Start reading this book:
I’ve always wondered how something could become so delicate once it hits your tongue but not crumble at the touch.
I snap another picture of Nina Evergreen replating more of her famous sugar cookies to one of the buffet tables. Honestly, they shouldn’t put them at the front door, out there as a free-for-all. The cookies will be gone before any other dish, and that includes Mr. Morrison’s brisket, which was featured on a television show two years ago as the best in Wyoming.
“Good evening, Lucy,” Nina greets me just as my camera flash catches her attention.
“Hi, Nina. I hope you’ve made enough,” I say cheerfully as I snag one of her cookies for myself.
“Oh, Lucy,” she says with a humph, her hands on her hips. “You and me both, dear. I learned my lesson last year. I’ve even got a backup stash in the car.”
Someone else comes to her table and begins to ask for the secret recipe. Nina’s smile is genuine. I’ve lived next door to her since the day I lost my parents in a car wreck when I was ten years old. It was my uncle Fred’s house when I moved in, but now that he’s moved into a smaller apartment, it’s just me living there. Well, me and my dog, Stella. Anyway, I’ve asked for the secret to her cookies nothing short of a hundred times, and she’s never budged.
I wave a polite goodbye as I make my way through the party to greet other members of our smallish town of Melody, Wyoming, and to capture memories with my camera.
I love the Christmas season. The clean, white canvas over the yards. The frost-colored trees. The soft shine of red, green, blue, and white lights as a light layer of snow covers their glow. The way the air feels more kind with each breath, your neighbors’ smiles, and “Santa Baby” leave you with no choice but to sing along and be jolly.
My best memories come from this time of year, and the best stories my mom used to share with me always happened at Christmas. Tales of how she first met my dad, how my grandma met my grandpa, and how my mom found out she was pregnant with me. The list goes on.
If I could, I’d live where it’s Christmas all year-round—minus the slick roads, of course. This season is truly magical.
This is precisely why the first Christmas party of the season, hosted every year for all the downtown businesses by Melody Square Park in the reception room of their main building, is an absolute favorite. Bonus, I’m getting paid to be here.
“You know I’m no saint, but I am pretty positive that Mrs. Claus wouldn’t appreciate Santa kissing that elf,” my best friend, Elle, says in a not-so-whisper in my ear as she points.
I slap her arm down and cover my face. “I know there are a lot of people in this room right now, but don’t make it obvious we’re looking.”
“Fine, okay. See, right there. Near the bathrooms.”
I move my hands and casually look over my shoulder. Whoa. Elle wasn’t kidding. Wait… Is that Amy? She’s always so busy coordinating events for the square that I didn’t realize she was dating anyone.
“That kind of random weirdness is the only reason I come to these things,” my uncle Fred chimes in, appearing on my other side. “People get all weird about being alone when ole-St.-Nick season approaches. No one would act like that on a normal April weekend. Anyway, it reminds me that this town can still be unpredictable.”
“Right,” I say. In my opinion, Uncle Fred really only comes to these things because he has a crush on Nina’s twin sister, Beatrice.
“Oh”—Uncle Fred takes in the sight of my dress—“you wore it.”
“Yep.” I smooth my hands over the three-quarter length crimson dress I found last week in a box of my mother’s old things. I don’t have many boxes left from her or my dad, but I did keep a few filled with mementos. My mom wore this dress the last Christmas I spent with her. “You look pretty dashing yourself,” I say.
He’s put more effort into getting ready for this night than he has in the last decade. His snowy hair—since he’s twelve years older than my mother—is gelled to the side, his navy tie is tight over his white dress shirt, and his matching pants have a prominent crease down the front. Plus, his cologne, the scent I’ll forever refer to as “my uncle Fred’s smell,” is strong tonight.
“Oh, cookies.” He moves quickly toward the front door—which also happens to be where Beatrice just appeared.
“They live in the same apartment complex and on the same floor but only hang out at events like this? I don’t buy it.” Elle crosses her arms and leans into me. Neither of us is trying to hide the fact we are watching them.
“I don’t, either, but he doesn’t pry into my love life, so I’m not prying into his.”
“Love life? Since when do you have a love life to pry into?”
“Since always. I just haven’t met the right person.”
Elle snickers. “Amen. Oh, look, it’s Bryce. I’ve been dying to get a contract going with him on the square’s Instagram page. I don’t think he knows how much more profit he could be making with social media. Wish me luck.”
“Good luck,” I say, but she’s on a mission, and I doubt she heard me. I snap a picture of her and Bryce.
One of my favorite things about living in a smaller town is that although, yes, I’m working, I know almost everyone here, so it doesn’t really feel like work.
I wave at a few other people and take more pictures. Some are for work, and some are for fun; Mr. and Mrs. Woodson ask me to capture their first night out since their newborn, Mrs. Staple asks me to take one to send to her son to prove she made it out of the house, and another group of ladies ask me to take one so they can create a fun ten-years-later photo.
“Did you hear about poor Bryce?” I hear someone ask as I’m snapping pictures of the flyer detailing the window decorating contest held the week before Christmas. The question isn’t directed at me, but for as loud as it is, it may as well be.
“Yes, that unfortunate man. Selling Melody Square Park must be devastating for him.”
I freeze with the camera halfway to my face.
Melody Square Park is for sale?
“That’s not even the worst part. Guess who’s already put in an offer to buy the place.”
“No,” another lady gasps. “Tell me you’re kidding?”
“Who?” I ask, even though I am not part of the conversation.
Mrs. Watt, my high school art teacher, smiles at me. “Oh, hi, Lucy. Are you getting some good pictures tonight?”
“Don’t I always?” I reply with a smile. “So, who’s buying the square?”
One of the other ladies huffs the answer, “Carter Evergreen.”
“You’re not serious.” I’m floored. “What would he need with a property like that?”
“Take a guess. Melody Square Park will be gone. You know that man does nothing but buy property, demolish buildings, and build whatever the trendiest structure is at the time.”
It can’t be gone. The park is a town staple. It’s the heart of Melody. There are too many memories tied to it for it to be torn down. I’ve always wanted to get married here. No matter the fact I don’t have a boyfriend or even a boy I’m talking to—if tradition holds, this year, the year I turn twenty-six, I’m supposed to meet him. I can’t let Carter and his upscale wannabe company take that away from me.
“I heard rumors that the foundation is failing.”
“I heard that, too. Among other things that need updated. Something about the soil and sick trees.”
The women continue discussing the property and all the reasons they think it’s for sale, but all I can think about is what happens when it’s gone.
“Excuse me.” I leave before the ladies have time to reply.
Where is Elle?
I scan the party and find Carter Evergreen instead of Elle. His presence brings an entirely new vibe to the room. Normally, I don’t think twice about him, but now, just looking at him frustrates me.
With his six-foot frame, a suit worth more than my mortgage, and chocolate-colored hair that looks like silk, you’d think he’d be a charmer, but he’s the exact opposite. He looks relaxed with each step he takes toward his mother’s table, but he’s the exact representation of his company, ready to bulldoze anything that gets in his way.
“He looks good tonight,” Elle says, startling me.
“How do you move around so quietly?” I ask.
She shrugs. “I think I was only quiet because you were staring so intently.”
“Did you hear he’s looking to buy the square?”
Elle snorts “Looking to buy it? He’s basically bought the darn thing. Bryce just told me, which is why he turned me down once again as a social media rep for the square. I could try to help turn things around for him, but no. He’s serious about selling to Carter. Dang. It’s both sad and impressive. Carter really is maximizing that whole property-owning thing. Getting dumped must really put things into perspective.”
“Focus, Elle. If he buys the square, you know what it means.”
I all but stomp my foot. “Dum dum da dum.” I do my best to sound out the wedding march song.
Recognition dawns on Elle’s face. “Ohhhh. Shoot. Okay, well, if you’re going to get married in the same place your mother and grandmother did before the square is gone, what’s the plan?”
I scowl. “I don’t know yet, but it better be a good one.”
“Better than when we convinced the senior prom committee to move the event an entire weekend forward just so that we could go to a Justin Timberlake concert?”
“So much better,” I tell her. “I don’t think Carter can be bought with a concert ticket like Annie was, but we’ll think of something.”
I make my way toward Uncle Fred. It’s no surprise that he’s talking to Beatrice right now. I know they talk more than he lets on, and because she’s Carter’s aunt, Uncle Fred has got to know something.
“If I had my way, Lucy would be happily married before I left this world,” Fred is confiding to Carter’s aunt Beatrice.
“Don’t be silly, Fred. Lucy is happy on her own, and she’s still young, and you’ve got plenty more years left yourself.”
“Yes, but still. Is she happy, though?” he asks. “Anytime I need her to help me, she’s always available.”
“Consider yourself lucky.”
“I do, but I feel like she isn’t living enough. She’s too focused on taking care of others. I don’t want her to forget to put herself first.”
“Ah, I know. I just… What I wouldn’t give to see Lucy happily settled down. I want to see her living so much in the moment that she becomes unpredictable.”
I’m not that predictable.
“She will. Probably sooner than you think, and then you’ll be sad when Thursday comes around and she isn’t walking in your door at half past ten to go to lunch with you.”
Okay, maybe I am.
“Of course. She’s beautiful, smart, strong. You’ve got a wonderful niece.”
“Yes, I do, but boy, could you imagine if she told me she found someone? If she started her own little family? It’d be the best Christmas gift I could ever ask for.”
I never realized Uncle Fred worried so much about me. I mean, he’s always asking me what’s new in my life, but I thought it was just normal conversation. I am happy. I love spending time with him. If my past has taught me anything about family, it’s that I’m not sure how many more moments he and I will have together.
Sure, I want to settle down. I want someone to share my life with, but I never thought he worried about that stuff.
I could find someone to be committed to by Christmas. Work is going well, I have amazing friends, and I have almost everything I could ever need. Now is as good a time as any.
I could give Uncle Fred that gift. For myself, too.
I’ll do it.
I’m going to find my happily-ever-after by Christmas, and I’ll get married at Melody Square Park.
End of Excerpt