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Amy Arden didn’t understand the magic of Christmas, but she believed in it. For weeks she and her husband Chet Hardwick, with the help of their staff, had been decorating Bramble House bed-and-breakfast for the holidays. Chet and their handyman Robert had strung lights along the roof and the porch and the thirty-foot evergreen outside. Inside, Amy, and her part-time housekeeper Ella, had decorated themed trees for each of the main rooms: a literary tree for the library, a copper-themed tree in the breakfast room, a Bramble family tree for the sitting room, and a fifteen-foot, Montana-themed balsam for the foyer.
There were pine-scented bowls of potpourri in every bedroom, boughs of cedar and pine on the mantels and railings. Meanwhile, Jo, in the kitchen, had been baking beautiful shortbread and sugar cookies while a specially curated, so as not to become annoying, mixture of holiday favorites played quietly on the main floor from seven in the morning until nine each evening.
All these efforts had succeeded in making the historic brick house a treat for the senses, visually, aromatically and acoustically.
But the transformation didn’t stop there, for the end result was more than the sum of its parts. How else to explain why everyone seemed happier, kinder, more generous than usual? Amy was seeing and experiencing this every day, not just in herself, but in those around her. After the doldrums of November, people had a spring in their step again. Snow was no longer an inconvenience to be shoveled away or trudged through but a gift of sublime beauty.
“There.” Amy hung up the phone with satisfaction. “We have a full house for Christmas.”
Chet, who was up on the stepladder changing the hallway light bulbs—there’d been an incident during Amy’s first summer, when a guest tripped in the dark and sprained her ankle, and now he changed the bulbs every six months, whether they were burnt out or not—grunted. “Full is good, but what’s your sense of the guests themselves? Will they get along? I don’t think I could take another Christmas like last year.” He started chuckling.
Amy penciled in the squares for her last two rooms, blocking them out until December twenty-fifth, which was when they closed for the season. Some things were modern at Bramble House—the Wi-Fi and the espresso maker, for instance. But she enjoyed going old-school in other areas. She recorded all their bookings manually, and had beautiful old-fashioned keys for each room, which she stored in an antique apothecary cabinet. The cabinet, as well as her desk and chair, were tucked into the alcove under the grand staircase that led to the upper two stories.
“Stop laughing. How was I to know those families would be so…militant…about their dietary choices?” She tucked away her reservation book, then went to hold the ladder steady as Chet climbed down.
When he reached the floor, he kissed her lightly on the lips. “Can’t help it. The war of the roses had nothing on the feud between the vegans and the carnivores.”
Now she had to laugh, remembering the fierce verbal battles that had gone on between the two families during every, single meal. Poor Jo, who always went to so much effort to satisfy the dietary requirements of all her guests, had been quite offended.
“None of this year’s guests listed any allergies or dietary preferences,” she said. “As long as we keep conversation steered away from politics, religion and sex, we should be fine.”
Chet pulled her into his arms. “I’d like to keep sex on the table if I could. But only if it’s just you and me talking.”
“Duly noted.” She gazed into his warm eyes, still not over the miracle that this amazing, handsome and incredibly handy man was now her husband.
They’d been married in July, a beautiful ceremony that had included their new friends in their new home of Marietta, Montana, as well as her newly discovered father and his wife and sons.
Part of the reason Amy had moved from New York and purchased this bed-and-breakfast was to find her birth father, and in that she’d been more successful than she’d dared dream. Legendary rodeo cowboy and local rancher D. W. Wilcox had booked into Bramble House not guessing it was owned by the daughter he’d never met. A daughter he hadn’t even realized he had.
Some men might not react well to having a daughter sprung on him that way. But D. W., his wife Mary Beth, and their three adult sons, had been great. They’d made Amy—and Chet—feel so welcome. Visits to their ranch near Yellowstone were highlights of every month and they’d be going down soon to celebrate the New Year. They’d been invited for Christmas, as well, but both Amy and Chet felt they wanted to create their own traditions around that particular holiday. Traditions that included Bramble House and the life they were building together here.
Chet moved a strand of Amy’s blonde hair back behind her ear. As usual, his touch gave her a delicious shiver.
“I just thought of one Christmas decoration we forgot to put up,” Chet said.
As if reading his mind, she said, “Mistletoe.”
“Yup.” He looked down the hall. “Should we hang it in the entrance by the front door?”
Amy considered. “I think it should be by the front door. But outside, not inside.”
“You sure? Why?”
“It’s just a feeling I have.”
End of Excerpt