Joy Holbrook might be all work and no play, but that changes when her Aunt Ruby takes a fall that lands her in a rehabilitation center before the holidays. Joy takes a leave of absence from her job as a market researcher to run the family farm, even though the timing may hinder her chance at garnering the promotion of her dreams.
Ben Andrews isn’t your average accountant. He also happens to be the handiest man in Crystal Falls. He’s helped his elderly neighbor, Ruby Johnson, decorate for the annual Christmas Home Tour—and win—the last several years. He’s not about to let some drop-in niece break their winning streak. Ruby seems overly concerned about Joy being able to handle Molly. Under the impression she’s referring Molly the bunny that is one of the menagerie of animals, Joy’s not worried at all until the next morning when a little girl named Molly shows up. For the sake of her aunt, Joy is forced to partner with Ben while Ruby is on the mend to help with preparation for the Christmas tour and, in the process finds her career-focused heart dreaming of a family. Will the magic of Christmas help her to open her heart and find her everlasting joy?
Feeding the animals had sounded like a real cakewalk, but Joy was feeling it this morning. In fact, she was sorer this morning than the last time she got cocky and went for the ninety-minute hot yoga session with Renee.
The sound of the front door swinging open caused the hot coffee to catch in Joy’s throat. The animals were definitely getting restless, but without thumbs, it wasn’t likely to be one of them coming in to drag her outside. So what—or who—was it? But this was Crystal Falls. And she hadn’t heard a car.
Now, that was one sick rooster, or someone was messing with her. She relaxed a little, fairly certain that no one was ever murdered after a See ’n Say sound check.
A fast clippity-clomp came charging down the hall, getting closer to the kitchen.
The only image Joy’s mind could muster, besides that giant Foghorn Leghorn from the cartoons, was that pesky goat, Waddles, kicking and galloping down the hall. Now, that could be a mess.
Rushing toward the ruckus to limit the damage, Joy stopped dead in her tracks at the sight of a little girl standing in the hallway, looking like she wasn’t sure whether to scream or scram.
Only about six feet separated Joy from the blond-haired child. “Who are you?”
The little girl clutched a black lunch bag in one hand against her blue jumper with a fancy M monogrammed on the front, and two chubby orange yarn hair ties hung from the other. The freckle- faced child looked so fragile standing there.
“What’s your name?” “I’m . . . I’m Molly.”
“You’re . . .” Like the rabbit? Joy noticed the hand-painted rabbit on the little girl’s lunch bag that looked an awful lot like Molly the Bunny. This can’t be happening.
Little girl Molly’s mouth hung wide and her eyes darted like a wild animal’s. Cornered and desperate. “Wh-where’s Ruby?”
“She’s not here. She’s in the hospital with a hurt ankle.”
“But I come here every day. Ruby makes my lunch and we go to the bus.” Tears welled in Molly’s eyes.
Maybe the goat running down the hall would have been better than this. Oh no, please don’t cry. “Where’s your momma?”
The little girl pointed toward the door, her hand shaking.
“It’s okay. I’ll straighten it out.” Joy whipped around Molly and ran toward the front door just in time to see a blue compact car back out of the driveway. She waved her arms spastically as she took the porch steps two at a time. “Excuse me. Hello!” She raced out to the front yard, but the driver of the car seemed completely un- aware of her yelling and hailing. As Joy ran to the end of the driveway, the car became a dot in the distance, then disappeared.
Out of breath, and out of her element, she turned and walked slowly back to the house.
What am I supposed to do with a little girl? There are certainly no instructions in the barn about that.
CREDIT: From CHRISTMAS JOY by Nancy Naigle. Copyright © 2016 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.
USA TODAY Bestselling author, Nancy Naigle, writes love stories from the crossroad of small town and suspense in hopes that readers will find an escape from their hectic day-to-day in the make-believe worlds she creates.