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Excerpt for Not This Christmas by , available in its entirety at Smashwords








Not This Christmas

Maddie James writing as

Sophie Jacobs


A Harbor Falls Romance, Book 15

A Christmas Story





Copyright © 2018 Sophie Jacobs

Not This Christmas

ISBN: 978-1-62237-497-7


Previously published as a short story, Not This Christmas by Maddie James, 2014.

Revised, lengthened, and updated edition, published December 2018.


Cover by Jacobs Ink, LLC


All rights reserved. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work, in whole or part, by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, is illegal and forbidden.


This is a work of fiction. Characters, settings, names, and occurrences are a product of the author’s imagination and bear no resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, places or settings, and/or occurrences. Any incidences of resemblance are purely coincidental.


This edition is published by Sophie Jacobs and Sand Dune Books, Turquoise Morning, LLC dba Jacobs Ink, LLC, PO Box 20, New Holland, OH 43145.


Sophie Jacobs is a pen name of bestselling author Maddie James.

http://www.sophiejacobs.com



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Cast of Characters



Old friends you’ll see again in this story:



Main Characters

Nora Patterson (Miss Matched Hearts)

Reverend Rock Peters (The Dating Game)



Secondary Characters

Suzie Hart Matthews (All of My Heart and others)

Brad Matthews (All of My Heart and others)

Becca North Ackerman (Miss Matched Hearts)

Sam Ackerman (Miss Matched Hearts)

Jack Ackerman (Miss Matched Hearts, Star Crossed)



Supporting Characters

Matt Branson (Take My Heart and others)

Chris Marks (Tame My Heart)

Gracie Hart Price (Dance into My Heart)

Lucki Stevenson (The Heartbreaker)

Sydney Hart (Chase My Heart and others)

Geraldine Weissmuller (mentioned in All of My Heart and others)



And introducing:

Jim Patterson (Nora’s father)




NOT THIS CHRISTMAS

A Harbor Falls Romance, Book 15


When Nora Patterson rear-ends Reverend Rock Peters’ SUV on a secluded mountain road one snowy Christmas Eve, she finds herself temporarily snowbound with the attractive minister. She has prayed for someone to share Christmas with this year—and yes, for the rest of her life. She’d thought time was running out, but could Reverend Peters be the one? Or will love pass her by again this Christmas?


Reverend Rockford Peters has accepted being alone but often longs for a special someone to share his life. He has experienced a couple of significant relationships over the course of his adult life, but no woman held his attention for long, or turned out to be the partner he needed and desired. That is, until Nora Patterson came crashing into his life.


But can love truly come so quickly to two people thrust together in an unusual circumstance?






Chapter One


Nora Patterson gripped the steering wheel of her shiny new red Camaro and leaned forward, as if pushing her face closer to the windshield would actually help her see better. The visibility was awful. In fact, worse than awful. The weatherman on the radio called it near whiteout conditions.

She had no business being out in this mess—in her shiny new red Camaro or in any vehicle. She should have headed out hours ago, quietly excusing herself and citing the weather. She should have called her father and told him she was on her way and would be at his home in Dalton Springs in time for Christmas Eve dinner—but she didn’t. And she should have double-checked her purse for her cell phone before leaving Sweet Hart Inn.

She knew right where it was, sitting on Suzie Hart Matthews’ side table in the living room. How could she forget it?

But she didn’t do any of those things.

A whole host of other should haves ran through her head. Should have checked the weather. Should have worn boots rather than heels. Should have stayed home in Harbor Falls….

But no. She had to be the social butterfly and flit from one holiday scene to another, because that’s what Nora Patterson does. Flit. Be social. Still, she should have taken precautions. Besides, her father was expecting her, and she didn’t want to disappoint him. The days were lonely for him since her mother passed earlier in the year.

“Please, God, just get me get to Dad’s. I can’t walk in snow in these shoes if I get stranded.” Besides, her legs were freezing. Should have worn pants.

If it hadn’t been for the fact that she was having such a great time at Suzie’s annual Christmas Eve open house, she wouldn’t have lost track of time. But getting the scoop on the chef’s latest and upcoming cookbook release, so Nora could pimp it for Suzie’s New Year’s Eve book signing at her shop, Nora’s Novel Niche, was just too much fun.

Still, paying more attention to the weather might have been a good idea.

She had not missed the open house since Suzie and her husband Brad started hosting it. They held a silent auction during the afternoon, with the proceeds going to Miss Leinie’s Place, a local family shelter. The community building hosted all sorts of programs—mostly for foster kids and those at risk, but also for families and anyone in need. Earlier today, Nora had dropped off a half-dozen boxes of children’s books for Christmas presents. She had also donated a set of Christmas picture books for Suzie’s silent auction.

Nora loved Harbor Falls, having moved into the small town after graduating from college and taking over the family bookstore. She’d grown up on the family farm out in the county, near Dalton Springs, and although she loved country life, she surprisingly found that she very much liked the convenience of living in town. Over the past couple of years, she had grown to love working in the small community after experiencing big city college life in Ohio. It was also fun since she and Suzie were good friends now. And, that her best friend, Becca—who also had grown up in and still lived in Harbor Falls—had finally stopped talking about moving away now that she’d married Sam Ackerman.

Of course, Harbor Falls was where Sam’s brother, Nora’s ex-boyfriend, Jack Ackerman, also lived. Key word, ‘ex’ boyfriend. Her ‘ex’ boyfriend who had married his high school sweetheart, Jasmine Walker—who managed Miss Leinie’s Place—a few months ago, not long after Jack and Nora broke up.

But she was over that now.

Mostly.

It wasn’t so much that she missed Jack—she was actually happy for him and Jasmine, but she did miss being part of a couple. One day, perhaps, she’d find her own true love. Lord knows she had tried. She’d even hired Suzie once as a matchmaker! But that didn’t turn out, of course.

Maybe Santa would grant her wish this year. She’d been a good girl. Pretty much. She’d even prayed but it seemed God hadn’t thought it was time for her. Yet.

She remained hopeful.

But not this Christmas. True love for Christmas this year was not going to happen, especially since Christmas was nearly upon them.

“Come on Santa, and God, and anyone else out there who is listening—” she leaned forward again and peered up into the darkening sky, “Time to work some Christmas magic. If you plan to bring me a future husband for Christmas this year, times a-wastin’. It’s Christmas Eve already….”

She sighed. From her lips to God’s ears, but she had her doubts.

“But I’d really be happy if you just get me safely to the farm.”

Shaking her head, she concentrated on her driving and wished she were back at Suzie’s.

As usual, her friend’s home, the Sweet Hart Inn, was warm and welcoming. A fire lit up the hearth in her living room. Cinnamon sticks and dried orange peel added a holiday zip to the house coffee blend which not only smelled but tasted heavenly on this blustery day. She wished she had a cup of that yummy coffee right now—not to mention cookies. She had sampled more than her share of Suzie’s Christmas confections. Plus, the Jam Cake with gooey caramel glaze was nearly sinful—the thick slice she’d devoured later in the afternoon had made her happy and cozy.

She’d just have to keep that warm memory in her head until she got home.

Nora licked her lips just thinking about it. She’d definitely stayed too long. Suzie had even wanted her to spend the night.

Should have spent the night.

With the back of her gloved hand, she attempted to wipe away condensation building up on the inside of her windshield and wondered if her defroster wasn’t working properly. Squinting her eyes, she cranked up the heat and peered out the hole. Her headlamps made two funnels of light pushing out in front of the car, with a snow-sleet mixture slanting into the beam.

A knot curled in her stomach. She had about a thirty-minute drive yet to her father’s home—on a good day, and this wasn’t a good day. Even though she didn’t have to go over Falls Mountain, she did have to go through the foothills and around the lake. The road was narrow and curvy in places. The evening was only going to get darker and the snow deeper. Never in her life had she seen the white stuff come down so hard and so fast. What with dusk falling and the snow, the visibility was getting worse. The ruts in the road looked at least a couple of inches deep already.

Ruts. Someone had come this way before her, not very long ago. Some other fool, she guessed. Then just as she had that thought, she saw the brake lights flash in front of her, like someone was intentionally pushing a foot on and off the brake, warning her to—

Stop?

She slammed on her own brakes, gripped the steering wheel tighter, and braced herself.

“Not. Gonna!”

The Camaro fishtailed and its backend slid to the right, swinging around and clipping the tail end of the vehicle in the road. She spun again and shrieked, losing all sense of direction, the car moving of its own accord. By then she had released the steering wheel and covered her face with her hands.

With a crunch of metal against something super solid, the vehicle came to an abrupt, jolting halt. Nora’s body thrust to the left and her head cracked against the drivers’ side window. Pain shot through her temple, and then just as quickly as it had all started, her world went black.

****

Reverend Rockford Peters nearly cursed when his old Chevy Blazer stalled on Lake Road at the foot of Falls Mountain. Nearly cursed being the operative words. He wasn’t adverse to slewing an occasional expletive deleted when the timing was right, and he was alone, and the situation warranted it—but he tried like heck to rein in those expletives when he could because he didn’t want to let one slip in front of his parishioners. He did have a reputation to uphold, after all.

He stared at the flat-lined bars on his cell phone and his stomach sank. He knew the general vicinity of where he was but the storm had disoriented him a little. He’d been heading back home after attending an afternoon service near Asheville to put the finishing touches on his own candlelight service at the Methodist Church in Harbor Falls, when his bald tires had skidded on the slick mush.

He should have bought new tires before winter, but he’d spent that money on Christmas gifts for the foster kids’ party at Miss Leinie’s Place. Jasmine Walker Ackerman had been more than appreciative, and the smiles on the kids’ faces had warmed his heart.

That was worth it—even if he was going to be temporarily inconvenienced right now.

Next paycheck, new tires. He mentally put that on his to-do list. In the meantime, he would keep those warm smiles on his mind as he figured out how to get through the next few hours and get home.

The cold front had raced over the mountain unexpectedly, leaving in its wake a mess of freezing rain, followed by sleet and a pelting snowstorm. And right about now, with his right tire off the edge of the road, and the back-end of his vehicle sticking out cockeyed over the two-lane, he wanted to spit out the most satisfying expletive he could muster. Preferably one that started and ended with a hard consonant sound.

Lights in his rearview mirror caught his eye.

He pumped his brakes. “Dammit!”

The car behind him slid sideways, from what he gathered as he watched its headlights arc off the mountain wall. The vehicle’s passenger side slammed into his rear end and pushed the Blazer further onto the shoulder. The Chevy rocked a bit and he held his breath, not ready to ride this thing down the small slope he feared was there. He watched the lights behind him spin again and twist back the other way, heard another screeching crash, and then silence.

He sat there for a moment, unsure of his next move. The only sounds were the ice pellets hitting his windshield and an increasing creaking noise coming from somewhere underneath his vehicle.

Too quiet. What of the people in the other car? He heard nothing and that concerned him.

Fishing a flashlight out from under his seat, he pushed open the driver’s side door and stepped out into the weather. An icy blast cut into his face as he stood, narrowed his gaze, and glanced behind his truck. The other car’s lights were still on, the beams aimed toward the trees to his left. The snow was coming down so thick and heavy now, and was already building up on the roof of the red sports car. He stepped toward the vehicle and flashed his light, the beam landing on the driver’s side window. His stomach clutched when he saw the smear of blood on the glass and a mass of long blond hair.

“Damn. I mean, oh good Lord. Please help her.” Maybe this is why I’m here.

He rushed as best he could in the slush toward the woman and lifted the door latch. The door opened and she fell like dead weight toward the ground. With a combination of what he supposed was pure adrenalin and sheer determination, he caught her up and lifted her into his arms. Her head fell back, slack. Her eyes closed. Her lipstick stained lips slightly parted.

Rock looked into her face, heaved in a deep breath, and managed to shift her body to where her face was nestled snug against his chest, and out of the driving wind. He didn’t recognize the woman. She definitely was not one of his parishioners. He also knew she needed help. His help. And he had to see that she got it.

He straightened and stared into his surroundings. Snow. Trees. The mountain and rocks behind him he knew, because he could barely see past the wet snow curtaining his view. Briefly, he closed his eyes. “Please, God, show me the way. Oh, and sorry about those two expletives.”

He opened his eyes again. The snow slowly let up. As best he could, he played the flashlight over the scene and scanned the horizon. Trees. More trees. And there. A mailbox. Or the remnants of one, at least. The post was bent and the box itself was on the ground, but at least it was evidence of a residence at some time in the past. Right?

Beside of it, there appeared to be a break in the tree line. A lane?

“I’ll take that,” he whispered. “Thank you.” As if a warning not to linger, a gust of snow blew up into his face, cold and wet, and temporarily blinding him. “I’m moving, Lord. Just let me get her safe and warm.”

Carefully, he slipped the flashlight into his pocket, the beam shining up into the night. Enough to light his way. For now. He started toward the mailbox, snow slanting into his face. Once he got into the clearing and headed back through the trees, the snow dissipated somewhat, but the wind cut right through him. The woman grew heavier in his arms but he refused to think about that, and kept putting one foot straight in front of the other. Step after step, after step.

One leap of faith at a time.

When he thought he could go no further, when his knees were about to buckle and he could no longer feel his hands, he shuffled a few steps more and hit something solid with the toe of his boot.

He blinked and stared down through watery, stinging eyes. A porch step.

He glanced up. Thank you.

****

Nora groaned. Her body shifted and then rolled onto something lumpy. A dull, throbbing pain radiated through her forehead and around to the back of her head. She tried to blink but found that one simple action difficult, and with each effort to flutter her eyelids open, she failed.

Cold. So cold.

She had a vague remembrance of someone. Of being held, and maybe carried. Of wind, sharp and biting. Of an occasional deep voice saying things like, “I’ll take care of you,” and “We’ll get you warm soon. Promise.” Of her hands and legs shaking, and then going numb.

Then nothing else until this moment.

She curled onto her side seeking warmth and found some by burrowing deeper into something scratchy. Didn’t matter. Her face was warmer now. Her legs and hands tingled and that made all the difference in the world. Tingling meant she was alive. Right?

Her brain was fuzzy, and she felt disoriented, but the warmth cloaked her in a happy place for a moment—then she faded back into oblivion.





Chapter Two


Worried didn’t begin to describe Rock’s concern for the woman. As she nuzzled into the crevice made between the back and bottom cushions of the old sofa, he covered her with a quilt he found on the small bed in the corner. It wasn’t the cleanest blanket he’d ever seen—although he gave it a good shake to get the dust off—but it provided warmth and comfort, and right now, that was the most important thing.


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