Home for the holidays, p.1
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       Home for the Holidays, p.1

           Debbie Macomber
 
Home for the Holidays


  Praise for New York Times bestselling author

  DEBBIE MACOMBER

  “Debbie Macomber’s gift for understanding the souls of women—their relationships, their values, their lives—is at its peak here.”

  —BookPage on Between Friends

  “Macomber is known for her honest portrayals of ordinary women in small-town America, and this tale cements her position as an icon of the genre.”

  —Publishers Weekly on 16 Lighthouse Road

  “As always, Macomber draws rich, engaging characters.”

  —Publishers Weekly on Thursdays at Eight

  “Macomber is an adept storyteller…many will be entertained by this well-paced story about four women finding happiness and fulfillment through their growing friendship.”

  —Publishers Weekly on The Shop on Blossom Street

  “Macomber offers a very human look at three women who uproot their lives to follow their true destiny.”

  —Booklist on Changing Habits

  “An insightful look at relationships through the interaction of four women.”

  —Midwest Book Review on Thursdays at Eight

  “Ms. Macomber provides the top in entertaining relationship dramas.”

  —Reader to Reader

  “Macomber's storytelling sometimes yields a tear, at other times a smile.”

  —Newport News, VA, Daily Press

  “Well-developed emotions and appealing characters.”

  —Publishers Weekly on Montana

  Christmas 2005

  Dear Friends,

  I genuinely love Christmas. I love everything about it—the decorations, the baking, the shopping and goodwill toward mankind. My love of the holidays is one reason I’ve written a book centered on Christmas almost every year of my writing career. Home for the Holidays includes two of my favorites: The Forgetful Bride and When Christmas Comes.

  The Forgetful Bride is one of my early Christmas stories, written back in 1991. It’s about a woman who meets an old flame over the holidays. Okay, at the time of their “romance” she was only eight and she’d refused to kiss him unless they were married. Now her childhood husband is back—right in the middle of the Christmas season—and insists they’re actually married.

  When Christmas Comes tells the story of what happens when two people decide to trade homes over the holidays. Throw a Christmas curmudgeon into a town obsessed with Christmas, add a few neighborhood kids, Santa and his elves—and there’s Christmas fun to be had.

  Two stories for the price of one. That’s the kind of deal Christmas shoppers are looking for! My wish is that you’ll be able to relax during the holiday craziness, laugh away the stress and fall in love with life.

  P.S. If you enjoyed these stories, please visit my Web site at www.debbiemacomber.com and leave me a message on the Guest Book page. If you aren’t online, I can be reached at P.O. Box 1458, Port Orchard, WA 98366.

  DEBBIE MACOMBER

  HOME FOR THEHolidays

  CONTENTS

  THE FORGETFUL BRIDE

  Prologue

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Epilogue

  WHEN CHRISTMAS COMES

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Epilogue

  THE FORGETFUL BRIDE

  For Patti Knoll

  My witty, charming and talented friend

  Prologue

  “Not unless we’re married.”

  Ten-year-old Martin Marshall slapped his hands against his thighs in disgust. “I told you she was going to be unreasonable about this.”

  Caitlin watched as her brother’s best friend withdrew a second baseball card from his shirt pocket. If Joseph Rockwell wanted to kiss her, then he was going to have to do it the right way. She might be only eight, but Caitlin knew about these things. Glancing down at the doll held tightly in her arms, she realized instinctively that Barbie wouldn’t approve of kissing a boy unless he married you first.

  Martin approached her again. “Joe says he’ll throw in his Don Drysdale baseball card.”

  “Not unless we’re married,” she repeated, smoothing the front of her sundress with a haughty air.

  “All right, all right, I’ll marry her,” Joe muttered as he stalked across the backyard.

  “How you gonna do that?” Martin demanded.

  “Get your Bible.”

  For someone who wanted to kiss her so badly, Joseph didn’t look very pleased. Caitlin decided to press her luck. “In the fort.”

  “The fort?” Joe exploded. “No girls are allowed in there!”

  “I refuse to marry a boy who won’t even let me into his fort.”

  “Call it off,” Martin demanded. “She’s asking too much.”

  “You don’t have to give me the second baseball card,” she said. The idea of being the first girl ever to view their precious fort had a certain appeal. And it meant she’d probably get invited to Betsy McDonald’s birthday party.

  The boys exchanged glances and started whispering to each other, but Caitlin heard only snatches of their conversation. Martin clearly wasn’t thrilled with Joseph’s concessions, and he kept shaking his head as though he couldn’t believe his friend might actually go through with this. For her part, Caitlin didn’t know whether to trust Joseph. He liked playing practical jokes and everyone in the neighborhood knew it.

  “It’s time to feed my baby,” she announced, preparing to leave.

  “All right, all right,” Joseph said with obvious reluctance. “I’ll marry you in the fort. Martin’ll say the words, only you can’t tell anyone about going inside, understand?”

  “If you do,” Martin threatened, glaring at his sister, “you’ll be sorry.”

  “I won’t tell,” Caitlin promised. It would have to be a secret, but that was fine because she liked keeping secrets.

  “You ready?” Joseph demanded. Now that the terms were set, he seemed to be in a rush, which rather annoyed Caitlin. The frown on his face didn’t please her, either. A bridegroom should at least look happy. She was about to say so, but decided not to.

  “You’ll have to change clothes, of course. Maybe the suit you wore on Easter Sunday…”

  “What?” Joseph shrieked. “I’m not wearing any suit. Listen, Caitlin, you’ve gone about as far as you can with this. I get married exactly the way I am or we call it off.”

  She sighed, rolling her eyes expressively. “Oh, all right, but I’ll need to get a few things first.”

  “Just hurry up, would you?”

  Martin followed her into the house, letting the screen door slam behind him. He took his Bible off the hallway table and rushed back outside.

  Caitlin hurried up to her room, where sh
e grabbed a brush to run through her hair and straightened the two pink ribbons tied around her pigtails. She always wore pink ribbons because pink was a color for girls. Boys were supposed to wear blue and brown and boring colors like that. Boys were okay sometimes, but mostly they did disgusting things.

  Her four dolls accompanied her across the backyard and into the wooded acre behind. She hated getting her Mary Janes dusty, but that couldn’t be avoided.

  With a good deal of ceremony, she opened the rickety door and then slowly, the way she’d seen it done at her older cousin’s wedding, Caitlin marched into the boys’ packing-crate-and-cardboard fort.

  Pausing inside the narrow entry, she glanced around. It wasn’t anything to brag about. Martin had made it sound like a palace with marble floors and crystal chandeliers. She couldn’t help feeling disillusioned. If she hadn’t been so eager to see the fort, she would’ve insisted they do this properly, in church.

  Her brother stood tall and proud on an upturned apple crate, the Bible clutched to his chest. His face was dutifully somber. Caitlin smiled approvingly. He, at least, was taking this seriously.

  “You can’t bring those dolls in here,” Joseph said loudly.

  “I most certainly can. Barbie and Ken and Paula and Jane are our children.”

  “Our children?”

  “Naturally they haven’t been born yet, so they’re really just a glint in your eye.” She’d heard her father say that once and it sounded special. “They’re angels for now, but I thought they should be here so you could meet them.” She was busily arranging her dolls in a tidy row behind Martin on another apple crate.

  Joseph covered his face with his hands and it looked for a moment like he might change his mind.

  “Are we going to get married or not?” she asked.

  “All right, all right.” Joseph sighed heavily and pulled her forward, a little more roughly than necessary, in Caitlin’s opinion.

  The two of them stood in front of Martin, who randomly opened his Bible. He gazed down at the leather-bound book and then at Caitlin and his best friend. “Do you Joseph James Rockwell take Caitlin Rose Marshall for your wife?”

  “Lawfully wedded,” Caitlin corrected. She remembered this part from a television show.

  “Lawfully wedded wife,” Martin amended grudgingly.

  “I do.” Caitlin noticed that he didn’t say it with any real enthusiasm. “I think there’s supposed to be something about richer or poorer and sickness and health,” Joseph said, smirking at Caitlin as if to say she wasn’t the only one who knew the proper words.

  Martin nodded and continued. “Do you, Caitlin Rose Marshall, hereby take Joseph James Rockwell in sickness and health and in riches and in poorness?”

  “I’m only going to marry a man who’s healthy and rich.”

  “You can’t go putting conditions on this now,” Joseph argued. “We already agreed.”

  “Just say ‘I do,’” Martin urged, his voice tight with annoyance. Caitlin suspected that only the seriousness of the occasion prevented him from adding, “You pest.”

  She wasn’t sure if she should go through with this or not. She was old enough to know that she liked pretty things and when she married, her husband would build her a castle at the edge of the forest. He would love her so much, he’d bring home silk ribbons for her hair, and bottles and bottles of expensive perfume. So many that there wouldn’t be room for all of them on her makeup table.

  “Caitlin,” Martin said through clenched teeth.

  “I do,” she finally answered.

  “I hereby pronounce you married,” Martin proclaimed, closing the Bible with a resounding thud. “You may kiss the bride.”

  Joseph turned to face Caitlin. He was several inches taller than she was. His eyes were a pretty shade of blue that reminded her of the way the sky looked the morning after a bad rainstorm. She liked Joseph’s eyes.

  “You ready?” he asked.

  She nodded, closed her eyes and pressed her lips tightly together as she angled her head to the left. If the truth be known, she wasn’t all that opposed to having Joseph kiss her, but she’d never let him know that because…well, because kissing wasn’t something ladies talked about.

  A long time passed before she felt his mouth touch hers. Actually his lips sort of bounced against hers. Gee, she thought. What a big fuss over nothing.

  “Well?” Martin demanded of his friend.

  Caitlin opened her eyes to discover Joseph frowning down at her. “It wasn’t anything like Pete said it would be,” he grumbled.

  “Caitlin might be doing it wrong,” Martin offered, frowning accusingly at his sister.

  “If anyone did anything wrong, it’s Joseph.” They were making it sound like she’d purposely cheated them. If anyone was being cheated, it was Caitlin, because she couldn’t tell Betsy McDonald about going inside their precious fort.

  Joseph didn’t say anything for a long moment. Then he slowly withdrew his prized baseball cards from his shirt pocket. He gazed at them lovingly before he reluctantly held them out to her. “Here,” he said, “these are yours now.”

  “You aren’t going to give ’em to her, are you? Not when she messed up!” Martin cried. “Kissing a girl wasn’t like Pete said, and that’s got to be Caitlin’s fault. I told you she’s not really a girl, anyway. She’s a pest.”

  “A deal’s a deal,” Joseph said sadly.

  “You can keep your silly old baseball cards.” Head held high, Caitlin gathered up her dolls in a huff, prepared to make a dignified exit.

  “You won’t tell anyone about us letting you into the fort, will you?” Martin shouted after her.

  “No.” She’d keep that promise.

  But neither of them had said a word about telling everyone in school that she and Joseph Rockwell had gotten married.

  Chapter One

  For the third time that afternoon, Cait indignantly wiped sawdust from the top of her desk. If this remodeling mess got much worse, the particles were going to get into her computer, destroying her vital link with the New York Stock Exchange.

  “We’ll have to move her out,” a gruff male voice said from behind her.

  “I beg your pardon,” Cait demanded, rising abruptly and whirling toward the doorway. She clapped the dust from her hands, preparing to do battle. So much for this being the season of peace and goodwill. All these men in hard hats strolling through the office, moving things around, was inconvenient enough. But at least she’d been able to close her door to reduce the noise. Now, it seemed, even that would be impossible.

  “We’re going to have to pull some electrical wires through there,” the same brusque voice explained. She couldn’t see the man’s face, since he stood just outside her doorway, but she had an impression of broad-shouldered height. “We’ll have everything back to normal within a week.”

  “A week!” She wouldn’t be able to service her customers, let alone function, without her desk and phone. And exactly where did they intend to put her? Certainly not in a hallway! She wouldn’t stand for it.

  The mess this simple remodeling project had created was one thing, but transplanting her entire office as if she were nothing more than a…a tulip bulb was something else again.

  “I’m sorry about this, Cait,” Paul Jamison said, slipping past the crew foreman to her side.

  The wind went out of her argument at the merest hint of his devastating smile. “Don’t worry about it,” she said, the picture of meekness and tolerance. “Things like this happen when a company grows as quickly as ours.”

  She glanced across the hallway to her best friend’s office, shrugging as if to ask, Is Paul ever going to notice me? Lindy shot her a crooked grin and a quick nod that suggested Cait stop being so negative. Her friend’s confidence didn’t help. Paul was a wonderful district manager and she was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with him. He was both talented and resourceful. The brokerage firm of Webster, Rodale and Missen was an affiliate of the fastest-grow
ing firm in the country. This branch had been open for less than two years and already they were breaking national sales records. Due mainly, Cait believed, to Paul’s administrative skills.

  Paul was slender, dark-haired and handsome in an urbane, sophisticated way—every woman’s dream man. Certainly Cait’s. But as far as she could determine, he didn’t see her in a similar romantic light. He thought of her as an important team member. One of the staff. At most, a friend.

  Cait knew that friendship was often fertile ground for romance, and she hoped for an opportunity to cultivate it. Willingly surrendering her office to an irritating crew of carpenters and electricians was sure to gain her a few points with her boss.

  “Where would you like me to set up my desk in the meantime?” she asked, smiling warmly at Paul. From habit, she lifted her hand to push back a stray lock of hair, forgetting she’d recently had it cut. That had been another futile attempt to attract Paul’s affections—or at least his attention. Her shoulder-length chestnut-brown hair had been trimmed and permed into a pixie style with a halo of soft curls.

  The difference from the tightly styled chignon she’d always worn to work was striking, or so everyone said. Everyone except Paul. The hairdresser had claimed it changed Cait’s cooly polished look into one of warmth and enthusiasm. It was exactly the image Cait wanted Paul to have of her.

  Unfortunately he didn’t seem to detect the slightest difference in her appearance. At least not until Lindy had pointedly commented on the change within earshot of their absentminded employer. Then, and only then, had Paul made a remark about noticing something different; he just hadn’t been sure what it was, he’d said.

  “I suppose we could move you….” Paul hesitated.

  “Your office seems to be the best choice,” the foreman said.

  Cait resisted the urge to hug the man. He was tall, easily six three, and as solid as Mount Rainier, the majestic mountain she could see from her office window. She hadn’t paid much attention to him until this moment and was surprised to note something vaguely familiar about him. She’d assumed he was the foreman, but she wasn’t certain. He seemed to be around the office fairly often, although not on a predictable schedule. Every time he did show up, the level of activity rose dramatically.

 
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