Which one do you like best? I love the colors on the first, but the couple look like teenagers, and while I love YA books, this is not one of them. I might have to save that image for a YA story. Here's the first chapter of THE LITTLE WHITE CHRISTMAS LIE.
Millie sat at the window of her Brownstone apartment, watching the shoppers scurry down New York’s busy streets. Head lights, streetlights, and the just-hung Christmas lights sparkled on the slowly drifting snow.
“Meow,” Byron cried as he jumped into Millie’s lamp. He settled down with purr.
“It’s just me and you this year,” Millie told the cat. She tried telling herself that she needed the solitude, that she deserved a respite from her demanding career, and that she didn’t have the time or the energy to devote to cultivating meaningful relationships, but the longer she sat at the window watching everyone else pursue their Christmas with such purposefulness and pleasure…
No, that couldn’t be right, could it? Surely, there had to be a few Ebenezers in the crowd. She couldn’t be the only one wishing that Christmas would pass her by. Leaning back into her wingback chair, feet propped up on the ottoman, she closed her eyes. It was just so embarrassing…
How could she, one of the world’s most beloved romance writers, be alone for the holidays? Again? She’d taken a cruise to the Holy Land last year, thinking that what could be more spiritually uplifting than Christmas in Bethlehem? But it hadn’t been uplifting. It had been a tour full of senior citizens complaining about their food and hotel beds. But at least it had been better than the Christmas the year before with Liam in Monaco.
Millie stood, knocking the sleeping Byron to the floor. He complained loudly while arching his back.
“Maybe this year we’ll just stay home,” Millie announced to no one, since Byron had twitched his tail and disappeared into the next room.
The shrill of her landline broke the silence. She studied the phone. She’d been meaning to shut off the service for months, but just hadn’t gotten around to it. Or at least that’s what she told herself. The truth was, it was her mom’s voice on the answering machine and Millie couldn’t bring herself to throw it away, even after all these months.
Millie listened to her mom ask the caller to leave a message. No one who really wanted to talk Millie ever used the landline. Her friends and business associates always called her cell…well, they usually texted, or just sent her an email. No one, other than scam artists and telemarketers called her landline. Millie stood in the center of the apartment where she’d lived as a child, waiting.
“Hello? Camille? Hello?” An elderly woman’s voice warbled through the room. “You probably don’t remember me, but I was a friend of your Grandmother LaDonna. My name is Joy Baker.”
Joy Baker. Millie didn’t recall her grandmother ever mentioning a Joy Baker, and that was the sort of name she would have remembered because she really liked baked goods, and a joyful baker seemed like a good person to know.
“Anywho, I was hoping you’d give me a call. LaDonna told me you are a writer and I have a little business proposition for you.”
Millie frowned at the phone, debating. Her head told her that this happy baker person was probably a crook, but her lonely heart urged her to pick up the phone.
Joy heaved an audible sigh. “I know you don’t know me…but I also knew your Grandpa Horace and your Uncle George. Anyway, I run a little inn out here in New Hope, New York and, well, it could use some publicity. I just thought that maybe if you’d like to come and stay—” Click.
The answering machine only allowed a few seconds per message, which often took the callers by surprise. Millie smiled, wondering if this joyful baker person was on the end of the line, still yammering, completely unaware that she’d been shut off mid-sentence.
Millie honestly couldn’t remember her mom, grandparents or her Uncle George ever mentioning this Joy Baker, or New Hope, but the information tickled in the back of Millie’s mind. She settled down on the sofa and pulled her computer onto her lap.
Seconds later, images of an upstate village with a church on every corner flashed on the screen. A springtime shot showed the town green’s gazebo surrounded by tulips and crocus. Another image had the gazebo decked in autumn’s bright fallen leaves. At this time of year, Millie knew there would be a blanket of snow. And sure enough, she soon found images of New Hope, New York in full Christmas glory. It looked like a picture perfect place to spend Christmas, if you had someone to share it with.
Millie closed her eyes against the flashing recollections of Christmas’s at her grandparent’s home in upstate New York. Sledding with her bright cheeked mom and dad, hanging the lights with her Uncle George, Aunt Helen and little Midge.
The phone. Millie poised her fingers above her keyboard waiting. Once again, her heart told her to pick it up, but her sensible side told her to stay put.
“Oh dear,” Joy Baker’s voice floated back into the room, “I must have been cut off. Now, as I was saying, I have this darling inn. The old house belonged to my grandparents and their parents before them and I’ve recently converted it into an inn. And it’s just beautiful. My niece, Lorraine, is an artist and she’s made the whole thing just as cute as a button from the attic to the basement, but the thing is—” Click.
Millie typed in lodging, but the closest place to stay was a Motel Ten fifteen miles down the parkway.
If Joy Baker didn’t even have a website, no wonder her inn was failing. A place could be cute right down to its cement foundation, but if no one knew it existed, it would always be empty.
The word empty made Millie cast a glance at her calendar. She had half a dozen parties penciled in, but not one of them filled her with anything other than dread. And the most dreadful one of all was happening tomorrow night. The annual Book Bash. Simone Shusterfield hosted it every year at her South Hampton mansion. Simone liked to collect writers and artists the way other rich old ladies collected designer purses and pedigree poodles. Her publisher insisted that she attend, baring raging illness or a family calamity. But Millie didn’t have any family…or did she?
Could this Joy Baker count as an old family friend? And could her failing business be called a calamity?
Millie smiled. Of course, she wrote fiction for a living. She could make up anything she wanted to. She did it every day. And she got paid for it. And if she could think of a reasonable excuse to avoid Simone’s party and not have to watch Liam kiss his beautiful fiancé beneath the mistletoe, then she would go to New Hope, or just about anywhere.
Ignoring the frantic be-sensible-voice in the back of her mind, she googled the distance. If she took the early morning train to Scranton, she could rent a car from there and be New Hope by noon. She didn’t even have to stay the night. She’d just stay late enough to ensure that she’d miss the party.
Her sensible voice scrambled for reasons to stay in the city. What if there’s a blizzard and she’s trapped there for weeks? What if this Joy Baker is a serial killer? Who’s going to take care of Byron if something should happen?
Telling her sensible self to shut up, Millie reserved a rental car in Scranton. Picking up her phone, Millie shot her friend and neighbor, Dorie, a quick text. Dorie’s daughter, Amber, often cat-sat Byron when Millie traveled. Then she headed for her closet, pulled out her overnight bag, and dusted it off.
Millie had to run to catch the nine-fifteen train. With her bag slung over her shoulder and banging against her side, she slipped into the train seconds before the doors slid shut. Taking a deep breath, she headed for the one available seat. At this time of the morning, most of the commuters were students, retirees, and mothers with children.
The only seat left was next to a man about her age, early thirties, with thick brown hair. He had a strong jaw, a thick dossier in one hand and a red pen in the other. Unless he abandoned his place on the aisle, she’d have to crawl over his long legs to get to the window seat.
Their eyes met, and for one small moment, the world around her froze, like a black and white photograph. The train lurched, sending Millie on to the man’s lap.
“I’m so sorry,” Millie said, scrambling over him and pulling her bag with her.
“It happens,” he said, “although not very often, and almost never unless I’m wearing a Santa suit.”
But something like that had never happened to Millie before, and she wondered if he had experienced the same time-stopping moment. Pulling down her navy sweater, she adjusted her pea coat, and to cover her flushed cheeks, she tucked her bag beneath the seat in front of her, refusing to meet his eye again, and wondering what would happen if she did.
“Do you often wear Santa suits?” she asked, finally raising her gaze to meet his. His eyes struck her, they were color of chocolate, but time continued around them. The train clacked away from the city. Lower Manhattan’s gritty landscape flashed by the windows. Mothers hushed crying babies. Conversations filled the air. This man had the sort of red lips that women paid plastic surgeons to attain.
“No. Almost never,” he said, his voice thick with humor, “but I will be tonight.”
“Are you going to work at a mall?”
“No. I—never-mind.” In a decided effort to change the subject, he nodded at the book in Millie’s hand.
“My grandmother reads her books.”
“Then she must have excellent taste,” Millie said.
The man chuckled, his laugh as warm as eyes. “No. Quite the opposite, in fact. She’s a connoisseur of The Helping Hands Thrift store. She loves the hunt and the kitschy.” He wore a luscious camelhair coat, so soft that Millie longed to touch it. He had a Burberry scarf draped around his neck and a @ watch on his wrist. He didn’t look like the sort of man who frequented thrift shops.
“Sounds like my kind of gal,” Millie said.
His lips twitched. “That sappy writer’s books fill my grandmother’s book shelves and her movies are all over the Hallmark station.”
Millie bristled and tucked the book in her pocket, praying he wouldn’t see her picture on the jacket cover and realize that she was the sappy writer his grandmother loved.
“What takes you out of the city?” Millie asked, taking her turn to change the subject.
“My grandmother. She told me she had a Santa emergency.” He sighed and shook his head. “I hope this isn’t another one of her ploys.”
He nodded. “She’s a schemer.”
“A schemer and a thrift store shopper. I like her already.”
“How about you? Why aren’t you headed to work?”
“Who says I’m not?”
He laughed, and something about the sound filled Millie in a way she couldn’t describe. It was as if she’d been empty, hollow inside, but this man’s laugh warmed her.
“What do you do?” he asked.
Come on, you write fiction. She thought up something close but not quite the truth. “I’m a travel writer.”
She was a writer and at the moment she happened to be traveling. Good one.
“Oh yeah? That’s great. I’d love to travel. Where have you been?”
“Hmm, lots of places, of course.”
He smiled. “Of course. But where are you traveling to now?”
“There’s a brand new inn in New Hope, New York. I’m going to check it out.”
His face paled, his lips pressed together, and a calculating look filled his eyes. “Is that so? What magazine did you say you work for?”
“I freelance.” Sometimes.
“Ah.” He cleared his throat, a low, grumbling unhappy sound. “So, you’re coming all this way to see this new inn.”
She nodded. “The Snowfield Inn. I even love its name.”
“But will you still love it in July?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“When it’s sunny, no one wants to stay in a snowfield.”
She raised her eyebrows. “I think that depends on how sunny it is. There’ve been plenty of melting hot summer days where I longed for a good snowfield.”
“It’s a ridiculous name for an inn,” he said in a tone that made her wonder why he should care.
“Do you know it?”
“I’ll be playing Santa there tonight.”
“Yes, you should come.”
“I won’t be staying that long. This is just a day trip.”
“You’re coming all the way to New Hope for just the day?” He nodded at her bag. “Then what’s that for?”
“I have my computer and just a couple of things in case I decide to stay the weekend.”
“So, there’s hope.”
“Hope that I might stay in New Hope?”
“Not really. I’m mostly trying to avoid a party tonight.”
“Really? How come?”
She took a deep breath, looked out the window, and relived the pain. “My ex is going to be there with his fiancé.”
“No, but Liam and I…we’d been together a long time.” She didn’t know what made her open up to this man with the chocolate-colored eyes, maybe it was because she thought she’d never see him again, or maybe it was because she hadn’t told anyone for so long about how badly she’d been hurt, or maybe because she just liked the way his gaze touched hers, but she found herself telling him all the sordid details: the purple panties under the sofa, the anonymous posts on her writing blog asking her why if she was such an expert on romance was her boyfriend partying with Scarlett McFaye.
“Wait, your ex is marrying Scarlett McFaye?” His eyes widened. “Wow, just wow.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s what Liam and all the rest of mankind think, too.”
“Hey wait, don’t lump me into Liam’s camp.”
“I can’t believe I told you all of this.” Millie flushed and looked out the window. “I don’t even know your name.”
He reached out and took her hand, as if to shake it, but he didn’t. Instead, he held it in his own. “I’m Carson Trent, but tonight, if you come to the inn, you can call me Santa.”
When she didn’t respond, he gently squeezed her hand. “This is where you tell me your name,” he said.
“I’m Millie Cruise.” But most of the world knows me as Camille Harper, AKA the sappy writer.