The Christmas Key

Title: The Christmas Key
Series:
Published by: Avon
Release Date: October 23, 2018
Genre: ,
Pages: 384
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Synopsis

There’s a legend in Twilight, Texas. If you sleep with a kismet cookie under your pillow on Christmas Eve, you will dream of your one true love.

She saw him in her dreams . . .

It’s impossible! Naomi Luther was standing face-to-face with the man she’d dreamed about over a year ago. Was it the magic of kismet Christmas cookies that brought him to her? Or is there an even greater force at work? All Naomi knows is she is falling, hard and fast, for the one man all good sense says she should not have.

She was his buddy’s sister . . .

Rebellious Mark Shepherd found order in the Marines but chaos on the battlefield. In a mission gone wrong, Mark is injured and one of his fellow soldiers loses his life. Haunted by guilt, he arrives in Twilight to keep a solemn promise. But when the Luthers mistake him for their handyman, he’s swept up in playing Santa to his buddy’s orphan son . . . and falling hard for Naomi’s irresistible bright spirit and sweet, sexy smile. But what will happen when she learns the truth?

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Praise for The Christmas Key

Starred review *****Wilde’s latest Twilight, Texas contemporary small town romance is an absolute crowd-pleaser. Former Marine Mark Shepherd comes to the town of Twilight to honor the wishes of Clayton Luther, a man under his command who died in Afghanistan, and return a cherished possession to Clayton’s family. Clayton’s father, pastor Tom Luther, mistakes Mark for a handyman he has hired, and Mark can’t bring himself to tell the man the real reason for his visit. As Mark works on projects for the church, he falls under the spell of Naomi Luther, Clayton’s older sister, and Hunter, Clayton’s orphaned son. Mark tries to keep his distance from Naomi, feeling responsible for Clayton’s death, and Naomi attempts to ignore the sizzling heat she feels in Mark’s presence, as she believes that raising Hunter leaves her no time for love. The magnetism between Naomi and Mark is breathtaking and real, and the magic of Christmas enhances their romance. Readers will cheer for the wounded warrior who may just have found a place to call home.--Publisher's Weekly. 

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Excerpt:

 

December 2nd, The Teal Peacock, Twilight, Texas.

“Hon, if I put another thing on top of that pile, you’re not going to be able to see where you’re going.”

Undaunted, Naomi Luther dropped her shoulders. The subtle move lowered the boxes stacked in her arms about half an inch. She was a pro. For the past five years, she’d owned Perfect Fit, a personal-shopping business. She had this.

“Lookee,” Naomi said. “If you take that last box out of the bag, there’s enough room to slide it right on top of the others. And I’ll be able to hold it all down with my chin.”

The older woman behind the counter, Patsy Crouch, looked skeptical. “One false move and the whole shebang will come crashing down.”

“I’ll be fine,” Naomi reassured her with a jovial grin. “Go ahead. Stock it to me.”

“You are so funny,” Patsy laughed. “It’s amazing the way you’ve bounced back after—”

“Gotta keep my spirits up for Hunter.” She polished her smile, brightening its sheen. Hoping to head Patsy off at the pass. This Christmas mustbe a happy one. Which granted, was hard to pull off when everyone in town kept recounting her family’s sorrows.

“How are things with Robert?” Patsy asked.

Naomi pressed her lips together. She didn’t want to get into her love life. Or lack there of. “Robert and I are….”

What was her situation with her long-distance boyfriend? She wished she knew. When Robert took the job in Denver, they’d had an understanding. Robert would get his life and career in Colorado established and then she would join him and they’d get married. It wasn’t an official engagement. Nothing formal. He’d not asked for her hand in marriage. But she’d planned on marrying him since she was a junior in high school. She had a hope chest, and a wedding idea book stuffed with dreams.

            But since last Christmas, everything had changed. And Naomi was no longer quite sure where she and Robert stood. She hadn’t seen him in four months. They texted, but it was not daily. They’d both been so busy. Shocked, she realized they hadn’t even talked on the phone in over a month.

“It’s complicated,” she said as much to herself as to Patsy. “All my focus is on Hunter right now. It has to be.”

“Does that mean he’s free to date other people?”

That pulled her up short. She hadn’t really thought about it. Robert hadn’t mentioned wanting to see other people. Was he seeing other people?

“How about you?”

Naomi made a dismissive sound. “If I had time for dating I could fly to Denver every few weeks and reconnect with Robert..”

“Robert’s not coming around to the idea of you adopting Hunter, is he?” Patsy looked at her over the rim of the reading glasses perched on the end of her nose. “That’s the real issue.”

Patsy made a good point, but she wasn’t going to discuss that. She and her parents had decided as a family that Naomi should be the one to adopt Hunter since her mother’s health was fragile and her parents were both over sixty. Robert hadn’t understood, and asked why her parents were trying to “saddle” her with her dead brother’s baby.

They’d had a huge fight over it. He didn’t get that adopting Hunter had been heridea, not her folks. In fact, they’d tried to dissuade her, telling her they didn’t want her to give up her life to raise her brother’s child. But Hunter was everything to her.

Her relationship with Robert had not been the same since, even though he’d apologized, and they’d smoothed things over.

On the surface, anyway.

“I’m sure everything will work out the way it’s supposed to.” Patsy took the box out of the shopping bag she’d just put it in.

“Hopefully..” Naomi felt unsettled by Patsy’s questions because she didn’t know the answers, and she hated not being in control.

“How’s your mother?” Patsy’s voice lowered, knitting a sympathetic tone.

Naomi flinched at the pity, but kept the smile pasted on her face. Nothing was gonna get her down. The family had been steeped in sorrow long enough. Being happy didn’t mean they still didn’t grieve their losses. But if she’d learned anything, it was that life was short and you had to make the most of it.

And hey, in high school, she hadn’t been a cheerleader for nothing. Rah, Rah Twilight Titans.

“Mom’s good.”

“I know this is a rough time of year for your family. The holidays—”

“We’re fine.” Her smile stiffened, but she kept her voice loose. A flag flapping in the breeze. Oh, say can you see, life is good, good, good. “We’re doing great. Honest.”

“You’ve all suffered a huge loss.” Patsy added the box to the leaning Tower of Pisa in Naomi’s arms. “It’s okay to grieve. I—”

“Could you open the door for me, please? Thank you.” Naomi locked her elbows to help brace the load. Mashed her chin against the top package. Squelched the sad feelings rising up inside her.

None of that, Missy.

“How far to your van?” Patsy asked.

“It’s in the shop. Transmission overhaul. It’ll be out of commission all week.” But she wasn’t letting the inconvenience get her down.

“So how are you getting all this home?”

“Jana’s swinging around to pick me up at the curb.”

“You sure you don’t need help getting the packages into Jana’s Jeep?” Patsy folded the empty bag emblazoned with a teal peacock and stuck it back inside the drawer.

“Juggling packages is all part of the Christmas fun, right?”

Patsy hustled across the old wooden floor to open the door, moving fast for a woman in her late sixties. “Do mind your step, hon, and watch out for the workmen setting up Dickens.”

During the first weekend in December, tourists flocked to Twilight. Looking for fun at the annual Dickens on the Square festival. Normally, Naomi loved this time of year. But after last year’s tragedies…

Stop. No unwanted thoughts. Come hell or high water, this was going to be the best Christmas ever. No excuses.

With the packages blocking her view, Naomi inched down the stairs of the Teal Peacock. Workmen were stringing electrical cords and wiring. Two crewmembers carried neon orange sawhorses. They were using them to block off the cross streets.

Dang it. Now, Jana wouldn’t be able to drive through that way and pick her up. She’d have to wait on the curb with her unwieldy load while Jana circled around to the back of the building.

No worries, no worries. Smile. Life is good. Yes, her arms were screaming at her to put down the packages, but she could ignore the burn for a little longer.

Hurry, Jana, hurry.

It was okay. Achy arms weren’t going to kill her, and it wasn’t as if she didn’t have a loving community to help. Things were so much better than they were a year ago. She counted her blessings. She was healthy. Her business was turning a profit. She had parents who loved her. She lived in the best small town in Texas.

And she had the sweetest little boy who was about to become her son. Who could ask for anything more?

“Thank you,” she murmured skyward. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Jana’s black Jeep Grand Cherokee pulled up to the curb. Whew! Nick of time. Relieved, she headed toward the back of the Jeep.

“Here, here,” said one of the workmen. “Let me help.” The man stretched out long, reached for the handle, and flung the door open.

“Thank you.” Naomi breathed, offered him a harried smile. Nice man. Helpful. She dumped the packages in the backseat, and slammed the door. Heard her cell phone ding from the bottom of her purse.

She wanted to ignore it, but with Hunter in preschool, she didn’t dare. Digging in her purse for the phone, she hopped into the passenger seat. Without looking around, she clicked on her seatbelt.

The workman shut the door behind her. She nodded at him, waved.

“Hello,” she said into the phone, but the caller hung up. She pulled the phone from her ear to see who’d called.

Jana.

Huh? Why was Jana calling her when she was sitting right here in the car with her? She turned to her best friend.

But it was not Jana sitting in the driver’s seat.

Rather, it was a man. A tall man. A handsome man. A complete stranger. And…

Sweet

Holy

Mother

of

baby

Jesus…

He bore an uncanny resemblance to the dark-haired man she’d dreamed of last Christmas Eve, when she’d slept with a kismet cookie under her pillow. Not that she believed in the legend.

And yet, here he was.

Believe me now?Taunted the legend.

“Eeep!” Naomi cried, scrambling for the door handle to jump out.

But the seatbelt yanked her backward, Tightening down on her chest. Which he must have noticed. Because he was staring at her breasts with an amused expression on his gorgeous mug.

Feeling like a ginormous idiot for getting into the wrong vehicle, she blurted, “Who are you?”

“Better question,” he said in a voice as deep and dark as the Brazos River at midnight. “Who are you?”