An enchanting story about the magic of Christmas, the importance of family, and the joy of falling in love during the most romantic season of the year… Christmas has always been a special time for Noelle Parker. Winter evenings spent with family and friends, drinking hot chocolate and eating cookies at her family’s cozy bakery have shaped her love for all things festive. But this year everything is changing… The beloved bakery is facing closure and Noelle needs a miracle to save Christmas. Determined to raise funds for the family business, Noelle sets about revamping the bakery while juggling a surprise new job, caring for the elderly and cantankerous William Harrington in his luxurious, sprawling mansion. As Noelle melts the frostiness of the house with cake baking, snowball fights and glittering decorations, she helps William to reconnect with a romance that has spanned decades and unexpectedly finds herself falling for his grandson - the gorgeous but mysterious Alexander Harrington… In the countdown to Christmas, can Noelle save the bakery, reunite a family and create some magical memories of her own along the way? Unwrap the feeling of Christmas in this beautiful novel celebrating friendship, family and love that lasts a lifetime. We’ll Always Have Christmas is the perfect treat for fans of Karen Swan, Susan Mallery and Sue Moorcroft. Readers are falling in love with We’ll Always Have Christmas : ‘ Wow, I have literally fallen in love with this book, a truly wonderful heartfelt read from start to finish. It was so much more than a romance story, had lots going on and I was pretty much glued to the pages throughout and couldn't turn the pages quick enough. I loved the Christmas cosy feel to it and the bakery and family history behind it was wonderful to read and discover. It really was the perfect read, and I didn't want it to end.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars ‘Jenny Hale and Christmas, the perfect combination! I absolutely adore the Christmas vibes in this story… It’s heartwarming, warm, cozy and just MAGICAL!!! ’ Simona’s Corner of Dreams, 5 stars ‘ So magical, so heart-warming, and so full of love. Do you think Jenny Hale's fictional characters would mind if I gate-crashed their Christmas? Beautifully written … We'll Always Have Christmas is THE festive treat to read this year.’ The Writing Garnet, 5 stars ‘ This book has brought me so much joy that I can hardly contain myself! This is my first EVER Jenny Hale novel and it will NOT be my last! I loved every minute of it… I couldn't put it down for a moment. The perfect companion to snuggle up with by the fireplace with some hot chocolate or wine.’ Pretty Little Book Reviews, 5 stars ‘ No one does feel-good reading full of heartwarming beautiful romance and warm and magical Christmas' better than our very own Mrs. Claus, Jenny Hale.’ The Book Geek Wears Pyjamas, 5 stars ‘This book is easily the best Christmas book I have read so far this year, and has me really feeling the spirit of Christmas throughout.’ Rachel’s Random Reads, 5 stars ‘ We'll Always Have Christmas by Jenny Hale is the perfect festive read - full of emotion with family loyalty, secrets, new beginnings and of course some romance. What Jenny Hale does so brilliantly is write with a whole heap of emotion and depth… A thoroughly enjoyable romantic novel to curl up with! Lozza’s Book Corner, 5 stars ‘ A wonderful Christmas feast of a book, full of hope, love and sugar sprinkles. I loved it!’ Jen Med’s Book Reviews, 5 stars ‘Such a cosy Christmassy story, perfect to read by a roaring fire on a wintery day!’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
Release date: September 29, 2017
Print pages: 328
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We''ll Always Have Christmas
“Will you get me a latte? No extras,” Jo asked. Her caramel-brown hair fell in shiny waves onto her belted wool coat as she turned to scan the crowd, the coffee shop door swinging to a close behind them, shutting out the Christmas music. “I’ll find us a table.” She handed Noelle a ten-dollar bill and disappeared behind a group of women who were alternating between chattering and bursting into rounds of laughter, their table full of cakes and cookies, a pile of Christmas novels in the center.
Usually the holiday crowds warmed Noelle, but this year was different. The small counter was teeming with customers, all holding carrier bags in various shades of red and green, their joviality jarring with her feelings, only serving as a reminder of her changed circumstances. When Jo had mentioned she was spending the day shopping, Noelle knew it would be the perfect opportunity to see her friend and clear her head. She’d made the twenty-minute drive into the city to talk to Jo, who could always keep a level head and give the best advice.
She unwound the chocolate-colored chunky-knit scarf her colleagues had gotten her for Christmas, before they’d all gone their separate ways, their jobs taken from them. A company in New York had acquired the firm Noelle had worked for, and they had laid off nearly everyone to replace them with the new company’s chosen employees. Her life was uncertain once more. This hadn’t been the way she’d expected to finish off her year at all.
She stepped into the line at the counter. Finally, left alone with her thoughts, the fear that had made her call her friend to meet her in the first place crept in again, so she peered over at the pastry window to try and take her mind off it.
An insignificant pedestal held a few mass-produced cookies, their icing drawn on like one giant color-by-number pattern. Scattered around it was an assortment of cupcakes, the choices unoriginal—vanilla with white icing and a plastic Christmas tree jabbed into the center, and chocolate with matching sprinkles. The selection didn’t hold a candle to the offerings back home at Hope and Sugar, the bakery her family owned.
Hope and Sugar Bakery was a tiny stone historic house, nestled in a miniature yard full of buttercups, creating a golden two-foot plot between the street and the cobbled entrance every summer. It was the epitome of charm: built in the seventeen hundreds, it had a modest glass-paned door and original slightly wavy-glassed double bay windows that they used for display. Inside, around the fire, her gram had made a small sitting area years ago with a comfortable sofa and a few padded chairs where folks could get a cup of coffee and a specialty pastry, and warm up as the snow fell outside. The bakery had a special place in Noelle’s heart.
She took a step behind the person now ordering, her attention on the coffee choices. Once she’d settled on something, Noelle dug around in her purse for a few bills, Jo’s ten still wadded in her fist, trying not to think about how she shouldn’t be spending money on frivolous coffees. It was all going to be okay, though, because she had a plan. Gram had told her once that dreams become reality the minute one has a plan. Whenever anyone was in crisis, Gram had a strategy to help them, and Noelle, having such a similar personality to Gram, had learned that skill very well.
Noelle ordered the coffees, handed the barista a wad of bills, giving her name for the order, and took the change over to Jo, dumping it onto the table along with the receipt, a dime rolling away and finally stopping with a clatter, coming to a rest next to Jo’s phone. Her friend ignored it, her face crumpled in concern. Noelle had avoided opening up while they’d been shopping, waiting for the right moment to share her worries, but there was a part of her that just wanted to close her eyes and sink down into the chair with her coffee and her best friend first.
“Noelle?” the barista called, waving two paper cups, decorated with little dancing Christmas trees, with red plastic lids and cardboard rings around them.
Jo stood up. “I’ll get them,” she said, leaving her chair, her coat draped on the back of it.
Noelle looked around at the white lights in the windows, the Christmas tree in the corner, the plastic holly on every table, before the whole terrible situation finally felt real. She remembered Gram saying, “Cheer up, darling. When things get tough, we always have Christmas to make them better.” Then she’d wink at her and toss her a gumdrop from the glass dish on the bakery’s counter.
Noelle shrugged her own coat off and twisted to put it on her chair, smiling her apologies for nudging the person beside her. What had she been thinking, agreeing to meet Jo on a Friday during the start of the Christmas season? Normally she’d have been at work today, but as Noelle had neglected to tell her friend when she’d said she needed to have coffee, she didn’t have a job to go to anymore. Jo had immediately agreed to meet her, obviously sensing something was wrong—she could always tell. They’d known each other forever. Jo, short for Joanne, had never gone by her full name. They’d first met when Noelle’s parents had moved into their new home when Noelle was eight. Jo had come over with her mother to bring a freshly baked loaf of bread as a housewarming gift. Noelle and Jo had crawled under Noelle’s bed that day and shared all their secrets as if they had been friends for years. Jo told her about the tree in her back yard where her friend Phoebe Nichols swore that whenever she wished, the wishes always came true. Noelle had met Phoebe the very next day. From then on, the three of them had become inseparable, walking to and from school together every day, having sleepovers, and taking care of each other into adulthood. When she needed optimism, Noelle called Phoebe, but when she had to hear it straight, she called Jo.
Jo returned, setting one of the cups in front of Noelle and plopping down dramatically. “How’s Lucas?” she asked, sliding her bag under their table with her foot, out of the way of other patrons.
“He’s great,” Noelle said with a smile at the mention of her son.
“Good,” Jo said, blowing a lock of hair off her forehead. She tucked it behind her ear and it still looked like she’d spent hours on it. But then again, she had the money to buy the most expensive products; her haircut probably cost a fortune. How different their lives had turned out to be.
Ready to conquer the world, Jo and Noelle had applied to the University of Virginia, both of them getting acceptance letters, but when Noelle found out she was pregnant, she knew that she wouldn’t be able to juggle classes and still make enough money to support herself and a child. She and her boyfriend, Rich, hadn’t dated terribly long when she’d found out she was pregnant. She’d met him at a bar one weekend and she’d been taken by his quick wit and warm smile, and the way he’d treated her like a lady.
At the end of the night, she’d given him her number and he’d called her to go out for a date. That date turned into two and then three and, before they knew it, they were an item. But, while she felt herself falling for him and she could tell her feelings were returned, their relationship just hadn’t grown deep enough to support the emotional weight of having a baby. What completely blindsided her was that he’d seemed almost spooked about the baby from the beginning and, when they’d finally called it quits, he hadn’t wanted anything to do with his child.
Noelle was devastated and heartbroken, but not for the loss of her relationship—she could get over that. She was heartbroken for the loss of a father for her child. Rich moved away, and, while she could’ve hunted him down for money to help with Lucas, she didn’t want anyone in her son’s life who didn’t completely adore him, so she’d let him go. She had raised Lucas with the help of her parents, Gus and Nora, working her way through temp jobs and supporting them both.
Meanwhile, Jo had gone on to law school. She now worked at a firm in Richmond and was married to a doctor. But despite all her success, Jo had remained the same over the years, and she was always there to pull Noelle through the hard times.
“Okay. You’ve been very quiet and in your head all morning. Spill,” Jo commanded, her full attention on Noelle as she looked at her over her cup, the steam from the coffee dancing in front of her face.
“They just let us go,” Noelle said, still in disbelief. She’d told Jo about the takeover as soon as it had happened, but she hadn’t wanted to worry her friend about the possible consequences of it until it was final. “The executives all got severance packages, but I was hourly, so I only got this month’s pay in full.” Noelle had worked her way up at the property management firm where she’d been employed for over the last three years. She’d had her own accounts, and she was managing a small staff. She’d heard rumblings that layoffs were coming, but she’d been in denial, never believing they would actually do something like that during the holidays.
“Heartless.” Jo shook her head. “You know if you need anything…” she began, but Noelle stopped her with a look.
It was the same look she’d given her when Jo had offered to help with Lucas’s hospital bills when he was born. While her friend was very sweet to offer, Jo knew better. Noelle would never take handouts.
“What’s your next move, then?”
It all seemed silly now, but Noelle had imagined biding her time until she took over Hope and Sugar Bakery.
When the time came, and Pop-pop was ready to retire, she’d leave her job to run the bakery, hopefully having enough saved to put her own stamp on it. After Gram died, Pop-pop threw himself into work at Hope and Sugar, and Noelle often thought he channeled his grief into running the bakery. She wondered if by keeping it alive, he felt he could keep Gram alive in a way. Her mother and father were helping Pop-pop until he could retire, because he just wasn’t financially able to yet, despite the fact that he was seventy.
“I’ve moved back in with my parents.” Just saying it out loud made Noelle want the floor to open up and swallow her. Everyone she knew had created their perfect lives: they had their own apartments and houses; they’d gotten married; they had babies. And in two days, Noelle had been able to pack up everything she and Lucas owned, sublet her apartment, and move back with her parents. The idea of her son not having a permanent home made her more uncomfortable than anything ever had. She’d always told him, “This is just a stop on the way to where we belong,” but every time she said it, she worried that she wouldn’t deliver. She suppressed the urge to shake her head in disbelief, her pride not allowing her.
“Minor setback,” Jo said, offering her a napkin. Jo could always make her feel better. Of the three of them—Noelle, Phoebe, and Jo—Jo was the one with the no-nonsense answers, Phoebe was the dreamer, and Noelle was always making plans. Jo fluttered the napkin in the air.
Noelle only realized just then that the lid on her coffee hadn’t been placed on tightly and she’d dribbled some down her sweater. If they’d served it in a mug like Gram, she thought angrily, but stopped herself. It wasn’t the coffee shop’s fault that she was in a foul mood. With a huff of irritation, she blotted the spot.
“Tell me your plan. You always have one.”
Noelle slid her scarf back onto her shoulders and, repositioning it to cover the coffee stain, she said, “I asked my dad if I could work at the bakery, maybe pick up an extra Christmas shift or something. He said he’s wanted to talk to me about it. I’m going by to see him and Pop-pop after this. But in the meantime, Heidi found me a full-time job, until we sort things out at the bakery.”
Jo’s eyebrows raised. She wrapped both hands around the paper cup, revealing her new manicure and David Yurman ring. “Heidi saves the day!” she said with an upbeat smile. “Your sister is the best!”
Heidi was five years older than Noelle, and she had been a kind big sister to her growing up. She’d always included Noelle and her friends, painting their nails, doing their hair, and all the great things big sisters could do, she did. She looked out for them, and it was Heidi whom Noelle looked up to. Heidi had been the first to learn about Noelle’s pregnancy and about her decision to forego college. She was just old enough to have more wisdom than Noelle, but young enough not to give her a judging eye. So when she’d lost her job, Noelle had turned to Heidi first.
“What’s the job?”
“Well, Heidi saw an inquiry on the noticeboard in the staffroom at the country club where she works: someone looking for a caretaker for an elderly man. Apparently, calls had been made to the club to see if any of their on-staff physical therapists were available. When no one showed interest, the notice was put up and it was mentioned that discretion should be used, as this was a lucrative client, but to pass the word along. I called the woman on the notice and nailed the phone interview.”
“So what will you be doing?”
“The woman I spoke with was named Melinda Burnett. She’s the house manager. Have you heard of her at all? She’s local.” It wasn’t at all what Noelle had imagined doing for a living, but Heidi had said she’d heard the pay range was good, and Noelle couldn’t afford to be picky.
Jo frowned, shaking her head.
“I hadn’t either. When she called back to say I had the job, I asked for details, and she said she’d email them all to me, and then I could decide if it sounded like something I’d be interested in pursuing. I know the elderly man’s name is William but that’s it. I don’t know anything else yet. But to be honest, it doesn’t really matter. I need the job. I still want to make Christmas special for Lucas and I’d like to be able to move out of my parents’ house sooner rather than later.” Noelle didn’t want to divulge her finances too much, but the truth was, she was broke. She’d scraped together the last bit of her paycheck to pay rent before the sublet took over, and she was hoping to use the remainder of her earnings before Christmas to buy presents for Lucas. All she had was a savings account with a small amount of money that she was keeping in case of emergencies.
“It will be nice to be back home, though,” Jo said, focusing on the positive. “You’ll live even closer to Phoebe.” She laughed before she’d even said anything funny, and Noelle knew why: Phoebe was a hoot to be around.
“It will be good to see her,” Noelle said, laughing right alongside her.
After she’d left Jo, going their separate ways following lunch, Noelle dropped her shopping bags off at her parents’ house in a slightly better mood. Just as she’d thought, Jo had made her take stock of what mattered. She had the opportunity to make a living, and that was a good thing. Maybe things would turn around. The house was oddly empty, so she headed straight to see her dad and Pop-pop at the bakery, wondering where everyone else was.
When Noelle arrived, she opened the glass front door of Hope and Sugar bakery, and, even a year after her death, it was a shock not to see her behind the counter, her white hair pinned up, away from her remarkably youthful face, those blue eyes sparkling like sapphires as they reflected the happiness in her smile.
Noelle’s attention was drawn toward her favorite spot as a child: the bookshelves Pop-pop had built. He’d covered one entire wall with mahogany shelving. Noelle was nine when he’d built it—she could still remember. The radio had been on, and a good song played, causing Gram to come around the other side of the counter, that smile on her face. She pulled Pop-pop’s tools from his hands and danced with him. As the song played, he spun her around, and she twirled as if she were young again, her giggles like wind chimes until Pop-pop silenced her with a kiss. That was the first time Noelle had been old enough to really understand the affection between them. They were perfect together.
From the floor to the ceiling the shelves were full of books that people placed there when they’d finished reading. The policy was that if a person left a book, they could take one, but the donations over the years had been so plentiful that the books were pressed into any available space, some sitting sideways or stacked on others. Regulars were known to leave bookmarks with their names in them, coming back to pick up where they’d left off. Noelle couldn’t imagine a time when there wasn’t someone reading in one of the chairs.
Surfacing from her memories, she looked at her family sitting in the small dining area by those bookshelves, their attention on her. Her mother and father, Pop-pop, and her older sister Heidi were all there. So this was where everyone was.
“I came right away, but there was traffic,” Noelle said, out of breath.
She had literally run up the street, her heart pounding from more than just the effort it had taken. When she’d called her father after having coffee to tell him she was on her way to the bakery, there’d been an awkward silence before he’d said, “We need to talk, Noelle.” That was the second time he’d said that. His voice had been unreadable and he’d refused to go into detail until they could meet face to face. She couldn’t imagine what in the world he had to tell her that was so serious that her family was all there. Was it good news? Was she finally going to be able to run Gram’s bakery and begin the new chapter of her life that she’d been waiting for?
But now Noelle stepped in to a silence that enveloped her. Immediately she realized it was an eerie silence—not like the kind that bounced around just before happy surprises. It was the heavy sort, as if some type of energy had settled upon them like a fog and was about to lash out at them all when they weren’t expecting it.
She searched Heidi’s eyes for any indication of what was to come, but there wasn’t the slightest hint of a suggestion. Her mother was too still, a wad of balled tissue hidden in her fist as her eyes darted over to Noelle’s father. Pop-pop was looking down at his shoes while fiddling with the cuticle of his nail. He looked up as she passed him but didn’t meet her eye. Slowly, Noelle lowered herself into one of the chairs that had been pulled away from its table to make a circle for them all. Her heart still slamming in her chest, she didn’t bother to take off her coat for fear she might need to run out into the street to catch her breath after seeing everyone like this.
“Noelle, we’re closing the bakery,” her father said, getting right to the point.
She felt the icy sensation from the paleness that must have washed over her, only her breath coming through her lips, words absent. It felt as though a freight train were speeding through her head. Gram had promised her the bakery. She’d told her that Pop-pop would run it until he had enough to retire and then it would be hers. Her sister hadn’t been interested in taking on the responsibility of running it completely, but she’d been thrilled at the idea of keeping it in the family, and she’d said she wanted to still be a part of it. Her parents had retired, so they were ready to spend their days leisurely. All of that was just fine for Noelle because running the bakery was in her blood.
A planner by nature, she’d been dreaming about how she’d manage it her whole life. Even as a child, she had a notebook full of ideas that she carried with her every time she went to the bakery with Gram. While her grandmother kneaded the dough for her pastries, flour up her arms, she’d nod and offer her opinions as Noelle read her ideas out. Over the years, Gram’s sweet smiles at Noelle’s thoughts became concentrated focus, and it was clear that Noelle was the right person to take on Hope and Sugar. She and her gram were alike; they always had been, which was why they were so close. Noelle learned the business from Gram and she’d been ready for years, just waiting for the moment that Pop-pop decided it was time to rest.
She remembered that second week in November when her grandmother would open up the giant jukebox in the corner—its gleaming silver and pearly white bright against the ruby-red piping—and replace the usual records with Christmas classics. For a quarter—she’d never bothered to raise the price—people chose their favorite carols. They played softly in the background beneath the chatter and local gossip. It had stopped working shortly after her death, and, as far as Noelle knew, it hadn’t been repaired. No one in the family could bear to take the Christmas records out or ship it anywhere for service. Now it would be packed away, collecting dust, God knows where.
Just thinking about it all gave Noelle an acidic punch in the gut. She’d never allowed the thought to come through, but she, too, had felt like Pop-pop: letting the bakery go would be letting a piece of Gram go, and she didn’t know if she could handle it. All those memories, all that wonderful time there—it would be carried out of that building piece by piece, crushing her.
Noelle’s dreams to inherit the business and run it one day slipped away like ice down her body. But worse than that, she knew that her father had planned to keep the bakery open to fund Pop-pop’s retirement. Without the money from the bakery, she had no idea what he would do. Noelle found herself frantically searching the bakery with her eyes; for what, she didn’t know herself. Her gaze settled on the empty chair by the fire just as a sob rose in her throat.
If she closed her eyes, she could still see Gram, holding two mugs—they were cream-colored ceramics speckled with toffee brown—the thick, bittersweet coffee steaming to the brim in her delicate hands. With her head tilted just so and that look that said she’d make it all better, she’d hand one to Noelle and then wrap her fingers around her own as she sank down into that chair by the fire, ready to listen.
Noelle couldn’t say she’d taken those moments for granted, but she certainly didn’t realize how much the absence of those conversations would hit her when Gram was gone. She missed Gram so much that just the smell of pastries and coffee would make her tear up on the right day. If only she could be here now. Noelle needed her. What was she supposed to do?
“It isn’t turning a profit anymore,” her father said, once she’d turned toward him again, her vision glazing over like she was peering at him under water, the way she had at the public pool when she was a girl. This time the sting came from tears instead of chlorine. She blinked them away and tried to steady herself, trying to refocus and think of ways to salvage this.
“Maybe there’s something I can do,” she said, her mind going into overdrive. “Certainly, there must be some way that we can bring in more income. It turned a profit before. We might just need to rethink our offerings.”
Her father shook his head. “It won’t matter what we offer. We’re not turning a profit because the rent on this place is so high now.”
“No.” He cut Noelle off gently before she could offer any more ideas as to how to keep it afloat. “The new rental rate is incredible—too big for a small family company like ours. Believe me, we’ve tried to think of every possible scenario, and it just isn’t going to work. We’ve already let the owner know and they’ve extended the lease to someone else.”
Pop-pop finally looked at her. “I’m sorry, honey. We’ll be open through Christmas, but then we’re closing the doors for good. There’s nothing we can do.”
Pop-pop’s words pinged around in her head, sounding tinny and hollow, as she sat there, trying to keep herself from falling apart. What kind of Christmas would it be if she knew that the bakery was closing? It wouldn’t be a Christmas at all. She felt like she’d had the rug ripped out from under her. All she’d worked for was gone just like that. And she was letting Gram down.
Gram had trusted her to carry on her dream. It had taken all of her meager savings and even some of Pop-pop’s—he’d given her the money to start it before they’d even gotten married. Gram had told Noelle that Pop-pop had teased her, telling her that they were starting with nothing but a hope and a prayer. Gram had corrected him, saying, “No, dear. I’ve had more than just one prayer over this. We’re starting with a hope and some sugar.” That was how they’d named the bakery.
She felt like the walls were closing in on her, and she wasn’t getting enough oxygen, her chest not allowing her to catch her breath. She glanced around at everyone—their sad faces only making it worse. She had to get out of there. Everything around her reminded her of Gram and how she wasn’t there to help Noelle through such awful news. She didn’t know how to deal with this without Gram. Noelle ran out of the bakery and into the icy chill without saying anything. She stopped at the end of the street, putting her hands on her knees, still unable to breathe and feeling lightheaded. No one tried to stop her, but she didn’t expect them to. They all knew how much the bakery meant to her.
Noelle had driven around for hours. She’d texted her mother and told her she wasn’t ready to come home yet, and her mom had said she’d get Lucas from school. So many thought. . .
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