There won’t be a review for Let’s Review Wednesday this week. I needed a break from the weekly read-and-review routine (and I didn’t finish the book I was reading on time), so I’m giving myself permission to slack off this time.
Also, an announcement: Brigitte’s Battle, Book 2 in my Women of Atherton series, is in beta reading. Instead of releasing next March, as I’d originally anticipated, I’m now planning for an October launch. As soon as I get the post-beta edits done and the front and back matter finished (copyright page, acknowledgments, etc.), I’ll send Chantal‘s little sister out into the world.
And just so I don’t leave you totally empty today, here’s a sneak peek at the cover and story:
As Brigitte left her bedroom, the doorbell rang and Chantal yelled, “I’ll get it!” Pausing on the stairs, Brigitte laughed as her 30-year-old sister ran through the parlor, skidded to a halt in front of the foyer mirror to check her dress and makeup, then sedately opened the front door.
“Merry Christmas, Marc!” Chantal wrapped her arms around him and planted a long kiss on his lips.
“Joyeux Noel, boo!” he replied with a laugh when he caught his breath. “Can I come in now?”
“Had to break in the mistletoe,” she said, pointing at the top of the doorframe. “Want some eggnog?”
As the couple moved into the dining room where the eggnog sat in a crystal punchbowl on the sideboard, Brigitte descended the staircase unnoticed. She watched them stroll away, joined at the hip, and sighed. If only I hadn’t…
Shaking her head to dismiss the ever-present regrets, she headed for the kitchen to see if anyone needed help with Christmas dinner preparations. She’d only gone five paces when the doorbell rang again. “I got it this time,” she called out and turned around.
She hesitated before grabbing the door handle, but relaxed when she saw Sue and John through the peephole. “Merry Christmas, y’all! Come in – presents can go under the tree in the parlor; we’ll be opening them after Aunt Attie arrives.”
The trio exchanged pleasantries as they deposited gifts under the ten-foot spruce and stepped back to admire the tableau. For years, a professional designer had decorated the tree. This time, though, the Athertons had a tree-trimming party the weekend after Thanksgiving, inviting Marc, John and other family friends. The spruce was loaded with items from the family attic and new ornaments contributed by party-goers.
Brigitte smiled as she saw her childhood hanging from the branches. Sue put an arm around her shoulders. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it, cous? All those good memories, the fun we had, right there on display. Remember the day we made those?” She pointed to a set of three macaroni-and-glitter masterpieces, each featuring a photo of an Atherton girl in her Girl Scout uniform. “It was one of those rare occasions when the Brownies and Cadets got to mingle…”
“I remember the macaroni fight that erupted, and how much Rosie fussed when we came home with noodles and glue stuck in our hair.” Brigitte chuckled.
Laughter broke out behind them, and they turned to see Marc and Chantal entering the room. “Noodles, huh, cher?” Marc teased Chantal. “Pity no one got that on film…”
“Oh, hush.” She gave him a playful slap on the shoulder. “It’s funny now, but boy, did Rosie give us what-for. It took about a week for all the glitter to go away…”
“What about your parents? Didn’t they have something to say about it?” John asked. The entire group turned and looked at him in disbelief. He smacked his forehead. “Oh yeah – forgot who I was talking about for a moment there…”
Brigitte patted him on the arm. “It’s okay, John. They’ve changed so much in the last month or so I sometimes forget what they used to be like, too.”
“Is someone casting aspersions on my character in here, and on Christmas Day at that?” a pleasant rumble came from the dining room. Brigitte and Chantal’s father Martin entered with a cup of warm spiced tea in one hand and a celery stick in the other. “Your mother, bless her, won’t let me anywhere near the sausage balls. Celery sticks – it’s Christmas, for pity’s sake!”
“Now, Dad, we all know you’ve managed to sneak at least one sausage ball already. Mom’s trying to look out for your health; she wants you around for a long time – although I’m not entirely sure why…” Chantal grinned, squeezed his shoulders and kissed him on the cheek.
Brigitte moved in for a hug from her dad, lingering a bit longer than her sister had. Martin set his snack on a side table and held his youngest daughter. “Merry Christmas, sweetie.”
Sue and John wandered into the dining room for eggnog, and Chantal gave Marc a tour of the downstairs rooms, showing off the decorating the Atherton women had done together for the first time in over a decade. They ended in her father’s study, where a handmade quilt from Chantal’s aunt, Attie Mae Smith, was the focal item.
“Looks good in here, boo.” Marc drew Chantal down onto the antique loveseat.
“Can’t take credit for it.” She curled up next to him. “Mom and Dad did this room by themselves. Dad said if it had to be decorated, he didn’t want it all girly. They spent a lot more time in here than the decorating warranted, too…”
“Ah, so the spark is rekindling?”
“Yes indeed. I caught them necking like teenagers this morning, right out on the front porch in full view of the entire town.”
“So we didn’t truly break in the mistletoe…”
“Not really… I don’t think you mind much, though, do you?”
He pulled her into his lap and kissed her soundly. “Not one bit…”
“Oops, sorry, didn’t mean to disturb y’all.” Brigitte stepped over to a shelf and pulled down a thin book. “When you’re ready to rejoin the family, Dad’s waiting to start.”
“I didn’t hear Attie arrive,” Chantal said.
“She came through the kitchen entrance with a double armload of food. She’s in the parlor now. Everyone is in the parlor now…”
“Okay, sis, I get it; we’ll be right there.” She chuckled and shook her head as Brigitte closed the study door. Chantal started to stand, but Marc kept his arms wrapped around her.
“Honey, you heard her; they’re waiting on us.”
“I need to ask you something…”
She sighed. “I thought you agreed not to bring that up for a while.”
A pained look came into his eyes. “I know I did, and I’m trying to be patient, but it’s been a month. I don’t understand – why won’t you give me an answer?”
She stood and drew him to his feet. “Marc, you know I care for you a great deal. But your proposal came so soon after we met and everything else that happened. I want us to take a little time, get to know each other better – that’s all. I want to make sure what we’re feeling is real and not just a response to the drama we went through earlier this year.”
“Is that really all it is?” He pulled her close and searched her eyes. “It’s not because of anything – or anyone – else, is it?”
She stroked his cheek. “It’s not because of anyone else, certainly not Ryan, if that’s what you’re thinking. We dated briefly in high school, but that was over years ago…”
“The way I’ve seen him looking at you, I don’ t know…”
“Trust me, there’s nothing but friendship between Ryan and me. I do need to deal with something, though, and until I can find peace about it, I can’t give you the answer you want.”
Marc moved to a bookshelf and ran a finger over the spine of a leather-bound volume. Chantal noted with amusement that it was Jane Austen’s Persuasion. “I wish you’d share whatever it is with me,” he finally said. “That’s the kind of thing couples are supposed to handle together, isn’t it?”
She put her hands on his shoulders. “I can barely think about it. I’m not ready to talk about it yet. Can you please give me a little more time?”
She blew out a breath and backed away as a tear escaped. “I don’t know! Trust me, I’d love for this to be settled in my heart, but I can’t snap my fingers and make it be. I know this isn’t fair to you, but I can’t – not yet.” She opened the door as Brigitte was about to knock again.
“Everything okay, sis?”
She nodded and wiped her cheek. “Yeah, Brigitte. We’ll be there in a minute.” She turned to Marc. “Please be patient with me. I promise it’ll be worth the wait.”
Marc tried to smile, but it didn’t reach his eyes. He joined her at the door and gave her a brief kiss. “I’m tryin’, cher – believe it or not, I am trying.”