Three intrepid angels-in-training, three unlucky-in-love heroines, and three unlikely heroes...
Prickly Covent Garden bookshop proprietress, Fiona MacPherson faces turning thirty and losing her beloved bookshop, both by the New Year. Unearthly pale and sun blind, Tobias Templeton doesn't care about the shop but there's one book in particular he’s convinced holds the cure for his curse. Can a nocturnal visit from Fiona's "Angel of Christmas Future" turn the tide toward Happily Ever After before it's too late?
MacPherson and Daughter Booksellers, Covent Garden, London
Bookshop proprietress Fiona MacPherson intoned her favorite Dickens quote a final time, savoring the delicious, shivery feel of saying the words aloud. She closed A Christmas Carol: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas and set the slender volume upon the tea table. She, Lady Adelaide Kendall, and Miss Claire Halliday had been gathering about that very table to discuss their beloved books for two years. What had begun as a pleasant pastime between bookseller and book buyers had solidified into firm friendships.
Their monthly book club was the mainstay of Fiona's social life. It was her social life. Though their spheres rarely intersected in the larger world of London, snuggled within her bookshop's four walls the trio had forged a bond that sustained each woman in the wake of life's tragedies and trials.
First there was Claire's fiancé, Steven's untimely death, at Christmastime, no less. Four years later, his family, the Mayhew's, was still smothering poor Claire if not to death then straight to spinsterhood.
And there was Addie's ennui, which Fiona privately considered had to do with a certain dashing young man, her sister, Grace's beau. Sebastian Hartley, Viscount Channing entered her conversation with astonishing frequency for all that she professed him to be "only a friend." Fiona would wager her final farthing the viscount had a great deal to do with Addie's sudden decision to study art in Paris for the next several months. Once she went, Fiona feared their little literati would disband altogether. It was a bleak thought.
Last but not least was Fiona's accident five years before. A foolish fall on an icy patch of train platform had left her with a limp and a fear of crowds, both of which had ended her dancing days. Still, she'd had her dear Da, her cat, and her book club friends as recompense. Her Da's dying the month before, though not unexpected, was a buffeting blow all the same. And now the very future of her beloved bookshop stood in peril. The latter she kept to herself for fear of spoiling her friends' holiday.
Beyond frustrated, she blurted out, "I far fancy Mr. Scrooge before his reformation."
Her friends turned to her with predictably appalled faces. "Fiona, truly, how can you say such a thing," Adelaide—Addie—protested, nearly choking on her morsel of lemon poppy seed cake. He was such a miserable, mean-spirited old miser."
"Fi, dearest," Claire suggested more gently, setting her teacup upon its saucer. "We know Christmas is especially sad for you this year, but do you not think you go too far in your humbugging? It pains me to see you stand so resolute, so... Scrooge-like against a season devoted to peace on earth, goodwill, and above all, love."
Fiona felt her gaze falter and a lump lodge in her throat. Looking down to her lap, she smoothed a hand over her black bombazine skirts, the solely acceptable fabric for full mourning. Underlying her gloom was yet another thing she'd kept carefully concealed from her two friends. Christmas Day, December 25th was her birthday. Not just any birthday but her thirtieth. By the time the clock tolled midnight, she would be well and truly on the shelf. On a chirpier chime, at least it would be a bookshelf—but only if she found a way to hold onto her shop.
Composing herself, she looked up. "No, I do not believe I do." Reluctant though she was to send her friends off to celebrate the season on a sour note, still she prided herself on her honesty even if, admittedly, that honesty frequently ran to a fault. "Certainly Scrooge was overly harsh with all his blathering of work houses and treadmills and decreasing the surplus population, but at least he was no hypocrite. Why should we feign a gaiety we cannot begin to feel simply because the calendar decrees it to be Christmas? It's all so horribly false, and I for one want no part of it." Impatient, she swept back a copper-colored curl from where it had fallen over her blue eye. "What reasons have any of us for making merry at Christmastime or any other?" she demanded, capturing their gazes in turn.
The two thought a moment. "We have our health," Claire offered.
Addie swallowed deeply, her golden brown eyes dimming. "And surely we... or certainly you two have some... romantic prospects." Color swept into her cheeks and she looked quickly away.
Regal in her simply styled navy woolen skirt and jacket, Claire shook her head. "Addie, for all you know you may meet your One True Love while sketching in a park in Paris." She looked to Fiona. "And you, Fi, may well meet yours as you met Addie and I—in this very shop."
Holding back tears, Fiona divided her gaze between them. Little did they know it but the shop, books, and indeed the very table at which they'd passed so many pleasant hours might at any moment be snatched away.
For their sakes, she summoned a smile and reached for the teapot to refill their cups. "Whatever this holiday season and New Year may bring, with wonderful friends such as you, what do I need with a man?"
"What, indeed!" Grimacing, Fern, Fiona's guardian angel-in-training, turned to her fellows, Periwinkle, and Rose, floating above the bookcases beside her. "Poor Fiona hasn't only given up on Christmas. She's given up on True Love, too—and 'tis all my fault!" She punctuated the pronouncement with a sob, sending turquoise sparkles joining the dust motes milling about the still air.
She still hadn't forgiven herself for the incident five years ago. Fiona had been set to accompany her father to an estate auction in Hungerford near Oxford, a lord's library of rare and collectible books where she was to have met her One True Love. Only at the train station where Fiona and her father waited to board, Fern had fallen down on her guardianship duties. Distracted by another passenger's pretty shawl, turquoise, of course, she'd turned her attention away from Fiona for a blink of time—a blink of time but it was enough. Caught up in the crowd, Fiona had slipped upon a patch of ice and fallen. The resulting wrenched ankle had forced her to stay behind—and made her miss meeting her One True Love, the single soul who could be counted upon to make her truly, blissfully happy. The accident also left her with a very slight limp and a very great fear of crowds, both which she'd turned into reasons for putting herself on the shelf well before her time.
"Don't be so hard on yourself," said Rose, Adelaide's guardian angel, patting Fern on the shoulder with her plump hand and sending pinkish-red sparkles scattering.
"We all make mistakes," added Claire's angel, Periwinkle. Waiving her hand, she added her violet sparkles to the mix.
Brushing off the flecks, Fern shook her head. "Easy for you two to say. Rose, admittedly you've missed some opportunities with Lady Adelaide, but you've yet to allow anything truly harmful to befall her." She whipped about to Periwinkle, spearing the newcomer with a look that sent the timid angel shrinking. "And you've only been assigned to Claire for three weeks now. Three weeks! You're coming at this assignment fresh as a daisy."
The Powers That Be had given each angel-in-training until the final stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve to unite Claire, Adelaide and Fiona with their respective One True Loves. If they failed, they wouldn't have another chance to earn their wings for a century, an eternity in earth years and no pittance in astral time, either. And their three ladies would live out their lives as spinsters. Such was The Rule.
Wringing her hands, Periwinkle echoed Fern's worries. "I only hope The Powers That Be have given us sufficient time. One earth week isn't a great deal of time to work what amounts to a miracle—three miracles! Looking dejected, she propped her cheek in her palm.
"Do stop dithering and calm yourself, Periwinkle," Fern ordered, her customary confidence returning. "Our plan to adapt Mr. Dickens' book to our purpose is sheer brilliance."
Rose shook her silvered head so fiercely her spectacles slid down her nose. "A book on Christmas and yet there isn't a single angel in it, only ghosts. Ghosts! I can't fathom what Mr. Dickens could have been thinking—or drinking—when he sat down to write such rubbish."
Determined to stick to their plan, Fern said, "I quite agree. Still, the book has implanted in the fertile soil of our ladies' imaginations, and so casting ourselves as the Angels of Past, Present and Future should work quite nicely."
Mindful of the ticking time, she shot her gaze down to the shop floor where Fiona hugged each of her friends in turn, Claire and Addie duly bundled for the fast-falling snow and Fiona doing her brave best to send them off with a smile. Smile or not, Fern could feel her lady's heart all but breaking, but then she had been with Fiona since birth. Fern had fond memories of playing peek-a-boo with a Baby Fiona in her crib and of guiding the toddler on her first shaky steps. Her charge had been able to see her back then. Now that she was grown up, Fiona no longer acknowledged her angel's existence and yet their spiritual bond was unusually strong all the same.
Adelaide and Claire left, the shop door closing behind them, the blasted bell reporting that somewhere yet another angel had earned her wings. Shoulders slumping, Fiona turned back inside and limped over to clear away the tea things. Looking on, Fern blinked away what felt suspiciously like mortal tears.
Rose tapped Fern on the shoulder. "I don't think Fiona's little limp bothers her half so much as her eyes do. She's self-conscious on account of their being... well, mismatched."
Distracted, it took Fern a moment to make sense of the remark. "Why that's positively absurd! Having one blue eye and one green eye is a rare gift from The Powers That Be." She spread her arms to indicate her splendid heavenly raiment, one half in hues of deepest leaf green and the other in celestial blue. "Fiona's eyes are the portal to her free-spirited soul as well as the trait by which her One True Love shall know her."
She only hoped Fiona would cooperate and recognize him in return. Even an angel in the service of The Powers That Be could but do her best. Free will was every human being's birthright. That's where casting herself as the Angel of the Future came into play. Giving her charge a grim glimpse into how her future would unfurl should she continue her humbugging might seem heavy handed, but it was also a necessary "evil." She couldn't afford to be faint hearted. Fiona needed a sound push if she was to move beyond her grief and get on with her life. Little did she know it, but her One True Love was due to arrive at the bookshop that very evening. There wasn't a moment to waste.
She looked back to Rose and Periwinkle. "Our ladies have gone their separate ways for the holiday. Time to roll up our robe sleeves and get to work."
"Are we not... f-forgetting something?" Periwinkle asked in her tremulous voice.
"We are angels even if we are still in training," added Rose.
Secretly ashamed to have forgotten, Fern nodded. "Quite, I was er...testing you."
Without further words, the three formed a circle. Each angel made a steeple of her hands and concentrated on pooling her energy with that of the others. In unison they sang, "On a wing and a prayer let us deliver three Christmas miracles to our three most deserving young ladies and let this Noel be remembered fondly, merrily, and lovingly for many an earth year to come."
• top •
Like It? Order it!
Setting: This trio of novellas inspired by A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas (original title) takes place in 1890 in London, almost 50 years after the publication of Dickens’ now classic Christmas tale, also a novella. In our retelling of the tale, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future are replaced by three angels-in-training out to earn their wings by bringing about a Christmas Happily Ever After for their respective earthly charges. Each of the three related novellas begins at my heroine, Fiona’s, Covent Garden bookshop where our unlucky-in-love heroines meet for their monthly book club. Their Christmas read? A Christmas Carol, of course.
I figured if my heroine, Fiona, and friends were reading Dickens’ book, I’d best brush up, too. Cracking the cover on the original work was a delightful prerequisite to researching the anthology as well as an eye opener. I’d forgotten just how deliciously droll Dickens’ can be!
Hero Worship: My unnaturally pale, sun-sensitive Tobias Templeton is one of my favorite fictional heroes as well as entirely a construction of my overly active imagination—at least I think he is. His One True Love, scotch swilling, prickly bookshop proprietress, Fiona MacPherson is, however, loosely modeled on a young Nicole Kidman. Far and Away may have been a flop in the theaters, but Kidman as a plucky upper crust Irishwoman was breathtaking.
• top •
Sweeney Todd, my real-life big gray feline boy, previously profiled for his cameo appearance in A Wonderfully Sexy Life, is back for another Christmas story, this time as Fiona's shop cat, The Grey Ghost. Of course, Sweeney isn't anymore ghost-like in fiction than he is in real life. In fairness, it's hard to be stealthy when you waddle rather than walk. His latest weigh-in brings him close to 23 pounds—of pure love!
• top •
"This was my favorite of the three stories. I particularly liked Fiona, who is practical and funny. And though her possible future self is a mean old crank, I found that part funny as well. This is the sexiest story of the lot, and the love scene was well written and fit with the story."
"A Harlequin Christmas Carol, a wonderfully witty anthology of historical romances, is sure to put you in the holiday spirit... Beautifully enhanced with humor, delightfully romantic plots, enchanting characters, true love, magic and angels, this book is a winner, not only for the holidays, but all year long... I highly recommend A Harlequin Christmas Carol, and I look forward to reading more works by these authors."
"The third one by Hope Tarr was a beautiful tale. Fiona feels bitter about life and the Angel shows her a life that is filled with bitterness and meanness and that is not life. Fiona has to learn to embrace new things and new people. Especially when a new man enters her life. Fiona after seeing a possible future decides to take a chance on love and is not disappointed."
"Dickens gets a sexy twist in this anthology, giving three angels-in-waiting a chance to provide three ladies the opportunity to land their sexy grooms before the stroke of midnight. The stories neatly dovetail, and each is charming, sexy and so overtly romantic that your heart will flutter."
• top •
Where Would You Like to Go Next?
Meet Hope • Bookshelf • Printable Booklist • Coming Soon • Media & Events • Best Friends
Blog • Contest • Hope’s Hub • Contact • Site • Copyright