A Christmas Charm

by Gretchen Rose

A Christmas Charm by Gretchen Rose

Olivia Barone is running away from a toxic relationship. As fate would have it, this hastily planned flight lands her in picturesque Crystal Falls, a village as idyllic as a Thomas Kinkade painting. There, she is championed by lawyer and gentleman farmer, Lance Crawford, who ensconces her in his aunt’s inn, Mrs. Bow’s Charming Manor.

The townsfolk soon embrace her, and Olivia is enlisted to direct their annual Christmas pageant. Settling into this comfortable, slow-paced life, Olivia gradually lets down her guard—even believing that she might forge a new beginning and dare to love again.

But, as it turns out, it is impossible to run from one’s past, and Olivia is forced to confront her abuser or lose the man who holds the key to her future happiness.


Release Date: November 1, 2022
Genre: Contemporary | Holiday

A Pink Satin Romance



Chapter One
Away and Away

Olivia Barone had no idea how this hastily conceived breakout would end, and a feeling of reckless giddiness washed over her. The terror that had driven her to this new reality, worlds away from the hustle and bustle of New York City and its frenetic traffic, slowly loosened its grip on her heart, and she let her eyes drift from the two lane-highway spooling out before her to the close-cropped fields abutting it. It was late in the afternoon, but the sun shone brightly in an azure sky, painting the surrounding meadows and pastures in techno color. Lovely! How long had it been since she’d had the time to appreciate the glorious countryside?

The farmland stretched before her like an enormous patchwork quilt, every plot and rise a different pattern and complexion. Recently harvested, they were either brown or golden and stubbled, or feathery green, with tender blades of newly germinated winter wheat. In the distance, scraped and naked plots were abutted by wooded copses ablaze in their autumnal finery. It was a time of transition.

How fitting.

She jabbed a button, and the Beemer’s convertible top folded in upon itself, retracting behind the back seat where a guitar perched atop a jumble of bags and suitcases, remainders of an interrupted and most unsatisfactory life. Oliva tossed her head, and the wind threaded through her auburn tresses as she breathed in the intoxicating scent of woodfire and freedom.

In the next instant, the tiny dog in her lap stirred, and she ran a hand down his once black but now silvery silken coat. “Hey there, Milo,” she murmured. “Feels good to be out of Dodge. Doesn’t it?”

The Yorkshire terrier gazed up at her with limpid brown eyes that could melt the most hardened heart. He’d never been one for small talk, but she got the drift.

“Yep. I thought so, too.” She pressed the AM button and a rich baritone, radio-voice boomed from the speakers.

“Howdy, folks. Rhett Dunbar here, bringing it to you at 1370 on your AM dial. It’s another gorgeous day out there, and I hope you’re enjoying the last of our Indian summer because it’s not going to last much longer, my friends. No siree. Temps are predicted to plummet Saturday night. There’s even a chance of snow in the forecast. And speaking of predictions, Ron and Tatiana Graybar have forecast great savings on both new and used models; they’re making an offer you can’t refuse. Stop in at Graybar Chevrolet this weekend, test drive one of their bea-U-ti-ful cars and register for a free turkey. That’s right, a plump and juicy Tom for your Thanksgiving feast. Need a car, think Graybar, where the best deals are.

“This pre-holiday weekend is cram-packed with events you won’t want to miss. Fun starts Friday at 6 p.m. when the Crystal Falls Elks Club sponsors their annual fish fry to benefit the Samaritan center. There’ll be live music for your dancing pleasure and the lightest, sweetest fried perch ever to tingle your taste buds. Um-mm. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it. As an added bonus, yours truly will be on hand to sign first editions of my latest collection of tunes, America Sings.”

The radio voice crooned over a guitar accompaniment, presumably his own. “My country tis of thee...”

It was corny but pleasing, and Olivia bobbed her head to the melody of this countrified arrangement of America’s national anthem. She couldn’t remember when she’d last felt so carefree. Flipping down the visor, Olivia raised her sunglasses to examine her reflection in the mirror.

“Not so bad,” she murmured, gently patting the bruised and puffy flesh ringing her left eye. In the next instant, a loud honking drew her gaze back to the roadway. Unnerved, she tossed the sunglasses aside.

She’d drifted into the lane of oncoming traffic. A monstrous tractor-trailer had appeared out of nowhere and was on a collision course!

Instinctively, Olivia reached for Milo. Why had she not strapped him in? A fleeting thought: if she made it out of this, she’d surely be slapped with a fine for not having restrained him. But in the next moment, she put both hands on the wheel. She needed to maneuver the powerful driving machine with all the skill she could muster. Air brakes shrilled, a horn blared, and adrenaline spiked through Olivia’s veins, stabbing her heart with needle-like pricks. She jerked the wheel sharply to the right, and the semi shrieked past her with mere inches to spare.

But she was not yet out of harm’s way.

She’d overcompensated!

The BMW veered crazily toward the shoulder, and she reacted by tugging the wheel in the opposite direction. The automobile responded by fishtailing out of control, two wheels on the asphalt two on the shoulder, and Olivia had all she could do to keep her grip on a steering wheel that had become a rogue jackhammer in her hands. 

“Take the wheel, Jesus!” she screamed.

The Yorkie quavered in her lap, and the next few moments played out in nightmarishly slow motion. Then a sense of calm settled over her, and Olivia willed the automobile to succumb to her control.

It didn’t work!

Untamed, the car spun to the right, skittering across the pavement and jouncing over rumble strips. With one hand, Olivia clutched the dog to her chest. Jolted and shaken, despite the seat belt restraint, her teeth chattered so that she feared her fillings dislodging. Too forcefully, Olivia again hit the brakes, and the car careened to the left, slewing precariously on the driver’s side tires. Then, the unimaginable happened: the late-model coupe skidded out over a rise in the crumbling embankment and took flight.

Airborne, Olivia squeezed her eyes shut and prayed for deliverance. But before she could be transported to the next life, the car thudded back to Earth with such force her foot bounced off the brake. In the next moment, she found herself thrust into a harrowing game of dodge-the-hay-bales. Wild-eyed, she managed to steer the car between this confounding maze as prickly straw rained down on them like confetti. Milo barked frenziedly, adding to the confusion. But after what seemed an eternity, but was only a matter of seconds, Olivia’s foot found the brake and the car slowed to a stop.

Dazed, she spat bits of straw from her mouth while eying the tightly compacted bale that filled her line of vision. It was the size of a Volkswagen Beetle and as unyielding as a brick wall. “Whew, just nicked it,” she muttered as realization dawned.

She’d been spared!

Relief washed over her, and she let out a joyous whoop. “Woo-hoo! How about that, Milo, huh? What a rush! We made it, boy.”

Milo licked her nose by way of answer. But then he turned from her and growled, a low menacing rumble.

“Hey, what’s the matter, buddy?” Olivia peered up over a dashboard strewn with straw. Only then did she see it in the distance, a figure on horseback. He was in the open meadow abutting the hayfield, a little more than three football fields away.

“Oh no,” she wailed softly, at the same time plucking chaff from her hair in a vain attempt to make herself presentable.

The rider fast approached, and she could discern another figure streaking ahead of him, some animal, a dog most likely. They were just silhouettes, and she couldn’t make out any details.

She fumbled for the sunglasses that had fallen from her face. Finding them, she shoved them back on, grateful for this small gift from the universe.

“Here comes the cavalry,” she groaned. “Right on cue.” But then a more sinister thought pierced her consciousness: Maybe he’s pissed at me for landing in his hayfield? “Yikes!”

No sooner were her words out than the pair were a mere three hale bales away.

The animal turned out to be a good-natured, golden Labrador retriever, which was a blessing, as Milo had morphed into a miniature version of a bad-assed pit bull. He scrambled off her lap and lunged to the passenger side of the car. Fangs bared, the tiny mutt snarled ferociously as the Lab slowed his pace and loped toward them.

“Milo, hush,” Olivia cried.

But the pup refused to stand down. He had become her defender, and despite his size, he appeared up for the task.

Before she knew whether he was friend or foe, the horseback rider leaped from his saddle with the dexterity of a charro and strode toward her in boots up to his elbows and a chin just prominent enough to keep him from looking downright pretty.

“Are you all right?” he asked, giving her the once over. Then he repeated the exercise, only this time more slowly.

Olivia was mortified. She knew she looked a mess, and her dog’s barking had ratcheted up to a hysterical pitch. The good news was the fellow appeared solicitous and to wish her no ill will. “Milo, stop!”

Through it all, the larger dog remained copasetic. He merely huffed a half-hearted reply, trotted over to the car, and tilted his head as if to ask, “Why the commotion, little guy?”

That gesture seemed to have a calming effect on Milo, and he quieted.

Olivia exhaled and her shoulders sagged. “Yeah. We’re fine,” she said, levering the car door open. “Whew! Just a tad shaken up is all.”

Like a torpedo, the terrier shot out of the vehicle, making a beeline for the Lab. He bounced on his hind legs and put his small face up to the Labrador’s huge one, nose to snout. Hulking in comparison to the wee pooch, the bigger canine, stoically endured this diminutive annoyance. Then, after politely sniffing one another, both fore and aft, the two dogs appeared to decide they were to be friends. They broke away, faced off, and then tore around in circles, feinting and lunging, the Lab ever careful not to trod on his new toy. 

“Oh, brother,” Olivia groaned. She turned back to her surprise would-be rescuer. He was staring, fixated on her.

Their eyes met.

The long-limbed fellow dropped the reins to his horse, and the white filly ambled off to graze.

Olivia tore her gray-green gaze from the man’s sapphire blue one. “Milo, come here,” she cried, but the Yorkie ignored her. He was intent on his new best buddy.

“Let them be,” the man said. “They’ll tire of that soon enough.”

Who was this guy? 

Not only was he movie-star gorgeous, but he also boasted an aura of confidence that she found incredibly sexy.

“You must think I’m a complete idiot,” Olivia babbled, once more getting lost in the man’s baby blues.

He hitched a thumb into his belt loop and cocked his head. “Well...”

“I don’t blame you. Stranded in the middle of a hayfield?” She swung her legs out of the automobile and rose to her feet. But the near miss had taken its toll. Suddenly woozy, she staggered.

The hunk leaped forward, taking her arm, and supporting her. “Whoa! You sure you’re okay?”

Olivia closed her eyes and bent slightly at the knees, allowing herself to be held. For the briefest of moments, she felt safe. When she straightened, her gaze met his yet again, and a tingly sensation zipped from her heart to her toes. But her early-warning defense system kicked in.

Mayday, mayday, it clamored. Man, no good!

Olivia ignored the warnings. This situation was unprecedented in her woefully limited experience.

“You’re about the prettiest thing that ever sprouted up in this hayfield.” The gent tipped his classic gray wool Stetson. “Hello. I’m Lance.”


“Lance,” Olivia breathed, only now becoming aware of the fact that she was still swooning in his arms.

This feels so good.

She giggled self-consciously and drew away from him. Never had she been in such a peculiar situation. But she was still unsteady on her feet, and she rested her broken psyche against the BMW’s door frame. “I guess I’m a little dizzy, is all. For a minute there, I didn’t think I was going to make it.”

The brawny specimen, now identified as Lance, turned, and came to stand beside her. Resting his compact butt against the chassis, he said, “It was a narrow miss. I heard the horn and realized right away that you were in big trouble.” He smacked his palms against the car frame. “This is a sweet machine. But no match for a semi, I’m afraid.” Then he angled his head toward Olivia, looking at her hard. “You weren’t texting, were you?”

“Oh, no. I wouldn’t text and drive. I just...” She studied her hands, remembering them gripping the steering wheel as she tried to connect the chain of events that had landed her in this field. But her brain was a muddle. Olivia shrugged. “I lost my concentration for a second, and the next thing I knew, I was staring into the front grill of that monster truck.”

And what the heck am I doing out here in a hayfield with freakin’ Brad Pitt?

Lance massaged his temples and looked away. Then he turned back, his expression grave. “It happens. Out on the highway...no traffic to speak of...beautiful day...” 

Olivia sighed, motioning toward the clipped bale of hay. “What a mess. I’m terribly sorry. I’ll pay for the damages.”

Lance waved a hand dismissively. “Forget it. It’s nothing.”

“Some kind of awful.”

Lance leaned in and speared her with a pointed gaze. “You’re one lucky girl.”

Olivia raised her eyebrows. “I guess that’s true. The Beemer’s fine.”

“More to the point, you weren’t injured. Nor the dog, either.” Lance eyed the car and grimaced. “But it’s going to take some doing getting all that hay out of there.”

“Ugh. And then some.” Olivia shook her head, imagining the onerous task that lay ahead. “But you know what?” she said brightly. “You’re right. It could have been so much worse.”

Lance gestured toward the guitar. “You play?”

“A little.” Not wanting to brag, Olivia curled an amber lock of her shoulder-length hair around her index finger.

Lance crossed his impossibly long legs at the ankles and dug his heels into the soil. “Hmm…so, where are you headed if you don’t mind my asking?”

Olivia hesitated. Where was she headed, and how much should she disclose to this stranger?

“Crystal Falls,” she blurted. Dang! Mouth not connected to brain.

Lance cocked his head, eager for more details.

But suddenly Olivia was in no mood to oblige him. “I have business there,” she said in a no-nonsense voice.

Lance swiped a hand across his dimpled jaw. “Just another two miles, and you’ll be on the outskirts. You have family hereabouts?”

Olivia paused, still unsure how to respond.

“No,” she finally said. “I don’t know anyone from these parts...except you, that is.” She extended a hand. “I’m Olivia, Olivia Barone.”

“Oh, sorry. It’s Crawford. Lance Crawford at your service, Ms. Barone.” Lance shook her hand and then pushed off from the automobile, extending his arms wide. Proudly, he encompassed the panoramic countryside. “This is my family’s spread.”

“Friends call me Livy,” Olivia said. “And she’s a beauty...the farm that is.”

Lance grinned. “She sure is, Livy.” He eyed her appreciatively.

Olivia blushed. She knew he was teasing her, and it was a balm to her battered ego.

Then Lance’s gaze fell upon the two-carat diamond ring encircling her finger, and his smile faded. “Don’t mean to pry, Livy, but where’s Mr. Barone?”

“Oh...” Olivia twisted the gemstone toward her palm away and out of sight. “No. It’s not like that. I’m...not married. I...I was, but...he passed away.”

The enormity of her lie instantly confounded her.

Lance looked momentarily stricken. “Forgive me. It’s none of my business.” He cleared his throat. “Ahem! Well, we’d better get you back on the highway, Livy. Where are you staying in Crystal Falls? I’ll see to it you get there without further mishap.” He turned and surveyed the shredded bale, the once-tidy field now strewn with hay, Olivia’s formerly pristine-looking vehicle.

“At least I hope so.”

Oliva was ashamed to admit that she had no plans. In fact, she had made no arrangements whatsoever. Suddenly, she realized she’d become a vagabond, a sketchy sort of person. “I’m…not sure.” She glanced at the contents of her formerly white car. “I haven’t decided where I’m staying. This was a spur-of-the-moment trip.”

Lance’s brows bunched. “I see,” he said, obviously not seeing at all. “How long are you staying?”

Olivia looked away, suddenly unwilling to meet his eyes. “I don’t know. I just thought I’d play it by ear. I may leave in a week. Or I might stay indefinitely.” She turned back, feeling the warmth in her cheeks as her face reddened again. “I figured I’d wait and see how things panned out.”

As if on cue, Milo barked, which offered her a welcome escape from his line of questioning.

“Milo,” Olivia hollered. “Here!”

Sapped after his sprint around the field, Milo trotted over, his little pink tongue drooping from between narrow black lips.

“You scamp,” she chastened him.

But Milo appeared totally unrepentant. He allowed himself to be scooped up in her arms and rewarded her with a doggie kiss to her nose. 

Lance sighed audibly, and Olivia figured she’d been granted a pass. Surely, a dog lover would consider a dog person a good person and not some wayward vagrant.

Picking up as though they hadn’t been interrupted, Lance said, “In that case, might I suggest Mrs. Bow’s Charming Manor?”

At that, Olivia burst out laughing. Today would certainly count as the most bizarre day of her life.

“I know.” Lance sucked on his teeth. “It’s a bit over the top. I grant you. Most people hereabouts just refer to it as Charm or Mrs. Bow’s.”

“And does Mrs. Bow have a charming manner?” Olivia snickered.

Lance squared his shoulders and spoke in a measured tone. “She does, indeed. She’s my paternal aunt and a wonderful woman. And mind you, she’s particular. Auntie won’t rent to just anyone off the street. The inn is chock-full of priceless antiques. But if she takes a fancy to you, she’ll lease you a room for a week, a month, or in perpetuity. In fact, she very well might adopt you.”

“Oh,” Olivia exclaimed in a small voice. What was she getting herself into? Perhaps, at this point in her life, anonymity would be better than making lasting connections. She didn’t know. Her befuddled brain was beginning to shut down. But one thing was for certain. She desperately needed a safe harbor. Perhaps Mrs. Bow’s Charming Manor would prove the answer to her prayers.

Lance was intent on her, and she could feel his resolve weakening. Was he reconsidering, thinking perhaps that she was a liability risk? If he doubted his initial assessment, he did an excellent job of hiding it.

He bent to examine the car tires. Then, when he was satisfied that there were no punctures, turned back to Olivia. “You think this thing is safe to drive?”

Olivia nodded. “Yeah.” She pressed the ignition, and the engine fired.

“Come on, then. Follow me.” Lance whistled to his horse, and it trotted over to him. “First, we’ll go back to my place.” Taking hold of the reins, he fitted a booted toe into the left stirrup. In the moment before he mounted, Lance glanced back at Olivia and gave a nod of his head. “It’ll take me fifteen minutes or so to get Guinevere unsaddled and into her stall, and then we’ll be on our way.”

Olivia raised an eyebrow, half a mind to disagree, but then she thought better of it. What were her alternatives? “Okey-dokey,” she said, climbing into her car with Milo in tow.

Lance gave her a lopsided grin and then whistled for his dog. “Merlin!”

“Merlin? Guinevere?” Olivia muttered. “What have we stumbled onto here, Milo?”

Sitting up on his hind legs, the terrier put his front paws on her arm and yipped in reply.

“Camelot?” Olivia breathed, briefly meeting the dog’s big brown eyes.

“Are you with me, Livy?” Lance called out before cantering off a short distance. Then he stopped and turned to her, waiting for her response.

“Yes.” Olivia shifted to reverse. “I am intrigued.”

“As am I,” he said before galloping off.

Lance’s last words were nearly inaudible. But Olivia heard them, and they gave her the slightest shred of hope. Hope that this strange exodus would turn out well.

It just has to.

Carefully, she maneuvered around the tattered hillock of hay. “Merlin,” Olivia mouthed, shaking her head in disbelief. Then she shifted to drive and raised her left arm, signaling to her champion that all was well and that she was following.

“Lead on, fair knight,” Olivia murmured, suddenly feeling as though a burden had been lifted. And then she found herself singing the CAMELOT theme song:

“It’s true. It’s true. The crown has made it clear. The climate must be perfect all the year. In Camelot.”


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