Christmas at silver fall.., p.1

Christmas at Silver Falls: A heartwarming, feel good Christmas romance, page 1

 

Christmas at Silver Falls: A heartwarming, feel good Christmas romance
 


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Christmas at Silver Falls: A heartwarming, feel good Christmas romance


  Christmas at Silver Falls

  A heartwarming, feel-good Christmas romance

  Jenny Hale

  Books by Jenny Hale

  Summer at Firefly Beach

  The Summer Hideaway

  The Summer House

  Summer at Oyster Bay

  Summer by the Sea

  A Barefoot Summer

  Christmas at Silver Falls

  It Started With Christmas

  We’ll Always Have Christmas

  All I Want for Christmas

  Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses

  A Christmas to Remember

  Coming Home for Christmas

  Available in audio

  Summer at Firefly Beach (UK listeners | US listeners)

  The Summer Hideaway (UK listeners | US listeners)

  The Summer House (UK listeners | US listeners)

  Summer at Oyster Bay (UK listeners | US listeners)

  Summer by the Sea (UK listeners | US listeners)

  It Started With Christmas (UK listeners | US listeners)

  We’ll Always Have Christmas (UK listeners | US listeners)

  Coming Home for Christmas (UK listeners | US listeners)

  Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Epilogue

  Coming Home for Christmas

  Jenny’s email sign up

  Books by Jenny Hale

  A Christmas to Remember

  Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses

  All I Want for Christmas

  We’ll Always Have Christmas

  A Letter from Jenny

  Acknowledgements

  One

  Scarlett Bailey clicked off the string of twinkle lights outside her apartment and clutched her mistletoe-print gift bags tightly as her father pulled up in his old truck, giving her a friendly wave on her way down the steps to greet him. All week, she’d thrown herself into Christmas shopping, focused on seeking out the most personal gifts for each of her family members, finding just the right wrapping paper, and adorning each present with sprigs of holly or little pine cones she’d found at the craft store. But as she stood amidst her pile of gifts now, she had to face the fact that, after this year, the holiday as she knew it would be changing. She may never have another Christmas at White Oaks Inn.

  This was huge—she hadn’t been able to confront the idea at all until this moment, while she wedged the last of the family Christmas presents into her dad’s truck and climbed in. She couldn’t even be sure if going through with this plan was the right thing to do. But she’d been outvoted. Over plates of Aunt Alice’s maple-pear tarts with eggnog mousse, the Bailey family had made a decision on the matter, and she had to try to make the best of it.

  The white puffball on her dad’s Santa hat swung back and forth like a stuffed pendulum as he glanced over to her and then back to the road. He’d always worn the ruby red fur hat with its pearl white trim and matching ball whenever they’d traveled to White Oaks for their annual family holiday gathering. It was a fond memory of Scarlett’s. But today, it just didn’t feel right.

  They drove for five hours with barely a sound between them. Scarlett steadied the large package she’d been holding all the way there. It was something her dad had bought for her Uncle Joe, wrapped in red and green plaid paper, a bow of cranberry ribbon securing it. It didn’t fit in the back of the truck, so she’d kept it up front, a glaring reminder of the fact that Christmas was only five days away.

  Scarlett’s body sprung up and down with the movement of her father’s truck tires along the unsteady mountain road they were climbing, propelling them deeper into the Great Smoky Mountains and closer to White Oaks Inn. Her anticipation was bittersweet.

  She could still conjure up the image of Pappy, with his hands in the pockets of his red and black lumberjack-style coat, his shoulders raised and his elbows tucked near his body to combat the cold as he waited for them on the impressive front porch of the sprawling clapboard hotel. The painted wooden siding, bright white against the vegetation of the mountains surrounding it, looked like a pearl beside the falling snow, the east and west wings reaching out along the mountainside like two arms awaiting a hug.

  Every year, when her father would pull up, before he drove around back to park in the inn’s private lot for family, he’d roll down his window and wave. Pappy would nod, happiness radiating from his weathered face, and then head inside to let everyone know they’d arrived. Last year, Uncle Joe had taken Pappy’s spot on the porch. Her uncle must have missed Pappy’s greeting as much as Scarlett had. They’d all been so heartbroken to lose him, but they rallied around Gran that Christmas and in the two years after. The last thing Pappy would’ve wanted was for her to be anything other than happy at Christmastime.

  She gazed out the window at the blur of white surrounding them. The mountains ascended directly from the edge of the curving road and stretched into the sky, the trees barely visible under the snow-cover. She just couldn’t fathom that this might be her last holiday in the magical place that had shaped who she was today; it would most likely be her final visit to the inn that her grandparents had run since before her father was even born.

  And poor Gran had no idea what they’d all planned to do. She was about to be blindsided. The guilt of that swarmed Scarlett.

  “You haven’t spoken a word the entire five hours that we’ve been in the car, except once to say you needed to stop for a restroom break,” her father said, gripping the wheel with one hand as he rounded a turn up the mountain easily, despite the deluge of snow, his four-wheel drive working overtime. “I wanted to let this sink in for you, but I’m dying to know how you’re feeling.” He rested a relaxed hand on the stick shift. For anyone else, the trip up the mountain was treacherous, but her father had made the journey so many times that he knew every bend in the road, every dip in the terrain.

  “I know you don’t agree with putting the inn on the market, Scarlett,” he said, “but Gran can’t handle running it without Pappy, and even if she could, White Oaks is struggling. Gran had to drop the room rates this past summer to entice people to choose White Oaks over those new resorts. Yet still she barely hit a third of the revenue she needs to keep it running. It’s costing her more to stay open now than she’s making. And, as we discussed during the family meeting last month, we don’t even—collectively—have the kind of money she needs to keep it going.”

  In its prime, White Oaks Inn was a summer retreat for those searching for a shaded mountain reprieve from the relentless heat in the south. But with the development of resort-style mountain-living condos and inns popping up in nearby towns, White Oaks was having a difficult time keeping up with the demand for amenities. They didn’t have on-site yoga studios, fly-fishing classes, hiking guides, Olympic-size swimming pools—none of the offerings the other locations had. And Gran refused to add those things.

  “This is a place for rest,” she’d said, when Scarlett had suggested a few upgrades on the phone the last time th
ey’d spoken.

  Scarlett knew that making major changes to the inn for it to become profitable would be a full-time job. And she’d have to convince Gran of each and every modification. Scarlett was the only one in the family who could take on this role, as she only had herself to worry about. She’d spent a long couple of years doing a job she hated, but she’d only just been given a new position as Marketing Manager at Electra Media. She was much happier, although the job took up more of her time. She had barely been able to get away for the Christmas holiday, much less run an inn. So while Scarlett didn’t want to let the inn go, she knew that she would have to agree with the family’s decision to sell it. It was the best financial option for Gran, even though she would certainly be devastated when she found out what they’d been planning. Nevertheless, Gran didn’t have a choice. At the speed she was losing money, she’d go broke if she opposed the decision.

  When the family had met, they’d decided it would be best to wait until after Christmas to tell her, so as not to spoil her holiday. While they wanted Gran to be part of the family discussion, they had to be very delicate about how to approach it with her. White Oaks Inn was an extremely special place to her. She’d bought it with Pappy and raised all her children there. Selling it wasn’t something they could easily drop into conversation, so they’d decided to tell her while they were all present to give her support, and after they’d had one more Christmas to add to their wonderful memories over the years.

  Scarlett realized she hadn’t answered her father’s question when he added, “I also know how much you love White Oaks and how hard this must be for you. But it’s all we can do now.”

  “If we have to go through with this, I just hope a new buyer won’t want to change it. I wish there was something else we could do…” Scarlett finally said. Christmas was the time when all the people in town rallied around one another, lifting everyone up. This didn’t feel like Christmas. They were going to go through the motions of the annual Christmas party—they’d unwrap gifts; the entire family and all their friends in town were joining them—but Scarlett would know the whole time that after Christmas they had to drop that news on Gran, and she didn’t think she’d be able to enjoy herself at all. Nor did she feel it was fair to Gran that they all knew this, but she did understand about the holiday—Christmas was Gran’s favorite time of year, and it would be terrible to ruin it for her.

  Scarlett took in a breath of cold air and let it out slowly to ease the tension in her shoulders. “Can we go the long route through Silver Falls on the way to White Oaks? Maybe it’ll help me feel more like Christmas.”

  “Absolutely,” her father said, changing course and taking the right side of the fork in the road, headed for town.

  Silver Falls was nestled on the side of the mountain, with sweeping views of the valley below. It was named for the iridescent falls that cascaded down the mountain. The water whooshed past the wild hackberry, cherry, and pine trees that surrounded them. In the summer, Scarlett would swim in the river pools that collected under them, only coming out to have a snack. She’d make a little pile in her lap of wild chestnuts that grew in the area, crack them, and snack on them while sitting at the edge of the waterfalls, dipping her feet in to combat the heat.

  Scarlett had always loved how she could see for miles, the river winding like a blue ribbon through the foliage. Silver Falls had a little park with a perfect panorama of the falls that attracted vacationers in the summer, but in the winter, they were just as beautiful: ice crystals clung to the rock behind the falling water, causing it to sparkle as if it were full of gemstones. She couldn’t wait to see it again.

  In the warmer months, Silver Falls was a bustling tourist spot with shops full of handmade goods, a local watering hole, antiques stalls, a little coffee shop, and a bookstore, but in the winter it was spectacular, and with lower visitor numbers it was always a time to celebrate for the locals. Anyone lucky enough to get up the mountain to visit at Christmastime would find the townspeople decorating to the nines for the holiday, keeping their doors open past closing time, and gathering together to celebrate their tight-knit community.

  “Oh, look.” Scarlett’s dad pointed to the sign outside the only bar in town. It was actually named The Only Bar in Town, but referred to simply as “The Bar” by locals.

  Scarlett read the sign and grinned for the first time all day: Live music all weekend! Preston Meade! He’ll be taking requests from everyone but Loretta.

  Even Loretta Fitzpatrick, who ran a local dating service, would laugh at that one. Scarlett and Loretta were the same age, and had spent many summers together. Loretta was a great listener, and she loved to hear all about Scarlett’s love life as a teenager. They’d talk by the falls until the evening bugs in the woods were unbearable and they had to go in. Sometimes, they’d just move the conversation to the back garden at the inn until there was barely any light left in the sky. When it got too dark, Scarlett would ask her dad if she could take Loretta home in his old truck. Her favorite memories were driving back to the inn with nothing but the summer wind in her hair and the sound of the radio.

  Since starting the agency, Loretta was always trying to find local musician Preston Meade’s true love, throwing women his way any chance she got. The problem was that Preston was one of those people who could perform on stage, but in his personal life, he was an extremely private guy, working days at the town bank, where he had a small office in the back.

  Everyone joked with him, saying he’d taken the job because he didn’t have to speak to anyone. He was a good sport about it. His quiet demeanor never affected Loretta, though; she would bounce over to him, talking a mile a minute about someone she knew was the perfect person for him whenever he came into the bar, and he always respectfully humored her by nodding, when it was clear that he had no interest in whomever she had in mind. She’d step away to powder her nose and he’d disappear—sometimes completely, and other times to go on stage. It only seemed to fuel her determination to set him up. She’d scan the crowd, her eyes sparkling with interest.

  “Why don’t we stop in for a minute and see Cappy?”

  “It would be nice to see him.”

  Scarlett had to admit that, despite her current conundrum with White Oaks and Gran, she was thrilled to stop in to The Bar to visit its owner, Cappy Bradshaw. She’d known him since she was a little girl. Having grown up with only her father—her mother had sadly died of cancer when she was eleven—she’d always been her dad’s shadow. They spent every summer and holiday in Silver Falls, and when he needed to let off a little steam and grab a beer, he’d taken her with him. Cappy’s wife Jess had had a special place in the back room for her, and the two of them would talk while her father and Cappy caught up on the latest in sports or what was going on in town. Scarlett’s time with Jess was one of the few opportunities that Scarlett had received the one-on-one attention of another woman she trusted.

  Scarlett’s dad pulled the truck to a stop in front of the bar and hopped out, Scarlett rounding the vehicle to follow him inside.

  Her father tugged open the thick walnut door, cloaked in an enormous Christmas wreath of fresh evergreen and pine cones, with a red ribbon trailing nearly all the way down to the cobbled path that led to the bar. Scarlett tried not to slip on the sheet of ice that had covered the cobbles, despite the layer of what looked like salt that Cappy had probably put down this morning instead of his usual sweeping.

  Cappy was behind the bar, which was trimmed in more Christmas greenery. The glistening live tree in the bay window at the front cast little champagne-colored circles onto the shiny surface of the bar top. Cappy’s almond beard had grayed a bit more since Scarlett had seen him last, but his smile was just the same.

  “Blue!” he called, slapping the small towel he’d been using to shine the bar over his shoulder and walking to the other side to greet them.

  Blue was Scarlett’s father’s nickname and the name that he’d used her entire life. He was born Steven B
ailey, but everyone called him Blue—even Gran. The name had stuck after he’d attempted to paint a water tower when he was in high school, only to never make it up the ladder because he spilled the bucket of paint on himself and the young lady walking by. He’d married that very lady ten years later. Her name was Evelyn, Scarlett’s mother.

  “Seeing you two is getting me excited for the big Christmas party at White Oaks,” Cappy said, pulling a chair out from one of the empty tables for Scarlett and kissing her on the cheek. As her father sat down beside her, Cappy turned another chair around backwards and straddled it, folding his arms on top. “Your brother was in here earlier,” he said to her father. “I’m sure he’s at the inn by now. I think you’re the last of the Baileys to make it up the mountain.”

  “Joe’s here already?” her father asked, shaking his head, amused. “Always the overachiever.”

  Cappy chuckled at the sibling rivalry between her father and his older brother Joe. But then he sobered. “I didn’t have time to talk to Joe about it because he was headed out the door, but he mentioned you might be selling White Oaks.”

  Blue offered a solemn nod. “Yes. We haven’t told my mother; we’re keeping it very quiet. I think we’re going to be forced to sell, though…” He shook his head as if he still couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of his mouth. “We need a buyer fast if we want White Oaks to remain in good condition. Know anyone in the market for a 30,000 square-foot hotel?” her father asked with a forced laugh.

 
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