I have a treat to put you in the festive spirit today. Ahead of publication day tomorrow, I have a sneak peek at the prologue of Phillipa Ashley’s new novel The Christmas Holiday to share with you. Isn’t that cover so Christmassy? I’ll be reading the book later this month so watch out for my review.
Here’s what the book is about
She’s planned the perfect Christmas. But fate might have other ideas…
Krystle didn’t have a normal childhood and longed for warm family Christmases with presents under the tree. Now she makes sure everyone else has the perfect Christmas she never had, bringing beautiful decorations to cheer as many people as possible.
With her festive business booming, she decides to celebrate by renting a secluded house in the Lakes, with a plan to make this the ultimate yuletide getaway.
But fate immediately throws a spanner in the works in the form of a broken-down car, a flooded river and Max; a man who despises Christmas.
Krystle becomes determined to show Max the joys of the holiday. She won’t take no for an answer.
Can she melt Max’s Grinch-like heart? And can he show her that life doesn’t need to go to plan to take you somewhere magical…
And now here’s that prologue for you to enjoy
The Christmas Holiday Prologue
It was the biggest Christmas tree Krystle had ever seen: twice as tall as her, and topped by a glittering star that almost touched the ceiling. You could barely see the branches for the shiny baubles, stripy candy canes, strings of beads and wooden toys.
It was swathed with tinsel in the colours of a peacock’s feathers, shimmering in the light of the fire. Underneath there were presents in every shape and size, wrapped in shiny paper and tied with ribbon and bows.
The room reminded Krystle of a Christmas card that her Auntie Linda had sent her and her mum the previous year. The card showed a family gathered around a tree in a huge room, opening the gifts by the light of a fire.
Standing on tiptoes, she peered through the old-fashioned window. Her feet sank into the soil and water squelched into her trainers. Auntie Linda had loaned Mum the money to buy them but they hadn’t lasted long in the rocky muddy places she’d been to in the Lake District over the past few days.
The instructors at the Outdoor Centre spoke in soft Northern accents and smiled a lot. They’d made jokes about the pink trainers and lent her ‘proper footwear’ for some of the activities. Krystle knew they meant to be kind, but she hated the stiff boots, shaped by someone else’s feet. She’d rather have wet socks.
Actually, she’d rather be inside full stop. . . It was already almost dark even though they hadn’t had their lunchtime sandwiches so very long ago. Some of the stars were already twinkling and lights peeped out from the tiny cottages in the Thorndale valley.
Krystle was supposed to be waiting at the edge of the village for the bus. All the kids were tired and cold after another long walk, eating crisps and chattering about what might be for dinner at the Outdoor Centre where they all had to sleep in bunk beds.
No one had noticed her slip away from the others towards the grand house with stone pillars. She had been drawn to its glowing windows like she was to the big stores in London that she loved to visit with Auntie Linda. A quick look wouldn’t do any harm, would it? Better than standing in the cold, while the rain fell and being told to ‘keep their chins up’ by the teachers, whatever that meant.
She pulled off her mitten and spread her palm over the pane, hoping to feel the warmth of the fire. The glass was cold but she could hear the faint crackle and hiss as the flames leapt. She’d never been in front of a fire inside a house. Auntie Linda had told her they were ‘very nice to look at but a lot of trouble’ and Mum had said they were too dangerous to have in a flat.
Here in this huge house, the fire looked safe and inviting. Where were the people who owned it? Why weren’t they enjoying their beautiful room like the family in the card? If it were Krystle’s house, her mum would be curled up on the sofa with a magazine and a glass of wine. Auntie Linda would be in the armchair, her feet on the footstool, a sherry in her hand. Krystle would lie on the rug, reading a book, toasting by the fire, wondering what the presents contained.
It was such a contrast to her real life, which was like a ride on the Southend rollercoaster that Auntie Linda had treated her to. Krystle loved rollercoasters but she didn’t want to be on one all time.
Linda said that Mum was ‘doing her best’, and Krystle did believe it. She loved her mother but she was often cross and impatient, always short of money and very unhappy. As long as Krystle could remember, they’d moved from flat to flat or ‘B&B’s’ with peeling walls and the smell of other people’s cooking.
As for school, she’d had to change so many times, she’d lost count. Just as she’d made friends, she was uprooted to another place because her mum had fallen out with her boss – and Krystle didn’t blame her as they sounded horrible – or refused to ‘keep her daughter in this skanky hole any longer’.
Yet things were about to change again. Just not for the better.
Her mother had a new boyfriend, Gus, and they were moving in with him by Christmas. It filled her with dread. He wasn’t violent – in fact he largely ignored her – but she felt he’d cast a giant shadow over her life that having a permanent home didn’t make up for. Gus made jokes about old people, reeked of aftershave and often had food stuck in his beard.
He also had two twin daughters a year older than Krystle, who laughed at her clothes and called her a ‘chav’. The Terrible Twins shared a room so Krys would have to sleep on the sofa bed in Gus’s ‘office’, and have to tidy it away every night so that no trace of her was left in his ‘workspace’.
The girls had made it clear they hated the idea of sharing their house as much as much she did, especially since she’d pushed one of them in a puddle for teasing her for having free school meals.
If only they could live with Linda. . . but her mum was mad on Gus and told Krys she’d have to make the best of it.
Krystle was tired of making the best of it. She didn’t want to wear someone else’s boots and she didn’t want to go back to London. If only they could move here to the Lake District and live in this house, her mum and Auntie Linda, maybe a dog and a cat too.
She pressed her face to the glass, squashing her nose to the pane, willing herself to be magicked inside the fairy tale world of the Christmas card.
‘Krystle Jones, what on earth are you doing?’
The booming voice startled her and she fell backwards into the border with a squelch. She wasn’t hurt – didn’t think she was – but the shock had made her heart thump hard and made her out of breath.
Above her, a woman towered over her, hands on hips.
‘Come away from there! This is someone’s private property!’
Miss Braithwaite’s bushy eyebrows faced off like two warring caterpillars. She looked taller and wider than ever from ground level. The rain had turned icy and sharp, like tiny needles against Krystle’s face.
‘S-sorry, Miss Braithwaite.’ Krystle pushed herself up on her elbows, feeling the damp seep through her coat to her jumper.
‘The minibus is here. We almost went back to the centre without you!’
Krystle let out a squeak of alarm. ‘No!’
Miss Braithwaite’s frown melted into a kinder smile. She reached down and took Krystle’s hand, pulling her to her feet.
‘Come on, madam. Of course, we wouldn’t leave you behind but a lot of people have gone to a lot of trouble to organise this trip. It’s not fair to keep them waiting, is it?’
‘No, Miss.’ She tried to brush the mud from her jeans but ended up smearing it into the denim.
Miss Braithwaite rolled her eyes. ‘Don’t worry about your clothes. We can pop them in the machine at the centre.’ She pursed her lips. ‘But those silly trainers are soaked. I’ll put them in the drying room for a few days. Don’t worry, you can wear your boots for the rest of the week.’ She clapped her gloves together. ‘Now, chop chop! The driver’s not too pleased at being kept waiting, I can tell you.’
With a silent sigh, she squelched behind Miss Braithwaite towards the minibus which was parked at the end of the drive to the house. She glanced back, imagining she could see shadows at the windows; the family returning from a walk to enjoy hot chocolate with squirty cream and little pink marshmallows. Maybe the children would be allowed to open a present early, even though it wasn’t Christmas for a few weeks yet. If Krystle was their mum, that’s what she would do: let them have one little gift now, just one. . .
‘Hallelujah! The wanderer returns!’ Miss Braithwaite announced as Krystle climbed into the bus. Some of the boys jeered but a few kids slid admiring glances at her for having escaped, even temporarily.
Far from being annoyed, the driver didn’t even look up from his newspaper when Krystle slunk past him. She wrinkled her nose. The bus smelled of wet clothes and fishpaste sandwiches.
Her new friend, Harriet, moved aside she could take the window seat. ‘You’re wet,’ she whispered.
‘Sorry. Better keep away from me.’
Harriet smirked. ‘I bet Miss Braithwaite was pissed off.’
‘A bit.’ Krystle nodded and they both stifled giggles.
The engine rumbled and the bus lurched forward.
Wiping away the condensation on the window, Krystle watched the glow of the house fading away into the dusk. Soon, it was only a memory, lost amid the white flakes falling on the stone walls and fields.
Harriet offered Krystle a Haribo. Her tongue was lime green. ‘Where did you go?’ she whispered.
‘The Christmas card house,’ she said, delving into the packet. ‘And one day, I’m going to live in a place just like it.’
Sounds good doesn’t it? I don’t know about you but I really hope that Krystle gets to fulfil her dream and live in a Christmas card house someday! The Christmas Holiday will be published by Avon Books tomorrow and should be available from your usual book retailer.
About the Author
Phillipa Ashley is a Sunday Times best selling author of heart-warming romantic fiction. After studying English at Oxford University, she worked as a copywriter and journalist before writing her debut novel, Decent Exposure.
It won the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Award and was filmed as a Lifetime TV movie starring Kristin Chenoweth and Josh Hopkins.
Her novels have sold almost a million copies and been translated into many languages. She is also an Audible number 1 best-seller.
Phillipa lives in an English village with her husband, has a grown-up daughter and loves nothing better than walking the Lakeland hills and swimming in Cornish coves.
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