COMING SEPTEMBER 28, 2021
List Price: $19.99
From the New York Times bestselling author of Hello, Summer comes a novella celebrating the magic of Christmas and second chances.
When newly-divorced Ivy Perkins buys an old farmhouse sight unseen, she is definitely looking for a change in her life. The Four Roses, as the farmhouse is called, is a labor of love—but Ivy didn’t bargain on just how much labor.
Among the left possessions Ivy finds a Santa suit—beautifully made and decades old. In the pocket of the suit she finds a note: it’s from a little girl who has one Christmas wish, and that is for her father to return home from the war. The note sets Ivy off on a mission only to discover she might find more than she ever thought possible: a welcoming town, a family reunited, a mystery solved, and a second chance at love.
“There it is!” Ivy Perkins pointed at the weather-beaten sign hanging from a dented mailbox nearly obscured by a stand of overgrown dead shrubbery. “Four Roses Farm, Punkin. See it?”
She slowed the Volvo carefully, mindful of the sheets of black ice covering the road.
Punkin barely raised his muzzle from the passenger seat. He’d been dozing since they’d passed through Charlotte, where the steady rain had transitioned to sleet, lulled to sleep by the rhythmic swishing of the windshield wipers and the cheery Christmas music streaming from the Volvo’s radio.
The farmhouse driveway was more potholes than paving, and as the car bumped slowly up the narrow stretch, Ivy was adding “new driveway” to the list of home improvements she’d been mentally composing since departing Atlanta in the pre-dawn gloom.
Her heart began to race as the house came into view. There was the front porch she’d been dreaming of. Complete with a row of rockers! Four narrow brick chimneys rose from the corners of the single-story wood-frame house, which meant four fireplaces. Ever since she’d spotted the house in the online real estate listings, she’d been picturing herself seated in front of a cozy fire, in the parlor, sipping hot cider. Okay, to be honest, she pictured herself sipping a good Cabernet. Punkin’s bed would be pulled close to the hearth. She would start listening to classical music. And learn to knit. Or crochet. Maybe both.
As she got closer, she noticed the porch seemed to—no, it definitely did have a major sag in the middle that hadn’t shown up in the online photographs. And that white paint? Unless the light here was very bad, the color that best came to mind was more curdled buttermilk than white. But all of her online search engine words had very specifically consisted of “old” and “white” and “farmhouse.”
She added “paint” to the list of home improvements.
The bumpy ride roused Punkin from his nap. He was sitting up now, alert, tail thumping on the leather upholstery.
She glanced over at him. “What do you think, Punkin? Not really white, but it’s definitely old, and since we have almost two acres of land, I’d call that a farmhouse, wouldn’t you?”
He thumped his tail again. She would take that as a yes.
Ever since the divorce, she’d taken to talking out loud to the mostly English setter rescue. And not just “good boy” when Punkin completed his business on their walks, or an occasional “who wants a treat?” No, she was having full-on, meaningful conversations with a dog. An exceptionally intelligent, intuitive dog, but still …
The driveway ended abruptly in front of a small red structure with more peeling paint. “Look, Punkin!” Ivy squealed. “There it is. Our barn! We have an honest-to-goodness barn!”
Parked directly in front of the barn was a black Jeep. And leaning against the hood of the Jeep was a lanky man dressed in jeans, boots, and a plaid lumberjack-type coat. “Who’s this?”
Punkin let out a low-throated grrr.
She pulled up in front of the Jeep and got out.
“Hi,” she said, eyeing the stranger warily.
He had thick butterscotch-colored hair sticking out from beneath a baseball cap and the beginnings of a beard, and he didn’t seem at all fazed by her presence here. “Hey there,” he said lazily, not bothering to move.
“Can I help you?” Ivy said.
“That depends.” He was looking at her car, which was packed to the roof with her belongings. Punkin was straining, scratching at the window.
“Depends on what?” she asked impatiently. She would not be intimidated by this intruder.
He held out a ring of keys. “On whether or not you’re Ivy Perkins. If you are, I thought you might want the keys to your new house.”
“Oh.” Ivy looked around the yard, which was decidedly more bedraggled looking than the real estate listing photos. “I was expecting the real estate agent.”
“You got him.”
“Wait. You’re Ezra Wheeler?”
All of her communications with the agent had been conducted through emails or text messages. Ivy had pictured a kindly white-haired gentleman in a bow tie and sweater-vest. Not this …
“You were expecting some old geezer, right? Nobody under the age of seventy is named Ezra these days. What can I say? My mom thought she was birthing a sea captain.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Ivy said. “So. This is Four Roses Farm.”
“What happened to all the hollyhocks? And the delicate pink roses clambering over the porch railing and the blue hydrangeas?”
“The pictures from the real estate listings. Everything in those photos looked so lush and green and vibrant.” She gestured at the brown, stubbled yard and the colorless, skeletal bushes. “I don’t even see one rosebush, let alone four.”
He rolled his eyes. “Those photos were taken in the summer. When the house was first listed. And now, it’s winter. Win-ter.”
Ivy didn’t like his patronizing tone. Like he was explaining the seasons to a toddler.“Also, the Four Roses is a reference to the owners—well, former owners now—Bob and Betty Rae Rose, and their two daughters, Sandi and Emily Rose. Get it? Four Roses.”
“I thought the seller’s name was James Heywood,” Ivy said.
“Yes,” Ezra said. “James Heywood’s late wife was Sandi Rose Heywood, who inherited this place from her parents, Bob and Betty Rae, who are now deceased. I guess those were roses growing on the porch railing, but since it’s December, I’m thinking they’re, like, hibernating or something. I’m no gardener, so I can’t be sure. Okay? Are we good?” He glanced at his watch, signaling his eagerness to be done with this annoying buyer.
“Fine,” Ivy said, holding out her hand for the keys.
“I’ll have to unlock the front door for you,” Wheeler said. “The lock is old, like the house, and it’s kind of tricky.”
“Thanks, anyway. But I’m sure I can somehow muddle through a lock all by myself,” Ivy said, her tone deliberately frosty.
“Suit yourself,” he said, shrugging. “Congrats on the house, by the way. I left you a little housewarming gift on the kitchen counter.”
* * *
As soon as she opened the Volvo’s passenger door, Punkin was off like a shot. He raced to one of the bushes bordering the porch and christened it before returning to Ivy’s side as she dragged a suitcase up the porch steps.
The first thing she noticed about the porch itself was that the worn floorboards seemed to bounce slightly with every step she took. Did that mean she had foundation issues? She sighed and for the first time felt a twinge of regret that she hadn’t actually toured the 106-year-old farmhouse in person before making her offer.
There were six keys on the ring Ezra Wheeler had handed her, none of which was labeled. Ivy tried four different keys until she finally managed to fit a black, old-timey-looking skeleton key into the front door lock. She held the egg-shaped doorknob firmly in her left hand and managed to make a quarter turn with the key. She turned the knob, but the door didn’t budge. She pushed against the doorframe, sending a shower of pale blue paint flakes down the front of her jeans. Nothing.
Ivy tried jiggling the lock and jiggling the door. She walked completely around the house, trying keys in four more doors, to no avail. She peered in a window at the back of the house, into the kitchen, but the glass was wavy and blackened with grime, so she only got a glimpse of a kitchen sink and a small wooden table and chairs.
“Come on, Punkin,” she said, heading back around to the front of the house. She pulled her phone from her jacket pocket.
“Looks like we’re gonna give Ezra a call and admit defeat.”
* * *
Five minutes later, the Jeep was jouncing down the driveway.
“That didn’t take long,” Ivy said as he joined her on the front porch.
“I was just waiting down at the crossroads,” he said, giving her a sheepish grin. “And I did try to warn you. That lock really is the dickens to open.”
He grasped the doorknob firmly, inserted the lock into the key, jiggled it a moment, then slowly turned the key to the left. As the tumblers finally clicked, he rammed his shoulder against the door, muscling it open.
“You turn it to the left?” Ivy was indignant. “You could have told me that.”
“Would you have believed me?” He picked up her suitcase and gestured for her to enter the house.
Ivy paused. She’d been waiting for this moment for nine months. This day, the day she took possession of her dream farmhouse, was no accident. It was intentional. Nine months ago, to the day, her divorce from Kyle had been final.
She’d made an intentional decision to start a new life in a new town in a new state, but in an old house.
Ivy wasn’t sure she wanted to start her new life in the company of this stranger, no matter how helpful he was trying to be.
Ezra looked back at her, puzzled. “Aren’t you coming in? I thought I’d show you the house.”
She took a deep breath and stepped over the threshold with Punkin close behind.
* * *
Ivy looked around the living area. The old pine floors were scarred but beautiful to her. The fireplace, with an oak mantelpiece and mottled tile surround, was just the same as in the listing photos.
She lifted a dusty sheet from what turned out to be a large, lumpy plaid sofa straight out of The Brady Bunch.
“What’s with all this?” she asked, gesturing at the matching plaid recliner. “There was nothing in the contract about me buying the place furnished.”
“Yeah, about that,” Ezra said, looking sheepish. “James’s kids only wanted a couple of pieces of their granddad’s furniture, so he decided at the last minute to leave it all for the buyer.”
“You mean he decided to dump all this old crap on me,” Ivy said, her voice sounding harsher than she’d intended.
“Never mind,” she said quickly. “I’ve been up since four and it’s been a long day already. It’s just that my movers will be here Monday with all my stuff.”
“I get it,” Ezra said. “I did tell James you probably wouldn’t want any of this. I can get a truck and a couple guys over here in the next couple of days, and if you want, it can all be donated to charity.”
She walked into the kitchen. The cabinets were dated, but serviceable. The stove and refrigerator were a recent vintage. But all of it, she decided, would eventually have to go.
“Everything works,” Ezra said quickly. “I had the power changed over to your name, like you asked, and the water’s hooked up too.”
“Thanks for that,” Ivy said. Her mind was racing with additions to her list of improvements.
He trailed her into the hallway off the living room. “The master bedroom’s at the back here,” he volunteered.
She nodded and opened the door. The bedroom was larger than she’d expected. The furniture was ugly, but serviceable.
“Okay,” she said quietly. “Okay.”
“Where were you expecting to sleep until your moving truck arrives?” Ezra asked.
“I’ve got a sleeping bag in the car,” Ivy said. She sat on the edge of the bed, and the springs wheezed loudly. “But I guess this’ll do until my own bed gets here.”
“Great,” Ezra said, sounding relieved. “Can I help you unload your car?”
She considered rejecting the offer. But she was tired, and the car was full, and she had a lot to do before the movers arrived.
“That’d be great,” she said.
* * *
Ezra Wheeler bent down and peered into the back of the Volvo, and Ivy was surprised to find herself checking him out. Cute butt. He lifted out a large cardboard carton that had a row of ventilation holes cut in the sides. A series of muffled peeps erupted.
Peep. Peep. Peeppeepeeeep …
She took the box from his arms. “These are the girls.” She lifted the box top, and the four fluffy chicks began scuttling around the straw she’d arranged in their makeshift carrier.
“Chickens? You brought chickens? From Atlanta?”
“Yes,” she said, feeling weirdly self-conscious. “I did. They’ll stay in the house where it’s warm for now, and then I’ll rig up a coop for them in the barn.”
Ezra brought in two more loads of her belongings while she settled the box of chicks in a corner of the kitchen, which, for now, seemed like the warmest place in the noticeably chilly house.
“I think this is all of it,” he said, bringing in an armload of her hanging clothes.
“Let’s take that into my bedroom,” Ivy said, leading him down the hall.
She opened the closet door and was startled by the sight of a tightly packed row of clothing: dresses, skirts, men’s shirts, and pants.
“Dammit,” she muttered. She grabbed a bunch of coat hangers and began tossing clothing onto the floor. Ezra followed her lead, and five minutes later the closet had been cleaned out.
Ivy stood with her hands on her hips, surveying the space. Like all the rooms in the house, the bedroom and the closet had ten-foot ceilings. There were two shelves above the clothes rod, and she spotted a box on the top shelf. She stood on her tiptoes but still couldn’t reach it.
“I can get it.” Ezra easily plucked the box off the shelf and showed it to her.
The box was wrapped in vintage Christmas wrapping paper featuring dancing elves and candy canes and Christmas trees, and it was tied with red satin ribbon.
Ivy placed the box on the bed, untied the ribbon, and opened the box. She lifted aside layers of yellowing tissue paper to reveal a folded red velvet jacket with a white fur collar.
She removed the jacket from the box, laying it on top of the chenille bedspread. Beneath it was a pair of trousers, in the same fabric, with white fur trimmings on the cuffs. Beneath that was a pair of soft black leather boots with large brass buckles.