A beautiful, feel-good Christmas story. You’ll laugh, cry, and fall in love with this wonderfully warm and MAGICAL festive romance…
Holly McAdams loves spending the Christmas holidays at her family’s cozy cabin, with its little red door and twinkling lights, tucked in the snowy hills outside Nashville. But this year will be different. Someone unexpected is joining them…
After Holly and her beloved Nana struggle through a snow storm to reach the cabin, they discover gorgeous and wealthy Joseph Barnes, who has been renting the cabin for the last few weeks, is now snowed in. And it looks like he’ll be staying for the holidays.
Determined to make the best of the surprise situation, Holly tries to bring everyone together by baking delicious treats and decorating the cabin with plenty of festive sparkle. She finds herself growing close to handsome Joseph, who is unlike anyone she’s ever met before, even if Nana isn’t so keen on the dashing stranger with the mysterious past.
But charming and irresistible musician Rhett Burton is also back in town. Thrown into close proximity with the person who used to be her best friend and the man who broke her heart, Holly realizes it’s time to face her feelings and figure out what she really wants from her life. But to complicate things, both Joseph and Rhett have secrets to reveal…
Will Holly be able to find herself and the love she’s always dreamed of this Christmas?
Discover the joy of Christmas in this gorgeous novel, celebrating the importance of friendship, the magic of love, and finding happiness by being true to yourself.
What readers are saying about It Started With Christmas:
‘Fantastic book, one of the best Xmas books I've read this year. A real TRUMPET-TOOTING EXTRAVAGANZA… It's really what Christmas is all about family… can't praise this book enough.’ Netgalley reviewer, 5 stars
‘Full of Christmas charm and magic, this is such a heart-warming story that had me enchanted from the first few pages… fabulous… I loved everything about this book… a huge bear hug feeling… Definitely a story that kept me smiling… a gorgeous story.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
‘Fills you with Christmas joy… utterly spellbinding… this storyline just oozed romantic love… a beautiful, tender, touching novel which left me covered in goosebumps due to the sheer beauty… blew me away and left me wanting more. I adored it. ’ The Writing Garnet
‘This book was freaking amazing! Jenny Hale spun a story that had me laughing and crying... I highly recommend!... feel-good story of love, happiness, friendships.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
‘Oh my gods, Jenny has done it again… another amazing delightful and heartfelt story that I just fell in love with and completely got lost in… a delight to read from start to finish… Everything about this book has been a joy… heartfelt and emotiona l… had me laughing out loud.’ Mixing Reality with Fiction, 4 stars
‘ I devoured it in one sitting as I couldn't put the book down… taking me on a rollercoaster of emotions… a delightful sprinkling of romance… Joe and Holly's chemistry sizzled right off the pages… It Started with Christmas is a wonderful story.’ Stacy is Reading, 5 stars
‘ I adored this book!... Light the fire, get a nice cozy blanket and a cup of warm hot chocolate or tea and read.this.book!!!... festive perfection… I loved everything about it! ’ Goodreads reviewer
Release date: October 29, 2018
Print pages: 401
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
It Started With Christmas
“I want to spend Christmas at the cabin.” Nana’s voice came from the dark stairway, startling Holly McAdams and making her jump as she walked in the front door, the warmth of the little house a stark contrast to the icy cold outside.
“You want to what?” Holly asked gently, seeing Nana standing on the top step of the staircase, and understanding fully the weight of her grandmother’s statement.
Holly dropped her heavy handbag with a thud against the wall, glad to have finished her last night of waitressing for the holiday. With the Christmas crowds, the restaurant where she worked had been slam-packed from opening to closing. One of their best employees, she had requested this holiday off to be with Nana and was thrilled when she actually got the okay from management. Her boss needed convincing, given the busy season, but knowing how hard she worked for him, even putting in late hours beyond her duties, he let her have the days. Her head pounded, her feet ached, and she wanted to climb into her warm bed, but Nana was finally opening up, and this was what Holly had been hoping for.
“I’ve been thinking how things just aren’t the same,” Nana said, coming down the stairs and walking past Holly, the request she’d made hanging in the air between them.
“That’s for sure…” Holly said. Her voice trailed off with her memories. Things hadn’t been the same since Holly’s grandfather died.
Holly turned around to view her grandmother’s tiny living room, clicking on a lamp on the small table in the hallway as she trailed behind Nana, and then two more on either side of the sofa when Nana lowered herself down onto the center cushion and wrapped herself in the throw they had for chilly nights. The space was cloaked in a buttery glow. Holly pressed the button under the Christmas tree to turn it on and it sparkled in the corner, the white lights shimmering off the baubles they’d hung together during one of Nana’s rare moments of contentment. Bright red ribbons snaked through the mantle greenery, drawing attention to two stockings made of thickly knit material, each one embroidered with their initials in a snowy white.
Holly stared at Nana, sensing how difficult this decision was.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Nana said.
Holly faced her.
“The idea kept going around in my head—restless, unable to be denied the way I usually can talk myself out of it. So I think I’m ready.”
Holly leaned on the window ledge and took in a deep breath, the memory of Papa hitting hard tonight. The view of the Nashville skyline was full of high-rise buildings all outlined in lights for the holiday season.
Arthur McAdams, or Papa as Holly called her grandfather, had been a musician, writing songs and singing in local bars. He’d never gotten The Big Deal, as he’d called it, but he’d actually played at the historic Tootsies once. He’d teased her that his life was complete because of that. But, really, his life had been complete because he’d been able to support his family by adapting parts of his songs as poems for greeting cards, selling others, and occasionally renting out his old family cabin in the Tennessee hills to tourists who wanted to be close enough to the gritty bars of Nashville’s Honky Tonk Row but be able to spend their evenings secluded.
“I’ve never worked a day in my life,” he’d said with a grin once as he tapped a loose nail on the front porch floorboards of the cabin. Even everyday chores there seemed like a labor of love to him. Papa had managed what many people hadn’t: while his friends went off to their workday, he could make his money by doing what he loved.
Holly had lived in Nana’s house in Music City for the last year. The neighborhood on the outskirts of Nashville had been quaint when her grandparents bought the bungalow back in the fifties. They’d lived in that little house downtown and paid it off over the years, and neither Papa nor Nana cared one bit about moving. But as the city had grown, and the homes had aged, that small area had gone into decline, and it wasn’t a great place for Nana to live all alone. Not to mention that when Papa had passed away, Nana had drifted into a distant, quiet state: she needed a companion. So Holly had moved in with her, canceling her enrollment in a local design class and taking a waitressing job at one of the upscale steakhouses in Nashville.
Nana hadn’t been to Papa’s cabin since before he’d passed away two years ago. She’d refused to set foot in it without him. In fact, the only time Holly had been there in recent years was when she had renovated the place. They hadn’t known until his death, but he’d written songs and sold them in Nashville under a pen name. When he passed, he left them quite an inheritance. As part of the money Papa left her, she received directions from him to remodel the old cabin so they could rent it out full-time. Papa thought, with Holly’s decorating help, that the cabin could pull in a sizeable income in vacation rentals to supplement Nana’s retirement and give her a nice nest egg to see her through the rest of her life. He told them so in a letter accompanying his will.
Holly had always had an eye for design. She often thought that was how Papa’s artistic gene had manifested itself in her. Planning things, organizing, and decorating came naturally to her. Her friends all asked her to go shopping with them when they’d move into their apartments and she couldn’t remember how many of her friends’ weddings she’d lent a helping hand to. She’d planned to do something with her talent, but life seemed to have other plans.
Realizing she was lost in thought, Holly turned back to Nana. “Isn’t the cabin rented for the holiday?” she asked. After she’d redone the interior, and put the new photos online, they could barely keep up with the number of rental requests.
Nana shook her head. “Like I said, I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I cleared the schedule starting this week, just in case I had the courage to go.”
“But the snow…”
This December had been a record-breaking month, with icy temperatures plummeting, sending more snow than this area had seen in decades. There were road closures everywhere, and Holly knew that driving in the hills would be a nightmare. But even though Nana and Papa had lived here in the city, their hearts had always been at the cabin. Nana married Papa there and she spent her honeymoon there. And they always had big family Christmases there.
Should they go? The time at the cabin might do Nana some good, and it would also give Holly a chance to go through the old barn that was piled with the original furniture and things from the house that she still had to tag and either sell or give to charity.
The alternative was to sit in this house for the next week, Nana spending another holiday, thinking about how they weren’t at the cabin like they’d always been, and about how Papa wasn’t there with her.
Nope. Holly wasn’t going to let that happen.
“You know what?” she said before Nana had answered her. “If you want to go, then that’s what we’ll do. We’ll pack up all the gifts, take down the tree, tie it to the top of my car, and put it up at the cabin. We’ll make hot chocolate, and climb under blankets, and binge-watch movies until we fall asleep. We’ll read all the books we’ve been wanting to finish, make oven pizzas, and never put anything on our feet but fuzzy socks.”
She grabbed Nana’s hands, pulling her off the sofa gently, the blanket falling to a lump on the floor. “We’ll dance to Christmas carols and when we get tired of that we’ll visit Otis and Buddy! We can take them cookies like we used to do.”
She twirled Nana around, and that little scowl she’d gotten so good at faltered just slightly.
“Even with the snow, we can drive there in less than an hour. Let’s pack!”
“Right now?” Nana pressed her lips together to suppress her smile.
“Why not?” She pushed through her exhaustion for Nana’s sake. “It’s late, yes, but I can have that tree down and be ready to leave in a couple of hours. If we stay up till midnight, we can sleep in the next morning! I put extra thick, feather duvets on the beds, with one thousand thread-count sheets.”
Nana’s eyes grew round.
“Remember, Papa said, and I quote, to ‘do it up right’ and if I didn’t, I’d have to answer to him when we saw each other next.”
That made her smile.
“Let’s do it,” Holly said. She put her arms around Nana and squeezed her excitedly, making Nana laugh—the best sound in the world. Things were going to be great again—she could feel it—and Holly knew it would all start with Christmas.
It took a few hours to pack up the ornaments and the lights, pull down the stockings, drag the small tree and mantle greenery outside, get it all secured in and on the car, pack their gifts and bags, and make the drive. The cabin was just up a winding road from a small hillside town called Leiper’s Fork, known for its southern, boot-wearing hospitality, warm buttermilk biscuits, occasional famous musician sightings, and local art galleries.
On their way there the roads were treacherous. The weather forecast announcement on the radio said things were going to get worse before they got better and to be prepared to spend Christmas at home, warning that many of the roads wouldn’t be passable. Holly certainly believed it. She was jittery from maneuvering the car as it slid all over the place. She prayed silently that nothing would happen to them at such a late hour on the dark and snowy route to the cabin.
It was after midnight when they pulled into the ice-covered drive. When she finally came to a stop and cut off the engine, the keys to the cabin now in her hand, she exhaled, unsure how long she’d been holding her breath. Her shoulders were tense from the events of the night, and she couldn’t wait to get into the cozy warmth that awaited them.
“Stay here,” she said, opening her door. “I’ll come get you.”
It was pitch black. Holly turned on the little light on her phone so she could see where she was walking, her boots sinking into the fluffy snow. What started out as ice billowed down after making, she noticed, the whole place look like a winter wonderland, once her eyes adjusted to the darkness. But with no porch light on it was still difficult to see, so she shined her phone toward Nana’s car door and pulled the handle.
“Let’s get inside and then we can think about what we want to do with the tree. I should probably get it in as soon as we can since the snow is still falling.”
Nana nodded, taking her hand and carefully exiting the car. They walked together to the porch, every step labored and careful. The last thing Nana needed was to fall way out there, in a snowstorm.
By the time they got to the distinctive red front door that always made Holly feel like Christmas, Holly was shivering so much that she could hardly slide the key into the lock, but she got it in and, with a click, she turned the knob and hit the lights.
“I’ll get our bags,” she said as Nana looked around at the new interior.
That sadness that had been in Nana’s eyes when they pulled up remained; she didn’t seem at all impressed with the updates. It was easy to see that she missed the old, familiar surroundings. Her gaze settled on a glass guitar sculpture Holly had bought from a local art dealer, thrilled that she’d been able to afford it.
Growing up, the old cabin always had a special place in Holly’s heart. It was a place to lay her head after long days outside hiking, fishing, or sitting around the bonfire with friends. And in the winters, they played board games, strung popcorn garlands on the Christmas tree, and Papa hid presents all over the cabin for everyone to find.
It was simply decorated with very basic furniture—no frills. But Holly had changed that. She’d painted the interior, updated the lighting, added stainless steel appliances with a double oven feature and new cabinetry, hardwood floors and crown molding. Then she’d completely refreshed the space with creamy furniture, soft lighting, and lots of references to Nashville and its surrounding areas. She’d covered the blank walls with local artwork, and the whole place had a very southern feel to it when she’d finished—the perfect retreat to bring in the tourists.
Holly understood Nana’s feelings, though. It was the same way she’d felt the day she’d first come in to make the changes. It was the place where Papa’s memory was the strongest. She remembered how he sat her on his lap whenever he retired in one of the old rocking chairs on the front porch at sunset. She’d lean back against him as he rocked to the sound of the crickets when they started their song in the woods each evening. She’d felt completely safe, like nothing bad could ever happen to her when she was sitting with him.
“Why don’t you relax on the sofa?” Holly suggested.
Nana tore her eyes from the sculpture to acknowledge her granddaughter, but when she made eye contact, there was uncertainty in her face. She turned around and toddled over to the cream leather sofa, her legs stiff from the journey, and ran her weathered hand along its surface before she took a seat on the edge of it.
Pulling her coat up around her chin to keep the icy cold from assaulting her, Holly went outside again and tugged their suitcases from the backseat, shutting the car door with her foot. She brought them up the porch stairs, the weight of them making her winded, and carried them down the hallway to the bedroom. She noticed that Nana was still on the edge of the sofa, her hands on her knees, that scowl clear as day. Perhaps she was just tired. Holly would get her things into the bedroom as quickly as possible so she could have some rest. It had been a big night. Dropping the luggage at her feet, unable to drag them a step further, she opened the bedroom door and turned on the light.
To Holly’s complete surprise her eyes flew to the center of the room where a man sat straight up in bed like a bolt of lightning, before jumping to his feet, shocked out of sleep, causing her to shriek in panic. He froze, clearly taking stock of her, his gaze bouncing from her face to her bags. When it was clear to both of them that the other meant no harm, the man ran his hands through his hair in sleep-deprived confusion.
Only then did she take in the square of his jaw, the shadow of stubble, the darkness of his eyes, and his thick, jet-black, perfectly cut hair. He looked like a magazine model. Apart from the fact that he was wearing ridiculous silver striped pajamas. But even those he could manage quite well.
“I’m sorry… Are you renting here this week?” he asked.
Holly shook her head, having difficulty finding the words while those eyes bore into her. They seemed restless and curious. She cleared her throat and tried to focus on something else so she could get a coherent thought, but all she could see was the print of his body on the sheets, making it harder to concentrate. She’d stepped into this man’s personal space, awakened him from sleep, and her cheeks were burning in embarrassment. “My grandmother said no one was renting this week,” she managed. “We own the cabin.”
He blinked excessively, and she wasn’t sure if he was processing something or still trying to wake up. Then, finally, he said, “So… Are you cleaning between guests or something? At one in the morning? In a snowstorm?”
“What’s going on here?” Nana said from behind Holly, taking her by surprise. “I heard a scream.”
“Joseph Barnes,” he said, introducing himself to Nana.
Nana’s gaze pierced right through him. “We’re spending Christmas here.”
“I was renting last week, and I’d planned to call you, but my cell phone service has been spotty. The airport is closed and my flight was cancelled.”
Oh yes. Holly remembered helping Nana with the reservation. He was there on his own—a bigwig corporate financial advisor or something from New York.
“Where’s your car?” Holly asked, it suddenly dawning on her that there was nothing in the driveway to alert them that they had a guest.
“I caught a cab from the airport.”
Joseph took a step toward them, causing Holly to back up, stumbling over her bags. He caught her with one strong arm.
Rattled, she busied herself with moving the suitcases against the wall.
“I’d planned to pay you the extra rent. I’m so sorry if I’ve imposed on your family time.”
Nana took in an exasperated breath. “Well, Holly and I are not leaving. There’s no way in the world that I will get back into a car in this weather, so we’ll have to make the best of this for a few days.”
“It’ll be fine,” Holly said, not sure how she’d manage her movie binge-watching with a stranger lurking around. “Nana, you and I can share the other bedroom and Joseph can have the one he’s in.”
Nana’s frown deepened as she turned around and headed for the spare room. “I’m exhausted,” she said. “So let’s get a move on and unpack our things.”
Holly went to pick up the suitcases, but Joseph leaned forward, grabbing them first. “Please,” he said. “Allow me. I’m so terribly sorry. It’s the least I can do.” She was impressed by his gesture. How thoughtful.
They both followed behind Nana, who had already made it into the room and was standing with her hands on her hips. “What in the world is all this?”
The room was full of cardboard boxes. Joseph moved past Nana, tidying them up, consolidating cartons, and pushing things to the side of the room. “These are all my things,” he said.
When they’d gotten the bags into the room and Nana was in the en suite bathroom getting ready for bed, Joseph turned to Holly and said, “I’m sorry again. I feel just awful…”
“What could you do?” Holly said with a consoling smile. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“Is there anything else you need before I turn in? Any more luggage?”
She thought about the snow falling outside and the tree tied to the top of her car and bit her lip. After a full day of work and then the drive, she barely had enough energy to get the rest of the bags, let alone a giant spruce. Dare she ask him?
Joseph noticed her deliberation. “What is it? I don’t mind. Ask away.”
“Feel like getting a Christmas tree off my car?”
The request clearly surprised him, making him smile, the natural amusement on his face only solidifying her opinion of his good looks. Suddenly, she’d forgotten all about how tired she was.
“How’s that?” Joseph said from under the Christmas tree where he was holding the trunk into the stand before he twisted the bolts to secure it. He’d changed into a sweater and jeans, put his hiking boots on, and insisted that Holly stay put inside while he got the tree off her car. Now, with his coat and scarf draped on the chair in the corner, he was lying on the floor, arms stretched under the tree, wriggling it back and forth. “Is it straight?”
While he got the tree up, Holly made them a cup of coffee to combat the exhaustion that they both felt. She’d been so excited to get out of Nashville and take Nana to the cabin that she hadn’t thought about the unpacking part, and it was now quarter to two in the morning. But if they’d left the tree on her car it would’ve been buried in snow by the next day, and a mess when they’d brought it inside.
Once he saw their gifts and the countless ornaments and decorations, Joseph promised to bring them all in tonight. He said it was the least he could do for disrupting their plans. Nana had gone on to bed, and Holly told her that she’d turn in too in just a bit, once they brought everything in.
Holly didn’t mind the late hour, though. It was nice to have someone around her age to talk to. When she wasn’t working, she spent all her time with Nana. And Joseph seemed like a good guy. He really didn’t have to do all this for them, and it was clear that he was trying to make up for the miscommunication.
When he got it all secured, Joseph came over to her at the kitchen counter and took a seat on one of the iron barstools she’d found on sale downtown. She handed him a mug with a faded printed picture of a guitar on it that read “Music City” underneath in neon pink block letters. He took it, inspecting the front discreetly, but she caught him. Without thinking, she’d used Papa’s stash of mugs she’d hidden at the bottom of the cabinet instead of the stone-fired, multi-glazed ones she bought to match the new dishes. On Christmas with Papa she always used his mugs for hot chocolate, and they topped them with whipped cream and candy canes.
“I didn’t know how you take your coffee,” she said. “I put a little cream and sugar in it. I hope that’s okay.”
“It’s fine,” he said. “Thank you.” He took the mug from her and lifted it to his lips. He looked different in his sweater. It was dark navy blue and brought out the slight olive tone in his face and his dark eyes. And it was much more stylish than those pajamas he’d had on. Sitting there beside her, trying to hide his fatigue, there was no denying that he was strikingly handsome.
“Have you enjoyed your stay?”
“Yes, quite a lot, thank you.” Joseph set his mug down on the counter and looked around. “This place is great. Very relaxing.”
She smiled, happy that she’d pulled off what she’d intended with the remodel. “I’m so glad.”
“It’s definitely different from New York,” he said with a chuckle.
Holly laughed a little too loudly and tried to suck it back in. The image of Joseph and his silver pajamas popping into her head, amusing her. Maybe they were a New York fashion statement—definitely not anything like what her Papa would’ve worn in the cabin on Christmas. And they had to be cold in this weather. Joseph needed some good plaid flannel.
“Did I say something funny?” he asked, interested.
Her smile lingering, she shook her head. “No, it just reminded me of my papa. He was definitely a southern soul, very much like this place. I remember when we spent summers here, he used to sit out on the porch, wearing his dirty work boots from helping his buddies plow the fields,” she digressed. “He’d always have a drink on the table and a guitar in his hands. I think he’d have sat out on that porch all day and night if my nana had let him.”
Suddenly, it occurred to her that she’d been going on about strangers Joseph didn’t know, which she worried might bore him. But it was as if her story had entranced him. He was smiling, looking into her eyes. She liked how he did that.
His gaze shifted upward as he surveyed the room. “Your papa lived here?”
Holly’s story probably didn’t fit with the new décor. “I’ve remodeled since he passed away. When I came as a kid, it was more… rustic.”
“Mmm.” Joseph continued looking around. “You did this?”
“It’s really current and professionally done. So you’re a decorator?”
Holly shrugged and shook her head, uncertainty taking over. She wasn’t ashamed of what she did for a living but by the fact that she wasn’t busy pursuing what she really wanted to do in life. The problem was that she just wasn’t willing to be away from Nana, and doing decorating jobs or starting her own full-scale business would mean she’d be working all hours to get a company started. Just the remodel of the cabin had consumed a huge amount of her time. “I’m a server at a steakhouse in Nashville.”
“Really?” He seemed perplexed by her answer, but he worked to straighten out his expression. “It seems like you could undoubtedly be an interior decorator.”
“Yeah, it comes easily for me. I really love event-planning too—anything creative, really. But I could never do that full-time.”
He held his mug, his strong hands nearly covering the surface entirely, making it look much smaller than it had previously. “Why?” he asked.
It might be simple for him to just start a career from scratch with whatever millions he probably had, but she had bills to pay and Nana to care for. And even if she tried to find a job in that realm, who would hire her w. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...