Sea Stars Christmas by Annie M. Ballard @xpressotours #giveaway

Sea Stars Christmas
Annie M. Ballard
Publication date: October 10th 2023
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Holiday, Romance

Mackenzie and Declan need a miracle. Or two.

Mackenzie wants to belong – to Declan, her boyfriend, and to Stella Mare, her new Canadian home. Putting on the village’s first-ever Sea Stars Festival at Christmas will help, but it must be perfect. She can’t risk making a mistake.

Declan can’t commit – except to his writing career. Much as he loves Mackenzie and teaching at the high school, he dreams of moving to the city as a successful novelist. In the meantime, he’s producing his first-ever play.

Pulled in different directions, a distance grows between them as the play and festival near. Emotions flare amid twinkling lights while personalities clash, equipment fails, and people fall short. They need a miracle. Or two.

Crusty villagers with a past, problem principals, an errant Santa all do their part as Christmas spirit blooms in the village. Come home to Stella Mare, as Mackenzie and Declan explore what it means to belong – to a village and to each other.

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EXCERPT:

Mackenzie yanked open the car door, barely noticing the cold metal on her hands. This place. Why did she still feel like an outsider? It didn’t help to have local business owners griping about her. Well, to be fair, it was only a few, but they were loud.

Of course things felt unfamiliar when you start over, especially moving to Canada as she had, but she thought it would get better. Getting a job, a house and her dear boyfriend Declan hadn’t given her a place in the wider community. People still made comments and she couldn’t feel her roots. Sometimes it even felt like her life wasn’t real. Right this minute, though, she felt entirely real and entirely stressed. Difficult meetings did that to her. She sat in her cold car, gripping the wheel as she stared into space. Was this new project even possible?

What a stupid idea.

Okay, it was her idea. That didn’t mean it wasn’t stupid. She’d dreamed it up, a holiday festival to highlight the little village she loved. She imagined visitors marveling at the architecture, the charming shops, and the excellent restaurants, all wrapped in Christmas cheer. Magda Allen, chair of the Village Marketing Group, had run with the vision. Despite the naysayers, the group voted it in. Now it was up to Mackenzie to make it happen. In three weeks. Yes, a stupid idea.

A shiny Volvo swept up and Magda grandly gestured for her to put her car window down.

“Good job getting folks on board!” her sort-of boss said cheerily.

Mackenzie wrinkled her forehead. “Who? You heard the complaints. Those people don’t like outsiders. Estelle and Josiah especially.”

“Well, maybe,” Magda admitted, “but most people really liked it. The hotel people, the chocolate guy. The restaurant folks.”

“I guess.” Mackenzie tended to remember the negative bits.

“Some people don’t like change. Don’t worry about it,” Magda advised.

“When they complain about people from away it’s hard not to take it personally,” she said darkly.

“Estelle doesn’t like anybody,” Magda confirmed, “so it’s not about you. Besides, they voted, and you got a green light.”

We did, not me. I’m an online marketer,“ she reminded her. “I don’t do in-person, talk-to-people-I-don’t-know stuff.”

“You’ll do fine,” Magda enthused. “It’s going to be fun and bring in business. The Sea Stars Festival will be the best festival ever in Stella Mare.”

“Because it’s the first,” Mackenzie objected.

“And that’s good enough,” Magda said. “Keep connected. Let me know what I can do.” Arm waving merrily out the window, she drove off.

Mackenzie could hardly fathom such confidence. If she did, then she could imagine Water Street full of lights and greenery, a parade with floats, bands, even Santa, and happy families watching. Maybe it wasn’t such a reach.

It was even possible organizing this festival could help her get connected to this community. Hope bloomed in her chest, but then she recalled the grim faces of the naysayer and her heart sank again. She wasn’t Magda, endlessly optimistic.

Remembering Josiah’s glare didn’t help, so she tried to shake it off while heading home. She wished she could unload her worries on Declan, but he was always busy. Teaching, writing, and, now, producing his play at the high school consumed his time. Besides, he was at work. She’d have to wait her turn for his attention.

Author Bio:

Annie M. Ballard writes about women and family ties in the small villages that feel like home. With one foot in the Canadian Maritimes and the other in New England, she digs deep into the lives of her characters. When she’s not writing, she’s happily baking, gardening, powerlifting and trying to make friends with every dog in her neighbourhood.

Annie’s stories include strong women living real lives, good men trying to do better, and always a happy ending.

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