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AT THE HEART OF CHRISTMAS
A Clean & Wholesome Holiday Novel
BY JILL MONROE
Hiring him could be her best idea.
Or her worst mistake.
Quinn has inherited the farm and workshop that once housed the famous Hardwick Ornament Company. She invests everything in reopening her family’s business and hires glass artist Nolan Vesser, whose family used to design ornaments for hers, to work his creative magic.
After an accident burned Nolan’s studio to the ground, he thought he’d lost everything. But when he looked in his safety deposit box for his renter’s insurance, he came across an overlooked piece of paper that changed everything.
As Nolan spends time with Quinn, she sparks his artistic inspiration. But when she learns about his secret, can their new romance survive?
This heartwarming holiday romance includes a free Hallmark original recipe for Cranberry Walnut Bread With Orange Glaze.
“Quinn! Don’t run up ahead too far.”
His young granddaughter gave a dramatic heavy sigh and her shoulders slumped. Then, with a smile, she took several backward skipping steps until she stood closer to him.
Quinn tucked her hand into his, giving him a light squeeze. “What’s that, Grandpa?”
She shot away from him once more before he could answer her question. With an indulgent chuckle, he shook his head keeping an eye on her as she raced toward a large building. She hopped from one foot to the other, waiting for him to catch up.
This dear girl put a spring in his step.
He lightly ran his palm down the pitted and rough wood of the old scarred door. He still remembered the solemn day when his own father had shuttered the Hardwick Ornament Company for the last time. Decades later, the melancholy still lingered. His family only came out to the old farmhouse a few times a year. Other than to do a quick checkup, rarely did anyone step inside the building where the once thriving family business began.
Something tight unwrapped in his chest as he glanced down at his curious, mischief-making dreamer of a granddaughter. “This is the very first Hardwick Ornament Company workshop. Want to peek inside? I think I have a key.”
Quinn gave him a solemn nod, as if understanding, even at seven-years-old, how important this old building once was to him. To them all.
He dug around in his pocket and tugged out the set of keys he carried when he inspected the old farm and works. He unlocked the padlock and flipped the hasp. He guessed the old, rusty doorknob was the original from the late 1900s. The door’s lock no longer functioned, but he’d never been able to bring himself to replace the mechanism. The added padlock kept the place secure just fine.
Quinn reached up her tiny hand and clasped the knob, but it only spun around against her palm.
“There’s a trick.” He leaned his weight against the door and pushed slightly toward the hinges. “Now give it a try.”
Quinn tried the knob again, and this time the mechanism clicked and the catch released. The ancient wood creaked as he pushed open the door.
Light streamed inside, and Quinn was brave enough to step past the entrance.
“Hello,” she called.
Her little face frowned when only a muted echo returned her call. He spotted her disappointment. In the silo her voice had boomed until she’d giggled.
“This place makes me want to sneeze,” she said as she twirled.
The earthen scent of dirt and stale air tickled both their noses. “No one’s been here for a long time,” he explained.
Their footfalls tapped on the old fieldstone flooring as they explored inside. Sunlight streamed through the yellowed glass of a single window and dust danced in the afternoon rays. “I’ll be boarding up that window again this week,” he told her. He kicked a broken slat of wood out of the way. “This one didn’t do its job very well.”
“I can help, Grandpa. I’m good with a hammer.”
He chuckled at her offer.
Nothing much remained from the old workshop. The furnace and kilns and glass blowing tools had been sold or given to retiring employees long ago. But the long table where crafters created and shaped the cooling glass endured.
“You made the Christmas ornaments here?”
Quinn’s question dragged him from his thoughts. “Well, my grandfather began with making jelly jars.”
“But also Christmas ornaments.”
“Then he added vases and dishes.”
She fisted her hands against her hips. “And Christmas ornaments?”
He laughed and tapped the end of her nose. “And Christmas ornaments. There used to be a time when a Christmas tree wasn’t a Christmas tree without a Hardwick ornament hanging from the branches.” He rapped the tabletop with his knuckles. “I’d watch my dad, your great-grandpa, for hours. Blow the glass, shape and reheat and work a molten blob until it became something beautiful.”
“Why don’t we make Christmas ornaments anymore, Grandpa?”
He smiled down at her upturned face. “Now that’s a very good question. To run a place as special as the Hardwick Ornament Company, the dream has to live inside you. I wanted to be a doctor. I’m good at treating sore throats and broken bones.”
“Just like my daddy.”
“Exactly.” His gaze traveled the room. “Right after he was born, we shuttered this place up for good.”
She slipped her hand into his again. “Don’t be sad, Grandpa.”
He crouched down before her, face to face. “Thank you, sweetie. Grandpa’s not sad, just…wistful.”
“I’m wishful too,” she told him, her sweet voice earnest and solemn.
“That you are.”
“Am I a dreamer, Grandpa?”
“You betcha, and what’s more, you’re a doer. That’s the best kind of dreamer. Little Quinn, you may be the one to bring life back to this old building.”
Quinn Hardwick fought off tears as she clutched the paperwork in her hands. When her grandmother had asked for Quinn’s help checking on the old farmhouse, she’d never expected to later be reading through paperwork. The deed to the family farmland. Another for the house. And finally a copy of her beloved grandfather’s will, listing her as the new owner of the Hardwick Ornament Company.
“I’m a travel agent. What do I know about running an ornament company?” Quinn dropped the papers to the picnic table her grandfather had built himself while she had helped with the very important task of fetching nails. She breathed in deep and wished she’d brought a coat. The air grew chillier as fall changed to winter and the sun set earlier each night.
Gram took Quinn’s hand in hers, her hazel eyes warm. “That’s the great thing about learning. You can always begin. When you quit is when the trouble starts.”
Quinn glanced from the old mint-painted farmhouse, a color no one in the family had dared to change, to the red and white barn, and finally to the workshop she’d first explored with her grandfather when she was a little girl. “Gram, I’m not sure I can take this.”
Jill Monroe is the international best selling author of over fifteen novels and novellas. Her books are available across the globe and The Wrong Bed: Naked Pursuit has been adapted for the small screen for Lifetime Movie Network. When not writing, Jill makes her home in Oklahoma with her husband, enjoys daily walks with her dog Zoey, texting with her two daughters who are away at college and collecting fabric for items she’ll sew poorly.
Links to Jill’s website, blog, books, etc.
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**SPECIAL GIVEAWAY**: Jill will give away a paperback or ebook copy (winner’s choice) of AT THE HEART OF CHRISTMAS to one lucky reader who comments on her Karen’s Killer Book Bench blog. (If the reader already has this book, she’ll give another one of hers or something from Hallmark Publishing.)
Thanks, Jill, for sharing your book with us!
Don’t miss the chance to read this book!