Release date: November 21, 2016
Bennett Pontellier Watkins and Hélène-Louise Soileau had a secret, youthful love affair—until their mothers found out. Hélène-Louise, the housekeeper’s daughter, was sent to France to study lacemaking while a bereft Bennett drowned his sorrows on the beach with beer and sorority girls.
Eight years later, Hélène-Louise, now a master craftsman, owns a shop in Beauford, Tennessee, and teaches a series of workshops at the Cultural Arts Center in Merritt, where Bennett is the director. It isn’t long before they fall into each other’s arms once more.
But old patterns begin to re-emerge, and despite Bennett’s declarations of love, it’s clear to Hélène-Louise that he still has no intention of coming clean with his upper-crust parents about their relationship. Is she willing to give up everything she’s built for herself in Beauford for a man who may never see her as more than the hired help’s daughter?
Or will Christmastime in Merritt reveal love to be the greatest present of all?
Sensuality Level: Sensual
USA Today best-selling Alicia Hunter Pace is the writing team of Stephanie Jones and Jean Hovey.
Stephanie lives in Jasper, AL, where she teaches sixth grade. She is a native Alabamian who likes football, Civil War history, and people who follow the rules. She is happy to provide a list of said rules to anyone who needs them.
Jean, a former public librarian, lives in Decatur, AL, with her husband in a hundred-year-old house that always wants something from her. She likes to cook but has discovered the joy of Mrs. Paul’s fish fillets since becoming a writer.
An excerpt from Mistletoed in Merritt:
Almost without thinking, Bennett stepped into the room that held Hélène-Louise and kicked the door shut behind him.
“I don’t have your chocolate croissants.” The words that came out of his mouth surprised him, but they shouldn’t have. “I’ll bring you some croissants tomorrow” was the last thing he’d said to her that Thursday night eight years ago. He’d been studying for final exams and had called her from his fraternity house late to say good night. As usual, they talked way longer than they should have and said “I love you” fifteen times. Then he’d promised her the croissants and gone back to his business law review.
He could still remember gripping the white bakery box in his hands when he’d arrived at the house to find his mother there and Hélène-Louise and Leonie gone. Cecile hadn’t wasted time beating around the bush. She never had, still didn’t. Someone had told Leonie that she had seen Bennett sitting with Hélène-Louise at her French Market booth and they had been holding hands. According to Cecile, Leonie had watched them closely for a few days. When she didn’t like what she saw, she had called Cecile. Cecile had sent Hélène-Louise to France to study lacemaking. Leonie, who didn’t want Hélène-Louise to have any link at all to Bennett, had quit her job. But Bennett was not to worry, Cecile had hastened to add. She would take care of Leonie.
Bennett had gone from slow boil to fury, but Cecile had taken it in stride.
“Calmez-vous, Bennett,” she had said as if her command was going to cut through his anger. “You were toying with her. You may not know that, but you were. You were always going to do what is expected of you. If you want to go after Hélène-Louise, go. I’ll tell you where she is. But at the end of the day, you will have gone after a girl who chose to be paid off and left without telling you.”
“Cecile had been wrong and right—wrong that he’d been toying with Hélène-Louise, and, though she hadn’t known it, wrong that he was going to do what was expected of him: business administration and political science degrees from LSU, law school at Tulane, then on to the New Orleans branch of Pontellier-Watkins. It had given him pleasure, leaving LSU without taking his finals or graduating, making law school a moot point. As far the third expectation, he’d simply taken a different road.
But she had been right that Hélène-Louise had taken the money and run. He had never even asked where in France she was.
“He didn’t speak to his mother for over a year, but at his father’s urging, eventually relented. After all, she had only made the offer. Hélène-Louise had accepted it and never tried to contact him. And he’d waited for that, waited quite a while.
Now, here she stood. “Chocolate croissants?” She shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
“No. I guess you don’t.” She’d probably also forgotten that old movie they’d watched—he couldn’t remember the name—where the fraternity had sung underneath the window of a girl who was getting pinned. Hélène-Louise had been enchanted by that, had wanted to know if that still happened. He’d told her sometimes, but not as often as it used to. Pinning was serious business, and most people didn’t get serious that young anymore. But he’d been serious, and he’d been planning to make that happen for her—only he wasn’t going to fool around with a fraternity pin or have his fraternity brothers stand under her window. He was going to have her serenaded and give her an engagement ring at the graduation party that his mother was planning for him.
Of course, in the end, there was no ring no song, no party. No graduation either. By then, he’d been lying on a beach in Miami with his mother’s number blocked, drunk, and getting laid by any girl who wasn’t too much trouble.