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Authors: Danielle Lee Zwissler

Yuletide Bride

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Yuletide Bride

Danielle Lee Zwissler

Yuletide Bride

A Books to Go Now Publication

Copyright
©
Danielle Lee Zwissler
2013

Books to Go Now

Also published on Smashwords

For information on the cover illustration and design, contact [email protected]

First eBook Edition –November 2013

Warning: the unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages for review purposes.

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person, living or dead, any place, events or occurrences, is purely coincidental. The characters and story lines are created from the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously.

If you are interested in purchasing more works of this nature, please stop by

www.bookstogonow.com

Look for Other Stories by Danielle-Lee Zwissler

Trio of Sin

DEDICATION

To the love of my life and my children, Every day is Christmas in our Home.

Thanks to Jennifer and Books to go Now! I can’t thank you enough for what you have done for me. I appreciate everything.

Chapter One

Every year the town of Noel held a festival called “The Magic of Christmas.” It wasn’t just any festival, but one carried on over the years as a truly magical event.  

The festival, which started in 1912, was the first one of its kind to feature a marriage in the town center. Ever since then, one lucky couple got married there each year, never divorcing, always a perfect match. Not until 1940, did the festival change. Couples were handpicked and put together, married in the town square, and accepted their fate.

And every year, the newspaper covered the previous marriages, never finding unhappiness, but only true love matches.

And so the magic of Christmas lived on.

Words like “fate,” “destiny,” and “magic,” were often thrown around, but Mary Ann Simms no longer believed in any of those things. She used to—hell, she even swooned a time or two— years ago. She no longer believed in fate and love—not just for herself, but for those around her as well. She wondered if the ballots were rigged, faked, planned. In fact, she’d stopped entering her own name— stopped dating altogether—and stopped believing in miracles, Christmas or not.

“Mary, I need some help from you on this year’s article,” Sara Jane, her fellow reporter    for “The Star” told her one day.

Mary shook her head. “Absolutely not. You know how I feel about that sham,” she said with disgust.

Sara clicked away at her keyboard and frowned. “I really can’t get the article right. This sentence, ‘Christmas is a time of…’”

“Blah, blah,” Mary said. “Why not just copy last year’s article? They’re all the same anyway. Hell, you can go look in the archives and find something—anything—that will do.”

“You know what, Mary?” Sara asked, as she stood up and put her hands on her hips. Their shared cubicle left little room to move around. “You need to get over this…this perception of Christmas. The festival has proven—year after year—to be a success. Just look at the Tomlins, the Jamesons, the McClearys.”

“Coincidence, Sara,” Mary said with feigned boredom. “The McClearys knew each other for years, and Aly and James Tomlin? They are the two most stubborn people I’ve ever met. They’re probably staying together to prove a point. And the Jameson’s—the mayor and his wife? All political! They love the attention—not each other!” Mary yelled, annoyed. It was just like Sara to bring up those couples, but she couldn’t
not
defend herself. Even if she sounded crazy.  Sara’s face turned red, and her eyes looked hard.

“Mary, I need you to write the articles this year. If I have to pull rank with you, I’ll do it.”

“That’s not fair, Sara.”

“You need a reality check, Mary, and if I have to use my husband as that check, then so be it.”  Her husband was the editor.

Mary groaned, and then smiled wickedly. “Sure, I’ll do the story this year,” she said.

Sara’s eyes narrowed, “Well, that’s—”

“It’s about time the people of this town know the facts about that damned festival! In fact, I’ll make sure to thank you in the article.”

Sara frowned. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

****

When he heard the song on the radio, James Rochester was with his grandparents, Ava and John. He’d listened to it with fondness over the years, mainly because of them. “Oh Holy Night” was the song played at their wedding. He obviously wasn’t there, but he’d watched the videos, filmed with a glorious old
1940’s
Rervere mini-camera. As a movie enthusiast, James was intrigued by the old technology that was top-of-the-line at the time. The video machine didn’t have sound, but he remembered watching it, while his grandmother put on a CD of
Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters
his mother gave her for Christmas.

With a smile on his face, James watched the couple as they gazed into one another’s eyes.  After all these years they were still in love. It was something fairytales were made of, and it was nice to see. James didn’t see love often—not like that of his grandparents—mainly because he was a divorce lawyer. Everyone knew there wasn’t a whole helluva lot of love there. But at “Pine Meadow” the assisted living home where his grandparents lived, James saw plenty. Enough to know that one day he would marry with the promise of forever. He didn’t reminisce very often, but on days like these, when he visited his family, he realized that one day he would like to have what they had.

“Why are you smiling, James?” Ava asked as she folded her hands into his grandfather’s.

“Oh,” James smiled and said, “I was just thinking of your marriage video.”

Ava smiled, too, and looked at her husband, John.

“It’s hard to believe that we’ve been married seventy-two years this Christmas Eve.”

John smiled at his bride and then looked at his grandson. “You know, James, you should look for a girl of your own. You are already older than your grandmother and I were when we had our three daughters.”

James laughed. “I know…Mom reminds me of that every year. It’s kind of hard to forget. It’s not like it’s an easy thing, you know…falling in love. I haven’t found the right woman yet.”

“Maybe it’ll happen for you this year, James,” Ava said. “Maybe, you will get some magic.”

James chuckled, “I don’t know if I would be able to do what you two did—get married without even knowing one another. It seems too risky.”

“That’s the divorce lawyer in you speaking, Jimmy,” John said smoothly. “What’s your heart tell ya?” John pointed to his heart and smiled.

James’s heart told him it was absolutely crazy, and his brain confirmed it. “Well…”

“James, you will understand one day,” his grandmother said sweetly as she gazed into his grandfather’s eyes. “And when you do, you will be more than willing to make that leap, even if it’s on the stage at the festival.”

James smiled even though he knew it wasn’t true. But who was he to ruin his grandmother’s fantasy?

****

After a grueling day of researching the stupid
magic
festival, Mary finally got to go home, and she didn’t plan to waste any more time thinking about it. A few minutes after she’d popped dinner into the microwave, the phone rang.

“Hello?” Mary answered, as she watched the timer. Only four minutes to go.

“Mary?”

“Yes, this is she…may I ask who—”

“Oh, sorry, this is Susan Conley—from Pine Meadow. The nursing home.”

“Oh, yeah, sorry! I just got home,” Mary said, and shook her head. That damn festival would be the death of her. Three of the couples she needed to interview resided there. One of the couples—Ava and John Rochester—were about to celebrate seventy-two years of wedded bliss—or torture.

“I just wanted to let you know that they have agreed to meet up with you Thursday if that’s all right with you.”

Mary pulled out her Android and looked down at the screen. No appointments yet for Thursday. “Yep, that would be great. What time?”

“They thought it would be good to do a lunch, and it is their Turkey day…Their grandson usually comes on Thursdays and they thought it would be good if…”

“If I am supervised?” Mary asked, annoyed.

“Well, not so much that, but…”

“It’s all right, Susan, I get it. Trust me, I don’t really want to do this interview either. And I am sure that they have done enough of these over the years that they wonder why we just don’t pull the information from the archives, but I have to do my work…”

“Oh, no, Mary, that’s really not…”

“It’s okay. I’ll see you on Thursday at noon then. Thanks so much.”

“Uh, you’re welcome,” Susan said and sighed.

“Bye.”

After she hung up, Mary pulled open the microwave door and looked down at her feast.
Mmm, stuffed manicotti.
It looked like canned cat food, but she would be damned if she’d cook a big meal for herself.

Chapter Two

The next morning at the paper, Mary learned the names of the couples married at the festival in the last 40 years, and made a list of the rest. She scanned old newspaper articles, looked into the archives for addresses and phone numbers and even looked up the names of the reporters that covered the various stories. There was a ton of information on the festival. Information that she had no idea would span so much and so far back. She knew that the festival would celebrate its centennial this year, but she didn’t realize its popularity until she Googled it.  It was by far one of the most Googled Christmas celebrations that she’d seen on the Internet, and for a town as small as Noel that said something.

After four calls to the mayor’s office and another three to the local news station, Mary felt tuckered out. She had a restless sleep the night before, too, dreaming of being the bride of the event and looking into her groom’s eyes—he looked like
Gomer Pyle
and sounded like
Barry White.
When she woke up a sheen of sweat covered her brow. She couldn’t believe she sweated over this thing.

Mary looked at the clock on the wall and sighed—another four hours until she could call it a day. She decided that she could no longer sit at her desk, and called up the first couple on her list, the Tomlins. Ugh.

Aly and James Tomlin married in 1997. The theme of that year was
Santa’s Little Helpers
. Aly explained that the entire downtown area became filled with elves and toys—of the fake variety. They decorated every surface of store windows, sidewalks, and even the flags that hang from the poles in the center courtyard.

Aly lived in Noel much of her life, but just came back that year to help her parents run their store, “Jameson Hardware”. She explained that she didn’t plan to turn in her entry as a bride, but she did it more on a dare. She never thought of herself as daring or exciting, but when she put her ticket in the glass container, she felt like something profound would happen to her—and it did. Aly smiled while she told the story, and her husband James grabbed her hand.

“We both just knew it was meant to be,” James said. “As soon as they called our names, I knew it would be okay.”

Mary thought the guy was a kook. “Really? You weren’t thinking—hell, this woman could turn out to be a real nutjob, or anything like that?”

James looked at Mary like she’d grown another head. “Nutjob? My Aly?  Definitely not. If you would have seen what Aly looked like that day, you would have had a lot of adjectives to describe her, and trust me, ‘nutjob’ wouldn’t have been one of them.”

Aly squeezed James’ hand and looked at Mary with a scowl. “I thank God for that festival every day. James and I…well, we fell in love all over again.”

Mary put down her pencil.
Again?
Finally! “Can you say that again?” Mary asked. James frowned.

“We fell in love all over again,” Aly said slowly, looking at James as though for confirmation. James’s face reddened.

“So, you knew each other already?” Mary asked, her pen now in-between her lips. She chewed on pens when she felt nervous or close to unearthing something. This was the latter.

“Well, yeah, of course. We grew up together. We dated briefly in high school, but then I moved away. When I came back, I didn’t know if James still lived here.  Not until they called my name   that night did I know James was here. It was fate.”

There’s that word again.

“Was it really? I mean, it wasn’t like you didn’t already know each other, or how you knew…you would fit.”

Aly’s face reddened at the implication. “Certainly not!”

“I don’t know what you’re getting at, Ms…” James began.

“Mary,” she informed him.

“Mary, but we did not have relations in high school. In fact, she’d moved away, and I worked on my father’s farm until the festival.  Not until that evening did I even decide to place my ticket into the jar.” James looked at Aly and smiled shyly. “When they called my name that night, I nearly had a heart-attack! I hadn’t dated in years, and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but when they picked Aly’s name…It was pure magic. I had a bride, a hardware store to run, and a family that accepted me for who I was. I am indebted to this festival, Mary, and I will not speak ill of it to anyone. Not even you, a person who obviously wants to tarnish its name. So, if you are done here, we need to be going.”

Well, that worked out well.

Aly looked pleased with what her husband said, and together, they stood up and walked out the door.

One thing that Mary knew so far was James knew something. Something that he didn’t want her or Aly to know. Wasn’t that interesting? The seemingly perfect marriage wasn’t at all what they thought it to be. Mary smiled.

As the night wore on, Mary studied her notes. All of the couples at least knew each other before they married, as friends or otherwise. Of course it was a small town, and that could be merely just a coincidence, but Mary didn’t think so. There was something in the way that James Tomlin defended the whole festival that his wife Aly didn’t. She seemed more in the dark than anything.

Mary looked through the 1930’s yearbook, and located Ava Jacobs. Ava married John Rochester on Christmas Eve in 1940. She looked stunning in the photo, and Mary knew that it was the year after her senior year that Ava married John. Ava was voted “Most likely to Succeed,” on the homecoming court, and was on the women’s debate team. Mary didn’t even realize those things existed back then. She was impressed. She would like to think that if she’d been born in the 1940’s, she would have been a strong independent woman like Ava Rochester.

Then she turned to John’s picture. He was handsome and he, too, was on the homecoming court, and   voted “Best Smile”. Mary looked at his dimples and couldn’t argue with the judgment. The guy looked gorgeous. She couldn’t imagine what their kids must look like. Mary smiled. She didn’t often think about having children, mainly because it hurt so much. She wanted a little girl so badly sometimes that she ached, but being single wasn’t all that bad. Mary looked at the pictures, flipping one page to get to the other, and decided that there must be some correlation between the couples.
How did they pick their “soulmate”?

****

The next morning was hectic. James Rochester looked at his Android and sighed. He had back-to-back appointments all day until noon, and then he had to go to Pine Meadow to babysit some reporter there to interview his grandparents. It was ridiculous, really. How many years and how many stories could they get out of this Christmas Wedding? James loved the way his grandparents got together. It did have a certain
je ne sais quoi
quality about it, but it was just that…Why did people have to do this year after year?

After a morning of working on divorce proceedings and meetings with irate couples, he  felt glad to get in his car and head to his grandparent’s new home. Thursdays were his favorite. Turkey day! It didn’t get much better than a bunch of grandmothers preparing a Thanksgiving meal. They all still had their faculties…it was an assisted living home, after all, and they were all the nicest people that one could want to be around. James loved the Jones and the Conleys. He house-sat for the Thompsons when he was in high school, and the Dailys when in college. He dated Mrs. Conley’s daughter, Theresa, a few years ago—a mega disaster, but it ended well… on speaking terms. All-in-all the place was fantastic, and his grandparents loved it. They were around people of their own age, and they got to stay together. There weren’t that many places around Noel that allowed couples to share rooms. His grandparents wouldn’t have it any other way. His grandmother once said, “We have shared a bed for half a century; nobody is going to take me away from my John.”

She had a lot of fire in her, and that’s what he liked to see. That’s what his grandfather said was in a marriage, “lot’s of fire and passion”.  He felt embarrassed when he first heard it. He must have been about twenty when his grandfather told him and he thought it sounded gross that his grandfather was talked about his sweet grandmother that way. But now at thirty, it seemed endearing, romantic, and more than anything, James wanted what they had.

James pulled into Pine Meadow,   turned off the ignition and walked toward the building.  Another car pulled in from the opposite direction. It was just as nice as his, but behind the wheel sat a woman—a beautiful woman. James nearly whistled.  He waited for her to get out of the car, so he could open the front door for her. He waited, and then watched as she pulled something out of her purse, and pulled her vanity mirror down. “For heaven’s sake,” James muttered. “She’s one of those.”

“What’s one of those?” a familiar voice asked.

“Grandma,” James said happily. “It’s great to see you.” James put his arms around her in a hug, and turned for the door.

“What’s one of those?” his grandmother asked again.

“Oh, there’s a woman over there. She’s putting makeup on in her car.”

Ava chuckled. “Oh, Jimmy, she’s probably just primping in case she meets a handsome man here.”

James laughed. “Who is she going to meet here?  No, don’t tell me, Grandma… Mr. Berrit?”

Ava laughed. Mr. Berrit was starting to lose his faculties, on the onset of dementia, and he liked to take his teeth out and make them talk to people. He was hilarious, but it was quite obvious he wasn’t all there. “Oh, Jimmy, I meant you.”

“Yeah, well…” Jimmy said, as he looked back at the car. The woman looked directly at him. He put his hand up and waved. She turned her head to the side to see who he waved to. He just kept his eyes forward and winked. “What the hell, right? It’s not as though I will ever see her again.”

Ava laughed as he escorted her inside.

****

Mary sat in her car and watched the older woman and the good-looking younger male by the door. They were hugging, just before the man turned around and looked her way. She didn’t want to presume he looked at her, but when she turned her head, it was confirmation enough. She was the only person outside.

He was gorgeous. His brown hair brushed the top part of his collar, he dressed great, and when he turned, she saw an even nicer ass. She couldn’t believe that he just stared at her. She couldn’t tell, because she was a distance away, but it looked as though he winked at her. Winked. It was just the thing to make her heart beat like a drum. She had an interview to do. Mary shook her head, and thought about just skipping the interview and going back to her apartment to read a raunchy book. Maybe even eat some
Ben & Jerry’s.

Mary out of her car and walked to the door. When she reached the reception desk inside, she gave the woman her name, and wrote her name on a sign-in sheet of paper. Mary followed the nurse, struck by how homey the place looked, like a picture right out of a
Better Homes and Gardens
magazine. She smiled as they walked by some beautiful artwork on the walls and then again when she saw that a young couple brought their child to visit. The kid giggled as she sat on an elderly woman’s lap, and smiled at her.

Mary followed the nurse into a formal dining room. The room suddenly felt too small. The man from outside, the one who winked at her, sat at the table with Ava and John Rochester. Mary’s face flushed as she looked at the man. He coughed, and then she heard Ava speak. “Mary, it’s so nice to meet you. This is my grandson, James. James Rochester the second.”

James Rochester the second.
Even his name was sexy.
Holy cow, Batman
! “Hi, James, nice to meet you. Nice to meet you as well, Mr. and Mrs. Rochester.” Mary forced a smile. She felt embarrassed that she’d been caught staring earlier, and then again just now. She couldn’t help herself. She couldn’t think of a time when she liked looking at a man so much. .

John cleared his throat.

“So, Mary, are you married?”

Red. Yep. She was really red now. “No, sir, I’m not married.”

“Well, isn’t that interesting,” John said quietly, nudging Mary under the table by accident. Mary moved her foot and John’s face reddened. “Sorry about that, Mary. I had a little Charlie horse.”

“Yeah, no problem,” she said. She looked over her right shoulder, pretending that she saw someone she knew. She waved and an odd old man waved his teeth at her!
What the hell?

She turned her head, and the expression on her face must have been funny because Ava and James shared a laugh. “Sorry, Mary, it’s just that…never mind.”

“Yes, that’s okay. Anyway, I hope you don’t mind, but I would like to record our conversation so I can play it back later when I write the article.”

John looked at Ava for confirmation, and Ava nodded. “We don’t mind,” he said and reached for his wife’s hand.

“Okay, can you tell me how you two met?”

John smiled and began.

“It was 1938, and I was - seventeen-years-old. I had the most amazing family. My mother and father were alive and raised six of us—three boys and three girls. I am the only one of the sons left. My three sisters all live in Montana now—. I am the eldest of all the children, twenty years older than my youngest sister Susan. Ava and I, met through my middle sister, Catherine. Catherine was five years old at the time and needed someone to walk her home from school. Ava lived right down the block from us. Her mother and my mother were good friends. I didn’t know much about Ava— only what I had heard from our mothers—but enough. One night, my mother and father went out with her parents and made Ava and me, in charge all of the kids.” John looked at Ava and smiled.

“Well, one thing led to another and Ava and I started dating. I loved her from the start. She, well, just look at her,” John said.

Mary couldn’t help herself, she smiled. So did James.

“She’s very beautiful, Granddad,” James said. “Then what happened? You put your name on the paper and so did she?”

“You very well know what happened, Jimmy!” Ava exclaimed then looked at Mary. “He knows this story like the…well, he knows this story.”

Mary didn’t think it was possible, but she felt her face heat up once more. “Then what?”

“Well, then my father ordered—us to stop seeing each other.”

“Wait. What? Why?” Mary asked.

“Well, we were just in high school, and my father was very protective of me. I was an only child, and he and my mother worried about John. He had a big family.”

Mary looked at John and then focused back on Ava. “So, you stopped dating…when? After high school, or before?”

“Well, it was one Friday night. We had a dance at the school, and John and I decided to go together. He bought me a beautiful flower to wear pinned to my dress, and we danced all night. When I came home, I’ll never forget what happened. I told my father that I loved John more than anything and would one day marry him. The next day, my father pulled me out of school and we moved across the state. It wasn’t until 1940, that I moved back, and went to the Christmas festival.”

Mary leaned forward, then focused on John. “Did you know she came home, John?”

John didn’t seem to understand where she was headed with the question.

“No, I didn’t. My sister Mary Beth took me to the festival with her. I’d just come home on leave from the military. I actually just got there when Mary’s name was picked from the jar. I was so surprised to see her again, that I nearly fainted. There she was, the woman that I’d loved for so long, standing up on stage for the whole world to see, and she was going to be wed to someone else. My heart clattered in my chest. I prayed for the first time in my life that day. I prayed for Mary. And when the fellow’s name was picked from the jar, and it was mine, I practically ran up to the stage. I kissed her full on the lips in front of God and everyone. I told her then that I would never let anyone come between us again, and I didn’t. She and I wed that evening.”

Mary looked at James and shook her head. He seemed to be studying her intently, waiting for to respond. He probably thought she would swoon. “So, what you’re saying is, you didn’t know, and Ava, you came back just in time for the festival?”

Ava looked at Mary curiously before she answered. “I sure did, Mary. I came home just in time for the event, put in my ticket, and waited for fate to run its course.”

“Really? Did you know that your name was going to be picked?”

Mary waited, and Ava looked upset. James turned to her and whispered close to her ear. “What are you insuating?”

“Well, come on…”

“You’ve upset her, can’t you see that?”

“Jimmy, I think I want to lie down for a while, if that’s okay, Ms. Mary?”

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