But Christmas Inn has fallen on hard times. The chapel bells haven’t rang for many years, and this Christmas may be the final celebration at the resort…unless love finds its way home.
When Emilee Lancaster’s aunt calls her home to Hope Creek for the holidays, Emmy readily agrees to assist with a charity event at the family theater—until she finds herself front-and-center stage with her high school flame, Jayson Taylor. She’s not thrilled about the pairing, but she’s made a promise to her aunt, and unlike Jayson, she keeps her promises.
Jayson Taylor makes his living building sets for Dahlia Brewster's Family Theater. When the Christmas show's emcee falls ill, Dahlia asks Jayson to step from the backstage and into the limelight. He's more comfortable working behind the scenes, but the country-singing superstar has always treated him like a favorite son, so Jayson reluctantly agrees. Center-stage at Christmas—especially beside dream-chasing Emmy Lancaster, who once ran off and broke his heart—is not where he planned to be.
But God has other plans, and what happens when the curtain falls and the stage lights dim truly reflects the heart of this holiday season.
The words echoed through Emmy’s mind as she fought through dance moves for the opening song of the Christmas show’s second act. Who did Jayson think he was, referring to her in such a manner? Why, she ought to march right over there and—
“Emilee Marie!” Aunt Dahlia’s tone made nails along a chalkboard seem mild. “Where is your head today—or should I say, where is your timing?”
“I’m sorry.” Emmy caught herself before she plowed into Jayson who stood behind her. She’d allowed her thoughts—make that Jayson—to distract her, and now all eyes were upon her. Even Max, curled up at one side of the stage, seemed to censure her lack of coordination.
She huffed out a breath and struggled for bearings. They’d been at it for hours, and, though the others in the cast seemed on target, she couldn’t tap into the groove. “I just can’t seem to get this number.”
“Here, let me help you.” Jayson reached for her hand. There was no animosity in his voice, and he seemed to have completely forgotten their earlier conversation.
But she hadn’t. Prima donna…
“I can manage on my own.” She squared her shoulders and crossed her arms, stubborn taking hold.
“Of course you can.” He winked. How could he be so calm when her insides tangled like spaghetti noodles? “It’s not hard. Just go like this…”
Before she could object, he spun and then dipped her with an ease that seemed almost surreal. His breath warmed her neck and she got caught up in the scent and feel of him, floating in a dream that brought her back to their dating days.
She missed a step, stumbled over his feet, and then she was falling again.
“Wait.” She pressed a palm to Jayson’s chest and felt a firm terrain of muscles that
strained beneath his T-shirt. His hand rested gently along the small of her back, as if it belonged there. “I’ll fall.”
“I’d never let you fall, Emmy.” He gazed at her with a look that said he meant every
word. “You almost had it. Just follow my lead. I’ll get you there. We’ll get there together.”
“No.” She broke contact and backed away. This—being so close to Jayson—was just too much. Her thoughts churned like a tumultuous storm, her rhythm frayed. She hadn’t expected to feel this…such a strong attraction after so much time apart. What was there to make of it? “I need to catch my breath.”
Maybe Jayson’s right…perhaps I’m being a bit of a prima donna, allowing my thoughts to sabotage this rehearsal.
“I think we all need to catch our breath.” Jayson jammed his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. The denim caressed his long, muscular limbs like a specially-tailored glove.
“Can we take five, please?” Emmy dabbed beads of perspiration from her forehead. The stage lights heated her through like an oven set to broil. “I’ll take a quick look at the dance tape once more, and maybe these steps will finally cement in my brain.”
“Sure. Take ten…hours, that is.” Aunt Dahlia nodded from center stage, her teased blonde hair still perfectly coifed but her face flushed into a mask of concern. “We’ve done enough today, and I don’t think you’re fully recovered from jet lag, Emilee. We’ll all take a break and get back at it tomorrow morning.”
“Thanks, Auntie.” Emmy felt Jayson’s gaze burning a hole through her back. Of course, his dance moves had been seamless, as if he’d practiced for months. But she knew that wasn’t the case, so how did he manage to look like Fred Astaire when she was Left-Feet-Louie? “I am a bit pooped.”
“Rest will work wonders, dear, and we still have a few days to prepare before the show opens to the public.”
“As long as that winter storm the meteorologists are predicting doesn’t decide to settle over us,” Jayson chimed in. “Last I heard it’s spiraling up from the gulf, picking up steam, and is forecasted to dump a good deal of the white stuff over the mountains—and Hope Creek—this coming weekend.”
“Well, we’re just not going to worry our pretty little heads about that until it happens—if it even happens.” Aunt Dahlia headed toward the dressing room area. “You go on, then and enjoy your evening. I have to do a little Christmas shopping in Knoxville, so Jayson will take you to the inn, Emmy.”
“What?” The idea of being sequestered in a car with Jayson—even for a short drive—thrust Emmy into full-blown panic mode. “No thanks, Aunt Dahlia. I’m sure Jayson doesn’t want to be bothered with driving me.”
“Of course he does.” Aunt Dahlia turned back slightly to offer a saucy wink. “And Max will chaperone, so you’ll be fine.”
Emmy looked to Jayson, hoping he’d speak up against Aunt Dahlia’s manipulation, but he merely stood there, grinning as if they’d planned this all along.
Mindful of the cast watching this scene unfold, Emmy cleared her throat and carefully chose her words.
“But a drive to the inn might be out of his way.” If Emmy remembered correctly, Jayson lived the opposite direction. But that had been years ago, so maybe he’d moved. She wasn’t at all sure anymore. How much had changed since she left for California—and how much had remained the same? “I don’t want to inconvenience him.”
“Oh, no worries there, dear.” Aunt Dahlia waggled ruby-tipped fingers adorned by rings with gemstones that glittered beneath the lights. “Isn’t it a lovely coincidence that Jayson’s staying at the inn too?”
Jayson and Emmy broke up seven years ago and that they thought was that. She moved on and he stayed put in Hope Creek. Charged with building the set for the Christmas fundraiser, he steps in as leading man at the last minute, much to Emmy's dismay.
Yet another page turning story from the Ms. Manners, which tosses you straight into a heartwarming take of love the second time around. Throw in Christmas, a snowstorm and you have just the thing to snuggle up with on a cold winter's night.
Tell us your name and a little bit about yourself? My name is Jayson Taylor. I have two passions: Set construction for Dahlia Brewster's Family Theater and Emmy Lancaster.
Tell us about where you live and why you choose to live there? I have been a life-long resident of Hope Creek. I love the close-knit community nestled in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, and I especially love my new digs at Christmas Inn. I hope, when Emmy comes home for a visit, that we'll hear the bells toll at the Christmas In Chapel. I plan on testing out the legend of true love by sharing a kiss with Emmy.
What is a quirk of your personality that most people wouldn't know? I sing in the shower--mostly off-key.
Tell us about your special lady. What makes her special? Emmy Lancaster is my special gal. We had something good going before she took off for California. She planned on being a movie star, and because it was her dream I wanted to see her make it. But it broke my heart o watch her go. Things haven't gone as planned for her, I suppose, because she's come back to Hope Creek. I only hope that this time she's come home for good.
What would she hate people to know about her? That she can be pretty high maintenance, but I get that about her and love her even when she's letting her pride get the best of her.
What is your favourite thing to eat and drink? Double chocolate chunk cookies and ice cold milk.
If you had to fight, what would be your weapon of choice and why? Oh, I'd have to say my drill. I'm pretty good with it -- building things. I'm sure I'd be just as good at dismantling them, should the need arise.
Pepsi or coke Mountain Dew
tea or coffee Oh, coffee for sure. Load that cup with the sweet stuff, too.
roast dinner or burger and chips (fries for our US readers) Man, I am definitely a burger guy, but I can talk myself into a roast if I'm sharing the meal with Emmy.
classical music or pop Definitely pop. It's easier to dance and sing to.
sunrise or sunset Sunset beneath the stars on a clear night with a warm breeze whispering through the trees.
walk or run Walking hand-in-hand with Emmy. There's sure no reason to rush things.
chocolate or crisps (chips for our US readers) Seriously? It's chocolate, hands down.