The Most Wonderful Time of the Year by Marie Landry #Excerpt #Giveaway @SweetMarie83

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Release Date:

Summary from Goodreads:
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, right? At least that’s what twenty-year-old Ginny Bailey’s grandmother always told her, and Ginny believed it until Grama died. She even put on a brave face the following two Christmases, carrying on Grama’s traditions and decorating her house and café with Grama’s favorite decorations.

But Ginny can’t pretend any longer. When she finds out she’s going to be alone for the holidays this year, her Christmas spirit goes out the window, along with her luck. Everything that can go wrong does, and Ginny just wants to spend the holidays hiding under the covers...until Dean Riley comes back into her life. With their shared past, old feelings begin to resurface almost immediately, and Ginny thinks Dean might just be the Christmas miracle she’s been waiting for to help her remember why Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year.

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‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ came over the speakers in the café, and I smiled, humming along to the jazzy song. It was one of my favourites, but then again I had a lot of favourite holiday songs.

I added a dollop of whipped cream and shook some red and green sprinkles onto the peppermint mocha latté I’d just made. I carefully pressed a lid into place before setting the hot drink on the counter. “Here you go, Mrs. Sanders.”

“Thank you, dear.” Mrs. Sanders tucked a loose white curl under her crocheted hat. She was in her seventies, and had a sweet tooth like I’d never seen. She volunteered at the used clothing store down the street, and on any given day would pop into the café two or three times for a sugary drink or a freshly baked goodie.

Mrs. Sanders’ gaze swept over the café. “The place is looking wonderful, Ginny,” she told me, a warm smile lighting her grey eyes. “Looks just like it did when your grandma owned the place and decorated for the holidays.”

I swallowed the lump that always formed in my throat when someone mentioned Grama. “I’m really happy to hear you say that,” I replied, managing a small smile. “Christmas was always her favourite time of year.”

“Don’t I know it.” Mrs. Sanders chuckled and shook her head. “She’d be up in that attic of yours fishing around for Christmas decorations as soon as Halloween was over.” Her smile dimmed slightly, turning wistful. “I’m glad she passed her love for the holidays on to you. It’s nice to have someone to keep up those traditions and add in some new life.”

I nodded, swallowing compulsively around that stupid growing lump in my throat. It had been three years since Grama passed away, but I still felt her loss as if it were yesterday. She’d been so much more than my guardian—she was my best friend and confidant, the one person who loved me unconditionally and supported me no matter what. She’d also been a huge part of the community; she had a seat on town council, and had owned what was once the only café in town until a Tim Horton’s moved in near the mall.

“I do it for her.” I knew Mrs. Sanders would understand the slight tremor in my voice that I couldn’t control. “Because of her, I’ve believed in the magic of Christmas for as long as I can remember. It was always the best time of year growing up. Everything just seems different around Christmas. Like anything could happen, you know?”

Mrs. Sanders still wore that soft, wistful smile. “Now you sound just like her. She was always talking about the magic of Christmas. She’d be really proud of you, Ginny.”

This time my smile was genuine. I knew Mrs. Sanders missed Grama too. They had been friends most of their lives, and Mrs. Sanders was one of the few people who freely talked about Grama around me. Most of the other people in town seemed to think I’d shatter into a million pieces at the mere mention of her. “Thank you.”

The older woman nodded and reached for her wallet, but I waved her away. “It’s on me today. Enjoy.”

Mrs. Sanders patted my hand where it rested on the counter, then pulled on her leather gloves and tugged the collar of her coat up around her neck. “I’ll see you tomorrow, dear.”

I watched her go, then glanced around the café as Mrs. Sanders had done a few moments earlier. Most of the decorations were Grama’s, but I’d added a few over the years. There was a small artificial tree in every corner, decorated with lights and the mismatched ornaments Grama and I had been collecting or making since I was a child. Star-shaped lights hung in the big windows on either side of the door, and the fireplace was adorned with stockings that were almost filled with donated toys for the local yearly toy drive.

I made my way around the counter, smiling at the people scattered at tables and on couches around the café. It was one of the quietest times of day; the after work rush had finished and most people were home having dinner. Things would pick up again around seven, when a lot of folks liked to drop in for coffee or dessert, or grab a snack on their way to the movies.

I collected dirty mugs and plates before wiping down tables, all the while humming along to the carols playing on the stereo. I was surprised to find almost every empty table held a tip. People didn’t often leave tips, and if they did it was in the fancy jar by the cash register. I scooped the money into the pocket of my Christmassy apron, enjoying the musical jingling sound as the change and bills accumulated.

I was heading back to the counter when the front door flew open, sending the bells overhead into a tinkling frenzy and a gust of wintry air into the café. I turned and smiled when I saw my best friend, Clara, sweep inside, stamping her booted feet and shaking the hood of her coat.

“Is that snow?” I rushed through the café to the window. I nearly pressed my face against the cool pane when I saw that it was, indeed, snowing softly. We’d hardly had any snow yet this winter, and as Christmas drew nearer I was afraid we weren’t going to get any. Christmas wasn’t Christmas without snow.

“I’ll be right back, everyone,” I called to no one in particular as I grabbed Clara’s hand and pulled her back outside.

“What are you doing?” Clara asked. “Where’s your coat? You’re going to freeze!”

Ignoring her, I stood on the sidewalk and turned my face toward the sky. Fat snowflakes fell, melting instantly as they touched my skin, which was overheated from being close to the fire while bussing tables. An uncontrollable smile spread over my face, and I closed my eyes, letting the flakes cool my eyelids, cheeks, and forehead.

“You’re a loon, you know that?” Something warm settled over my shoulders, and I opened my eyes to see that Clara had taken off her coat and draped it over both of us. She looped her arm through mine and pressed against me, pulling her half of the coat around her as much as she could.

“I know,” I answered easily. “But you know how much I love snow.”

“I do, which is why I stopped in. I figured you’d be busy and might not have seen it yet.”

“That’s why you came by?” I asked, surprised and touched.

“Well, yeah.” Clara shrugged. “I was leaving the library when it started, so I figured rather than call I’d just come up the street and see you. I know I haven’t been around much lately.”

It was true. Clara had been dating a guy named Bobby since summer, and they were nearly inseparable. I’d gone from seeing my best friend all the time to practically having to make an appointment just to have a conversation with her. It had been hard on me, and at times it felt like our friendship was scarcely bearing the weight of the strain. None of that seemed to matter right now, though. She was here, it was snowing, and everything seemed right with the world, even if it was only for a few minutes.

“Thanks for coming.” I turned my face back to the sky. I didn’t want to talk about Clara’s absence lately.

“Well, I knew…” Clara’s voice trailed off and she shifted closer to me. I glanced at her and saw she was staring resolutely at the sky, her jaw tight, and tears glistening in her eyes.

“Don’t,” I pleaded.  “Please don’t.”

She jerked her head back and forth, and one lone tear slipped down her cheek. “I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “I swore I wouldn’t. I told myself all the way over here that if I started to cry, I’d never forgive myself, but I just can’t help it.”

I let out a quiet groan as I felt the lump return to my throat. Clara and I had grown up together, so she’d known Grama forever, and felt her loss almost as acutely as I did. She’d been the one who had mourned with me, held my hand when I needed comfort, cried with me, and shared stories from our childhood.

Clara took a deep breath and slid her hand down my arm to grip my hand tightly. “She was like a little kid when it snowed,” she said quietly. I couldn’t look at her for fear I’d start crying, but I could hear the smile in her voice now, and it calmed me a bit.

“I remember you telling me about how she’d drag you outside during the first snow, no matter where you were, what you were doing, or what time it was,” she continued. “Like that time when you were six and it started snowing in the middle of the night and she dragged you out of bed to see it. I don’t think I really believed you until the next year when I was sleeping over and she woke us up at 3 a.m., bundled us into our coats, and took us outside.”

I laughed shakily at the memory. It was one of my favourites. I could still remember us throwing our coats, hats, mittens, and boots on over our pajamas and following Grama outside. The three of us stood on the huge front lawn, holding hands, and staring up at the sky as fat snowflakes fell around us.

Clara squeezed my hand, drawing me back to the present. “I think someone wants a refill.” She pointed over her shoulder at the woman waiting patiently near the counter with an empty mug.

“Shoot.” I started to slip Clara’s coat off, but she swung it off her shoulders instead and wrapped it around me.

“I’ll go. You enjoy the snow for another few minutes.” She paused with her hand on the doorknob and gave me a small, sad smile. “I swear I feel her out here, Gin.”

She hurried inside before I could reply—or before either of us could burst into tears and spend the next half hour blubbering on the sidewalk in the snow. I watched her for a second as she spoke to the woman at the counter, smiling brightly and tossing her golden hair over her shoulder. I felt a swell of affection for her that nearly took my breath away, and I turned away quickly before I really did start to cry.

While there were a few people who understood that I was still mourning the loss of my grandmother even after all this time, Clara was the only person who I felt really got it. She’d been like a sister to me growing up, and I’d happily shared Grama with her.

Christmas was the hardest time of year for me since it had been Grama’s favourite, but I’d promised myself I would celebrate it just like we always had. I swore I would hold on to the magic of the season, the way she’d taught me. I turned my face to the sky once again and closed my eyes. The snowflakes slowed, touching my cheeks gently like angel kisses. Clara was right; I could feel Grama here too.

Excerpt #2:

“I never forgot about you,” Dean said. “When I saw you in the café yesterday, I knew you looked familiar but I couldn’t even begin to hope it was you. You look so different, and I figured you’d probably left town after your grandmother passed. But now…this is like…I don’t even know, it’s too crazy to put into words. After all these years, here we are. Adults, living next door to each other.”

“All grown up,” I said with a little smile. “Now two years doesn’t seem like any age difference at all, does it?”

“It doesn’t.” His bright blue eyes shifted to my mouth, and his lips twitched into a smile. “And I bet if I wanted to kiss you, I wouldn’t have to find an excuse.”

My breath hitched and my heart did a weird little tripping thing in my chest. “You never asked if I have a boyfriend. How do you know I’m not married with kids?”

He chuckled. “I don’t think you’d be looking at me the way you are if you were married with kids,” he said. “Or even if you had a boyfriend.”

“And how am I looking at you?”

“Like you used to all those years ago.” I hadn’t noticed him leaning forward, but now his face was just inches from mine. “Like I imagine I used to look at you when I wanted to kiss you, but you had no clue.”

I couldn’t believe I was sitting in my kitchen staring into the eyes of my childhood crush. The years we’d spent apart faded away, and all I could think about was that sixteen-year-old boy who’d told me I should hold his hand whenever we jumped into the lake, or who always rubbed my arms over my towel when we got out dripping wet. Now I could see what I hadn’t seen then—the look of affection in his eyes, the way he’d use any excuse to touch me, just like he said. I had no idea what Dean the man was like, but I’d known and loved Dean the boy and that was good enough for me at this moment.

“Nothing’s stopping you from kissing me now,” I told him, surprised by the low, throaty sound of my voice.

A grin flashed across his face, and he closed the distance between us. His lips hadn’t even touched mine when the doorbell rang, startling us apart.

“And so my bad luck from yesterday returns,” I muttered.

Dean looked at me questioningly, but I just shook my head regretfully and slid from the stool. “Hold that thought.”

He nodded, his eyes following me as I stood. “I’ll just use your phone while I wait.”

Freddy was standing on my front steps when I opened the door. “Hey, sweetheart,” he said, holding up his toolbox. “My first appointment was pushed back so I thought I’d come take a look at that beast of a water heater, see what I can do.”

I stepped aside and let him in. “That’s great, Freddy, thanks.” He kicked off his snowy boots and headed down the hallway, pausing when he met Dean, who was coming out of the kitchen. Freddy looked over his shoulder at me with raised eyebrows, and I said a silent prayer of thanks that he wasn’t one of the gossipy people in town.

“Fred, this is my new neighbour, Dean Riley,” I explained. “He’s Mr. Riley’s grandson.”

“Ahh, right, I heard you’d be moving to town to take over the old man’s house.” Freddy shook Dean’s hand and they exchanged pleasantries before Dean started telling him about how he’d checked out the water heater but didn’t know if he had the right tools to fix it.

I stopped paying attention. I took the opportunity to admire Dean; he stood with his hands in his jeans pockets, nodding along to something Freddy was saying, and when he laughed I felt my lips twitch in response. He had a great laugh—he didn’t hold back, and his whole face lit up.

His gaze slid past Freddy and landed on me, and I blushed at being caught staring. His grin morphed into something different, something almost secret and private, and my body grew as warm as my cheeks.

Freddy excused himself to get to work, and Dean sauntered over to me, his hands still shoved in his pockets. “I need to get going.” I must not have done a very good job of hiding my disappointment because he reached out and rested one hand on my shoulder. “I have to go meet with the realtor who handles my granddad’s properties, but…what do you say we hang out tonight? Get to know each other as adults instead of kids.”

“I’d love that,” I said, unable to control the almost-giddy smile that overtook my face. As much as I wished we hadn’t been interrupted in the kitchen, I had to admit it would have been weird to kiss him after being reunited for such a short time, especially considering we hadn’t seen each other in years. I wasn’t a prude, but I also wasn’t the type of girl who moved that quickly.

Even if I may have wanted to…

I watched Dean wrestle his boots onto his feet before slipping into his coat. “I saw a flyer downtown yesterday for some big Christmas concert happening tonight at Town Hall. Maybe we could go to that, then see where the night takes us?”

The Christmas concert. Damn! I’d forgotten all about it. Every year local groups got together and put on a variety show of sorts—the dance school did a short rendition of The Nutcracker, the choir led a sing-along, and the elementary and high schools did different skits and musical acts. Grama had been on the organization committee for years and I’d always helped her.

With my Christmas spirit waning fast, Town Hall was the last place I wanted to be tonight. Dean was looking at me with a mixture of hope and expectation, so I said, “The Christmas concert sounds great.”

“Perfect.” He leaned toward me and I was sure he was going to kiss me, but instead he whispered in my ear, “I hope they have mistletoe at this concert.” He brushed his lips over my cheek and stepped back to meet my eyes with a devilish smile. “I’ll pick you up at six?”

I nodded mutely, stepping numbly out of the way when he moved past me to open the door. He stood in the doorway for a moment, regarding me with an unreadable expression.

“It’s really good to see you again, Ginny.”

“It’s really good to see you again too, Dean. I hope we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other.”

Dean’s smile widened, and I realized I should have chosen my words a little more carefully. “I hope so too. I’ll see you tonight.”

Excerpt #3

When the concert finally ended and people began to file from the hall, Dean put his arm around my waist and led me out the door into the cold night.

“Was that the lamest thing ever to do on a first date?” he asked.

I laughed. “No, it was fun. And you have quite the voice, Mr. Riley. When they did the sing-along, I thought you might just sort of lip synch along, but you were belting it out. I’m impressed.”

Dean chuckled, covering his face in embarrassment. “There’s something about a group of people all singing together,” he said. “You should see me at concerts. Or karaoke.”

“Well, maybe that’s what we should do for our next date…” I bit my lip, hoping I’d sounded casual.

“Maybe,” he said slowly. “Although I think I’d like to go somewhere I can actually look at you and talk to you.” He glanced over at me, his gaze unwavering. “You know?”

I nodded. He was still looking at me, and the intensity of his gaze made me go warm all over, despite the chill in the air. I was about to reply when I slipped on a patch of ice and skidded forward, letting out a little shriek.

I braced myself to hit the cold, hard sidewalk, but Dean managed to catch me before I reached the ground. He was laughing as he helped me straighten up, his arms wrapped loosely around my waist.

“Well, that was embarrassing.” I buried my face in the shoulder of Dean’s coat. I could feel the laughter vibrating through him, and I started to laugh too, shaking my head. “I feel like I should make some cheesy crack about how I’m falling for you.”

Dean’s laughter stopped abruptly, and I whipped my head up to look at him.

“Oh god,” I groaned. “I should just…stop talking. Forever. Then I wouldn’t embarrass myself anymore. You know, unless I fall on my ass in the snow or trip over my own feet or spill coffee on you like I’ve already almost done twice now.”

Dean’s lips quirked slightly as he placed a finger over my lips to stop my rambling. “Are you falling for me?”

“It’s too soon,” I said. “I can’t be. I mean, you don’t just fall for someone this fast, right? We knew each other when we were kids, but that was a long time ago. And even though I was in love with you then, I don’t even know you now. So I can’t be falling for you. Right?”

“You were in love with me when we were kids?”

Crap, had I actually said that? I had been right: I did need to stop talking forever. Maybe I could become a nun and take a vow of silence. Or since I wasn’t Catholic, maybe just the vow of silence part. “Y-yeah, I think so,” I said finally.

“Huh.” Dean released me and took a couple steps away, then came back and repeated the process. He was pacing in a tiny, tight circle, and after a few turns I put my hand on his arm to stop him before we both got dizzy.

“What are you thinking?” I asked, although I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to hear his answer.

“I was thinking…” he said slowly, meeting my gaze again. “I was thinking how mad I am at myself for not coming back sooner. I was thinking of all the time we wasted when we could have been together. I should have come back that summer, and the next, and then moved here when my granddad was still alive.”

I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say. I could feel my eyebrows up around my hairline somewhere, and my lips were parted in surprise.

“I mean, I knew I had feelings for you when I was sixteen, and I knew you had a crush on me, but I thought that was it. Two years age difference when you’re that young seems like a big deal, you know? And then the next year when we were older and we talked until I went to college, my feelings for you grew, but I didn’t see how it could work since I was there and you were here. But now…now there’s nothing stopping us. Not distance or a miniscule age difference, or anything. Unless…”

“Unless what?” I asked breathlessly.

“Unless you think this is just some…I don’t know, some leftover childhood feelings or something.” He shrugged. “That we’re both remembering how it was back then and imagining that there’s something between us now.”

Was he right? My mind whirled like the snow around us, and I closed my eyes, trying to gather my thoughts.

No. This pull, this attraction, the way I felt whenever he looked at me or touched me or smiled at me, wasn’t imagined. It wasn’t some remnant of feelings from six years ago. I had been a child then, but I wasn’t now. “I have a pretty good imagination, but I don’t think it’s that good,” I told him.

He let out a little laugh. “Me either.” Gripping my shoulders, he pulled me closer so our bodies were pressed together. “I think I know how we can know for sure, though,” he said, his eyes sparkling in the dim light.

“Like an experiment?” I asked, trying to hold back my laughter.

“Something like that.” With a smile flitting across his face, he lowered his mouth to mine.

For six years, I’d imagined what it would be like to be kissed by Dean Riley. Even when I’d told myself to forget about him and had moved on after we stopped talking, he still slipped into my dreams and fantasies from time to time. But every dream, every fantasy, couldn’t compare to the reality of Dean’s warm lips on mine, his hands gripping my shoulders, his tongue touching and then entwining with mine.

And I definitely wasn’t imagining the warmth that blossomed inside me and spread in tingling waves to every part of my body.

“I’d consider that experiment a success.” Dean spoke softly, but I could hear an underlying huskiness that sent a delicious shiver zinging through me.

Laughing breathlessly, I threw my arms around his neck and closed my eyes as I hugged him. “Are we really going to do this? See if what we felt all those years ago could turn into something real?”

“I’m willing to try if you are,” Dean said, his breath tickling my ear. “And I think we’ve already made a pretty good start.”

What people are saying about The Most Wonderful Time of the Year:

“While The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is a quick read, it is an adorable one. This story shows the value of friends and family and the importance they have in our lives, no matter what time of the year it is…If you're looking for a well-written, heartwarming story for those cold days, pick this up.”
~ Jessica Sankiewicz, author of If Only We

“Marie Landry delivered the perfect little holiday novella with The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. It has a small-town coffee shop, memories of Christmas with Grandma, snowballs, hot cocoa and a yummy man from our heroine’s past. Mini review: romantic, sweet and filled with holiday spirit.”
Kimberly from Caffeinated Book Reviewer

“The Most Wonderful Time of Year was quick and sweet, just how I like my holiday reads.”
~ Christy from Love of Books

Marie Landry is the author of BLUE SKY DAYS (contemporary YA—January 2012), THE GAME CHANGER (women's fiction—November 2012), WAITING FOR THE STORM (contemporary YA—April 2013), and THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR (a new adult holiday novella-November 2013). Marie has always been a daydreamer; since early childhood, she's had a passion for words and a desire to create imaginary worlds, so it only seemed natural for her to become a writer. She resides in Ontario, Canada, and most days you can find her writing, reading, blogging about writing and reading, listening to U2, wandering around with a camera in her hand, watching copious amounts of TV on DVD, or having grand adventures with her nephews and niece.

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