One Christmas Song
Book 3.5 in the Temptation Series
When a vibrant singing career brings her back to Temptation, R&B singer Cordelia “CeCe” Lennox, is secretly happy to be back in her hometown, where life moves at a slower pace.
Property manager, Rick Stewart is elated to learn that his newly renovated Holidays Inn, was selected as the location for the filming of a music video. Knowing that the video will bring home his high school crush, is going to be Rick’s best gift ever—especially since he’d never stopped loving her.
But when Ms. Millie breaks her leg, Mr. Otis proposes, Cordy finds out that Rick has been lying to her all these years, and a surprise guest shows up at the Inn, the town of Temptation may have its merriest Christmas yet!
One Christmas Song
For Christmas is always alive, if only in my heart. If only in my heart.
“She sings like an angel.”
Jasper closed his eyes and listened. He’d heard her voice before many years ago, but now her name had come up on his list. She hadn’t been ready before, even though her wishes had been flowing through the heavens like a torrential storm.
“And you would know what an angel sounds like.” Laughter came quickly after the comment. A sound Jasper had been hearing quite frequently in the last months since he’d been made a supervisor and had taken on his first underling.
Jasper ignored the noise just as he had in the past. Just as he was trying to teach this one to do. Single out every other sound except the one you are called to hear. The one whose heart you must work to mend.
“I also know what loneliness sounds like.” Jasper’s reply was quiet and serious.
“Oh no, you’re not going to start meddling again, are you?” Impatience radiated from this one like a sour stench and when he plopped down to sit beside Jasper, clouds scattered in warning.
“I don’t meddle. I help. We help. That is our job.” Jasper couldn’t recall how many times he’d said that in the past few months.
The underling looked down through the opening Jasper had made. “Even when folk don’t ask for your help?”
“They don’t always know how to ask. So we’re here to give a little helping hand.” Jasper was rethinking the “we” he continued to reference. He wasn’t certain this one was ready for an assignment just yet. And Jasper definitely did not think he was going to work well in this special case.
“Still seems like meddling to me.” He shrugged and leaned forward so that his big head slipped through the opening, poking out on the other side of the clouds.
An airplane whizzed by, its wing cutting right through his ethereal form and he jerked back as if he were in a human body and had actually felt the impact.
Jasper rolled his eyes further heavenward and sighed. “That’s precisely why I never ask for your opinion.”
“I wanted to take the holidays off this year, Myron.”
“I know. I know. But that was before we knew the holiday CD was going to take off the way it did. And also, before we got the call from Monica and Alex Bennett for you to sing at their wedding. An opportunity that we could not pass up.” Myron had been saying that for the past four weeks.
Cordy had to admit, the request had filled her with awe. She knew of the Bennett family from watching Adriana Bennett go from being a top model to acting. Cordy had studied everything about Adriana’s career as she was impressed with the woman’s tenacity and talent. And like Adriana, Cordy was planning to shift her career focus a little from music to acting because she wanted some sustainability. New and more talented singers were hitting the music scene every day. Cordy had been doing this for fourteen years, it was time to start creating a back-up plan.
“Yes, I know and I enjoyed singing at the wedding and getting to meet Monica, Adriana and the rest of their family. But couldn’t we have scheduled the taping of this video the week before that? I mean, its December twenty-second now. If we don’t get this done on time, I’ll be working on Christmas Day.” And Cordy was not going to be happy if she had to work on Christmas Day. Not this year.
Cordy stared out the back window of the limo and felt a tightening in her chest as they passed the heart-shaped sign with “Welcome to Temptation” in bright turquoise letters. After fourteen years she was back in her hometown of Temptation, Virginia.
Myron’s voice filled the interior of the limo once more as he spoke through the speakerphone. “The crew is well aware of the timeline. They’re going to shoot all the scenes with you in them first and then get the shots of the town, the B&B, blah, blah, blah. You’ll get started first thing tomorrow morning and be done by the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Don’t worry.”
Those were Myron’s favorite words, “don’t worry”. He never wanted her to worry and most times, where business was concerned, Cordy didn’t have to. But being back in Temptation was about much more than business for Cordy.
“She’s calling in for two radio interviews this afternoon. And there’s a set of interview questions we need to submit to that television producer before her song is played during the movie premier on Christmas Eve.” Elsa, Cordy’s personal assistant, held a tablet in one hand, while her cell phone was on the back seat of the limo beside her.
“Make sure she gets those questions done the moment you arrive at the B&B. We do not want to be late with that. This special feature of her and the Heart of Christmas song is the lead in to the video debut on Christmas Day. If we would have known how fast this single was going to soar to the top of the charts we would have had the video ready in time for the Christmas Eve movie premier. But it’s fine, like I said, the crew knows what to do. They’re going to shoot the video, get it edited and out to everyone on our media list pronto and sales are going to continue to soar for this CD long after the holiday has passed.”
Cordy stopped participating in the conversation. She was used to Elsa and Myron talking about her, her schedule, her singing, her life, as if she weren’t there. Today wasn’t any different. For them, at least. For Cordy, the moment she’d stepped off the jet at the private airport twenty miles outside of Temptation, she’d known this trip was unlike any she’d ever made before.
How often did a girl leave her hometown and everyone in it, become a star, stay away for fourteen years and finally return six months after her mother’s death? Once in a lifetime where Cordy was concerned.
Cordy didn’t know how much longer they drove, nor did she know when Elsa disconnected the call with Myron. She’d been too busy staring out the window, watching as the paved two-lane roads gave way to a narrow one-lane passage that cut through flanks of mature trees and hillsides peppered with grazing cows and horses. In the distance, on top of those hills, were houses and farms. Trucks and tractors. People and their families.
Cordy hadn’t lived in any of those big houses all those years ago. She hadn’t owned any livestock or had daily responsibilities that entailed milking cows, feeding chickens or pigs, or cleaning out stalls. Her mother rented a tiny apartment squeezed between the dry cleaners and the flower shop on one of the town’s main streets. Each morning Cordy awakened and dressed for school, easing out the back door and through the cluttered alleyway to walk three blocks to the bus stop. All of the other students had homes on the outskirts of town and stood at bus stops near their houses, so Cordy made sure she was at one of the bus stops too. She never wanted to be seen as different, especially not in a town as small as Temptation, population two thousand and one. Or at least that’s what it had been when she’d lived here.
The first street lamps wrapped in red velvet stripes and huge live wreaths came into view and Cordy’s fingers began to tremble. She clasped them together in her lap and took a deep steadying breath.
Hello, Temptation. The words sounded in her head. I’m back.
“Reservation for Catherine Burton. Two rooms, preferably with a view. Not near any elevators or stairwells. Or vending machines.” Elsa rolled her eyes at the last words. Hotel reservations were always made under a false name. Myron kept a list of what names were used and when. He insisted they change quarterly.
The pretty clerk with flaming red hair and a rich mocha complexion gave Elsa a tight smile.
“We have seven rooms at Holidays Inn and they all boast quaint views of the lovely town of Temptation. Your rooms are facing the back and offer views of the gorgeous lights and decorations featured on our famed Main Street.” The woman’s words sounded like she was reading from a brochure, with just a hint of sarcasm tossed in. Cordy was certain Elsa was now frowning because there was no doubt her astute assistant heard the same tone.
Cordy declined going to the front desk, even though she admired the Christmas tree that stood a few feet to the right of the desk which was adorned in all silver decorations. Instead she’d wandered over to the fireplace that was alight with a crackling fire. The Holidays Inn was a stately old Victorian house, its outside painted white with navy blue window shutters. It looked like a picture out of a historical book with its soaring turrets, intricately designed gables and scalloped siding. In line with the holiday season, a wreath hung by a strip of red velvet ribbon at each window. Garland and twinkle lights had been draped along the porch railing that stretched around to the side of the house. The bushes that marched neatly around the perimeter were each covered in white lights that blinked on and off festively.
But it was the inside of the house that had taken Cordy’s breath away the second she stepped through the two narrow front doors. Her four-inch heel, over the knee boots were loud as she moved across the wood-planked floors of the vestibule. A few steps led her out of that space and her arrival became quieter as she now walked on a soft burgundy, cream and gold-colored rug. The walls here were painted a very soft white, columns and arched doorways separated the few feet which led to the front desk straight ahead and opening to two rooms on either side. That warm fire was what drew Cordy’s attention to the left side of the room. She wore thick gray leggings with an over-sized cranberry-colored cashmere sweater and a hipster leather jacket. Although she’d only walked from the limo, up the front walkway, onto the porch and into the house, she’d been outside long enough to catch a chill in the barely twenty-degree temperature.
The Christmas decorations had not stopped outside the house either. More garland flanked the mantel and around the doorways. Huge red and white poinsettias, sat on every available table and in the windowsills. An even bigger, live Christmas tree than the one in the foyer, was placed in front of one of the big windows. This one was decorated in all gold and red ornaments, ribbons and lights. While the tree in the foyer had a bright silver star on top, this one had a golden angel. But beyond the holiday additions, the décor in this cozy room was not what Cordy would have expected. For as much as the outside gave the appearance of an old vintage Victorian house, the interior had been refurbished with a modern touch. From the smooth soft white walls to this stone front fireplace with the attached bench and mantel overhead. The floor was a soft gray stained wood plank and there were two high-back chairs in the center facing the fireplace.
Cordy walked between those chairs stopping just inches from the warmth of the fire. She extended her arms, lifting her hands palm-up and thrust them toward the fire. Once upon a time she’d lay on the floor tucked snugly in a sleeping bag in front of an electric fireplace—because that’s all they could have in the apartment. In the background Christmas carols had played while the smell of pot roast, macaroni and cheese and collard greens filled the air. Her mother loved to cook. She also loved Christmas.
Cordy did not love Christmas.
She didn’t hate the holiday so she was certain she wasn’t going to be visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. But it wasn’t her favorite time of year, especially not this year.
“We’re all set. The driver will bring our bags up and I’ll be in your room in an hour to go over the interview questions and what you’re going to say on the radio.” Elsa always talked fast. She was direct and efficient. Sometimes she was also more serious than a single twenty-six year old should be.
“That’s fine. You can give me my key. I’ll be up in a few minutes.”
“You’re not coming with me now?”
Cordy dropped her arms to her sides and turned to see Elsa starring quizzically at her.
“No. I’ll be up in a few minutes.”
When Cordy only lifted a brow at her question, Elsa started to talk again. “I mean, is there something you need from down here? I can call for room service and have them get whatever you need.”
“No. There’s nothing I need—” The rest of Cordy’s sentence was cut short as she heard the B&B’s front door open and a voice accompanied by heavy footsteps.
A voice she hadn’t heard for fourteen long years.
end of excerpt
One Christmas Song
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