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I hope everyone is staying cool this summer! I have spent it...writing a Christmas book!
Once Upon a Christmas Movie has been in my head for YEARS and timing finally worked out to get it written. I'm very excited to introduce you to the story of a sunny movie decorator and the grumpy movie star working on a Christmas movie.
Below is the first chapter. Currently it is available for preorder only on Amazon, but will be available wide in October.
Keeley Littleton couldn’t believe she was actually here, on the set of a Christmas movie. Okay, so it wasn’t actually a Christmas movie just yet. That was where she came in.
All her years—twenty-nine of them—of decorating for Christmas were going to pay off. She was one of three set designers. Okay, maybe designer was a lofty term. Currently she was just one of the assistants doing the set-designer’s bidding, but she was here, and she couldn’t have been more excited.
This movie, We Need a Little Christmas, was filmed on a permanent movie production set, so the storefronts and the streets were already decorated with fake greenery and fake snow. Keeley had been told this movie would be part of a series of movies with recurring locations and characters, each movie based on a different couple, but the whole cast appearing in each, in varying levels of focus. She had watched Christmas movies her entire adult life, and she already knew the snow was fake, but up close, this looked like someone had just laid out a roll of cotton and tucked the ends in around each yard.
She wandered down the streets with her hands in her pockets, looking up at the storefronts and pretending she was in the movie, destined to find true love.
“I don’t know how many times I have to tell you!” A man’s voice carried through the air, and Keeley rounded a corner to see that man, his shoulders hunched as he talked on his phone, his hand dragging through his thick dark hair. “I do not want to work with that woman.” He was quiet for a moment, then tried to speak, but was apparently interrupted by the person on the other end of the call. “She’s arrogant and stiff, and how can I play her romantic interest if I cannot stand her? Never mind the fact that she is almost twenty years older than I am.” Again he listened, and this time he interrupted the person on the other end. “I know that they had great chemistry because they hated each other but I don’t want that experience.”
Then suddenly, he ended the call, his arm falling to his side as he muttered, “I don’t care if it’s just a few weeks,” and pivoted to see Keeley staring at him.
Oh. Oh no. She was caught. And instead of excusing herself and retreating, she made the situation worse by gawking.
She knew who he was. Finn O’Connell, veteran of the Christmas movies, having migrated to this studio from working on a popular soap opera. He was the handsomest man she’d ever seen, dark brown hair, almost black, his eyes too, though they looked like they could shoot fire right now when he saw her standing at the end of the sidewalk, watching him.
“That was a private call.”
“Yes, I’m very sorry,” she said. “I really was just exploring the set and—“
His glower deepened. “I don’t care what you were doing. You shouldn’t have been eavesdropping on my conversation.”
“I really wasn’t,” she said, not wanting to point out that the whole cast could have heard his call, since he hadn’t exactly kept his voice down, and his lingering British accent made his voice unique.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
“I’m Keeley Littleton. I’m on the production team.” She held out her hand, even though he was several feet away.
He looked from her hand to her face, his own expression remaining stormy. “Keeley Littleton, production, on this set we stay out of other people’s business.”
Heat raced through her whole body, and not the fun kind, no. This heat was pure shame, and fear. Would he tell her boss that she’d been eavesdropping, and would she get fired? She’d only just gotten here!
Honestly, she didn’t think she’d been standing around that long. She’d been so surprised by the conversation, she’d just been riveted.
So he was the star of this movie, and she knew the other star was Linda Rocha. Yes, Linda was a little older, had been around a while, but was she really as cold as Finn had complained? She didn’t come across that way on-screen. And all the heroes she had played against seemed to adore her. Again, on-screen. Keeley would know, because she’d watched nearly every movie Laura had ever made.
Any other day, Keeley would have apologized and made herself scarce, but she had waited too long to get this dream job, and she was not going to let him intimidate her.
“Perhaps if you don’t want people listening,” she said, notching up her chin, “you should choose a more private place for your conversation.”
Absolutely if he could have incinerated her with his gaze, he would have. His nostrils flared, just a bit, and whoops. She might have gone too far. Maybe he would go talk to her boss. Oh no. She never let her temper get the best of her. She had learned long ago how to control it, but she was being unfairly accused by this man.
“If I find out anyone has heard one piece of this conversation, you will be gone, do you understand?”
Why did she have such a hard time nodding her understanding? Instead she held onto his gaze a little too long before she gave her head a little toss that could be construed as a nod. “I won’t say anything.”
“See that you don’t,” he snapped, then strode past her, out of the alleyway and onto the Main Street.
She pivoted on her heel to watch him, and was amazed by the transformation from angry cranky man to friendly cheerful man greeting the crew who were milling about to set up a scene.
Actors, she supposed. He could flip that switch. How could anyone really know what he was thinking?
She wasn’t going to let him ruin her day, not when she’d been so happy.
“Keeley, there you are! I didn’t know where you’d gone.”
She turned to meet Darren Lucas, who had been showing her around before he got sidetracked and she went off on her own. “Sorry, I got carried away.”
“Yeah, it’s a lot to take in. Just wait. Come on. Let me show you the warehouse.”
She gave a little bounce of excitement before she fell into step. He gave her a weird look, then led her down the street and around the corner.
He pushed the door open to the beige metal warehouse about the size of a big box store, and Keeley stepped into heaven.
Okay she’d known that the production company had to have a stockpile of Christmas decorations somewhere, because while each setting was decorated differently, they had to reuse some of those decorations, and where would they put them all?
Here. Here is where.
“So the outdoor decorations—the lights, the wreaths, the sculptures, whatever, are over on the far left side. Anything you might be putting outside. Nutcrackers, manger scenes, even the fake snow, anything you might see at a Christmas tree farm or lot, terrible looking trees that the characters would reject. All over on that side.” Darren gestured with a wave of both hands. “But you’re mainly decorating inside the houses, right? So down this row, we have candles, candelabras, menorahs, anything illumination-themed. At the other end, we have gingerbread houses in various stages of completion, because you know, there are a lot of movies who use the gingerbread decorating trope. This one isn’t, I don’t think. So we have some in the beginning stages, some half-done and some completed.”
“Don’t people notice if you reuse them?”
Darren lifted a shoulder. “Don’t know. Don’t care. And they’re all wrapped up in plastic so they don’t get dusty, because you know what’s hard to get the dust off of? Fake gingerbread and fake icing. Down here on the next aisle is textiles. Tapestries, quilts, wall hangings, throws, pillows. Seriously, there’s a whole section that is just pillows.”
“Nothing says cozy like pillows.”
He cast her a sideways glance. “Oh, you’re one of those.”
She grinned in response. “The only thing saving me from being suffocated by my own pillows is the invention of vacuum bags.”
He rolled his eyes and continued down the main aisle. “Down this next aisle are dishes and Christmas mugs, and they are displayed very carefully, like, Charles is very particular about which mug each character would drink from. He says it really shows a lot about the character. Like, in our movie, our hero is a single dad of twins, so he would probably drink out of either a mug his kids picked out for him, or something maybe his wife used to use. Our heroine is a city woman who probably is used to buying lattes from a cart on the street or something, so her cup would be something more sophisticated. Get it?”
“Makes perfect sense to me.”
“Of course it does. Then this next aisle we have tabletop decorations, wall hangings, what-have-you that the characters would put in their houses. Our philosophy is that these people take down most of their regular decor and replace it with Christmas decor, and more is better.”
Keeley definitely subscribed to that way of thinking.
“However, in this movie, our hero is very overworked, so he doesn’t decorate except the bare minimum. He has a woman who is trying to ingratiate herself into his life, and she comes in and decorates for him, but she is not the heroine.”
“That would be the cold-hearted city woman.”
“I wouldn’t say cold-hearted,” Darren said, frowning as he looked down at her. “Just not a Christmas person.”
Right. Finn had been the one to say she was cold-hearted. Or at least he’d implied it. “So he’s overworked and she’s not a Christmas person? How are we supposed to decorate that?”
“Well, it’s going to be interesting because at the beginning it’s not going to be much in his house, because he just doesn’t have time. He’ll have some kid made stuff—which is over on that aisle—and some mismatched cups or whatever, and then the meddling woman will absolutely flood his house with stuff, and then the heroine will dial it back and make it perfect. Make sense? Also, the heroine will be staying in a bed and breakfast that will be perfectly decorated, and the owner is going to show her how to decorate so she can help the hero. Got it?
“That sounds like some much fun! Do we get to read the scripts then?”
Darren rolled his eyes. “Why would you want to? They’re all the same. No, we just get daily notes about what we need to do on what day. It’s going to be a lot of work. Most movies aren’t this much undecorating and redecorating. We usually just do it the once, and maybe have, you know, some play scenes or whatever to modify.”
“This sounds amazing. Where do we start?”
Finn O’Connell dropped his head against the back of the couch and squeezed his temples between his thumb and forefinger. The script fell loose in his lap.
“What’s wrong?” His sister, Docia, bounced onto the leather couch beside him.
He groaned, opened his eyes and looked at her. Had he ever been that bright-eyed and cheerful? Maybe when he’d been her age, but he doubted it.
He lifted the script with one hand. “I cannot memorize one more line of this.”
She took it from him and peered at the pages. “Why not?”
“Well, for one, I feel like I’ve done this movie before. At least the dialogue sounds familiar.”
“What’s it called?” She turned back to the title page to look.
“Finn O’Connell, in Christmas is for Losers.”
“Ha ha.” She closed the script, keeping her finger in his place. “Why are you doing another one this year? This is your fourth movie for them this year.”
Because she was getting ready to go to college and he wanted to make sure she was as comfortable as possible. Her parents had paid into a college fund, but he didn’t know how much that would cover, and he didn’t want her to graduate with any debt. Maybe, someday, when she was out of college and independent, he might slow down, or maybe even take his chances back in Hollywood. But for now, these movies guaranteed steady income. He’d been able to buy a nice house for them, had been able to give her a comfortable life by pretending to love Christmas day after day, year after year.
He didn’t say so to her, though. Instead he motioned to the high ceiling of their two-bedroom home. “Got to keep you in the manner with which you’ve been accustomed.”
She rolled her eyes and lowered her head against the back of the couch to be even with his. “You told me this place is paid for.”
“It is.” As was her school and her car and the trust fund he was stuffing as fast as he could.
“Then why are you pushing yourself to be in a movie you don’t want to be in?” She tossed the script back at him, losing his place.
“This isn’t going to last forever,” he said, circling his face with his finger. “I want to make as much as I can, as long as I can.”
“But you’re miserable.”
“Not all the time.” Okay, so four Christmas movies in a year was a lot. Last year he’d done three, and this year as soon as he was done with this one, he’d be starting a winter-themed movie. “This one wouldn’t be so bad, except for Laura.”
Laura Rocha, the queen of Christmas movies, was his co-star in this movie. He’d avoided a movie with her up until now, and he thought they probably hadn’t been cast together because she was nearly twenty years older than him. He had actually watched her in television shows when he was a kid. He’d heard enough horror stories from her co-stars to be dreading their upcoming relationship. According to rumor, she wanted things just her way, and God help the co-star who stood up to her.
Filming was just for three weeks, and he could survive anything for three weeks.
“Mariah doesn’t even send you Hollywood scripts anymore.”
He sat forward at the mention of his agent’s name. “How do you know that?”
She lifted her eyebrows. “I’m the one who gets the mail.”
He glared at her. “And you open my mail?”
She lifted a hand, shifting her gaze away as guilt colored her face a pretty pink. “I…see the scripts sometimes. They’re all from the same place.”
He sighed. No point lying to her if she already knew that. “I asked her not to send any for a while. I don’t have time to schedule something like that. Those movies can take months to make, and I just don’t have time.”
“What if you’re giving up a golden opportunity, Finn? Missing out on a project you would be perfect for?”
He had asked himself the same question for a few years before he’d finally made the decision to ask Mariah to stop sending him scripts that made him question his decisions. Easier to just keep doing what he was doing. Security for Docia, stability for her since he was able to stay in the same place, and they were even able to eat dinner together most evenings. Hopefully by the time she was out on her own, he wouldn’t be too old for the good roles.
“I’m old enough to take care of myself if you want to go on location.”
Now he raised his eyebrows. She might be seventeen, but she was a very sheltered seventeen. He wasn’t taking any chances. “Oh yeah, that will happen. Look, I know what I’m doing, we’re doing just fine. And you know me. I can pretend to get along with anyone. Don’t worry about it. Now. Don’t you have some homework you should be doing?”