We have a winner! Bonnie Gonzales, you won a $15 gift card from either Amazon or Starbucks. Debra will be in touch with you. Thanks to everyone who stopped by!
2022 is nearly gone, mes amies, but it’s been a great year of Spotlights where I’ve featured so many wonderful authors! Today is no exception. It’s always a pleasure to welcome my friend and fellow Tule author, Debra Salonen.
A former award-winning newspaper journalist, Debra is a nationally bestselling author with 26 published novels for Harlequin’s Superromance and American lines and one single title release for Harlequin Signature. Several of her titles were nominated for “Best Superromance,” including Until He Met Rachel, which took home that honor in 2010. Debra was named Romantic Times Reviewer’s Career Achievement “Series Storyteller of the Year” in 2006. Debra lives in the foothills near Yosemite National Park in California with her husband and two dogs. Luckily, her two children and three grandchildren live close by to keep Debra connected to the real world.
Deb, it’s all you, my friend!
Times…they are a-changing. Darn it.
I’m reminded every time an AARP publication shows up in the mail that I have reached a new plateau in my timeline. And this holiday season, I was forced to admit that the traditions I took for granted have changed, too.
This was the first Thanksgiving that I was not responsible for cooking the turkey. Last year, we shifted the actual meal to my son’s house because his new wife’s parents would be in attendance. It was lovely, with new friends-in-the-making and interesting takes on old favorites. But my turkey was front and center, along with the always problematic gravy. (It sometimes suffers from performance anxiety and will go lumpy at the least bit of provocation.) But last year’s gravy was a big hit. Leftovers were nonexistent.
But this year, we made the five-hour drive to one of the in-laws’ home in southern California. I baked my notorious Hershey Bar Cake (recipe below) and picked up a Costco pumpkin pie because…well, admit it, Costco can out-bake most of us. 😉 This wasn’t a bad thing. I was able to chill, chat, and eat without any pressure. I wanted to feel bad about the loss of tradition, but how could I?
On the drive home, my husband reminded me that we have, in fact, tweaked certain traditions in the past. One year, I baked a Tofurkey for our then-vegan son and a turkey breast for us, and packed up everything to have a Thanksgiving Day picnic on our 1956 CrisCraft mahogany boat in the middle of Lake McClure. How many people can say that?
So, maybe I’m over-thinking this whole tradition thing. In my holiday box set, there’s quite a variety of traditions new and old—including some that need to be a thing of the past.
The hero and heroine of The Rancher’s and The Widow’s First Christmas have shared memories of holiday traditions put in place by someone they both loved and lost. With a little finesse and a lot of trust, they also begin to make unique traditions that include my heroine’s Cioppino (*recipe below) on Christmas Eve. (My mother always made oyster stew. Spoiled child that I was, I insisted on potato soup, instead).
One hero’s tradition nearly kills his new bride in Judy Does Christmas. Both characters learn the hard way the importance of being honest about expectations and eschewing obligations to the past.
Black Hills Secret Santa includes one of my favorite scenes when hero Rufus undergoes a transformation (think: hirsute Beast morphs into handsome Prince) to impress heroine Rachel at a Christmas party. Here’s the excerpt:
“Your date is late,” Char observed.
“So is yours.”
Char’s smile held an air of pure joy. “Eli is at Native Arts getting ready. He’s coming as Lakota Santa Claus. Instead of dropping off presents, he’s picking up all the gifts everyone brought to distribute to needy kids on the reservation. Cool, huh?”
Rachel looked at the towering pile of festively wrapped gifts beside the Christmas tree. She’d bought two handmade dolls from Char’s shop and two remote controlled trucks that Jordie and Tag swore were the best. Shopping for the giveaway gifts had been almost as much fun as shopping for Kat’s sons. “Awesome. Are you going with him?”
Char nodded. “I’ve got my elf hat in my purse.” Her smile fell slightly. “It was tough putting Damien on the plane this morning. I wanted him to be here so everyone could meet him, but we had to strike a compromise so he could be with his other mother and siblings, too.”
Rachel gave her friend a quick hug. “I really admire the way you put Damien’s feelings first, Char. And he’s going to be here for the wedding, right?”
“Absolutely. He was so jazzed when you asked him to handle the PA and lighting.”
“I’m glad somebody’s excited. All I can feel is this giant rock in the pit of my belly surfing on a wave of acid.”
Char laughed. “Stop worrying. It’s going to be great.”
Rachel wished she shared Char’s optimism. She needed everything to come off smoothly to prove to herself—and her toughest critic—that she could accomplish whatever she set out to do.
A server with a silver tray approached them. “Grilled shrimp with Hawaiian dipping sauce?”
Rachel and Char exchanged a look. “That’s one of the appetizer choices I nixed because it sounded too summery.” She shifted her flute of champagne to her left hand. “Sure. Give me one.”
She stabbed a mouthwatering-looking shrimp with a red plastic toothpick and started chewing.
“Mmm. Good. Really good. We might need to change the menu at the wed—” Her train of thought jumped its tracks the moment Libby’s brother, Mac, opened the front door and a man walked in. A tall, well-built stranger, who definitely was not from around here.
Probably a Sentinel Passtime cast member, Rachel thought, swallowing a sigh of disappointment. Rufus wouldn’t stand me up. Would he?
When Mac stepped away to hang up the stranger’s expensive-looking black wool coat, Rachel studied the man from the back. The cut of his dark gray suit hugged his wide shoulders as if it had been sewn for him.
Instead of asking Char if she thought the man might be wearing Armani—can you say shallow?—Rachel put the little skewer to her lips to slide the remaining bit of shrimp into her mouth. When she looked up, her gaze collided with the stranger’s.
Recognition made the cocktail napkin she’d been holding slip from her fingers and flutter to the floor like a heavy square snowflake. “Oh,” she inhaled, remembering too late her mouth was full of half-masticated shrimp.
Char whacked Rachel squarely between the shoulder blades. “Are you okay? I suppose choking is one way to catch a man’s attention.”
She looked from Rachel to the man and back. “Who is that? Do you know him? He looks like an actor, but I don’t remember seeing anyone that handsome around.” She clapped her hand across her lips, her eyes wide with horror. “Whoa. What am I saying? Eli’s that handsome and then some. If you tell him I was drooling over a gorgeous stranger, I will make sure Santa leaves a lump of coal in your stocking.”
Rachel’s hand shook as she reached out to drop her toothpick on a paper plate resting on a nearby table. She quickly finished chewing and swallowed. “He’s not a stranger. That’s my date.”
“Your date? I thought you were waiting for Rufus?”
Rachel took Char by the shoulders and turned her toward the man watching them with a tiny smirk that said he knew exactly what they were saying. Rachel tried her best to act cool, despite the heat flushing through every corpuscle.
“That’s Rufus Miller?” Char cried, her timing impeccable as the music ended.
Heads turned as Rufus crossed the room.
His gaze left Rachel’s long enough to bow politely to Char. “Happy holidays, and congratulations on your engagement. Rachel told me the good news.”
Rachel gave Char credit for recovering from her obvious shock more quickly than Rachel was managing. Her heart was beating so loudly she was certain everyone in the place could hear it.
“Thank you, Rufus. I understand congratulations are in order for you, too. Rachel told me your site has had a gazillion hits and you’re selling Dreamhouses like crazy.”
“All thanks to Rachel.”
He gave Rachel the most inside-out, depths-of-your-soul look she’d ever received. She blurted out the first thing that came into her head.
“You cut your hair. You didn’t have to. I told you not to. I feel like such a jerk. You must hate me.”
His beautifully trimmed eyebrows lifted so expressively she nearly swooned. My God, why isn’t he on the cover of GQ?
“It was time. The hairdresser said my split ends had split ends of their own.”
She couldn’t stop herself. She reached up and touched his bare jaw. “And you shaved. I thought maybe the beard was hiding something. Like a weak chin. But, Rufus, you’re handsome. Really handsome.”
The twinkle in his eyes seemed to imply that the joke was on her. Was she simply slow to see something everyone else had always known? A flash of pique made her add, “Why am I always the last to know these things?”
All three of those titles are part of my 5-book box set: IT’S NEVER THE MISTLETOE. It’s available for $2.99 at Amazon or if you’re a member of KindleUnlimited, it’s free. Learn more here: It’s Never the Mistletoe
I hope this past Christmas was everything you hoped it would be. We’re not out of the woods yet…New Year’s Eve is coming. But my tradition for that holiday is very simple: snuggle under the covers with the one I love and close my eyes. 😉
GIVEAWAY: Tell me: do you have one holiday tradition (Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s) that you will never give up? On Saturday at noon EST, I’ll pick one random winner from those who reply to receive a $15 gift card from either AMAZON or STARBUCKS.
Thanks for being part of our wide family of readers and for being so supportive of my friend, Nan, and the authors she so generously features. Have a wonderful new year of reading!!!