A Joy-Filled Christmas
Christmas is just around the corner, and nurse, Maria Marquez, faces her first holiday feeling lonely. She grieves the recent loss of her beloved sister, Liz. Burying herself in work and volunteering keeps her grief at bay while she seeks solace in familiar surroundings. When an unexpected bundle of Joy shows up on her doorstep, Maria’s secure little world tilts on its axis..
Maria’s search for Joy’s father leads her to the smoldering ex-soldier, Nick Laus, who’s very hands-on. It isn’t long and Maria and Nick discover sparks between them that won’t be ignored. While Maria’s main concern is establishing stability for Joy, Nick has other plans.
Maria fights her attraction to the very persistent Nick, but how long can she resist his holiday cheer and feverish kisses? As Maria battles the elderly meddling match-maker Daisy, while struggling to resist delectable Nick and his ever-present touch, will her defense against heartache defeat her desire to be loved?
When Nick relents; resigning himself to only friendship, will it be enough to satisfy Maria?
As the Christmas season closes in on her, Maria discovers the value of community and selfless love, and that happiness and Joy are something to be shared.
Release Date: November 2, 2021
Genre: Contemporary | Christmas Romance
A White Satin Romance
It’s been a year now, and I still feel her loss every day. She’s my first thought when I wake and my last thought when my head hits the pillow. If I’m lucky, she shows up in my dreams, sitting on the end of a couch and smiling her infectious grin. Her blue eyes sparkle as she chatters away. When I wake and find her gone, it’s a harsh reality.
The days we were close seem so far away now. Some days they feel like dreams, but I know they were real. I’ve tried to go to church, and I’ll keep trying, for our parents, but it’s hard. I know it is where we find healing, but it’s also where I feel the most broken. Everyone has their sorrows and struggles, and I’m not the only one; but her loss is overwhelming. It’s like there’s a hole inside me that will never be filled.
I try to keep going, in honor of my sister’s memory, as she was always a doer and a fighter, and she wouldn’t want me to give up. She’s the reason I started going to the L. J. Youth Center. Although I’ve only been volunteering there a few weeks, I think I can do some good. I love meeting all the kids and listening to their struggles. They remind me of her stories and the kids she taught. It feels good to be able to help someone else with my ability to show up.
Goal: Today I will be present.
I stumble into the kitchen and interrupt an elderly make-out session at the kitchen sink. Awk-ward. There’s a high-pitched ringing in the room that only I seem to hear. A wrinkled hand hiding in the back of Dale’s shirt darts out and snatches the offending hearing aid from his ear. The ringing becomes shriller as she hands it to me.
“Turn that confounded thing off, will ya?” Daisy shouts at me, even though I’m standing less than two feet away.
I fiddle with the dial and turn it down. The ringing stops. “Here, Dale.”
He gives me a wink as he puts his hearing aid back in place. He pats Daisy’s jegging-clad camouflage butt as he moseys over to the coffeepot. “Thanks, Darlin’.”
I laugh. “I ain’t your darlin’, don’t you think one woman is enough?”
“I s’pose, but I ain’t gettin’ any younger, and I’ve got plenty of love to go around.” Dale gives me his signature wink beneath his black cowboy hat he dons the minute his size 11 feet hit the floor.
“Just keep up your jawin’ Dale.” Daisy gives him a glare. “This house has plenty of other beds to sleep in.”
Dale chuckles. “Aw, honey. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been kicked out of bed, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.”
I grab my coffee and apple and head out the front door. Five minutes later, I’m scanning my ID badge at the front door of The Golden Ages, the long-term care facility that feels like my second home. The twelve-hour workday passes quickly as I count medications, train new floor nurses, do assessments, and fill out the daily paperwork. Before I know it, my shift is over and I’m back at the house. I open the front door that leads to the kitchen, bathroom, and downstairs. I love the layout of the house. Smells of dinner welcome me as I enter the kitchen, and I can’t help but wonder why I didn’t say yes to this setup sooner.
The state of Texas is trying something new by following the progressive example of a similar setup originating in other countries. Young people live with the elderly and they work together to meet each other’s financial and emotional needs. My elderly friend and roommate, Daisy, loves to remind me often of what a Godsend I am to her and her husband Dale; but most of the time I think it’s the other way around. In this valley town of around 30,000 people that has a state college, junior college, and a technical college, it’s not hard to find young singles looking for rentals. After living for a year with the moodiest drama mama I’ve ever known, I was more than relieved to find a little normalcy with Daisy and Dale.
The dinner bell rings loud from the porch, a carry-over of Dale’s ranching days. We meander to the kitchen and sit down to gather at the table. I’m comforted by Daisy’s soft, wrinkled hand gripping mine while Dale and I bow our heads. Daisy knocks Dale’s big black hat from his head before she prays.
“Dear Lord, thank you for another day of this wonderful life you’ve seen fit to give us. Thank you for bringing sweet Maria into our lives. Lord, please heal her broken heart.” She gives my hand an extra squeeze. “And help us to see others through your eyes, to serve with our hands, love with our hearts, and praise you with our mouths; that all will see You in each one of us here. Amen.” Daisy and I lift our heads, but Dale’s head full of white hair remains bowed.
“I said amen!” Daisy raises her voice at the reverent, hearing-impaired Dale. Her effort remains unrewarded, as she continues to stare a hole through the top of his bowed head.
I nudge his foot.
He lifts his head with a smile, puts his hands together, and looks heavenward. “Thanks for the grub, Lord. Let’s eat,” he growls in his gravelly voice. He leans over, picks up his hat and hangs it on the corner of his chair.
Daisy passes her famous creamy peas to me, and I swear I hear the wheels turning in her head as she zeroes in on me with a blue-eyed laser-beam stare. Her skin may be wrinkled, but her eyes haven’t lost a bit of shine or sparkle.
“I’ve been praying on it, Maria. I think we need another roommate. Three’s kind of an awkward number. It’d sure be nice to have a young man around. Dale’s getting up in years, and he can’t clean the gutters or fix the plumbing, what with his arthritis.”
I sigh, as this really isn’t a ‘new’ idea. “Daisy. I can clean the gutters. I know how to climb a ladder.”
Daisy slaps the table. “Maria! Get off your high horse with all your women’s lib ideas! Let a man be a man and climb his darn ladder! Just because you can climb on a roof doesn’t mean you should!”
I take a deep breath and mentally count to ten. “Daisy, we’ve talked about this before. You’re not doing any matchmaking with me.” I look down at my plate and try to focus. “I’m not ready yet.” I wink at Dale. “Besides, I enjoy my roof-walking. It makes me feel like I’m living on the edge.”
“Maria. It’s been a year since you lost your sister. You need to get out more. It’s not healthy for someone your age to live between work and home.”
Daisy’s words shame me. I know Liz wouldn’t want me sitting at home, moping, but I can’t help it. I miss her, and it makes me sad to think about how many years she could have had.
Daisy slides her gaze away from me, a telltale sign of stretching the truth. “You give me too much credit. I’m not trying to be a matchmaker!”
“You’re not?” I can’t help but rib her. “Are you sure? I recall a want ad you put out a few months back, offering free rent for six months. Do you remember the tools that showed up for that deal? You’ve got to be careful, Daisy. You can’t trust just anyone.”
“I remember,” Dale chimes in, laughing out loud. “I remember. There were some real knuckleheads!”
“See, Daisy.” I wave a hand in Dale’s direction. “We’re doing just fine! Besides, we just got into a groove. Things are running smoothly, and I’m not ready for a change.”
Daisy shakes her head back and forth. “I don’t like you two ganging up on me. And I’m careful! That’s why I’ve been prayin’ on it! The Lord will answer my prayers, just you wait and see. The right person will come along.”
I roll my eyes as I take another delicious bite of supper. “What makes you think the Lord has any interest in my love life, or the lack of one?”
Daisy grabs my wrist. Her fingernails dig in. “The Lord wants you to be happy, Maria. Are you happy?”
Her question cuts me to the bone. “Daisy, don’t you have a filter? Let me enjoy my supper.” I lay down my fork in frustration. “I’m trying to be happy. Isn’t that good enough? I get up every day and I go to work. I’m not lying around in bed drinking wine and eating bonbons. I’m twenty-two years old, I’ve barely started my career as a nurse, and my work keeps me plenty busy.”
“Maria.” Daisy’s not done, as she pats my hand. “Those are all good things, but you’re not getting any younger. Why, I got married when I was just nineteen. When you know, you know.”
Dale answers from across the table. “And I was too young to know better.”
“Don’t listen to him.” Daisy swats at him with her hand. “The man would’ve starved to death if he hadn’t come straight from his momma’s house to being married to me.”
“I can make a pretty mean ham sandwich.” Dale’s not ready to give in to Daisy’s protesting. He gives me another one of his signature winks.
I sigh. “Daisy, you got married in a day when women didn’t work. They stayed home and had lots of babies. I’m not ready for any of that!” I shake my head and imagine a baby in my arms. My eyes water. I look for a distraction as I rummage through the fridge.
“Now look what you did. You chased her away.” Dale growls at Daisy.
Great, now I’m the reason for another one of their squabbles, a word I didn’t know before I moved in with the Odd Couple, a show I didn’t watch until Dale started teaching me every card game he knows in front of the T.V., and he knows plenty.
I walk back to the table holding salad dressing, even though we have no salad. I sit down and set it by my plate. Daisy raises a questioning eyebrow but says nothing.
Dale, ever the sweetheart, takes the salad dressing and pours some on his green beans.
“Dale! I’ve never seen you eat Ranch dressing on your beans,” Daisy starts up again.
“Woman!” He gives her a stubborn look. “I’ll eat Ranch if I want. Stay outta my plate!”
Daisy turns back to me. I try to hold up under her measuring stare. “What’s this about you lying around in your bed? You’re made of sterner stuff than that.”
“How would you know?” Her barbs feel like hot irons in my side. “You’ve only known me for two months. How do you know what I’m made of?”
“I know more than you think.” Daisy grins. “I found some pretty interesting reading when I was straightening your room the other day.”
No freaking way. “You read my diary?”
Dale lays down his fork. “We both read it, and I gotta say, Maria, I had no idea you have so much emotion. It made my soul feel good. I thought all the youth today are pretty desensitized. I was relieved to find out you’ve been going to the L. J. Youth Center. Daisy and I were beginning to think you’d turned to liquor or worse with all that depression.”
I want to sink under the table, but I’m too angry. “I can’t believe you two! You had no business reading through my diary when I was at work.”
Daisy’s eyes get wide. She doesn’t look the least bit sorry! “Oh, give me a break. You’re locked up tighter than Fort Knox. I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me. Besides, what else have I got to do all day? I’m too old to work. I can’t knit anymore. My arthritic hands won’t let me. I’m not made for watching soaps all day on the tellie. Dale’s no use for entertainment when he sleeps half the day, and there’s only so many books this old woman can read.”
“Alright, alright.” Now I feel bad. “The next time I go to the L. J. Youth Center, you can go with me, but it’s all volunteer work. I’m not in it for the pay. We do a lot of sorting donations and folding clothes. The reward is I get to meet some really great kids.”
“Wait a minute!” Daisy’s eyes get all fiery. “Is that the place where the kids serve community service? I mean, shouldn’t they be in juvie? You sure you want to spend your spare time with criminals?”
“Daisy! They’re not bad kids. They just need guidance. Most of them don’t have much, if any, support at home. They need answers. They just don’t know where to look. We help each other. Don’t come if you don’t want to.”
She shakes her head. “I didn’t say I wasn’t coming, but they better not be packing.”
“Packing?” I give a snort. “Packing—Daisy? Where’d you learn that phrase?”
Daisy’s chin lifts a little. “I watch the cop shows. I know the language. Anyway...after dinner, would you be a dear and check out the basement bathroom? Dale thinks there’s a leak in the back corner.”
“Sure.” I head to my room downstairs to turn on Netflix for a bit and zone out. It’s hard to believe Christmas is a little over a month away. There’s not a single part of me that wants to put up a tree or hang Christmas lights.
Soon enough, my laptop is lit up with men on horses and I get lost in the story and lose a few hours. On the screen, guns are a blazin’ as they run at each other across an open field.
Dale’s gravelly voice cuts into my Hollywood moment. “That’s bold talk for a one-eyed fat man...” Jeff Bridges lies on the ground, about to meet his death, but then a shot rings out from Matt Damon’s shotgun. “The Texas Rangers..they don’t make ‘em like they used to.”
I laugh at Dale’s comment. “Do you really believe that? Surely there’s some honest men left in this world.”
“I ‘spose so, darlin’, but they’re getting fewer and far between.” He clears his throat and smacks his forehead. “Ahh, you’ve got someone waitin’ on ya. She showed up on the doorstep. Daisy’s all lathered up.”