Classic Romance

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Overworked California accountant, Rachel Mills, inherits an old bookstore in Marietta, Montana just as she’s offered a huge promotion. The new job means longer hours and more stress when what she really craves is a break. The smart thing to do would be accept the promotion, buckle down, and keep on working. But for the first time in her life, she goes with impulsive and books a flight to Montana to inspect the bookstore, and hopefully have her first white Christmas ever.

Texan lawyer and entrepreneur, Atticus Bowen, has found the perfect location for his next restaurant—the two-story, turn-of-the-century brick building on Marietta’s Main Street. All he has to do is convince the new owner to sell Paradise Books to him. After all, used bookstores aren’t practical or viable businesses, and he’s making Rachel Mills a very generous offer. But instead of jumping on his offer, Rachel decides she’s going to open the bookstore doors for December and ‘explore her options’.

The last thing Rachel expected was to fall in love with the old bookstore, or charming Marietta, Montana. She never expected sparks to fly with handsome, arrogant Atticus Bowen, either. Smart, practical Rachel realizes she just might be falling in love with the sexy, opinionated Texan lawyer—something that could prove to be neither smart, nor practical….or the best decision of her life.

Classic Romance

Oh Christmas Night

read an excerpt →

Overworked California accountant, Rachel Mills, inherits an old bookstore in Marietta, Montana just as she’s offered a huge promotion. The new job means longer hours and more stress when what she really craves is a break. The smart thing to do would be accept the promotion, buckle down, and keep on working. But for the first time in her life, she goes with impulsive and books a flight to Montana to inspect the bookstore, and hopefully have her first white Christmas ever.

Texan lawyer and entrepreneur, Atticus Bowen, has found the perfect location for his next restaurant—the two-story, turn-of-the-century brick building on Marietta’s Main Street. All he has to do is convince the new owner to sell Paradise Books to him. After all, used bookstores aren’t practical or viable businesses, and he’s making Rachel Mills a very generous offer. But instead of jumping on his offer, Rachel decides she’s going to open the bookstore doors for December and ‘explore her options’.

The last thing Rachel expected was to fall in love with the old bookstore, or charming Marietta, Montana. She never expected sparks to fly with handsome, arrogant Atticus Bowen, either. Smart, practical Rachel realizes she just might be falling in love with the sexy, opinionated Texan lawyer—something that could prove to be neither smart, nor practical….or the best decision of her life.

Oh Christmas Night

Classic Romance

Tule Publishing

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Oh Christmas Night

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Rachel Mills felt positively ill. She sat down at her desk, and covered her face with her hands, struggling to breathe.

She didn’t get the promotion.

She’d been passed over, again.

Her throat thickened and her eyes burned, hot and gritty. It didn’t make sense. No one in her department had more experience, or a better work ethic, than she did. No one at Novak & Bartley put in more hours, or handled more clients than she did.

How could they promote Jay Shields over her? He’d been hired three years after her. He used up every bit of his vacation time each year, every year, and then some. He frequently made mistakes requiring her to go in and clean up after him. She routinely solved problems he couldn’t. So why reward him?

Rachel didn’t want to believe it was because Jay was a man. She really, truly didn’t want to go there… but every person promoted these past few years had been a man. Plenty of women worked at Novak & Bartley, but most in support positions. She’d known this going in, too, but she’d viewed the lack of female leadership as an opportunity to prove herself.

And she had.

She’d gone over and above, time and again. She’d brought in new clients, increased the firm’s revenue, and had saved important accounts that were unhappy and wanted to go.

She’d done the research and crunched the numbers, and knew what was required to be promoted, too. She understood that one couldn’t ask for expect more responsibility if one wasn’t adding sufficient value, which is why she was handling big accounts, and big money, and she didn’t make mistakes.

So why was she not recognized?

Rachel squeezed her eyes closed, air bottling in her lungs. She was hurt, but even more so, she was angry. The first oversight had been disappointing, but to be passed over three times? To be given flimsy excuses by upper management?

She wasn’t a child. She didn’t appreciate being patronized. But really, she had no one else to blame. She’d known during the interview process eight years ago that she’d be one of the only female accountants at the firm, but it hadn’t worried her. She’d naively thought she’d be able to prove to them they’d hired the right person, and she’d demonstrate competency and excellence and she’d be the first of many women to work for Novak & Bartley.

But that hadn’t been in the case.

Yes, a few female accountants had been hired after her, but none of them had been given a chance for advancement. None of them were invited to participate in Novak & Bartley’s annual golf tournament or the other VIP client events, either. It was as if they’d all hit a glass ceiling—and in this case, the ceiling was very, very low.

A light knock sounded on her door and Rachel lifted her head to see Alicia, one of the young women that worked in administration, standing in the doorway with a bright yellow package.

“I just signed for it. It’s from Australia.” Alicia’s brow wrinkled. “Do we have clients in Australia?”

“I don’t,” Rachel answered, straightening. “Not sure about the firm.”

Alicia handed the package over before disappearing. Rachel turned the thick, padded DHL envelope over and read the address label. It had been sent from Lesley Hart, Rachel’s godmother, a godmother Rachel had only met a couple of times in her life, the last time being at Rachel’s mother’s funeral twelve years ago. Rachel had been a senior in high school and the funeral had been a blur of tears and hugs, as well as her father’s stoic silence, and after it was all over, she just wanted to put it behind her. She wanted to forget the pain and grief and she buried herself in her studies, because the one thing in life that didn’t let her down was numbers. Numbers never failed, and numbers never lied. Little wonder she chose accounting as her college major.

Uncertain as to what this mythical godmother had sent her, Rachel opened the envelope and drew out another envelope, this one bumpy with a letter, a folder of papers, and a key on a small key ring with a painted decorative accent that read ‘Big Sky’.

Frowning, Rachel held the key ring for a moment, the key pressed to her palm. Years ago her mother talked about being from Big Sky country, but Rachel had only been there once, and she was so young at the time that she didn’t remember it. Setting the key aside, she read the brief letter, and then read it again, more baffled with every reading.

It seemed that her godmother, the one she’d only met a handful of times, was gifting her a bookstore. In Montana. In the town where Rachel’s mother had grown up.

Perplexed, she read the letter a third time.

My dear Rachel,

I apologize for missing your 30th birthday last month, but hope it was happy. I thought of you on your special day, and I thought of your mother, too, and how proud she’d be of you. I’m sorry I haven’t been a better godmother but please know I carry you and your mother in my heart.

To celebrate your 30th birthday, and your impressive accomplishments, I am giving you Paradise Books, my bookstore in Marietta. I can’t imagine anyone more deserving. May it bring you the joy it brought me.

With all my love,

Lesley

Rachel blinked hard, the sudden rise of emotion catching her off guard, not just by the gift, but by the mention of her mother. No one mentioned her mother anymore. Dad certainly didn’t discuss her, and Rachel didn’t think of her, either, finding the memories too painful.

Rachel folded the letter, hiding the words and the emotion, and reached for the paperwork. There was a great deal of paperwork, too, as the gifting of a business, even a small business, wasn’t a small thing. The government didn’t just let one ‘gift’ a business. There were taxes and paperwork, and more taxes, things Rachel knew well as a corporate tax specialist.

The paperwork included a description of the business—a historic red brick building which included an apartment carved from the attic rafters, allowing the owner to both live and work on the historic premises—along with the most recent tax returns on the building which indicated that the store hadn’t been open in several years.

Lesley shared in a handwritten note that the turn of the century brick building was paid for, and the property taxes had been taken care of for the next year, but she was aware that Rachel would incur some taxes with the gift and she hoped that the taxes wouldn’t be an undue burden. There was value in the store, but to be honest, most of the value was in the building itself, and Lesley suggested Rachel visit Marietta and see the store for herself. In fact, Lesley added, if she had time, she should go soon since Christmas was one of the nicest times of years in Marietta.

Exasperated, Rachel pushed the paperwork away, and turned in her chair to glance out the office window with its view of the 405 freeway and the tall Ferris wheel at Irvine Spectrum.

What was she supposed to do with a bookstore in Montana? Rachel’s entire world was here. She’d been born and raised in Irvine, attending UC Irvine where she’d studied accounting, and Irvine is where she lived now, just seven miles from Novak & Bartley’s main office. How did one just pop into Marietta for a visit? It wasn’t close. It wasn’t convenient. And this wasn’t a gift Rachel could use.

Weren’t fairy godmothers supposed to show up when you needed them? Weren’t they supposed to swoop in and make things better?

Rachel turned from the window, her gaze sweeping in her office with the towering pile of files, and boxes of documents stacked in the corners, and it struck her quite forcefully that she’d sacrificed almost everything for this company and suddenly she wasn’t sure the sacrifices had been worth it. She’d let go of relationships and friendships for longer work hours, and how had it mattered? She wasn’t getting anywhere. And even if she stayed with Novak & Bartley, it was unlikely she’d ever make partner.

Exhaling hard she reached for the keychain with the Big Sky accent, and turned it over, the worn brass smooth against her skin. She couldn’t remember when she’d felt so devastated.

She’d poured herself into her job. She’d sacrificed virtually everything for work. There had been a plan, and it had looked so neat and tidy on paper. X number of clients times Y number of years and she’d be a manager, and then a director, and eventually a partner. Only it wasn’t working out that way. Her numbers were letting her down—no, Rachel stopped herself, that wasn’t true. It wasn’t the numbers that let her down. It was people.

So what was she going to do? Go somewhere else, do something else, or just put her down and work harder?

Rachel didn’t know. She couldn’t think. She couldn’t get perspective.

She craved air, and space, and a chance to relax. Breathe.

Maybe a visit to this old bookstore in the middle of nowhere was exactly what she needed.

***

Atticus Evan Bowen, much like his namesake Atticus Finch, was an attorney from the South, unlike the fictional Finch, Atticus Bowen was from Houston, Texas, not Maycomb, Alabama, and his specialty was real estate law.

Atticus loved making deals, and nothing was more rewarding than closing a very challenging deal. After a stint as a litigation attorney, he’d switched to real estate law and had found his niche because he wasn’t afraid of hard conversations and tough negotiations. Where others might shrink from conflict, he felt encouraged, even empowered. Through experience he’d learned to rely on reason, not emotion, and so far, reason had never let him down.

His mother – who’d named him Atticus because To Kill a Mockingbird was her favorite novel – had said that her Atticus was pragmatic from the start, refusing to put in an appearance for nine days after his due date, choosing to stay put until the torrential rains flooding Houston had ended, and the streets had dried. No, Atticus Bowen was nothing but practical, and he exhausted his parents and teachers with his logic, as well as his ability to withstand stress and uncomfortable situations, virtually guaranteeing that in the end, he got what he wanted. As a boy, it was winning chess tournaments and baseball games. As an adult, he acquired buildings, businesses, opportunities.

There was an opportunity before him now, and he was determined to seize it.

“Lesley, you know I want that building,” he said calmly, shifting the cell phone to his other ear. “We’ve been doing this for over a year. Tell me what you want. I want to make this happen, and I’ll be more than fair.”

“Atticus, it’s out of my hands now—“

“Do you want me to fly to Australia? Would you feel better if you met me in person? I’ll get on the next flight, if that’s the issue.”

“Of course I’d love to meet you, Atticus, but that’s not the issue. You see, I don’t own Paradise Books anymore. I’ve given the bookstore to my goddaughter. Rachel is the owner now. It’s up to Rachel to decide what she’d like to do with the place.”

Atticus had to hold his breath and count to five. “When did this happen?” he asked when he was certain he could speak calmly.

“Rather recently. It was a belated birthday gift.” Her tone turned apologetic. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I just wasn’t ready to see my beloved bookstore become a barbecue joint.”

“Galveston doesn’t serve barbecue. It’s a steak house. An upscale steak house.”

“But it still meant the books would go, wouldn’t it? And that would be such a shame.”

He could to five again. “Your goddaughter, Rachel. She lives in Marietta?”

“No. She’s from Southern California. She’s an accountant and very clever, very successful. I’m terribly proud of her.”

Atticus was glad the older woman couldn’t see him roll his eyes. “What is Rachel going to do with a bookstore if she lives in California?”

“I don’t know. That’s up to her.”

“I’d like to reach out to her.”

“I’m sure you would,” Lesley said primly.

He smashed his sigh of exasperation. “Would you mind sharing her contact details with me?”

“Actually, I’m not sure I should, not without her permission. However, I understand she’ll be spending the next week in Marietta, so you might be able to catch her at Paradise Books.” She hesitated before adding lightly, “If you are willing to jump on a plane.”

It took Rachel two flights to reach Bozeman from Orange County airport, and then a forty minute drive in a rental car on a windy, snow dusted road with hidden icy patches that caught her by surprise, making the drive a bit more white knuckled than she’d anticipated.

Admittedly, her knowledge of Montana was pretty much zilch, and she’d expected some mountains, but the freezing wind that tugged at her coat and blew her hair around her head as she stepped out of the car at the Bramble House caught her by surprise.

She was greeted warmly by the bed and breakfast’s staff after she’d lugged her suitcase up the steps to the front door, and after a quick check-in was given an equally efficient tour before being shown upstairs to her room.

It’d taken the better part of a day to reach Marietta and night had fallen hours ago but Rachel was hungry and curious to explore. The woman who checked her in said it was easy to walk to downtown Marietta, provided the cold wouldn’t bother her, Rachel thought if she layered properly, she might enjoy the cold. Irvine didn’t have a true winter. A winter day might be sixty-eight degrees, which meant no coat required. A coat, and scarf, and hat and mittens were definitely required in Montana.

Bundled up, Rachel considered taking the park route to Main Street, and then decided at night it was probably safest to walk the neighborhood with its street lights, so she left Bramble House and walked down two blocks to Second Street, crossing Crawford, and then Church Street before coming to Main, and there on the corner of Main and 2nd was the what she’d come for. The tall, brick building with its uniquely western front, and the painted wooden sign, hunter green with what looked like a gold outline: Paradise Books.

Even though the building was dark and the big plate glass windows were shuttered, she felt a peculiar thrill.

This was hers now. How crazy was that?

She hadn’t thought she’d cared one way or another, but standing here, taking it all in, she felt somewhat excited, as well as nervous. This was such a surprising gift, especially for someone like her, and she still couldn’t really wrap her head around the fact that this big building, two whole stories of store, was hers.

They didn’t even make buildings like this anymore. It was the kind of place you only saw in movies now…or possibly small towns scattered across America.

Rachel stood on the corner, staring at the bookstore for so long that someone paused next to her, and asked if she was lost. Rachel felt another little pang, and smiled sheepishly at the stranger. “No, just taking it all in. But thank you.”

The woman smiled back and nodded and continued on her way, walking down the sidewalk that had been scrupulously swept and salted to keep people from slipping.

Rachel watched the woman continue down the street, heading towards the court house in the park, the dome of the court house bathed in light, the same light that made the peak of a big mountain standing sentry behind the town gleam.

The woman disappeared into a building on the corner, and as the door opened, voices and country music spilled out. Rachel walked that way, not sure if it was a bar or restaurant, but surely they had to have food. She was hungry and welcomed food and a glass of wine. Maybe even two, to help her sleep.

It wasn’t crowded inside Grey’s Saloon, but there were people at the long counters, and couples at the tables near the jukebox. A rugged looking man in his thirties was working the bar and he nodded at her and told her to sit wherever she liked.

Rachel chose one of the empty tables as far from the jukebox as possible, and after peeling her coat and mittens and hat off, plucked the laminated menu from the condiment holder. She spotted the cobb salad and closed the menu. Done. White wine, a salad, and then tomorrow she’d go to the store, unlock the front door, and see what lay inside. And then what?

What was she doing here? What was she thinking?

“That’s a heavy sigh,” the bartender said, now at her side.

She grimaced. “It’s been a long day.”

“What can I get you then?”

“The cobb salad, and a glass of white wine. I’m not picky. Whatever you think is good works for me.”

He nodded. “Make sure yourself comfortable and I’ll be right back with the wine.”

Her phone rang as he walked away, and Rachel tugged off her scarf as she took the call. “Hello, Dad.”

“You’ve arrived safely?” he asked.

“I have. Just sat down to dinner, too. There really is no need to worry about me.”

“I still think you’re making a terrible mistake.”

“I’m not allowed to come see where Mom was from?”

“Your mom wasn’t a fan of Montana. It’s why she left.”

“I think she left it for you, because you were hired to teach in Southern California.”

“I like Lesley, I do, but she’s never been practical—“

“Dad, I’m just checking out the bookstore. I haven’t given up my career.”

“But if Lesley couldn’t make a go of her crumbling bookstore overrun with silverfish, how does she expect you to make it work?”

“The store doesn’t seem to be crumbling, Dad, and I can’t speak to the silverfish since I haven’t been inside yet, but you’re getting upset over nothing. I’m here on vacation. It’s been years since I took time off. Can you let me have an adventure, please?”

“Don’t forget you have a good job here, a job you’ve worked very hard for.”

“I know.”

“You maybe didn’t get the promotion you wanted, but you still have a great career.”

“Dad, I know. Now stop worrying. I’ll be in touch soon.” Hanging up, Rachel peeled the rest of her layers off, piling them onto the bench seat next to her.

The woman at the booth in front of her turned around and flashed a friendly smile. It was the same woman who’d asked her if she was lost, earlier.

“I’m sorry for eavesdropping,” the pretty brunette said, tucking a long dark strand of hair behind her ear, “but I heard the word bookstore and my ears perked up. You’re not Lesley’s goddaughter, Rachel from Southern California, are you?”

Rachel blinked, surprised. “I am.”

The woman reached over the top of the booth and extended her hand. “I’m Taylor Sheenan, the head librarian at Marietta’s library, and a fellow book lover. So pleased to meet you.”

Rachel shook hands thinking this wasn’t the time to announce that she wasn’t actually a book lover. If anything, she tended to tolerate books rather than embrace them. “Rachel Mills,” she answered. “How did you hear about me?”

“Lesley and I have stayed in touch,” Taylor said cheerfully. “When she headed to Australia three years ago it was to go visit her sister. But she never returned, and the store has remained closed ever since. Then a week ago she emailed me that she’d gifted the store to her goddaughter Rachel from Southern California. And now here you are.”

“Here I am,” Rachel echoed.

“It will be wonderful to have the store open for Christmas. Lesley always did the most lovely Christmas displays. She has quite a collection of Christmas books. You’ll have to look for them.”

Rachel struggled to hold her smile. “I’m not sure the store will be open for Christmas. I’m only here for a week or two. Thought I’d sneak away for a much needed vacation.”

“Well welcome, and it sounds like you’ll be here through the Marietta Stroll which is a holiday tradition here. It really is small town charm at its best.”

The bartender arrived with Rachel’s salad and wine and the librarian flashed a smile and turned around, leaving Rachel to her meal.

But Rachel’s appetite had faded, and she half-heartedly stabbed her fork into the salad. She hoped that not everyone she met would think she was here to reopen the bookstore, because that was not going to happen. She might be disappointed by being overlooked for the promotion, but she was still employed, and it was still an excellent job. She wasn’t badly paid, either. Her salary had allowed her to buy a townhome, and a nice newish used car. She was self-supporting and independent, which made her father proud. Her dad, a retired economics professor, didn’t have excessive imagination, and had never encouraged her to give in to too much imagination, either, and for the most part, she’d been happy.

And now she wasn’t. Which is why she here, taking some time off.

She needed to figure out if she could be happy at Novak & Bartley without the promotion. She needed to figure out if there was a different path for her. She didn’t have the answers, but fortunately, she didn’t have to make a decision today. Or tomorrow. Truthfully, she had time, which is why she was determined to enjoy her vacation, explore Montana, and get to know the little town where her mom had lived until she’d gone off to college.

The last place Atticus wanted to be the first week of December was Montana, but if that’s where he’d find Rachel Mills, then Montana it was.

He’d flown in last night and checked in to the Graff Hotel and had spent the early part of the morning on the phone, discussing terms of a deal with a client, but it was ten thirty now and he was ready to do some business.

He could have walked from the Graff but chose to drive, and he parked his SUV rental in one of the open spots on Main Street. As he turned off the engine he looked up at the two story, corner building that he very much wanted, and had wanted ever since he’d first visited the charming Paradise Valley town two and a half years ago. He’d known right away it would be the perfect location for his first Galveston in Montana.

Atticus had started Galveston ten years ago with friends. He hadn’t put a lot of money into the first restaurant, but he’d handled all the paperwork and contracts, and proved his value when the new restaurant was hit with its first lawsuit filed by a disgruntled former chef. Atticus handled the lawsuit quickly and quietly and, before long, one location became two, and then four, and then seven. But as the Galveston brand grew, so did the problems, and maybe they were just little things to other people, but Atticus knew that little things added up to big things, and when a huge financial setback threatened to close the seven restaurants dotting Texas, Nevada, California and Colorado, he stepped in, bought his partners out, and became the sole owner.

He liked being the sole owner, too, and as sole owner he’d made changes to the restaurants, improving the menu, improving the service, and bumping up prices, because when people went to a good steak house, they expected great steaks and expensive wine. People never minded paying for excellent cocktails and the best wine, and liquor is where the profits were anyway. Now he was ready to add an eighth location, the first in Montana, right here in Marietta, right in the old bookstore. All he had to do was convince the new owner, Rachel Mills from Irvine, California, to sell, and he’d be on his way. He wasn’t worried about getting her to sell, either. Everyone had their price. Soon he’d know hers.


Rachel arrived at Paradise Books mid-morning with a steaming cup of coffee and a scone from Java Café eager to see just what she’d inherited from Lesley.

As she turned on lights and opened shutters she was delighted to discover her father was wrong. The brick building wasn’t crumbling in any way, nor was it terribly musty after being closed for the past three plus years. Rachel set to work opening the wooden shutters, exposing the large plate glass windows and inviting the sun in. Outside it was a bright blue winter sky, and the sun streamed through the tall windows, making the dust spirals look like swirling flecks of gold.

Thanks to the sun, Rachel could finally make out the window display, an ode to Valentine’s Day, with red foil hearts and ivory cupid statues posed between popular romances from the 19th century: Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Hardy.

Her nose wrinkled. She wasn’t sure War and Peace, or Jude the Obscure, would make anyone’s list of top romance novels, but she’d give her godmother points for trying. At least Lesley was literary, which was probably a useful quality for a bookstore owner. Rachel hadn’t been an English major though, nor was she an expert on any area of fiction. In fact, she only read when on vacation and as she hadn’t been on vacation in years….

Was it really years since she’d read a book?

Cringing at the realization, Rachel turned to face the interior of the store, thinking in the sunlight it had a certain faded glory. So many leather bound books. Such beautiful crown molding. Even the scattered upholstered armchairs looked elegant with their jeweled brocades and velvets. It was all so very different from her normal life. It was like being swept into a fairytale, only was this wasn’t her fairytale. This fairytale was meant for someone else, someone more like Lesley, someone who’d treasure the books and history of the place.

Rachel was far too practical. She knew the value of a steady paycheck and a solid 401K plan. Small business owners didn’t have that security, or retirement benefits.

Owning a used bookstore would provide even less security. No one wanted real books anymore. Everyone was decluttering and dumping their books, never mind books that were a half century old.

But what about those who actually lived here? Did anyone besides the librarian miss their old store? Or had everyone who read books gone digital? It made sense in a place like Marietta that was buried with snow months out of the year. Buying the newest bestseller from an online retailer would be the easy thing to do. Technology had changed the world and there was no going back.

But as Rachel stood in in the middle of this lovely light-filled space with the enormous windows and rich, dark shelves, she wished she was someone a little less practical. Someone who didn’t live her life by numbers. Because the numbers were stacked against Paradise Books. The numbers, once added up, labeled this lovely old store a money pit.

end of excerpt

Oh Christmas Night

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