SIT DOWN SATURDAY with Catherine Lanigan
My favorite section of Sit Down Saturday is reading about what inspires authors to write a story. True, there are the invaluable brainstorming sessions with our editors that guide us and keep us on track with the values and readers’ interests of Heartwarming. But the bottom line is that each of us experience that one “Ah Ha” moment, that lightening flash that ignites our imagination and spurs our storytelling.
For me, it was during my Aunt Sara’s visit back to my hometown here, La Porte, Indiana. She had lived here decades ago, taught school, married my Uncle Dick who was a radio announcer and together they had three children. They moved to Oregon and she hadn’t been back for over twenty years.
She wanted to drive around and visit some of her favorite places that still lived in her memory. One of them was the Bernacchi Greenhouses.
When we drove up to the vacant all glass greenhouses, we got out and walked around. We were both saddened as we looked through the glass to the empty wood plant tables and the weeds growing through the tile floors.
We shared memory after memory about Christmases past and what fun we had at the greenhouses. The retail store was always so elegantly decorated and the best Christmas theme ideas came not from glossy catalogues we all receive in the mail today or Pintrest, but from walking around the Christmas shop, smelling the mulled cider and fresh baked cookies that shoppers enjoyed---for free.
Best of all, were the poinsettias. Hundreds and hundreds of poinsettias.There are multitudes of scenes of greenhouses filled with poinsettias all across North America every Christmas, but for us, it was the warmth and kindness of the people who worked at our greenhouse, that made Christmas special for us.
In my series, SHORES OF INDIAN LAKE, it is just that sense of family and community that I have tried to bring to each and every book. HOME FOR CHRISTMAS is the story of Joy Boston, NYC accountant and recent fiancé to Chuck Newly, who learns of her beloved grandfather, Frank Boston’s, sudden death and returns to Indian Lake to make funeral arrangements.
She's stunned when she drives up to the vacant greenhouse, which has obviously been closed for years. Worst of all, she's seared with betrayal that he’s lied to her, telling her that his business was going well. Joy hasn’t been back to Indian Lake since she left for college only months after her parents died in a car accident on a foggy February day on Dead Man’s Curve. A massive oak tree has stood at the dangerous curve for a century and has never been cut down, though over a dozen people have died at that curve. The wealthy land-owner where the tree resides has bullied the town council not to destroy the tree because she buried her brother’s body near the tree long before she granted Indian Lake access to build a road through her large property. Joy has blamed the townspeople’s apathy and ignorance as the cause of her parents’ death.
But the ghosts of her parents and the happy days she spent growing up in the greenhouses, tending seasonal flowers and learning horticulture from her grandfather beckon to her.
However enticing their siren song is, Joy’s world tilts and rocks when she comes face to face with Adam Masterson, her first love.
Here’s an excerpt:
Unwinding her scarf, she walked behind the counter and was surprised to see full boxes of ribbons, foil and cellophane, and bolts of wrapping paper sitting in the same spots as they had a decade ago. “Not everything was sold or discarded.”
She looked toward the back of the retail gift area. Two French doors led to a smaller greenhouse where specialty orchids, amaryllis and hybrid poinsettias used to be displayed on long wooden tables. That was Joy’s favorite area, where her grandfather would test his yearlong projects of coral-and-white-striped poinsettias, yellows, ambers, and try as he might, the absolute impossible task of creating a blue poinsettia. Blue poinsettias didn’t exist naturally, and he would dye white ones to please designers in Chicago, but he was a dreamer. He’d often told her he wanted to create a flower that was not only beautiful but timeless. Something the world would never have seen if it hadn’t been for him.
Behind the special greenhouse were the storage rooms, where the new shipments of gift items, table linens, Christmas stockings, birdbaths and feeders, scented candles and bath oils and washes used to be delivered and stored until they were put out for display.
“I wonder if any stock is left...” Joy started toward the storage room when she heard a door slam. She halted. “What was that?” She peered through the French doors. Was someone breaking into the greenhouse?
“Hello? Is someone there?”
Peering through the windows, she saw a tall man, wearing a buckskin-yellow suede jacket with a sheepskin collar and lining, jeans, a scarf around his neck and a tan cowboy hat that was pulled down low so that she couldn’t see his face. He was carrying a large sack of something on his shoulder as he pushed one door open with his booted foot.
His presence filled the room as if he owned the place and she was the one intruding.
He placed the sack on the cement floor of the greenhouse, then slapped his hands together, creating a cloud of white dust. He pushed the tip of his cowboy hat up and leveled on her the bluest eyes she’d ever seen.
Eyes that probed her in a way that went straight to her heart.
“Adam?” She almost choked out his name, being both stunned and oddly pleased to see him.
He continued to stare at her, assessing her as if she were one of his cogs in a machine he was creating.
“Hi,” she returned.
Unsmiling, he said, “I heard you might come back.”
“Yes. Of—of course. Why wouldn’t I?”
“Been a long time.”
Joy didn’t like the accusatory tone Adam used. Nor did she like the fact that he’d matured into a handsome man with flashing, mesmerizing eyes. And how was that possible? They were “over” a long time ago.
“He was my grandpa.”
“And you came back because he died.”
“Sorry. I mean I’m sorry about Frank. He loved you a lot.”
“And you know this...how?”
“He never stopped talking about you.”
Joy felt a pang of guilt for not being there more for her grandfather. But she didn’t like Adam’s tone. She glanced through the French door, propped open by the sack of cement he’d deposited.
She saw a compressor, metal pipes, PVC pipes, vent apparatus and coils of copper tubing. A toolbox with wrenches, hammers and screwdrivers sat next to the pile of materials.
“Just exactly how did you get in here?”
Joy had to consciously halt her eyes from flying wide open. “You? Have access to my grandfather’s place of business?”
“Clearly—” he waved his hand across the empty retail area “—it’s not a business anymore.”
“I was told Frank closed it years ago.”
“He did. Five years, to be exact.”
Joy put her fingertips to her temples. None of this made sense. “I don’t understand. I flew him to New York for Thanksgiving every year. He told me he had to hurry back here to get the poinsettia shipments in. He said business had never been better.”
“I got that, Adam!”
“Don’t jump on me!” he shot back, all too quickly and with twice the force.
“Why didn’t he tell me the truth?”
“He didn’t want to disappoint you,” Adam replied, dropping his harsh tone.
Her eyes were tearing again, but she didn’t care. “He told you that?”
“But nothing he would do could ever, ever disappoint me. I loved him. That’s all. The attorney told me on the phone that Grandpa was too proud to ask for my help.”
“That, too.” Adam glanced down as he asked, “Would you have come back if he asked?”
“I don’t know. No. Maybe...if he’d told me how bad it was.”
Adam shook his head. “Well, we’ll never know.”
“I should go.” He started to go, then turned back to her.
Joy braced as she felt a wave of heat from him.
“I know Frank lied to you about some things, but it seems to me you could have pried yourself away from your city friends long enough to visit your only living relative. All these years and you never came back. I watched Frank spend Christmas after Christmas alone. He talked about you and the old days. How he loved you. And what did he get? A ten-minute phone call, Joy. A ten-minute phone call.”
Adam slapped his hat against his thigh, turned and stomped toward the French doors.
Joy’s natural defenses shot to the fore. “I have responsibilities!”
Adam pulled to a stop and marched back to her. His face was nearly nose to nose with hers. “Nothing was as important as Frank and you know it. I would have killed to have what you had with Frank. All that love. All that concern and caring. At least I got to enjoy that after college, when I came back here. Frank befriended me as if not a day had passed. He may have been your blood, but he was my family. And I miss him.”
“Me, too,” she whispered, as she lowered her eyes.
He moved back. “I’m sorry. It’s just that I swore when I moved back here that I’d keep myself in check. Getting close to people never worked out for me.”
“Like when I left—”
“Like then, yeah.”
Joy blinked back tears. Everything Adam said was true, and she felt like dirt. She should have come to visit her grandfather, but she couldn’t. It wasn’t always college or her career. It was Indian Lake. The place where her loving parents were buried. She couldn’t face it. She wouldn’t be reminded of the way they died. And the aftermath.
“I’m sorry, Adam. For everything.”
“Yeah. Well.” He stepped back. “I guess I’ll see you at the funeral.”
Deflated, Joy watched Adam walk away before backing up to the counter and slowly sliding to the floor.
Joy pulled her knees to her chin, shivered and looked at the empty space. “I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry, Grandpa. Please forgive me.”
In all our lives, Christmastime gives us a time when we reflect not only on the past year, but on our relationships the joys and the regrets. HOME FOR CHRISTMAS reminds us that we all stand on the shoulders of those who lived before us. That who we are and the choices we make moving ahead, determine not just our own future, but they also bend the fate of others we care about. I have always believed that true love never dies. HOME FOR CHRISTMAS gave me a chance to explore the deeper layers of that belief, while having a lot of fun cutting down an enormous Christmas tree, caroling with Adam’s six-year-old, gifted son, Titus, and sharing cookie baking and the Christmas Concert with all our favorite characters from earlier stories. Yes, Mrs. Beabots is up to her match-making best as she wisely steers Joy through the labyrinth of her still-wounded heart.
I hope you enjoy HOME FOR CHRISTMAS. Available at Amazon.com, BN.com and the Harlequin web sit. Follow me on Twitter @cathlanigan; Facebook and Pinterest. WWW. Catherinelanigan.com and please do join the fun on my Prism Book Tour which begins November 11th. I’ll be posting giveaways on Facebook. And of course there is a Rafflecopter Amazon card prize you’ll love!