Holiday Hopes

by Terry Barr, Marianna Boncek, Nell DuVall, Megan Hussey, Shannon Kennedy, Charmaine Pauls, Leslie D. Soule, Linda White-Francis and Aubrey Wynne

Secret Santa by Terry Barr
Ten-year old Terry Barr discovers one day just before Christmas that his little brother has found Santa's stash of toys. The secret of Santa is out now, and as Terry tries to help his mother cover the story to retain his brother's innocence, the world of secrets, conspiracies, and emotional entanglements for him only grows deeper.


An American Noel by Marianna Boncek
Charlie Reardon is a down-and-out bum looking for some returnables and a warm place to sleep on a snowy, Christmas night. Instead, with the help of his on-again-off-again angel, Gabriel, Charlie finds a baby in an alley. Does the baby offer some type of redemption?


The Three Gifts of Christmas by Nel DuVall
The Three Gifts of Christmas by Nell DuVall is a tender love story of people facing difficult choices in an uncertain world.

Family or love? Stephanie Graham must choose between her frail elderly grandmother and Craig, her fiancé, when he gets a promotion that would take him to England. She's never traveled far from home and dreads leaving her friends and all she knows, especially her grandmother, to migrate to a strange country. Besides, if he loved her, he wouldn't go.


Merry Christmas, India Stone by Megan Hussey and Linda White-Francis
Facing her first Christmas alone as a recent divorcee, India Stone takes an impulsive trip to an Aspen ski lodge; where the handsome, dashing Tristan sweeps her off of her feet and onto the slopes. Spoiling her with romantic sleigh rides, beautiful gifts and romantic candlelight dinners, Tristan lends light, love and color to India's holiday.


Deck the Stalls by Shannon Kennedy
All Sierra McElroy wants for Christmas is a guarantee the horses at Shamrock Stable will be home for the holidays. Her mother has decided they can't keep every horse and should sell some. Now, what can Sierra do to save her friends and Christmas for everyone?


A Miracle for Christmas by Charmaine Pauls
Michael Slanders only wants a steady job and a family of his own, but instead he lives from hand to mouth with his sick mother. Fired a week before Christmas and down on his luck, Mike needs nothing short of a miracle. Sometimes, goodness prevails. Sometimes, magic is made.


The Feast of Yule by Leslie D. Soule
Ash Kensington gets to spend her first holiday in the fantasy realm known as Fallenwood. Her friends, the sorcerer Will Everett, the court jester Terces Solario, and the cat who was once a human, Greymalkin, are put in charge of watching a trio of unruly gnomes over the weekend, and chaos breaks loose! Join Ash and her friends as they celebrate the holiday known as The Feast of Yule!


Merry Christmas, Henry by Aubrey Wynne
Henry, a shy and talented artist, moonlights as a security guard at a museum and loses his heart to a beautiful, melancholy woman in a painting. As his obsession grows, he finds a kindred soul who helps him in his search for happiness. On Christmas Eve, Henry dares to take a chance on love and fulfill his dream.


Excerpt

Prologue

 

The dream of Cedar Manor continued to invade her slumber like a brazen army barraging a silent, sleeping fortress. And quietly, across town, Cedar Manor masqueraded as such—a silent, sleeping fortress. But inside the dreams of Leah Leeds it remained awake, alive, and thriving with a malignant pulse that only the dead could conjure.

Two months had passed since the dream first began, right around Halloween, after they’d rescued Ryan Quinn from the clutches of Roman Hadley and brought him home. Now, while she slept face-up in the plush comfort of her bed, the dream played on of the mystery it portrayed: the sight and sound of the grandfather clock ticking away with its second hand, her mother’s body swinging from the noose, the face of a dead woman murdered by Agnes’s son, the clock, her father carrying her and rushing from the house, the clock, Agnes smiling in the rocker, a spool of yarn unwinding on its own down the hallway, and then the clock again.

As always, the images pass and she stares at the face of the clock. She can almost hear the ticking in real time.

Tick, tock, tick, tock...

And then the breathing begins—louder and louder, faster and faster, until it forces her to run in its direction...toward the mirror.

Finally, she stands before the large, oval glass, a Victorian masterpiece captured and crowned within a grand and majestic gilt-edged framework. She stares into it, seemingly unaware of her own reflection and knowing by now what is about to occur. The breathing becomes louder, closer. She gazes into the mirror, waiting.

It leaps out of its hiding place, its breath gasping faster and wheezing harsher as it replaces her reflection and faces her from the other side of the mirror. The long mane of hair is dead like straw and rotten like the putrid flesh she can almost smell. Its face is deformed, unidentifiable, except for one dead and discolored eye that stares and beckons her to acknowledge. Whatever it is dead, but undead, not at rest.

Now that the dream is one she knows well, each time it continues on a little further than before. What she now recognizes as a corpse throws its hands around the framework of the mirror, shaking and rocking it back and forth in a fitful rage. It’s calling out to her; it’s asking her to remember, to identify.

Strange...the thing in the mirror strikes a chord familiar...

Then suddenly the sight of it is interrupted by the flashing vision of the grandfather clock. It ticks away with its second hand.

Tick, tock, tick, tock...

She sees the corpse again, gripping the sides of the mirror harder and shaking it like a cage, faster now with a fury. Then, she sees the clock again....

Tick, tock, tick, tock...

The livid corpse continues to shake the mirror violently; it’s about to shatter.

Tick, tock, tick, tock...

The next thing she sees is the shattered shards of glass that spray into a million slivered pieces through the air. Leah’s sleeping intuition knows that the dead have broken free.

* * * *

She woke with a start, throwing herself upward in bed as she’d done every time. Though this time, something about the dream was different. A strange notion tugged inside of her upon waking. The corpse had a long mane of hair with an odd, discolored eye set apart from where the eyes should be. Was it an opposite reflection in the mirror? Could the dream be an omen?

Was I the corpse in the mirror?

The vision of the clock kept interrupting the dream. Was it another message of time? As an investigator, she’d seen messages regarding time over and over again, although she was certain what this one meant. She’d wanted to go back into that house months ago, but both Dylan and Susan said it was too soon. Susan had been distraught over Mark, (who Leah had known as Roman Hadley) and Sidney hadn’t been well enough to make the excursion. And she wasn’t going anywhere without Sidney.

But now as she stared out of her bedroom window and watched the December snow descend upon the wintery Pennsylvania setting, she felt it was now or never. She had to go back into Cedar Manor once and for all; her sanity, and possibly her life, depended on it.

She glanced at her alarm clock; the neon green numbers told her that it was 2:15 AM. Susan said to call anytime day or night, but wasn’t that what all shrinks said? She would wait until morning. But for now, she’d watch from the window as millions of snowflakes fell and blanketed the frozen ground.

She lounged peacefully in her chair by the window, and as soon as her eyes closed, she drifted off to sleep, again. But while Leah Leeds slept soundly in the armchair of her dimly lit bedroom, a clandestine scene unfolded across town on the long, two-mile stretch known as Cedar Drive.

Warm Christmas Wishes

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Genres

Holiday - Christmas
Anthology
Romance
Contemporary

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