"Happiness is a New Hope Ramsey Series"
Reviewed by Diana Troldahl
Posted January 5, 2017
Romance Contemporary | Holiday
I was very happy to be chosen to review A CHRISTMAS BRIDE
by Hope Ramsay, the first full book in her Chapel of Love
series (a prequel, A FAIRYTALE BRIDE was published in
June). A new series by Hope is akin to receiving a
beautifully wrapped package that you just know is going
to contain a gift you'll want to open early.
Reading anything by Hope Ramsay is like sinking into a
lovely warm bath after a stressful day. As always, she
builds her community of people with sure hands. You come
to care about them very quickly and soon become intrigued
cozy Shenandoah Falls, spiced with politics, shady pasts
and lots of joy.
A CHRISTMAS BRIDE is guaranteed to lift your spirits and
take you away from the stresses which are the down side
of this holiday season. Book two of the Chapel of Love
series, A SMALL TOWN BRIDE is due out March 28, 2017.
A season of hope . . .
'Tis the season in Shenandoah Falls and the first time
Willow Peterson has been home in years. But she's determined
to fulfill the wishes of her recently deceased best friend
and restore Eagle Hill Manor to its former glory-all in time
to host the perfect holiday wedding. She just has to get the
owner of the historic inn to hire her. Unfortunately, that
means dealing with Scrooge himself...
After the death of his wife, David Lyndon has a bah-humbug
approach to Christmas. But as December counts down and the
wedding planning is in full swing, it's harder and harder to
stay immune to the charms of Willow, especially when he sees
how much joy she brings his eight-year-old daughter. After a
simple kiss under the mistletoe turns into something more,
David is hoping he can turn the magic of the holiday season
into the love of a lifetime.
Eagle Hill Manor could have served as a backdrop for
Gone with the Wind except that every one of the
grand porticoâs twelve Doric columns needed a coat of paint.
Willow Petersen stood on the front walkway, shading her
eyes. The November sun cast sharp shadows across the
mansionâs dingy facade.
Once the home of a wealthy robber baron, Eagle Hill Manor
had been open to the public as an inn for decades. But it
had clearly fallen on hard times in the eight years since
Willow had last visited. It seemed hard to believe that two
years had passed since Shelly had died.
As far as Willow knew, Shellyâs mother, Poppy Marchand,
still lived here. But why hadnât Mrs. M put up her autumn
decorations? Where were the grapevine wreaths with their
autumn-gold ribbons? Where were the pots overflowing with
purple and gold chrysanthemums? Autumn was one of the innâs
busier seasons, with tourists coming from all over the
commonwealth to stay at one of Virginiaâs great old houses
and take in the fall foliage along the Skyline Drive.
Willow squared her shoulders and fought down a wave of
unease. If Mrs. M had died or moved away, Willow wouldnât
have known it; sheâd done a bad job of keeping in touch,
even before Shellyâs death.
She had reached the front door when it opened outward,
propelled by a redheaded child who barreled forward and
connected with Willowâs midsection, knocking her back a
step. A sudden, warm mix of relief, nostalgia, and sorrow
spilled through Willow like a blessing. She hugged the child
to her middle, absorbing a bittersweet mixture of grief and
joy. Natalie, her godchild, whom sheâd neglected. She clung
to the girlâs shoulders and hoped time would stand still.
A sharp, utterly male voice shouted from within the inn,
âYou come back here, Natalie Marie. Youâre behaving like a
brat.â Footsteps thumped from beyond the open door, coming
in her direction.
The little girl pushed Willow away, then scampered down the
steps, her tangled red hair dancing behind her like a fiery
contrail. She took off into the woods adjacent to the inn,
her pink jacket and purple leggings soon lost to sight.
An instant later, the owner of the voice came roaring
through the door. He took the front steps two at a time and
then stopped in the middle of the leaf-strewn lawn, looking
right and left.
The years had turned his face hard and gaunt, which only
underscored his stunning good looks. Heâd lost none of his
presence, either. He took a breath and started to speak, and
then pulled up short.
âWillow? Is that you?â His words came out in a cloud of
steam in the chilly November afternoon.
Willow jammed her hands into the pockets of her cashmere
coatâa relic from better days. âDavid.â Her voice sounded
dry and thin.
He cocked his head a tiny bit, assessing her. Sheâd gotten
used to people doing that, ever since her decision to go
public with her accusations of fraud against Restero
Corporation, her former employer. Restero hadnât taken her
charges lying down. Their PR department had publicly painted
Willow as a malcontent, a troublemaker, and even worse in
numerous press releases that the Wall Street
Journal had run almost verbatim. Now people stared at
her the way they used to stare at her mother, as if she were
âWhat are you doing here?â David asked.
âI live here,â she said, balling her hands into fists inside
her pockets. âI mean Iâve moved back to Serenity Farm. With
Mom,â she added, feeling small and broken.
âYeah, I know, big surprise. Me coming back to Shenandoah
Falls and living with my crazy hippie mother.â
âYes, it is.â
âDavid, Iâm so sorry aboutââ He silenced her with a lift of
one eyebrow. As a member of the Lyndon familyâone of
Virginiaâs most eliteâheâd truly mastered that expression.
Her heart almost broke. Once heâd been a good friend, but
apparently that was no longer true.
She changed the subject. âNatalie went that way.â She
pointed to the path leading into the woods. âIâm sure sheâs
hiding out in the secret place.â
His censorious stare turned into a bona fide scowl. âHow
could you possibly know anything about Natalie?â
âI donât,â she admitted, the pain sharp. âBut I knew her
mother.â Willow managed to keep her voice controlled despite
David turned away and marched off toward the woods, head
down, hands swinging. His blue suit and dark wing-tip
lace-ups werenât exactly the right attire for tromping
through the woods on a cold November day. But hand-tailored
suits were the uniform of choice for the male members of the
Lyndon family. David wore his well.
Willow turned away, wondering if everyone in town would give
her this kind of reception. She could almost hear the
whispers going up and down the local grapevine: âYep, that
Willow girl sure is a chip off the old block. The apple
didnât fall too far from the Petersen tree. Both of those
women are troublemakers.â
She walked into the innâs lobby, where she drank in the
familiar setting, comforted by the fact that nothing much
had changed since her girlhood. The place still smelled of
beeswax and lemon oil, Persian rugs still covered the
hardwood floors, and a pair of Queen Anne chairs still sat
by the big fireplace in the lobby. But the furniture was
dinged and scratched, the rugs threadbare, and the chairsâ
upholstery faded. The lobby, which should have been busy at
this hour with people arriving for high tea, was dark. So
was the dining room.
Shelly would be so disappointed.
The thought settled into Willowâs mind the way snow
sometimes settled on the mountains, a cold thing that made
her shiver. That last day of her life, Shelly had traveled
to New York to meet with an architect about restoring the
inn. Sheâd lost her life on the train coming home in a
tragic derailment, and now, apparently, all those plans had
come to nothing.
Willow continued through the familiar spaces, down a private
hallway, and stopped in front of the closed door that led to
the innâs office. She knocked.
âCome,â came the answer sheâd been hoping for.
Willow opened the door and found Mrs. M sitting behind an
oak desk far too big for her. She wore a pair of half
reading glasses that required her to tilt her head up as she
looked at her computer screen. Her ever-present pearls and
heather-gray twinset were like familiar friends. Her hair
may have gone from blond to ash gray, but she still wore it
in a pageboy, parted on one side.
âNatalieâs swim bag is all packed and ready to go. Itâs on
the front table. I know you donât want my opinion, butââ
She looked up from her computer, surprise unfolding across
her like an old-fashioned ladyâs fan. âOh my goodness.
Youâre not David. Willow. Oh my. Is that you? Good God, itâs
been years.â Mrs. M jumped up from the desk and rushed
forward with arms extended. An instant later, Willow found
herself enveloped in an EstĂ©e Lauder hug. The scent left a
warm, sugary feeling in its wake.
Mrs. M pushed her back. âLet me look at you,â she said in
her Tidewater accent.
Willow struggled to smile. âMrs. Marchand, Iââ
âOh, for goodnessâ sake, youâre a grown woman now. Please
donât call me that. It reminds me that Craig has gone and
left me behind. Which isnât all that newsworthy. That man
was always in a hurry.â
âI came to pay my respects. Somewhat belatedly forââ
âOh, hush. Thereâs no need. I got your letter, remember? And
Iâve kept it. Itâs a comfort to know Shelly had such a good
friend. Iâm sorry you were so far away when the accident
happened. In China of all places. You have become quite the
world traveler, havenât you?â
âI guess. Not so much now, though.â
Mrs. M waved her hand in dismissal. âNo more of that kind of
depressing talk. Do you have some time? I was about to go
find some ginger snaps and tea. David should be along any
moment to pick up Natalie, and thenââ
âDavid has already arrived and made a detour. Into the
woods,â Willow said.
Mrs. Mâs blue eyes widened. âDetour?â
âI met him on my way in. I stumbled into the middle of a
father-daughter disagreement of some kind. Natalie seemed
upset and was running away from him andââ
âOh, good Lord.â Mrs. M bolted through the door. âNatalie,â
she shouted, âare you still playing in the library?â
Willow followed Mrs. M down the hall into a sitting room off
the lobby that had always been called the library because of
the big bookshelf filled with dog-eared paperback novels.
The room was deserted except for a redheaded American Girl
doll and assorted clothing and accessories scattered over
âNatalie, where are you?â Poppyâs voice sounded urgent.
âI told you, Mrs. M. I interrupted an argument or something.
She ran off into the woods, and David followed after her.
Iâm sure sheâs headed for the secret place.â
The worry on Mrs. Mâs face disappeared. âYou remember the
âOf course I do. Shelly and I spent hours and hours there
with our Barbies, planning elaborate weddings.â And their
dreams for the future.
Mrs. M nodded. âYes, you did. And Natalie knows that place.
I showed her the secret path this summer, and I told her
that if she ever needed to talk to her mommy, that was the
place to do it.â Mrs. Mâs voice trembled a little as she
continued. âAt least thatâs where I go when I need to talk
âOh, Mrs. M, Iâm so sorry. I should have come home sooner. I
âNonsense. What happened was an accident. Thereâs nothing
you could have done to stop it. Iâm just glad to see you.
And now that I know where Natalie is, I think Iâll let her
play hide-and-seek with her father. Iâm pretty sure heâs
forgotten all about the secret place and the hidden path.
Maybe if he has to look for it, it will make him late to his
motherâs Election Day party, and that will be a few more
minutes that Natalie doesnât have to dance to Pam Lyndonâs
tune. Why don't we go find a pot of tea.â
âBut arenât you worried aboutââ
âNot in the least,â Mrs. M said with a wave of her hand.
âNatalie is eight years old. When you and Shelly were that
age, you had the run of the place. Remember?â
Willow remembered. Those were some of the best times of her
âGood. Iâm an old-fashioned grandmother. I think the term
these days is âfree-range granny.â A child needs some space
to roam, if you ask me. And itâs the least I can do for
Natalie, since her other grandmother would like to keep her
on a very short leash.â
Willow followed Mrs. M into the big, professional kitchen,
which was empty of the usual cooks and helpers. Mrs. M
busied herself with the kettle and a box of store-bought
ginger snaps. She laid out a tray with a vintage china
teapot and several mismatched English teacups. One of the
saucers had a tiny chipâsomething Mrs. M would never have
tolerated back in the day.
âLetâs sit in the solarium,â Mrs. M said, picking up the tea
The solarium was a tiny bit cool on this November day. Once
upon a time, the windows had provided a view of the Blue
Ridge Mountains, but the azaleas in the flower beds outside
had grown wild and leggy and now obscured the view on all sides.
They settled themselves on a couple of wicker rocking
chairs. Mrs. M poured, and the spicy scent of Earl Grey
filled the air.
âWhen did the inn close its doors?â Willow asked.
Mrs. M picked up her saucer and leaned back into the rocking
chair. âNot very long ago. In September.â
âWas business that bad?â
Mrs. M rocked back in her chair. âTime marches on, and I
couldnât keep up with things like I used to. To be honest, I
thought my innkeeping days were over when Craig and I sold
the inn to Shelly. But then Craig and Shelly passed, and I
ended up back here trying to do it all. Itâs time to hand
the place off to someone else.â
âBut Shelly had so many plans. I mean, we had lunch not long
before the accident, and all Shelly talked about was
restoring the inn. Whatever happened to her plans?â
âIâm afraid her plans died with her.â Mrs. M put her cup and
saucer down on the table. When she spoke again, her tone was
sad and nostalgic. âWillow, I know Shelly had big dreams of
restoring the inn, but she was never going to put them into
action. David never wanted to be an innkeeper. And sooner or
later, Shelly would have had to make a choice between her
marriage and the inn. Iâm sure she would have chosen her
marriage. She loved David very much.â
David tramped through the woods, going around in circles
yelling Natalieâs name. His daughter was being her worst
willful self, but after twenty minutes of searching to no
avail, a deep worry overtook him.
What if something terrible had happened to her? Maybe sheâd
fallen down and hit her head. Or maybe some intruder had
kidnapped her. David reached for his cell phone and was
poised to dial 911 when footsteps through the leaf litter
sounded behind him.
He turned, hoping Natalie had come to her senses.
No such luck. Willow Petersen came striding down the path in
her black coat, her blond hair all tucked up in a
businesslike hairdo. âPoppy sent me to find you, in case
youâve forgotten the way to the secret place.â
Annoyance and resentment prickled along his skin. How the
hell did Willow Petersen know anything about Natalie and her
secret hiding places? Willow had met Natalie exactly one
time, on the day of his daughterâs christening a little more
than eight years ago. For all of Natalieâs short life,
Willow had been too busy with her career to give a crap
about her goddaughter.
After Shellyâs death, he would have expected Willow to make
an effort to show up. But there had been nothing. Nothing at
He wanted to tell her off. He wanted to read her the riot
act for missing Shellyâs funeral on that cold December day.
He wanted to scream at her because it seemed so damn unfair
that Shelly wasnât here anymore.
But he had more discipline than that. So he swallowed down
his anger and said, âYou have a firm grasp of the obvious.â
Then he gave Willow his implacable, bulldog scowlâthe one
heâd regularly used to intimidate people as chairman of the
Jefferson County Council. It bounced right off her.
âCome on, Iâll show you the secret path.â She swished past
him and headed down the main path a few strides. He followed
as she took a left turn off the main footpath and onto a
muddy rut that was most definitely not a regular path.
After a short walk, they emerged from the woods into a small
clearing near Morgan Avenue. The meadow looked neglected, as
if it hadnât been mowed in some time. The wild grass had
grown knee high, and even now, the first week of November,
yellow and white wildflowers bloomed everywhere.
Off to the left a few paces stood the tumbled-down limestone
church that was known as Laurel Chapel. No one had
worshipped there in almost a century, and its sanctuary was
now open to the sky, its arched windows broken. Beside it
stood the oldest cemetery in town, where a few of Davidâs
forebears had been buried. The graveyard was ringed by a dry
stone wall that was in good repair. St. Lukeâs, the
Episcopal church in town, took care of the cemetery. Laurel
Chapel had once been the Episcopaliansâ place of worship
before they built the big church in town a hundred years
ago. The congregation had sold the land up here, along with
the old church building, as a means of raising the funds for
their much grander place of worship. In the years since, the
building had fallen to ruins.
David knew this place, but heâd never walked here from the
inn before. Heâd always come by car and parked in the gravel
lot adjacent to the ruins of the church. Hikers seeking
access to the Appalachian Trail frequently parked there,
especially in the spring when the mountain laurel bloomed.
The laurel had been in bloom that day, long ago, when Shelly
had brought him up here full of ideas and plans for their
wedding. Sheâd wanted to put up a tent on this meadow and
hold the reception at her parentsâ inn.
That wasnât possible, of course. The guest list for their
wedding included senators, governors, and the vice
president. The meadow by Laurel Chapel wasnât anywhere close
to secure enough for a guest list like that. So theyâd been
married in Washington, DC, with the Secret Service in
âI know for a fact Shelly brought you here,â Willow said as
if reading his mind. âIâm surprised you didnât know about
the hidden path. The old chapel always was Shellyâs secret
He didnât respond. What could he say? He should have known
this. Instead, he walked past her toward the church and
through the empty doorway into the nave. Leaves lay in
clumps across the stone floor where once the pews, altar,
and pulpit had stood.
âNatalie, are you hiding in here?â he asked.
A little whimper from the corner of the sanctuary was his
answer. He moved forward through the gloom and found his
daughter sitting in a pile of leaves. She hugged her knees
with a pair of grubby hands, and her head rested on dirty
The pull of muscles across his shoulders eased at the sight
of her. He lived in perpetual fear of losing her. He wanted
to pull her into his arms and spoil her. But what kind of
father would that make him? She needed discipline.
âNatalie,â he said in his sternest voice, âI wonât tolerate
this kind of behavior from you. What were you thinking,
running away from me? You could have been injured or worse.â
His daughter looked up at him, her chin wobbling while
defiance sparked in her deep brown eyes.
âSweetheart, I know youâre disappointed about your swimming
time trials, but itâs Election Day, and Grandmotherâs party
is important. Not just to her, but to me. Didnât I explain
last night that there will be important people at this party
that I have to be nice to because Iâm thinking about being a
congressman? Those people want to meet you too.â
âI donât want to meet them.â
Of course she didnât. But that didnât change things. Like it
or not, Natalie would grow up as a congressmanâs daughter,
like heâd grown up as a senatorâs son.
âSweetie, we talked about this, remember? When I was growing
up, there were lots of times when I had to do things that I
didnât want to do because Grandfather is a senator. But I
did as I was told. Because I am a Lyndon, and Lyndons make
Natalie wiped her nose on the sleeve of her jacket, and he
almost corrected her before he remembered that he didnât
have a handkerchief with him today because he hadnât been to
the laundry in more than a week.
He became acutely aware of his failings as a parent. Natalie
did that to him. Often.
âI donât want to go. I want to beat Meghan in breaststroke.
Sheâs always telling everyone sheâs faster than I am.â
âIâm sorry. But there will be another set of time trials
next month, and swimming competition doesnât start until the
spring. Election Day comes once a year. Besides, you donât
want to make Grandmother unhappy, do you? You know how
unpleasant that can be.â
Natalieâs mouth thinned like Shellyâs used to whenever they
argued about Mother. But this time Mother was right. David
needed to be at her barbeque this evening because he was
planning a run for Congress next year. Important donors and
political consultants would be in attendance, and they all
wanted to meet Natalie. Like it or not, she was the
candidateâs daughter, and the two of them were a package deal.
He folded his arms across his chest. âDo you want a time-out?â
She gave him a mutinous scowl.
âDo you? Because it can be arranged. Honestly, Natalie, I
just donât know what Iâm going to do with you. I donât like
this attitude youâve suddenly developed.â
The quiver in her lower lip intensified. Damn. He
hated it when she cried.
âAre you ready to go?â he asked, fully expecting her to
either burst into tears, give him the eight-year-old death
stare, or pitch a tantrum.
She opted for a version of the death stare, complete with
big tears that spilled down her cheeks, leaving dirty tracks
on her face. âYes, Daddy,â she said in a forlorn voice as
she stood. His heart wrenched when she hung her head and
started walking toward the door.
He turned and found Willow Peterson standing behind him, her
hands on her hips, her gaze sharp and unforgiving.
âYou donât get to judge me,â he barked. âI have a career too.â
She lifted one shoulder and blinked. âIâm not judging you,
David. I was just wondering if itâs true what Mrs. M
saidâthat youâre planning to sell the inn because youâre
going to run for Congress.â
âI never promised Shelly I would keep the inn. And I wish to
God Almighty she had listened to me. Because if sheâd
listened, she would have given up those silly plans of hers.
And if sheâd given up those plans, sheâd never have gone to
New York to meet with an architect. And if sheâd never gone
to New York, she would be alive today.â
And with that he stepped around his wifeâs so-called best
friend and left the ruined chapel behind.
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