The Quinn family celebrates their most dramatic Christmas yet in this enchanting sequel to Elin Hilderbrand’s bestselling Winter Street.
Christmas on Nantucket finds Winter Street Inn owner Kelley Quinn and his family busily preparing for the holiday season. Though the year has brought tragedy, the Quinns have much to celebrate: Kelley has reunited with his first wife, Margaret; Kevin and Isabelle have a new baby; and Ava is finally dating a nice guy.
But when Kelley’s estranged wife, Mitzi, shows up on the island, along with Kevin’s devious ex-wife Norah and a dangerously irresistible old fling of Ava’s, the Inn is suddenly overrun with romantic feuds, not to mention guests. With jealousy, passion, and eggnog consumption at an all-time high, it’s going to take a whole lot more than a Christmas miracle to get the Quinns—and the Inn—through the holidays intact.
Release date: October 13, 2015
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Print pages: 272
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An affair is unthinkable in Mitzi’s condition. Hurting herself seems redundant; she is already suffering from the maximum amount of pain a person can experience.
Bart Bart Bart Bart Bart.
George says he understands, but he’s never had a child, so how could he possibly?
Nicotine is poison. And yet, since Bart has gone missing, cigarettes are one of two things that make Mitzi feel better. The other is alcohol. Mitzi has become partial to a sipping tequila called Casa Dragones that is packaged in a slender, elegant turquoise box and costs eighty-five dollars a bottle at the one high-end liquor store in Lenox that sells it.
She wonders if any of the liquor stores on Nantucket sell Casa Dragones. Murray’s, perhaps? She would like a few shots of it now, just enough to take the edge off.
When Bart enlisted in the Marines eighteen months earlier, Mitzi had naively believed the so-called War Against Terror to be over. Osama bin Laden had been killed and buried at sea. Mitzi had pictured Bart going to Afghanistan to help a war-torn people get back on their feet. She had thought he would be digging wells and rebuilding schools. She had envisioned him working with children—giving them pencils and gum, teaching them inappropriate phrases in English. Baby got back! But Bart had been in country less than twenty-four hours when his convoy of forty-five troops was captured.
They have been missing for nearly a year now.
The Department of Defense believes that the extremist group responsible for the kidnapping is called the Bely, pronounced “belle-aye.” It means “yes” in the Afghan language. No one has ever heard of the Bely; all that is known about them is that they are young—most of them only teenagers—and they are vicious. One official reportedly said, “These kids make ISIS and the Taliban look like Up with People.” The Bely are also, apparently, magicians—because even after sending three reconnaissance missions into Sangin and the surrounding province, the U.S. military has yet to discover where the marines are being held.
Mitzi can’t watch TV anymore, nor read the newspaper; she can barely log on to her computer. When there is definitive news about what has happened to Bart’s convoy, the DoD will contact Kelley and Mitzi directly.
George’s advice is: Try not to think about it. This is apparently how they deal with misfortune at the North Pole. They ignore it.
Mitzi finishes her cigarette, stubs it out on the sole of her clog, and pops a breath mint—for what reason, she’s not quite sure. George doesn’t kiss her anymore, and they rarely have sex. George is older and requires the help of a pill to be intimate, and Mitzi can’t lose herself for even half an hour. She is a prisoner as well—to her worry, her fear, her anxiety, and her bad habits.
She pulls out her cell phone and calls Kelley.
“Hello?” he says. His voice sounds robust, nearly happy; in the background, Mitzi can hear Christmas music, “Carol of the Bells.” Mitzi has many issues with Kelley, but chief among them is how, at times, he doesn’t even seem to remember that their son is missing. He has handled Bart’s disappearance with an equanimity Mitzi finds baffling. Case in point: right now, he seems to be listening to carols! And he’s probably getting ready to make champagne cocktails for the guests. It’s Christmas Stroll weekend—which, on Nantucket, is even more Christmassy than Christmas itself. The town has an intoxicating smell of evergreen, salt air, and woodsmoke. When the ferry rounded Brant Point earlier that afternoon and Mitzi saw the giant lit wreath hanging on the lighthouse, she remembered, for an instant, just how much she loved the holidays on this island.
But then, reality descended like a dark hood.
“Kelley,” Mitzi says. “I’m here.”
“Here?” Kelley says.
“On Nantucket,” she says. “For the weekend. We’re staying at the Castle.”
“For the love of all Harry, Mitzi,” Kelley says. “Why?”
Why? Why? Why? She and Kelley had agreed that it would be best for everyone if Mitzi stayed with George in Lenox through the holidays.
“You made your decision,” Kelley had said, on the other occasions when Mitzi had mentioned returning to Nantucket for a visit. “You chose George.”
I chose George, Mitzi thought. For twelve years running, Mitzi and George had conducted a love affair during the Christmas holidays, when George brought his antique fire engine to the island and dressed up as the Winter Street Inn Santa Claus. Last year, things had come to a head, and Mitzi had decided to leave Kelley for George. Bart had just deployed and Mitzi’s judgment had been wobbly. More than anything, she had wanted to escape her circumstances; she had wanted to hide in a fantasy life of sleigh bells and elves.
It had been a big fat mistake. Now that Mitzi is with George day in, day out, the allure has worn thin. Who wants to be with Santa Claus on St. Patrick’s Day, or the Fourth of July? Nobody. Santa’s sex appeal is specific to the month of December. On good days, Mitzi feels a brotherly affection for George; on bad days, she is filled with bitter regret.
“I had to come,” Mitzi says. “I missed the island so much, and I know Kevin and Isabelle are having the baby baptized on Sunday.”
“How?” Kelley says. “How did you know that?”
Mitzi crunches her breath mint. She doesn’t want to give away her source.
“Ava certainly didn’t tell you,” Kelley says. “And it wasn’t Kevin or Isabelle. And Patrick is in jail.”
Another second and he’ll figure it out, Mitzi thinks.
“Jennifer!” Kelley says. “Jennifer told you. I can’t believe she still speaks to you. She actually is the nicest person alive, just as we always suspected.”
“Jennifer and I are simpatico,” Mitzi says. “She lost her husband, and I lost my son.”
“She did not lose her husband,” Kelley says. “Patrick is in jail, he’s not dead. And”—here, Kelley clears his throat—“Bart isn’t dead, either, Mitzi.”
Mitzi squeezes her eyes shut. She can’t explain how badly she needs to hear Kelley say that. Bart isn’t dead. Which means, Bart is alive. He’s somewhere. The Bely are a new enemy, but the one thing that is known about them is their tender age. The only way Mitzi gets through some nights is to imagine Bart and the other marines playing soccer or gin rummy with their counterparts in the Bely.
When Mitzi shared this vision with George, he gave her an encouraging pat and said, “That’s the ticket, Mrs. Claus.”
Mitzi has become pen pals with the mothers of two of the other missing marines through a service provided by the Department of Defense, and although they are from vastly different backgrounds—one woman is a fundamentalist Christian in Tallahassee, Florida, and one woman lives on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, both women are black—the emails sustain Mitzi and provide her with a sense of community. There are at least two other people in the world who understand exactly what Mitzi is feeling.
“Can I come to the baptism?” Mitzi asks. “Please?”
There is a great big huff from Kelley. “I really want to tell you ‘no,’” he says. “You left me, you cheated on me, you betrayed me, you broke my heart, Mitzi.”
“I know,” she says. “I’m sorry.”
“If it was just the one time, I might have understood,” Kelley says. “But twelve years? It was a willful, planned, long-standing deceit, Mitzi.”
“I know,” Mitzi says. They have been over this same ground dozens and dozens of times in the past year, and Mitzi finds the best strategy is to agree with Kelley rather than try to defend herself.
“‘Peace on earth, good will toward men,’ Luke chapter 2, the Annunciation to the shepherds,” Kelley says. “Because that is my Christmas mantra this year, I’m going to concede. You can come to the baptism. It’s at eleven o’clock on Sunday. I’ll save two seats in our pew for you and George.”
“Thank you,” Mitzi says. She would have gone to the baptism even without Kelley’s permission, but it feels better to have asked. And two seats in the family pew is more than she dreamed of.
“You’re welcome,” Kelley says. “Forget what I said about Jennifer. I’m the nicest person alive.”
Mitzi hangs up the phone just as George steps out the back door of the hotel.
“I’ve been looking all over for you,” he says. He waves two tickets in the air. “Are you ready for the Holiday House Tour?”
Bart Bart Bart Bart Bart. Mitzi always says his name five times in her mind, like a prayer.
One of Mitzi’s pen pals, Gayle from Tallahassee, draws on God’s strength in order to go about her normal day. Gayle works in a pediatrician’s office and dealing with sick children and their parents helps keep her from dwelling on her son, KJ. Mitzi’s other pen pal, Yasmin of Flatbush Avenue, stays in bed most days. She admits that she just can’t return to business as usual. She quit her job as a security guard at the Barclays Center. She has a hard time doing anything but watch Dance Moms on TV.
Mitzi falls somewhere in between these two women. When she hears George say, Holiday House Tour, a part of her thinks, Ooooooh, how Christmassy! She had always wanted to go on the Holiday House Tour, but she’d never been able to get away from the inn on the Friday of Christmas Stroll weekend. Now that she has no inn and no guests, she can finally go. But then, the other part of her thinks, Holiday House Tour? How can she admire other people’s festively decorated homes—the greenery, the candlelight, the precious family heirlooms—when Bart is missing?
Peace on earth, good will toward men. She will go on the Holiday House Tour. But first, for the love of all Harry, she will make George find that tequila.
Scott Skyler has done it! He has found the ugliest Christmas sweater in all the world.
He shows it to Ava in his office, after all the children and most of the staff have left school for the day. He makes her close her eyes as he puts it on. And then, she can tell, he turns off the lights in his office. Scott and Ava have been hot and heavy all year, but one thing they have not dared to do is have sex in the school. They kissed on the bench of Ava’s piano back in the spring, which almost led to… but they stopped themselves. They climbed up to the school roof together in the middle of summer to gaze at the stars, and they almost… but they stopped themselves.
“Okay,” Scott says. “You can open them.”
Ava screams—half in horror, half in delight. It’s a red wool sweater with a poufy white tulle Christmas tree on the front, decorated with actual lights that blink and flash. Ava starts to cackle. The sweater is only made better by Scott’s deadpan expression; it requires someone as big and authoritative as Scott to properly pull it off.
Nathaniel would have looked ridiculous in that sweater, Ava thinks. And furthermore, he wouldn’t have been a good enough sport to wear it.
It’s a year later, and she still thinks about Nathaniel. He moved to Martha’s Vineyard in the spring to build a house on Chappaquiddick for some spectacularly rich folks, and on clear days Ava squints at the horizon and wonders what he’s doing over there—if he likes it better than he likes Nantucket, if he’s met the Martha’s Vineyard equivalent of Ava Quinn, and if he’s ever coming back.
She kisses Scott. He is simply the best, truest, most excellent guy for agreeing to help her plan the Ugly Christmas Sweater Caroling party for that evening. Ava’s sweater is yellow, with an embroidered picture of Jesus on the front. Jesus’s hands are raised over his head. The front of his white tunic says BIRTHDAY BOY. Ava was proud of her sweater… until she saw Scott’s sweater.
At seven o’clock on Friday night, Ava and Scott and their fellow caroling comrades gather out in front of Our Island Home, Nantucket’s assisted living facility for elders. Ava’s best friend Shelby, the school librarian—who is now roundly pregnant with her first child—is there, as is one of the high school English teachers named Roxanne Oliveria.
Roxanne has either forgotten or ignored the fact that this is an Ugly Christmas Sweater Caroling party, because she is wearing a rather fetching red mohair wrap sweater that shows off her fake breasts. Hmmmmm, Roxanne, Ava thinks. Roxanne Oliveria, called “Mz. O” by her students—the O salaciously drawn out to indicate “orgasm”—is of Italian descent with gorgeous thick dark hair, olive skin, and a Sophia Loren beauty mark.
Despite working two schools over, Ava has heard her fair share of gossip about Mz. Ohhhhhh. Mz. Ohhhhhh suffered through two broken engagements and as such has ended up unmarried at forty years old. She’s known as a “cougar” among the kids; she prefers younger men. She dated the athletic director at the Nantucket Boys & Girls Club who was only twenty-seven at the time, and she is vaguely inappropriate with the seniors on the football team.
Ava pulls Scott aside. “How did Roxanne get invited to this?”
“I asked her,” Scott says. He takes note of Ava’s expression and quickly starts explaining. “I bumped into her in the hall outside the pool, and it just sort of popped out of me before I realized what I was saying.”
“Does she swim laps, too?” Ava asks.
“Um… yes?” Scott says.
Swimming laps is Scott’s preferred method for staying in shape. He was a backstroker at the University of Indiana, and still holds two relay titles there, a little-known fact that Ava loves about him. But now she imagines Scott swimming laps one lane over from Roxanne “Mz. Ohhhhhh” Oliveria. Does Scott admire her stroke, or her flip turns, or her fake breasts in her tank suit?
Ava takes a deep breath and thinks, Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la. As she discovered in her relationship with Nathaniel, Ava has jealousy issues. But she will not succumb to jealousy now and ruin their fun party. She will not.
She smiles brightly at Roxanne and hands her a songbook. “Here you go!”
“Oh, I won’t be needing that,” Roxanne says. “I don’t sing. Scott just invited me along to be the eye candy.”
The eye candy? Ava thinks. She snatches back her songbook, eighteen of which she painstakingly printed out on the school computer, and then stapled to red construction paper covers and decorated with gold glitter lettering.
She goes back to Scott and pokes him in the middle of his tulle Christmas tree. It looks like he swa. . .
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