Friday, November 28, 2014

The Last Lonely Christmas by Claire Sanders

Back Cover Blurb:

What’s a girl to do when everybody has somebody except her?

Mary Thompson has learned to cope with everyday loneliness, but Christmas is a different kind of challenge. Every carol reminds her that Christmas is a time for families to gather and for loved ones to exchange tokens of love. There must be something she can do to avoid another lonely Christmas.

Will Stewart knows little about loneliness. As a single father, he’s got his hands full with two children and his career as a contractor. A few moments of peace and quiet would be a welcome change, but he’s not likely to get them while he’s working on renovating a cottage for a new client. And of course, she wants it done in time for Christmas.

The story of how these two find each other amid the hustle and bustle of the busiest time of the year will warm your heart and renew your faith in love.

Book excerpt

Mary Thompson peered over the railing of the third floor atrium and gazed with wonder at the busy sales floor below. Alden’s Department Store had buzzed with shoppers every weekend in November, but today’s crowd was twice as large. Had someone announced an all-you-can-carry-for-free sale?
            The happy voices of shoppers mingled with strains of Christmas carols and lights twinkled among ocean-themed decorations. The store owner, Charles Alden, had requested “something different” for the Christmas decorations this year, but the decorator he’d hired had somehow mixed up Christmas with “The Little Mermaid”. Scantily dressed mannequins with bikini tops and glittering fish tail bottoms hung from the ceiling and lounged atop display cases. Each held a silver platter, as though proffering a gift idea to shoppers. As if the mermaids weren’t enough, display tables featuring oversized stiletto heels covered in colorful sequins had been placed in each department. Not only were the shoes big enough to fit Sasquatch, they were better suited to Mardi Gras than they were a celebration of the Lord’s birth.
That was the main problem, Mary realized. Christmas had always been a quiet occasion in the Good Shepherd Home for Children. The adults had made sure each child received a gift, but the emphasis had always been on Jesus, Mary, and Joseph instead of perfume, jewelry, and the latest fashions.  
A crowded sales floor was good for business, Mary reminded herself. She’d gladly endure the chaos between the Friday after Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve if it kept Mr. Alden happy. Besides, working at a frenetic pace was a welcome change from the dreadful quiet of Thanksgiving. She’d spent the day scraping paint from kitchen cabinets in her fixer-upper house while her neighbors, the Kaminskis, had welcomed carloads of family to celebrate the day.
The real estate agent hadn’t been able to hide his surprise when Mary had made an offer on the sad-eyed Craftsman bungalow, but it was hers now. The large lot with the pecan trees belonged to her as well as the spacious second-floor bedroom that overlooked the back yard. Of course the house needed work, but for a girl raised in an orphanage, nothing was quite as precious as her own home.   
Mary shifted her gaze from the ground floor to the middle-aged man who had joined her at the railing. He took a deep breath and patted his chest. “Ah….there’s nothing as wonderful as the smell of shoppers in the morning,” he said with a wide smile.
“Good morning, Mr. Alden. How was your Thanksgiving?”
Charles Alden patted the small paunch above his belt. “Oh, the usual. Too much family, too much turkey, too much football. My wife invited everyone to our house this year”
Mary smiled at her boss’s description. Family holidays were the norm for him, but a mystery to her. How marvelous it must be to have “too much family”. Mary gestured toward the escalator. “I’m on my way to check on the temporary workers we hired for the holidays.”
“I won’t keep you,” Mr. Alden said, “but you might want to check with Alexis about the new registers she’s ordered. All of the floor personnel will have to be trained right away.”
            He turned, not waiting for Mary’s answer. As she watched his gray-suited figure disappear down the corridor that led to the management staff’s offices, an ominous cloud formed in her mind. As the newly hired director of technology, Alexis Lange was piloting new hardware and software in the main store. She promised up-to-date inventory control, product suggestions based on buyers’ shopping histories, and touch screen kiosks that allowed shoppers to place orders immediately. It was all great as far as Mary was concerned, but did all that new-and-improved have to be installed during the busiest time of the year?
            It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas was playing as she rode the escalator down to the main floor.  Mary surveyed the shoppers crowded around the jewelry counters. Christmas and Valentine’s Day were the busiest times of the year for jewelry, and she’d placed three temporary workers in that department. The two college girls seemed to be holding their own, but Mrs. Gallagher’s Santa hat was askew and tufts of curly gray hair formed corkscrews around her head.
            Mary laid her hand on the older lady’s shoulder. “Everything okay, Mrs. Gallagher?”
            The older lady blinked as though she’d been startled out of a reverie. “What? What did you say?”
            “I’m just checking to see if you need help with anything.”
            Sarah Gallagher stepped back from the jumble of earrings she’d been sorting.  “Oh, Mary. Isn’t this just the best time of year? I love the hustle and bustle. All the husbands looking for just the right thing to give their wives and all the wives looking for just the right thing to ask for.” She chuckled good-naturedly. “My husband, George, rest his soul, always got me a nice piece of jewelry for Christmas. He said, ‘Now, Sarah, if things get tight someday, you’ll be able to sell your treasure for whatever you need.’ As if I’d ever be able to part with it.”
            Mary gestured toward the earrings scattered across the counter. “What happened here?”
            “Oh, nothing,” Mrs. Gallagher said with a wave of her hand. “Just a little accident. No harm done.”
            Mary’s attention was drawn by Olivia Bishop, the department’s senior salesperson. Olivia pointed at Mary and then pointed to the opposite counter. Mary nodded her understanding. “Let me know if you need anything, Mrs. Gallagher. I want the time you spend here to be pleasant.”
            The corners of Mrs. Gallagher’s eyes crinkled as she smiled warmly. “Of course. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.”
            Mary stopped at several spots along the horseshoe-shaped counter before meeting Olivia. If she made her inspection look casual, perhaps Mrs. Gallagher wouldn’t suspect there was a problem.
            Olivia crossed her arms under her full bosom and tapped the toe of one shoe. “She has got to go.”
            “Good morning to you, too,” Mary answered. “How was your Thanksgiving?”
            “I know you’ve got a soft spot for old people,” Olivia said with a strident tone, “but Sarah Gallagher has dropped a tray of earrings, lost a diamond ring, and messed up the cash register twice. And the store’s only been open for two hours.”
            “Lost a diamond ring?” Mary repeated.
            “Don’t worry, I found it under a cabinet. But, Mary, please find another place for Sarah.”
            Mary stood on tiptoe to look over the cabinets in the center of the horseshoe. “See what Mrs. Gallagher’s doing right now?”
            Olivia stretched her neck to look around the mermaid that stretched provocatively along the cabinets. “She’s talking to a man.”
            “She’s talking to a customer. That’s what she’s good at. She listens to people. Asks them questions about their family. Spends time with them.”
            “Is that why she hasn’t made any sales?”
            “I think that personal touch is what customers really want. They long for someone to be interested. That man she’s talking to is wearing a wedding ring, and I bet he’s shopping for his wife. Maybe today he’s only gathering ideas, but he’ll remember Mrs. Gallagher. The nice grandmotherly lady who helped him.”
            Olivia pursed her bright red lips and frowned. “Maybe,” she said under her breath.
            Mary patted Olivia’s elbow and smiled. “I’ll check with you later. For now, keep Mrs. Gallagher away from the cash register and let her do what she does best.”
            Olivia pulled the tail of her red sweater around her hips and nodded. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
            As Mary left the jewelry section and headed for the children’s department, she was intercepted by the Information Technology team. Dressed in a slim-fitting black skirt and red jacket, blonde Alexis Lange was the epitome of business professional. How did she spend all day in those high heels?
            “Mary!” Alexis snapped her fingers.
            Mary turned toward the sound, wondering if she’d responded like a well-trained dog. “Good morning, Alexis. How’s it going?”
            “Fantastic. Once Mr. Alden sees how my ideas increase sales, I’m sure he’ll want to extend the technology to the branch locations.” Alexis turned her attention to a hand-held electronic tablet. “Neil, did you upload the data about installation dates?”
            Neil Jorgensen, the younger of Alexis’s two assistants, adjusted his rectangular glasses and frowned at her tablet. “It’s right there, in the folder labeled ‘installation schedule’.”
            While Alexis concentrated on the screen, Neil turned and made a goofy face at Mary. Mary hid her smile behind her hand. “Did you need me for something, Alexis?” Mary asked. “I was on my way to the children’s department.”
            Alexis’s face kept a neutral façade beneath her perfectly applied makeup, but she rolled her eyes. “Better you than me,” she muttered. “I avoid that department like I avoid carbohydrates. But I did want to tell you that the new cash registers were delivered on Wednesday. Have you arranged for employee training?”
            “No, but I’ll set up the schedule before I leave today.”
            Alexis used the back of one red-nailed hand to push a disobedient lock of hair back into her flawlessly fashioned style. “The sooner we get the new system up and running, the sooner our profits will increase.”
            Without saying goodbye or thanking Mary for her part in establishing the new system, Alexis strode briskly toward the housewares department, her other assistant following quickly in her wake.
Neil grinned and approached Mary. “Gee, Mary, what’s taking you so long? After all, the new cash registers were delivered two days ago. Just because they haven’t been unpacked and set up is no excuse.”
Mary smiled at her friend and turned toward the children’s department. “What about the fact that you and the other members of your team are the only ones who know how they work?”
Neil fell into step beside her. “What about it?” He mimicked flicking back a strand of hair and imitated a feminine voice. “We must all work together to show Mr. Alden how marvelous I am. Simply mar-ve-lous.”
Neil’s sarcasm may have been mean-spirited, but Mary couldn’t stop herself from laughing at his impersonation.  “Alexis is going to catch you making fun of her someday.”
Neil’s eyes widened. “Are you kidding? She’s so focused on impressing the boss she probably won’t even realize what I’m doing.”
As they entered the children’s department, Mary stopped to examine the child-sized mannequins who had been dressed as sea creatures. One wearing a crab costume played with stuffed animals while two others dressed like sea horses investigated a treasure box. “What do you think about this year’s Christmas decorations?”
“I think they’re perfect for all the little boys and girls that live at the bottom of the sea,” Neil said with a smirk. “Uh-oh. I see Alexis looking more confused than usual. I’d better catch up to her before she breaks something.”
Mary watched Neil saunter into the housewares department. Alexis frowned over her electronic tablet, glanced at Neil, and then passed the device to him.  It was hard to know if Neil was better at technology or cracking jokes, but in the year he’d worked at Alden’s Department Store, he’d proven his knowledge of computers and his willingness to work patiently with the most tech-challenged employees. He was ten years younger than Mary, but that hadn’t kept them from becoming friends.
The head salesperson in the children’s department, Roberta Lewis, pushed her glasses to the top of her head. “Mary, do you have a minute?”
Stepping behind the counter, Mary saw that Roberta had the sales force marshaled into a quasi-assembly line. One of the new girls removed items from hangers and formed tidy stacks of each customer’s purchases. An experienced worker handled the register and another new girl bagged the purchase. Leave it to Roberta to keep everything moving smoothly. “What can I do for you?” Mary asked.
“How was your holiday?” Roberta asked.
The image of herself warming a frozen meal in the microwave flashed into Mary’s mind, but her co-worker didn’t need to know how achingly lonely she’d been. “Quiet. How was yours?”
“Anything but quiet. I tell you, when my family gets together we make more noise than a room full of Harleys.”
Mary laughed with her. “Looks to me as though you’ve got everything under control here.”
“Thanks, but I need to know who’s working the evening shifts next week.”
“Didn’t you get the email?”
“No. In fact, I think something’s wrong with my account. Every time I log in it tells me I have no new emails.”
“I’ll let the I.T. department know and I’ll put a paper copy of the schedule in your mailbox.”
Roberta shook her head and frowned. “All this new-fangled technology …ever since Alexis started working here it’s been one problem after another.”
It wasn’t the first time Mary had heard that complaint, but her job was to fix problems, not spread discontent. “I’m sure it’ll all work out,” Mary answered. “Let me know if you need anything else.” 

With a quick wave, she left the children’s department and circled through the ground floor, checking on the other temporary workers she’d hired. Satisfied they were holding their own, she dodged paper seaweed as she rode the escalator back up to the top floor. If she got started on the training schedule right away, she should be able to keep her six o’clock appointment.     

Author bio:

After many years of writing and publishing in the nonfiction world of academia, Claire Sanders turned her energy, humor and creativity towards the production of compelling romantic fiction. Claire writes captivating stories that fit the genres of contemporary, historical, and inspirational romance. Claire creates heroes any woman would want to be with and heroines who overcome all obstacles to find love. Written with wit and tenderness, her stories engage the readers’ hearts and imaginations. Readers will find themselves anxiously turning the pages to find out what happens next. Claire lives in the greater Houston area with her daughter and one well-loved dog. When she isn’t writing, you’ll find her cooking, gardening, and dreaming of places to travel.

To connect with Claire:

To purchase her book:

Claire Sanders is giving away a copy of The Last Lonely Christmas.  The giveaway is only available to U.S. addresses.

To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You may enter the book giveaway twice -- once on each spotlight post. (It's not too late to go back and leave a comment on yesterday's post.)

Off to read another great book!
Sandra M. Hart


Patsy said...

Looking forward to reading this book!

Deanna Stevens said...

I can relate to this: when my family gets together we make more noise than a room full of Harleys.”
not so much now as the brother & sisters all have their own family's to celebrate with.. Ours are soo quiet now... would enjoy reading your book...
d_stevens310 AT live DOT com

Caryl Kane said...

I love the fact that Claire lives near Houston as do I. I look forward to reading The Last Lonely Christmas. :)


Linda Kish said...

My family is my son, his wife and me. If we want noise, we join her family which is much larger.
I'd love to read this book. It sounds great.

lkish77123 at gmail dot com

Judy said...

I would love to win a copy of this book. I enjoyed the interview with Claire.

Judy B

sm said...

Sounds like a good heartwarming read! Sm.

Anonymous said...

This is a new author to me, but I see she lives in the area near where I live. Nice! This book sounds like a good one and I would love to win it. Thanks!
Maxie > mac262(at)me(dot)com <

Library Lady said...

How very sad. The title of this book is so true for so many people.
Looking forward to reading this book.
Janet E.

Patty said...

I have family nearby but until this year didn't have a special someone to share the holidays with! It's hard being a singleton in a world of families/couples.


Carol Q. said...

If its not to late i would like to enter the giveaway, thank you

Charity Lyman said...

Please enter me. Thanks so much!!


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