A heartwarming Christmas novella about finding home in the most unexpected places.
After three disastrous Christmases, New York saleswoman Angelette Beaumont has decided enough is enough. To avoid history repeating itself, this year she is going to escape to a place far away, where it won’t feel like Christmas at all: a remote country town in Australia.
But when she arrives in the sleepy town of Seekers Hill, she discovers her accommodation has been double booked and there is no room for her at the inn. The only place to spend Christmas is in a small, dilapidated room above the local pub, The Mistletoe. A pub that is not only named after a Christmas novelty, but goes all out to celebrate Christmas in the biggest way possible.
Despite facing her worst Christmas nightmares, Angelette somehow finds herself drawn into the holiday cheer around her. Between the attractive pub owner who makes it his mission to revive her Christmas spirit, and a little girl who still believes in magic, Angelette’s avoidance tactics are failing. But embracing Christmas will mean opening up about the one reason she vowed never to celebrate Christmas again. And that will take a miracle.
I quit!’ Angelette Beaumont flung her handbag strap over her shoulder and stormed from the Manhattan showroom. It may have been silly to get upset by the singing Christmas telegram her boss had organised to generate Christmas cheer among staff, but this was the last straw. The last thread from the twisted cord holding her life together had finally unravelled.
She tightened the cashmere scarf around her neck, hailed a cab, and blurted her address to the driver.
She couldn’t get to her apartment block fast enough. The cab stopped and started, caught in slow, heavy traffic, and the sparkly city seemed to be engulfing her from all directions. She kept her gaze fixed on the back of the driver’s seat until she arrived home and, once in her apartment, turned on the heating and took off her coat, scarf, and gloves, flinging them onto the dining table.
A long, slow exhalation released from her lungs as she sunk into the couch.
No more tinsel and flashing lights, no more shiny gifts under over-decorated Christmas trees.
And no more Christmas.
She closed her eyes and willed herself to relax. But the beep of a text message made her jump. She switched her phone to silent, ignoring the message from a work colleague asking why she’d left so suddenly. She’d sort out the logistics of her rash decision later, but for now, she needed a reprieve. Angelette glanced around her plain but stylish apartment, void of any decorations. No, she needed more than that.
She needed to escape.
She went to her laptop on the dining table and opened a browser, tapping a fingernail on the keyboard while she thought of her options.
I need to get as far away from New York as possible.
Angelette found a world map and ran her finger across the screen, hoping the perfect place would jump right out at her.
No, she needed somewhere completely different.
Her finger travelled across the map and down, to the cute little shape of Australia. Yes.
Somewhere with sunshine and warmth, peace and quiet. Maybe a hidden tropical rainforest retreat, or a shack in the outback, or a cute cottage in a sleepy, small town. Somewhere it didn’t feel like Christmas at all, where she wasn’t faced with frantic, shallow consumerism, and where merry holiday travellers didn’t bombard her in the streets.
And somewhere where the memory of last Christmas could be forgotten.
‘Welcome to Seekers Hill, love.’ The cab driver turned to her and smiled as he stopped the vehicle.
‘Um, thanks.’ Angelette shielded her eyes from the low glare in the sky. ‘It’s almost eight pm, shouldn’t it be dark by now?’
The man chuckled. ‘Daylight saving, love. Give it another hour.’
‘All day sunshine? Sounds good to me.’ She smiled at the thought and paid the driver a small fortune; it had been the only way to get here at this time after her never-ending flight, two hours on a train, and an hour on a hot bus with failing air conditioning until it reached its last stop where the cab had to take over for yet another hour.
She stepped from the car and heat slammed into her skin. She wriggled her toes, her legs aching from sitting for so long.
The driver lifted Angelette’s suitcase from the trunk, or ‘boot’ as he called it. ‘There you go. Hope you enjoy your stay, and have a merry—’
‘Thank you, thank you, yes, yes, I will,’ she interjected, before he could say the forbidden word.
Red dust swirled behind the cab as it took off, and Angelette exhaled slowly before wheeling her suitcase up the slight incline to the reception office of Seekers Hill Inn and Cottages.
A twinkle sounded as she pushed open the door, and she glanced up at a bundle of silver bells attached to a ribbon hanging from behind the door.
‘Oh, I was just about to close up. Hi,’ said a short woman from behind the desk with hair so tightly curled it looked like it was about to explode.
‘Hi,’ Angelette responded with an eager smile. She couldn’t wait to get to her cottage and collapse on the bed.
‘Can I assist you?’ The woman gave her a curious look.
‘Assist? Yes, I’m checking in, of course.’
The woman’s eyebrows rose and her mouth formed an O shape. ‘You are? Are you joining a guest who’s already checked in?’
‘No, I’m on my own.’
‘Oh.’ She tapped away at the computer and her eyebrows furrowed.
Angelette peered closer. ‘Angelette Beaumont. I’m staying for ten nights, booked online recently.’
‘Hmm.’ The woman continued tapping away. ‘That’s strange. I don’t seem to have anything on record.’
Angelette’s heart beat a little faster.
‘I’m sorry?’ She peered even closer. ‘I have my confirmation email. Here. I’ll show you.’ She got out her phone. ‘Oh darn, it’s out of charge.’ She kicked a heel on the floor. ‘Oh, hang on, I printed a copy too, in my travel documents wallet.’
She got that out and smiled. ‘Yes, here it is!’ She handed it over and waited for the woman to say oh of course, sorry about that! Here’s your room key.
But she didn’t.
‘That is strange,’ the woman said, eyeing the paper and then the screen. ‘One moment.’ She typed something in and then her eyebrows rose and her cheeks flushed. ‘Oh dear.’
‘Oh dear what?’
The woman, from her seated position, looked up at Angelette with an awkward smile. ‘It appears there’s been some kind of technical error. A double booking.’
‘I’ve found your booking, but unfortunately the guests who first booked your cottage have already checked in.’ She folded her hands together on the desk.
Heat crawled up Angelette’s face despite the air conditioning and her legs weakened. ‘Um, no. It can’t be. I booked this cottage. I got the confirmation. I came all the way from America to stay here. Surely your other guests can stay in a different room?’
The bells twinkled again and Angelette spun around. A man entered. ‘Oh good, you’re still open,’ he said. ‘Love the cottage, it’s wonderful by the way.’
‘Are you staying in the garden view cottage?’ Angelette interrogated him.
‘Yes, we are. Why?’
‘Right. Well, the thing is …’ Angelette crossed her arms and was about to tell him about her situation when the man interrupted.
‘Look, sorry, I’m only popping in quickly as I need something for my wife.’ He looked at the woman behind the desk. ‘Do you have an ice pack or something cold? Her ankles are so swollen from the heat and the pregnancy, and she’s really uncomfortable at the moment. I need to get back to her.’
The words that Angelette had been about to speak dissolved, and she fiddled with the teardrop pendant nestled between her collarbones.
‘Sure, let me grab one for you.’ The woman went into the back room and returned with a couple of ice packs. ‘These should help. And if there are any other concerns please call our after-hours emergency number.’
‘Will do. Thanks so much!’ He dashed out.
Angelette’s shoulders sunk and she sighed. ‘Well, can you put me in a different cottage then? Or even a room at the inn?’
The woman shook her head. ‘I’m afraid all our cottages and rooms are booked out until after Christmas.’
‘Are you saying there’s no room for me at the inn?’ The high-pitched inflection at the end of her question accompanied her rising anxiety.
‘I am. I’m so sorry. But rest assured we will refund your deposit immediately.’
‘Rest assured? How can I rest assured when I don’t have anywhere to rest!’ Angelette planted her hands on the desk.
The woman stood. ‘Let me call around and ask if there’s anywhere else for you to stay. But there’s not much around here, the closest available room could be hours away, and that’s if they’re not all taken.’
Oh man, this can’t be happening.
Angelette tapped a foot impatiently while she waited for the woman to ask around, her chest rising with hope then falling at each, ‘Thanks anyway,’ that the woman spoke into the phone.
The woman sighed, her cheeks still flushed. ‘I really am very sorry.’
‘I’m sure you are. But right now, sorry won’t cut it. I’m exhausted, I’m jet lagged, I need a good sleep, a shower, some food, and I need to charge my phone!’
Her eyes pinched back tears. Her vacation hadn’t even begun and already it was starting to resemble yet another Christmas disaster—just like the past three years.
‘Here.’ The woman handed her a bag of potato crisps. ‘On the house.’ Then she handed her a can of soda. ‘This too.’
Angelette shrugged and mumbled a ‘Thank you.’
The woman tapped her chin. ‘Hmm. There might be one place you could stay.’
‘There might be? Just get me something. Anything!’
The woman nodded and picked up the phone again. ‘Hello, Mac? Hi, it’s Cherie from Seekers Hill Inn. Do you have a vacancy in your room above the pub?’
A pub? That didn’t sound too bad. Maybe a bit noisy but at least there’d be food and she could drown her sorrows in red wine until she could find alternative accommodation.
‘Yes, yes, I understand, but she is quite desperate.’
‘Uh-huh. Uh-huh.’ The woman nodded.
Please, please, please! Please don’t let anyone else be about to take it!
‘Yes, well I’m sure it’ll be fine, please book her in. Angelette Beaumont.’ The woman straightened up. ‘Thanks, Mac. Please bill her first night’s accommodation to us and we’ll cover it. Thank you, Merry Christmas to you too.’
Angelette relaxed her shoulders with an exhalation. This was more like it. And they sure as hell should be paying for her after this disastrous mix-up. Once she’d had a wash and a good sleep, she could search online for somewhere else to stay, or maybe even this pub would be a decent enough getaway from the world of Christmas for a while. She could read all the books she’d downloaded to her Kindle and live in another world for the next ten days. Perfect.
The woman, Cherie, handed her a piece of paper with scribbled words on it: The Mistletoe.
‘Yes. That’s the name of the pub, it’s only about a twenty-five-minute drive up the hill, and they’ve reserved the room above it just for you. It’s right in the heart of the lovely little town. You’ll have a beautiful view of the hills, and there’s a general store, an art gallery, an antique shop, a lovely community park, and the local historic cinema is screening Christmas films every day until Christmas! You’ll have a wonderful time there.’ Cherie smiled in satisfaction.
Angelette narrowed her eyes. She’d definitely avoid the cinema, but the art gallery might be nice, and a shady spot in the park to read some books. But a pub named after a Christmas novelty? How bizarre. Did they even have mistletoe in Australia?
Anyway, it was just a name. And now she had somewhere to stay tonight. It couldn’t be that bad.