like a model straight off the cover of GQ magazine. Of course, his looks were the only good thing about him. Other than that, he had no admirable traits. He was stuffy, flash, stubborn and bordered on being an arrogant ass. Did I say bordered on? I mean he was an arrogant ass.

Seriously, I don’t know where it is that they breed men like him, but wherever it is, they need to start thinking of installing more endearing qualities in their handsome, infuriating jerk excuses for men. And if this is what the men are like, heaven forbid I meet a woman made of the same stock. I’d probably end up in jail for doing something I would later realize I didn’t regret.

To this day, Preston Wolfric Fitzgerald III makes me mad as hell. I’ll give him his due—although it took him a while, he did actually attract business back to our town. He did bring our little town into the twenty-first century—which is actually an improvement on how it was before, just don’t tell him I said that. But he’s also infuriating and smug, and drives a sleek black Bugatti Veyron, which I am totally jealous of.

He only wears Armani suits that must cost a bare minimum of about three month’s wages to me. I have to admit, a handsome man in a well-tailored suit is somewhat a turn on. A black three-piece suit, with a crisp white shirt and a black tie to complete the look, this man really is the epitome of … well, I can’t quite describe it actually … he’s … knee-quakingly desirable. Is that even a thing? If not, it should be. He made me melt into an incoherent puddle of goo at his feet the moment I met him. He shook my hand and I felt the electricity run up my arm and zip all the way down my spine. I’m one of the only three original businesses left in this town—well, not me, my store is, but you catch my drift. I stood there in front of this Adonis and my mouth went as dry as the Sahara. I felt like I’d been eating cotton wool or something because I couldn’t produce saliva, never mind words.

His hand had dwarfed mine and it felt like mine was made to fit in his palm. His Patek Phillipe watch glinted in the sunlight and the hairs on his forearm were a stark contrast to mine. I don’t know why I kept making so many mental comparisons between us, it’s not like he was here to hook up with me—not that I like “hooking-up” with guys, I’m not built that way. I actually prefer real relationships to random sex. But this man made me quiver at the mere touch of his hand on mine. If that’s what he could do when he wasn’t trying, I’d love hate to see what he could do when he really put his mind to it. Why, oh why, had I been thinking about what an orgasm from this man would feel like when all I actually wanted to do was smack him in his far too gorgeous face?!

Broad shoulders had caught my attention and I was mentally berating myself for getting distracted when he was talking about my business and its role here in Snowflake. I’d missed most of what he’d said and realized I was never going to admit that to him. He’d think I was a complete moron—if he didn’t already—and I didn’t want to give him any ammunition against me in case he decided to try and crush my business under his—no doubt designer—shoe while he brought someone in that he thought could do a better job.

I’ll be a grown-up—I’m a mature, sensible woman, after all—and admit that Snowflake is now better than the once thriving town it used to be. And it’s all thanks to Mr. Handsome. But his arrogance is his downfall. He’s a little like the ex-mayor, thinking that, because he has money and business acumen, everyone will bow down to him and lick his—like I say, no doubt designer—shoes. But while everyone else in this town is either under his spell, or at least begrudgingly doing his bidding, I am bucking against his leadership—much like I wish I was bucking my hips as I grind myself against him—and I am going to keep doing things my way. My store did well for itself before he came along, and I am determined that it will stay that way long after he’s got bored of fulfilling his grandfather’s wishes and has left this town behind him in his Bugatti’s rearview mirror.

I’m Nye Mackenzie—or as my mother calls me, Aneurin—and Snowflake is my home. It’s where I was born and where I’ll die. I am determined to show Mr Pearly-White Grin that Snowflake is more than a business empire. It’s a home. Full of happy families who have been here for generations before he came along and will have descendants here long after he’s left. It’s somewhere I want to have a family of my own one day. Or I would if an ex-boyfriend didn’t live around every corner.

I’m not a slut or anything, the town is just that small that a lot of people have dated each other here and I’m no different. But I don’t want children with any of those exes; I don’t want to marry the cocky, self-assured, self-obsessed asshole I was engaged to this time last year. Why had I ever wanted to become Mrs. Aneurin Dacre anyway? What kind of stupid name was that? I mean, come on, my mother already gave me a stupid first name—pronounced “an-eye-rin’—so why did I need a stupid surname to go with it? Dacre—pronounced “dayker” in case you were wondering—two stupidly pronounced names meshed together. Yeah, I was glad I’d given that a swerve.

Yes, there was a time when I’d once considered myself the luckiest girl in the world that Mal had looked at me like I was the only woman on Earth. But then I’d caught him playing around with some floozy waitress from the dive bar in the next town over. That was enough to put him on my shit list for life. Not that he didn’t try to earn my love back with stupid romantic gestures and shit. But I wasn’t interested then, and I’m not interested now. I’m happily single. Living my life and doing things my own way. My store is doing well and that’s enough for me.

So, why is it that I catch myself wondering what life would be like if I was Mrs. Aneurin Fitzgerald?

I’m not a person who is impressed by money or flash cars or expensive things—I’ve never been the materialistic type—but sometimes I wonder if I could scale the walls of Preston’s ivory tower and bring him down to reality. Why do women think they can change men? I could never catch a man like that’s eye, let alone tame his heart.

No doubt he has women falling at his feet everywhere he goes. All he has to do is flutter those long eyelashes or give them the puppy-dog eyes and they’d shed their clothes and fall into his bed. No doubt he’d give them the best sex of their lives and then discard them like a used tissue. A man like him looks like he’d have impressive sexual prowess. He oozes sex appeal from every pore.

Look at me, talking like I’m bothered what he’d be like in bed—whether he could give me an orgasm to make my toes curl—or what he does with his life. It’s none of my business and I really shouldn’t don’t care. He can bed all the women in this town and I still wouldn’t care.

I should really be focusing on my own life. On my store. On Christmas, which is just around the corner.

Christmas is a big occasion in Snowflake. The people in town seem to care that we have a name synonymous with the occasion, so they decorate like it’s going out of fashion. We literally have the biggest tree in the town center. It gets decorated and then we have an official tree-lighting ceremony where all the residents and out-of-towners gather to watch it come to life.

We have a new mayor, one much less like her predecessor. She cares about the town and its people. She comes out to officially light our tree and join in the celebrations. Unlike Mr “Moneybags” who probably sits at home, brooding, without a tree and devoid of Christmas spirit—much like Ebenezer Scrooge—drinking expensive whiskey from a decanter, God forbid he pour it from the bottle.

In fact, he probably doesn’t pour it at all. He probably has a manservant—or should I be saying butler—do all that for him. A maid to clean his far from humble home. A home that’s probably so big he rattles about in it, occupying only a fraction of its space. He probably has a chauffeur to drive him into Snowflake. I wouldn’t know, it’s not like I actually watch when he arrives or departs. I might, if I knew when he was coming. But then again, maybe not. After all, I don’t care for his comings and goings. At least that’s what I tell myself. I do know one thing; this is his first Christmas in Snowflake and we are aiming to make it our best yet. Most people are probably out to impress him, kissing his oh-so-shiny shoes. Not me. I’m going to make this Christmas my best yet purely because it makes me feel good. I don’t care what Mr “Flash with The Cash” thinks. Oh, who am I even kidding here? Myself, mostly.

Chapter One

Nye

“This Christmas display will be the death of me,” my assistant, Paisley, remarks.

“More likely the boss will be the death of you if you don’t help her get it right,” I reply with a wink and a grin.

“Why did you have to volunteer our help to your bloody mother, Nye? Her ideas are always grandiose and goddamn awful to boot.”

That’s true. My mother has great taste and a great eye for interior design, but when it comes to Christmas, she is full-on. If you ask me, sometimes less is more. But if you ask my mother, she’ll always say that it needs “more this” or “more that”. She can’t see that she needs to scale back her tacky Christmas decorations.

I shouldn’t say they’re tacky, they usually cost her a fortune. She doesn’t buy “mass produced” stuff, it’s usually bespoke, one of a kind. But just because something is a one-off with a hefty price tag, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily pretty to look at. My mother has this thing for shiny little trinkets, saying she has an eye for pretty things, like a magpie. In reality, some of it looks like you could pick it up at a flea market. Not that I would ever tell Evelyn that. I just smile and nod. It’s better to appease Evelyn Mackenzie than it is to try and go against her. I’ve gone toe-to-toe with her many times in my thirty-one years on this earth. And I’ve lost more battles than I can count on both of my hands and feet combined.

“You know Evelyn goes OTT. Every damn year she wants the biggest, the best, the most expensive.”

“Yeah, I’m just glad it’s not my store she’s decorating.”

The one and only year I had allowed her to help me design a display for my clothing boutique, she had made it look like some cheap, crass-looking—I don’t actually have words for it, but believe me, it was farcical and awful. Paisley begged me to never let my mother take the reins again, and I had to completely agree. Once she’d left the store, we had to take a few things down and put them in the storeroom. I just couldn’t stand to look at a place that looked like Dr. Seuss had thrown up Christmas on it.

“Holy crap!” Paisley exclaims as she nearly drops her end of the large ornament we are trying to squeeze into the badly thought-out display.

How can my mother have such an eye for normal, everyday interior design, but be so awful when it comes to Christmas? And how did she rope me into helping put it all together for her? When I say help, I mean do it for her. Hence why I’d asked Paisley to help, because Evelyn had other things she needed to attend to. Some function or other is of higher importance than silly little things like actually doing your own decorating. Yes, that’s heavy on the sarcasm.

Evelyn Mackenzie has far more important things to do than anything that remotely resembles having to get her hands dirty. She used to be less standoffish and more like an actual mother, a real human being. However, since she divorced my father, men have been courting her attention. They’re always trying to impress her with some fancy cordon bleu restaurant or something. Trouble is, we don’t have many of those in town. We also don’t have many single men over a certain age—fifty-four—in town, so she has to limit her expectations. They can’t all have fat chequebooks and deep pockets.

At one point, my mother didn’t either, it was when she and my father divorced three years ago that she got more money. Dad was the rich one. Sometimes I think she married him for love and other times, I wonder if it wasn’t a little—if not a lot—to do with his bank balance. When they split up, I was happy. She seemed to drain my dad of any energy. She’s enough to sap a power station, in all honesty. Not many kids say they’re happy when their parent’s divorce, but I wasn’t a kid, I was twenty-eight, and I had seen firsthand what their marriage had been like.

I’m sure they loved each other when they first got together and when they first had me. But by the time they’d been married for thirty-three years, it had taken its toll on them both. Pretending can be so hard. This is why I want someone to love me for me and not what my bank balance looks like or what they stand to gain from being with me, other than my love and all that comes with it, of course.

“Thank f—I mean, thank goodness that’s done,” Paisley says as she stands back to survey the display.

“You don’t say. And Evelyn isn’t here, you can say fuck.”

She giggles and looks at me. “I just feel like a naughty schoolgirl who’s going to get her mouth washed out with soap for cursing.”

“Trust me, me too when she’s around. Always have to be on my guard for what comes out of my mouth. I actually have to think before I speak. She once did wash my mouth out with soap.”

“She did not?” Paisley gasps, covering her mouth with her hand.

“I was about eighteen. I was drunk. She didn’t like it. Nor did my dad, but he’s not a jerk with a stick up his ass, unlike my mother. Don’t worry, it was only a tiny bit of soap and my dad yanked it out of her hand like lightning. He didn’t speak to her for the next couple of days, swearing straight up and down it was akin to some sort of child abuse.”

“Thank god for Beckett.”

“Yeah, I thought he’d have a bloody stroke or something, the way he ripped into her for doing it. I was upstairs in my room and I could hear them as clear as crystal.”

“I always feel like I’m about twelve years old around Evelyn. She scares me.”

“I feel like an errant child too, and I’m thirty-one. Sometimes I adore my mother, and other times, I think she should be grateful I’m still talking to her.”

As if talking about the devil could make them appear, I hear my mother’s key in the lock.

“Oh no, girls, that Santa is in completely the wrong place,” she chides as she sees our display.

“Mother, we’ve followed your very detailed instructions. That’s where you said he’s supposed to be.”

“Yes, well, now I see it in person, I want it moved. In fact…”

She goes on to make us move some of the decorations around. Not lifting a finger to help, Evelyn dictates while Paisley and I do all the hard work.

“It’s nearly perfect, girls, it’s just that I can’t help but feel something is missing.”

Missing? She has just about everything you could imagine here and yet she wants more? Typical Evelyn Mackenzie. Anal retentive is how best to describe her. What she wants, she gets. Typically, I am the one to furnish her every need.

“We’ve got to get back to the store, mother. I’m sorry. We have our own display to perfect before we open in the morning. I can’t open while everything is strewn about everywhere.”

“Oh yes, dear. You get along and do just that. Don’t worry about me. I’ll figure out what I’m missing and then you can come and sort it out for me.”

Heaven forbid I embarrass my mother, which is why I invented the excuse to get out of here. If she thinks the store is a mess, she will think it reflects on her—because everything is about her—and she wouldn’t want that.

At long last, Paisley and I can finally leave this godforsaken place and grab a bottle of wine and a takeaway. It’s been a long-ass day. My limbs are weary from hefting heavy objects around for hours. Poor Paisley must be shattered. It’s a good job she’d do anything for her best friend. She’d never have let me do all this on my own. She knows only too well what my mother is like.

Having grown up together, gone to school together, been there for all the milestones in each other’s lives, I love Paisley like the sister I never had.

She was only too happy to come and work for me when I got Style in Snowflake up and running. I had the business acumen and the idea for the store and Paisley has the eye for design. She helps to choose the clothes we stock. She has a unique sense of style and it’s worked well for the store over the years. She’s so much more than just my assistant and I am grateful to have her in my life. So much so, that I want to offer her a share in the business—she just doesn’t know it yet. I’m planning on it being her Christmas present.

“Thank you, mother. We’ll get going and leave you to it,” I say, grabbing Paisley’s arm and pulling her along to make our great escape.

“Of course, darling. You need that store looking shipshape and Bristol fashion.”

Such an odd turn of phrase, but that’s my mother for you.

Paisley and I make good our escape and jump into my car—a Mercedes Benz E Class that my mother bought me for my thirtieth birthday. I’d always driven a little Honda Civic and I loved that car, but my mother wants me to keep up appearances. All that matters to her is how things look from the outside. I didn’t want the new car, but I couldn’t reject her gift, even though it was purchased with some of the money she got when she divorced my father. So, I drive this sleek black car around because it’s what’s expected of me and I bite my lip and refrain from saying something I might later regret.

“God I’m glad to be out of there,” Paisley says as she searches my playlist.

“Santa Baby” by Eartha Kitt begins to play and Paisley sings along in that sweet voice of hers.

***

Full up from the takeaway, Paisley and I sit back with a glass of wine in hand. It’s nice to just sit in my lounge and relax. My Christmas tree in the corner is decorated tastefully; garlands adorn the inglenook fireplace and windowsills. It looks homely and full of festive spirit in here. Very much unlike my mother, my taste is … minimalistic, I guess. Some might say sparse, but I think it’s just enough.

My iPod is playing quietly in the background—Christmas songs, of course. It’s nice to be able to sit here with my feet up, a blanket wrapped around me, made by my grandmother, with my best friend making idle chitchat.

We told my mother a white lie—or technically I told her the lie, not Paisley—because the store looks perfect. We got all our decorating done last night, knowing I had to take today off to help my mother. That was our last day off in the run-up to Christmas though, except for Sundays, when the store is always closed. Though in the couple of weeks before Christmas, I open up on Sundays too. I give Paisley the time off to spend as she chooses, knowing I can handle the odd day without her there.

This is the busiest time of the year, so enjoying a glass or two of wine is my way of relaxing my overworked muscles.

Paisley decides to go home and get an early night, knowing we have an early start tomorrow. After seeing her off in a cab, I turn off all the lights downstairs, including those on the tree, I make my way up to my room and strip off before walking into my en-suite to take a hot shower before bed.

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Secret Santa by Keren Hughes. Available to pre-order now!

At the bargain price of $1.99 until the publication date 29th  October.

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