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Keep Me at Christmas

Keep Me at Christmas

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  • 167 Pages
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  • 51K Words
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She's only passing through. He's not ready for love. Can the magic of the season keep them together beyond Christmas?

Luciana Romano has landed her dream job in Hudson Springs working on a museum restoration project. It's across the ocean in New York, but will end just in time for her to fly home to Portugal for Christmas. Not that she's excited to spend another holiday with everyone in her family asking why she's single. But a romance in America is the last thing she's looking for, especially with work taking up all her time.

Jack DiLorenzo is struggling to get in the Christmas spirit, and being dumped at the alter shortly after his father's death hasn't helped. His family's Italian café feels more like a burden with each passing day, yet duty won't let him quit. When an unexpected blizzard leaves Luciana snowbound, Jack's family offers her a place to stay—and a family to celebrate Christmas with.

As Jack and Luciana explore Hudson Springs' annual Christmas festival, sleigh ride in the snow, and enjoy baked goods from Jack's Nonna, they find themselves more attracted to each other—and more entranced by the magic of the small town. Can a Christmas miracle help their new relationship weather the long distance?

If you like sweet Christmas stories set in a small town, with a reluctant hero and a stranded heroine, you'll love this fresh take on a romantic classic! Unforgettable stories of family, love, and learning where you belong. Discover Northern Portugal with the Romano cousins as they fall in love when they least expect it! Perfect for fans of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Virgin River, and Chesapeake Shores!

Main Tropes

  • small town Christmas
  • snow storm stranded
  • meddling family

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Synopsis

She's only passing through. He's not ready for love. Can the magic of the season keep them together beyond Christmas?

Luciana Romano has landed her dream job in Hudson Springs working on a museum restoration project. It's across the ocean in New York, but will end just in time for her to fly home to Portugal for Christmas. Not that she's excited to spend another holiday with everyone in her family asking why she's single. But a romance in America is the last thing she's looking for, especially with work taking up all her time.

Jack DiLorenzo is struggling to get in the Christmas spirit, and being dumped at the alter shortly after his father's death hasn't helped. His family's Italian café feels more like a burden with each passing day, yet duty won't let him quit. When an unexpected blizzard leaves Luciana snowbound, Jack's family offers her a place to stay—and a family to celebrate Christmas with.

As Jack and Luciana explore Hudson Springs' annual Christmas festival, sleigh ride in the snow, and enjoy baked goods from Jack's Nonna, they find themselves more attracted to each other—and more entranced by the magic of the small town. Can a Christmas miracle help their new relationship weather the long distance?

If you like sweet Christmas stories set in a small town, with a reluctant hero and a stranded heroine, you'll love this fresh take on a romantic classic! Unforgettable stories of family, love, and learning where you belong. Discover Northern Portugal with the Romano cousins as they fall in love when they least expect it! Perfect for fans of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Virgin River, and Chesapeake Shores!

Intro into Chapter One

Monday, December 11th
Hudson Springs, New York.


Luciana Romano looked out the car’s window. The first sunrays hadn’t made their appearance, yet the small town was dressed in light and color. Christmas Day was two weeks away and she had never seen so many decorations and string lights. Even the car service she rode from the airport to the museum had a Santa Claus bobble-head perched on the dashboard. His fat rosy cheeks and perma-smile bobbed in time with his nodding head. The corner of her mouth rose as well.
She turned her attention back to the charming streets. She had worked in European museums before, but this was her first time in the United States, and the contrast was palpable. An altered kind of energy strummed through her—everything was different here, and she was ready to embrace the change and experience new things.
A soft gasp escaped her lips at the beautiful scenery and the appeal of the small town. Her lips upturned, unable to hold back the grin forming on her face. As the car rolled through Hudson Springs, Luciana’s excitement grew. Any lingering doubts she had about this trip slowly fizzled out.
As the driver took her to her destination, more and more of the little town revealed itself. She would be spending Christmas here, away from her family for the first time. The Romanos always got together for the season, with very few exceptions. The guilt for leaving on business during the holiday season still gnawed at her more often than she wanted, but she’d needed to get away from all the wedding preparations. With two cousins getting married—one of them only three weeks away— bridal showers, wedding dress shopping trips, cake tasting, and venue visits were all inevitable, as were the happy sighs and starstruck eyes. Her cousins talking about the people they had fallen in love with was only natural. But as happy as she was for Catarina and Matias, there was only so much a single woman could take.
Was it jealousy? Maybe a little. Luciana wanted that kind of happiness for herself. She wanted a forever kind of love with a man who would love her with all his heart—someone who would feel like home to her. Because, right now, she was the odd woman out, the one without a pair. Loneliness was real.
Luciana settled a hand over her middle and pushed down the nerves. She had two weeks to finish a restoration job that someone else had started before getting sick. Her work day needed to start early—there wouldn’t be much time for sightseeing. But coming to Hudson Springs was the distraction she’d needed. And the town was the most charming she’d ever seen.
“Wow,” she said, wide eyed. “It’s like a Christmas postcard.”
The driver looked at her in the rear view mirror and smiled. “Indeed it is. Hudson Springs is famous for its obsession with all things Christmas. You’ve arrived right in the middle of the festival. How long are you staying for?”
“I’m leaving on December twenty-seventh in the late evening.”
“You’re going to love Christmas here,” the man said with a definitive tone in his voice.
“I have no doubts.” She already loved it.
Passing the season here involved in something she absolutely loved was the best cure for her lonely heart. Didn’t Avó Teresa used to say that focusing on others’ problems was a sure way to see your own in a better light? Luciana was here to help the Hudson Springs Museum finish readying the display, and that would keep her plenty busy.
The museum board had first contacted her in August, but at the time, she’d had too many other projects going on. She’d heard from them again on December fifth, begging her to take the project after their textile manager had stepped away on account of sudden illness. By then, Luciana had been ready for a change, and she’d gladly accepted the invitation.
Her family hadn’t been too happy about her leaving two weeks before Christmas, but this was one of those times when she had to do something for herself without long explanations. They wouldn’t have understood her need to get away, and she hadn’t wanted to deal with the guilt. She’d be back in time for Catarina’s wedding, and by then she hoped she’d be feeling less morose.
The car came to a gentle stop in front of a two story building close to downtown. She’d researched Hudson Springs before leaving Lisbon, had looked it up on Google Maps, and she remembered the building from the photos, even if it was a little dark in the pre-morning light.
The excitement bubbled in her chest and she smiled again. Her first day of work in the new assignment awaited her. She found her wallet and paid for the fare, adding a tip.
“They won’t be open for a couple hours or more,” the driver said. “Are you sure you don’t want me to drop you off somewhere else?”
Luciana hesitated. She rolled down the window halfway and peered at the building. Other than the Christmas lights decorating the outside, the inside was dark and locked. Her reservation at the local inn had a late check-in, since she’d planned to start with work first. This was what happened when she changed her flight reservations at the last minute—she’d arrived in Hudson Springs too early. What was she going to do until then?
“Are you from around here?” she asked the man.
“Yes, I am.” He smiled at her. “I pick up a lot of people from the airport for Mr. Garrison.” He looked to be in his early forties.
Mr. Garrison owned the Hudson Springs Museum, but she had dealt with the curator through emails and phone calls, not the owner.
“Do you know of any good places that are open for breakfast?” She asked.
“I know just the place.”
He weaved through a side street and turned onto Main Street where rows of one- and two-story buildings with store fronts lined up on both sides, most of them closed at this time of day. The whole street was merrily decorated in tones of green, gold, and red, and thousands of twinkle lights shone brightly.
Luciana stared for a few moments, her mouth opened. She had no other words.
“We decorate the whole town from December eighth until Epiphany. But wait until you see our festival. It starts on Thursday. Okay, here we are.” He stopped in front of a building with a red awning. He exited the car, grabbed Luciana’s luggage from the trunk, and placed it on the sidewalk. “Tell Jack DiLorenzo ‘hi’ from Frank.”
“Thank you, Frank,” Luciana replied.
She settled the small suitcase in front of her on the sidewalk and shouldered her large purse. As the cold nipped at her neck, she wound her knit scarf closer. DiLorenzo’s ~ Italian Bakery and Café. The main door stood to the right and the front window spanned the width of the establishment. It looked promising and it smelled divine.
Her stomach rumbled, reminding her she hadn’t eaten much since the night before.
Luciana pushed through the door. When she stepped inside, a wave of warmth enveloped her like a soft cashmere blanket, the sweet smell of baked goods adding to the contentment. Propping the suitcase next to her leg, she tugged off her knitted gloves and smiled, taking in the space before her.
Small round tables with marble tops dotted the floor, half of them filled with patrons, and a long wood bar flanked the side wall where customers stood in line. A refrigerated glass display followed the length next to the counter, all dark wood and shiny chrome. Pops of red, gold, and greenery dotted the room, and a small, decorated tree sat on a sideboard against the wall by the door. The layout reminded her of her favorite café in Lisbon, and she was instantly attracted to the European ambiance.
From the little she’d read online before leaving, the small town of Hudson Springs was proud of its heritage. The town history boasted a past full of English, Irish, and Italian immigrants. An Italian café blended right in. Maybe she’d be back again in the next few days.
She approached the counter and eyed her choices while she awaited her turn in line. A dark-haired man stood with his back to her at the espresso machine, and two ladies were busy fulfilling bakery orders and breakfast items. The family resemblance between the women was uncanny, the older woman clearly the mother of the younger one. They smiled and talked to most customers like they were old friends, and occasionally talked to each other in a language that sounded like Italian. Luciana smiled to herself. They reminded her of Avó Teresa and her aunts when they worked in the kitchen; even their facial expressions and behavior were similar.
The older lady approached and smiled. “Buon giorno. Welcome to DiLorenzo’s. What can I get you this morning?”
Her English was heavily accented but otherwise clear to understand, and Luciana returned the cheery greeting. “Buon giorno.”
The lady’s smile widened and she replied in rapid Italian.
Luciana chuckled and shook her head. “I’m sorry. I really don’t speak Italian.”
“Ah, che pecatto. You look like you could be nice Italian girl.”
The person behind her in line huffed impatiently, and Luciana looked back to the menu. She settled on a mushroom and spinach panini with Gouda cheese on a ciabatta roll, a chocolate pastry, and a tall capuccino.
The lady ringing her tab handed Luciana a plate with the pastry, and Luciana found a place to sit by the window. Her drink was ready within minutes and a college-age young woman brought it over.
Luciana removed her coat and scarf and sat back, sipping her cappuccino and taking little bites of the delicious pastry. She closed her eyes in appreciation of the rich flavors of the pastry and deep aroma of the drink, grateful for a few minutes to eat while she waited for the museum to open.
“Here’s your breakfast,” a deep voice said beside her.
It wasn’t the young waitress. The tall, dark-haired man she’d seen before set down a plate with her warm sandwich. Like the others working at the café, he wore black jeans and a red shirt with the bakery’s logo. He held her gaze for a moment and Luciana returned the eye contact. His smile was impersonal, almost practiced, but his dark brown eyes had a depth of expression that hinted to a strong personality. He looked to be in his early thirties, the kind of man she would like to sit down with for a long dinner and talk to into the night.
The thought surprised her.
“Thank you.” She kept her gaze straight on him. “You must be Jack?”
His eyes widened. “How do you—?”
“Frank said to tell you ‘hi’.”
He kept watching her and cocked his head to the side, still holding her gaze.
He blinked. “Yeah, Frank. Of course.” His shoulders relaxed, and he extended his hand toward her. “I’m Jack DiLorenzo. Welcome.”
Luciana shook his hand and when their fingers touched, Jack frowned slightly, which she hoped was more in surprise than displeasure. The contact sent tingles up her arm, and that was definitely unexpected. When was the last time shaking a man’s hand had made her pause and think?
The two ladies appeared at his elbow, smiling, and the man looked sideways at them.
The younger one addressed Luciana. “Welcome to DiLorenzo’s. I’m Paola. And you are?”
Luciana started to rise when they quickly took the seats around her, then gestured to her chair, and she sat back down. “My name’s Luciana Romano.”
The older woman grinned. “Ah, Romano is a good Italian name. Where are you from?”
“I’m from Portugal, but I’m not sure where the surname comes from.” It did sound like an Italian name, as the lady said. It was possible Luciana’s grandparents knew about the family name’s origins; she’d have to ask them when she returned.
“If you’re staying in town for a few days, you need to visit the festival,” Paola said. “This is my mother Giovanna and Jack, my oldest.”
The older lady smiled. “Jack can take you around and show you the festival. He knows it well.”
Luciana glanced at Jack. He didn’t agree to do it, but he didn’t say he wouldn’t do it either. His expression was rather neutral, as if he was used to being offered up for this kind of activity. Or maybe it wasn’t the first time he was set up for unsuspecting dates with out-of-town women.
Just then a group of customers entered the café and made their way to the counter.
Jack’s lips rose in a half-smile. “It was nice meeting you, Luciana.”
“You too, Jack.”
He nodded and returned to his position behind the counter.
Jack’s mother, Paola, retrieved a pen from her apron pocket. “What’s your phone number? Just in case.”
Luciana eyed the pen. Paola’s son probably wouldn’t appreciate what his mother was doing, but it wouldn’t hurt to give her number and accept the invitation. Luciana was only in town for a couple of weeks, and with such a charming place, she wouldn’t say no to a cute guy showing her around.
She gave them her number, and they excused themselves when another group of customers came in through the door.
Luciana caught Jack once watching her from behind the counter, but he quickly averted his eyes. He didn’t come out from his position again and instead called the young waiter to deliver the orders to the tables.
Once done with her food, Luciana stood and donned her wool coat, then shouldered her purse and grabbed the handle of her bag.
Paola waved at her. “Thank you for coming.”
Luciana waved back and smiled. Just as she approached the door to leave, she glanced back and Jack turned to look at her at the same time. His expression relaxed and the corner of his mouth rose in a small smile. The exchange was brief, only a few seconds at most, but it happened nonetheless. And, as Luciana started walking back to the museum, it remained in her mind.
When she arrived at the staff entrance, an older man was waiting for her.
“Miss Romano?” The man extended his hand. “Welcome to the Hudson Springs Museum. I’m Augustus Wynthrop. I’m glad you could come to help us.”
Luciana took his hand and smiled. “Mr. Wynthrop, thank you. I’m so glad to be here and finally meet you.” They’d exchanged lots of emails in the month before.
This project excited her. She’d been hired to finish the restoration and make ready for exhibition a small collection of knitwear from the turn of the century.
She followed him to the back of the building, and he showed her to the room where she would be working. A row of large windows facing north covered one wall, with a high counter running beneath. Plenty of natural light and working surfaces. Perfect.
A young man approached from the corner.
“This is Oliver Kerrison,” Mr. Wynthrop said. “He’ll be your assistant for the duration of the project.”
Oliver shook Luciana’s hand. “Anything you need, Miss Romano, just let me know.”
“Thank you. I will.” She usually worked alone, but she wasn’t opposed to having an assistant, especially with the scope of this project.
The morning went by too quickly. After being shown the textile collection in the room next to the workshop, Luciana spent time with each individual knit garment for a preliminary assessment of its current condition. This was a crucial part of her job. Rushing it would only result in mistakes she couldn’t afford, costing extra time she didn’t have.
The collection was not as large as she had anticipated. It contained women’s shawls and fingerless gloves; baby bonnets and rompers; men’s sweaters, cardigans, and socks. It was a practical assortment—a sample of utilitarian garments worn by immigrant working families in the late eighteen hundreds. The only exception was the inclusion of a beautiful bridal lace veil, knit with pure virgin white wool spun very thinly. It was the kind of piece to be the main attraction, and Luciana intended to give it the special honor it deserved in the exhibit.
The condition of the items varied by type and age, and some only needed a gentle wash and proper dry-blocking techniques. Others showed the passage of time, well-worn and well-loved as they were. Although the scope of the project was more manageable than what she thought it might be, the time-consuming tasks that each piece required wouldn’t leave Luciana with much extra time for herself. Unfortunately, this was, often, a consequence over which she didn’t have much control—traveling to exciting places and not being able to explore them.
Before leaving for lunch, she sat down to plan her list of special materials, supplies, and tools needed. She’d sent on ahead her small trunk that traveled with her to all assignments, and contained most of what she needed as far as tools. She hoped the rest would not be too hard to come by. Within minutes, the list was printed, and she passed it to Oliver, who hopefully would give it to the right people. Maybe she should take a tour after lunch and find out how many people worked there.
The museum was small, but Luciana had faith she’d have everything she asked for by the end of the day. The sooner she had it, the sooner she could start the work, and then return home in time for Catarina’s wedding.
As picturesque as Hudson Springs was, nothing would hold her interest once she was done with the restoration work.

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