Series: The 12 Loves of Christmas #1
Published by: Jelly Bean Press Co
Release Date: 09/14/2021
Contributors: Heather Tullis
He is not a fan of change. She's full of new ideas for the annual festival. Can this unlikely couple find a way to collaborate and save the Christmas festival and maybe something more?
After moving every year as a child, Quinn's settled in Dos Fuentes, the coastal California town that his father’s family had lived in since it was established 200 years ago. One of his favorite parts of Christmas is helping to set up the charity fund-raising festival they put on every year. Until Anna decides to change things.
Anna is a city girl from the east and full of ideas of ways to “improve” an event that hasn't changed in years—which is just the way Quinn likes it. Driven to prove herself to her new boss, Anna is frustrated by Quinn’s opposition to her ideas. Will they be able to get past their misconceptions of each other to pull off the festival, and find out if there’s something more between them than business?
THE BUCKET TRUCK JOLTED as it hit something solid and Todd swore. Quinn stopped backing up and pulled forward a few feet so he’d be able to see the damage. Perfect. Now he’d have to explain to his clients that he’d broken something in their yard. He popped out of the truck, leaving it parked partway into the narrow, winding road, and circled to join the recently hired teen. “What was that?”
Quinn swore at sparks flying from the damaged transformer half buried in the flowerbed’s decorative grasses. “You were supposed to be watching for things. What were you looking at?”
“Sorry, Quinn, I was looking mostly at the tree and the power box is hidden in all that decorative grass.”
The carex praegrasilis had been planted to disguise the box, so it was hard to blame the kid. Quinn sucked in the words he wanted to spew and redirected his focus. The light that had sparkled through the neighbor’s window when they arrived was gone. Great.
Todd looked like he was afraid he would be cussed out, so Quinn pulled it back. “We back over things often enough, and the grass is tall. Pretty sure we just took out all the power in the neighborhood. Grab the fire extinguisher from the second compartment behind the driver’s seat just in case. Last thing we need is for the owners to come back to a pile of ashes.”
Thankfully, it had rained the day before, reducing the fire risk. With the ongoing drought in California, that might not be enough, though. He pulled out his phone and, grateful that he had a cell signal in a town where reception could be spotty, did a quick Google search for the power company. He reported the damage so they could fix the issue quickly.
Quinn split his attention between the sparking transformer and guiding Todd as he backed the truck to the pear tree twenty feet away. This tree needed Christmas lights as well and it was out of the way enough for the electric company to fix the power box. Thank goodness the MacGreggors were away from their vacation home. Bad enough the rest of the town would know he was responsible for the outage within an hour or two. Rumors spread faster and farther than dandelion fluff in the tiny town of Dos Fuentes.
When the power company’s truck pulled up, Cameron, the electrical distribution supervisor, hopped out along with a couple guys from his crew.
“This your handiwork?” Cameron asked.
“Guilty. Sorry, we didn’t notice the transformer when we backed in. I’ll get you the insurance information.” His insurance company wasn’t going to like it, but that was a hassle for another day. He had been working for Partridge Landscaping since he left high school and had taken over for his uncle three years ago, buying it on a payment plan. Over the years, he’d hit all kinds of things while backing up, but this was the first time he had taken out a transformer. Hopefully, it would be his last.
Quinn climbed into the bucket and maneuvered the boom over to the tree. He started hanging lights in the tree while Train blared from his Bluetooth speaker and Todd decorated nearby bushes. If they worked fast and the electric crew didn’t take too long, they could move on to the next house before eleven. He loved the Christmas season on the northern California coast. Reasonably mild weather, plenty of yard work to do, and extra income from Christmas decorating. Add in the holiday cheer and good will towards men and it was nigh on perfect.
That was until he saw a woman striding toward them from the house next door. Her willowy frame leaned forward as she marched determinedly toward them, her brown hair in a tight bun that added to the impression of someone who was too tightly wound.
Anna’s first inkling of trouble came when the power went out while she was rinsing shampoo out of her hair. Ten seconds later the water turned cold and she shrieked as she jumped out of the stream.
What had the landlord said about the tankless water heater being so great because you wouldn’t run out? Oh yeah, it required electricity. Growling, she turned and dipped her head under the shower of cold water to finish rinsing her hair, then took a quick spin to rinse off. Teeth chattering, she jumped out and dried off.
When she reached for her blow drier, she realized it got worse. First day of work at a new job and she would be far from her best. She sucked in her breath and counted to ten as she dressed. Annoyed at the lack of window in the bathroom, she moved to a living room window for light with her makeup and a tiny pocket mirror.
Of course, her mom called while she was juggling the mirror and makeup in insufficient light. Could her morning get any worse? “Hi, Mom.” She pushed the speaker phone button and returned to her face.
“Hi, dear, this is your first day at the new job, isn’t it? I hope it goes well.” Her voice dropped towards the end of the sentence expressing the doubt she had already broadcast.
“Thank you. What do you have planned today?” Anna shifted the attention away from herself.
“I’m getting my hair done and having lunch with the girls at the club. Did you really have to move all the way to California? What will you do if one of us isn’t there to help you?”
“I guess I’ll just have to take care of myself.” Like I’ve been doing for the past decade. Seriously, you’d think she had been begging for help and advice daily from the way her mother acted. She was not a helpless child.
“It’s just that you’ve never been so far away and if this job doesn’t work out, you’ll be stuck there, two-thousand miles away. You know, you’re not too old to go back to school to become an attorney like your father and sister.”
Anna had heard this argument a hundred times over the years. She whipped out her mascara wand and gritted her teeth. “This is a great opportunity. I’ll get to do all kinds of publicity work for the hot springs, really run the show.” She was more nervous than she wanted to admit to, even to herself. What if they didn’t like her work after all? What if she had the same problems with her new boss as she had with the old one?
“You never think of anyone but yourself. Your father and I won’t live forever, you know. You’re missing out on the best years. If you ever manage to hook a man, I won’t even get to know my grandbabies.”
And that was Anna’s cue to end the conversation before she said something she might regret. Like the possibilities that her theoretical future children would be better off without their grandmother’s hyper-critical nose in every aspect of their lives. “I’m sorry you feel that way. I need to finish getting ready for work. Thanks for calling.”
“I love you, dear.”
“Me too.” Anna ended the call; grateful it had been so easy to get out of the conversation. These talks with her mom were never happy or comfortable, but added to the stress of the morning, they ramped up her tension about three levels of insanity. She did her best to set that insanity aside and started applying mascara. The power did not come back on while she got ready. In desperation, she twisted her long brown hair into a bun and pinned it into place. It will have to do.
Anna checked her watch and snatched up her purse, hurrying through the cheerful bungalow she had rented only a mile from work. She was running behind and couldn’t cook this morning anyway. She might have enough time to pick up something on her way to work. Maybe.
Anna locked the cottage door and headed for the detached garage. Two trucks in the neighbor’s front yard caught her eye. The first belonged to the power company, and the second was a bucket truck with the logo for Partridge Landscaping emblazoned on the door. She had only been in town for two days, but hoped this kind of outage wasn’t common.
She entered through the garage’s side door and slid into her car. Anna reached up for the remote door opener and let out a huff of frustration when she realized it wouldn’t do her any good. Stress knotted her shoulder muscles. She could not do this today. After everything that went wrong in the last job, this one had to go perfectly.
Holding onto her temper by a thread, she pushed out of the car and looked around the garage. There had to be a way to get the door open, right? She tugged at the door, checked for any sign of backup power to the door, and tried to release the side clamps that locked the door in place. No luck. No idea what else she could do, she headed for the electrical truck. At least they were all working on the problem instead of standing around with their thumbs in their pockets.
“How long is this going to take?” she asked in what she hoped was a calm voice.
“At least another half hour, maybe more. Sorry,” the forty-something man said.
She let out a huff of breath, trying her best to keep her temper under control. “Worst morning ever.”
“Blame Quinn.” The man gestured over his shoulder to the landscaper’s truck.
The man in the cherry picker was already guiding the arm to the ground. “Can I help you with something?”
Wishing she’d worn pumps instead as her thin heels sank into the soft, wet grass, Anna let the steam push her forward the few steps it took to meet him. The man in the bucket was tall with close cropped dark hair and a couple days’ beard and mustache growth. He had been singing along with a country song that poured from a nearby speaker while he worked.
“Are you responsible for the power outage?” Anna glared at him.
He looked over with an apologetic smile. “Sorry about that. We had a small accident this morning. It should be fixed soon.”
“Your small accident has caused me a world of problems. No hot water, no blow drier, no breakfast, and now I can’t even get my car out of the garage. It’s my first day at my new job and if I get fired, it’s all going to be your fault.”
The bucket reached the ground and he stepped out. “I’m sorry it’s been such an inconvenience for you. Let me see what I can do about your car.”
It was the least he could do, considering everything that had happened. She knew accidents happened, and maybe after she was at work and settling in for the day, she might look at it all differently, but that didn’t solve her problem right now.
He started back toward her garage with long, ground-eating strides. She rushed to keep up.
“You have an electric door opener, right?” he asked.
“Yeah, and it’s funny, but it doesn’t really work without electricity.”
“Did you try pulling the rope to release the door?”
She thought about her scan of the garage. “What rope?”
With only a little tone of “there, there” in his expression, he held the door open for her and they entered the garage. Then he stopped and stared at the electric opener. “Yeah, see that six-inch long rope? That’s supposed to be a lot longer, and have a handle on it.”
She stared at him expectantly and he looked around the garage, which was barely big enough for her hatchback.
Quinn grabbed the folding footstool she had used to hang her bicycle on a wall hook. He set it near the back of her car, stepped up to it and used his superior arm length to grab the end of the rope and give it a good yank. Something disconnected and he stepped down, shifting the footstool out of the way.
Grabbing the aging gray garage door, he lifted it open. “You’re all set.”
“Thank you,” she said grudgingly. She glanced back at the short cord. “How do I hook the door back up now?”
“It should connect automatically when I shut it behind you. If not, I’ll fix it before I go back to my truck. Everything should be back to normal when you get off work. We haven’t met before. I’m Quinn.”
“Anna.” She ignored the hand he held out for her and glanced at her watch. “So much for breakfast. Thanks again.” The second thanks was barely more heartfelt than the first.
He jerked a shoulder, taking her thanks with the same graciousness in which it had been offered.
Anna got into her car and backed out of the steep driveway. Quinn pulled the garage door back down when she’d cleared the garage. A moment later he exited the garage through the side door and headed for his truck without another glance in her direction. She should go back and make sure the garage door was locked, but other than her bike and the step stool, it was basically empty, and she would already be late for work.
She took a steadying breath. “Fresh start. Put it behind you, Anna, and look ahead to the day and new job. You got all the bad luck out of the way before arriving at work, which means the rest of the day will be great. Smooth sailing.” She repeated the affirmation several times on her way to Carly’s Café to grab something to go.
Believing her words was a whole different thing. Positive self-talk was supposed to help, right?
The roads in Dos Fuentes were steep and winding, so different from the city streets of Boston where she had grown up, attended college, and worked for the past decade. Then again, a fresh start was exactly what she needed. Becoming the one-woman show in the publicity and marketing department for the local hot springs was worlds away from the large commercial advertising agency where she had worked before. She wasn’t sure how she felt yet about moving to the tiny town near the northern California coast. Population 1337. Well, 1338 now that she was there. She wondered if they changed the number on the sign on the way into town after every census.
It was the kind of small town she had imagined vacationing in when she finally made partner in the advertising firm she had been working for. It was not the kind of place she had ever considered moving to, with its quaint shops, single grocery store, and slow-paced lifestyle. The town had been settled two hundred years ago and still had the flavor of Mexico in some of the architecture, despite the eleven-hour drive to the border.
On her first full day here, she had taken a couple hours to drive around town, explore the old stone church, and drive past the historic hotel. Once she was done settling into her new home, she would take time to really get familiar with the town’s crazy roads and interesting history.
After six months of trying to find a job, this had been the first thing to open up for her that was better than temp work—which she had done plenty of to stretch her savings. With her savings trickling down to nearly nothing, she had grabbed at the hope that came with the position at Campbell Hot Springs and Spa. If this didn’t pan out, she might have to reconsider her aversion to the idea of law school.
The idea was ridiculous enough to make her chuckle—she was in no way suited for that career. The only one who hadn’t acknowledged that fact was her mom.
She passed the trolley that climbed up and down the town’s hills, giving tours of historic sites, The Boot Stop western store with its boots and cowboy hats, and everything in between, or so the sign said. Half a dozen adorable restaurants slid past her windows before she turned left toward the hot springs—the whole reason the town had been built to begin with.
The town’s 200th anniversary was this December and, according to her new boss, practically every local group and organization was planning for the biggest Christmas ever.
Anna would be right in the middle of it. It would be very different from what she was used to, and hopefully very interesting.
That was, if she didn’t lose her job because some moron made her late on her first day.