When her husband's job takes him away from home indefinitely, a restless suburban wife and mother must confront Christmas alone-and decide whether she's better off that way.... A newlywed is haunted by thoughts of her husband's first wife-and comes up with an unusual plan to cure herself in time for Christmas.... Longing to fit into her family's picture perfect holiday celebration, a young woman finally brings home the perfect boyfriend-only to find that nothing is as she expected.
Infused with the hopes and dreams of the season, these entertaining and exquisitely written stories by New York Times bestselling author Jane Green, Jennifer Coburn, and Liz Ireland will inspire your Christmas spirit, and stay with you all year long.
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About the Author
Jennifer Coburn is an award-winning journalist who has written for magazines and newspapers throughout the United States, Canada, and Australia. A native New Yorker and a graduate of the University of Michigan, she has six published novels and is a contributing author to four anthologies. She currently lives in San Diego with her husband and daughter. For more information, connect with her on Facebook @JenniferCoburnBooks.
Liz Ireland earned her BFA in theater from Southern Methodist University. An author of many contemporary and western historical romances, she lives in Oregon with her husband, Joe.
Laurel Lefkow is an award-winning American actress and voiceover artist. The voice of several major advertising campaigns, cartoon series, corporate videos,
and audiobooks, she is also a regular on BBC Radio 4.
Date of Birth:May 31, 1968
Place of Birth:London, England
Education:"Managed to drop out of Fine Art Degree at University."
Read an Excerpt
Sometimes in life we get stuck. Sometimes in life we think we know exactly where we're headed, what we're looking for, how to get there, but once we reach it we don't know where else to go.
This is how it is for Sarah Evans. Sarah who appears to have everything in life she could possibly need: a husband who is a successful real-estate developer in Manhattan, a perfect 1960s colonial in a picture-book-perfect small town in upstate New York, and two beautiful dark-haired children — Maggie and Walker.
They have been married for eight years, but Sarah doesn't think about their wedding very often these days. Occasionally, when she dusts the enormous black-and-white picture sitting on the mantelpiece, she will pause as she gazes at her younger, happier self, and at the man she thought she was marrying. But her mind has emptied itself of the happy memories, the laughter they once shared, and looking at that picture she may as well be looking at two strangers.
Because this is Sarah's overwhelming feeling when Eddie, her husband, is at home.
A stranger. Estranged. Strange.
Her happiest times or, rather, the times when she most fully feels herself, are when Eddie's at work. Then she can operate as a normal person. She can vacuum the family room and drink gallons of coffee as she turns Z100 up to full blast and sings along to the Black Eyed Peas and Usher.
She can dance around the kitchen as the children sit at the kitchen table, wide-eyed with delight at how silly Mommy is, giggling as they play with the chicken nuggets and — in a bid to try to get some vegetables into them — corn salad, and if she's very lucky, peas.
Sarah can, and does, meet with her friends for impromptu coffee and conversation. She can put her feet up in front of the Cooking Channel and scribble down delicious-sounding recipes, vowing one day to actually make them.
She can sit at the desk in the kitchen, sifting through the ever-mounting piles, making phone calls, organizing household bills, getting on with the work of being a wife, mother, and household manager.
Occasionally Sarah will still try to delegate an odd job to Eddie, each time praying that he will actually do it, that somehow if he manages to fulfill her wish it will mean that their marriage will get back on track, that she, or they, will find happiness again, but each time Eddie forgets, and with a sigh of irritation Sarah finds herself adding another job to the next day's "to-do" list.
None of her friends realize quite how unhappy Sarah is. It isn't as if she sits around weeping, but this sense of dissatisfaction, of unease, of knowing that her life wasn't supposed to turn out like this, follows her around twenty-four hours a day, climbs out of bed with her in the mornings, scrubs her back in the shower, and keeps her company as she goes about her day until they both climb into bed at the end of the day, exhausted and preparing for more of the same the next day.
She did used to be happy. She knows that at some time in her life she used to be happy, but it was such a long time ago, and she's become so used to feeling the way she feels now, to this feeling of being stuck, that the memory of actually being happy has almost entirely faded away.
But today, as she dusts the mantelpiece, she stops as she wipes the cloth over the glass covering her wedding picture, she takes the picture over to the sofa and sits down, staring beyond the glass to nine years ago, when she was twenty-seven, the features editor ofPoise! — a young women's magazine — living on Manhattan's Upper West Side and loving every minute of it.
She'd been dating a series of unsuitable men, had just finished a heartbreaking affair with a journalist at GQ, and had sworn off men completely.
"No," she kept insisting to her colleagues, "this time I mean it."
And of course doesn't it always happen when you least expect it, when you're adamant that this time you really don't want it. That was exactly when Sarah met Eddie. When she thought a relationship was the very last thing in life she needed.
On their very first date it had been, Sarah used to say, a true meeting of the minds, never mind the overwhelming physical attraction she felt to this dark, slim, confident man. From the minute she saw him she loved his brown eyes, his floppy hair, his slow smile, although she didn't let on until their first actual date.
In those early days every time Eddie showed up at her apartment to pick her up, or they met in restaurants for dinner, Sarah would feel her heart skip a beat when she saw him, a heady mixture of excitement and anticipation.
She thought she was going to marry him but she didn't know she was going to marry him for sure until the first time they slept together. Sarah had never had so much fun in her life. She wasn't performing, wasn't worrying, and she knew then that she never wanted to be with another man ever again.
They married less than a year later — a stylish and intimate wedding at the Cosmopolitan club, and the first three years were a whirlwind of fun city living, seen through the rose-tinted eyes of a couple in love.
Sarah loved the city, loved everything about the city, but when she became pregnant they started driving out to the suburbs on the weekends — just for a look around — and there was something about a white clapboard colonial with a picket fence and roses growing up an arbor that Sarah started to find increasingly appealing. Before long her fantasies were less about fitting into her favorite Ralph Lauren shift, and more about creating a proper home for her new family.
She gave up her job three months before Walker was born and attempted to settle into the house of their dreams before the big day.
In those early days it was much like playing a giant game. Sarah used to feel that she was playing house; pretending to be a grown-up, pretending to be her mother. She would study cookbooks and come up with recipes, even though prior to that Sarah had never cooked anything other than scrambled eggs — even that was rare — but once they moved into the suburbs Sarah was determined to do what every good suburban housewife should do: have delicious, nutritious meals prepared for Eddie when he got home.
Eddie would walk in the house, delighted at how well Sarah was adapting to the suburbs, thrilled at how she was cooking and making a home for them, and they would sit at the dining room table talking about their day, and saying over and over again what a great decision this was, how happy they were to be out of the city, away from the noise and the pace and the stress.
Sarah would never have admitted it but even then she wasn't completely honest with herself. She did love her new house — loved the space, and the large kitchen, and stairs — stairs! But she missed walking everywhere. She missed the convenience of the city; running out of their apartment whenever they needed something, and always being able to find it within a couple of blocks, any time of the day or night.
She missed the noise of the city, missed the noise of their clanking air-conditioning unit so much that Eddie came home one day with a white-noise machine, and they've been sleeping to a background of loud crackle ever since.
And she missed her friends, even though once Walker was born she realized that they were living in different worlds, that although she enjoyed living vicariously through her old friends — mostly colleagues on the magazine, all of whom were still single — once they'd caught up on one another's lives there wasn't that much in common anymore, and none of them were particularly interested in her life as a new mother.
They rarely made it out to see her, and Lord knows she didn't have time to get on a train and go and see them, not with a baby in tow, so filled with animosity she reluctantly joined a "mommy and me" group and much to her surprise started to meet women whom she liked, some of whom actually became friends.
By the time Maggie was born, Sarah and Eddie were definitely out of the honeymoon period. Those gourmet meals that Sarah used to cook were long gone, replaced by hot dogs, chicken fingers, and take-out pizza. Eddie gets home far too late for Sarah to cook and then wait for him, so she usually eats with the kids at around six, and Eddie now grabs something either in the office or on the way home.
Eddie has become more and more successful in his job since they married. His hours are longer, the accompanying stress is almost unimaginable, and the last thing he needs at the end of the day is to be confronted by a miserable, nagging wife or children screaming and fighting for his attention, which is why, when he gets home, he relaxes by watching a sports game on TV with a few beers. God knows he works hard enough; isn't he entitled to some downtime?
And Sarah, poor Sarah who feels that she does absolutely everything around here, watches him resting his beer on his large, rounded belly and feels a wave of disgust wash over her. She has learned to ride these waves. They occur so frequently now she doesn't bother telling him he ought to lose weight, or quit drinking, or spend some time with the children. Every time she used to say that it would erupt in a huge row, and these days she simply doesn't have the energy.
Take a look at them tonight. Walker, already bathed and in pajamas, is playing with his Spiderman web shooter that came free in a packet of cereal.
"Look, Dad!" he says excitedly, dancing around Eddie, who is slumped on the sofa. "Look! Look! It shoots real spiderwebs!" He attempts a demonstration on the ceiling as Eddie smiles vaguely and moves Walker out of the way.
"Daddy!" Walker pleads. "You're not looking."
Before Walker can react Maggie comes in and snatches the web shooter out of Walker's hands, running off into the kitchen with it. Walker starts screaming, Maggie hides behind Sarah's legs, and Eddie explodes.
"Can't a man get any peace and quiet around here!" he shouts. "Sarah, for God's sake, tell them to keep it down."
"Why don't you tell them to keep it down?" Sarah snaps, picking up Maggie, who's now crying because Walker is trying to pry the web shooter out of her little hands. "Walker! Leave her alone!" Walker wails louder now at the unfairness of always being blamed just because he's the oldest.
"It's my web shooter, Mommy! Maggie took it!" Maggie smirks and holds the web shooter triumphantly above her head as Walker screams.
"Upstairs, both of you!" Sarah shouts, putting down Maggie, who instantly starts wailing, while Walker successfully manages to rip the web shooter away and run upstairs.
"Goddamnit!" Sarah hisses to Eddie, pausing to take in the fact that he's sitting back, his feet up, ignoring the screams from upstairs.
Sarah shakes her head. Get off your fat ass you lazy pig and help me, she thinks. Then, that's it, fat boy, as he cracks open another beer. You just sit there like a slob while I do all the work, but of course she doesn't say any of it. Once it's out there it can never be taken back, and even though Sarah's antipathy toward her husband is slowly turning into hate, there are some places she just won't go.
Later that night Sarah climbs into bed with her book and pretends to be engrossed as Eddie comes to bed. He's always slept naked, and in the early days she used to love how free he was about his body, how he used to tease her about always wearing a long T-shirt, but now she just tries to avoid looking at him, tries to lose herself in her book to stop thinking about how they became quite so unhappy.
Eddie clambers into bed and reaches out to turn off his overhead light. "Night," he mumbles, as he turns his back to a grateful Sarah.
"Night," she says disinterestedly. Long after he turns off the light and is gently snoring Sarah lies with her guilty thoughts. She thinks of something terrible happening to Eddie, something tragic and terrible that would take the decision out of her hands.
Not death, not necessarily, but maybe he would leave, fall in love with his secretary, announce it was over. She looks over at the back of his head with resignation. This is a man who can barely muster the energy to change television channels, let alone leave her. He's never going to leave.
Sarah lets out a long, dissatisfied sigh and lays her book down. Maybe it will all feel better in the morning.
"But you said you'd be home tonight by six," Sarah sighs. "It's book club tonight and I'm hosting. How am I supposed to get the kids fed and into bed, and get book club ready?"
"What can I do?" Eddie snaps. "It's work. I didn't plan a five o'clock meeting but I can't turn it down. I don't want to go over this again, Sarah. What do you want me to do? Leave? You want me to leave? You want me to get a job locally? Sure, I could get some lousy-paying job in a local firm and we'd have to move to a much smaller house but I don't care. If that's what you want, say so."
Sarah grits her teeth and squeezes the phone, frustration rendering her speechless. "Forget it," she says. "Fine."
"I'll grab something to eat in the city," Eddie continues. "Seeing as you've got book club. I'll see you later."
Sarah nods silently and puts down the phone.
Before they had children Sarah and Eddie were not big believers in television. Before they had children Sarah and Eddie had many different beliefs about child rearing and parenting, beliefs that would make them, unequivocally, the best parents in the whole history of parenting. Ever.
They would never use the television as a baby-sitter, Sarah remembers saying, when Walker was only two years old and she had come back from a harassed play date where the mother had put the television on for everyone to get some peace and quiet toward the end of the day.
Sarah had been horrified. "We'd gone there to play!" she'd said in horror to Caroline. "Not to watch television. I had to take Walker home."
So Sarah and Eddie had vowed never to use television as a baby-sitter. They'd looked at one another firmly and said they would never use sugar to calm a child down, would never raise their voices to their children, and would treat their children with kindness and respect.
At 5:30 Sarah runs into the family room to find Walker screaming as Maggie disappears behind the sofa with an evil grin on her face. Sarah's heart plummets. How can this three-year-old who looks so angelic be such an unbelievable handful? Walker is her mama's boy. Sweet, gentle, and sensitive, he's always been a good boy, always done exactly what he's been told, and if he has any fault at all it's that he's too sensitive, that he has a tendency to collapse, like now, in tears, at the slightest thing.
Walker never had the terrible twos, a fact she and Eddie put down privately, and horribly smugly, as the result of being such amazing parents. They have had to reconsider with Maggie; Maggie who displayed such extraordinary stubbornness and willfulness since the day she was born.
Even when she was a baby, when Maggie decided she wanted something, she would exert what Eddie called the death grip until whoever was holding it — usually Walker — had to let go.
"My girl's a winner." Eddie would smile proudly, and Sarah would shake her head as she comforted a crying Walker, wondering whether all girls were inherently more evil, or whether it was just her daughter.
Sarah pulls Maggie out from behind the sofa, a wriggling monkey who tries to writhe out of Sarah's grip.
"Maggie, what have you got?" Sarah says sternly. She then turns to Walker and shouts, "Be quiet, Walker! Stop crying."
"Nothing," Maggie says, little fingers clutched tightly around something.
"No!" Walker wails, before dissolving in hysteria.
"Walker! Be quiet or you'll go upstairs to your room. Maggie, give it back to him or you will get a smack." Maggie keeps her fingers tightly closed until Sarah manages to pry them open, to find Walker's favorite Power Ranger there.
"Here you are, Walker." She gives it back to him, then says, "Oh, for God's sake, will you now stop crying? Maggie, do not take Walker's toys!" she berates, but even as she says those words she knows they're having no effect.
For Maggie has no fear. Has never had any fear. Threats of time-outs turn into real time-outs, and whereas Walker will sit in his room during a timeout in floods of tears, Maggie will sit quietly singing to herself, or playing with her fingers, or somehow keeping herself amused, and Sarah knows that the punishment doesn't bother her in the slightest.
Sarah now threatens smacking, in the hope that that will frighten her daughter into behaving well, but Sarah knows she would never actually be able to go through with it, and the threat sounds empty even to her ears, much less to Maggie's.
"I want M&M's," Maggie suddenly calls out from the pantry. "I want M&M's."
"Oh, me too!" Walker says eagerly, Power Ranger fiasco forgotten. "I want M&M's too."
"Neither of you gets M&M's until after dinner," Sarah says, looking at her watch.
"Oh, please!" Walker starts whining.
Excerpted from "This Christmas"
Copyright © 2005 Kensington Publishing Corp..
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
OUTSTANDING PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF JANE GREEN!,
OUTSTANDING PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF JENNIFER COBURN!,
OUTSTANDING PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF LIZ IRELAND!,
Books by Jane Green,
The Second Wife of Reilly,
Mistletoe and Holly,