Christmas Holiday Hearts
In this heart-wrenching holiday romance, a devastating fire ruins school-teacher Ellie McKenna’s rented apartment. Now she urgently needs a temporary home and a few weeks’ work to get her life back on track. A short term Christmas contract tutoring twin daughters on a huge coastal farm sounds ideal – until, too late, she meets the billionaire owner.
Ellie’s dream job turns into her worst nightmare once she discovers the man she’ll be working for is her long-ago holiday fling. He gave her the hottest memories of her life – and a son he knows nothing about. Now she’s trapped on beautiful Wharemoana Estate, torn away from her wonderful boy while she tries to resist his still-so-tempting father.
Tony Robinson is grieving and guilt-stricken after the slow death of his unsuitable wife. He’s shocked to see the temporary teacher is the beautiful holiday lover he’s never forgotten… that he’s been given a second chance to romance the woman he should never have lost touch with. To his displeasure he finds that although their fierce attraction still rages red-hot, she’s determined to keep him out of her life.
Ellie fights him any way she can, but Tony is so much more of a man now – and could undoubtedly steal Callum away with his wealth and power. She knows he’d love a son after having two daughters. An older son who’s the absolute image of him. Concealing her secret baby’s existence gets harder and harder as the long summer days grind by.
Warning: The earth definitely moves - in more ways than one.
This is the second in my Heartlands series, and you'll get a glimpse of what happened to Kate and Matthew from Melting His Heart.
Ellie woke with a jump. Bright New Zealand sunlight streamed in from the balcony. Unfamiliar countryside noises floated on the summer air. Several of the farm dogs barked up a frenzy not too far away, and the ocean roared incessantly in the background.
A glance at her watch had her cursing softly. A quarter to eight—no way to impress her new employer. And what about the twin daughters she was here to tutor? She didn’t want them waiting in their schoolroom, wondering where their tardy teacher was.
Scrambling from the huge bed, she showered in haste, then dragged on the first clothes that came to hand—the jeans she’d travelled in yesterday and a fresh yellow and white striped T-shirt. She pulled her dark hair into a ponytail and ran peachy gloss quickly over her lips.
Embarrassed, and still somewhat dishevelled, she raced down the grand staircase and into the deliciously scented farmhouse kitchen.
“Bacon and eggs?” an amused male voice asked. There was a rustle of newsprint, and the farmer lowered his paper and glanced over the top of the pages at her.
Ellie registered dark eyes. A cleft chin. Hair cut brutally short. A once-loved face that now showed both sorrow and exhaustion.
He managed to speak before her astounded brain found any words. “Ellie? Ellie McKenna? What the...?”
There was absolute silence for a little time as she collapsed onto the opposite chair, fighting for her self-possession. “Tony?” she finally whispered.
He laid the farming paper aside and lifted big shoulders in a shrug. “Tony—Robbie—whatever.”
“Tony Robinson.” Smiling, he proffered his hand.
Stunned, she reached out and shook it.
“We’re being very formal, considering…” He left the rest of the sentence hanging.
Ellie wrenched her fingers free, buried her face in her hands, and stayed frozen as waves of memory and need and confusion rolled over her.
His grip on her hand had been firm and warm. One touch and he’d marked her as his again, as surely as when they’d been lovers in Sydney a decade earlier.
Finally she raised her eyes to his. “Sorry,” she croaked. “That was silly. It’s just such a huge shock, meeting you out of the blue again like this. I had no idea...”
Her pulse now pounded at least as rapidly as it had the night her flat caught fire and she’d struggled frantically to rescue everything she held precious.
He shook his head. “Nor me. I asked Ginny to arrange the tutor for the twins. Your name would have meant nothing to her, and she only told me you were Ellinore.”
“Awful name. Ellie’s better. She called you ‘Robbie’ on the phone...” Ellie floundered into awkward silence, fiddled with a knife on the table, then tried again. “And Wharemoana Homestead didn’t register with me. If she’d said ‘Robinson’s Farm’, then maybe...”
“Maybe you’d have wondered?”
“Perhaps. Who knows?” She tried to keep her tone light as her eyes roved all over him. Because of course she would have wondered. Tony had vividly dominated her mind for months after she’d met him. Later, she’d deliberately forced his memory further and further back as her baby son claimed her heart and her life.
But why now? Why, after eleven long years had her past collided head-on with her present, threatening to wreck everything she’d struggled so hard to achieve?
She felt young and gauche. Defensive and insecure. Tony had disappeared from her life after one intense week and never reappeared. She might have hoped, but she’d never expected to see him again. She knew he was somewhere in New Zealand because over the past several years she’d heard the odd local reference to him—a forestry item on the radio, something to do with cattle breeding on TV. She’d Googled him the first time on one of the classroom computers, made sure it was him, and then done her best to close him out of her mind again. But despite her best efforts, here he was across a sunny breakfast table as though the huge gap in time had never happened.
Her hungry eyes raced over him again, confirming he’d become an impressive man—still with that infectious smile now he’d relaxed a little. Thirty-five, she calculated. With beautiful shoulders straining the fabric of his blue polo shirt.
He reached a tanned arm across to the counter and set the toaster going. Ellie watched his long fingers threading the bread into the slots. Once again her heart pounded along like a racehorse; her blood racing and raging through her body. Those fingers had traced every inch of her skin, teasing and taunting her—making it impossible to say ‘no’ on the softly scented evening they’d first made love.
“The hair’s a bit different,” she said, desperate to break the silence that had settled between them.
He raised a hand and ran it over the soft bristles. “Fundraising scheme for cancer research. With my wife the way she was...”
Ellie nodded, still disconcerted.
“... some of us volunteered to have our heads shaved in public at a local charity auction a couple of weeks ago. Raised thousands. Easier than selling raffle tickets or whatever. It was in the papers.”
She must have missed it in the staff-room. She didn’t pay out even the small amount for a newspaper if she could save it toward her soon-to-be new house, and she’d been too busy to spend much time on the internet news sites lately. But she could picture all too clearly the cruel clippers buzzing over his scalp, and the dark silk of his hair cascading onto the floor.
Years ago she’d run her fingers through it, delighting in its thick softness. “You had lovely hair.” She bit her lip, angry she’d let slip such a telling comment, but he took no apparent notice.
“It’ll grow. Not a great price to pay in summer.” He changed the subject abruptly. “And you became a teacher? You said that’s what you wanted, back in Sydney.”
Ellie was surprised he’d remembered. “Yes,” she said, thinking of the sacrifices she and her mother had both made to bring it about. Going without the daily newspaper had been the least of it.
“And there was a fire? Ginny said something about that. She’s out picking flowers to arrange at the local church, by the way. She’ll be back inside soon.”
Ellie nodded. Ginny had welcomed her yesterday, shown her to her room, and provided a delicious dinner. She’d been surprised not to see her this morning. Just as well she hadn’t been in the kitchen a few minutes ago!
“The place I was renting burned down,” she murmured, remembering the panic-stricken night, and Cal’s screams, and the crackling pitiless flames. “There wasn’t much that escaped. I grabbed a few clothes and the photo album, but that was all I saved.”
And my lovely son, she added to herself. Your lovely son from all those years ago. The best thing in my life.
She took a deep breath, hoping to relax the searing tension out of her spine. “I’m close to moving into a new house I’m having built. When I’ve finished my contract here, it should be ready.”
“So—the job you wanted. A new house. A husband, too?”
The query hung between them like a monstrous multi-coloured elephant.
“Two out of three ain’t bad,” she replied, trying to keep her voice level and non-committal, but not managing to hold his gaze.
For there was no husband—not even the sniff of one. After Tony, no man had gotten close to her. No-one was as vivid, as desirable, as all-pervading. She knew this for the truth, however much she tried to convince herself that producing a baby, managing her teacher training, caring for her child, working, and saving for a home, had occupied her whole time and left none for a man. Tony had stolen her heart and never returned it.
Somehow she dragged up the courage to raise her eyes to his again. “I’ve never married. Not my thing. I’m enjoying being independent, relying on myself.” She gave a small shrug to indicate that a husband was the least of her needs, but when the toast sprang up, she jumped too; so tense that it took only that tiny unexpected shock to push her over the edge.
Tony reached across, juggling the steaming slices in his long capable hands as he slid them into the antique silver toast rack. “What will you eat? Bacon and eggs? Cereal? Have a look in the pantry if you like.”
“Toast is fine.” She reached for a slice at the same instant he did, and pulled her fingers back as though he was red hot.
“Sorry—after you,” he said, pushing the toast toward her with an engaging smile. Her son’s smile exactly.
The fragile shreds of Ellie’s hard won composure disappeared again.
Tony’s smile. Tony’s thick dark hair. Tony’s killer eyelashes. Callum had them all. If Tony ever saw his son he’d recognise him instantly.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
What's on the cover of Christmas Holiday Hearts? It's the other side of the scene I grew up with from my parents' kitchen window. Te Mata Peak is where the dare-devil hang-gliders launch themselves into the updrafts for long spectacular flights. You can see out along the river to the coast, with the Pacific Ocean glittering in the sun. There's nothing between here and South America.
Imagine you're Ellie - driving in your old car down this unsealed road with no sign of civilisation except the odd power pole and fence.You're off to your Christmas holiday job with no idea of what lies ahead.
And the countryside gets more and more spectacular until you glimpse the ocean behind the hills...
What started this book?
A holiday in Sydney Australia, just like Ellie had. And although I definitely noticed a particularly spectacular young man beside a hotel swimming pool, unlike Ellie I didn't make off with him for the night! But someone like that stays in your brain if you're a writer, and then pieces of their story fight their way out and onto the page.
Here's the collage I made for Christmas Holiday Hearts. The impressive homestead in the top right corner is called Aramoana, and I had a holiday at Aramoana Beach years ago. When I Googled it to see if it was as big as I remembered, I found this iconic property was for sale through Sothebys.
It was possible to tour through all the rooms in the photographs, and the grand central staircase and formal sitting room were exactly as I'd imagined them.
So we have the twins and Callum, Tony's ex-wife (who looks suspiciously like Kylie Minogue), mother-in-law Ginny (one of the lovely ladies in my service club), the wild cliffs above the beach, and the red camisole that played more of a part in the story than anyone expected.