Authors: Debbie Macomber
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Romance
From the very first year Wayne and I were married, I’ve written a Christmas letter. The response to those early family letters encouraged me to try my hand at writing, so in some ways my Christmas letters are responsible for the book you’re holding now. My heroine Katherine O’Connor, known to all as K.O., experiences a revelation of her own. It’s because of a Christmas letter she’s writing that she first meets our hero, Wynn Jeffries. Is it coincidence or is it…fate?
Speaking of coincidence…My writing friend Katherine Stone (another Katherine!) and I worked together on
an anthology published last February. The hero in her most recent book,
is named Jeffrey Wynn…and mine in
is named Wynn Jeffries. Coincidence or…just a matter of great minds thinking alike? Perhaps it’s simply proof that we both enjoy an occasional visit to Vegas, where the new Wynn casino opened this year. (I can’t resist a plug for Katherine’s book. The paperback edition of
will be out in August 2007.)
Writing a romantic comedy for Christmas has become a tradition of mine. I want to give you, my readers, a reason to laugh as you enjoy the holiday. So settle back, relax with a cup of tea (or eggnog!), read and fall in love all over again. Nothing would please me more than to know that
brought a smile to your face.
P.S. As always, I’d love to hear from readers. You can reach me at www.debbiemacomber.com or P.O. Box 1458, Port Orchard, WA 98366.
To Katherine Orr
Better known as
for her encouragement and support
through the years
Zelda O’Connor Davidson
76 Orchard Avenue
Dear Family and Friends:
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Let me warn you—this Christmas letter won’t be as clever as last year’s. My sister, Katherine (whom you may know better as K.O.), wrote that one for me but, ironically, she hasn’t got time to do this year’s. Ironic because it’s due to the popularity of that particular letter that she’s managed to start a little business on the side—writing Christmas letters for other people! (She offered to write mine, of course, but I know that between her work doing medical transcriptions, her job search and her Christmas letters, it would be a real stretch to find the time.)
So, here goes. The twins, Zoe and Zara, have recently turned five. They’re looking forward to starting kindergarten next September. It’s hard to believe our little girls are almost old enough for school! Still, they keep themselves (and us!) busy. So do our assorted pets—especially the dogs, two Yorkies named Zero and Zorro.
I’m still a stay-at-home mom and Zach’s still working as a software programmer. This year’s big news, which I want to share with all of you, has to do with a wonderful book I read. It changed my family’s life. It’s called
The Free Child
and it’s by Dr. Wynn Jeffries. My sister scoffs at this, but Dr. Jeffries believes that children can be trusted to set their own boundaries. He also believes that, as parents, we shouldn’t impose fantasies on them—fantasies like Santa Claus. Kids are capable of accepting reality, he says, and I agree! (See page 146 of
The Free Child.
So, this Christmas will be a different kind of experience for us, one that focuses on family, not fantasy.
Zach and the girls join me in wishing all of you a wonderful Christmas. And remember, a free child is a happy child (see page 16).
Love and kisses,
Zelda, Zach, Zoe and Zara
(and a wag of the tail from Zero & Zorro)
him. Katherine O’Connor, better known as K.O., was almost positive. She squinted just to be sure. He looked identical to the man on the dust jacket of that ridiculous book, the one her sister treated like a child-rearing bible. Of course, people didn’t really look like their publicity photos. And she hadn’t realized the high and mighty Dr. Wynn Jeffries was from the Seattle area. Furthermore, she couldn’t imagine what he was doing on Blossom Street.
She’d never even met him, but she distrusted him profoundly and disliked him just as much. It was because of Dr. Jeffries that she’d been banned from a local bookstore. She’d had a small difference of opinion with the manager on the subject of Wynn’s book. Apparently the bookseller was a personal friend of his, because she’d leaped to Dr. Jeffries’ defense and had ordered K.O. out of the store. She’d even suggested K.O. take her future book-purchasing business elsewhere, which seemed unnecessarily extreme.
“K.O.,” Bill Mulcahy muttered, distracting her. They sat across from each other at the French Café, filled to capacity during the midmorning rush. People lined up for coffee, and another line formed at the bakery counter. “Did you get all that?” he asked.
“Sure,” K.O. said, returning her attention to him. “Sorry—I thought I saw someone I knew.” Oh, the things she was willing to do for some extra holiday cash. One witty Christmas letter written on her sister’s behalf, and all of a sudden K.O. was the most sought-after woman at her brother-in-law’s office. They all wanted her to write their Christmas letters. She’d been shocked to discover how much they’d willingly plunk down for it, too. Bill Mulcahy was the third person she’d met with this week, and his letter was the most difficult so far. Leno or Letterman would’ve had a hard time finding anything amusing about this man’s life.
“I don’t know what you’re going to write,” Bill continued. “It’s been an exceptionally bad year. As I explained earlier, my son is in a detention home, my daughter’s living with her no-good boyfriend and over Thanksgiving she announced she’s pregnant. Naturally, marriage is out of the question.”
a bit of a challenge,” K.O. agreed. She widened her eyes and stared again at the man who waited in the long line at the cash register. It
him; she was convinced of it now. The not-so-good doctor was—to put it in appropriately seasonal terms—a fruitcake. He was a child psychologist who’d written a book called
The Free Child
that was the current child-rearing rage.
To be fair, K.O. was single and not a mother. The only child-rearing experience she’d had was with her identical twin nieces, Zoe and Zara, whom she adored. Until recently, anyway. Overnight the five-year-olds had become miniature monsters and all because her sister had followed the “Free Child” rules as set out by Dr. Jeffries.
“My wife,” Bill said, “is on the verge of a breakdown.”
K.O. pitied the poor woman—and her husband.
“We’ve written Christmas letters for years and while life wasn’t always as perfect as we—well, as we implied…” He let the rest fade away.
“You painted the picture of a model family.”
“Yes.” Bill cleared his throat and offered her a weak smile. “Patti, that’s my wife, chose to present a, shall we say, rosier depiction of reality.” He exhaled in a rush. “We never included family pictures and if you met my son, you’d know why. Anyone looking at Mason would know in a minute that this kid isn’t a member of the National Honor Society.” He released his breath again and shook his head sadly. “Mason’s into body piercing,” Bill added. “He pierced his eyebrows, his nose, his lips, his tongue, his nipples—”
K.O. stopped him before he went any lower. “I get it.”
“You probably don’t, but that’s lucky for you. Oh, and he dyed his hair green.”
“He wears it spiked, too, and he…he does this thing with paint.” Bill dropped his voice.
K.O. was sure she’d misunderstood. “I beg your pardon?”
“Mason doesn’t call it paint. It’s some form of cosmetic he smears across his face. I never imagined that my son would be rummaging through his mother’s makeup drawer one day.”
“I suppose that is a bit disconcerting,” K.O. murmured.
“I forget the actual significance of the black smudges under his eyes and across his cheeks,” Bill said. “To me it looks like he’s some teenage commando.”
Yes, this letter would indeed be a challenge. “Have you thought about skipping your Christmas letter this year?” K.O. asked hopefully.
“Yeah, I’d like to, but as I said, Patti’s emotional health is rather fragile. She claims people are already asking about our annual letter. She’s afraid that if we don’t send it the same as we do every year, everyone will figure out that we’re pitiful parents.” His shoulders drooped. “In other words, we’ve failed our children.”
“I don’t think you’ve necessarily
” K.O. assured him. “Most teenagers go through a rebellious stage.”
“Did you pierce anything?”
“Well, I had my ears pierced….”
“That’s not the same thing.” He peered at her earrings, visible through her straight blond hair, which she wore loosely tied back. “And you only have one in each ear—not eight or ten like my son.” He seemed satisfied that he’d proved his point. “Then you’ll write our Christmas letter and smooth over the rough edges of our year?”
K.O. was less and less confident that she could pull this off. “I don’t know if I’m your person,” she said hesitantly. How could she possibly come up with a positive version of such a disastrous year? Besides, this side job was supposed to be fun, not real work. It’d begun as a favor to her sister and all of a sudden she was launching a career. At some stage she’d need to call a halt—maybe sooner than she’d expected.
Her client shifted in his seat. “I’ll pay you double what you normally charge.”
K.O. sat up straight. Double. He said he’d pay double? “Would four days be enough time?” she asked. Okay, so she could be bought. She pulled out her Day-Timer, checked her schedule and they set a date for their next meeting.
“I’ll give you half now and half when you’re finished.”
That seemed fair. Not one to be overly prideful, she held out her hand as he peeled off three fifty-dollar bills. Her fingers closed around the cash.
“I’ll see you Friday then,” Bill said, and reaching for his briefcase, he left the French Café carrying his latte in its takeout cup.
Looking out the windows with their Christmas garland, she saw that it had begun to snow again. This was the coldest December on record. Seattle’s normally mild climate had dipped to below-freezing temperatures for ten days in a row. So much for global warming. There was precious little evidence of it in Seattle.
K.O. glanced at the coffee line. Wynn Jeffries had made his way to the front and picked up his hot drink. After adding cream and sugar—lots of both, she observed—he was getting ready to leave. K.O. didn’t want to be obvious about watching him, so she took a couple of extra minutes to collect her things, then followed him out the door.
Even if she introduced herself, she had no idea what to say. Mostly she wanted to tell him his so-called Free Child movement—no boundaries for kids—was outright lunacy. How could he, in good conscience, mislead parents in this ridiculous fashion? Not that she had strong feelings on the subject or anything. Okay, so maybe she’d gone a little overboard at the bookstore that day, but she couldn’t help it. The manager had been touting the benefits of Dr. Jeffries’ book to yet another unsuspecting mom. K.O. felt it was her duty to let the poor woman know what might happen if she actually followed Dr. Jeffries’ advice. The bookseller had strenuously disagreed and from then on, the situation had gotten out of hand.
Not wanting him to think she was stalking him, which she supposed she was, K.O. maintained a careful distance. If his office was in Seattle, it might even be in this neighborhood. After the renovations on Blossom Street a few years ago, a couple of buildings had been converted to office space. If she could discreetly discover where he practiced, she might go and talk to him sometime. She hadn’t read his book but had leafed through it, and she knew he was a practicing child psychologist. She wanted to argue about his beliefs and his precepts, tell him about the appalling difference in her nieces’ behavior since the day Zelda had adopted his advice.
She’d rather he didn’t see her, so she dashed inconspicuously across the street to A Good Yarn, and darted into the doorway, where she pretended to be interested in a large Christmas stocking that hung in the display window. From the reflection in the window, she saw Dr. Jeffries walking briskly down the opposite sidewalk.
As soon as it was safe, she dashed from the yarn store to Susannah’s Garden, the flower shop next door, and nearly fell over a huge potted poinsettia, all the while keeping her eyes on Dr. Jeffries. He proved one thing, she mused. Appearances were deceiving. He looked so…so normal. Who would’ve guessed that beneath that distinguished, sophisticated and—yes—handsome exterior lay such a fiend? Perhaps
was too strong a word. Yet she considered Wynn Jeffries’ thinking to be nothing short of diabolical, if Zoe and Zara were anything to judge by.
K.O. stopped dead in her tracks. She watched as Wynn Jeffries paused outside her condo building, her very own building, entered the code and strolled inside.
Without checking for traffic, K.O. crossed the street again. A horn honked and brakes squealed, but she barely noticed. She was dumbfounded.
There had to be some mistake. Perhaps he was making a house call. No, that wasn’t right. What doctor made house calls in this day and age? What psychologist made house calls
Besides, he didn’t exactly look like the compassionate type. K.O. bit her lip and wondered when she’d become so cynical. It’d happened around the same time her sister read Dr. Jeffries’ book, she decided.
The door had already closed before she got there. She entered her code and stepped inside just in time to see the elevator glide shut. Standing back, she watched the floor numbers flicker one after another.
K.O. whirled around to discover LaVonne Young, her neighbor and friend. LaVonne was the only person who called her Katherine. “What are you doing, dear?”
K.O. pointed an accusing finger past the elegantly decorated lobby tree to the elevator.
LaVonne stood in her doorway with her huge tomcat, named predictably enough, Tom, tucked under her arm. She wore a long shapeless dress that was typical of her wardrobe, and her long graying hair was drawn back in a bun. When K.O. had first met her, LaVonne had reminded her of the character Auntie Mame. She still did. “Something wrong with the elevator?” LaVonne asked.
“No, I just saw a man…” K.O. glanced back and noticed that the elevator had gone all the way up to the penthouse suite. That shouldn’t really come as a shock. His book sales being what they were, he could easily afford the penthouse.
LaVonne’s gaze followed hers. “That must be Dr. Jeffries.”
“You know him?” K.O. didn’t bother to hide her interest. The more she learned, the better her chances of engaging him in conversation.
“Of course I know Dr. Jeffries,” the retired accountant said. “I know everyone in the building.”
“How long has he lived here?” K.O. demanded. She’d been in this building since the first week it was approved for occupation. So she should’ve run into him before now.
“I believe he moved in soon after the place was renovated. In fact, the two of you moved in practically on the same day.”
That was interesting. Of course, there was a world of difference between a penthouse suite and the first floor, one-bedroom unit she owned. Or rather, that the bank owned and she made payments on. With the inheritance she’d received from her maternal grandparents, K.O. had put a down payment on the smallest, cheapest unit available. It was all she could afford at the time—and all she could afford now. She considered herself lucky to get in when she did.
“His name is on the mailbox,” LaVonne said, gesturing across the lobby floor to the mailboxes.
“As my sister would tell you, I’m a detail person.” It was just the obvious she missed.
“He’s a celebrity, you know,” LaVonne whispered conspiratorially. “Especially since his book was published.”
“Have you read it?” K.O. asked.
“Well, no, dear, I haven’t, but then never having had children myself, I’m not too concerned with child-raising. However, I did hear Dr. Jeffries interviewed on the radio and he convinced me. His book is breaking all kinds of records. Apparently it’s on all the bestseller lists. So there must be
to what he says. In fact, the man on the radio called Dr. Jeffries the new Dr. Spock.”
“You’ve got to be kidding!” Jeffries’ misguided gospel was spreading far and wide.
LaVonne stared at her. “In case you’re interested, he’s not married.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” K.O. muttered. Only a man without a wife and children could possibly come up with such ludicrous ideas. He didn’t have a family of his own to test his the ories on; instead he foisted them on unsuspecting parents like her sister, Zelda, and brother-in-law, Zach. The deterioration in the girls’ behavior was dramatic, but Zelda insisted this was normal as they adjusted to a new regimen. They’d “find their equilibrium,” she’d said, quoting the book. Zach, who worked long hours, didn’t really seem to notice. The twins’ misbehavior would have to be even more extreme to register on him.
“Would you like me to introduce you?” LaVonne asked.
“No,” K.O. responded immediately. Absolutely not. Well, maybe, but not now. And not for the reasons LaVonne thought.
“Do you have time for tea?” LaVonne asked. “I wanted to tell you about the most recent class I attended. Fascinating stuff, just fascinating.” Since her retirement, LaVonne had been at loose ends and signed up for a variety of workshops and evening classes.