By Lori Hayes
Iron Stream Media BLING! Romance October 19, 2021 trade paperback and eBook
eBook ISBN: 978-1-64526-349-4
$14.99 trade paperback
When Christmas magic fills a house, the charm of falling in love becomes possible―especially in this heartfelt holiday story from award-winning author Lori Hayes.
Local legend predicts that whoever moves into an old farmhouse on a salt marsh will fall in love and be married by Christmas. Terri McMillan scoffs at the lore and sets out to buy the charming house in small-town North Carolina. However, the owner, Matt Baker, insists on one final Christmas in his grandparents’ home before he bids farewell to the past. In turn, he’ll help Terri renovate the old place, where she hopes to foster troubled teens.
Terri and Matt find letters and a diary from the Vietnam War era in the attic. Reading them together, they learn the truth behind the Christmas legend. Now they wonder…could love like this be in store for them?
COASTAL CHRISTMAS Excerpt
At the end of the day we left the party exhausted but Sophie talked nonstop about what a blast she had.
Once we returned home, Sophie disappeared into the cottage to change clothes. At some point soon, I needed to move her into the big house. One thing at a time, I reminded myself.
I unlocked the back door, but before I made it too far inside my kitchen, Matt pulled me into a hug. We stayed melted into each other’s arms for a long moment before he leaned down, our mouths so close, yet not close enough.
“I’m curious,” I said as I pulled back slightly to challenge him. “What are we doing here, Matt?”
“What do you mean?”
“We hug each other, spend time together outside of fixing up the house.” I raised my hand to include us and the kitchen. “Go to dinner together.”
He shrugged. “So if I told you I’m attracted to you, would you be okay with that?”
I swear my heart smiled. “I’m out of practice with this whole attraction thing.”
He leaned closer and stared into my eyes. “You’re beautiful. I find it hard to believe you don’t date much.”
I felt my cheeks grow warm. “Thank you.” I didn’t want to appear as a complete reject when it came to relationships. “I mean, I had a couple of serious relationships but for one reason or another they faltered. I don’t think I was ready emotionally.”
He leaned closer. “I’m glad I met you now then.”
I stared at him, my mouth suddenly parched. I really needed a drink of sweet tea but didn’t move.
“Just a couple of relationships?”
I glanced away. “I dated here and there, but after a couple of months I learned we either had nothing in common, or we had serious communication issues. My crazy work schedule didn’t help.” In all truth, I had given up on meeting the right man and had pretty much stopped dating altogether. I enjoyed my own company, doing my own thing without someone giving me grief. I didn’t need the aggravation in my life, although I wished things were different.
“Well, your ex-boyfriends were crazy to let you go.”
My cheeks burned hot as I studied him. “What’s your story?” I wanted to know everything about him.
“I pretty much dated one girl throughout high school but we broke things off when we went to college. When I came back home, we got back together for a bit but things didn’t work out.”
“Was it serious?”
He nodded. “It was serious for me but she wasn’t ready to take it to the next level.”
I figured there was more to the story but sensed he was through with the topic.
Poor timing because the back door opened. With reluctance, I moved away from Matt and noticed Sophie was still wearing the same outfit except she held an armful of clothes.
“I thought you were going to change?” I asked out of curiosity while trying to keep the disappointment from the almost intimate embrace out of my voice.
She stared at the two of us as if curious about catching us so close together.
“I wanted to take a shower to get the fire smell off me.”
“Help yourself then,” I said as I stepped toward the pantry to preoccupy myself. “Are you all hungry for homemade chicken potpie?” It had been a couple of hours since we ate the oysters, and we had stayed at the party longer to listen to the music. I knew Sophie’s answer, as she made a dramatic gesture of pretending to wipe drool from the sides of her mouth. Matt nodded with enthusiasm and I laughed at their responses. “It won’t take long to make.”
“Sounds amazing,” Matt said.
“Are you kidding?” Sophie asked. “Homemade?”
“Of course.” This was one of the simple but impressive meals I made from scratch whenever possible. I prided myself in preparing a few easy but healthy meals instead of eating processed food. Besides, when I became a foster parent, I wanted to cook decent meals for the kids.
Sophie scooted off upstairs to shower and Matt busied himself with a project in the living room.
An easy dinner was necessary tonight, but even though I was tired, I still looked forward to reading the diary and letters. I thought about them often and knew Matt did too.
I tossed the few ingredients together, mostly consisting of large-cut vegetables, canned when in a hurry like tonight, creamed chicken soup, and two boneless chicken breasts I sautéed in a pan. Simple really. I mixed everything together in a bowl and spread out a premade pie crust. I scooped the ingredients into it, and then covered the top with another layer of dough.
Sophie reappeared in the kitchen, hair still wet from the shower, and I offered her a butter knife. “Here, this is so you can cut holes into the crust so it can breathe. It’s fun to make designs if you want.”
Sophie lit up. She bit her lower lip and got to work carving an outline of a pumpkin. When she finished, I stuck it in the oven for forty-five minutes.
“I’ll be back in a bit,” Sophie said, setting the knife in the sink, and then left the house. I saw a light turn on inside the cottage.
I approached Matt, who was busy removing a corner of the ugly wallpaper in the hallway. I knew I had won the battle about painting the walls instead of leaving the paper. Without thinking, I closed the distance between us and he looked up. His unwavering gaze made my heart beat faster.
As we gazed into each other’s eyes there was an understanding between us of what was coming next … our first kiss. And no sooner had I thought about it than Matt placed his mouth gently on mine.
Our mouths melded together, his breath warm, his scent intoxicating. His hands moved to my arms, holding me close, his right hand sliding down to my waist to the small of my back, making me quiver in its wake. Matt was gentle in his approach but took what he wanted, giving me everything in return.
No one had ever kissed me like that.
So hungrily …
So eagerly …
He pulled away and raised his eyebrows as if to gauge my response. To reassure him, I leaned forward and our lips met again. This kiss was longer, more passionate and loving. Our arms wrapped around each other in a tender embrace.
When he pulled away, I noticed a wide smile on his face.
“Want to read the diary and letters before dinner?” he whispered.
Unable to speak, I nodded. We moved to the couch, but instead of sitting on opposite ends, we cuddled into each other. I leaned forward and handed him the letters and pulled the diary onto my lap.
Nana’s Diary: July 1, 1968
I won’t lie, the past two weeks have been difficult for me and I haven’t felt well. The last couple of days I have vomited several times. I tried to trace back what I ate but all I could think of was I had chicken salad at my friend Dorothy’s house. I know chicken is one of those tricky foods that go bad fast. I can’t imagine my reaction has to do with that though. And it’s difficult dealing with a wild boy running around while I’m not feeling well, but by the grace of God, I am getting by.
Nana’s Diary: July 4, 1968
This Fourth of July hardly feels like a celebration with my husband at war. I wonder if the American people appreciate the sacrifices our soldiers are making, the lives lost, and the price we pay for freedom. The holiday is more than shooting off fireworks into the sky.
A bunch of my family members—cousins, kids, parents—planned to sit on the beach tonight to watch the fireworks display. I’m not sure I want to go. For one, I will be thinking about Robert. For two, I’m still sick to my stomach. If I don’t start feeling better soon, I will make a doctor’s appointment. I am not a person who likes to visit the doctor unless I have to. It’s been at least a year since I’ve been to his office.
Anyway, I made pasta salad for our picnic on the beach just in case I decide to show up. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. I know Daniel wants to go. Before I do anything else today, I want to write Robert a long letter.
June 25, 1968
My lovely Shirley,
I got two of your letters today. You must have sent them before I asked for your delicious cookies. I guess I have to be patient. I know you have your hands full at home while working and raising Daniel.
I thought it was hot here earlier but now I feel like I’m baking in the heat. The mosquitos are bad and will practically carry you away alive. I’m looking forward to getting a shower tonight, if you can call it that. Shower day is one of my favorites although it doesn’t take long to sweat again and stink.
Yesterday we went into a small village and drank. Don’t worry, I never drink much because I like to stay aware of my surroundings. Some of the men get rowdy with the women but I think that’s just plain crazy. Anyway, it was good to get away for a bit and have some fun with the guys. A person can’t work all the time without releasing some tension. I have to go. I am needed.
I love you and say hi to Daniel for me.
July 4, 1968
My lovely Shirley,
I’m feeling patriotic in a new way. Even though I want to be home with you, the war goes on and it’s the 4th of July. We are experiencing our own set of fireworks here, but I would’ve preferred to be watching them on the beach with you. The heat continues and the mosquitos are bad. I can’t wait until the heat breaks and we get a good rain.
Tell Daniel I said I love him, and of course, know I love you more than anything. You keep me going. And I’m still looking forward to more cookies.
Every once in a while we stopped reading to discuss our thoughts. I didn’t enjoy history in general but found it enthralling to read the intimate perspective from real people experiencing the war firsthand.
When the timer on the stove went off, Matt followed me into the kitchen. I opened the oven door and glanced at my creation. A light golden hue covered the top crust, the aroma of a baked pie filling the air.
“Wow, that smells delicious.” Matt licked his lips.
I smiled at him before I pulled the pot pie out and set it on top of the stove to settle for a few minutes. As if led by some unprecedented intuition that dinner was ready, Sophie opened the door and entered the kitchen.
“Mmmm,” she said, smacking her lips several times.
As usual, Sophie acted as though she hadn’t eaten a hot meal in months, although I knew she had because I cooked for her. Nevertheless, her interest in my culinary skills made me feel appreciated. Matt also commented on the idea of a home-cooked meal. As a bachelor, I assumed he didn’t cook much for himself.
I had to admit, I was becoming quite the homebody.
We ate mostly in silence because everyone was hungry and too busy shoving food into their mouths. After we finished washing dishes, Sophie excused herself and returned to the cottage. “I think I’ll suggest to her tomorrow to bring all of her things inside. I’ll set up one of the bedrooms for her.”
“What a wonderful idea.”
I glanced at Matt as I hung the dish towel on the oven door. “I’d like to add one more item to our remodeling list.”
“What’s that?” Matt asked without looking up from wiping off the table. He excelled at domestic chores and did them without complaint. I was sure my mother would say he was a keeper.
“I’d like to add a dishwasher to the list. Once I become a foster parent, I suspect I’ll have lots of dishes.”
He grinned. “I hope you have plenty of young ladies to fill up your house.” He tossed the wet paper towel into the trash can. “Just remember, their living here should consist of helping with chores. They need to learn to manage a household to some extent to benefit their future selves.”
He was right, and I looked forward to helping the girls to the best of my ability.
Matt and I sat together well into the evening. The more I read, the more I felt as though I knew Shirley and Robert Baker personally. She was almost a celebrity to me now. I knew Shirley watched over my house, protecting the home and even me in her grandmotherly way. I admired her strength as a mother and a loyal wife, the love for her husband apparent. I wished I had met her in real life. She was brave, strong, independent.
After Matt left for the night, I curled up in bed thinking about our goodbye kiss. I never thought it was possible to have intimate feelings to this degree. I always saw a policeman as a rugged hero, not a man I could be attracted to. Boy, was I wrong. It was endearing to see his caring side as he read the letters from his grandfather, his own hero.
Matt was deep and caring, someone I could likely spend my life with.
Coastal Christmas is set on the coast of North Carolina. If money were no object, where would you choose to spend Christmas?
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Lori writes contemporary romance and romantic women's fiction. She promises to deliver a happy ending in exchange for your much-appreciated time reading her novels.
She lives with her family in North Carolina, and while she hopes to someday say she lives near the beach, right now she is a short drive from the ocean. She thinks it's important to focus on what you have and to appreciate the small things around you, like the tang of salt in the air. For then it becomes possible for your dreams to come true, like her dream of writing and to be published.
She thanks her mother for her career. One day her mom planted the seed for Lori to be a writer, and it took hold. And as her grandfather always said, stop talking about it and do something. So she did. While her son took afternoon naps, she sat down and started her first novel.
Quickly she learned it wasn't so easy. She bought every book possible about writing, and to this day she's still buying books to study. She believes life is one lesson made up of many shorter ones. Tell the story of your own life, and it will come to fruition. She's living proof.
Learn more about Lori on https://lorihayesauthor.com/, and check her out on: