The Christmas Spirit by Susan Buchanan
Blurb of “The Christmas Spirit”:
Christmas is coming, but not everyone is looking forward to it.
Rebecca has just been dumped and the prospect of spending the holiday period with her parents is less than appealing.
Eighty- two year old Stanley lost his beloved wife, Edie, to cancer. How will he cope with his first Christmas without her?
Jacob’s university degree hasn’t helped him get a job, and it looks like he’ll still be signing on come New Year.
Workaholic Meredith would rather spend December 25th at home alone with a ready meal and a DVD box set. Can anything make her embrace the spirit of the season?
The enigmatic Natalie Hope takes over the reins at the Sugar and Spice bakery and café in an attempt to spread some festive cheer and restore Christmas spirit, but will she succeed?
Chapter 1 tease
Well, my D-Day anyway, thought Natalie.
Every year on this day, December 1st, her raison d’être and her job, as such, began. It only lasted a month, but her personal deadline was always twenty-four days. The other week was just to ensure there was no unfinished business.
Natalie hoped Christmas 2013 would be a good one for everyone. If she had anything to do with it, as in the past, those she chose would have a Christmas to remember.
This year she would be working in the small town of Winstanton about twenty miles north of Glasgow; more of a village really, with its carefully tended lawns, idyllic cottages and splendid views over Loch Lomond.
Each year Natalie had to choose a different country. This was her first visit to Scotland. She hoped she would get used to the Scottish accent and that her own would go unnoticed. Speaking several languages came in handy, but it was even better to blend in like a local.
Although Natalie’s job actively only lasted one month per year, her preparation lasted ten months. Well, she did get some holidays. Ten months in which to research, narrow down and shortlist her candidates. It was no easy task, as although a small town, Winstanton still had fifteen thousand residents and Natalie could only choose four. Now, she couldn’t possibly check them all out, could she? No. Natalie had a gift which helped her. She could feel other people’s happiness. The downside was, she could also feel their unhappiness. Marvellous, eh?
Natalie readjusted her handbag on her shoulder and grabbed hold of the handle of her carry-on case, dragging it along the deserted platform of Winstanton train station. She had picked up the keys to her new one-bedroom cottage earlier that day in Glasgow. Now all she had to do was make her way there. There wasn’t a taxi in sight; not surprising, since she was the only person who had got off at the station. Fortunately there was a phone box, an old style red one – how quaint. Even luckier, it hadn’t been vandalised and it had a Yellow Pages in it, which hadn’t been ripped to shreds. Natalie had never got around to getting a mobile phone. There was no reception where she lived most of the year, so there seemed little point. Taking out a piece of paper from her purse, she dialled the first taxi number she’d come across in her research of the area; she was nothing if not prepared. In her job she had to be. She was looking forward to her new role. Her job was always a job within a job; a little difficult to explain, but it was kind of like a secondment.
The taxi arrived soon after. Natalie could imagine there wasn’t much doing for a taxi driver on a Sunday night. A cheery old man, probably in his sixties, greeted her. ‘Miss Hope?’
‘The very same.’
‘Let me help you with your case.’
‘Thanks,’ said Natalie, when he swung it with some effort into the boot.
‘What have you got in there, bricks?’
Natalie laughed and said, ‘Wouldn’t you like to know!’
He looked as if he would indeed like to know, but was too polite to push it further.
They arrived at Rose Cottage within ten minutes.
‘Five pounds eighty, hen.’
‘Worth every penny,’ Natalie pronounced. She handed him seven pounds and told him to keep the change.
‘Do you want me to wait until you see if anyone’s home?’ asked the driver, eyeing the darkened cottage.
‘No, it’s OK, thanks, although that’s kind of you to be so thoughtful. I have a key.’
‘No problem. Have a nice night.’
‘You too. Hope it’s a busy one for you.’
The driver’s expression conveyed that was unlikely to be the case.
She noticed he didn’t leave until she was safely inside the cottage and she’d switched on the hall light. Nice soul, obviously a happy man. He wouldn’t be needing her help.
Natalie closed the door behind her and surveyed her new living quarters. The darkness had made it difficult to notice much about the garden outside and the driving rain had made her keen to get inside as quickly as possible. She found herself in a small hallway, with a deep pile carpet, mocha in colour. She couldn’t wait to slip off her boots and luxuriate in the feel of the pile between her toes. Her feet ached from the journey; it was rather a long way.
An antique mirror, was it real? she wondered, hung from a hook in the hallway, which was dimly lit by a fake gas lamp. Off the hall were five doors. The first turned out to be a cupboard, also home to the boiler. The second led her into a country kitchen, complete with French dresser and pine table and chairs, with an Aga taking centre stage; well-equipped and quite spacious, considering it was a one bedroom cottage. Natalie exited the kitchen and tried the next door – her bedroom for the next month. A double bed, a large wardrobe and two bedside cabinets made up the room, nothing special, but comfortable enough. On the other side of the hall, the first door she tried led into the bathroom.
Oh, what a treat! A tiled wet room.
For a cottage, it was modern; a rare mix of old meets new.
The last door led her into a large living room with a bay window overlooking the front garden. She hadn’t been aware of how far up the hill the driver had come, but now she could see, even in the dark, the splendid views over Loch Lomond. Lights twinkled in the distance; she assumed they were from moored boats, or a boathouse perhaps.
The living room welcomed her with a coal fire. Lovely. It required extra effort, but was definitely worth it. Natalie planned on cosy nights in after work, although she did expect to be working long hours, relaxing in front of the fire with a good book, or cooking on the Aga. Bliss. The corner sofa wasn’t to her taste, but was new and clearly from the period when corner sofas were back in fashion recently. Heavy curtains hung over the bay window, keeping out the cold.
Yes, this’ll do nicely.
She returned to the kitchen and opened the fridge. Aw, the lady who had leased her the house and the bakery had put a few goodies in for her first night. How sweet, and much appreciated. Natalie realised she was worn out from the journey, and checked out the cupboards to see about pots and pans. Two bottles of red wine greeted her when she opened the first door and she made a mental note to thank the landlady; just what she needed to go with her first meal and help her unpack. Tomorrow would be a long day and a new start.
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