Chapter One excerpt – 2016 Love Christmas Collection – Deck the Halls (Hearts) – by Rachelle Ayala
Chapter One – (Sneak Peek – Unedited Draft)
Deck the halls with boughs of holly
“Fa la la la la, la la la la.” Holly Jolly sang gustily from the top of a twelve-foot step ladder. She was decking the entrance hall of the Gills Mansion with twisted garlands of holly branches.
Every year, the town of Christmas Creek held a gala Christmas bash at one of the Victorian mansions built by the timber barons who’d come to the Redwood Coast of California in the late nineteenth century. Holly, as president and CEO of Holly’s Jolly Elves, was commissioned by the town council to guarantee Christmas Creek’s festive holiday atmosphere.
This year would be no exception, despite the passing of old Marney Gills, the doyenne of Christmas lore and local history in the Redwood Empire. She’d left her entire estate to a grand-nephew who lived in Los Angeles. His lawyer hadn’t objected to the mansion being used in this year’s Christmas Creek bash, so here Holly was, weaving tinsel and holly over the nails that had been put in place for previous Christmas parties.
She’d already wound fragrant pine swags around the banisters, and had placed wreathes of every sort over the dark wooden paneled walls. A fourteen-foot Christmas tree awaited trimming in the living room, and she’d frosted every window with an Epsom salt and dish-soap mixture.
Now she had to make the front entrance grand. After stretching to hook the holly garlands all around the cathedral windows, she leaned the other direction to drape silver tinsel over the arms of the beaded antique crystal chandelier.
“’Tis the season to be jolly. Fa la la la la—”
Bam! The solid oak front door crashed into her ladder. Holly flapped her arms, dropping the tinsel and grabbed the chandelier wildly. The ladder crashed to the wooden floor first, and then the chandelier ripped from the ceiling, holding Holly from her demise only long enough for her to pray she wouldn’t break her tailbone.
She hit the ground which grunted like a large bear. Millions of crystals cascaded over her, strings of beads, diamond shapes and pear-shaped globes, pummeling her like dry hailstones.
“La la la la.” The last part of the song staggered from Holly’s breath, a delayed response as now, she was struggling with the tangle of crystal beads on her face.
“Will you quit that fa la la la la-ing?” The ground, which turned out to be a man growled, his burly arms joining hers in detangling themselves from the ruined chandelier.
“Were you the one who knocked me off my ladder?” Holly swept aside her unruly red hair and stared at the gruff gentleman who she landed on.
If he wasn’t glaring at her like she was a winged witch, he would be considered handsome. But as it was now, his eyebrows were gathered low and a deep scowl marred his strong face with the proverbial cleft chin.
“What do you think you’re doing in my house?” He all but growled at her.
Holly jumped to her feet, her heart all a flutter. “You’re Gordon Gills?”
“And you’re trespassing.” Gordon, she presumed, picked up a string of crystals. “I hope you have insurance because this is an antique Russian palace chandelier, a gift from a tsar to my great-great-grandfather, the original Gordon Gills of Gills Mills—the sawmill which founded this town.”
“Excuse me?” Holly let the red in her hair do the talking. “You almost killed me, barging in and knocking my ladder down. I hope you have insurance. I could have broken all the bones in my body, starting with my tailbone up to my neckbone.”
“Well, you didn’t, because I caught you and saved your big butt.” He rubbed his own backside, which no doubt took the brunt of their combined weights.
Holly angled her gaze and couldn’t help noticing how tight and fine his ass looked, even in a pair of jeans. God knew he had enough muscles to take the punishment.
Wait, hadn’t he just insulted her?
“Big butt?” She put her hands on her hips. “Did your mother ever tell you it’s rude to comment on a woman’s body?”
“Not when my mother died in childbirth while having me.” He pointed at the boughs of holly encircling the cathedral window. “Get that garbage out of here.”
Before she had a chance to feel sorry for the brute for not having a mother, he’d insulted her again.
“Garbage? Are you calling my holly garbage?” Holly kicked at the remnants of the crystal chandelier. “I’ll have you know, I personally picked and bundled and wrapped each strand of holly together to make that festive garland.”
“Who cares? Get this place cleaned up and the chandelier fixed and replaced, then leave me alone.” He picked up the fallen ladder and righted it next to the high window overlooking the front door. “And what the heck is that white stuff you smeared all over the window?”
“It’s artificial frost.” Holly removed her gloves and threw them at the bear man. “You better talk to the city fathers before you ruin my artwork.”
“Artwork fartwork! I want every pine needle out of here, and all that scummy frost wiped up. As for the priceless chandelier …” He picked up the jumble of crystals and looped it over Holly’s neck and shoulders. “Don’t come back until this is fixed. And don’t send me the bill. I may have inherited my great-aunt Marney’s estate, but I sure as heck didn’t inherit her good cheer.”
“No, you didn’t inherit a single good thing from her, definitely not good manners.”
A vein on Gordon’s forehead ballooned, and he crossed his arms, biceps bulging noticeably. “If you’re not cleaning up this mess, I’ll hire cleaners and bill it to you. What’s your name again?”
“I never told you.” Holly jutted her jaw at the Neanderthal. Just for kicks she added, “And no, I won’t have dinner with you tonight or any other night, Mr. Gordon Gills.”
What a waste of a good looking man to be so grumpy, but then again, this man with the waxed, hairless arms and smooth tan chest under the collar of his metrosexual mini-sleeved shirt was a tad too plastic for her taste, even if he looked like a typical action figure hero. Short sandy hair, blue eyes, broad shoulders, and don’t forget, that cleft chin, all ruined by his lack of manners and civility.
For once, the grouch’s eyebrows raised, and he scratched the back of his neck, looking either uncomfortable or confused. “You want to go out with me? After what you did to my house?”
“And ruin my merry mood? Never,” Holly reiterated. “I’ll just fa la la la la out of your miserable, wretched, un-gentlemanly, Scroogey life, wearing your Russian chandelier around my neck, and no, I’m not going to wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Holiday, or a even nice day. You’ll be hearing from your lawyer.”
“My lawyer?” Gordon Gills’ voice echoed behind her as she sashayed out the double oak doors.
“Yes, the one who authorized me to jolly up your miserable mansion.”
“And who are you, exactly?” Gordon followed her out and placed himself in front of her.
“Why, I’m an elf, and I don’t give my name to strangers.” Holly tossed her hair back and stalked away from the Gills mansion. Thank God, she hadn’t hung the mistletoe yet.
Rachelle Ayala is a bestselling author of contemporary romance and romantic suspense. Her foremost goal is to take readers on a shared emotional journey with her characters as they grow and become more true to themselves. Rachelle believes in the power of love to overcome obstacles and feels that everyone should find love as often as possible, especially if it’s within the pages of a book.
Her book, Knowing Vera, won the 2015 Angie Ovation Award, and A Father for Christmas garnered a 2015 Readers’ Favorite Gold Award.
She is also a writing teacher and founder of the Romance In A Month writing community. She lives in California with her husband and has three children and two birds.