There’s nothing more exciting than seeing a story finally come to fruition. When I’ve finally gotten the characters out of your head and given them wings, when they find a satisfying Happy Ever After, I can’t help but feel like a proud mamma.
I’ve recently had the incredible opportunity to collaborate with 6 other amazing Aussie and NZ romance authors (whom you might recognise from the LoveCats DownUnder blog) to pull together this fun and sexy box set. Hot Christmas Nights features seven holiday stories set in Australia and New Zealand (so no snow and warm cocoa in these Christmas stories!)
We’ve got second chances stories, summer storms, friends falling in love, cowboys, millionaires and more!
My story, Sleighs Bells in the Sand, is part of my Kite Harbor series even though it takes place in Sorrento, Victoria. For those who read A Kiss in Kite Harbor, you might remember a reference to the hero’s travelling sister. Well, this is her story…now we get to find out what happened while she was off globe-trotting while her family was left behind.
Read on for a sneak peek at chapter one…
Pre-Orders are available now! Amazon US | CA | UK | Aus
American Neve Ritter has traveled all the way to Australia to avoid her family for the holidays. But her plans did not include accidentally breaking into the house of a hunky lawyer who’s looking for a little solitude of his own. When a summer storm traps them together, Neve realizes that maybe Santa has been listening to her wishes all along.
Neve Ritter turned her face up to the sun and breathed in deep. She was finally here, in the picturesque coastal town of Sorrento, way down at the bottom of Australia. Miles and miles away from home—a whole hemisphere, in fact.
Ready to spend Christmas all by herself.
It was more than a little daunting. She’d never spent Christmas alone, ever. Even last year when she’d packed her bags and left her family, she’d spent the holidays in an English hostel surrounded by people and warmth and cheer. But now she needed to think, to reflect. And that wasn’t exactly a group activity.
Her muscles protested as she stretched her arms above her head and forced her blood to get moving. The nine-and-a-half-hour flight from Thailand followed by a two-hour drive from Tullamarine airport had made her as stiff as over starched sheets. And the air had been hot and dry like the blast from an open oven when she’d stepped out of her rental car.
It was weird to think that so many people celebrated the Christmas in the summer. Did their greeting cards have snow on them? Did they still drink mulled cider and have turkey for lunch? It was hard to believe anyone would want to roast a bird in this heat. Maybe that’s why all those Aussies were always throwing shrimps on the barbie.
No, not shrimps. Prawns. Better get the lingo right while she was here.
The scent of ocean salt and eucalyptus danced along the warm breeze as she took in her surroundings. The tourist beach wasn’t far from the house she’d been told, but here—among the looming trees and shrubbery in every shade of green and brown—she felt far away from everything, especially civilization.
Popping the trunk on her rental car, she set her bag on the gravel driveway. The wheelie bag—which converted into a backpack—contained the not-so-worldly possessions she’d left home with twelve months ago, her sights set on adventure and truth. And she’d gotten both of those things, but the truth hadn’t set her free as the old saying suggested.
Maybe skeletons were kept in closets for a reason. More fool her, she’d not only let them out but she’d chased them around the world…and for what?
A lump lodged in her throat but she swallowed it down. She wasn’t going to feel sorry for herself. Pity was for chumps. Besides, she had a beautiful beach house all to herself. She could laze around for the next week doing nothing but swimming in the ocean, catching some sun and reading. Who wouldn’t want that?
A voice niggled in the back of her mind, telling her she’d be lonely. It had been a long time since Neve had chosen to be alone. But this was different. Peace and quiet would help her figure out how to come clean with her family.
Regardless, she had a flight booked for New Year’s Day. Her return to her hometown of Kite Harbor was inevitable, and while it wasn’t set in stone it was set in non-refundable plane tickets. And that was kind of the same thing.
She jabbed the passcode into the house’s pin pad a little harder than she needed to. When a soft click confirmed her access, she entered. The air was surprisingly cool considering the house had been apparently unoccupied for some months.
All the shades were drawn, and the house was clean and tidy. A puffy green sofa sat in the middle of the open living area, flanked by two small side tables. There was a flat screen TV, shelves heaving with well-loved books and board games, and a rug that looked soft and cozy as though it had been designed for bare feet.
Tempting as it was to start with the grand tour, Neve was desperate for a coffee. Leaving her bag in the main room, she wandered over to the kitchen and within minutes the air was filled with a delicious aroma. Cradling the coffee cup between her hands, she leaned back against the kitchen counter and sighed.
Guilt was already winding its suffocating arms around her. It would take a while to come to terms with what had happened this past year. Of what it meant to close the door on a relationship she’d always hoped to rekindle. But the words ‘I don’t want anything to do with you’ were forever etched into her brain.
And then there was her family, aka the people she’d ditched after promising she’d be home for the holidays. She hadn’t even been able to break the news via Skype or over the phone. A quick email—barely two lines—had informed them she wouldn’t be returning home as planned.
You’re a freaking coward. They deserve better than that.
Perhaps her inner critic was right. She was a coward, but the thought of facing them—of coming home a failure—seemed even harder to bear at such a special time of year. The New Year would give her a fresh start. An opportunity to make things right, she just had to work up the courage to tell the truth.
The sound of something clicking against the floorboards startled her. The hairs on her arm stood on end. She wasn’t alone in the house.
A low rumbling growl sent a tremor through her as a hulking, black dog blocked the entrance to the kitchen. Its fur was dark as ink and the beast stood almost to waist-height. As it bared its teeth, another low growl rumbled from the back of its throat.
Holy hell, its teeth looked sharp as knives. Long and pointed and perfectly shaped to pierce through flesh.
Shit, shit, shit!
“Easy,” she said, flattening her back to the counter and setting her coffee down. Her stomach clenched as she forced herself to breath slow and steady. She’d be fine against anything—bugs, spiders, snakes…but not a dog.
Don’t just stand there, do something!
Her eyes darted around the kitchen. The counters were bare, but a frying pan sat on the stovetop just out of reach. She didn’t like the idea of hitting an animal but if it tried to bite her she was going to need something to defend herself with. She reached out but the dog took a step forward and let out a sharp, warning bark.
Neve flinched, her heart hammering against her ribcage. How the hell had it gotten inside the house? She was sure she’d closed the front door behind her.
“Be calm,” she muttered under her breath. “Don’t let it know you’re scared.”
Terrified was a more accurate descriptor. All she could focus on was the way the dog’s eyes were locked onto her. Like it was hungry and she was a big, tasty bag of bones.
Think, dammit. What would The Dog Whisperer do?