“Sophie Love's ability to impart magic to her readers is exquisitely wrought in powerfully evocative phrases and descriptions….This is the perfect romance or beach read, with a difference: its enthusiasm and beautiful descriptions offer an unexpected attention to the complexity of not just evolving love, but evolving psyches. It's a delightful recommendation for romance readers looking for a touch more complexity from their romance reads.”--Midwest Book Review (Diane Donovan re For Now and Forever) CHRISTMAS FOREVER is book #8—and the finale—in the #1 bestselling romance series THE INN AT SUNSET HARBOR, which begins with For Now and Forever (book #1)—a free download!Winter is coming in Sunset Harbor, and Emily Mitchell is nearing her third trimester. While they continue to develop their new private island, a new opportunity arises—one Emily had never anticipated, and which could change everything.Roy’s time left to live is running out fast, and as Christmas looms and all are busy preparing, Emily knows that this will be the most meaningful one of her life. It will be a holiday season that changes all of their lives forever.CHRISTMAS FOREVER is book #8 in a dazzling new romance series that will make you laugh, cry, keep you turning pages late into the night—and make you fall in love with romance all over again.Sophie’s new romance series, LOVE LIKE THIS, is now also available!“A very well written novel, describing the struggle of a woman (Emily) to find her true identity. The author did an amazing job with the creation of the characters and her description of the environment. The romance is there, but not overdosed. Kudos to the author for this amazing start of a series that promises to be very entertaining.”--Books and Movies Reviews, Roberto Mattos (re For Now and Forever)
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C H R I S T M A S F O R E V E R
(THE INN AT SUNSET HARBOR—BOOK 8)
S O P H I E L O V E
#1 bestselling author Sophie Love is author of the romantic comedy series THE INN AT SUNSET HARBOR, which includes eight books, and which begins with FOR NOW AND FOREVER (THE INN AT SUNSET HARBOR—BOOK 1).
Sophie Love is also the author of the debut romantic comedy series, THE ROMANCE CHRONICLES, which begins with LOVE LIKE THIS (THE ROMANCE CHRONICLES—BOOK 1).
Sophie would love to hear from you, so please visit www.sophieloveauthor.com to email her, to join the mailing list, to receive free ebooks, to hear the latest news, and to stay in touch!
Copyright © 2017 by Sophie Love. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Jacket image Copyright Ioana Catalina E, used under license from Shutterstock.com.
BOOKS BY SOPHIE LOVE
THE INN AT SUNSET HARBOR
FOR NOW AND FOREVER (Book #1)
FOREVER AND FOR ALWAYS (Book #2)
FOREVER, WITH YOU (Book #3)
IF ONLY FOREVER (Book #4)
FOREVER AND A DAY (Book #5)
FOREVER, PLUS ONE (Book #6)
FOR YOU, FOREVER (Book #7)
CHRISTMAS FOREVER (Book #8)
THE ROMANCE CHRONICLES
LOVE LIKE THIS (Book #1)
LOVE LIKE THAT (Book #2)
LOVE LIKE OURS (Book #3)
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
Doctor Arkwright smiled at Emily and removed the measuring tape from around her belly. “I can confirm your due date will be December 13th,” she said. “You’re 37 weeks now, and officially full term.”
Emily looked at Daniel and grinned. It was so exciting to know that in just three weeks Baby Charlotte would be joining them.
They all sat back down in their seats, and Doctor Arkwright continued.
“No more flying,” she told Emily. “So if you were planning a babymoon, I’m afraid you won’t be able to do so abroad.”
“Babymoon?” Emily laughed. “I’ve never even heard of that.”
The Doctor chuckled back. “It’s all the rage these days. I have mom’s and dad’s to be planning lavish babymoon’s because they know it’s their last chance.”
Emily found the idea amusing. With everything going on at the inn, it was very unlikely they’d even be able to find the time (not to mention the money) should they even want to go on vacation!
The Doctor clapped her hands. “We’re all done here.”
“Great,” Emily said, hopping down from the seat. “Oh, I almost forgot. I have something for you.” She reached in her purse and pulled out Roman’s latest album. He’d been delighted to sign it for the Doctor, though thoroughly amused at that same time.
Doctor Arkwright saw what Emily was holding and turned a shade of crimson. She took it hurriedly. “Thanks so much,” she whispered.
Emily and Daniel left her surgery and headed out to the parking lot. For the Monday after Thanksgiving, the weather was remarkably warm.
“What are the chances of us missing snow this year?” Emily asked Daniel as she reached the pickup truck.
“Honestly, I can’t imagine a Christmas without it,” he said. “I’m sure the weather will turn soon enough.”
They both got into the truck.
“It’s been kinda useful,” Emily added. “Think how much more work we’ve been able to get done at the island thanks to the weather!”
Daniel turned his key in the ignition and the old truck juddered to life. “I know,” he said, as he began reversing out of his parking space. “We’re ahead of schedule. And considering we need everything done by April, that is a very good thing.”
Emily thought about how the island had already been booked up, months in advance, before even the roof was on the cabins!
“How are Stu, Clyde and Evan getting along?” she asked him.
“Absolutely fine,” he told her. “I didn’t know they had it in them. I always thought they were lazy.”
Emily laughed but kept her own thoughts about Daniel’s friends to herself. She’d grown fond of them over the weeks they’d been working for board and food but that initial impression of them was going to be hard to shake!
“Well I’m glad they’re working hard,” she told Daniel. “We desperately need the income from the island if things carry on the way they’re going.”
Daniel glanced across to her in the passenger seat. “Is it really that bad?”
Emily grimaced. “Yes. Unfortunately. We’ve not had any reservations come in for the winter. In fact, there’s no one coming until March. Not in the carriage house, Trevor’s house, or the main inn. I’ve had to cut everyone’s shifts as well. It’s just Lois and Parker doing some select shifts. Vanessa and Marnie have agreed to take the whole winter off but Matthew’s not thrilled by the cut backs. He’s trying to save up for a new car. I feel awful. Luckily the restaurant’s still getting a lot of bookings so Harry’s giving him some work there. The spa’s still popular so between the tw of them, they should tide us over. But it’s going to be a tight few months.”
The timing was either a blessing or a curse. A blessing because it would give Emily the time to spend with her newborn, but a curse because newborns were expensive and the last thing she wanted to be doing was worrying about money!
“It won’t,” Daniel told her with determination. “I’ll get my woodshop up and running before the new year if I have to. You and Baby Charlotte will get everything you need. I promise you.”
Emily smiled, and rubbed her round stomach. Daniel was so focused on providing them with the best life possible. It made her so happy. She was so lucky to have him in her life. She just hoped he didn’t burn himself out working too hard. It was always a balancing act with Daniel, and he often came down on the wrong side!
“Maybe we should try to get Amy to have her wedding at the inn, like she was planning on with Fraser?” Emily suggested.
Daniel barked out his laughter, as if he’d never heard anything so ludicrous. “I highly doubt she’ll want to after last time. It would surely bring up some unpleasant memories? And why would Harry want to get married in the place he worked?” He shook his head, thoroughly amused. “It’s a shame though. Maybe you can convince another one of your rich friends to get married this year. What about Jane?”
“Absolutely not!” Emily replied. “Jane is not the marrying type.”
But his suggestion did get her thinking. As they settled into a comfortable silence, Emily tried to imagine some more creative ways to market the inn over the winter. They’d put so much focus on the island, spa, restaurant and speakeasy that they’d neglected to advertize the inn and everything it had to offer properly. Winter weddings could be a good approach, especially with the ballroom for ceremonies and every bedroom in the inn spare for the guests! She’d have to book in a meeting with Bryony, their web-whizz and marketing-extraordinaire.
Daniel turned off the high street then, heading down the smaller road in the direction of Chantelle’s school. Their appointment with the doctor had overrun and there wasn’t time now to go home first before picking her up.
“Have you heard anymore from Raven Kingsley?” he asked as he drove. “When’s the next town meeting to decide on whether her inn can go ahead?”
“I don’t know yet,” Emily said. “I’m waiting to hear. They’ll post a bulletin once the zoning board’s had its meeting. I’m sure it won’t be for a while yet.”
“Aren’t you worried?” Daniel asked.
“Of course. Competition, especially from someone like Raven, is always a scary prospect. We’ve had it easy so far. The market was ours.”
“That was easy?” Daniel joked, referring to the years and months of work they’d put into making the inn a success.
“You know what I mean,” Emily said. “We never really had to worry about bankruptcy before.”
“And we do now?” Daniel asked, his jokey expression from before having entirely disappeared.
Emily bit her lip. “Maybe a little,” she told him. “If things don’t pick up soon. But don’t worry, I’ll come up with something. A Christmas ball. With Roman singing. For a hundred dollars a ticket!”
She was only joking. Using Roman’s celebrity status for her own gain was not something she would ever do. But a Christmas ball for the town might be a nice idea.
Daniel still looked concerned.
“Hun,” Emily told him, firmly. “I’ve got this. Don’t worry. Nothing, not even Raven Kingsley’s new inn, will stop us. I promise. We’re too determined to fail now.”
She spoke confidently, but there was also doubt in the back of her mind. What if this was the winter they couldn’t weather? What if her perfect life was about to come crashing down around her?
Daniel pulled into the school lot. The day was already out and all the kids were playing in the large playground, supervised by their teachers. Emily caught sight of Chantelle, playing with Bailey and Laverne. It was such a relief the girls were friends again.
She got out the pickup truck and waved at Chantelle’s teacher on the steps outside the school. She also waved at Tilly, the school’s receptionist Emily had recently bonded with. Tilly was having her afternoon coffee break out on the steps with the rest of the faculty. She waved warmly at Emily.
Chantelle must have noticed her parents because she came running over.
“Guess what!” she cried. “We’re doing A Seussified Christmas Carol for our concert this year!
“What is that?” Emily asked.
“It’s Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol but all in rhymes like Doctor Seuss,” Chantelle told her. “And I’m playing The Ghost of Christmas Past!”
Emily knew enough to know that was one of the central parts to the play. After Ebenezer Scrooge, the ghost would surely have the most lines.
“Well done sweetheart!” she said, hugging Chantelle tightly.
Once she’d released her, Daniel swept her up into the air.
“What a cool part!” he exclaimed. “I’m so proud of you!”
He placed her back on her feet, and Chantelle reached for something from her satchel.
“These are my lines,” she said, holding up a thick booklet with a recognizable Seuss-style illustration on the front of it. “The play will be on Friday 18th December.”
Emily looked at Daniel, her eyebrows raised. Baby Charlotte would be born by then! Suddenly it all felt incredibly real. And so, so exciting.
“That’s not very long to learn all your lines,” Daniel said to Chantelle. “Three weeks?”
“I know,” she told him, looking suddenly very serious. “But I can do it.”
“Of course you can,” Emily told her.
They all climbed into the truck and Daniel turned the ignition. It juddered to life with a spluttering noise.
“When I get home, can I start decorating the inn for Christmas?” Chantelle asked from the back seat.
Emily laughed and glanced over her shoulder at her. “We’ve only just had Thanksgiving.”
“I know,” Chantelle replied. “But I love Christmas so much. I just can’t wait to swap my fall leaves bunting for snowflake bunting.”
Daniel started to chuckle. His gaze flicked up to Chantelle in the rear view mirror.
“You can decorate the inn however you want,” he said.
Emily smiled to herself. She loved Chantelle’s creativity, and she loved the way her home was transformed for every festivity, every season, by the child’s hand. She wouldn’t swap it for the world -- not the plastic spiders she kept finding down the back of furniture from Halloween or the tiny American flags between the floorboards from July 4th. Her life was perfect. Fingers crossed, it would stay that way.
A few minutes later they returned home, and Daniel parked up outside the inn. The vast drive was completely empty now. With no guest cars filling the outside space, the drive looked suddenly enormous.
They went up the porch steps and in through the large door of the inn. As they stepped inside, Emily discovered, to her surprise, that the fall decorations were already gone. She’d only been out the house for a couple of hours, but someone had turned the inn back into a blank canvas. Who could have done so?
She thought of Lois and Marnie using some of their extra time during their slow shift to tidy up, or maybe Vanessa had done it during her cleaning. But then she heard voices coming from the living room and instantly realized who had instigated the tidy up.
She went into the living room, and there sat the culprit: Amy. Amy was so organized it was no surprise she’d immediately put their thanksgiving decorations away.
She wasn’t alone though. Sat on the couch beside her, by the lit fireplace, with Mogsy’s head resting in her lap, drinking what looked like cocoa with marshmallows in, was Patricia. Not only had Emily’s mom gotten a taste for marshmallows ever since her first experience of smores, she’d learned to appreciate the love of a smelly, moulting dog. And, more importantly, she’d stayed for the whole thanksgiving weekend. It was a miracle, as far as Emily was concerned, that she and her mom had spent three whole days together without killing one another. Things really did seem to be changing for the better. In fact, Emily was a little melancholy that her mom would be leaving today.
“Amy!” Chantelle cried when she saw Emily’s friend sat on the couch. “We’re allowed to decorate the inn for Christmas. Did you get the stuff?”
Emily frowned and looked at Daniel, perplexed. By his expression she could tell he was just as curiously amused as she was.
“Of course I did,” Amy replied with a grin.
She grabbed a large carrier bag from down the side of the couch, where it had been out of view. Emily could see sparkly silver fabric, glittery snowflakes, and plastic icicles poking out the top of the overstuffed bag.
“What’s all that?” she exclaimed. “You’ve been scheming! The two of you!”
She tickled Chantelle in the ribs and the little girl squealed. Then she wriggled away from Emily’s fingers and hurried over to Amy. She grabbed the bag and peered inside.
“This is so cool,” she told Amy. “Can we start now?”
Amy looked at Emily as if for approval.
“Don’t look at me,” Emily laughed, holding her hands up into truce position. “You two have clearly got plans!”
They both scurried into the corridor and began to string fairy lights across the ceiling and spray fake snow on the window panes. Emily watched them from the doorway, her shoulder resting against it. She felt a very strong sense of Christmas cheer.
“My back’s killing me,” Daniel said then, appearing behind her. “I’m going to take a nice long soak.”
“Good idea,” she said. “You rest up.”
Daniel was working so hard at the moment, trying to provide for the family. She didn’t want him getting an injury like his boss Jack had done recently. That would be a disaster. He needed to take care of himself.
He kissed her cheek, then went upstairs, passing Amy and Chantelle on the way.
“Come on, mommy!” Chantelle cried. “You have to help too!”
Emily had started to feel very tired at this late stage of her pregnancy. But she didn’t want to let Chantelle down. She looked over at Patricia, who was flicking through a design magazine whilst sipping her chocolate drink.
“Mom? Want to help too?”
Patricia looked surprised. “Oh. Well. I suppose I could.”
Emily smirked, quietly very pleased that her mom would join in. She turned back to Chantelle.
Then she and Patricia went out into the hallway and searched through Amy’s bag of tricks. Emily took out some glittering tinsel and began winding it around the bannister of the staircase, whilst Patricia selected some sparkly material draped it artistically around the picture frames. It was such a wonderful moment for Emily, so full of peace and happiness.
“When are you getting married, Amy?” Chantelle asked as she affixed snowflakes to the walls with sticky tack.
“I haven’t set the date yet,” Amy told her, smiling to herself. “I can’t work out what season I want my wedding to be in. Or even what country.”
Chantelle’s eyes widened as though the thought of an overseas wedding had never even crossed her mind. “You could get married in Lapland! Reindeers and white snow!”
Amy laughed. “I was thinking more the Bahamas. Turtles... and white beach.”
“That sounds nice too,” Chantelle conceded.
“If you need any help planning it,” Emily said. “I’d be very happy to help. You were so great with my wedding, I’d love to return the favor.”
Amy looked touched. “Really, Em? That would be the best. But honestly, you’re the one who's got a ton of stuff to organize before I’m even ready to get married. You’ve got to give birth, for starters! And what about a babymoon? You’re running out of time.”
Emily laughed and shook her head. “Not you too! A babymoon? My doctor asked us if we were going on one. Is this a new thing?”
“What’s a babymoon?” Chantelle chimed in.
Amy looked shocked. “I can’t believe neither of you have heard of it. A babymoon is the last chance for the mom and dad to be to have a holiday before the demands of a newborn take up all their time.”
“I’ve never heard of anything so indulgent,” Patricia said with a snort.
Ignoring her mom, Emily noticed that Chantelle looked a little concerned about the prospect of her and Daniel leaving for a weekend away. She always had a wobble when they left her because her terrible beginning in life had taught her when people left, they didn’t necessarily come back home. It was such hard work trying to undo the destruction Sheila’s parenting had caused.
“Don’t worry, hun,” Emily told her. “I can’t fly anymore, so there wouldn’t really be much point.”
“Emily!” Amy cried, sounding incredulous. “The point is that you and Daniel get one last chance for a romantic trip together. Your lives are about to change forever. Don’t you want a last hurrah? It’s not like you’d have to go far. You could drive up to Quebec City. It’s beautiful there at this time of year.”
For the first time, Emily really began to consider whether a babymoon would be fun. Just her and Daniel, all the stresses of running their business and all the anxiety over giving birth left behind.
“You don’t think it’s cutting it a bit fine?” Emily said. “My due date is in three weeks.”
“And only, like, twenty percent of babies are born on their due dates,” Amy replied.
“You were late, by the way, Emily,” Patricia told her. “So was Charlotte. And so was I. If you’re anything like I was, she’ll be late. I was 42 weeks plus seven days with both of you.”
“No way!” Emily cried. She’d never been informed of this. “That sounds extremely uncomfortable.”
“Not at all,” Patricia replied. “Your body knows what it wants. You have to trust it.”
“I didn’t even know you could go that late,” Amy said.
Patricia nodded. “In my day, you’d avoid being induced if you could, and trust that nature would do its thing. It’s more common than people realize. Some babies just take longer to bake.”
Amy and Chantelle laughed then, but Emily felt queasy at the thought. Pregnancy was hard! She didn’t want it to last any longer than need be! But maybe her mom had a good point. The older generations were much less pampered and fussy. They didn’t have babymoons or anything like that. Sometimes the practical, fuss-free way of doing things was better.
They finished up decorating the hallways and went into the dining room next, where they placed sparkly snowflakes on all the tables and replaced the fall themed centerpieces with winter ones. It looked beautiful, and Emily felt even more excited for Christmas.
But excitement wasn’t enough to stop her from yawning. The decorating work was rather strenuous and she just didn’t have anywhere near as much energy these days.
“I’m going to have to stop for a bit,” she confessed. “If I even attempt the ballroom I might fall asleep!”
She noticed then that Amy and Chantelle were exchanging mischievous looks with one another.
“What’s going on?” she asked, placing her hands on her hips.
“Nothing,” Amy said in a tone that suggested the opposite.
“Can we show her?” Chantelle asked Amy.
“It’s up to you. You’re the one who wanted it to be a surprise.”
“Show me what?” Emily exclaimed.
But Chantelle and Amy were just talking to each other. She grew impatient.
“Guys, I want to know what the surprise is!” she cried.
“Okay,” Chantelle said. “Come with me.”
She took her hand and led her into the low-ceilinged corridor that opened out into the ballroom. But instead of walking straight along, she turned right, along the even smaller passageway that weaved all the way to the outhouses and garage. They stopped at one of the doors.
Emily frowned, curious.
“We weren’t sure where we could do this,” Chantelle told her. “Because we didn’t want to take one of the inn rooms. Then Amy suggested one on of the outhouses. So…” She paused for dramatic effects, then threw open the door.
Emily blinked, then gasped. The small room had been completely transformed. Instead of exposed brick walls, it had been plastered and painted yellow. Instead of the cement floor, vinyl had been laid down, and on top of that was a fluffy rug. The room was filled with lights -- night lights and fairy lights and spinning musical lights that projected stars onto the walls.
“What is this?” Emily asked, stunned.
“It’s the playroom!” Chantelle exclaimed.
Amy spoke then. “We thought it would be nice for the girls to have a place to play away from the rest of the inn. Somewhere they’re allowed to make as much noise as they want without disturbing any of the guests. And somewhere to keep their toys so they don’t end up all over the place.”
Emily was so touched. The room was lovely. It just needed to be filled with toys now!
“I love it, thank you so much guys,” she said, hugging Amy and Chantelle in turn.
They went back into the living room so Emily could have a rest before the rest of the decorating commenced. Then, once she felt rejuvenated, they took on the mammoth task of decorating the ballroom.
“You know there’s something missing,” Emily said, once she’d strung up the last of the fairy lights.
“What’s that?” Chantelle asked.
“A Christmas tree!” Emily cried.
Chantelle’s eyes grew round and excited. “Of course. But we need more than one, don’t we? We need one for the ballroom and one for the hallway. And one for Trevor’s. And the spa. And the restaurant.”
“Sounds like you need a whole forest,” Amy joked.
“How about we all go tomorrow?” Emily suggested. “Yvonne was telling me about an amazing Christmas Tree farm out of town. It’s not the one we went to last year, it’s supposed to be really huge. We could make a day of it?”
“Can Nana Patty come too?” Chantelle asked.
Emily shook her head. “She’s leaving today,” she said.
Chantelle’s expression became downcast. Emily hated to see her sad.
“Why don’t you ask her?” she suggested.
Patricia had been surprising her recently. Maybe she’d stick around if they made it clear they wanted her too.
Chantelle bounded out the ballroom and down the corridor, to where Patricia was relaxing in the living room.
“Nana Patty!” Chantelle cried, her voice loud enough to carry all the way to where Emily was waddling through the house, trying to catch up to her. “Can you come Christmas tree shopping with us tomorrow?”
Emily entered the living room, just as Patricia was shaking her head.
“I have a flight booked to get me home,” Patricia said. “It’s leaving this evening.”
“Please,” Chantelle said. She got onto the couch beside Patricia and wrapped her arms around her neck. “I really, really want you to stay.”
Patricia looked stunned by the affection. She patted Chantelle’s arm and looked up at Emily standing in the doorway. Emily smiled, touched by the sweet scene, by how much love Chantelle had to give, even to those who had behaved in ways that ought to preclude it. Her capacity for forgiveness and kindness always inspired Emily.
“Well, I don’t want to be in the way,” Patricia said, speaking to Chantelle but directing her words at Emily.
“You’re not in the way,” Emily said. “We’ve loved having you here. And it’s not like the inn is busy at the moment. It’s the perfect time to stay. If you want.”
“Please!” Chantelle begged.
Finally, Patricia smiled. “Okay. I will stay and help you pick out a tree.”
Emily could tell that Patricia was touched to be invited, to be welcome in after all her bad behavior and the terrible fights they’d had. Emily felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude then, realizing that life could always change for the better. It seemed that one was never too old to feel Christmas cheer for the first time!
Chantelle looked overjoyed when Emily and Daniel arrived to pick her up from school the next day, with Patricia sitting patiently in the back seat. She looked very out of place in the truck in her two-piece outfit and blazer combo but Chantelle didn’t seem to notice. She leaped into the backseat, beaming, her cheeks pink from the chilly weather.
“Christmas tree time!” she declared.
Daniel drove them. The weather still hadn’t fully turned yet, though it was much colder than it had been. There wasn’t even any frost, which was common at this time of year. Emily was grateful that the weather had held up so far. It meant that Evan, Clyde and Stu had been able to do their work on the island unimpeded.
The Christmas Tree farm was quite a way out of Sunset Harbor. They could, of course, just go to the depot at Ellsworth, but that was hardly a magical experience for Chantelle! So they went even further, to the one in Taunton Bay.
As they pulled down the small, bumpy, potholed road that lead to the farm, Emily could see the extra journey was well worth it. The Christmas Tree farm was enormous, and thanks to the sloping hillside that ran all the way down from the road to the lake, they had an amazing view of all the trees.
“It’s like a whole forest of Christmas,” Chantelle said, in awe.
Daniel pulled up into the makeshift lot, which was really just a patch of flattened ground, covered in hay to stop it becoming too muddy. There was a small wood-panelled house to one side, with a handmade sign proclaiming; Christmas Trees!
Emily looked over at Patricia in the backseat beside Chantelle. She was wearing her typical snooty expression, and peering out the window with a fearful expression for the dirty ground she was about to step on. But she held her tongue and Emily smiled to herself. That, in itself, felt like a small victory.
Everyone climbed out of the pickup truck, just at the same time the front door to the house opened. A man stepped out, waving at them. He seemed very jolly, with a round belly. Emily wondered if he’d ever considered becoming a Santa, he certainly had the look for it.
“Hi folks!” he said, grinning. “I’m Terry. Are you here to cut down your own tree?”
“We certainly are,” Daniel said.
Chantelle hurried up to the man. “Actually, we need five trees. We have an inn, you see, and a restaurant and spa and they all need a tree. So does the ballroom.”
“How about we just start with one?” Emily suggested, thinking of the fact there were no guests at the inn right now to enjoy the trees. “Then if we need more, we can come back for another day trip.”
That seemed to please Chantelle, and she nodded in agreement.
Terry showed them the tools they would need, then they waved goodbye and headed out into the forest of trees. Emily thought of the farm they’d visited last year, which had been very busy, run more like a fare with tractor rides and hot chocolate to purchase. She liked this more back-to-basics experience, especially since the moment they were inside the forest everything became very quiet.
“It’s like we’re the only people in the world,” she said, her hands protectively cradling her bump.
She looked back to see how Patricia was getting on. Despite walking on her tiptoes and wearing a slightly pinched expression, she wasn’t complaining at all. Emily wondered if perhaps she might be enjoying herself, though too proud to admit it.
“Nana Patty,” Chantelle said, hurrying back and grasping her hand. “I think there’s some really, really dark green ones over here. Come on!”
Emily smiled to herself as she watched her daughter pull her mom along. She couldn’t recall a time when Patricia had been so compliant, joining in with an activity. Chantelle was clearly rubbing off on her.
Daniel put an arm around Emily’s shoulders, bringing her body close to his.
“This is wonderful, isn’t it?” he said. “I love how enthusiastic she gets about these sort of things. I can’t wait to see how much she enjoys Hanukkah.”
“What date does it start this year?” Emily asked him.
“So after Charlotte has joined us?” she asked, grinning, thinking about having a newborn in the house during this wonderful time of the year, when everyone was celebrating.
“Maybe even on the first day,” he said, smiling. “Wouldn’t that be lovely?”
Emily nodded in agreement. It would certainly be delightful for Daniel to have his daughter born on such a significant day.
Just then, they heard Chantelle calling through the trees.
“Mom! Dad! We’ve got it!”
They smiled at one another then trudge towards her voice. Chantelle was standing next to gorgeous tree, with the darkest pines Emily had ever seen. It was wonderfully symmetrical, too, the sort of perfect tree that would be used in magazines. And of course, it was enormous.
“Nana Patty chose it,” Chantelle said, looking proudly at Patricia.
“Did she now?” Emily asked, pleased to see how well the two were bonding.
Even Patricia looked quietly pleased.
“In that case,” Daniel said, “Nana Patty ought to have the first go.”
“Oh goodness, no,” Patricia said, shaking her hands at the saw Daniel was offering her.
“Yes!” Chantelle cried, jumping up and down, clapping her hands. “Please Nana Patty! It’s really fun. I promise you’ll enjoy it.”
Patricia hesitated, then finally relented. “Oh, all right then. If you insist.”
She took the saw from Daniel and glared at the tree like it was an enemy. Daniel bent down and moved the large branches out of her way, exposing the truck where she was to cut. Patricia squatted, clearly in an attempt to not let her knee touch the muddy ground. Emily couldn’t help but laugh to herself. Her mom looked like a frog!
Patricia reached in and sawed across the trunk of the tree. She squealed, elated, and looked back at the family watching on.
“You’re right,” she said to Chantelle. “That is fun!”
Emily chuckled aloud. Just a few days in Maine with her family and Patricia had eaten smores and chopped wood!
Terry arrived then with his tractor and put the tree in the back.
“All aboard,” he said.
They all got into the back with the tree, but Patricia didn’t move. She looked stunned.
“You want me to ride in that?”
Chantelle bounced up and down on the wooden bench. “It’s fun! You have to trust me!”
“Do I have a choice?” Patricia asked.
Chantelle shook her head, still grinning wickedly.
Patricia sighed and climbed into the tractor trailer.
Once everyone was settled, Terry drove them back to their car and helped Daniel secure the very large tree onto the roof of his truck. Then they paid him and left the farm, all feeling exhilarated.
“I can’t wait to decorate it,” Chantelle said. “Will you help Nana Patty?”
Patricia nodded. “Yes, but then I must leave after that. Okay?”
Chantelle pouted, looking a little sad. “If you have too. But I’ve loved you being here. Will you come back for Christmas?”
Emily watched her mom in the rear-view mirror. She couldn’t even recall the last time they’d spent Christmas together. Even when she was living in New York with Ben, they’d tended to spend Christmas with his family rather than Patricia. It wasn’t like the woman ever particularly got into the Christmas spirit and it seemed like a dumb idea as far as Emily was concerned to put themselves through the misery. She wondered whether the softer side of Patricia she’d seen over the last few days could extend that far.
“Maybe,” she said, evasively. “I think your mother and father might have a lot on at that point in time. The baby will be born by then, won’t she?”
“Even better!” Chantelle pressed. “She needs to meet her Nana Patty.”
Clearly realizing that she’d come up against Patricia’s stubborn side, Chantelle offered another suggestion. “Or if not Christmas, maybe New Years? We have a party at the inn. You can come to that, right?”
Patricia remained evasive in her answers. “We will have to see,” was all she’d commit to.
Chantelle looked over at Emily next. “Do you think Papa Roy might want to come for Christmas?” she asked.
Emily felt tense. It was even less likely her father would be able to come with his health deteriorating.
“We can ask,” Emily told her, and the conversation died down to silence.
They reached the inn and Daniel parked up. Stu, Clyde and Evan were home, so they came out to help carry the tree inside. Then, together, the four men heaved it up into its position in the foyer.
“That’s one big tree,” Clyde said, whistling. He wiped the perspiration from his forehead and looked down at Chantelle. “How are you going to get the angel on the top? Even on my shoulders I don’t think you’ll make it.”
To iterate his point, he swept a giggling Chantelle up into his strong arms and plonked her on his shoulders. He began parading her around. Emily noticed Patricia wincing. Probably worrying about the hard wooden floor beneath them, a mother’s instinct that even Patricia possessed!
“I’ll go get the ladder,” Stu said, heading off in the direction of the garage.
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