|This full-length novel is Book 1|
of the Haunted Holiday Series
Bring It Back(list) Feature:
An excerpt from
The Holiday Spirit,
The Holiday Spirit,
a paranormal romance
by Dani Harper
by Dani Harper
Her backpack swung from one shoulder as they trudged through the snow. In reality, she did all the trudging. Galen was unimpeded by the drifted trails, and had insisted on carrying the saw “for safety’s sake.” He pointed out the merits of potential trees along the way, but none of them felt right to her.
Thirty minutes later he asked: “Are you sure you’re not just being picky? Because that last fir was a beauty. A perfect pyramid, and not a single bare spot anywhere.”
“I know, but it’s not appearance that counts.”
“Yeah, well, time counts. I don’t want you out here too long. You need to rest.”
“Hey, Mr. Bossypants, some things can’t be rushed!”
“See? Now you’re cranky.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to deny it, when she realized how childish that would sound—and how right he was. Good grief. Instead, she took a deep breath and explained: “I’m looking for something special, a tree that calls out to me because it knows that we need it.”
Galen stopped in his tracks. “You talk about them like they’re aware.”
“They are.” She waved a hand at the forest around them. “All the trees are. In fact, most things are to some degree.”
“Sooo…you’re not looking for a perfect tree, you’re looking for a volunteer?”
“You could put it that way. We’re not walking up to just any old tree and taking it. The tree is offering up its life freely, so we can observe the Solstice.” She expected Galen to ask more questions but although his eyebrows lifted slightly, he simply motioned for her to carry on. Does that mean he’s beginning to understand? That he feels more comfortable with magic and able to trust it? With her luck, he’d probably concluded that she was crazy, and he should just humor her.
Kerri pushed all of that out of her mind and focused. Around her, the air was clear and cold, refreshing rather than uncomfortable. The snow alternately sparkled in the sun and cast blue shadows. Here and there were the footprints of many birds, a rabbit, and three or four deer. It was peaceful, and she allowed that peace to seep into her… It was only a few minutes later that she felt a faint vibration, one that barely skimmed the edges of her awareness. Following it, she worked her way around a prickly thicket of wild rose bushes and came upon its source.
“You gotta be kidding me,” said Galen.
“Shh.” Kerri pulled off a glove and gently touched the evergreen branches. The soundless thrum of life was in the boughs, slowed by the winter cold. But was there something more? “We need your help,” she whispered to the tree. In her mind’s eye, she saw the silvery wisp of energy even as she felt it flow softly over her fingers. “Thank you,” she breathed.
It was big—and the damnedest ugliest tree Galen had ever seen. Outside of being some kind of short-needled evergreen, it couldn’t look less like a holiday decoration. There were ragged cones still dangling from the boughs and at least three old bird nests inside it. No shortage of bare spots, more than a few dead twigs and branches, plus near its base a big swatch of bark had been charred from some long-ago fire.
The oddest thing was its trunk, however. It divided into a nearly perfect U halfway up, resulting in a pair of crowns instead of one. Great, a two-headed tree, Galen thought. Where the hell do you put the star? The guys at the station would have razzed him for the rest of his natural life if he’d brought in something like this. Even Charlie Brown wouldn’t pick this tree. Hell, Frankenstein wouldn’t choose it.
But Kerri loved it, and that was all that mattered. He didn’t understand everything she’d explained about Yule and the Solstice, but if she said it was important, then he trusted that it was. Because of her, he’d been introduced to a wider world, one that he had never known existed outside of old fairy tales and fantasy novels. He watched from a respectful distance as she cast a large circle around the tree, not with salt or sword, but with birdseed, alfalfa cubes, and dried apple slices as a gift to the wildlife that lived here. Finally, she addressed the tree itself:
“Forest tree touched by water and fire,
Please shed your light on darkness dire.
Forest tree touched by earth and air,
We ask you for your life to share.
Still evergreen despite your scars,
Please merge your energy with ours.
This time when day wins over night
Loan us your strength to win our fight.”
She nodded to Galen and he entered the circle, placing the saw at the base of the tree. He felt something then—a strange expectancy as if the tree was, indeed, patiently waiting for the cut. Outside the circle, he could see that Kerri was occupied with getting something else out of her pack, so Galen took a moment to whisper to the tree. “Sorry to do this, bud and I sure hope it doesn’t hurt much,” he said. “But we really need the help, and she says you’re the one. So, thank you. And I promise I’ll do my damnedest to make you the best-looking tree on the block.”
When the deed was done, Kerri was holding a small spade and a handful of weird beige sticks the size of carrots. “What on earth are those?” he asked.
“Fertilizer stakes. I’m burying them within the circle. The roots of this tree are strong, and they’ll send up shoots in the spring,” she said. “In the balance of things, new life always wins out over death. Just like today, when the year rolls around from darkness to light.”
He turned those words over in his mind as he watched her go about her task. Thought about them the whole time they walked back to the car, and during the process of carefully bundling the tree with a roll of burlap. It was even bigger and more awkward than it looked, and it was a job and a half to make it as narrow as possible for the trip home. Finally, they tied—and then retied—the tree securely onto the car roof rack. Their prize dwarfed the little red vehicle of course, but it was balanced enough to be safe. Balance. In the balance of things, new life always wins out over death…
When Kerri reached for the door of the car, Galen put his hand over hers. “Kerri, we really need to talk. If anything happens to me—”
“Don’t,” she said. “We can’t think that way.”
“Hey, I’m all for being positive, but we can’t shy away from the truth either. When I first came to the station, one of the older guys on the crew, Art Peters, told me two things—that you need to live each day like it was your last, and especially that you have to tell the people you care about what you want them to know. It was something I’d already learned from my mom. She was upfront about dying, and it freed us both to say the things we needed to, so that when she was gone, there were no loose ends, and no regrets for either of us.
“So now I need to say some things and I need you to hear them.”
Kerri studied the ground for a long moment, then nodded. “All right, Galen. I’m listening.”
Harper, Dani. THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT (Haunted Holiday Book 1) (pp. 174-178 Kindle Edition).
(Haunted Holiday Book 1)
by Dani Harper
- “An excellent combination of sizzle and emotion.” NIGHT OWL REVIEWS
- " Absolutely one of the most memorable stories I've read.." JUST LOVE MY BOOKS
- "Action, adventure, and a whole lot of love inside." REDZ WORLD
- “One of my top ten holiday romances ever.” READING BETWEEN THE WINES
- Named a Book of the Week by BOOKWORKS
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