Once Upon a Christmas Excerpt

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Once Upon a Christmas by K.T. Robertys book coverCHAPTER ONE

MALLORY GARDNER hung the last Christmas ornament on the tree she showcased in the middle of her shop, Every Day is Christmas, when her sister, Dina, called out to her.

“Mal, you gotta see this,” Dina said, standing in front of the window peering out with her binoculars.

Mallory rushed to the front of the store. “See what?” she said squinting to see through the heavy snowfall. “It’s hard to see much of anything.”

Dina shoved the binoculars into Mallory’s hands. “Well, feast your eyes on mister tall, dark and handsome.”

Mallory groaned pushing Dina’s hand away. She knew where this was headed, and she wasn’t about to humor another one of her sister’s annoying matchmaking attempts. “I don’t have time for this. We have the last of the decorating to do before the Christmas rush.”

Dina peered through the binoculars again, this time, tapping the window with her fingernail to draw Mallory’s attention to the man. Without looking, Dina shoved the binoculars at her again never realizing Mallory had already left. Quickly glancing in her direction, the only thing she saw was her binoculars nosediving to the floor. Practically tripping over her own feet, she managed to catch them mid-air.

Dina huffed. “Please, just take a fast look,” she begged. “He’s the one in the red jacket,” her melodic voice rose an octave as she continued, “and he’s the only guy with a large suitcase. He must have just gotten off the bus.”

“So, what!  He’s probably here on vacation. Who wouldn’t want to spend Christmas in Cape May? The entire town is a decorated winter wonderland everywhere you turn, just like this shop will be if you ever stop wasting time and get to work.”

Dina dug her heels in and cradled her hips with her hands. “So what?” she said with sarcasm. But Mallory wasn’t paying attention. “He’s alone.”

“Oh Dina, so what and who cares?” her voice strong and unflinching. “I think your mister tall, dark and handsome must be a Santa wannabe with that red jacket, and if I had to guess, that suitcase is either filled with his clothing or it’s filled with toys, which means he’ll be gone by Christmas Eve anyway.”

“That wasn’t funny at all,” Dina sniped.

“And it wasn’t meant to be.” Continuing with her decorations, Mallory wrapped a red ribbon around one of the four columns in the shop to make it look like a candy cane.

“My God, Mal, don’t you think it’s about time you stop acting like a nun?”

“And don’t you think it’s about time you stop with this matchmaking crap?” Clearly agitated, Mallory crossed her arms and stared at Dina. “Well, here’s another news flash for you. I’m not interested.”

“You haven’t dated in two years. The mourning period is over. Dump the grieving widow clothes and get back in the game. Mitch wouldn’t have wanted you to remain single for the rest of your life. You know that.”

“And somehow Dina, I don’t care what Mitch would or wouldn’t have wanted. He’s not here to help raise the girls. I am! And I won’t subject another person to their bickering.”  She edged away from Dina. “Maybe when they’re older.”

“Oh yeah, that’ll work! You’ll probably be old and dried up by then. Right now, you’re young, you’re beautiful, and dammit, having a man in your life would improve your disposition.”

“What’s wrong with my disposition?”

“Well, nothing that a man couldn’t fix. Get my meaning?” she winked.

“Oh, right,” she said jamming her hands on her hips, “That’s it. Sex would solve everything.” Her mouth curled in disgust. “Get real!” Her eyes blinked, “Now, please come over here and help me fix this display.”

Mallory made her way back over to the display she’d been trying to fix all morning. Checking to see if Dina was on her way over, she noticed her standing at the front window again.

“Dina, please, I need your help. You’re much better at this arranging stuff than I am.”   She eyed the display again and inched closer to move a few things around but hadn’t quite achieved the look she was aiming for. Stepping back a few inches, Mallory threw her hands up in frustration. “Something’s off and I can’t figure out what it is.”

“It’s just the age,” Dina said as she made her way over and started fiddling with the garland.

“What are you talking about? I just bought this garland.” Mallory said.

“The girls, Mal, not the garland. Geez, you’re pathetic. Aren’t you listening to anything I’m saying?” After releasing a frustrated breath, Dina stepped forward to rearrange the garland by draping it down in swirls, then she separated the twinkle lights, placed the Santa by his sleigh and moved the elves closer to the gift packages. “There,” she said stepping back. “How’s that?”

“It’s perfect,” Mallory exclaimed touching Dina’s arm. “See, I knew you could fix it.” Mallory looked around the shop and smiled. “I’m so pleased with the way the shop is decorated this year. It’s better than any other year we’ve been here.”

“I agree, but it’s time for you to stop changing the subject and get back to our conversation—dating!”

Mallory groaned. “Oh my God. How many times do I have to say this? When the girls reach adulthood?”

“Are you kidding me? That’s four or five years from now . . . you’ll be close to forty by then.”

Mallory huffed out a dramatic breath. “Why?” she said with a chuckle. “Do you think I’m going to be all wrinkly and in need of a walker at forty?”

“No. But you’re young and vibrant right now. And you’re too beautiful to be alone.”

“And that’s the keyword here. I’m . . . not . . . alone. I have two flippin’ daughters who hate me and each other.”

“That’s not true. They’re teenagers, for God’s sake. Aren’t they supposed to hate everything?”

Mallory’s brows arched. “Right. And this comment is coming from a woman who has no children?”

“Well, maybe I don’t. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand them. I want children, and maybe someday I will have them.”

“Exactly!” Mallory shot back. “Someday,” she said, her fingers curled in quotes, “is exactly how I feel about dating.”

“I think you might be passing up the chance of a lifetime. When was the last time we saw a new guy come into town?”

“Dina,” Mallory shouted. “This is a resort. We see a lot of new people all the time, and besides, you don’t know if he’s here to stay, if he’s here to see his parents for the holidays, or he’s here to get married. He might even be meeting his wife who’s visiting her relatives.”  Mallory clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “You know, you should be a writer with that imagination.”

Dina’s hands slapped against her thighs, “Well, aren’t you like the ghost of Christmas past. If there was a woman involved, she’d be walking with him.”   Turning, Dina walked back to the front of the store for another look and surprised when she saw him walking toward the shop. She released a squeal like a teenager and announced. “Mal, he’s headed this way!”

A sudden rush of nervousness coursed through Mallory’s body and she made a beeline for the storage room. When her hands began to shake, she panicked. Not because of the guy, but because of the guy. “I have to check the shipment we just got in,” she shouted, “you take care of him.”

“Not on your life, sweet sister.” Dina reached for her coat, switched on the five-foot Mrs. Claus and headed out the door. “He’s all yours, sweetheart. I’m outta here.”  The words were no sooner out of her mouth than the door shut with a thud.


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