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Lorana Hoopes

A Merry Mistake

A Merry Mistake

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It wasn't the Christmas I planned, but was it the one I needed?

Okay, so I can be a little ditzy at times, but that doesn't change the truth of what I saw. Someone is out to get me and they're making it impossible to accomplish my normal Christmas routine. See, I love Christmas and snow and everything December, so when I got invited to the town of Rudolph to review the new lodge, I couldn't be happier. And it was going great until I witnessed a murder.

Then the phone calls started, so I didn't the only thing I could think of - I hired a body guard. Unfortunately, he's rude and uptight and I should never have kissed him because now I can't get that kiss out of my head. it's got to just be the lure of Christmas, right?

Love the spirit of Christmas and good clean romance? Then you'll love this heartwarming romantic comedy from USA Today best selling author Lorana Hoopes.

First Chapter

Christmas is my favorite time of year. Seriously, I love it all - the absolutely magical decorations (there's an inflatable dragon drinking cocoa that I have to see every night even though dragons aren't usually associated with Christmas), twinkling strings of lights hanging from buildings and houses (the colored icicles are my favorite, but I enjoy the solid white ones too), and huge trees decorated with colorful ornaments. Plus there's the food (I usually eat too much of that), the music (I start listening before Thanksgiving), and the snow (which we never get enough of in my opinion). Seriously everything. But my favorite part about Christmas this year is getting to spend a weekend with my friends at a beautiful resort that goes all out for Christmas. It’s only about half an hour from where we live, but Rudolph, Washington puts our little town to shame, and so does this lodge.

“Oh, the pictures did not do it justice,” I breathe as we pull into the parking lot of The Snowflake Lodge. The lodge, which had been recently bought by a couple named Chris and Margie Kringle if you can believe it, is a gingerbread house on steroids. The roof glistens the same chocolate brown as a Kit Kat bar and the building itself is decorated with lights so bright that you could see them from the sky. White Jenga-style chimneys peak from each side and snowflakes dot every window, outlining each glass pane, regardless of size. Even though the part of the country we live in doesn’t get a lot of snow, the lodge advertises a full-fledged Christmas experience complete with horse-drawn carriage rides, an indoor ice-skating rink, and a spectacular tree lighting ceremony. Plus daily pictures with Santa starting on the fifteenth of December. 

Charlie kills the engine and nods as she looks up at the lodge. “I have to agree. This looks fantastic. Now, let’s just hope they have a fitness facility.” Charlie is the fitness guru of the group. Well, that’s actually putting it nicely. Her passionate love for fitness and exercise is like no one else's. She is relentless in her pursuit of perfect health, like a drill sergeant drilling her troops. We are her friends, not her clients, and sometimes we have to remind her of that.

“We’re only here for two nights,” Hannah says as she opens her door, “I think you can skip working out for two days.”

“Probably three depending on when we leave Sunday,” Charlie grumbles, “and I already had to cut my workout short today.”

I open my door and pull out my phone, clicking my social media app as I do. When the video starts rolling, I smile. “Well guys, we officially made it to The Snowflake Lodge and it is amazing. We haven’t seen our room yet, but just check out this view.” I pan the camera slowly over the massive stone building that holds The Snowflake Lodge. An archway shaped like a snowflake floating in an ocean of white welcomes us to the property. Snow drifts at the edges of the property and perches on the limbs of evergreen trees, giving everything a fairytale appearance. There’s no snow falling currently, but there’s a covering on the ground already from a previous snowfall, glistening like a dusting of glitter. Evidently, we’re scheduled to get more snow than usual this winter, and I am not complaining because I love snow. It makes everything look cleaner, more pristine. The trees and rooftops are coated in the delicate white, and though it’s not dark yet, the Christmas lights decorating the lodge are already on and sparkling like tiny rays of hope.

“Are you going to record everything we do this weekend?” Katie asks as my camera settles on her face.

“That is the price of fame.” I shoot my tongue out at her, knowing the camera is facing away from me and my infantile gesture won’t be seen by my fans. “Don’t worry guys, Katie isn’t always this grumpy, and a promise is a promise. Though you can’t be here with me, you’ll feel like you are. Gotta run for now, but comment on what your favorite thing to do over Christmas is and I’ll try to get some videos around those ideas.” I tap the button to end the video and then quickly type out a description and hashtags to upload it.

“You do realize you aren’t famous, right?” Katie's mouth twists into a frown as she tosses my bag at my feet, a little too forcefully if you ask me. “You’re a cosmetologist.”

That is only half true. I am a cosmetologist and I’m glad I am as it made it easy to take the weekend off, but some of my income comes from my social media accounts, so I’m also kind of famous.” I actually enjoy doing makeup makeovers - there is something about making a woman feel good about herself when she looks in the mirror - but I am looking forward to the day that it’s no longer my main income. And that day is coming. I can feel it like a soft buzzing in my bones, a vibration below my skin. It’s been a slow build, but I’m starting to get more money from my monetized social media accounts and incentives from businesses.

“I still can’t believe they pay you to put up videos.” Charlie's lip twitches in disdain as she rolls her eyes at me.

I pick up my bag, shifting the straps on my duffel bag, trying not to wince at the strain of its overloaded contents. I’ve packed entirely too much considering our limited stay, but you never know what to be prepared for, so I brought a little of everything. “Hey, I’ve offered to start a channel for you. As a personal trainer, you could make a lot.”

“Except that as a personal trainer, I have to work with my clients personally. That’s sort of what the name means.” She rolls her eyes at me like this is common knowledge and she can’t believe that I don’t understand it, but I can’t believe she doesn’t understand the untapped potential she is letting slip by. I know she doesn’t trust my opinion on a lot of things, but social media is my jam.

“And you could still do that, but you could also do tips and workouts they could do on their own and garner an online audience as well. It would be great for people who want to work out but don’t want to go to the gym.”

“The online commercial section is growing at an astronomical rate,” Piper says, consulting her phone. The girl is a wizard when it comes to research. She can find just about anything in under two minutes, and what she can’t find, she has stored in her head. I honestly think her brain must be bigger than most people’s because of the sheer amount of knowledge stored there. I wouldn't be surprised if we found out she was the daughter of Albert Einstein or something. “In this case, I do believe Belle is correct that you could increase your income if you added an online presence to your in-person business model.”

Charlie glares at her. “I don’t have time to shoot silly videos like Belle does. I have a real business to run.”

“Girls, it’s Christmas time. Perhaps we can hold off on the bickering for the next few days,” Hannah says, stepping into her peacemaker role and shooting us pointed looks. Her dark hair is pulled back into a low ponytail which makes her look both serious and authoritative. She’s not a mother, yet, but I like to call this particular look her ‘mom look’ because it reminds me very much of the ones I used to get from my mother. Hannah swears she’s perfected it because she helped raise her younger brothers, but however she got it, she’s very good at it.

“Fine by me. I plan to enjoy this weekend.” I hoist the bag a little higher on my shoulder - okay, I probably could have left a few things at home - and lead the way to the front door which is adorned with a giant wreath that smells strongly of pine. I don’t always love the smell of pine - it’s too pungent in candles and cleaners - but I don’t mind it on Christmas trees and wreaths. However, I’m even more delighted as I pull the door open and the scent of cinnamon and sugar fills the air. A wave of warmth billows out with the delicious smell, enveloping me like a comfortable blanket.

My mouth falls open as I step inside because even though the pictures I looked at online were gorgeous, they don’t even come close to seeing the room in person. Every inch of the room is Christmas - from the giant tree straight ahead that appears to reach all the way to the vaulted ceilings, to the twinkle lights hanging from the ceiling accented with holly and ivy, to the stuffed reindeers and snowmen placed strategically around. 

“Oof.” I’m pushed forward as someone bumps into me from behind, and okay, I shouldn’t have stopped in the doorway, but this view is stunning.  

“Wow, this is something.” At least Katie doesn’t seem upset that I was holding up her entrance.

“Right?” I step to the side to let her enter, and then a cheery voice greets us from across the room.

“Welcome to the Snowflake Lodge.”

I glance to the right where an elderly woman is rounding the corner of a check-in desk, a tray of chocolate chip cookies in her hand. Her short heels click on the polished marble floor as she walks. She is dressed head to toe in red though her shirt has a white ring of fur around the collar. Her white hair is styled in a sensible bob, although a few wisps of hair seem to have escaped and now frame her face. “I’m Margie Kringle, the owner here - well, part-owner. My husband Chris is around here somewhere. Probably sneaking cookies in the kitchen because our chef whipped them up just a few minutes ago. Thankfully, I managed to snag a few, and you girls look like you could use some cookies.” She has a grandmotherly voice and an accent I can’t quite place.

I can’t always succumb to cookies - part of my success is looking good on camera - but it’s Christmas, so I smile and grab one. The cookie is still warm, and it literally melts in my mouth like a sugary chocolatey river as I bite into it. “Oh my gosh, this is so good.” I’ll never say it out loud, but if all the food is as good as this cookie, I may need a fitness center too.

The other girls also grab a cookie and then Margie leads us back to the counter to check in. “Okay, let’s get you girls checked in. Whose name is the reservation under?”

I raise my hand, feeling just a little silly. “That would be me. Belle Duvall.”

“Aw, Belle, I love that name. It reminds me of sleigh bells in the snow.” She smiles wistfully for a moment and then snaps back to reality and taps a few keys on her computer. “Okay, Belle. You are all checked in. You are in our Santa suite. I know you guys will love it there. The designer just finished it a few months ago, and we’ve had nothing but compliments ever since.” She hands over the keys, which I’m a little disappointed to see are just regular key cards and not festive skeleton keys or something, and then points behind her to a hallway. “The elevator is just down there. Your room is on the fourth floor. We have a spa, a pool, and a fitness facility on level one. Meals are served down here in the family room.” She leans closer like she’s sharing a guilty secret. “It’s a cafeteria, but I like calling it a family room better. It feels homier that way, am I right?”

“Absolutely,” I agree with a smile. I will definitely have to see if I can get Margie to let me film her because it’s clear she is part of the charm of this place.

“Let’s see… Dinner is served from six to eight pm, breakfast from six to eight am, and lunch from noon to two. There are snacks available during the other hours if needed, and of course there are plenty of restaurants in town to choose from. You’re only staying with us for the weekend?” She looks up and I swear there is a hint of sadness in her expression.

“It was all we could get off, but maybe we’ll get to come back soon.” I don’t know why I feel the need to explain our stay length, but the words just tumble out.

Margie tilts her head and smiles. “Let’s hope. Checkout is at noon on Sunday then, and,” she pulls a sheet of paper from beneath the counter, “here’s a listing of all our Christmas activities. You came just in time for the tree lighting tonight.” She gives us a wink and another wide smile. “It’s one of my favorite events.”

“Thank you so much.” I take the paper and stack of keys she hands me and give one to each girl.

“You’re welcome. Let me know if you need anything else.”

“We will. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” she calls after us as we head to the elevator. 

The Christmas cheer carries through the rest of the lodge with tinsel and more wreaths hung on the walls and red and green tinsel surrounding the elevator.

“Wow, they really do it up here,” Charlie says as I punch the button to go up.

“It’s amazing, right?” The doors slide open and the soft sound of Christmas music spills out. I smile as I step in. “Now, this is my kind of elevator music.”

“It’s definitely festive, but do you think she’ll leave the Christmas decorations up all year?” Hannah asks as the doors close.

“If she doesn’t, I’d hate to be the one in charge of putting them up and taking them down,” Charlie says.

“Surely she will though,” Piper chimes in, “otherwise she would undoubtedly lose business in the summer. Not everyone can handle Christmas year-round.”

I open my mouth to argue - I’m fairly certain I could handle Christmas year-round, or at least part of it. the only downside is that it might lose some of its appeal – although it would take an eternity to wear off completely. But there’s no need to start a fight.

At the fourth floor, there is a ding and then we step off the elevator. There are only four suites on this floor - The Santa Suite, The Holiday Hideaway, The Elves Extravaganza, and The Winter Wonderland. Ours is to the right, but I can’t help wondering if they all look the same. “I wonder if we can befriend the people in the other suites and see inside theirs.”

“That would be weird,” Katie says with a shake of her head. “Nobody meets and hangs out with their hotel neighbors.”

“It wouldn’t be weird if they’re cool like us. What if one of them is a suite full of handsome guys?” I wiggle my eyebrows at my friends. It’s been a while since any of us have been out on a date, and I wouldn’t mind spending my down time with a handsome guy.

“Then I’m definitely out.”

I frown at her and roll my eyes. Katie isn’t normally this much of a party pooper, but her fiancé broke up with her a month or so ago and she’s still salty. That’s part of the reason I begged the girls to come too. I knew we could all use a change of pace and scenery, even if only for a few days.

“Well, I could handle a cute guy for Christmas,” Hannah says as she scans the card key on our room lock. There is a click and then she opens the door to our magical escape.

We have our own Christmas tree and a fire flickers softly in a large fireplace. Mugs with cocoa sit on the table along with more cookies, and Christmas music plays softly from somewhere.

“This is going to be awesome,” I say as I set my bag down.

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Lorana Hoopes

Lorana Hoopes is a USA Today Best Selling Author and now an Award Winning Author as well. She's had two books earn a Page Turner Award Finalist badge and she recently won the Reader's Favorite Book Award for Romantic Suspense.