A Chance This Christmas
by Joanne Rock
October 5, 2017
Growing up in the Christmas-crazed theme town of Yuletide was fun for fashion designer Rachel Chambers until a family scandal made her unwelcome. Eight years later, she’s home for a friend’s wedding and trying to go incognito… until her old flame spots her.
Snowboarder Gavin Blake wants to make things right with Rachel, and smoothing her way back in Yuletide seems like the best way to do just that. Making Rachel his date for a week of pre-wedding parties is sure to bring them closer. Except he underestimated how long a small town can carry a grudge–or how much the memory of a long-ago kiss could tempt him all over again.
As the wedding approaches, Rachel remembers all she loved about her close-knit, Christmas-loving neighbors. But even if she can win over the town again, will she be able to convince her footloose, mogul-shredding wedding date that they can find happiness beyond the holidays?
For a second, she blinked up at him, blue eyes wide. She still had that sweet, girl-next-door appeal. But there had always been an edge to her, too. A wicked gleam behind the innocence. A twinkle of mischief.
She edged past him. “Hi. Sorry I don’t have time to visit. I need to see a friend.” Fumbling her keys with her red mittens, she dropped them in the snow.
“No problem.” He moved to help her retrieve them, hearing the brush-off in her tone. “I’m glad to see you back in town.”
“If that’s true—and I doubt it—then that makes you the only person besides my mother who would ever admit it.” She sounded breathless and agitated.
The last time he’d spoken to her, she’d been breathless for much better reasons. At least at the start of the day. His fingers closed around her keys where they’d fallen behind the Cadillac front tire. Gavin turned toward her, the two of them still crouched side by side in the snow.
“I’ve always regretted the way we parted, Rachel. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry about what happened.” He reached for her hand in the shadowy darkness lit mostly by the empty Christmas carousel spinning around nearby. He held her wrist and deposited the keys into her mitten.
“Sorry for what? That my father thought it would be a great idea to bankrupt the town? That he timed it to happen while everyone was distracted by my ex-boyfriend proposing in skywriting? Or that my embarrassment over making out with you caused me to flee and look as guilty as my crooked dad?” She yanked her wrist away from him and shot to her feet, already sifting through the set to find the door key. Her breathing sounded labored, like she’d just finished a snowboard run at full speed.
“I felt bad about all those things, Rach. But I’m sorry I acted like an ass and clammed up when Luke came along.” He shook his head, uncomfortable with the memory. “I had no right to hang you out to dry like that.”
Key in the door, she let go of the fob. The thick metal elf icon banged against the door. Her shoulders rose and fell with her breathing.
“It’s been eight years.” She sighed out the number. Or tried to. It came out as more of a wheeze. “If Luke hasn’t put it behind him, he’s not as much of a grown-up as we all gave him credit for.”
Good to know his actions hadn’t kept her up at night. But he wasn’t letting himself off the hook yet.
“Are you okay?” He held a hand out to her, cupping her shoulder through her dark coat.
“I’m fine.” She shook her head, her face illuminated by the blue and yellow lights of one of the animals on the carousel as it spun past. “Just a tree allergy, I think.”
“In thirty-degree weather?” He frowned.
“I might actually be allergic to the whole town.” She pulled an inhaler out of her pocket and took a quick puff.
“I’m sure it’s not as bad as all that. I’ve been hoping I’d see you again ever since I bought Jingle Elf’s house.” He didn’t move his hand right away, enjoying the feel of her.
They’d been friends for a long time before things fell apart. When she’d been Luke’s girlfriend, he’d been respectful of that, giving her a wide berth because he’d always felt a bit more than friendly toward her. But with his training schedule, he’d been wary of jumping into a relationship even as a teen. He shouldn’t have been surprised when she started dating Luke.
Then, after his friends had split, he should have known it was only a matter of time before the chemistry simmered to the surface.
“I never would have guessed you’d want to be a part of the madness that is Yuletide.” She shivered lightly. “I’ve been back in town for a day and Katie Garrett is already threatening to have me thrown out on my ear.”
“I’ve always loved it here. You know that.” Gavin remembered a time when her father had been a mentor to him, giving the local teens all a role in helping the Christmas town take shape in the early years. “And it’s past time you reminded the old guard you have just as much of a right to be here as any of them.” He noticed a few of the town board members in the next row, wearing their tree-lighting finery and the light-up necklaces that said “Yuletide.” “Although, unless you’re prepared to do that right now, maybe you should let me drive you where you want to go.”
Glancing over her shoulder, Rachel pulled her hat lower. “That’s okay. I’m going in to Lake Placid. I can take Mom’s car.”
“You realize there isn’t a more recognizable vehicle in town outside of St. Nick’s sleigh?” He kept his voice down, unwilling to end this unlikely reunion with the intrusion of a bunch of the town founders who’d grown cynical since the Chris Chambers’ embezzlement. “That Cadillac is going to announce your presence pretty quickly.”
Rachel glanced back and forth between him and the car. “I don’t know.”
Insulted that he didn’t look like the better option, he tugged the keys free from the door. “The Rachel Chambers I once knew had a sense of adventure.”
He held out his hand, waiting. And yes, hoping.
“And look where that got me?” she whispered, but took his hand just the same. “I’m a pariah in my own town.”
Leading her toward his truck a few spaces on, he made sure they stayed out of the reflected carousel lights.
“Not if I have anything to say about it.” Unlocking the passenger door, he helped her up into the old F150 he’d bought when he purchased the house. He hurried to the driver’s side and slid behind the wheel before she changed her mind.
“Oh really? I’m not sure you’re going to be much help salvaging my reputation.”
He really shouldn’t get involved. He knew that. Championing Rachel in this town would be bad for the business he wanted to open. It could hurt his chances of accomplishing a whole laundry list of things he wanted to tackle in town, starting with a fundraiser he needed the town council to approve.
But he owed her, didn’t he?
“That’s where you’re wrong.” A plan came together in his mind—a way to make up to her the wrong that he’d done all those years ago. “I’m a local sports hero these days.” He wasn’t bragging. People placed a whole lot of emphasis on sports. “I’ve got some standing in town.”
“I don’t think that’s going to help me. I might just tarnish your Olympic halo.” She rubbed a knuckle along the passenger window, as if she could clear the icy layer on the outside.
They sat in the cold truck while he waited for the defroster to kick in enough to clear the windows.
He knew she had a valid point.
“I kept my mouth shut eight years ago when I should have defended you to everyone. At the time, I thought maybe you hadn’t been honest with me, and that maybe you really were still with Luke.” Gavin had felt like he’d betrayed his friend, and the guilt had made him say things he later regretted. “I know better now, thanks to making amends with Luke. And I’d like to help you feel welcome in Yuletide again.”
“You don’t have to do any such thing.” She turned toward him, a hand on his arm. “I’m not going to stay in town long anyhow.”
He could see the hint of vulnerability in her pretty eyes. Was she leaving because things were uncomfortable for her here? He couldn’t abide that. Not when he’d been a part of the reason she’d felt ostracized. He knew exactly how to fix it.
Besides, he realized he was in no hurry for her to leave. It’d been too long since he had seen her.
“I happen to know Kiersten Garrett really wants you at her wedding.” He’d been over to dinner at Luke’s and Kiersten had shared as much.
Rachel’s jaw dropped. “I— Well. Just because Kiersten wants me there doesn’t mean I need to put up with grief from everyone in town.”
He jumped into trouble with both feet. It came with the territory on the mountain every day, and he wasn’t going to shy away from a risk now, with someone who used to be important to him.
“Consider the town quieted when you go to the bridal welcome dinner as my date.”
A Chance This Christmas is a cute, fluffy holiday read. There are some questions raised by the premise (ie the heroine hasn’t been home in eight years–where does an 18-year-old with no obvious means of support other than her now-single mother go during college and semester breaks? How and when did she reconcile with the friend whose wedding she’s back in town to attend? Why hasn’t her father been caught in all that time? Is he really that much of a criminal mastermind??) and more than a touch of insta-love by the story’s end (yeah, they were high school friends–but one kiss and then no contact for the aforementioned eight years?) but if you’re willing to let go of logic and just go with the feel-good holiday flow, then this Road to Romance series book 3 could be the story for you. At the very least, it’ll have you looking forward to hot cocoa and ugly Christmas sweater weather.
Rating: 3 stars / C+
I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.
About Joanne Rock:
Four-time RITA nominee Joanne Rock has never met a romance sub-genre she didn’t like. The author of over eighty books enjoys writing a wide range of stories, most recently focusing on sexy contemporaries and small town family sagas. An optimist by nature and perpetual seeker of silver linings, Joanne finds romance fits her life outlook perfectly–love is worth fighting for. A frequent speaker at regional and national writing conferences she enjoys giving back to the writing community that nurtured and inspired her early career. She has a Masters degree in Literature from the University of Louisville but credits her fiction writing skills to her intensive study with friend and fellow author Catherine Mann. When she’s not writing, Joanne enjoys travel, especially to see her favorite sports teams play with her former sports editor husband and three athletic-minded sons.