Read below for a sneak peek of the first chapter.
Can two childhood friends return the spirit of Christmas to this small town?
When Nicholas Frost comes back to Christmas Valley, he’s shocked. The town he fondly remembered as a Christmas wonderland is now completely barren of the season. He learns that his landlord uncle banned his business tenants—everyone in town—from openly celebrating Christmas after his wife died. When his uncle demands that he spy on the townspeople, Nick is torn. Should he choose family loyalty or his heart?
Christmas Valley restaurant owner Angela Corker isn’t happy to see Nicky Frost again. After his uncle banned Christmas, the residents have been struggling financially. So every year she puts on a “Secret Christmas” celebration for the town. Nick is beyond handsome and friendly, but can she trust him with her secret when his uncle is the town Grinch?
They both have secrets, but as they join forces to bring back the joy of Christmas, they discover so much more than they were looking for.
Angela Corker walked through the Christmas Valley Restaurant and Bakery humming “Jingle Bells,” a red poinsettia in each hand. She stopped and surveyed the dining room. The tables were clean and set up for the breakfast crowd, which would start coming in any moment now. She sighed, her spirits dipping a bit when she imagined how beautiful the room could look with Christmas decorations and maybe a tree in the corner by the window.
Of course, that was out of the question, not out in the open. She backed through the swinging doors to the kitchen where the aroma of sautéing onions and peppers filled the air.
“Mornin’, Miss Corker!”
“Good morning, Chef. Everything in order?”
“Mais oui—of course!”
Angela smiled. Of course it was. It always was. Hiring Chef André Rousseau was the best decision she’d made since she took over the business after her mother died. It was her good fortune that he had come up from New Orleans for vacation a few years ago and never wanted to leave.
She headed toward the door to the private dining room. One of the prep staff stopped what he was doing and hurried to open the door for her.
“Thank you, Sammie.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He dipped his head as she stepped through the door.
Angela placed the poinsettias on a table before turning on the light. They were the first of dozens and dozens of decorations that would soon fill this room if past years were any indication. Secret Christmas was already the talk of the town. But as much as she wanted to ignore it, the nagging feeling that this Christmas might be different wouldn’t go away. People were tired of the secrecy. Many of them visited friends or family for the holidays so they could have a normal Christmas.
“We will always have Christmas.” Her mom’s voice echoed in her mind, and her heart swelled with pride and a twinge of sadness.
“Always,” she whispered to the empty room.
Within half an hour, the restaurant was nearly full. Angela stayed out of the kitchen when it was busy like this. She preferred to be out front with the patrons. Chef André preferred it that way too. She moved from table to table, speaking to everyone, making sure each meal was perfect.
She glanced up as Madsen came through the door. She supposed the man had a first name, but she didn’t know what it was. She knew him only as Madsen. As always when she saw him, her emotions were mixed. He was so nice, but he worked for that horrible Terence Frost. What a fitting name—Frost. She forced a smile.
“Good morning, Madsen,” she said as she walked toward the bakery counter. “We have your scones ready for you.”
“And a good morning to you, Miss Corker.”
He didn’t look like a butler, at least not like she imagined a butler would look. Honestly, her only frame of reference came from movies and TV, so what did she know? His manner might be formal and polite enough to make her teeth hurt, but he was a lot younger than those grizzled movie butlers.
“I told you to call me Angela.”
“Yes, you did.”
Angela shook her head and reached behind her for the box of scones. “A dozen plus two, enough for the week, and I added a couple of muffins for you.”
He shook his head as he handed her a twenty. “You spoil me, Miss Corker. The ski resorts must be happy with all the snow that fell overnight.”
“Nothing like fresh powder,” Angela said, handing him his change.
“No indeed. In fact, Mr. Frost couldn’t wait to get out on the slopes this morning.”
Angela stiffened. What did she care what Terence Frost was doing? “Well, it’s a beautiful day.”
Madsen put the change in the tip jar. It was a ritual they went through every week. She gave him his change—better than five dollars—and he put it all in the tip jar. She wondered if he had to make up the difference. No way would that tightwad Frost approve of such a generous gesture.
“Well,” Madsen said with a crooked smile, “have a good day, Miss Corker.”
“You too, Madsen.” She stuck her hands into her apron pockets, her fingers touching the envelope she’d forgotten about. “Madsen, wait.”
The butler turned back around as she held the envelope out toward him. “This is for your boss.”
They both knew what it was. For years, Madsen had delivered a Christmas card to Terence Frost, first for her mother and later for her. Only this year was different. This year while she’d been bringing boxes of decorations up from the basement, a picture of Frost and his wife, Virginia, had fallen out of one of them. Angela had included the photo with the card.
She hesitated and Madsen frowned at her. Then she took a deep breath and let go of the envelope.
“I’ll see he gets it,” Madsen assured her, then turned and walked toward the door.
Maybe it would make a difference—Frost and his wife kissing under the mistletoe at the very last Christmas-tree lighting in the town square. Maybe it would melt a little of the ice around his heart.
“Ms. Corker,” a voice said from behind her, startling her.
Angela turned to see Josh Edwards. He must have come in through the private dining room. “Good morning, Josh. Are you already home for Christmas? I’m sure your dad is glad to have you helping him in the hardware store.”
“No, ma’am. School’s out next Friday. We’re going to look for a good tree for you next weekend.”
Angela nearly gasped aloud at the mention of a tree. She glanced around the room to see if anyone had heard. There was a spy among them. It could be anyone. Even Madsen, as nice as he’d always been. But he’d already left. No one was close enough to hear. She breathed a sigh of relief and decided not to scold Josh even though she was more than a little annoyed at his slip.
Josh raised his hands slightly, displaying a gallon of paint in each. “Dad told me to bring these over. Not a good day for painting if you ask me.”
Angela smiled. “Oh no! It’s way too cold. But next weekend is supposed to be a little warmer and clear, so fingers crossed.”
“There are two more cans of paint in the truck. If you’ll tell me where to put these, I’ll get the rest.”
“Here, I’ll show you,” she said. She needed to remind everyone to be extra careful. Terence Frost could not find out about their Secret Christmas.