california christmas dreams

BOOK: california christmas dreams
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Table of Contents

California Dreaming…

Former child star Meredith Alcott knows life isn’t like the movies. But now she has a chance to realize her own Hollywood dream by restoring a run-down amusement park to its former glory before Christmas. Clashing with the owner’s arrogant, all-business son wasn’t in the job description…even as Jake Walters sweeps her into a romance she never wants to end.

As financial adviser to the stars, Jake always has his eye on the bottom line. He doesn’t want an outsider anywhere near the legendary institution that’s been in his family for generations. Yet Meredith gets top billing when she’s hired to revamp his family’s park. The bewitching designer challenges him at every turn while arousing a desire that fulfills Jake’s wildest fantasies. But sabotage threatens to turn all their passionate hopes to dust. Unless Jake can come up with a loving plan that keeps the magic going past the holidays—and Meredith in his arms forever….

“Thank you for this evening.” The warmth of his knee pressed against hers. Heat exploded through her, spiraling down her spine in a burst of passion that made her gasp. “I enjoyed myself very much.”

He set his wine down on a nearby table and then took her hand. “For a moment, I thought I was going to lose you to the media.” He brought her fingers to his mouth and kissed the tips.

“Not a chance.” Her skin tingled. She almost snatched her hand back at the flare of desire touching him roused in her. “Have you finally decided I’m not going to hurt your father?”

“I’ve decided I want to kiss you.” He slid his arms around her and pulled her to him. He leaned against a chair flanking the fireplace and gathered her close to him. She closed her eyes, taking in the feel of his body next to hers, his fingers on her skin.

Goose bumps rose on her arms. Her breath caught in her throat. His lips were warm and soft against her, and his breath fanned across her cheek. She breathed deeply of his scent, which was like a forest after a rain.

Books by J. M. Jeffries

Harlequin Kimani Romance

Virgin Seductress
My Only Christmas Wish
California Christmas Dreams

J. M. JEFFRIES

is the collaboration between two women who are lifelong romance-aholics. Jacqueline Hamilton grew up believing that life should always have a happy ending. Being a military brat, she has lived in some of the most romantic places in the world. An almost lawyer, Jackie decided to chuck it all, live her dream and become a writer. Miriam Pace grew up believing in fairy tales. She found her Prince Charming and has been married to him for thirty-seven years. Now a granny, she is reading fairy tales to her grandson.

CALIFORNIA
CHRISTMAS
DREAMS

J. M. Jeffries

Dear Reader,

Who doesn’t love roller coasters, carousels and waterslides? Theme parks have become a staple for entertainment and family fun, from the start of a theme park legacy in California to the mighty roller-coaster extravaganzas people love to fear.

I hope you enjoy Jake and Merry’s story as they find a way to bring a run-down amusement park back to life while facing both emotional challenges and personal choices. From romantic rides on the carousel to walks on the beach, Jake and Merry discover finding love is the greatest roller-coaster ride of all.

Much love,

Jackie and Miriam

J. M. Jeffries

Acknowledgments

Shannon Criss, thank you for believing in J. M. Jeffries.
Also, thank you to the wonderful, wonderful people at
Harlequin who work so hard for romance.

To Mark, who is fighting the good fight.

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Epilogue

Chapter 1

M
eredith Alcott sat stiffly in the HR director’s office, wondering what lurked behind Susan Moran’s smile. Susan was impeccably dressed in a platinum-gray suit and pink blouse, and had a pin in the shape of a turtle on the lapel of her jacket. Tully the Turtle, Susan’s favorite animated character, seemed to be waving at her, but Merry didn’t feel like waving back.

Susan’s straight hair was carefully brushed to one side and braided to hang down over her shoulder. Merry always felt a little grubby in Susan’s presence. Today was no different, no matter that she’d carefully styled her curly black hair and was wearing her most stylish black silk pantsuit.

Almost every surface in Susan’s office was decorated with Tully the Turtle memorabilia—from the huge turtle clock on the wall to the dainty watch on her wrist. Tully the Turtle had been Bernard and William Chapman’s original animated character and had made a fortune for the two men and their family. Enough that they could build their own studios and eventually their tie-in theme park.

Like Merry, Susan had been a child actress for Chapman Brothers Studios. The brothers took care of all their employees, even the child actors who’d grown up and left acting.

“I’ve been with the Chapman Brothers since I was a child, Susan,” Merry said patiently. “This is the second opening in the studio’s design department I’ve applied for in the past five years, and the second time I’ve been turned down. I would like to know why.” Merry gave a polite smile even as she dreaded the answer. In the back of her mind, she always wondered if she wasn’t good enough.
Nonsense,
she told herself sternly. She was good enough, but the nagging little doubt remained.

Susan straightened the pens lined up on the side of her desk. Everything about Susan was neat and tidy despite the clutter of her office. “Your credentials are impeccable and we appreciate your loyalty, but Lisa Chapman just graduated from college.” Susan paused, letting the information hang in the air. Then she sighed. “I take orders, too, and I’m so sorry you’re unhappy.” A look of regret passed over her face. She reached for a business card and a pencil, and started to write.

Merry nodded politely, swallowing her disappointment. She wanted to throw a good old-fashioned hissy fit: roll on the ground and scream and cry. Then she’d get fired, go broke and lose her house. She, her shoes and her cat would be homeless. That was a bit of an exaggeration; she did have money set aside. Thank goodness for residuals. But not even the residuals were enough to pay her mortgage and keep her in organic food. “Thank you, Susan, for talking to me.”

“I know you’re disappointed,” Susan said, adding something else to the business card in front of her. “This is the contact information for John Walters. He owns the Citrus Grove Entertainment Center in Riverside. I’ll be honest with you. Management is going to keep you dangling for another five years. And there’s no guarantee that the next opening that comes available will go to you. Maybe it’s time you made a change. Call this man and talk to him.”

Merry accepted the card, hiding her surprise. She put it in her pocket, stood up and smiled as cordially as she could. “I appreciate that,” she said. Then she turned and left the large, airy office.

In the parking garage, Merry leaned against her brand-new Prius hybrid car, trying not to cry. August heat swirled around her, making her silk blouse stick to her back. Lisa Chapman was family, and Merry understood that. But what about Merry? The Chapman brothers prized loyalty, and she’d been loyal. Giving the job she’d worked for to Lisa hurt. Did fresh-out-of-college Lisa Chapman know more about designing sets than Merry did?

When she’d heard that Eric Sloan was retiring, she’d bought a new car because she knew she was next in line to head the set-design department. She would get away from working in the theme park and move back into the TV-and-movie division, which would give her more opportunities.

She stroked the sexy, white, gas-efficient Prius for a moment, eyes closed, refusing to give in to her disappointment. The Chapman brothers knew how fleeting fame could be. As each child actor had grown up and out of the roles they played, they’d been given a place behind the scenes. Those who’d leveraged their abilities into full-blown acting careers had eventually left to continue their lives. Merry had stayed, and now she wondered why. The Chapmans had rewarded her loyalty by giving away the job she coveted to one of their own family, even though Lisa’s degree was so new the ink wasn’t dry. She’d interned at the park under Merry and had mentioned she’d wanted the job. Sure, she’d work for a salary half of what Merry would command, but that didn’t make it fair. Merry had been faithful to the Chapman brothers, but they hadn’t reciprocated.

She opened her car door and slid into the stuffy interior. She started the motor and waited for the air conditioner to spit out cold air before she put the thing in gear and headed back to Redlands. As much as she loved working for the Chapman Brothers theme park, she had the feeling she would never get out of it. She wanted more than just being told what to do and occasionally adding suggestions for the design of the rides, the seasonal display changes and the floral arrangements surrounding the ticket booths. She wanted more creative input. She didn’t want to be a gofer forever.

Just before she threw the car in gear, her phone rang. “Hi, Noelle.”

“Are we drinking, or are we shoe shopping?” her sister asked.

“We’re drinking,” Merry answered. Shoe shopping was the victory dance.

“Monkey nuts!” Noelle said. “What happened?”

“They gave the job to a relative who just graduated from University of California, Riverside.” Saying the words out loud upset her all over again. Merry had started working for the studio two days after her seventh birthday, appearing as an extra on a number of series before landing the role of Maddie Jefferson’s best friend. She’d loved working on
Maddie’s Mad World,
but she’d wanted to be the star of her own show. And now she was still stuck being second banana, which was why she’d left acting at eighteen to attend UCLA’s design school. She was a talented set designer, and she wanted to put those talents to use. Some people worked for a mouse, some for a duck and she worked for a turtle that seemed to move backward more often than forward.

“What are you going to do?” Noelle asked.

“I’m going to come over to your house after work, think about my options and drink all of your tequila.” She fingered the card Susan had given her. It had one name on it, John Walters, and his phone number. She’d heard about Citrus Grove Park. She’d even gone once to check it out, but hadn’t been impressed. The park was aging and showing its unadorned bones. It needed a face-lift and a Botox injection.

“I’ll make guacamole and put clean sheets on the spare bed,” Noelle said.

“I should be there around eight-thirty,” Merry replied and disconnected.

She put the Prius in gear and pulled out of the garage onto hot Burbank Street.

* * *

Jacob Walters sat in his office overlooking Hollywood Boulevard. Nineteen-year-old Annie Gray sat in front of him, her legs curled up under her, a kittenish, wide-eyed smile on her elfin face. She had a fey, waiflike look, as well as an atrocious sense of style. Today she wore pink shorts, a yellow shirt with some sort of odd design on it and purple lipstick. Her brown hair, pulled into an untidy braid, was streaked with dark pink and orange. Thick black liner around her blue eyes made her look like a raccoon.

BOOK: california christmas dreams
11.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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