Christmas is a time for second chances...and for love.
Elizabeth Cranwell's children left home, her husband divorced her and dissolved their shared business, and she's set to spend Christmas alone.
Without her husband or the thriving business she spent years of her life building, Elizabeth doesn't know who she is or what to do with her days. She's dreading spending her first Christmas alone when her friends convince her to book a holiday at the Waratah Inn.
Robert Patch thought things couldn't get any worse when his only daughter married a controlling and angry man. That was until his grandchildren arrived. When his son-in-law won't allow Robert to stay with them over the holidays, Robert does the next best thing and books into a nearby inn so he can see the children. He is pleasantly surprised when he meets a woman who reminds him of the love he lost so many years ago, in a way that reawakens a heart he'd long thought dormant.
Filled with memorable characters, from a cheeky possum to a cook who moonlights as an amateur counsellor, this sweet, small-town Christmas story celebrates the camaraderie of a life lived in community and second chances at life and love.
A stand-alone, heartwarming Christmas romance for fans of Sheila Roberts, Debbie Macomber, and Debbie Mason.
This is the last audiobook in an ongoing series of four.
Listen to the series in order:
- The Waratah Inn
- One Summer in Italy
- The Summer Sisters
- Christmas at the Waratah Inn
Release date: October 21, 2019
Publisher: Black Lab Press
Print pages: 274
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
Christmas at the Waratah Inn
10TH DECEMBER 1996
Elizabeth Cranwell was re-evaluating her life choices. Specifically, the one that resulted in her running alongside the Dee Why lagoon, puﬃng and wheezing behind her gazelle-like friend, Ivy.
Flanked on one side by squat residential housing, brick walls in various shades of red and brown, tiled roofs, and tidy timber-slat fencing, she fixed her eyes on the skyline ahead, focusing on each laboured breath as it burst from her lungs.
“Almost there!” trilled Ivy with a glance and smile over her shoulder in Liz’s direction.
Liz couldn’t manage more than an oomph in response.
She was forty-seven years old. When would society allow her to simply give up on these attempts at athleticism? She hadn’t been an athlete in her twenties, and she highly doubted it would happen now.
She tried to say something to that eﬀect, but the wind whipped the words from her mouth and flung them over her shoulder to where Margot huﬀed behind her. At least she wasn’t as unfit as Margot. That thought dragged a slight smile to the corners of her mouth for a moment, until the begin- nings of a stitch twinged on one side of her ribcage, and she grimaced.
The breeze that fluttered over the lagoon cooled her as it lifted the lank hair from her neck. It wasn’t really a lagoon but more of an inlet of sea water that had nowhere to go. A trio of pelicans floated on the lagoon’s surface. One propelled itself forward with strong rhythmic beats of two webbed feet beneath the water’s surface, sending ripples fanning out in the blue ahead of it.
She focused on the pelicans and the blue sky overhead. She noted that there weren’t many clouds, then pivoted to thoughts about how that wasn’t good news for farmers who’d been suﬀering under a drought for the better part of five years. Still, she mused, it was a pretty day.
Anything to keep her legs stumbling forward and her mind oﬀ the possibility that her heart might explode in her chest at any moment.
She couldn’t stop now. Ivy would never let her live it down. She’d blame the donuts, the white bread, the crispy chips, and they’d never hear the end of it. No, that wouldn’t do. Liz would simply have to keep pushing forward.
She shot Margot a sympathetic look. Her friend’s face was a study in red; sweat poured down either side of it. Her lips were pursed, and she squinted into the morning sun.
“Whose…idea… was this?” grunted Margot, between gulped breaths.
Liz arched an eyebrow. “I thought it was yours.” “Next time, shoot me,” replied Margot.
Liz chuckled then groaned at the growing pain in her side.
She could see the headland and could glimpse the ocean. Not far now. She squeezed her eyes shut and focused on each step, each breath. She could do it. She slammed into Ivy’s back.
“What are you doing?” croaked Ivy, staggering forward.
Liz’s eyes flitted open, and she caught herself before plunging headfirst into the pavement. “Oh, sorry. I was focusing.”
“Next time focus with your eyes open,” complained Ivy, rubbing her back.
Liz stood with her hands on her knees, gasping in air for a few moments until her pulse slowed to a more normal pace, then straightened to take in the view. It really was beautiful.
Waves curled in slow motion, drawing toward the shore. Sunlight glinted oﬀ the azure waters. Seagulls circled and cawed nearby, and green shrubbery clung to the hillside that curved down from where they stood to the beach below.
Margot sat on the footpath; her eyes dull. “Maybe next time we should think about just going to the cafe to catch up.”
Ivy laughed, stretching one foot up behind her until it tapped her taut rear as she raised an arm to counterbalance. “No, this is perfect. I love it out here. So beautiful, and look, the sun is already getting high in the sky. Dawn is the best time to be outside at this time of year.”
Liz walked to the railing that ran around the headland and leaned her elbows on the timber. She adjusted her sunglasses and breathed in the sea air. It was almost worth the pain.
Ivy joined her. “What are you doing for Christmas this year?”
“Um… not sure yet. You?”
Ivy shrugged. “Steve and I are going to visit the kids.” All three of Ivy’s grown children lived in the Blue Mountains where Ivy and Steve had raised them. The two of them had
decided to move somewhere warmer after their children, who she still called the kids, left home.
“That sounds nice.”
“Will you visit David or Danita?” asked Ivy.
Liz’s son, David, was studying architecture in Melbourne and her daughter, Danita lived in London, and worked for a large accounting firm there. She hadn’t seen either of her chil- dren in months and was trying hard not to feel blue about it. David had only left home that year to attend university. She’d been hoping he’d pick a school in Sydney, but he’d chosen to move interstate, leaving her alone in the big and now very quiet house where she’d raised them.
“I haven’t spoken to David about Christmas yet. I’m assuming he’ll come here, but Danita’s going skiing with a group of friends in Austria, so I won’t be able to see her this year for Christmas I’m afraid. As you know, Mum and Dad are in Cairns, and I would visit them but they’re going on some kind of safari…”
Margot slipped into the space between Liz and Ivy. She struggled to get one foot up onto the railing, then proceeded to stretch her leg, both hands angling toward her upturned foot, her face contorted. “I’m sorry to hear that, Liz.” She grunted then exhaled a sharp breath. “At least you have David.”
Liz nodded. At least she had her son. Her husband was an entirely diﬀerent matter. Ex-husband now—she still hadn’t gotten used to saying it. After all, they’d been married for twenty-three years, separated for two and divorced for one. It was hard to believe it was over, that she was a single woman in her late forties. She’d never thought she’d find herself in that situation, because they’d been the couple everyone knew would last.
They’d even built an architecture firm together. Cranwe! Design had a stellar reputation around Sydney. They’d worked
together and raised a family together over two decades, and now he was living with the woman she’d hired as her associate.
“What will you do this year?” Liz asked Margot.
Margot smiled. “We’re flying to New Zealand to see Frank’s family. But we’re headed back the day after Christ- mas. Can’t stay too long, things get a bit heated on that side of the family I’m afraid. Frank is keen to come home and relax for the new year before we both have to head back to work.”
By the time she’d caught her breath, Liz was dismayed to see Ivy jogging back in the direction they’d come. With a groan, she pushed her tired legs to follow her friend. At least there’d be steaming hot coﬀee and croissants when they got there. It was her favourite part of their weekly catch up.
The warm water in the oversized tub lapped at Liz's chin. Bubbles foamed and fizzed around her as the bath bomb she’d thrown into the water oﬀered its final gasp, sending pink bath salts spinning through the water. She squeezed her eyes shut and leaned her head back on the folded towel she’d placed on the edge of the tub.
It was nice to finally have some time to herself. Time to relax after all these years. She’d raised a family, built a busi- ness, and now she was free to do what she wanted with her days.
Still, since it wasn’t exactly her choice to be retired at the grand old age of forty-seven, her newfound freedom was bittersweet.
She and Cameron hadn’t only gotten divorced a year earlier they’d also dissolved their business partnership. The successful architecture firm they’d built together over many years of hard work, turmoil, heartbreak, and several near bankruptcies, was no more. Cam had chosen his new girl- friend over Liz, and he’d decided that working with his ex- wife wasn’t fair on the new girlfriend. Especially since the girlfriend was one of Liz’s employees. Now, he had his own firm, with the girlfriend working alongside him as Liz had done for all those years.
Liz sighed and blinked her eyes open. She turned the hot tap on with one toe, letting more hot water into the tub. It pummelled her feet, and she groaned as the stiﬀness from their run earlier that morning worked its way through her tired muscles. She didn’t feel middle-aged most of the time, but Ivy had a knack for bringing it out in her, especially when she made them run, rock climb, mountain climb, or any other of the myriad adventures she took them on, calling them opportunities to grow.
Liz shook her head. She was grateful for both her friends, even if Ivy did put her life in danger with such regularity. In truth, if it hadn’t been for Ivy and Margot, she wasn’t sure she’d have even left the house during the past two years.
Claws tapped on the hardwood floors in a steady rhythm, getting louder as they approached. A large, brown head appeared through the bathroom door, and a pink tongue lolled out of the corner of Macy’s mouth.
“Macy girl, come here.”
The chocolate Labrador happily trotted to the side of the bathtub and sat, tail wagging. Liz stroked the animal’s head with one wet hand.
“If it wasn’t for you and the girls, I don’t know where I’d be right now,” murmured Liz.
Macy licked her arm, her tail thumping against the tiles.
The phone rang, jangling in the bedroom and set Liz’s heart racing. She climbed out of the tub, wrapped a towel around her still dripping wet body, and hurried to answer it.
“Hello?” She dabbed at her hair with the end of the towel. “Hi, Mum,” said David.
She smiled, always happy to hear his voice. It’d been hard letting him go; he’d always been her baby, always so close to her. He’d been the child who’d clung to her on the first day of kindergarten, unwilling to let go. Now she felt like that child, not wanting to release her grip on him as he went oﬀ into the world, a young man. He’d gone without a backward glance, as he should. And she’d had to remind herself every day that she’d done her job as a mother when she saw how indepen- dent he’d become. Still, she missed having him hover around her as a child, asking a million questions, or sitting on her lap peppering her face with sweet kisses.
“Darling, it’s good to hear from you. How’s uni?”
He grunted. “It’s fine. Still there. Hey, I wanted to talk to you about Christmas.”
A frown creased her brow. “Okay.”
He cleared his throat. “Brianna wants me to meet her parents…” His latest girlfriend had featured in every tele- phone call for the past three months. It wasn’t a surprise to her that things might be heating up between the two of them. Her eyes narrowed. “That’s nice.”
“So, we’re going to spend Christmas in Tasmania… you know, with her mum and dad.”
Liz’s heart contracted. “Oh.”
“Sorry, Mum, I know how much you love Christmas and everything. It’s just that she really wants to take me to her parents’ farm, show me around, introduce me to the family… you know how it is. We’ll come up to Sydney next Christmas. Okay?”
She exhaled the breath she’d been holding in her throat. “Next Christmas? That sounds serious.”
He laughed. “Yeah, I guess so. Look, I’ve gotta go, Mum.
“Love you too.”
He hung up and Liz stood there, dripping onto the hard- wood floors, staring at the handpiece. She swallowed hard. He wasn’t coming home for Christmas. Neither was Danita. Cam had moved on and would no doubt be spending the holiday with his new girlfriend and her family. And she would be here, in this big, airy house, all alone.
She glanced around the master suite. Perfectly decorated in creams and tans with azure blue accents. A dormer window with a window seat and perfectly placed throw pillows, curtains that draped on either side of it, positioned to let in the natural light. A king-size bed, neatly made, with a large acrylic painting of a beach scene poised above it.
She’d spent so much time making her home exactly what she thought a home should be. She’d designed it herself, sketched out the floor plan more than twenty years earlier on her drafting table into the wee hours of the night as her eldest slept in a cot down the hall of their tiny apartment. It was their dream home, her and Cam’s. And now every foot- step she took echoed a hollow thud through its long, empty hallways. Every cough or word she spoke hung in the vaulted ceilings. What was the point of having such a house if it was empty of love, of laughter, of family?
Tears filled the corners of her eyes. She dried oﬀ, pushing the lump that’d formed in her throat back down as best she could. Then she dressed in a pair of navy-blue slacks with a cream blouse. She blow-dried her hair, her throat still tight. She wouldn’t let this derail her. She’d come so far already this year. The divorce had sucked the air right out of her lungs, especially when Cam had brought his girl- friend to the solicitor’s oﬃce to discuss the division of assets. She’d barely been able to raise her gaze from the table in front of her, willing herself not to cry, not to shout, scream, or rant about the unfairness of him leaving her right when she was done raising his children and building his business.
Liz inhaled slowly, sucking air into her aching lungs. She set her hairbrush down on the vanity and took one last look at her reflection in the mirror. Shoulder length, light-brown hair with blonde highlights, green eyes, a smattering of fine lines around their corners, and full, pink lips perfectly painted.
She’d done everything right. How had she ended up in this place—alone at Christmas?
Ever since her business dissolved, she’d struggled to find things to do with her days. Eventually she’d return to work, maybe find an architecture firm and interview for a job. The idea made her shudder, she’d been her own boss for so many years, so would she be able to fit in somewhere else?
Today she was going Christmas shopping with Margot and Ivy. They’d agreed to do it weeks ago when her friends had dropped by the house late in the afternoon, and she was still moping around the house in her pyjamas, eating ice cream from the container with a spoon.
The Audi’s engine roared to life and Liz backed out of the three-car garage and down the long, curving driveway. It was only a ten-minute drive to the shopping centre, and she found a parking space without much diﬃculty. These were the things that occupied her thoughts now: clothing, traﬃc, parking spaces, and which shade of lipstick would best match her accessories. The absurdity of it made her stomach churn.
She’d been a successful entrepreneur, a businesswoman, a mother, a wife… and now, what was she? She honestly couldn’t say. Who was she? She didn’t know.
She met Margot and Ivy in front of Myer and pushed a smile onto her face.
Ivy wore long, black leggings paired with a flowing silk shirt that reached almost to her knees. Her golden hair was pulled back into a sleek ponytail. Margot wore jeans and a t- shirt with a black jacket, sleeves rolled up to her elbows. Her brown curls fell untamed across her forehead and into dark eyes.
“Hey, there you are. We were about to send out a search party,” said Margot, oﬀering Liz a hug.
Liz grunted. “Sorry, I had a phone call that… kind of threw me.”
“What happened?” asked Margot, concern darkening her eyes.
“David called. He’s not coming home for Christmas.” “What?” Lines creased Ivy’s forehead. “What happened?
Is he okay?”
Liz sighed and stepped forward, urging her friends to walk with her. She didn’t want to disrupt their shopping trip with more bad news. It seemed she’d had nothing but complaints to oﬀer to her friends in recent months. She was sick of the sound of her own voice.
She ran a hand over her hair, smoothing it into place. “He’s going to Tasmania with his girlfriend. They’re spending the holidays with her parents.”
Margot huﬀed with her eyebrows pulled low. “I’m so sorry, honey. That really stinks.”
“I don’t know why he doesn’t consider your feelings,” responded Ivy, eyes flashing. “What is it with our children? Everything’s about them.”
“He doesn’t think about it because he’s never had to before,” replied Liz with a sigh. She stopped in front of a window and studied her reflection in the glass. Sadness pulled down the corners of her mouth. She used to smile all the time.
Margot’s arms crept around Liz’s shoulders and her friend squeezed gently. “I’m sure he didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“He didn’t. And to be fair, it’s not his responsibility to make me happy. I can’t expect him to give up his life because mine is empty.” She issued a hollow laugh. “He should go and have fun with his girlfriend. What I really need to do is stop waiting around for my children to visit me, and get my own life.”
Ivy shook her head. “You have your own life.”
“Do I? I don’t know anymore.” A lump formed in Liz’s throat.
“You should go on a cruise or something,” said Margot, resolve hardening her voice. “Yes, you should do something completely out of character. As you said, you can’t wait around for other people to fill the void, you’ve got to take action.”
“Well, I don’t know if I meant that…” Liz’s eyes widened. She’d never considered taking a cruise at Christmas. The holi- days were a time to spend with family, not to lay on the deck of a boat alone in your swimsuit. Weren’t they?
“Look, there’s a cruise line right there.” Margot pointed and Liz’s gaze followed her direction. They were standing in front of a travel agency. Posters advertising azure waters, golden beaches, and tanned bikini-clad women enjoying these exotic locations lined the walls.
“I have no desire to lay on a beach by myself somewhere romantic…” Before she could finish her sentence, Margot had grabbed her by the hand and pulled her into the shop.
“Come on, let’s see what they have,” said Margot.
Liz stumbled after her, eyebrows lowered. “This is not helping.”
Ivy followed after them, spinning slowly as she walked, taking in the plethora of images oﬀering happiness and perfection. “I wish we weren’t going to the Blue Mountains… I could do with a beach holiday.”
“Newsflash Ivy, you live at the beach,” grumbled Liz, crossing her arms over her chest.
Ivy laughed. “Good point. So, why don’t we ever enjoy it then? I think going away somewhere is important, even if you already live by a beautiful beach. Somewhere else is always more relaxing. Don’t you think?”
“I guess.” Honestly the last thing she wanted to do was go somewhere alone at the holidays. It’d simply draw attention to the fact that she had no one to share Christmas with. Her friends meant well, but the idea didn’t appeal.
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