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Once Upon a Winter Wonderland
Author: Susan May Warren

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

SUNDAY NIGHT

 

 

It didn’t look like the storm of the century.

“Just a second, let me go out onto the porch.” Romeo Young put the call from his cell on speaker, then opened the door to the Evergreen Resort office and stepped out into the brisk, northern Minnesota, December air.

Sure, a few flurries drifted down, settling upon the evergreens lining the driveway, joining the snow already layering the grounds, frosting the handful of cabins and the roof of the resort truck, adding a festive, Christmassy touch to their northern wonderland.

But no blizzard of the century that his boss and manager, Owen Christiansen, was suggesting from his perch in southern Florida.

“Skies are a little gray, but the sun is out, and it looks all clear,” Romeo said.

“All the flights into Minneapolis are shut down,” Owen said. “We arrived at the Miami airport, waited six hours, and they finally canceled our flight. Jace and Eden decided to drive to Orlando and go to Disney World. The rest of us are going to wait it out in Key Largo.”

Of course they were.

Romeo had checked the weather in Minneapolis, but that, too, didn’t seem out of the ordinary. He bit back a spurt of annoyance. “I’m sure it’ll open by tomorrow.”

“Maybe. But we looked at the radar, and there’s a huge storm front coming down from Alaska. You’re about to get socked in.”

Romeo walked over to the massive resort garage and retrieved the snow shovel stuck by the door. “Can you rent a car?”

He didn’t want to sound inept but, well, with less than a week to Christmas, the resort was about to fill up, and…

Okay, he was just peeved, really, that the entire Christiansen clan had deserted him for two weeks for fun in the sun. Not that he should be—he’d given up his smokejumping gig in Alaska for exactly moments like these, when the family escaped and they needed someone capable to handle the resort.

Check in guests, keep wood chopped, handle small problems.

No biggie.

Probably a part-time employee could handle it. Which meant he could have joined the family for their belated Thanksgiving escape to Miami where Ingrid and John had docked their fancy boat after sailing the blue for a year.

Except, he wasn’t part of the family, was he?

“Ten of us in a car for thirty hours? And that doesn’t include Darek and Ivy and their kids—no thanks. The resort is in good hands.” A chuckle from Owen. “You won’t be setting any fires, right?”

Oh, ha ha. If he was referring to the nativity scene that caught fire the Christmas he spent with Uncle John and Aunt Ingrid— “That wasn’t my fault. Besides—I put out fires, if you recall.” Or had, for the past three years. Sometimes he wished he hadn’t said yes quite so quickly to Uncle John’s request to help run the resort.

Especially when “help” turned out to be less management and more errand boy to one Very Bossy Cousin Owen.

He supposed Owen had something to prove, what with the family legacy soundly on his shoulders. Still— “I can handle it, Owen.”

Another chuckle. “Of course you can, Rome. But this means you need to keep an eye on Vivien Calhoun’s wedding this weekend at Wilder House. Casper says the venue is all ready for the rehearsal dinner and the ceremony, but you might need to let Vivien and her team in to decorate. And Boone’s best man and a bridesmaid are staying at the resort—they’re in the books. And some of Pastor Dan’s friends—the Browns. He called right before we left. They arrive Tuesday. Oh—and don’t forget Gerald Karlson. According to Darek, he’s been a regular over Christmas for the past sixty years. His wife passed last year, so this is his first season without her. He always stays in cabin six, so make sure you put him there.”

Romeo let out a breath, breathing through the fist closing over his chest.

“Oh, and when it snows, you’ll need to plow. And not just the resort. I have a contract with the city, so you’ll need to go down to the city garage and make sure the streets are clear.”

That, probably, he could do.

“Fine.” Romeo had returned to the lodge. Inside, the place didn’t have a hint of Christmas cheer, terribly void of Aunt Ingrid’s touch. No soaring white pine under the vaulted ceiling, no handmade stockings hung up the banister or a crackling fire in the hearth of the stone fireplace. No fragrance of cookies baking or siblings laughing as they worked on the annual puzzle.

And outside wasn’t much better—no lights on the towering evergreen that had survived the fire so many years ago, no wreaths on the doors of the cabins, no wonderland skating rink, not even a bonfire to make s’mores.

For a guy who’d spent most of his Christmases eating a frozen pizza with his hungover mother, creating Christmas cheer just might be over his head.

“If it doesn’t snow, I’ll know you just wanted to spend Christmas on some beach,” he growled.

“The snow will be there. Just keep the place running. We’ll be back as soon as we can.”

Romeo bit back a hurry up, because yes, he could do this. Even if he wasn’t one of the superstar Christiansens.

He hung up and went to the sliding glass door that overlooked the snow-covered lake, the sun breaking through the pewter sky to skim the surface in gold.

It wasn’t going to snow. It was just another dismal, gray Christmas alone.

 

 

To my boys, your boisterous laughter during every sledding run and snowball fight fills my my heart with joy.

Thank you for supporting me in my writing journey and luring me from the keyboard for family fun every time I need it.

 

* * *

 

To my mom, thank you for filling the Christmas season with crafts, cookies, and the focus on Christ.

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

 

WEDNESDAY, 9:30 A.M.

 

The howling wind outside was nothing compared to the howling inside Vivien Calhoun’s head. How could her beloved town of Deep Haven betray her like this?

“There has to be at least ten feet of snow out there. I wanted a white wedding. Not a white-out wedding.”

The room swayed in an unnatural and violent fashion no matter how hard she willed it to stop. She reached out a hand to steady herself, her fingers glancing off the cool, dark leather of a wingback chair before finding purchase.

“You’ve got to breathe, Vivie. Are you with me?” Megan Barrett’s voice sounded tinny and distant, her hair a blonde blur and her eyes a soft hazel-brown smudge. “Why don’t you sit down.”

Right. Breathe. She could do that.

Vivien slumped into the wingback in the Wilder House library. She’d imagined Casper Christiansen’s event center would be perfect for a winter wonderland wedding. But it should be more enchanting snow globe than Arctic freeze. She closed her eyes against the dark swirling walls of books.

Inhale…two…three…four…hold…two…three—

“Vivien?” Megan’s voice reached through the tunneling darkness. “Are you okay?”

Vivien opened one eye. Stared up at her wedding coordinator. “You told me to breathe. I’m breathing.” She wrinkled her nose. “And can I just say, it smells like musty paper in here.”

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