Indie Book Promo is happy to welcome all the authors of the Christmas Assortment Box – Holiday Stories for Everyone! They are here to share about their stories. If this box set sounds like something you would be interested in reading, please find a buy link below and pick up a copy or two.
Cowboys, Babies, Family, Steamy Romance and Edgy Young Adult!
Once, Joanie Russell’s dearest wish was to be a wife and mother. After years devoting herself as a nurse, Joanie still dreams of having a family of her own. Only, being unmarried with no prospects…surely that time has passed.
But as Christmas Eve 1966 comes to a close, Joanie is drawn on a search that makes her question what tomorrow might bring. What is the sound echoing through the hospital’s corridors and grounds? Whispers from the past…or a prayer being answered on this holiest of nights?
RUNNING OUT OF TIME
All Nicole Drummond wants for Christmas is to take her mom away from her abusive drug-running step father. Like that’s going to happen anytime soon. He totally controls their lives.
But when her step father threatens to stop paying for her mom’s life-saving meds if Nicole doesn’t run drugs for him, she knows time has run out. And her options are few.
THE AVOIDABLE ORPHAN
Recently widowed Rodger de Jonge feels lost. He fears that he’s losing his bond with his daughters, Peta and Courtney. He’s a man of the African bush, and coping with ‘girlie feelings’ was always Helene’s department, not his. When an orphaned baby elephant is found during the Christmas holidays, Rodger sees an opportunity that might help him reconnect with his children. But interfering with the orphan goes against conservation methods he’s familiar with. It will require a new approach to save both the baby and his family.
Selena MacShaw’s presidential mother might have been murdered on Christmas day by Middle East extremists, but Selena has never been scared to live her own life. She loves the Australian Outback. She wants to settle there and stop running from her mother’s enemies.
Dallas Anderson grew up on a working cattle station, but made a career in the military’s Special Forces Unit. When he witnesses his army buddies die in a mission gone wrong, he retires young and accepts an offer from Selena’s father. Dallas will be Selena’s undercover bodyguard in the guise of a head stockman.
But when Dallas’ secret is exposed, will Selena love him for his valour or hate him for his lies?
THE BILLIONAIRE’S MISTLETOE BABY
Laurel Ashwood needs a miracle. All her six-week old daughter wants for Christmas is a daddy…just for the holidays while Nana visits from Montana. Laurel and her former boss, construction tycoon Nick St. John, used to share a chemistry. But will Nick want to cooperate? Six months ago, she’d left him without a word.
Nick can’t believe Laurel is back. Now he can finish what they’d begun months before. But he won’t accept a “couple of days.” If Laurel wants him to play along with a fake engagement, he’s got his own naughty and nice list. A kiss under the mistletoe is just the beginning.
Christmas Assortment Box is available from Amazon
My books have since featured regularly on bestsellers lists and at award ceremonies, including The National Readers Choice, The Booksellers Best, Cataromance Reviewers Choice and Australia’s prestigious Romantic Book of the Year (R*BY).
I live on Australia’s gorgeous Sunshine Coast where I met, and married, my real-life hero. When I’m not tapping out my next story, I enjoy my three rapidly growing daughters, going to the theatre, reading on the beach (bliss!) and dreaming about bumping into Stephen King during a month-long Mediterranean cruise.
A BOOK about Saint Nick and Father Time had Joanie Russell in its Yuletide grip until a noise pulled her off the page…a high-pitched tinkling followed by a clattering smash. From her nurses’ station, Joanie flung a ready glance around. Nothing odd or out of place…rare for any evening at Crest Haven Psychiatric Hospital―particularly tonight.
This common area accommodated all ninety-seven patients from Wards C and D with room to spare. A plump spruce held court over the space, its branches packed with glittering new ornaments, courtesy Massachusetts State. The crowning piece, an angel with silver wings open wide, gazed benevolently down.
Silent night. Holy night. All is calm…
Other than that clatter a few seconds ago, like a china cup rolling around on its saucer before playing catch with the floor. Somewhere nearby a mess needed cleaning up because, sure as Elvis could sing, something was busted. Setting her book aside, Joanie set off.
Comfortable in her wheelchair, Margo Elliot sat stroking rosary beads while a knee beneath her chanille dressing gown bounced low and fast. On another Christmas Eve ten years ago, Margo had walked in on her husband playing hide the pickle with her best friend since first communion. Doctors labelled her reaction a “break with reality.”
Joanie examined Margo’s distant yet satisfied grin. One person whirling a chicken coop axe at another was hardly a sane act, however, given her cheating husband’s gruesome end, Margo’s behavior was as real as it got.
Straightening her starched white cap, Joanie found Cyril Pinter working on his own decoration. Joanie squeezed the young man’s shoulder (good job!) before scooping up his Superman mug emptied of its cocoa. (Unlike some staff, she never commented on the red superhero boxer-briefs he wore outside of his pants.) In another time, Cyril had been a respected member of society, a devoted son. An underground mining accident in ’59, and the subsequent lack of oxygen to his brain, had left him “dim-witted”…”feeble-minded”.
Mean, rotten, horrible words, Joanie thought, as Cyril plied gold-flecked yarn around four cotton-reel tacks; he’d vowed to make this French-knit tail as long as his arm before draping it over an earmarked branch and, bless him, he was almost done. Dedicated was a term that still fit dear Cyril. If he wasn’t helping to mop floors or make beds, he was teaching his golden retriever, Blondie, new tricks. When Joanie had told Cyril’s mother during a visit about his imaginary dog, Mrs. Pinter had broken down and cried. Santa had brought him a pup by that name the Christmas he’d turned six.
Standing by a soaring arched window, Joanie found Laura Beal. Fragile and still pretty as a chickadee, Laura had led a contented life with her well-to-do bookkeeper husband and three children until a lit candle, left unattended by a lace curtain, had changed her fate. After the blaze, authorities had found her coiled beneath a neighbor’s dappled willow shrub, clutching one of her daughter’s porcelain dolls.
If ever she heard Laura weeping, softly into a thread-bare monogrammed handkerchief as she did, Joanie hurried to the record player and a cheery song; Gene Audrey’s Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer of late, the same song playing now. Sometimes Laura even sang along.
But Laura wasn’t crying, or singing, tonight. She was peering out at the night sky, hands clasped, waiting, as if the holy star had promised to make an appearance just for her. Her cup, its tea gone cold, sat intact on a side table, right beside that soot-stained porcelain doll Laura had kept all these years.
Joanie bent to collect the cup but froze as a chill whipped up her spine. Her Lustre-Crème shampooed hair stood on end. Out the corner of her eye, she’d caught a darting movement―something, or someone, had scuttled past the nurses’ station and up the main corridor. Too big for a cat, although strays did sneak in from time to time. Maybe a shadow…a trick on the eyes caused by twinkling tree lights.
“Did you see that?” Joanie asked, not that she expected an answer; Laura only spoke to her deceased family. Now, however, Laura turned toward the corridor, too. Her grey flapper-bob hung to one side as she cocked her head.
“They want us to follow.”
Another chill swept up Joanie’s backbone. “They? Who are they? Follow where?”
“I’ll go with you,” she said. “It’s time I went to sleep.”
Joanie shook herself. Delusions. Hallucinations. Of course no one had told poor Laura to follow. Joanie reassumed her smooth nurse’s air.
“It’s not bedtime yet. Don’t you want to see the carollers when they call?” Soon, occupants from the other wards would gather outside of this building, the Haven’s largest, to enjoy the once a year treat.
Laura’s eyes were as pale as moonbeams. Now they widened as she smiled. Then she began to sing. Not Rudolf. Rather a carol about a babe in a manger, and with such a clear flawless voice, Joanie found herself knuckling a tear away.
Other nurses were rostered on this evening. Pauline and Nora were playing cards with a couple of residents who couldn’t get enough Old Maid. Regina and Meg were checking medication charts. “Lysol Betty”, as she was teasingly known, was busy cleaning. A svelte black women originally from Dorchester Boston, Betty lived to disinfect. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, one doctor called it…“a defense mechanism against superstitious thinking.”
Superstition had a lot to answer for.
No need to take Betty away from her germs or interrupt the others, Joanie decided, heading for that corridor. She’d investigate herself.
While the place was tidy, and plumbing and electrical more or less up to date, Crest Haven couldn’t hide its age. Built in 1882, the same year Charles Darwin met his maker, the stone walls were still impenetrable and cold, its windows mostly high and barred. Every room had tales to tell…whispered stories about selfless deeds as well as acts that reeked of pure evil. Many believed lost and hopeless souls wondered these halls at night.
As her rubber-soled shoes squeaked along the cement floor, Joanie listened closely―but not for ghosts. She was after a clue.
Who had stolen up this corridor a moment ago? What had caused that tinkling crash she had heard?
She entered the big main bathroom and flicked on every naked bulb. As light bounced off the white walls into Joanie’s eyes, she flinched then blinked around. Pad-locked cupboards housed towels, soap, and ever more disinfectant. Marybelle Annaheim’s beloved rubber duck with its red bowtie had been left under the benches again. In one high cornice where ceiling met wall, a spider stopped spinning a doily. Other than a showerhead dripping on some tiles, everything was quiet.
That wasn’t quite right.
Joanie focused on the very back wall and three yellowed claw-foot tubs. Once, hydrotherapy was routine for treating insomnia, aggression, depression. Sometimes a “bath” went on for days. Joanie could still hear the screams and piteous moans in between bouts of eerie, steamy quiet. During her first week here, so many years ago, Joanie had confronted Matron over the so called remedy.
“The water’s too hot,” a younger Joanie had proclaimed. “Hot enough to scald.”
Behind a heavy desk, Matron Flynn had pushed to her feet. At four foot eleven, she smelled of Camel cigarettes and spoke in a ravaged voice Beelzebub would envy. If ever she played board games with the patients, she never lost. In Matron’s books, competition was therapeutic. Losing, she said, built the character.
“Nurse Russell,” Matron had rasped through nicotine-yellowed teeth, “your position here is one of help and reinforcement. It is neither your job, nor mine, to question long established treatments or, might I add, those who endorse them.”
“If I had to lay forever strapped in one of those tubs, I’d end up mad, too.” Joanie had lifted her chin. “So would you.”
“Perhaps you’re better suited to a less unsettling line of work.” Matron’s close-set eyes had shone like dark marbles as thin lips twitched. “More than one member of our staff has come to call this asylum home rather than a place of employ.”
Then, like now, Matron was a bitch.
Joanie was about to flick off the bathroom lights when a breeze fanned the back of her neck, stirring the curls she set at each temple every night. She caught the scent of fresh snow fallen on earth outside and then the feeling of another’s presence.
Carefully, she angled back around. At the far end of the vast room, one window was indeed cracked open.
And then it came. A distinct, here and now sound. A click, click, clink upon tiles coming from one of the toilet stalls. Joanie grinned even as she stiffened. I knew it.
Edging forward, she passed by the benches then began to check each stall. With every step, her stomach wound tighter and the clicking grew louder. When she finally reached the last stall, she slumped and let out that pent up breath. Nothing nefarious or “otherworldly”. Only a young girl, dressed in typical Haven garb, playing Jacks on the floor.
Hunkering down, Joanie spoke softly…gently. “I didn’t expect to find you here. Have you come from the Farm?”
The Farm was Haven shorthand for Farm Village where the littlies were housed. Cognitively deficient, mongoloid, clubbed feet, bent spines… Most staff were good with the children, even loving. More than once, Joanie had thought of adopting an orphaned Farm child herself. But a forty-year-old spinster with next to no savings? Pie in the sky. Unmarried women in Massachusetts still hadn’t won the right to take the contraceptive pill, for Pete’s sake. Not that she’d ever need that.
When the girl didn’t respond, not a glance or a sound, Joanie tried again.
“Everyone will be gathered outside to hear the carollers when the call. Did you wander away from your group…slip in that window and then down the hall?”
The girl only focused on the game. She was up to ‘fouries’.
And crouched there, Joanie became engrossed too. ‘Through the arch’ and then ‘reverse dumps’―the girl’s actions were quick and practised. As a child, Joanie had loved Jacks, too. Now, her fingers itched to join in.
Perhaps another time. If this girl hadn’t been missed already, she would be soon enough. What then? Restraints?
Setting her jaw, Joanie got on with it.
“I need to get you back. We don’t want to cause a stir.”
The girl played on…’over the line’…’through the needle’… her actions becoming faster and defter. So swift and sure, Joanie’s eyes began darting from side to side. She was getting giddy.
“I’m sorry, little love, but we need to get you back.” Joanie tried a different tack. “Santa won’t know where to leave your present.”
Everyone at Crest Haven got a gift Christmas morning, either from a relative or charity. But even the promise of a surprise wouldn’t sway this girl. Perhaps she was deaf or, more likely, autistic, locked away in her own little world. Autistic kids usually had special interests…like numbers, music, drawing. Jacks. They could shut themselves off for hours.
Joanie was about to lean across and try to physically coax the girl to her feet when she stood of her own accord, jacks suddenly forgotten. Throwing off her coat, she dashed to the middle of the room and eased up on tiptoe. Her heels came together and knees bent out before thin arms, draped in grey cardigan sleeves, lifted above her head in an elegant pose. In one graceful fluid movement, she extended one leg and leapt through the air, as agile as a deer. Then she began to dance, and so amazingly well, Joanie was mesmerized.
A voice rang up the corridor.
“Joanie? You up here, hon?”
Joanie froze at the same time the girl fell in a heap on the floor, like a pinprick had burst her balloon. That voice, Lysol Betty’s, rang out again.
“The carollers are in the yard. You’ll miss all the fun.”
Joanie and Lysol shared some interests. The time they spent dissecting General Hospital’s romantic affairs while doing dishes was nobody’s business. But Betty was cut and dried; germs were germs and rules were rules. If she found Joanie’s ballerina, Betty would haul her straight back to the Farm, hooting about it every inch of the way, upsetting everyone in the process.
That wouldn’t do.
Joanie had stood tall, ready to take charge, when the girl tugged her uniform skirt and put a shh-ing finger to her lips. Her whispered plea made Joanie’s hair stand on end.
“Help me leave.” Then, “Time to go.”
Next second, the girl was sweeping up her overcoat. She flew to the back wall and slipped inside one of those wretched old tubs. A trail of blond disappeared beneath the canvas top at the same moment Betty steamrolled in. Setting fists on her slender hips, the nurse scowled.
“Whatz wrong with you, Joanie? Didn’t you hear me call?”
“I thought I saw a cat,” Joanie said, hiding a grin. Her ballerina wasn’t deaf or autistic. She knew precisely what was what.
“Cat?” Betty muttered, “Leaving hair and flees all over the dang place. Ja find him?”
“Not a whisker.”
Still, Betty cast curious glances at every corner, picking her way forward bit by bit, ever closer to those tubs.
Joanie put some grit in her voice. “There’s no cat. I already checked.”
“I’m checking, too. Feline urine smells likes granny’s armpits. Stains like armpits, too.”
“Like the stains around the common room radiator.”
Betty snapped a look over one shoulder and keen eyes narrowed. “What stains?”
“More red than yellow. Like someone spilled cranberry juice and let it soak in. It’ll need bleach. Lots of scrubbing.”
Betty sniffed but didn’t take the bait.
Edging nearer the back wall, she eyeballed every crevice, ready to pounce. Joanie’s heart was pounding, throat was knotting. She imagined the girl huddled away in that dank, dark space, eyes wide, lower lip clamped between her teeth.
Her little ballerina ought to be putting cookies out for Santa. Listening to her mother read the poem all children longed to hear on Christmas Eve. She should be anticipating a laughter-filled, magical day with her family. The kind of holiday Joanie had spent as a child. The kind she had always wanted to share as a mother with her own.
Joanie strode forward. She was ready to drag the other nurse out of the room when Betty spun around, and so fast, Joanie jumped out of her shoes.
“Ja see that?” Betty exclaimed, wagging a finger at the toilet stalls.
Joanie’s stomach dropped like a weight. She’d forgotten about the jacks. Cue a full scale Lysol investigation.
“You did find something, Joanie Russell,” Betty said, striding forward. “No use saying you didn’t.”
But Betty didn’t make it to the final stall. Instead she stopped this side of the benches. With a fluid, victorious sweep, she scooped up Marybelle’s yellow rubber duck.
“Is this why you’re sneaking around?” Betty asked. “You want to steal Marybelle’s baby duck away for yourself?” Her playful grin slipped and pencil-drawn brows dipped together. “Whoa. Joanie, you okay? You look strange, like you need to lay an egg or somethin’.”
Joanie didn’t know about an egg, but her palms were sweating enough to drip. She needed Betty out of here.
“I don’t want to miss the carollers,” Joanie said. “Deck the Halls…Silent Night…”
“I like Blue Christmas. You’ll do all right with your Christmas of white, but I’ll have a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas.”
A thump came from the tubs.
Betty stopped swivelling her hips and swung around, a bloodhound on the scent again. “What waz that?”
“Ghosts.” Joanie grabbed the other nurse’s arm and dragged her out the room. “Now hurry up!”