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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Christmas Shop

A Novel

Nancy Naigle

St. Martin's Paperbacks

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

Chapter One


Dear Santa,

It’s me, Chrissy, again. I’m still being good. I’m going to have a Christmas tree in my room. You can put my presents there so I don’t have to wait until Daddy wakes up Christmas morning. He sleeps way too late. Be careful on the stairs.

Chrissy

Angela Carson prided herself on keeping things simple, like coffee, for example. She made her own. No K-cups or fancy electronic gadgets. Just a good old-fashioned automatic drip pot. The same one that she’d had in her college dorm days. No exotic flavored coffee either—just the local grocer’s brand.

She used the same simplicity when it came to her store, Heart of Christmas, located in the old lighthouse at the edge of town where the road curved hard to the right, hugging the coastline near the jetty. And not just any lighthouse, but the one where her great-great-grandfather had worked until the day he died.

When her grandmother, affectionately called Momma Grace, died she’d left the family heirloom with all its charm to Angela, along with the beach house she’d grown up in, which was on the adjacent oceanfront property. And even though the lighthouse had been decommissioned long ago, it still sported its original daymark, a unique harlequin-like diamond pattern, adding a touch of whimsy among the sun-bleached pastel-colored beach houses in the surrounding area.

Beachcombers came in droves year-round to Pleasant Sands, North Carolina, because the jetty pumped up the ocean waves, allowing for huge deposits of shells. Shell seekers spent hours rooting through the piles and piles of colorful treasures.

Small prize shells, like the colorful coquinas, augers and tiny olive shells, could be found among larger shells such as clams, scallops, occasional whelks and Scotch bonnets, which were always a keeper.

The bounty brought people back again and again. And with that came a steady flow of customers.

Thankful was how Angela felt about all of those shell-seeking customers, and her dedicated staff. But today Heart of Christmas was closed so she and her staff could enjoy the holiday with their families, despite the fact that her competition had chosen to stay open on Thanksgiving Day.

Angela gulped a cup of coffee to chase the bitter taste in her mouth. Christmas Galore? There wasn’t a single thing sincerely Christmassy about that store.

She opened the large glass 27-by-40-inch frame that protected her message-of-the-day board on the street side of Heart of Christmas. Locals said they enjoyed the local facts she posted there, which was nice because she loved posting them, and changed them at least weekly … more when the mood struck her.

With the canvas tool bucket next to her, she pulled out a few wet wipes and cleared yesterday’s message, leaving a shiny black surface with just the words DID YOU KNOW? in bright red along the top.

She grabbed a wide chalk paint marker in royal blue and wrote out the message of the day, switching up colors to make it look festive.

DID YOU KNOW?

In 1710, Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard the Pirate, spent Thanksgiving in Pleasant Sands as a guest of the owners of the Topside Tavern, the Collins family, on Checker Street. Thirty years old, his table manners weren’t the best, but he gave a gold coin to each child there.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

She stepped back to proofread for spelling, squinting against the bright sun. Last year she’d had to break out her winter coat on Thanksgiving but today the sun shone as brilliantly as if it were an end-of-season summer day.

Angela’s phone began playing “Jailhouse Rock,” the ringtone for her lawyer sister, Marie. “Hey, Marie.”

“Are you busy?”

“Just finished switching out my message at the shop.”

“I can’t believe I didn’t think of this,” Marie said, “but Brad is asking about Momma Grace’s oyster dressing. I forgot to ask you to make it. Do you have time? Apparently it’s more important to Brad than the turkey.”

“I thought that was expected,” Angela said. “I made it this morning.”

“You’re the best sister.”

Angela heard the whoosh of relief. It wasn’t until just a couple years before Momma Grace died that she’d finally trusted Angela with that recipe—sort of the official hand-off of the legacy. Just like the store had been.

“I have another favor to ask too. Can you zip over to the Crabby Coffee Pot and pick up an order for me? It’s already paid for. It’ll save a trip out for Brad.”

“Sure. I can do that.” Not a fan of fancy brews, Angela hadn’t been to the new coffee shop, even though it was practically across the street from Heart of Christmas. From the front door she could see their sign: a bright red crab with its open claw waving to the patrons below as he balanced on a blue speckled coffeepot. “As soon as I get your coffee, I’ll get the stuff from the house and head your way.”

“Have I told you lately that you’re my favorite sister?”

“I’m your only sister.” Angela laughed. “But that does make me feel a little better about letting you do all the work on these big holiday meals.”

“You know I love doing it,” Marie said.

Marie wouldn’t stop at just dinner for the family either. Right after they ate she’d start welcoming guests for her Holiday Warm-up, an annual event with an open invitation to all of Angela’s and Brad’s customers and vendors, along with neighbors and friends. People would come and go for hours, noshing on delectable desserts and getting ready for the holiday season. Angela was exhausted just thinking about it.

“That I do. I’ll see you in a while.” Angela ended the call and tucked her phone into her back pocket.

She crossed the beach road and cut through the parking lot toward the small row of colorful storefronts, each a different shade of blue, peach, yellow and green.

To her surprise, the Crabby Coffee Pot was as busy today as any workday.

The front door had been propped open to take advantage of the mild weather. As she got closer to the bright yellow front door the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee wafted out into the parking lot and mingled with the smell of bacon from the diner down the way, making her hungry.

Bright blue nautical ropes herded the customers to the counter to place their orders in a line that wrapped around twice like a giant snake. She let herself be nudged along, thankful that at least the line was moving.

People stepped up to the register, recited their order and then left with a lift in their step before even taking the first sip of the caffeinated concoction. Some of those drinks were quite pretty, with their whipped cream, sprinkles and all.

She was tempted to treat herself to one.

Other customers were picking up orders too, some of them quite large. Angela suddenly found herself hoping Marie hadn’t ordered so much that Angela wouldn’t be able to walk home with it. It wouldn’t surprise her one bit. Marie was her complete opposite, going whole hog on everything she did. No telling how many people would pass through her sister’s house this afternoon and evening. Angela would stay just long enough to slip out when the house got crowded.

Across the way a dark-haired man reading The Wall Street Journal at a two-topper caught her attention. His watch glimmered beneath the edge of his perfectly tailored suit. Crisp ocean-blue cuffs peeked from beneath his sleeve a perfect half-inch. He looked the type to have money to spare. There were quite a few of his kind in Pleasant Sands since all those high-end condos had been built near the marina.

She’d take her weathered beach house any day, but these transplants were bringing new things to the area. Like this shop, for instance. Most of them were partial-year residents who closed the doors of their condos at the end of the season and disappeared until spring.

Her eyes followed the line of the man’s sharply creased dress pants to his leather loafers. Nice shoes said a lot about a man. So many of the beach guys around here opted for sneakers or flip-flops year-round. That drove her nuts. Didn’t they know grown-ups were supposed to wear real shoes?

She lifted her gaze, to see him looking directly at her. Their eyes locked. Even from here she could tell his were blue. As blue as the starched button-down dress shirt he wore. And for a moment she felt unable to look away.

Please tell me he didn’t notice that I was checking him out.

But the slight lift at the corner of his mouth said he’d definitely noticed. She managed a smile, certain her cheeks were red.

Her phone rang. Thankful for the distraction, she dug for her phone and answered. “Hi, Marie. I’m in line to pick up your order. It’s really busy.”

“I appreciate you picking that up for me,” Marie said.

Angela could tell she was on speaker. She could just picture Marie multitasking in her kitchen. “I don’t mind. What’s up?”

“Can I borrow that gravy carafe I gave you for Christmas last year too?”

“Sure, I’ll pick up the carafe when I go home to get the dressing. I’ll see you in a little while.”

“Good. I’ve got all of our favorites. I love tradition.”

“Me too. I wouldn’t miss it.” Heart of Christmas had been tradition too. Only, that might not be the case for long. Angela’s gut ached at the thought.

“What would I do without you?” Marie said. “You’re an angel.”

“Aren’t all sisters angels-in-waiting?” Angela remembered those words of comfort from their mom. It was the only thing about her mother she still remembered.

“Oh great, like that’s not pressure,” Marie said with a heavy sigh.

“I’ll talk to you in a little bit.” Angela ran her hand through her hair, trying not to give into the temptation to look back at that guy again. But by the time the next customer had walked away with their coffee and pastries, she found herself drawn back in his direction. Nothing nonchalant about that.

Thankfully, his newspaper seemed to have his full attention. As she looked closer, she realized he didn’t really have that fancy-condo boat-guy look. Didn’t have the weathered skin, or remnants of the sun lightning his hair, the way those guys did. Maybe he wasn’t from around here at all.

“Next!” a brisk shout came from across the counter.

Angela felt a thump on her shoulder.

“That’s you,” the teenage girl behind her said as she almost pushed Angela off balance.

“Sorry.” Angela lunged toward the counter, glancing back at Blue-eyes one last time. He was smiling at her.

She managed an awkward finger wave then turned before he saw the hot rush of embarrassment racing up her chest.

“May I help you?” The barista’s words carried an edge that didn’t even require a finger snap to get her attention.

Angela cleared her throat to place her order, then managed another quick glance, but he’d already moved on.

“Um, yes. Sorry.” Somehow a plain coffee seemed way too ordinary after the long wait. “I’ll have what she just ordered.”

In a flash there was a sparkly paper cup with a peppermint-striped sleeve in front of her. Steam rising from the top, which reminded her of the other reason she preferred to make her own coffee: so she could sip it without burning the first layer of skin off of her lips.

“Whipped cream?” It was almost a threat the way the barista waved the shiny silver can.


Copyright © 2018 by Nancy Naigle