Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Christmas Countdown by Ani Gonzalez






The Christmas Countdown

Holiday Lake

Book One

Ani Gonzalez





Genre: Romance, Romantic Comedy

Publisher: FAC Publishing LLC

Date of Publication: 12/1/2018

Number of pages: 175
Word Count: 35k

Cover Artist: Ani Gonzalez

Tagline: A perfect Christmas in twenty-four hours? What could possibly go wrong…or unexpectedly go right?

Book Description:

For the residents of Holiday Lake, Minnesota, there is no such thing as too much Christmas cheer. The tiny town prides itself on celebrating the holiday every day of the year and their halls are decked with boughs of holly all year round.

Yet this December twenty-third, professional holiday decorator Nat Quinn, known as "The Christmas Queen”, has had enough. After a hectic year helping clients set up the absolutely-perfect-to-the-last-detail backdrops for the festive season, she is ready to relax. That’s when divorced billionaire and workaholic Cyrus Blackstone makes a proposal she can’t turn down: Provide the perfect holiday for his children in exchange for the beach vacation of her dreams.

A perfect Christmas in twenty-four hours? That’s a tall order, even for the Queen of Christmas and her team in Holiday Lake. As Nat races to fulfill her assignment, she realizes that the real challenge isn't the tinsel and pudding... it’s not falling in love.

Excerpt

CYRUS ENDED the call,
satisfied. That was one action item taken care of.
He headed for a built-in
mahogany cabinet that served as the study's bar and grabbed a bottle of scotch
and a glass. A perfect Christmas with his kids. This was worth celebrating.
He sat on his desk chair
and poured the amber liquid into the glass. The cut-glass pattern made
everything sparkle, which was rather festive. Now all he had to do was get the
kids on the plane. Everything else would be taken care of.
Happy as Cyrus was about
giving his children the perfect Christmas, there was more to his feeling of
jubilation. He smiled as he realized that the quirky holiday decorator had
improved his mood. She seemed almost entirely too Christmassy to be real, but
she also appeared to be someone you could count on, a quality that was lacking in
this world.
He sipped his drink,
feeling the fiery liquid slide down this throat. That had been a good
negotiation.
And he was looking
forward to the next one. As Nat had said, everyone wanted the perfect Christmas
and it wasn't all that easy. An eleventh-hour version would, he was certain,
encounter a few challenges, and he had a feeling he would enjoy maneuvering
through them with Ms. Quinn. He felt a lot more confident after talking with
her, like a weight had fallen off his back.
Leah walked into the
studio, all well-tailored slacks and glossy hair. She definitely wasn't the
slouchy sweater and Ugg boots type.
"The kids are
packing," she said, a tinge of worry in her voice. "They sound really
excited. Is she going to do it?"
"Of course,"
Cyrus replied. "Did you have any doubts?"
"Some," Leah
exclaimed with a happy smile. "She was dead set against it. How did you
convince her?"
"Money, flattery,
and bottomless margaritas," he replied.
But that wasn't quite
accurate. Ms. Quinn had given in when he'd mentioned his kids. That had been
her weak spot. It made sense that a holiday specialist would be a sucker for
kids. They were the point of her job, after all.
"How much do you
know about this Nat Quinn, Leah?" He asked.
"She's
fantastic," Leah answered, eyes shining. "You know Christmas is not
my thing, so it takes quite a lot to wow me."
Cyrus nodded. Leah was
Jewish, and she'd worked for some of the wealthiest families in Manhattan and
London. She was notoriously hard to impress.
"But the Hagens
hired me one week before Christmas and I was blown away. We drove up to the
lodge and it looked amazing with a ten-foot-tall tree, garlands everywhere, and
Mrs. Hagen's favorite vintage German decorations. Ms. Quinn even found the
large old-fashioned bulbs that Mrs. Hagen wanted. She had an intact set and
everything."
Cyrus suppressed a smile.
At least he wasn't demanding rare Christmas lights and antique ornaments. Ms.
Quinn was likely relieved about that.
"Christmas dinner
was divine," Leah continued. "The main restaurant has an
all-year-round holiday buffet with a citrus cranberry chutney that is out of
this world. You can use it as a sandwich spread for the leftovers too."
His nanny's eyes grew
dreamy as she described the food.
"And the pastry shop
makes this amazing Black Forest cake with cherry Kirsch." Leah gave a deep
sigh of longing. "It has so much alcohol you can't drive after you eat it,
but it is delicious. Absolutely worth being housebound afterwards."
"So you want to go
back for the food?" Cyrus asked, swirling the amber liquid in his glass.          
His question was greeted
by an awkward silence.
Leah avoided his gaze.
"Er, not exactly. The town is lovely and the people are, um, quite
pleasant." She paused. "Particularly Ms. Quinn. She even gave us some
Chinese food for Christmas Eve dinner, which was very thoughtful." Her
eyes grew dreamy again. "The kung pao chicken was delicious. I hear the
place closed though, which is a pity."
Cyrus smiled. "Let's
hope Ms. Quinn can whip us something similar despite the time constraints.
Given what we've given her to work with, we'll be lucky if she can find a
Christmas tree."
"Oh, but I'm sure
Noah's dad—"
Leah raised her hand to
her mouth, eyes wide.
"Oh?" Cyrus
raised a brow. "Who's Noah?"
A tinge of pink spread
across her cheeks. "No one. I'll, er, go check on the kids now."
And she hurried out of
the room.
Cyrus sipped his drink.
Leah had been working for him for almost two years now, and she'd become part
of the family. Yet he'd never seen her blush, not once.
Holiday Lake was going to
be a lot more interesting than he'd expected.
He turned on his
computer. A picture of his kids popped up on the screen. It was from the last
time he'd taken Jack to the FDNY open house. His son stood in front of a fire
truck grinning widely while his sister made bunny ears behind his head.
It was Cyrus’s favorite
picture, partly because he'd made it to the field trip for a change, but mostly
because Jack was wearing a t-shirt that read "Firefighters Like It
Hot", seemingly oblivious to the double entendre.
Cyrus clicked on the
Internet browser icon and waited for the program to load. An e-mail came as he
waited. The sender was Nat Queen at TheChristmasQueen-dot-com and the subject
line read "Contract for Immediate Signature." The words were
punctuated with a dozen exclamation marks.
Ms. Quinn, it appeared,
was quite efficient, a woman after his own heart.
When his browser window
opened, he typed in "Nat Quinn Holiday Lake Minnesota." A
surprisingly large number of sites popped up, most of them featuring the
Christmas Queen motto and a mistletoe crown logo.
Ms. Quinn, it turned out,
was a busy gal. She'd appeared on various morning shows, giving holiday
decorating tips. She wrote a column on how to plan the perfect holiday. She had
authored numerous magazine articles on virtually every challenge one could
encounter during the holidays, and at least three of the articles dealt with
gravy consistency. She had done sets for holiday movies.
No wonder she longed for
a beach holiday. The poor woman must be exhausted. She even had a sponsorship
agreement with a candle company. The ads boasted that her Citrus Cranberry
Christmas Delight Candle was their all-time best-seller.
Well, there were worst
things one could be remembered for.
He clicked on her website,
TheChristmasQueen.com, and was immediately assaulted by loud music, The
Carol of the Bells
, if he was not mistaken.
It seemed the otherwise
admirable Ms. Quinn had one serious character flaw: She was one of those people
who had pop-up music on her website.
He muted the sound and
scrolled down. There was another mistletoe crown logo, a recipe section, and
several pictures of lavishly decorated houses.
Leah had not exaggerated.
Ms. Quinn could put on a show. She'd even done a party with a real sleigh and
live reindeer. He peered at the computer screen, jaw dropping in disbelief as
he counted the animals. Eight reindeer, all suitably labeled. She'd done a
holiday party with eight reindeer.
Maybe she could do
Christmas in a day.
He kept browsing through her
site. She had social media accounts with current pictures of the town. It had
snowed recently and Holiday Lake could rightfully claim that it would be a
white Christmas. The bakery that Leah loved was shaped like a Swiss chalet with
twinkling lights and a giant Black Forest cake replica in front.
The Chinese restaurant,
it turned out, was re-opening. Leah would no doubt be overjoyed. The Bavarian
Brathaus sounded intriguing and the Holiday Lake Inn would be sponsoring a
Christmas carol concert tomorrow night. The kids would enjoy that.
Holiday Lake seemed to
have a fetish for measuring things. All their statistics were carefully noted
on the various websites. They'd received sixteen inches of snow last week. The
Holiday Lake Inn's all-you-can-eat turkey buffet had served seventeen gallons
of citrus-cranberry chutney on December 26 of last year. Year-to-date, the tree
farm had sold eight hundred and twenty-two trees.
He scrolled through the
social media accounts and checked all the friends lists, but try as he might he
could not find what he was looking for.
There were no clues as to
Leah's mysterious Noah.
And there were no
pictures of Nat Quinn. The Christmas Queen seemed surprisingly shy. No pictures
of herself on her website. No selfies on her social media. Nothing.
But then he checked the
images search tab and found that the local Christmas tree vendors had a picture
of her. The image was blurry, so all he could make out was a slender woman
standing next to an enormous Christmas tree, but clicking on the picture took
him to the tree seller's website.
And there she was. Nat
Quinn had filmed a television segment with Northstar Tree Farm, which had aired
on the Minneapolis public television station. The tree farm had the video on
its website.
He clicked play and sat
back to watch.
Nat Quinn was a tall
woman with bright red hair, green eyes, and a loud cheerful laugh. She knew
more than any human being should about decorative conifers, and she could make
a Christmas wreath in five minutes flat. She liked Balsam firs because they
looked shaggy and natural, but she admired the Fraser fir's longevity. She
wielded a chainsaw like a pro and she did not like artificial trees. As far as
she was concerned, they were an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. She owned
thirty-seven ugly Christmas sweaters and her favorite featured an
unhappy-looking antlered Chihuahua. And she was single.
Cyrus found himself
smiling. Nat Quinn was adorable.
She was also dead serious
about Christmas.
She was the perfect
choice for this job. Even the single part. Not that he cared, of course, not personally.
It just left her free to concentrate on the job.
That was the important
consideration here, the job.
But there was something.
He scrolled up. He could swear he'd seen—
He laughed as he reached
the top of the website. There it was in all its glory—The Northstar Tree Farm's
Christmas tree counter.
And it read
"zero."
There were no trees left.
Zero balsams. Zero Frasers.
Nada.
He was still laughing as
he pulled up Nat's email, opened the contract, and affixed his electronic
signature.
He couldn't wait to see
what the Christmas Queen would do.








About the Author:

Ani Gonzalez is a USA Today bestselling author of holiday-themed romantic comedy and cozy mystery stories set in Banshee Creek, Virginia (The Most Haunted Town in the USA!) and Holiday Lake, Minnesota (Where Every Day is Christmas!). Her books feature feisty, irrepressible heroines dealing with holiday mayhem, paranormal critters (ghosts, cryptids, pagan gods...the sky's the limit) and mysteries. They find love and laughter (and sometimes corpses) along the way, and readers get to follow them every step.







Interview with Ani Gonzalez
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reins of the story?
I generally know where we are going, but they get there in unexpected ways. It’s very similar to my car’s gps system. I always get where I wanted to go, but sometimes it takes longer and there’s often a back road or two involved.
Convince us why you feel your book is a must read.
It’s a madcap romantic caper with a workaholic event planner heroine, a cluelessly adorable hero, a crazy Christmas town, a ticking clock, and the country’s funniest Christmas radio station. There’s no Christmas quite like Christmas at Holiday Lake.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
I’m working on the next book in my Witches of Main Street series and the next Drop Dead Witchy book. They are both beach reads, so they won’t be published until next summer. Yes, I wrote my Christmas book over the summer and am writing my beach books in December. That’s just how publishing works.
Pen or typewriter or computer?
I write on the computer, but outline on pen and paper. I also resort to pen and paper when I find myself stuck. I find the computer is more conducive to disciplined writing and pen and paper loosens the creative side.
Anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Thanks for all your support!

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4 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for bringing to our attention another great book out there to read. I appreciate hearing about them since I have so many readers in my family.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love the blurb. Sounds like a great book.

    ReplyDelete