Thursday, December 3, 2009
'Tis the Season!
A writer friend emailed me this morning to say she'd been reminiscing about a trip we took to London a couple of years ago, at Christmas time. She was thinking about the beautiful and outrageously expensive champagne and tea event we attended at the decked-to-the-nines Dorchester Hotel.
Tempting as it is to hop a plane to London for another lovely tea excursion, we've opted for the local Ritz Carlton. But, of course, she got me reminiscing about that trip as well and, alas, I thought of a story that was published exactly one year ago this month with Red Sage, titled Promise of Forever. The story is set in London at Christmas time (surprise!), so I thought I'd share an excerpt and give away a free copy of the e-book to a random commentor. Tell us a favorite holiday tradition and you'll be entered to win!
Promise of Forever by Calista Fox
Recovering from a personal tragedy, Celia Chandler is ready to get her life back. But the deeply passionate romance she once shared with sexy UK bookstore owner Ben Huntington has long since simmered. Christmas miracles are never to be underestimated, though, and when Celia dares to walk past Ben’s store window on a blustery Christmas Eve, their encounter proves that sparks still fly between them! But are Celia and Ben’s everlasting love and desire for each other enough to help them overcome a loss that destroyed both their worlds?
She told herself that the tea would be lovely, until she turned into the street and looked around and remembered where she was. The problem with the prestigious Dorchester Hotel was that it sat just two blocks from Another Great Read. For the past couple of years, that was the bookstore Celia had avoided at all costs.
But there was no sidestepping it today. Even if she walked on the opposite side of the street—which she refused to do because it screamed avoidance and that made her feel particularly cowardly—she’d still have to pass the store. As she approached it, knowing she’d find rare book treasures amidst the latest bestsellers displayed in the front, awning-topped window, she tried to steel herself for the inevitable rise of “what ifs” that would well within her.
What if I stopped and went inside?
What if I saw Ben there?
What if he saw me too?
What if we spoke to each other?
For a moment, she allowed these questions to simmer in her head. Ben loved Christmas as much as she once had. They’d over¬done every holiday they spent together, and his storefront window told her he hadn’t changed much. Garland lined the large wooden sill and a small tree sparkled in the warm, golden light that filled the shop. Various books—all of Ben’s favorites—surrounded the decorated tree.
Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Shakespeare’s King Lear.
Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables.
Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
And there, resting on a decorative stand, nestled amidst pillows of white cotton fluff infused with sparkling silver tinsel, was The Darkest Night.
By Celia A. Chandler.
Her breath caught in her throat at the sight of her very first novel, with a big red bow stuck to the upper right-hand corner of the hard cover. A book that had no business being on display with some of the greatest novels of all time.
It’s a sign.
Her chest tightened. The thought both excited and terrified her at the same time.
That word seemed stuck in her head today.
Could Ben have forgiven her?
Her fingers curled around the card in her pocket as though that would somehow steady her as she asked that question.
She could step inside Ben’s store and ask him, just override all her what ifs and find out. The big pine wreath hanging on the door felt like an invitation. Even the muffled sounds of one of Ben’s favorite holiday songs—Elvis’ “Blue Christmas”—beckoned her.
But she couldn’t bring herself to open the door. They hadn’t spoken in two years.
Rather, she hadn’t returned his phone calls in two years. Of course, that wasn’t because she didn’t sometimes long to talk to him, to ring him up, to once again be the recipient of his electrify-ing smile. Sometimes she longed to hear his infectious laughter and watch his tall, muscular body move gracefully as he swooped in to give her a tight hug.
But she knew better. Longing wasn’t a reason to gamble again. Or to hurt him again.
She knew it wouldn’t be fair to put him in that situation—to drop in without any warning whatsoever—because, quite honestly, their derailed love affair was entirely her doing.
If she were to go into the store… See Ben again…
Oh, but what if he hated her now? Loathed the sight of her? She couldn’t blame him, really.
She stood there in front of his store window, staring blindly at her book in the display. She tried to suck in a full breath, but it didn’t come easily. Despite the December chill, beads of perspira¬tion broke out on her forehead. In her pocket, her fingers tightened around the invitation.
The tea. With her friends. At the Dorchester.
Shaking her head, Celia turned and focused all her attention on the hotel dead-ahead. She forced herself not to think of Another Great Read—and Ben—as she continued past the window. She kept her gaze on the hotel facade down the block, refusing to look back into the window and catch a glimpse of him and his engaging smile, his compelling dark looks.
Reaching the corner—neutral territory—she stopped and let out a long breath as she waited for the light to change. She’d risen to the challenge of walking by his shop.
No small feat.
She couldn’t risk hurting him further.
Besides, how on earth would she handle seeing him after all this time? After all the heartbreak they’d both suffered? After all the nights she’d longed for him?
She had no reason to expect that, after so many rejections, he felt the same longing. At this point, she had to assume her feelings would be unrequited. And she had no one to blame but herself.
So how could she even consider stepping into his store?
The mere thought made anxiety rise in her throat, quickly and unrelentingly until it nearly choked her. Celia tried to suck in a full breath, but it didn’t come easily.
As she awaited the walk sign to flash, she thought about the book in his window. She smiled unexpectedly. Ben couldn’t hate her. It wasn’t in his nature. No matter what.
And with that thought came memories of the intimate moments she and Ben had shared.
Celia’s eyes squeezed tight, but she was unable to banish the wayward memory. She didn’t want to, really. Because the recollec¬tion was… enticing. She remembered now how he’d kissed her and whispered in her ear after making love.
“You’re so soft,” he’d say as his fingers glided over her skin, the pad of one caressing a tight nipple.
“I’m a girl. I’m supposed to be soft.”
He’d chuckle, low and deep, sending a shiver of excitement up her spine. Then he’d press against her, his front to her back as they spooned together. “I love feeling your body against mine.”
Celia could almost feel his warm breath on her neck now, so vivid and rich were her memories. Even the memory of his deep, sensual voice aroused her all over again, making her skin tingle and her stomach flutter. It never mattered how exhausted she was, how relaxed or even how satiated she might be. She’d luxuriate in the intimacy of his touch, the erotic words he whispered, the after¬glow that enveloped them both…