Vintage VLT #3
Ebook & Print Editions
'Tis the Season
Providing the White House Christmas tree is a dream come true for Connecticut tree farmer Sam Garrison, but the filming of a TV special in his hometown promises to be a nightmare. The house he inherited from his grandparents is not ready for its close-up, yet he dreads the makeover offered by the ladies of the town’s craft guild. His prayers are answered when he meets his new neighbor.
NYC interior designer Anna Tilford bought a farmhouse as a weekend retreat from her job, but the TV special threatens her quiet idyll. She’s not interested in taking on Sam’s decorating project -- until she spots his grandmother’s floor loom. In exchange for use of the loom, she agrees to create a Christmas wonderland fit for the cameras. And spending significant time in the company of the loom’s rugged owner may be just the creative spark she’s been missing...
Originally published as Harlequin Temptation #278 in December 1989,
this Vintage VLT edition has been significantly re-edited and updated.
From the kitchen window Anna watched Sam unloading the wood in the thickening twilight. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d anticipated an evening with such pleasure. In the past year of living with Eric, the constant fights had spoiled their shared time together.
The inevitable parting last spring had been a relief, although after he’d left, the apartment had echoed with his remembered presence. She would have moved except that the location was convenient for work and good housing was difficult to find in New York. Instead she’d bought this house and had gladly fled to the country each weekend to escape the memories.
When Sam finished unloading the wood, he glanced up at the lighted kitchen window and waved. She waved back. Then he hopped into his truck and headed down the driveway toward the lane.
Once the chicken had been herbed, spiced and popped into the oven, Anna took a quick shower herself, but her only available clothes were the sweat suits she’d brought for the weekend. It didn’t matter. This was her country idyll. She put on a pale lavender sweat suit that was slightly newer than the canary-yellow one, applied some fresh makeup and brushed her hair.
Back downstairs she glanced at the square dining table, a secondhand purchase hastily made, and felt a twinge of professional shame. She’d made no effort to decorate this house, although her New York friends assumed she used her weekends to create a showplace, one that she would unveil with a flourish when it was done. She couldn’t admit to them, and barely to herself, how little interior design interested her these days. Her job, once a joy, had become a way to pay the bills.
She’d found a rebellious pleasure in not decorating her country house, but now a guest was coming to dinner, and she wished that she’d at least bought a tablecloth and a couple of candlesticks. Finally she ran back upstairs for a flowered sheet and a long piece of ribbon. She tied the sheet in flounces around the perimeter of the table and made a centerpiece with a wooden bowl of McIntosh apples and green grapes. Remembering the white utility candles she kept in case the electricity went out, she hollowed out two apples and used them as candleholders.
When she stood back to gauge the effect, she felt a satisfaction that had been absent from her work for months, and all she’d done was sling a sheet over a table and pile some apples in a bowl. Eric would probably have laughed at her homemade efforts, but Eric wasn’t here. She didn’t have to worry about his comments, and Sam didn’t seem like the kind to judge.
He arrived at the back door soon after she’d completed the table setting. His hair was still slightly damp from the shower, and he smelled of shampoo and soap. When he took off his light jacket and hung it on a peg next to hers, she discovered that, like her, he’d changed color but not kind of clothes. His plaid shirt was blue instead of red, and his jeans looked slightly newer than the ones he’d worn to cut wood. Otherwise he was the same sexy country man who had chopped up her tree. His harmonica made a narrow bulge in the breast pocket of his shirt.
He’d also brought a bottle of wine. “I took a chance,” he said, handing it to her, “on what you were serving and if you even like wine.”
She held up the Chardonnay. “I’m serving chicken and this is perfect.”
“Good.” He glanced past her into the dining room and gave a low whistle of approval. “Did you do all this since I left?”
“Well, yes. You’re my first guest, and I had fun making a table setting out of odds and ends.”
“I’m impressed.” He glanced at her speculatively. “Exactly what do you do in the city?”
“Considering how the house looks,” she said, “I’m ashamed to tell you. It’s a case of the cobbler’s children going barefoot, I guess.”
“You’re some sort of professional decorator, aren’t you?”
“Afraid so. But this summer I just wanted to relax, so I haven’t tackled anything in here yet.”
“Hey, I understand.” He leaned against the kitchen counter and gazed at her. “And considering that this is your vacation spot, I have no business thinking what I’m thinking.”
“That’s a leading statement. You might as well come out with the whole thing.”
He sighed. “Okay, but feel free to tell me to jump in the lake.”
“All right.” She folded her arms and waited.
“Well, the television network expects my farmhouse to look like something out of a magazine, and you’ve seen firsthand that it doesn’t. Estelle and some of the women in town have offered to decorate the house for Christmas, but the idea makes me nervous. Can you imagine five or six little old ladies running in and out, draping things here and there like fairy godmothers?” He glanced at her in pathetic appeal.
Anna laughed, picturing Estelle directing traffic in the middle of Sam’s parlor. “So you’d like me to make a few decorating suggestions? I can do that.” Fair was fair, she had to admit, and neighborliness worked both ways.
“More than a few suggestions. I’d like you to do the whole house, top to bottom.”
So much for her country idyll. So much for evenings before the fire with her newfound friend, listening to harmonica music. This country man had a business to run, and he wanted her help. He wanted to draw her into the madness he’d created by winning the darned Christmas tree contest. “Sam, you’ve been terrific about clearing the driveway, and I hate to turn down your first request for a favor, but I don’t think—”
“This doesn’t qualify as a favor. The job’s too big. I’ll pay you. I don’t have thousands to spend, but this television special, obnoxious as it may turn out to be, will do wonders for business. Now that I’m in up to my neck, I’d be a fool to skimp on the decorating.”
She could use some extra money, especially with all the added expenses of the farmhouse, but still she hesitated. At last she decided to be honest. “I don’t know how inspired a job I could do for you. Lately the thrill has gone out of interior design for me. If I could afford it, I might even quit and hide away in this farmhouse.”
“Yeah, I know that feeling. Well, never mind. It was just a thought.”
She’d been right to turn him down, she told herself. Quite right. Still, she had trouble dealing with the disappointment in his expression. “Just—um—just what exactly do you need?”
“The television people keep talking about a Norman Rockwell look,” he said, brightening at her question.
In spite of herself, Anna began to imagine changes in his parlor. The sofa wasn’t bad, although she’d probably recover it, but the armchairs would have to go. The loom, of course, was a perfect detail and should be pulled out, featured somehow. The loom.
“Anna, I feel rotten for asking you, but I wouldn’t know the first thing about finding another decorator. The job shouldn’t take very long, and I’m not picky. I’ll also help in any way that —”
“I’ll accept the job on one condition,” she said, and felt her world expanding, flashing with new color.
“That in exchange I can weave on your grandmother’s loom.”