Dear Miss Nicholas, book 3 in the Christmas Letters series, is a sweet and wholesome romance full of humor, holiday fun, and hope.
Just for fun, here is the first chapter preview!
Lyra Nicholas set the letter she held in her hand on her desk, leaned back in her cream leather office chair, and scowled.
This Tucker Lee of the Twisted Creek Ranch seemed to think just because he wrote to her on his sister’s behalf, she’d drop everything and agree to install a Santa exhibition at a museum she felt was, frankly, not worth her time.
Lyra had set up displays from Los Angeles to New York in some of the country’s most well-known museums, resorts, and art galleries. Next week, she’d drive to Sacramento for a consultation for a resort that wanted to incorporate a Santa theme in their lobby during the holidays.
Time was a valuable commodity. Lyra didn’t particularly feel like wasting hers on a museum in a town just a step above Hicksville.
She did recall having received a letter as well as an email or two in the past from the Columbia River Historical Center in The Dalles, Oregon. However, her opinion remained unchanged. The museum wouldn’t get enough traffic to justify the cost or her efforts.
Lyra didn’t work for free, although she did scale her rate according to what each facility could afford. Resorts rolling in the dough paid far more than a non-profit museum. Although she might be shrewd when it came to her business, Lyra wasn’t heartless. How could she be since her livelihood was Santa Claus?
Thoughtfully, Lyra picked up a Father Christmas figurine from her desk. He wore a pale blue robe with white fur trim. A gold sack of toys rested at his feet, along with a fawn, a rabbit, and a fox, while a snowy owl perched on his arm.
The figurine had started her fascination with Santa. It had been a gift from her grandmother, Noelle Nicholas, when Lyra was just eight years old. She’d loved it then, and she loved it still.
Lola, as she referred to her grandmother, had unwittingly sparked a curiosity about Santa that Lyra was sure would never go away. She couldn’t even begin to count the times she’d sat and pondered the lore of Santa, of how much was fact and what was fiction, and what it would be like if more people were Santa-like.
She made an effort to keep from being distracted by the busyness of life from the things that truly mattered, but she often fell short of the mark. Life was hectic, full, demanding, and overflowing with things that sucked away her energy, patience, and time.
Perhaps she should give Remi Reed a chance to convince her the project would be worthwhile.
Lyra sat forward and picked up the letter again. It struck her as both odd and sweet that Tucker Lee had reached out on his sister’s behalf. That he’d taken the time to write her an old-fashioned, in-the-mailbox letter instead of sending an email impressed her. She could only think of a few people who mailed letters if there was a faster, easier method of communicating.
Mail, when it wasn’t junk or bills, was something Lyra enjoyed receiving. Thoughts of the dozens of Christmas cards that typically arrived in December made her smile. Her grandmother got as much joy out of them as Lyra. She’d already placed the order for her cards for this year. She’d hired a college student she knew through the church she and Lola attended to design the card for her. It featured a Victorian Father Christmas with a hunter green robe, fluffy white beard, and a shepherd’s crook in his hand bedecked with garlands and holly. She could hardly wait until it was time to mail the cards at the end of November.
Lyra and Lola liked their cards to go out early. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, their tradition was to eat leftover pie, drink Christmas tea, and spend the morning doing their Christmas cards.
That Christmas feeling—of generosity and kindness—swept through Lyra. Before she changed her mind, she pulled up the website for the Columbia River Historical Center, looked up Remi Reed’s email address, and sent her a note requesting a site visit before the following Wednesday. She would leave for California on Thursday.
The Dalles was an easy two-hour drive away, so Lyra could dash over there and back with no trouble at all. In fact, she might even convince Lola to go along. They could stop in Hood River on their way back and pick up a few flats of berries and whatever fruit was in season. It was late enough in June that the cherries might even be ripe.
Pleased with her plans, Lyra opened the rest of her mail, wrote responses as needed, tossed the junk mail in the recycle bin beneath her antique Chippendale desk, a yard-sale find from six years ago, and glanced around her office.
The summer Lyra had been twelve, her parents had sent her to Portland from their home in Scottsdale, Arizona, to spend two months with her grandparents. She’d loved being with Lola and Pops. They had a five-acre lot in Tigard, rimmed with trees, hedges, and a tall fence that made it feel like they lived in their own little world.
By the time the end of August rolled, around when Lyra was supposed to return home, she’d begged and pleaded to stay. Her parents had insisted she return home. From then on, she’d spent every school vacation with her grandparents. The day after she’d graduated from high school, she had packed her things and moved in with Lola. Pops had died from a heart aneurysm in January of that year, and her grandmother had struggled without him there.
It had been the most natural thing in the world for Lyra to move into the house she loved with the person she most loved in the world. She and Lola were two peas in a pod. When Lyra was eighty, like her grandmother, and her hair was silver instead of brown, she knew exactly what she would look like. Seeing Lola was like looking into a mirror that reflected her future. They were built the same, both tall and thin, with pale blue eyes, a forehead that was a little too high, a chin a little too stubborn, and a mouth a little too wide. But their noses were straight and narrow, and they had lovely smiles. Lyra often thought her smile was her best feature and tried to use it often.
The house, built in the early 1960s when her grandparents had sold their home in Hillsboro and moved to Tigard, had finally been updated. After college, Lyra had talked Lola into bringing one room at a time into the current century. They’d just finished updates in the mudroom and laundry room, the last of the remodeling projects on what had been a long list. The house had four bathrooms, a living room, Lyra’s office, an open kitchen with a family room, a formal dining room, a breakfast nook, and five bedrooms. The only bedroom on the ground floor, located just off the kitchen, had become Lola’s after Pops had passed. Lyra thought it had originally been built as a housekeeper’s suite with a private entrance and bath. Now, though, it was perfect for her grandmother since Lyra worried about her going up and down the stairs with her creaking knees.
One tumble down them, and nothing would be the same for either of them.
Lyra traveled frequently for work, but she was rarely gone more than a week at a time. It worked well for her to have a place to call home that didn’t require much upkeep from her since she was always so incredibly busy. Additionally, it gave her grandmother peace of mind to know Lyra was there when she needed her.
When Lyra had been in college studying English and literature, she’d never envisioned becoming a Santa expert.
Life has a funny way of changing even the best-intentioned plans.
Thankfully, Lola had encouraged her to follow her heart instead of doing what she thought her parents expected her to do. Now, Lyra felt so blessed to have a career she was passionate about while having the privilege of living in a house she loved with her beloved grandmother.
As though thoughts of her made the woman materialize, Lola walked into the office and plopped into one of the two chairs across from Lyra’s desk. Perhaps some people would find it in poor taste, but Lyra loved her red and white office.
The walls were painted winter white with snowy white trim. The big pieces of furniture, like her desk, filing cabinets, and shelves, were mahogany; the chairs by her desk as well as the couch and two side chairs beneath the window, were all upholstered in a brocade red velvet that matched the drapes.
The effect of the room was rich and dramatic, and Lyra smiled every time she walked into the light-filled room.
“Are you ready for dinner, sweetheart?” Lola asked as she straightened a few folders on top of a stack of file organizers on the corner of the desk.
“I had no idea it was that late. I’m sorry. I’ll figure out something to fix in a jiffy.” Lyra popped up from her chair and walked around the desk. She pulled her grandmother to her feet, wrapped an arm around her waist, and started toward the door.
“You don’t need to figure anything out, Lovey. I took care of it.”
“You did?” Lyra asked, smiling at her grandmother. When she was home, Lyra generally took care of the cooking. She wasn’t great at it, but her food was usually edible. Besides, she and Lola often preferred what they called “girl dinners,” with salads, charcuterie boards, even yogurt and fruit, to heavy meals. They tended to eat a bigger meal at lunch and something lighter in the evening.
Her grandmother led the way out to the patio, where the bistro table was set with a vintage cloth draped over it. Salads with dinner rolls and apple slices looked perfect to Lyra.
“This is great, Lola. Thank you for this.” Lyra seated her grandmother, retrieved glasses of lemonade from the kitchen, and returned outside.
After her grandmother asked a blessing on the meal, they dug into their chicken salads with fresh strawberries and a lemon vinaigrette.
A noise from the trees on the far side of the yard drew their gaze. They watched as a raccoon and a fox engaged in a game of chase. The two animals had shown up last fall, had spent the winter there, and must have decided the scraps Lyra snuck out to them were worth sticking around to enjoy.
Despite her grandmother’s fears the two animals were rabid or carried fourteen different varieties of the plague, Lyra loved watching them. She’d named them Rocky, the raccoon, and Winkie, the fox. The fox always seemed to be squinting or winking at something.
As they ate their salads, Lyra discussed the letter she’d received with her grandmother.
“How sweet of that Mr. Lee, Lyra. You must go to the museum and at least do an evaluation. If he went to all the trouble to write to you, it’s only the polite thing to do to give Ms. Reed a chance to share her vision for a display.”
“I agree, Lola. I emailed Remi and asked if she could meet with me before I leave for Sacramento. I wondered if you’d like to go along if I do make a quick trip to The Dalles.”
“I think not this trip, Lovey, but if you end up going back, I’ll go along for a ride.”
Lyra had no idea why her grandmother didn’t want to accompany her. Some days Lola was gung-ho to take an adventure. Other days, it was like pulling concrete blocks uphill through a foot of thick syrup to get her out the door. More and more, it seemed to be a battle to get Lola to socialize.
“I’ll hold you to that, Lola.” Lyra gave her grandmother a pointed look as they finished their meals.
The next morning, when Lyra turned on her computer and sat down to check her emails, she read an enthusiastic reply from Remi Reed, inviting her to come at her earliest convenience and to please let her know when that might be.
Lyra tapped out a quick response, letting the woman know she’d be there the following morning. If she left at seven, she’d arrive around nine, spend an hour at the museum, and be able to make it home to join Lola for lunch.
The following morning, Lyra dressed in a sleeveless linen sheath and wedge sandals, both in a pale shade of blue that matched her eyes. She wore a pearl necklace that had belonged to her mother’s grandmother, a gift from her mom on her last birthday, then added tiny pearl earrings before she gathered her briefcase, complete with a contract she’d printed out in case she decided to go ahead with The Dalles installation, samples of her work, lists of basic props she’d need, and a timeline that could be filled in with specific details.
After gathering her handbag, she grabbed a pair of glasses and tucked them in with her things, unplugged her phone from the charger, and hurried to the kitchen.
She’d eaten breakfast earlier, but Lola was in the kitchen, cooking bacon. The aroma of it in the air made Lyra’s mouth water, even though she wasn’t hungry.
“Oh, don’t you look beautiful, Lovey. I forgot you are heading to The Dalles today.”
“Thanks, Lola. Are you sure you don’t want to come along? There’s time if you do.”
Her grandmother forked three strips of bacon out of a frying pan and onto a plate. “Thank you, but I’m feeling like a homebody today, Lyra. You go and have a good time. Should I expect you for lunch?”
“No, Lola. I don’t know how long it will take, and I don’t want you waiting for me.” She set down her briefcase and handbag, and then hugged her grandmother. “Have a wonderful day, Lola.”
“You do the same, Lovey. Drive carefully.”
“I will. Love you, Lola.”
Her grandmother smiled and patted her cheek. “Love you more.”
Lyra gathered her things and hurried out to her vehicle, a deep blue Genesis that had been her splurge as a gift for herself for Christmas last year after she’d worked like a crazy person to take on three extra holiday installations she hadn’t planned on.
This year, she had no intention of working that hard during December or being gone from her grandmother that much during the holidays. A day trip here and there to give a presentation or an overnight trip for a class was all she would agree to.
She backed out of the three-car garage, waved at the living room windows where she saw her grandmother’s face peeking out from behind the lace curtains, and headed down the driveway. They lived on a quiet cul-de-sac at the back of a residential area that had grown up around what had once been forest and farmland. It amazed Lyra that her grandfather had kept the acreage he’d originally purchased when so many of their neighbors had sold their land piece by piece until the lots were all half an acre or smaller in size.
The Nicholas house was the oldest in the neighborhood, sitting like a proud old dowager at the center of the circular street.
Lyra loved the house with its red brick that came up the windows, white siding, dark blue trim, and bright red door. In the summer, it looked patriotic, especially with pots of red and white geraniums hanging across the front porch.
In the winter, when garlands and lights hung from the porch and wrapped around the railing, it would have been a place where Santa would have felt right at home.
Lyra smiled and tuned the radio to her favorite station. As she listened to Bryan Adams belt out “Run To You,” she let her mind drift to the holiday season that seemed distant but would be here before she knew it. She mulled over the contracts she’d signed and those waiting for her review, the careful scheduling and planning she’d have to do to fit everything in, and what her life was like before it had gotten so incredibly … hectic.
The drive passed quickly once she got beyond the heavy Portland traffic. She texted Remi Reed when she reached Hood River so the woman would know she was only about twenty minutes away. The drive along the Columbia River on a summer morning was breathtaking, and Lyra wished she had more time in her life for leisurely drives. Leisurely anything.
She pulled into the museum nineteen minutes later, parked her car, gathered her things, then headed to the door. The museum wasn’t yet open for the day, but before she could lift a hand to tap on the glass of the door, the lock clicked, and it swung open.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Nicholas. I’m so honored you’d come all this way to evaluate our museum and see if you think you’d be willing to work with us. Where are my manners? I’m Remi Reed, but please call me Remi.”
“Remi, it’s lovely to meet you,” Lyra said, smiling as she stepped inside the vestibule and shook the woman’s hand. She was only a few inches shorter than Lyra, appeared to be in her mid to late thirties, and had vibrant green eyes, a pretty face, and a friendly smile that immediately put Lyra at ease. At first glance, Remi appeared to be the kind of person it was hard not to like.
“Truly, Miss Nicholas, I’m a big fan of yours. I have all three of your books and love the beautiful and elegant way you approach the holidays.” Remi took a breath. “I will get it together and stop fangirling all over you.”
Lyra grinned. “Fangirl all you want. And please, call me Lyra.”
Remi’s tense shoulders relaxed a bit as she locked the outer doors and opened one of the interior doors, motioning for Lyra to precede her into the museum.
Lyra stepped past dual wooden racks holding dozens of brochures geared toward tourists.
Remi gave her a brief tour of the museum, provided the number of visitors they averaged a month and the amount of grant support they received a year, and shared her hopes to increase both by generating more interest in the museum through a spectacular holiday display. The Dalles was right on the freeway between Portland and points east, and the museum was easy to access from the closest exit.
As Remi spoke, Lyra began to see opportunities for the exhibit. A few well-placed billboards on the freeway could bring in additional visitors. A press release sent to the right outlets could attract news coverage.
The space Remi wanted to use for the exhibit was large, well-lit, and right off the main entry with a small foyer outside the room, where additional displays could serve as teasers to draw people into the room.
Lyra began to envision a sleigh in the foyer or perhaps even an old farm wagon draped in vintage quilts in Christmas colors. There would have to be a tree, preferably one covered in antique ornaments.
“Do you have an inventory list of your holiday items and decorations?” Lyra asked as Remi led her to her office where they could sit and discuss the possibilities uninterrupted since the museum had opened ten minutes ago.
“I do. I can print that off for you.”
Lyra took the list Remi printed and read through the contents twice, pleased to see several items that would be useful but also noticing a lack of other items.
“How supportive is the community of the museum?” Lyra asked, glancing across the desk at Remi, who looked both hopeful and hesitant.
“They usually step in if a need is made known. I don’t know that we could ask for cash donations, though.”
“No, I wasn’t thinking of that. I was thinking more along the lines of borrowing Christmas props for the exhibit. What you have will only fill a portion of the room. If we’re going to do this, it needs to be done properly. I have some items I can loan you, but you’ll need to come up with the rest. I can compile a list of ideas of things that would be useful.”
Remi’s expression changed from one of dread to joy. “Does this mean you’ll agree to do the exhibit? To create one of your amazing Santa installations here for us?”
“I believe I will, but I’ll need help, mostly muscle, and people who can follow orders. We’ll need a budget for ordering signage and advertisements. You’ll have to come up with more items for the display if you want to fill that whole room. Do you know anyone with a sleigh or buggy? Even an old farm wagon that’s still in one piece?”
“I do. Just tell me what else you think we need, and I’ll find it. I have friends at a few other museums in the region who might let us borrow a few pieces for the holidays.”
“That’s wonderful. Now, the timeline. For an exhibit of this scope and the money being invested in it, I think it should open on the first day of November. That means setting up the last two weeks in October. I’ll need a place to stay for part of that time as I can’t drive back and forth every day if I’m going to get any work done.”
“Of course, Lyra. We can come up with accommodations for you and …”
“Just me. Perhaps my grandmother if she decides to come along. We live together, and I don’t like to leave her for long stretches of time.”
“I completely understand.” Remi typed notes on her computer. “The November opening works for me. Honestly, tell me the day, and we’ll make it happen. What about compensation?”
Lyra smiled. “Thank you. Yes, compensation. Do you have any grant funding to cover expenses? What’s your budget?”
They went over projected costs, including Lyra’s expectations for payment and details of a grant Remi had applied for. If she got it, everything seemed to be in place.
“Are you ready to sign on the dotted line?” Lyra asked, taking out the contract she’d brought along and filling in a few blanks, then signing her name and the date at the bottom.
“I just want to clarify with you about the grant. If I don’t receive it, that will leave us about fifteen thousand dollars short.”
“You’ll receive the grant. It looks like you have the past four years, so I wouldn’t expect anything different this year.”
Remi lifted a pen from her desk and took the contract Lyra held out to her. “Then let’s make this happen.”
Ten minutes later, Lyra was back on the road. She stopped in Hood River and purchased three flats of strawberries, which would turn into pies, jam, and berries she and Lola would freeze to enjoy later. She also purchased early-season cherries, and three huge bouquets of fresh flowers.
As she continued the drive home, she felt good about her decision to work in The Dalles. The installation would take a bit of time, but she genuinely liked Remi Reed and wanted to do what she could to help her make the museum successful.