Because It's Christmas (#17 in Cape Light Novel Series)
:From the New York Times bestselling author of the Angel Island series comes the seventeenth Christmas novel set in Thomas Kinkade's beloved town of Cape Light... The holiday season brings changes and challenges to many in Cape...
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:From the New York Times bestselling author of the Angel Island series comes the seventeenth Christmas novel set in Thomas Kinkade's beloved town of Cape Light...
The holiday season brings changes and challenges to many in Cape Light. But on one silent night, peace and harmony will prevail.
Sophie Potter is grateful for so many happy years among her beloved apple trees. But her family insists that she can no longer live alone. So Sophie makes a deal to spend one last Christmas on Potter Orchard. Luckily, her grandson James arrives in time to help her make plans for the best holiday gathering Cape Light has ever seen. James isn't planning on staying in Cape Light. An aspiring writer, he's eager for adventure and plans to take off on a trip around the world. But once James meets Zoey Bates, he starts to understand that leaving Cape Light might cost him the greatest adventure of all-falling in love.
Meanwhile, after more than fifteen years as Cape Light's mayor, Emily Warwick has lost the election to her lifelong rival, Charlie Bates. Emily is delighted to have more time for her family, but when a group of citizens begin fighting to preserve the town's character, Emily can't shake her desire to protect her town. Soon she finds herself back on a familiar battleground with Charlie and her family. It's not the place anyone wants to be. Especially on Christmas.
KATHERINE SPENCER has written many books for children and adults, including eight books in the bestselling Cape Light series. She lives on Long Island, New York.
Flour, butter, sugar. You don't need much more than that." Sophie Potter confided the recipe for her delectable piecrust in an unusually serious tone. "Easy, right?"
"Very easy." Zoey Bates nodded, noticing a dash of flour across Sophie's cheek that was a perfect match to the wispy bun at the back of her head.
They were both elbow-deep in ingredients while neat rows of pans on the long wooden table waited to be filled with apple, pumpkin, or pecan. Zoey would deliver most of the pies to church tomorrow, to be tucked into boxes and baskets of Thanksgiving meals and sent out to families facing difficult times.
Sophie would bring one of each to the Potters' family gathering at her daughter Evelyn's house. And Zoey would take one or two home for her family's holiday dinner, too.
"I bet my dad is going to say, 'Why aren't you ever interested in my cooking lessons?'" Zoey imitated her father's voice perfectly. "He always wants to teach me stuff at the diner. But I know he gets most of the cakes and pies from a big commercial bakery. Even though the menu says 'homemade.'"
Sophie laughed and swept a knife edge over a heaping cup of flour to level it. "I'm sure your father can teach you a lot about cooking, too. My girls didn't have any patience to learn from me, either. Now they teach me a thing or two. Evelyn barely agreed to let me bring dessert for Thanksgiving. She'd have me sitting in an easy chair all day, watching TV. Or something equally useless. I didn't dare tell her I was baking for the church baskets."
Sophie's daughter Evelyn lived in town with her family and was still a member of the church she had been raised in, the stone church on the village green, where Zoey's family also attended.
"She'll probably hear about it on Sunday. If she hasn't already. You know how Reverend Ben thanks everybody at the service."
"By then the pies will be long baked and eaten. She won't be able to put up too much of a fuss." Sophie wore a mischievous grin as she mixed the dry ingredients. "You can add a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, to give it some backbone. But not too much."
Sophie slipped on her glasses before carefully tilting each shaker. She added the spices to the first bowl, then held them out to Zoey. "Here, you try."
Zoey was dicing butter with a special hand tool, as instructed, and felt comfortable with that job. Spices seemed much trickier. "Maybe you should do it. I don't want to ruin the dough."
"Nonsense. How can you learn? Cooking is a lot like life, honey. You're going to make mistakes, but most can be fixed. Start with a light touch, and you'll do fine."
Zoey took the shaker and followed Sophie's advice, sprinkling carefully.
"Perfect." Sophie mixed more flour, and Zoey continued with the butter.
"How many people will be at your daughter's house?"
Sophie squinted a moment. "Let's see . . . With my grandson's fiancŽe and my nephew's baby, at least twenty-five. We'll need two big tables-and two turkeys-for sure."
The Potter family tree spread far and wide, and Zoey was not familiar with all of Sophie's relatives; just those who lived in and around Cape Light. She did know others by their photographs, which covered nearly every table, ledge, and wall of the old house.
"That's a lot. Even with the Tulleys and Grandma Dooley, we'll only be eight."
"A small gathering is nice. You can have a real conversation at the table. When the Potter clan gets together, it's mayhem."
"We're not that many people, but it's never that quiet. Not if there's a football game on." Zoey was thinking about her two stepbrothers and her father. Loud when they were happy and their team was winning, and loud if the game was going the other way.
Zoey had not grown up in the Bates household. She had been taken in by Lucy and Charlie Bates about five years ago, when she ran away from a foster home and ended up in the Clam Box one rainy, cold winter night. With barely a dollar in her pocket and nowhere to go, she was so sick with the flu, she could hardly stand. Kindhearted Lucy persuaded Zoey to come home with her and Charlie, and what began as a one-night respite from her hard, chaotic life evolved into Zoey finding the loving family and real home she had never known. Lucy and Charlie had adopted her, and Zoey now thought of them as her real parents, and even called them Mom and Dad.
Sophie shook her head. "Football. If they're not watching it, they're all outside, tackling each other. I tried keeping the game off one year. You would think I'd changed the menu to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."
Sophie rubbed flour on the rolling pin, a good deal of it powdering her soft arms. "Not my call to make this year. I'm not the hostess." She sighed and suddenly looked serious. "This isn't the first time I'm not having the family for Thanksgiving, but for some reason, it feels like it. Other times, it was my choice to let Evelyn or Una take a turn. This year, they all said they wouldn't allow it. That's what makes it different. I'm afraid they're going to try to take Christmas away from me, too."
Zoey met Sophie's glance and found a defeated look. Defeated and frightened. As if the new rules her children had set down about holiday entertaining warned of bigger battles to come.
"They're worried about you, Sophie. They don't want you to run yourself down and get sick again, like last winter."
"Oh, that bug was a fluke. I was never sick a day in my life before that. I'm still working outside in all types of weather."
The declaration had been true for decades, but was actually not as accurate now. "You were in the hospital for weeks and needed a nurse here every day when you got home."
Zoey remembered the Sunday announcements in church last February; Reverend Ben asking for prayers for Sophie, who was in the hospital with double pneumonia, even in critical condition at one point. But through the grace of God and her own strong will, Sophie had survived. She had required nursing care at home for months, and visits from friends and neighbors as well. That was when Zoey had begun visiting Sophie, first as a member of the church's Care and Concern group and, soon after, as a real friend. Now Zoey cherished Sophie as more than a friend. Her connection to Sophie felt like family.
Zoey did have Grandma Dooley, Lucy's mother, who had been delighted to finally have a granddaughter to shop for. But they weren't nearly as close as she and Sophie, who was so much fun to talk to and made her feel ten feet tall for the smallest accomplishment. An unlikely friend for a college student, it was true, but Zoey often thought of Sophie as her "real" grandmother, though she had never said it aloud.
"It was rough sledding for a while," Sophie finally admitted. "But I bounced back, a hundred percent. Even the doctor says so. Thank goodness I talked them into letting me come home instead of shipping me off to one of those cookie-cutter assisted living places. Bet they wouldn't let me keep Mac in a place like that."
At the sound of his name, Sophie's dog, Macintosh, who was curled up in his dog bed in a corner of the kitchen, lifted his soft, furry head and met Sophie's glance with an alert look.
"It's all right, Mac. I'm not going anywhere without you," Sophie promised. Comforted by her tone, the border-collie mix settled down and closed his eyes again.
Mac was the perfect dog for Sophie, Zoey thought. Medium-sized, with a shaggy, brown and white coat, he was still nimble enough to steal food off the counter in a flash, yet he had the steady, affectionate temperament of a Labrador. Zoey couldn't imagine Sophie's house without him.
Sophie continued kneading the dough with surprising strength for a woman her age. "Or they'd have me move in with Evelyn. It's hard to say if Mac's included in that long-standing invitation, either. My kids want me to sell this place, no secret there. But I'm not leaving this house on my own two feet. They know that, too."
Zoey hated the idea of Sophie selling the orchard, but she could understand how Sophie's family felt. Zoey worried about Sophie, too, and knew that Sophie had resisted hiring help, claiming she had all her friends and family to help her. Especially friends from the church.
Zoey would have liked to visit Sophie even more than she did, but it was difficult juggling her schedule, with college classes and studying and working at the diner in town that her family owned. She also volunteered at an after-school center for children. Never mind fitting in a social life; even hanging out with girlfriends was a treat these days. Never mind finding a boyfriend, either. She did manage to visit Sophie at least once or twice a week, though she knew that wasn't nearly enough to ensure her safety.
"It was easier when Miranda and Eric were here. You weren't alone so much," Zoey reminded her.
"That's true. But they have their own lives. I was grateful for the years Miranda did stay," Sophie added. "She got a great opportunity in North Carolina, working for a big jewelry firm. I would never have wanted her to give that up. But I can't see why the rest of them want me to give up something I love," she reasoned. "Evelyn already talked me into giving up the Christmas Fair. She doesn't want me to be in charge again this year. I agreed after all her pestering. Now what am I supposed to do with myself over the holidays? Sit in the corner and twiddle my thumbs?"
"Of course not." Zoey was surprised to hear about the fair. Sophie had always been the chairperson of the church's biggest fund-raiser. The fair had been Sophie's idea, over thirty years ago. Giving it up was a big compromise with her daughter. It sounded as if her children were serious this time.
"Miranda was a godsend. My kids were trying to make me move out back then, too, after my dear Gus died."
Zoey already knew the story of how Miranda came to live on the orchard. Unable to gain much traction in her acting career, Sophie's granddaughter Miranda came to visit one winter to rest and regroup, soon after Sophie's husband, Gus, had passed away. Miranda had always loved making jewelry, and Cape Light turned out to be a perfect place to develop her craft-and the perfect place to meet the love of her life, Eric Copeland. After they married, they stayed on to help Sophie run the orchard while pursuing their own careers and raising a family.
But the couple had moved over a year ago, leaving Sophie to manage a staff of seasonal workers on her own. Problems arose that she could no longer handle. Her children, especially her son, Bart, were often called on to step in.
"Maybe you can figure out some solution, Sophie, some plan your kids will agree to. You never know. Anything can happen."
"Can the good Lord send me another miracle like Miranda? Only He knows for sure. I've been praying on it. You can count on that."
"I'll say a prayer, too," Zoey promised.
"Thanks, honey. I know you will." Sophie's bright blue eyes met Zoey's with a warm look. "I'm also praying that the subject doesn't come up at Thanksgiving dinner. I don't want to spoil the party. I'm hoping it will be too hectic for any serious talk."
Sophie had poured a big bowl of flour into the first bowl of butter and tossed in a few spoonfuls of ice water, and was now kneading a ball of pale yellow dough with all the pent-up emotion the conversation had inspired.
"They think they're going to lay down the law and not allow me to have my Christmas party this year. But I'm set on that. And I'll get my way," Sophie promised.
"I hope so," Zoey said sincerely. "I'll be happy to help you."
"Thanks, honey. I'm going to take you up on that." Sophie pushed and patted the dough. "Okay, you've seen how it's done. Now you take that other bowl of flour and knead some. I'm going to mix the pumpkin filling. Don't handle it too much. It will get tough," she warned as she pushed a bowl in Zoey's direction.
"Start with a light touch?" Zoey replied with a grin.
Sophie nodded, looking pleased. "That's right. A light touch will do it. Most of the time."
ÒOh, dear. This doesnÕt look right at all, does it?Ó Wearing big red kitchen mitts that looked like lobster claws, Emily Warwick carefully carried a pumpkin pie from the oven out to the dining room.
Her daughter Jane sat at the dining room table, concentrating on a textbook and piles of notes, highlighted and underlined. She lifted her head to watch her mother set the pie on a trivet on the sideboard. The corners of her mouth twitched with a smile. "It's not so bad, Mom," she carefully answered.
"It's okay, you can laugh." Emily shrugged, smiling now, too.
"It might be okay if you scrape the burnt part of the crust a little. Is it done in the middle?"
"I was wondering about that myself. But if I poke it again, it will look even more hideous." Emily glanced back at Jane, and they both laughed. "I only have three more in the oven. They look even worse."
"You tried. That's what counts. Sorry I had to bug out on you."
"You have a test. That's more important." Emily glanced at Jane's textbook, Earth Science, opened to a complicated cross-section diagram of a volcano that made her head spin.
Jane had been talking about the midterm for weeks. Emily knew she should have remembered that before volunteering to bake for the church. She had thought she would do it with her daughter, but had ended up baking, quite unsuccessfully, alone.
"At least we have the brownies you made after school. Those are perfect," Emily said. "I'll buy some pies tomorrow at Willoughby's. That will solve it."
"Good plan," Jane agreed with a sly grin.
"How's the studying coming? Ready to taste test the brownies?" Emily asked hopefully.
"I think I can take a break for that." Jane stacked her textbooks and notes, then cleared a space on the table.
Emily returned from the kitchen with two brownies and two glasses of milk. "Hmm. These are good-as good as the bakery's," she said. "I don't know how you learned to cook like this. Your aunt Jessica? I got Grandma's genes for culinary arts."