An Angel for Christmas

by

Lara Van Hulzen

It’ll take a Christmas miracle to convince this grinch to give love another chance.

When her family moves across the country to Silver Bay, California, Angelica Endicott loyally follows. As the youngest in the Endicott clan, she’s gone her entire life with something to prove. Family is everything to Angelica, who has put her artistic dreams on hold in favor of dedicating herself to the family company.

Silver Bay local Garrett Christmas never planned to settle down in his small coastal hometown, much less as a divorced, single dad to help his father following an injury. Raising his daughter, Lia, on his own and running his father’s saloon is plenty for Garrett, who’s placed his hopes of owning his own Napa Valley vineyard firmly in his rearview mirror.

Fate keeps bringing Angelica and Garrett together and, despite their differences, they can’t deny the sparks. Determined to show Garrett there’s more to her than meets the eye, Angelica proposes a plan to expand his business by New Year’s. As they work together, can Angelica’s fiery spirit and the magic of Christmas melt the ice around Garrett’s heart?

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Chapter One

Angelica raised her coffee mug to her mouth and breathed in the scent of vanilla, cream, and Colombian beans before taking her first sip. She closed her eyes and moaned as the hot liquid warmed her insides and the sweet flavors danced over her tongue.

“Jelly, you are as bad as our brothers when they eat an almond croissant here.”

Angelica opened her eyes to see her sister, Eva, had taken the seat across from her at the table, a coffee mug in front of her that Angelica knew contained a peppermint mocha. They shared the same auburn hair and light eyes, but while Eva’s were more blue, Angelica’s had a touch of green. Angelica preferred to wear her hair down, the length of it almost to her waist, while Eva’s wasn’t as long and was pulled up into a messy bun on top of her head most days to keep it out of her face for work. She’d called Angelica “Jelly” since they were kids. Not only as a play on her name, but also because Angelica loved jelly beans.

“You know my relationship with coffee.”

“I do,” Eva said. “It’s as intimate as the one Chet and Dominic seem to have with the pastries here.”

They both laughed. Chet and Dominic were twins and Angelica and Eva’s older brothers. Angelica had missed them terribly. Her move to Silver Bay was still new, but she loved living near them again.

“I did think it weird that one of the first things Chet wanted me to do when I got here was eat an almond croissant. But I tried one the other day and learned the reason behind his request. They are an experience.”

“I may need to ban all Endicott siblings from here. I own half this place. I don’t want customers wondering who these people that are always moaning when they consume food and drinks are and then find out they’re related to me,” Eva teased.

Angelica looked around. Baylee and Eva’s Bakery and Cakes was a cozy place with tables along the side wall as well as along the front window. The soft, buttery-yellow walls were adorned with pictures of pastries and cakes, the cakes being ones Eva had made for special events. A large, ornate shelving system made up the wall behind the main counter and held decorative teapots, cake plates, and boxed baking sets. A glass case attached to the counter beside the cash register was filled with baked goods of various shapes, sizes, and colors. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, the cookies were shaped like pumpkins and fall leaves and were decorated in vibrant hues of orange, yellow, and green. Not to mention turkeys. Angelica could only imagine how much time it had taken Baylee and her sister to create the detailed design of those with frosting. The feathers looked real. Each cookie a work of art.

“You and Baylee really have a great business going here, Eva,” Angelica said. “I’m so proud of you.” She reached across the table and squeezed her sister’s hand.

“Thanks. I’m so glad I decided to partner with Baylee rather than go out on my own.”

A year ago, Eva considered leaving Baylee’s and opening her own cake shop. But Baylee presented an offer to Eva to own part of the existing business and expand so that Baylee would focus on the daily cookies and cupcakes and pastries they sold, while Eva could market large, decorated cakes for parties and weddings.

Angelica and Eva’s brother, Chet, had been the first Endicott to move to Silver Bay, California, and he worked as a firefighter. Eva followed not long after, wanting to branch out on her own as well. Born and raised in Connecticut, this came as a surprise to Angelica and Dominic, as well as their parents, but the Endicotts were a tight-knit clan and supported their decision. Angelica and Dominic took the path of working for the family business, he as a managing director of the private equity firm, she as chair of the family’s foundation where she was in charge of publicity, as well as charity events and handling where family money was distributed.

With her father having health issues, the family decided to all move to Silver Bay for a slower pace and more peaceful existence. Dominic had moved in the summer, then their parents, then Angelica about a month ago. Being the last of the Endicotts to move, she was still adjusting to going from one coast to another but loved what she’d seen so far. Eva had warned her the town moved from one holiday to the next, celebrating and coordinating so many events it was hard to get bored.

“I think it’s really been a win for me as well as Baylee,” Eva said, pulling Angelica from her thoughts.

Angelica nodded. “I agree.”

“With her husband, Drew, now retired from professional baseball, their young son Casey, and a new baby girl, there’s a lot going on for her,” Eva continued. “She’s still here most days, of course, because she’s Baylee and works as if she doesn’t need sleep, but she has cut back her hours, which is good.”

“And with Drew retired that means Tyler is back in Silver Bay full time as well,” Angelica said with a wink. “It was so good to see him at Chet and Meg’s engagement party.”

Eva blushed, a smile spreading across her face that Angelica could see even behind Eva’s coffee mug as she raised it to take a sip. “Having him at a family event felt right, didn’t it?”

Angelica sat back and mentally checked off each of her siblings and their partners. Chet had gotten engaged at Halloween to Meg, who owned the local diner. Dominic was dating Rachel Anderson who was head of programming at the Silver Bay Community Center, as well as a volunteer chaplain in town. With Eva paired off with Tyler, Angelica felt a bit like the last lonely sibling. She was truly happy for everyone but wouldn’t deny she’d like to find her one and only.

“Absolutely.” Angelica loved seeing her sister so happy. With a thriving business and a gorgeous, kind, tender-hearted man in her life, Eva was practically glowing. Tyler had been Drew’s personal trainer, so when Drew retired, Tyler decided to open up a personal gym in town. From what he told Angelica at the engagement party, he was still getting things off the ground, but was pleased with the progression and was confident he’d made the right decision to stay in Silver Bay. Of course, it didn’t take a love expert to see how he looked at Eva and that being in Silver Bay wasn’t about what he did for work. It was all about Angelica’s gooey-eyed sister across the table.

The bell above the door jingled, and Eva’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. Angelica turned to see two men come through the door. One was Tyler, hence the reason for her sister’s reaction, the other Drew MacIntire, who Angelica had yet to meet but had heard quite a bit about. Having a famous major league baseball pitcher living in town was news, and yet he and his family seemed to live life without being bothered, a big part of the appeal to Silver Bay, Angelica imagined.

Both men were in workout clothing, but the main difference in appearance, besides Tyler being six foot five and Drew a few inches shorter, was a baby strapped to Drew’s chest in a cloth baby carrier. A vision that was almost comical since Drew was a muscular athlete and the baby the size of a small doll. However, it was endearing how he cradled the baby’s backside in one hand, the other cupped protectively around her head as if he didn’t trust the carrier to hold her tight enough against him.

As the men approached the table, Angelica held back a chuckle at the thought of anyone, or anything, harming that baby while with those two. The child had her own personal bodyguards.

“Hey there,” Eva said as she stood and gave Tyler a kiss, something she had to stand on her tiptoes to do, even though he leaned down as well.

Not one to envy her sister often, Angelica did in that moment. Was there someone out there for her, too? She’d had boyfriends, but none that looked at her the way Tyler looked at Eva. And none that made Angelica swoon the way her sister did every time Tyler’s name was mentioned or he was in her vicinity.

“You two just finish a workout?” Eva asked, now tucked into Tyler’s side, his arm around her.

“Yep.” Tyler turned his attention to Angelica. “Good to see you again. You two having a nice coffee date?” He smiled and Angelica could see how her sister had fallen so hard. The man was gorgeous.

“It’s good to see you, too,” Angelica said.

“Oh! I’m so sorry. I’m being rude not introducing you,” Tyler said. “Drew, this is Eva’s sister, Angelica. Angelica, this is Drew. And baby Sandy.” He smiled down at the infant, passed out against the warmth of her father’s chest.

Drew put out his hand and Angelica shook it. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“It’s nice to meet you, too,” Angelica said. “Congratulations on the baby, she’s beautiful.”

“Thank you.” He placed a soft kiss on Sandy’s head. “I was worried I would get bored or restless in retirement, but so far, I can’t get enough of this little one, as well as time with Casey. I’m soaking in all the goodness that is home.”

As if on cue, Baylee came out from the back of the bakery. He didn’t have to explain it. The look on his face when his eyes met Baylee said it all—she was his home.

What was it about this place? Did everyone fall head over heels as soon as they arrived? That hadn’t happened for Angelica so far, so maybe she wasn’t drinking the same water as everyone else.

Baylee came over and kissed her husband and then the baby’s head. An awkwardness set in for Angelica with the two couples now standing together beside the table, as if a spotlight was pointed on her and her singleness sitting alone. She had never been in any hurry to find her person and settle down, but being in Silver Bay had her imagining a different future.

Eva patted Tyler’s chest and sat back down. Whether her sister sensed her feelings or not, Angelica was grateful.

Baylee moved around Drew and leaned down to give Angelica a hug. “It’s so good to see you, Angelica. Eva said the engagement party was lovely. I’m sad we had to miss it, but it is wonderful to have all the Endicotts here now.”

Warmed by her embrace, and a genuine kindness that didn’t take long to see was Baylee’s true nature, Angelica smiled. “Thank you. I’m sure you’re happy to have Drew back.”

Baylee smiled up at her husband and tucked herself against his side. “It really is. I know how much he loves baseball…”

“But I love you more,” Drew interrupted her, leaning down to give her a sweet, slow kiss.

“I’d like to say you get used to these two, but you don’t,” Tyler teased.

Eva nodded. “I’m beginning to worry I’m getting eye problems from rolling them so much.”

Angelica laughed. Drew and Baylee were quite affectionate with one another, but she found it endearing. “You two are ones to talk,” Angelica said, diverting the attention to Tyler and Eva.

“That’s true,” Baylee said as she pulled back from Drew and sent a wink in Eva’s direction. “You can’t exactly give us grief anymore.”

Tyler shook his head and Eva’s face flushed red.

“Where are you two headed now?” Eva asked.

Angelica hid a giggle behind her coffee mug at her sister’s change of subject. Eva didn’t like the attention on her.

“I’m headed over to my gym. I have clients all afternoon,” Tyler said.

“I’m gonna go grab Casey. He’s at Baylee’s mom’s place right now,” Drew said. “And then relax with the two kids at home until Baylee is done with work.”

Baylee gave him and the baby another kiss. “Which means I better get back to it because the sooner I’m done, the sooner I’m home with you three.” She said her good-byes to the group and disappeared again into the back room.

“I better get going, too, babe,” Tyler said as he leaned down to kiss Eva.

“Good to see you, Eva,” Drew said. “And good to meet you, Angelica. I’m sure we’ll be seeing you around.”

“Sounds good,” Angelica smiled as Drew turned to go. Tyler leaned down and hugged her before following Drew out of the bakery. The two men had to weave through a line of people that went all the way to the door.

Angelica turned her attention to her sister. “You weren’t kidding when you said Sundays are busy around here.”

Eva smiled. “I had to get used to that, too. As well as Mondays being super quiet. It’s a tourist town so weekends are the busiest.” She shrugged. “You get used to it.”

Angelica took a sip of her coffee. Back in Connecticut, it was the opposite. Not that Sundays weren’t busy with people out and about. It was more that Mondays were the start of a work week, the push off the starting line where things sped up rather than slowed down.

The bell over the door jingled again and a group of people entered. “I hate cutting this time with you short, but I think I need to get back to work,” Eva said as she stood. “Have I said yet how happy I am that you’re here?”

Angelica reached out and took her sister’s hand. “Yes. Every day. But you can continue to say it because I love your adoration and the ego boost.”

Eva laughed and shook her head. “Love you, Jelly.”

“Love you, too,” Angelica said as Eva leaned down to give her a kiss on the cheek before heading to the back of the bakery.

Angelica sighed. As different as Silver Bay was from what she was used to, it did have its charms. One of them being lovely streets to stroll down on a Sunday, not to mention weather in November that didn’t require six layers of clothing to stay warm. It was cold, but not East Coast winter cold.

Her job could be 24/7 if she let it, and many times she had. Being the youngest of the Endicott clan urged her to work that much harder to prove herself. But long walks were something Angelica allowed herself on Sundays, mostly because of the inspiration around her in nature that spurred creativity for the art she loved to do in her free time, as well as time to herself to think. She wrapped herself up in her scarf and sweater, took her dirty mug to the counter, and headed out.

In Connecticut, she’d lived in the guest house on her parents’ property. After graduating from Princeton, she had moved in, fallen into a groove working with her dad, and considered getting her own place when the family decided to relocate to Silver Bay. When she moved, she’d chosen to rent a small apartment. Dominic rented a cottage just outside of town overlooking the bay, and he’d come to love the more diminutive space. Angelica thought she’d give it a try as well.

One thing she’d loved so far about renting in town was that she could walk everywhere. She’d purchased a new white Jeep when she moved, but found she only used it to drive to her parents’ place, Dominic’s cottage, or Chet’s cabin. Eva’s apartment, along with almost everything else Angelica needed, was within walking distance, which was perfect.

She wandered through the park that was in the center of town. Three men were taking turns on ladders, stringing twinkle lights along the top of a gazebo. Getting a step ahead on Christmas, it looked like. They smiled and waved as Angelica passed. She did the same in return. She wouldn’t say that where she lived in Connecticut was unfriendly, but there was a spirit of community in Silver Bay that was unique. It gave her a sense of belonging, that she was welcome here.

A breeze blew, causing her to wrap her scarf around herself a bit tighter while zipping up her sweater all the way. She had on comfy boots, jeans, a long-sleeved tee, and a sweater with a scarf. California had such a reputation of sun and surf, but the northern part of the state got cooler temperatures, especially near the water.

She followed a path that led around the park and placed her at the other end of Seapoint Boulevard. Hay bales lined the walk, each one decorated with everything from sunflowers to pumpkins to small scarecrows. She pulled out her phone and squatted down to snap photos. The vibrancy of the green leaves against the rich yellow of the flowers made her fingers itchy to sketch, then use her colored pencils to add hues that matched.

She stood and began walking slowly, her head buried in her phone as she swiped through each picture. She’d gotten enough angles and the lighting was right for her to—

“Ooooff.” Her forehead bumped into what felt like someone’s chest, her body bouncing back a step because of it.

“I am so sorry!” she said as she looked up.

Blue eyes stared down at her. The chest she’d bumped into was wrapped in a dark-brown flannel jacket open to reveal a navy-blue Henley underneath. The man cradled a grocery bag in each arm, his body unmoved by their collision. His dark hair was combed back, but a whisp of it had fallen down his forehead, causing Angelica to think of Superman. The frown on his face caused the thought to vanish.

“Are you okay?” The deep timbre of his voice had a touch of irritation to it, so the tingle that ran through her at the sound of it surprised her, not to mention his question.

She blinked a few times. “Um. Yes. Yes, I’m fine.”

He looked at her a moment longer, then nodded.

“I really am so sorry,” she said again.

He shrugged a shoulder, then pointed his chin toward her phone. “Texting and walking can be dangerous.”

She looked down at her phone in her hand and back at him. “Oh. No, I wasn’t text—”

“Have a good day,” he interrupted. Stepping around her, he continued down the sidewalk.

Angelica stared after him, her mouth open. Of all the nerve! She shook her head and turned on her heel, walking in the opposite direction. In her short time in Silver Bay, she’d only come across friendly people. Friendly to the point where, at times, she questioned the level of sincerity but had found it to be true.

Not with this guy! What a grump.

Her eyes caught sight of a craft shop, Hobby House, and her irritation faded. A new set of colored pencils would brighten her day, as well as get her to forget her literal run in with Oscar the Grouch. A good-looking Oscar the Grouch with eyes the color of a summer sky, but a grouch just the same.

There was no way he was a local. He was way too irritable. The sound of a tinkling bell above the craft shop door as she opened it lifted her spirits. Oscar could go head right back to his trash can for all she cared. She smiled at the thought, her mood lifted.

End of Excerpt

An Angel for Christmas is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-1-961544-46-8

November 9, 2023

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