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“Anybody got an idea here? Anybody at all?” Mr. Stone, the location manager for the film, and Bailey’s boss, yelled. His face was beet red, almost as red as his skinny pants. He had a yellow sweater tied around his neck, where the veins popped out prominently.
Bailey, Jem, and Alexis, along with a handful of other assistant producers, directors, and higher-ups sat, all tense, because the worse-case scenario had befallen them.
The director, Brad, was equally red in the face. This meeting wasn’t going well. “Since we’ve spent a couple million dollars already to shoot this picture, only to lose our location because of—” The director’s disgust could be felt like a wave throughout the room.
The reason they’d lost their filming location was the singular fault of a minor actor’s amorous exploits with the mayor’s wife in the town where they’d been shooting the project. The mayor had kicked them out, effective immediately, using a clause in the contract where he’d found a decency loophole, and that, as they say in the business, had been a wrap.
Bailey, as assistant location manager, somehow felt as if she should do something, even though losing their Christmas location smack in the middle of filming wasn’t anything to do with her.
Before the idea was fully formed, and as the knot formed in her belly, Bailey stood and spoke, not nearly as loudly or confidently as she’d hoped. “I’ve got a place for us—I think. I might be able to fix this. Give me a week to see if I can work it out.”
All heads turned and eyes fixed on Bailey. Oh God. She would have to go back to Ministry, Alabama. She would have to go home. “My hometown in Alabama. It’s the most Christmas-y of all the Christmas places you’ve ever been. The gigantic tree in the town square rivals Rockefeller Center, I swear.”
The producer, who’d sat quietly stewing throughout the meeting, skewered her with a stare. “You’ve got a week to secure lodging for all of us, plus the trailers, and base camp. Stone will fill you in.” He indicated with a dismissive hand to her pinched-lipped boss.
Now she’d done it. There was no going back.
“Are you sure this is going to work?” Alexis asked. “Sounds like you put yourself in a pickle if it doesn’t.”
“I’m almost sure,” Bailey said, biting her lip. But there were so many reasons she personally rebelled against the entire idea of it. “I mean, I think I can get what I need back home for the scenes we still have to shoot. They’re all exterior, so that should give us some flexibility.”
“But Alabama.” Alexis made a face.
“Yeah, you have no idea. But not for the obvious reasons,” Bailey said.
“Sounds like heading back home isn’t your first choice.” Alexis raised her eyebrows in question. “Do tell.”
“Long story. But it will be great to see my daddy.”
“Oh, that sounds charming. Daddy. Kind of like Gone with the Wind. I can’t wait to meet him.” Alexis was a friend, and Bailey was thankful she would be joining her on this adventure home.
“You’ll love Ministry. If only for the shock value and the pizza.”
“Best pizza you’ve ever had.”
Bailey Boone pulled open one of the two impressive old leaded glass doors of the Ministry Inn and nearly dropped her Tumi carry-on roller bag at the unexpected, and very loud jingling of bells that knocked against the glass.
Did they still hang bells from the doors of every business in this town? Clearly it was still a thing here in Ministry, Alabama. Or maybe it was only for Christmas. Because it was December first, which meant Ministry was decked out in its full holiday finery, from streetlights wrapped like candy canes to the faux snow sprayed around the edges of every store front in town, despite the questionably fall-ish temps in the South. But that could change on a dime around here, and Bailey prayed it would for her selfish purposes.
That’s exactly why she’d landed back here. Christmas. Not the holiday as much as the décor. And the many, many red and green activities Ministry had to offer in the coming weeks. Bailey required a town where Christmas abounded. And there was none better than her hometown. Coming back here had been out of pure necessity—job related of course. Bailey was on a mission to get her long-awaited and much-deserved promotion.
The price: returning to the place she’d mostly avoided during her adult life. This meant dealing with Seth McKay, for one. And coming back home, where she would definitely run into all the people she’d known in her previous life. It would all be—awkward—and Bailey hated awkward.
She’d dragged her suitcase here from the car, the wheels of which normally rolled as smooth as glass. But they hadn’t, of course, because she’d been forced to park in a gravel lot on the other side of the town square. The parking area in front of the Ministry Inn was filled with cars. Well, trucks mostly. Ones with big tires. Must be the lunch crowd at the pizza joint next door.
Bailey smoothed her hair, hoping her outward appearance didn’t yet reflect her inward annoyed and frustrated self. Today was a big one, and she had a lot to do in a short amount of time. It was probably too much to ask to slip in and not be recognized by anyone until she’d accomplished at least some of the things on her list.
“Bailey Boone! So glad you made it.” She didn’t flinch or react. Being around actors, Bailey had picked up a thing or two. So, being wrapped in a surprisingly strong hug as she’d stepped inside, had Bailey slapping on a smile like it happened every day.
The unexpected hugger was a woman about her size, whom she’d known her entire life. And if Bailey were honest, a welcome face, and a helpful one, so the hug wasn’t completely unwelcome.
Bailey’s smile turned genuine, and she greeted Cammie warmly. “It’s great to see you, Cammie. Thanks for your help getting this arranged at the last minute. You’re a lifesaver,” Bailey said. Cammie was her contact here in setting all this up.
“Pretty exciting that you’re gonna bring Hollywood to our little town.” Cammie starred in a top-rated Southern cooking show shot right here in Ministry, Alabama, so she was no stranger to the camera herself.
“Nothing new for you, I’d guess, but we’re going to disrupt things around here quite a lot. I hope the residents don’t get too bent out of shape.” Bailey’s job as a location assistant for a big Hollywood studio regularly brought her to out-of-the-way towns that hadn’t been exposed to such things. But never to her own hometown.
Cammie laughed. “Oh, they’re split about fifty-fifty. Half are starstruck and the other half are already grousing about how it’s going to ruin everything. Just giving you a heads-up.”
“I do this for a living. I’m used to the reactions from locals,” Bailey said. She expected some pushback from the older crowd especially. “Once they realize how much extra business we bring with us, they’ll get on board. For the most part,” Bailey said. “The whole town gets a shot in the arm from this. Well, most of it anyway.”
“Yes, but you’ve known most of these people your whole life,” Cammie said. “They’re a stubborn bunch.” The eye roll made Bailey smile a little. The words were so true.
“Yes. My whole life.” Bailey thought a minute about that. Both women stared out the large plate glass windows of the inn at the picturesque downtown. “It’s as beautiful as I remember.” Nobody did Christmas like Ministry. From the enormous tree that really did rival the one at Rockefeller Center in New York City to the decorations that graced every square inch of—everything. Lucky for Bailey, the festivities were only the beginning, so the timing was perfect for the many outdoor scenes they had left to shoot.
Fortunately, they’d wrapped up the indoor scenes before the “falling out” with the other location.
This left the studio in a budget deficit and without a place to film the rest of the exterior Christmas scenes on location. She’d reached out to Cammie first because they were friends who still managed to keep in contact through social media.
Cammie agreed to help immediately, but when Bailey had learned that the mayor, Ben Laroux, was out of town, and she’d have to deal with the sheriff, Seth McKay (yes, that Seth McKay), Bailey had to admit she’d paused momentarily before moving forward. It might even have been easier to simply stop things at that point and tell the exalted Mr. Stone that things just weren’t going to pan out.
But since she’d worked so hard to get to this point, she couldn’t let Seth be the obstacle who prevented her from moving to the next level in her career. Nope. No way.
Seth McKay, who she’d left behind as she’d flown off to film school in California at age eighteen. Sadly, they’d both been heartbroken fools at the time. But Bailey had needed more than what Ministry had to offer. There had been a million reasons to leave, but only one to stay. She’d had big dreams that couldn’t be fulfilled here. Or Alabama.
Bailey hadn’t looked back. She’d made a clean break with Seth and insisted he not wait around for her. There would be no long-distance relationship. Seth wasn’t the L.A. kind of guy. That dog wouldn’t hunt. In fact, she couldn’t have imagined him anywhere but here. And here, he still was.
So she would definitely have to pay the price for ambition. The price being a whopping dose of her past smacking her right in the face. Bailey had no idea how Seth would react to her coming back here and inserting herself into his daily routine.
Maybe twelve years had completely cured him of their past.
Maybe it had cured her.
But she had a job to do, so nothing could get in the way of that. Right now, this very minute, it was time to find lodging for upward of fifty people who would be arriving soon. She wasn’t completely sure how to pull that off, but the inn was a start now that she’d scored the perfect filming location. Yes, she’d done some online research, and called around to the hotels right outside of town. Problem was, Ministry wasn’t like most places. Folks here preferred to do business in person.
She’d dealt with places like Ministry before, but never on such short notice only weeks before Christmas. Normally, these things were meticulously set up and organized months in advance.
Ministry had put itself on the map in recent years for its Christmas festival offerings, not to mention Cammie’s Down-Home Cooking show that filmed here. There was a restaurant and a connected store that sold memorabilia and cookbooks. So, it really was the perfect spot for saving the film.
It would work for the characters to play out their stories while attending the town’s many planned holiday activities. There was a 5K Jingle Jog, a Christmas pageant, a tour of historical homes, a cookie-baking contest and treat swap, and ornament decorating that culminated with placing them on the tree in the square. The ceremonial tree lighting was a big one, of course, but that would happen before the cast and crew arrived, unfortunately.
Honestly, Bailey couldn’t remember all of them. She’d have to consult her list. But there were plenty of opportunities that coincided with the original script. This prevented the writers and directors from having to change too many of the established scenes.
“Well, I’d better get back to shooting my own show or Matthew will have my hide,” Cammie said. “I wanted to pop by and welcome you home.”
“Thanks so much, and tell Matthew how much I appreciate his helping to get this done on such short notice,” Bailey said. Matthew Pope was Cammie’s producer, and together they’d been key in pulling this all together. Bailey would be forever grateful, and if all went as she hoped, this might be the save that would get her bumped up to location manager when Mr. Stone retired. If he ever retired.
“Don’t mention it. We were glad to help. It’ll be fun to see Ministry on the big screen. Call me if you need anything,” Cammie said. “Oh, and don’t forget to stop by Seth’s office next door and work out all the details for setup. Ben won’t be back until late next week.” Cammie breezed out after dropping that bomb. Ben Laroux, the mayor, was Cammie’s twin brother.
Bailey nearly groaned out loud. She didn’t need that reminder. It wasn’t only Seth that had her avoiding Ministry. There were other reasons she’d been keen on leaving as soon as humanly possible as a young woman. The reasons were many and varied. And complicated. Bailey simply wasn’t like the other girls in Ministry. She’d cared nothing for dresses and makeup. She could go on.
Bailey realized her thoughts were going to a place that were unhelpful at present, so she straightened her shoulders and refocused.
It was the reward for her education and endless struggle since leaving. Yes, it had been a stressful climb from gofer to location assistant at Epic Films, but so worth it now that she’d gotten this far. While hers didn’t sound especially impressive, there was a heavy burden of responsibility attached to that assistant title. She was in charge of scouting the location before the manager to prepare for the arrival of the talent and the film crew. She had to secure lodging and pave the way for Mr. Stone, as he was the big-picture person. He insisted they call him Mr. Stone, though it wasn’t always what they called him when he wasn’t in the room. No matter. Pleasing Mr. Stone would be her steppingstone to his job once he decided she was ready.
If that meant dealing with Seth McKay, the one person who’d nearly been her downfall, then so be it. She hoped he had a soft belly now; maybe he’d lost some hair. That would make it easier. She might have passed his office on the way in. But she’d dared not look.
Once, when she’d come home at Christmas, she’d seen Seth with her best friend. He had been kissing her under a piece of mistletoe during the tree lighting in the square. Bailey hadn’t bothered saying hello.
She was back. Seth McKay had spotted Bailey Boone dragging some fancy suitcase past his office window twenty minutes ago. Someone might as well have punched him right in the gut. He’d tried not to react since Cheryl, the chief of police, sat at her desk not fifty feet from his. And she was unlikely to let him live it down should he make an idiot of himself over the return of his high school girlfriend. Well, she’d been more than that, since they’d known one another their whole lives.
Cammie Laroux had warned him that Bailey was headed here just ahead of a full movie crew and slew of actors and other Hollywood types to film some scenes from a Christmas feature film.
Bailey looked fantastic from what he could tell as she whizzed by, with her aviator sunglasses, jeans tucked into black boots, and white sweater with a plaid scarf slung around her neck. Her hair was the same; chestnut brown with those blond streaks. He was glad she hadn’t changed it. But she was chic, slick. Casual Hollywood. She had an intimidating bearing. All five-foot-four inches of her.
She’d moved past with confidence, like a woman in charge. The Bailey he’d known so well until she’d blown out of here at eighteen had been—complicated. And sweet and funny. She’d been everything to him back then.
Seth had heard she’d buzzed into town several times over the years but oddly he’d missed seeing her. Somehow he’d doubted that had been an accident. A town this size left little room for outmaneuvering a run-in with someone unless it was by design.
Hearing that Bailey Boone was coming back to Ministry for an extended period of time had been something of a shocker. Not that he believed anything Bailey did at this point in her life had anything to do with him. Still, he had to admit that learning of her impending arrival stirred up some pretty mixed emotions.
They would meet again; it was imminent. In fact, it was necessary and needed to be soon. Since the mayor was out of town, that left the important details of welcoming the incoming visitors and getting everyone settled to Seth. He was Bailey’s point man, as it were, and whether either of them liked it or not, they had business together.
End of Excerpt