Dear Mister Frost First Chapter

I thought it would be fun to give you a preview of the first chapter of Dear Mister Frost (Christmas Letters Book 1) today!

This sweet holiday romance releases December 28, and you still have time to pre-order your copy today!

 

Spring sunshine warmed her shoulders as Jaylyn Smith walked between rows of Noble fir trees on her family’s property. Soft needles brushed against the palms of her open hands, tickling her skin and connecting her to her ancestors.

Joy filled her at the sight of Christmas trees as far as she could see. For as long as she could remember, it wasn’t officially spring until she walked among the trees and saw the buds beginning to swell and sap starting to run.

Holly Crest Tree Farms wasn’t just a place where Christmas trees grew. It was home. Her heritage. A legacy that now rested squarely on her shoulders.

Her parents had grown tired of the cold Pacific Northwest winters and had decided to relocate. Three weeks ago, she’d stood on the porch of the house where she’d grown up and waved goodbye when they’d left for sunny Arizona. Her dad, who had taught American and world history classes at Willamette University for twenty years, had secured a position with the University of Arizona, while her mother intended to continue working part time as a medical transcriptionist.

Although Jaylyn wished them well, she already missed them terribly. They planned to return for a week in the summer, then again once the fall semester at the university ended, promising to be home for Christmas.

Jaylyn had taken over management of their four-thousand-acre farm two years ago, but her parents had been there to offer support and encouragement. Now it was just her and Gramps. Her grandfather might not be as spry as he once was, but he had years of experience and knowledge he was more than willing to impart.

She grinned, thinking of the way he zoomed all over the property on his side-by-side, terrorizing the staff with his crazy driving and making everyone smile with his infectious laughter and silly jokes.

Jaylyn’s great-grandfather had started Holly Crest Tree Farms when he’d moved to Oregon from North Carolina after he’d returned from serving during World War II.

James Smith had met a woman named Molly at a restaurant in Kansas where she’d been working. It had been love at first sight, and when he’d driven out of town to continue his journey, Molly had a ring on her finger, and stars in her eyes, twinkling with promises of their future. Together, they’d arrived in Amity, purchased land, and started grooming the trees already growing there to be sold for Christmas trees. Grandma Molly had named the farm Holly Crest because of the holly she’d found growing along the edge of a meadow on the west side of the property.

After a few successful years, James and Molly had bought more acreage, planted more trees, and continued to grow their business. Jaylyn’s grandfather, Jim, had taken over the business when his parents were ready to retire. Jaylyn’s father, Jack, had never wanted to manage the farm, so when Gramps finally retired, he passed the reins to her.

Her parents might have lived on the farm and helped all they could, but Jaylyn had always known their hearts weren’t in it. Not like hers. Definitely not like Gramps.

Her father’s passion was teaching history, and her mother enjoyed socializing more than working from sunup to sundown shaping trees or one of the hundreds of other constant tasks on the busy farm.

From the time she was big enough to wander through the trees, Jaylyn had known she would one day be the steward of the land and it would be her responsibility to continue their family’s legacy. Which was why she would do anything humanly possible to keep the farm going.

Jaylyn turned to the east and walked a few hundred yards before she stopped and surveyed the section of trees that had caused her to lose many a night’s sleep.

She had no idea what was wrong with them. At first, she thought it might be insects. By the time they’d noticed the symptoms prior to harvest last year, it was already too late to do anything about it. Now, she was determined to root out what was causing her tree needles to drop and turn such an ugly shade of brown.

They’d tested the soil, applied fertilizer, and inspected for bugs. One of her top priorities was ensuring whatever had damaged the trees didn’t spread throughout the farm. Visions of all her trees dying had become nightmares that haunted her even during the day. She couldn’t let that happen.

Hours and hours of research had left her uncertain and confused. She thought she might know what was wrong with the trees, but she wanted someone with more experience to confirm her diagnosis and help her plan what she needed to do to fix the problem.

The local extension agent, the manager of the Amity nursery, and even her neighbors who had the biggest tree farm in the world had all told her the same thing. She needed to get in touch with Jaxon Frost. He worked as a researcher for Oregon State University, specializing in conifers, particularly Christmas trees.

Jaylyn had been hopeful when she’d originally emailed him back in October. She’d assumed, when no reply had arrived in her inbox, her email might have gotten lost in his spam folder or perhaps never delivered. She checked the email address twice, sent another email, and waited. And waited. She tried a third time and still received no reply.

Was the thought of helping her, or just the visit to her farm, so off-putting to him that he couldn’t be bothered to get in touch?

For Pete’s sake, it was less than an hour’s drive from Holly Crest Tree Farm to Corvallis. It wasn’t like the man had to drive to the far reaches of the state to come to the farm. According to his assistant, he drove out to farms all the time for research and to evaluate issues.

The assistant had also promised to have Mr. Frost return her call right away, but Jaylyn had given up waiting for her phone to ring months ago. The two times she’d tried to call his number directly, it was as though he’d answered, then hung up before she could say a word, effectively cutting her off, which only prodded her slow-burning irritation.

With no other options, short of driving to his door and pounding on it until he answered, she’d written him a letter and mailed it in December when their customer complaints had reached a startling peak.

Jaylyn should never have sold any of the diseased trees. Once they shook them and the brown needles fell out, the trees looked fine. But then the needles shed once customers took them home like a long-haired feline in front of a box fan.

She should have written off the trees as a loss because she ended up offering free replacement trees to every person who lodged a complaint. The entire situation had turned into a stress-inducing fiasco.

The tree farm wasn’t about to run out of funds, but if they faced too many years of similar disasters, it wouldn’t be long before they were out of business.

She needed to figure out why this section of trees had a problem and what could be done to fix it.

Jaylyn broke off a branch, tested the needles, looked for any pests burrowing into the bark, but found nothing. The tree appeared perfectly healthy, but what if it wasn’t? What if something popped up late into the season, like it had last year? She’d considered spraying, applying pesticides, but she hated to do anything until she knew exactly what issue she was trying to treat.

The sound of her grandfather’s side-by-side rumbled through the trees, and she waved as he parked at the end of the row where she stood.

“What are you doing, honey?” Gramps called as she headed toward him, rolling the needles of the fir tree between her fingers, then breathing in the scent.

Despite her concerns about what made her trees sick, Jaylyn closed her eyes and savored the fragrance. Every morning, she gave thanks for the opportunity to spend her life doing something she loved in a place that always smelled like Christmas.

“Hey, Gramps! What trouble are you getting into this afternoon?” Jaylyn asked as she wiped her hands on her jeans, then swung onto the seat beside him.

Jim Smith might be getting a little bald on top and thick in the middle, but he could still handle a day’s work better than most. He could shape a tree faster than any of their employees, and he made bagging a tree look like magic as his gnarled, arthritic fingers flew. The trouble was that after an hour of work he needed to rest for two.

“Why would you assume I’m the rabble-rouser around here, Jay?” Gramps asked as he turned around and headed in the direction of the farm headquarters. The office had started out in the loft above an old barn. Now, it was located in the twelve-thousand-square-foot building they sometimes rented out for events like weddings and reunions.

Next to it was their gift shop. The cottage style building, complete with gingerbread trim and a wide porch that wrapped around on one side, looked like it had been uprooted from the North Pole. Painted the color of gingerbread with white trim, it provided a delightful place for their guests to visit when it was open from mid-November until the twenty-third of December.

Jaylyn’s dad and grandpa had encouraged her to share her thoughts on what the new gift shop should look like when it moved from a building they now used for storage. She’d been six at the time, and had dug through all her storybooks, pointing out things she liked about different houses in each story.

Somehow, Gramps had found an architect who could incorporate her ideas into something that could be constructed. Inside, themed rooms, a vaulted ceiling in the main room, and an attic space used for storing merchandise made it ideal for their shoppers. They carried everything from tree ornaments and tree stands to holiday gifts and home décor.

It had also been Jaylyn’s idea to add a café in what had once been the shed where they kept netting to wrap the trees. The menu was simple, but the hot chocolate and cider they offered, along with bottles of water, freshly baked cookies, pizza slices, and pretzel dogs provided just enough options to keep their customers happy.

The hardest part was keeping enough staff on hand during the holiday season to help, not only with the trees but also in the gift shop, the café, and in the office to manage orders and shipments.

With her parents off on a new adventure, Jaylyn felt the weight of responsibility bearing down on her shoulders heavier than usual. It was a good thing she was strong and not easily intimidated, otherwise she might crawl into bed and hibernate until June.

Now, though, she needed to get to the bottom of the disease that might ravage her trees and figure out why her grandfather had come to retrieve her.

As he left behind the trees and drove along the path to their headquarters, Jaylyn admired the beauty of the day. The tulips and hyacinths were up, but not yet blooming. The daffodils had started showing off their cheerful faces in the flowerbeds around the buildings.

Jaylyn’s high school boyfriend, Aaron, had given her a good deal on the landscaping design as well as the plants. She saw him around town from time to time, although he now lived in Salem, where he had his own landscaping and lawn care business.

It seemed like eons ago when she’d dated Aaron. After high school, they’d gone their separate ways. At the time, it had hurt, but it had been for the best. Aaron had met the love of his life at a University of Oregon football game, and now he and Misty were the parents of two little ones.

Jaylyn was happy for him even though she didn’t have time for the luxury of love, or any other luxury, as a matter of fact. If she got time to take a shower before she fell asleep at night, she considered it a great day.

She inhaled a deep breath of springtime tinged with Christmas and listened as birds chirped in the oak trees that were unfurling their leaves against the blue background of sky overhead.

It was good to have winter in the rearview mirror and warm days ahead of them. Jaylyn just hoped to be able to enjoy some of the summer months instead of spending the entire year obsessing about her sick trees.

Mindful she should worry less and trust more and spend more time in prayer, it was hard for someone who liked to be in control to let go of the need to attempt to fix everything. So incredibly hard.

Her grandfather gave her a quick glimpse as he drove along the path at a speed that would scare most people half to death. Jaylyn held onto the side of her seat but did her best to appear unconcerned as the vehicle bounced over a rut and banged down with a jar that rattled her teeth.

“Why did you come to get me, Gramps?” she asked as he veered at a squirrel.

He chased it off the path, appearing intent on hitting it as he gripped the steering wheel with a look of demented glee on his face.

“Tree! Tree!” she yelled, bracing her feet on the floorboard. She leaned toward her grandfather as he drove so close to a maple tree, she could have peeled the bark off with her fingers. Suddenly, he yanked the wheel and returned to the path.

“Darn squirrel. I’ll get Scrat one of these days.” He shook a fist at the squirrel that had shimmied up the tree to safety, then looked at Jaylyn again. “I came to get you because that company you contacted about ordering those new no-tip tree stands is on the phone. The salesman was pushy and rude, so I figured he could cool his heels while I came to get you.” Her grandpa winked at her. “I don’t like pushy salesmen.”

“Me either. I just wanted a few of those stands to try out, but if the salesman is a jerk, I’ll keep looking.” Jaylyn hopped out when her grandfather slowed outside the office building and hurried inside.

She yanked open the door to their offices. Mary, the secretary who had worked for them for almost thirty years, looked up from her desk and pointed to the blinking light on the multi-line telephone. “Mr. Morris from Cardwell Enterprises is on line two. He’s hung up twice already and called back. He does not seem like an overly patient person.”

“Thanks, Mary,” Jaylyn said, patting the woman’s arm as she rushed into her office and plopped into the big leather office chair behind her desk. She still hadn’t gotten used to being the one sitting in the manager’s office with an amazing view out the window of the Christmas trees growing on the hillside behind the building.

Jaylyn inhaled a calming breath, then picked up the phone, pressing the button to connect her to Mr. Morris.

“Holly Crest Tree Farms, this is Jay,” she said, speaking as deeply as her voice allowed. If salesmen on the phone mistook her for a man, she didn’t mind. They were far easier to deal with when they made the error.

“It’s about time, Mr. Smith. I’ve been waiting on hold for nearly fifteen minutes. What kind of incompetent staff do you have there?”

“My staff is none of your concern, and neither is my business, Mr. Morris. I’ve changed my mind and am no longer interested in your tree stands.”

“Now, hold on just a minute,” the man said as the tone of his voice shifted from belligerent to soothing. “We can work something out. How about you order two hundred to start?”

“No, thank you. I appreciate the call, but we won’t be buying any tree stands this year, Mr. Morris. Good day.”

Before the man could launch into an argument, Jaylyn hung up the phone, then leaned back in her chair.

She really wanted to add a few styles to the basic tree stands they’d always carried but had no idea where to look for quality stands made by a company that didn’t employ snake-oil salesmen to sell them.

“Lyra will know,” Jaylyn said, thinking of her college roommate. Lyra Nicholas had been a year ahead of Jaylyn, but they’d had fun sharing a dorm room for three years, until Lyra had graduated. Her friend was an expert on all things Christmas related and would know exactly where to find what Jaylyn was searching for.

She tapped out a quick email to Lyra, then answered three messages with inquiries about wholesale trees. When she replied to the last email in her inbox, she spent some time digging deeper into what disease or pest could be plaguing the trees in the east section.

If her research was accurate, she thought the problem might be Current Season Needle Necrosis, but from what she’d unearthed through hours of reading, the cause remained unknown and treatments uncertain.

As she was reading more about CSNN, Jaxon Frost’s name popped up in several articles.

Frustrated by his lack of interest in what she considered a life-altering problem, Jaylyn twice composed emails to send to him, then deleted them before she could hit send. What good would it do to contact him if he continued to ignore her? She wondered if he treated everyone in need of his assistance with such indifference. Or perhaps he’d seen the name of a successful tree farm and concluded they could pay someone to take care of their problem.

Technically, they could, but Jaylyn didn’t want just anyone assessing her trees. She wanted an expert, and all sources pointed to Dr. Frost as the best.

Mary buzzed her, drawing her from her thoughts. “You have a call on line one, Jay,” she said through the phone’s speaker.

“Thanks, Mary.” Jaylyn forced away thoughts of Jaxon Frost, then pushed the button on her phone to connect to the call. If it was another obnoxious salesman, she wasn’t sure she had the patience required to be civil.

 

 

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