a Mirthful Wish
A Christmas Romance
Wishing for Love ~ A multi-author series
Coming December 14, 2023 ~ pre-order now!!
The Thatcher-Adler feud goes back generations. Despite this, Ellie Thatcher befriended Liam Adler when she was a girl. She even managed to get a job at the Adler Reindeer Farm while in high school, the very farm that had once belonged to her family. Now, with college and a stint working overseas behind her, she’s returning home to Reindeer Pass to open a photography studio. But the feud has been reignited and Ellie and Liam are about to get dragged into the middle of it.
Liam Adler has returned to the Colorado town where he grew up to take over the family business after the sudden death of his father. It wasn’t the life path he’d planned, and now he must convince old Eustace who lives in the Buckley Cabin to sell his adjacent land to the Adlers and not the Thatchers. And his opponent is none other than Ellie Thatcher—no longer the sweet and funny little girl he remembers, but all grown-up and strikingly beautiful.
Years ago, Eustace told a young Ellie and Liam about the Legend of Reindeer Pass, where a rare Arctic reindeer herd is rumored to have lived since the first Thatcher and Adler men settled in the valley in the 1800’s. When Ellie and Liam appear before the old man, Eustace tells them he will sell to the first to see the Vaadin, the largest of the elusive female reindeer. But there is more to the legend … only the pure of heart are presented with such a gift. And to a special few, true love is granted.
When Christmas comes around, everyone has their own special wish. For some, those wishes are as simple as getting the perfect gift for that special someone. For others, those wishes are much bigger. Especially, when they wish for love.
Everyone deserves the gift of love, but sometimes that's more complicated than it should be.
This year is different.
For those pure of heart, their wishes, even their wishes for true love, just might be granted.
Wishing for Love is a heartwarming series about Christmas wishes of love coming true for those who have the purest of hearts. If you're looking for a feel-good read this holiday season, pick up A MIRTHFUL WISH to meet the authors of this heartwarming holiday romance series and find your next happy ever after.
Don't miss Liam and Ellie's prequel short story, THE REINDEER THAT GOT AWAY, available exclusively in the STOCKING UP FOR CHRISTMAS anthology, now available as a FREE digital download. Grab your copy HERE. And read the first three chapters of A MIRTHFUL WISH.
Read Chapter One
Liam Adler buttoned his coat as he walked down the main street in Barstow, an icy wind freezing his cheeks. Cold weather didn’t normally bother him, but he’d forgotten how different winter days in Colorado could be to Pennsylvania.
In the distance, he caught sight of Ryan entering a storefront. Since it was mid-morning, Liam guessed his younger brother was on a coffee break from the office Adler Inc. kept in Barstow. When the destination proved to be Bella’s Bakery, his assumption was correct.
The establishment looked new, but Liam hadn’t really spent any time in Barstow recently except for skiing at the resort, so he wouldn’t know.
He entered the bakery as Ryan was taking a seat at one of the small tables with a hot drink and pastry in hand. A handful of customers sat at the other tables, a festive Christmas vibe filling the air.
The young dark-haired proprietress behind the counter looked like Bella Thatcher. The last time Liam had seen her was at the Reindeer Ball five years ago. It was also the last time he’d seen her cousin, Ellie. He’d pretended to be Ellie’s date to save her from the unwanted advances of Mark Osborn, a local boy Liam had never liked.
Liam knew the moment Bella recognized him because her amiable expression turned into a glare.
“Hi, Bella,” Liam said with a smile and a nod. He wanted to ask about Ellie: What was she up to? Had she finished art school and traveled abroad? Was she married?
There had been a time when his mother had known such details but even she had lost track of the Thatcher kids over the past few years.
“I’m sorry about your father,” Bella said, her face softening with sympathy. “And I’m not trying to turn away business, but are you both trying to ruin mine?”
“You sold me the coffee,” Ryan said in his defense, but there was humor in his voice.
A blush crept onto Bella’s face, and she busied herself with something behind the counter. Liam looked at his brother and then at Bella and then back to Ryan.
He took a seat and said in a low voice, “Don’t let Gramps see you come in here.”
“You worry too much about what he thinks,” Ryan said, stirring cream into his coffee as his Adler blue eyes flashed in irritation. Liam and Ryan took after their mother with their blond hair, but the eye color was all from Theo Adler, patriarch of the family.
Despite a family feud between the Adlers and the Thatchers—courtesy of the grandfathers—it hadn’t kept Liam and his brothers from interacting with Ellie’s brothers, Jamie and Owen, and Bella’s brother, Mason, through the years. Or Liam with Ellie herself.
Liam smiled. “Gramps would cut you out of the will as well as Adler Inc. if you so much as dated a Thatcher, let alone got serious, and God forbid, married one.”
“You’re moving awfully fast,” Ryan murmured as he sipped his drink.
“How long have you been eating pastries?” Liam asked. “Weeks? Months?”
Ryan sighed. “Too long. I need to start working out more.”
“If you two get serious, you’ll need to leave the country, you know. And she’s not leaving Reindeer Pass.” It was clear that Bella’s Bakery was a labor of love. There were too many special touches to doubt that.
“Thanks as always for your burning insight,” Ryan said, a sarcastic tone in his voice. “And we’re currently in Barstow.”
Liam laughed. Barstow was adjacent to Reindeer Pass. Ryan’s argument was weak, and his brother knew it. The Adlers and Thatchers first settled in Reindeer Pass over a hundred years ago, and their ancestors still lived there today—namely Bella and Ellie’s parents as well as Liam and Ryan’s mom, and of course the grandfathers and their wives.
“Now I know why you didn’t want to take over Adler Inc,” Liam said. “You want an escape route so you can date a Thatcher.”
Ryan glanced in Bella’s direction. “Maybe.”
Liam grabbed a piece of the cranberry tart from his brother’s plate and asked, “When do you plan to make your move?” He suppressed a moan as the sugary food melted in his mouth. “Damn, this is good.”
“I know,” Ryan agreed. “And I’ve been trying to work up the nerve but Bella’s dislike of Adlers is well known.”
“She’s just been scared into it like the rest of us.” Liam suspected her grandfather was as bad as his in stoking the ongoing feud. “You’ll never know unless you ask her out, but if she says yes, I wouldn’t advertise it in case it goes nowhere. No reason to cause any more stress in the family.”
The shadowed cast of his brother’s gaze reflected Liam’s own grief.
Liam had been in town since Thanksgiving to support his mom since she’d been reeling from losing his dad in early November. It was still hard to believe Teddy Adler was gone.
And now Liam had made the decision that his grandfather and his mother had been pressing him on—to take over Adler Incorporated, to replace his father. It wasn’t the life path Liam wanted, but with his education and background in finance—also gotten at the urging of the elder Adler men—he was poised to take over. It was a given. But it didn’t fill the gaping hole that his father’s death had left behind.
Or the fact that Liam had never wanted to run Adler Inc.
He’d assumed his dad would stay in charge, and then maybe Liam’s brothers, Flynn or Ryan, would take over. But even as he thought it, he knew it would never have happened that way. Flynn lived in Los Angeles and was trying to break into acting, and while Ryan resided in Reindeer Pass and had been working for Adler Inc. for the past two years, helping in the real estate division, he didn’t have the ambition to run the whole thing, even after their dad’s sudden death. In fact, Ryan was the first to ask Liam to come back.
The bell on the door jingled, and Bella’s voice was tight with excitement. “Ellie!”
A jolt went through Liam. Ellie Thatcher walked past dressed in a tan wool coat buttoned to a red scarf around her neck, jeans, and black boots with obvious good traction for the snow-laden sidewalks. She never noticed him or Ryan, her face split into a giant grin.
“What are you doing here?” Bella asked. “I thought you weren’t coming until the end of the week.”
“I got my life in order, so I came early,” Ellie said, removing red earmuffs from her ears and tucking a stray clump of dark hair back into the low bun at her nape. “I wanted to surprise you.”
“You’re here to stay?”
“I am.” Ellie’s enthusiasm was palpable.
When Liam glanced back at his brother, Ryan said quietly, “Looks like I’m not the only one with an eye for a Thatcher girl.”
Liam shook his head. “She’s the enemy, as is Bella.”
Ryan chuckled. “That sounds like Gramps talking.”
Ellie and Bella continued chatting, with Bella offering a new signature white hot chocolate with eggnog that she’d recently begun serving. Before he could fully understand his intentions, Liam stood and went to the counter.
“I’ll take one, too,” he said.
Ellie turned to him, her eyes widening, her cheeks still flush from the cold. “Liam?”
“Hi, Ellie. It’s nice to see you again.”
While the stubborn child she’d been was still present in the flash of her eyes, there was something else … a curiosity, a maturity … that tugged at him. Five years ago, she’d been beautiful, but she had been on the cusp of womanhood. The Ellie before him was more fully formed, and he found it more compelling than he would’ve imagined.
“I didn’t know you were back in town,” she said, and then her gaze became serious. “I’m sorry about your father. I sent flowers to your mom but signed my name as E. so it wouldn’t offend your grandfather.”
“Thank you. I’m sure she was appreciative.”
“Are you here for the holidays?” she asked.
“Actually, I’m here for good. And you?”
“Also back.” She smiled. “For good.”
“The family’s surprised,” Bella said. “You were so determined to see the world.”
He let himself indulge a long look, then said, “You’ll have to tell me about it some time.”
Ellie nodded, and Liam wasn’t sure if she was agreeing or simply placating him.
Honking diverted their attention to the street. As people moved past the window in a hurried manner, he, Ryan, Ellie, and Bella went outside to see what was happening.
* * *
The herd of reindeer moving down the street brought a constriction to Ellie’s throat, reminding her of days gone past. As a child, she’d been enamored of the animals, and she’d even finagled her way into working for the Adler Reindeer Farm for nearly two years, only quitting when she’d left for art school in New York City.
Liam Adler stood beside her, and memories of their past encounters—dulled by time and distance—came suddenly into sharp focus.
When she was ten years old, Liam had volunteered to chaperone her into the mountains around Reindeer Pass. She’d been keen to ride a three-wheeler into the backcountry to search for the mythical Arctic reindeer whispered in family lore to have existed.
Three years later, he and Jennifer Dixon, an out-of-town girl he’d been romancing at the time, had intruded on Ellie’s forest hideout where she had established a secret lookout to again search for the white reindeer. Jennifer had fallen into a tree well, forcing Ellie to reveal herself and save the poor girl. Ellie had remained in touch intermittently with Jen over the years, but as far as she knew, Jennifer and Liam’s relationship had never gone far.
Then, at sixteen, Ellie had gotten a job at the Adler Reindeer Farm with the help of Liam’s mother and the begrudging acceptance of her own parents. Everyone had kept Ellie’s employment status from the grandfathers. Adam Thatcher and Theo Adler’s animosity was well-known, and neither would’ve approved of Ellie defecting to the enemy camp. But working with the reindeer had been a dream come true for her, and it hadn’t hurt that she’d proved to Liam that she had the tenacity to do something he’d said she never could—work for his family.
The last time she’d seen Liam had been the inaugural Reindeer Ball organized by his mother. Five years ago? Had it been that long? She had two distinct memories from that night: Liam’s grandfather ordering Liam away from her, and the way Liam had looked at her, as if she were no longer a child.
As that memory surfaced, she became acutely aware of Liam’s presence. He was older, his boyishly handsome face having changed to that of a man. She shook off the momentary excitement of seeing him again, but he and reindeer had always been linked for her, so it was yet another odd coincidence that a random wild herd was suddenly making their way through the slushy streets of Barstow.
Bella shaded her eyes. “Are those Adler reindeer?” she asked.
“No.” Ellie and Liam answered at the same time.
She caught his gaze. “I worked at the farm, remember?” Then she said to Bella, “The Adlers mark the ears of their herd with a notch. These are wild.” She watched the animals tromping by with a bit of awe—ten in all, several with big racks. That would make them female since the males would have shed their antlers by now.
Ellie pulled her cellphone from her coat pocket and began snapping photos. “Have they done this before?” she asked, wishing she had one of her cameras with her, but her gear was back at the Thatcher house in Reindeer Pass with the rest of her luggage.
“No,” Bella said. “I’ve had the bakery for two years now and have never seen this. Does your family want to capture them?” she asked Ryan.
Ryan shrugged. “Nah. We have enough at the farm, but I didn’t realize the wild herds would come this far down the mountain.”
The reindeer headed toward a creek at the edge of Barstow.
Excitement coursed through Ellie. After bouncing across Europe on various photography assignments, she’d spent the last year and a half in Finland, developing an affinity for the place that was surely tied to her Finnish ancestry. Her great-great grandmother, Eleonoora Korhonen Thatcher, for whom she was named, had come to Reindeer Pass sometime in the 1890’s from Finland with her father to deliver an Arctic reindeer herd to Charlie Thatcher and Henry Adler. She’d stayed when she’d fallen in love with Charlie and married him.
So Ellie had embraced her Finnish roots, learning the language and spending as much time as she could in Lapland, the northernmost part of the country. And of course, getting to know the local reindeer. But then, one day, she’d been consumed with homesickness, and it wasn’t long before she’d known it was time to come back to the States, to her family. She was struck by how similar Reindeer Pass and Barstow were to Finland.
As a girl, she’d been obsessed with finding the Arctic reindeer that might or might not live in the mountains around here.
“If these are wild, then ….” she said half to herself.
“I can guess what you’re thinking,” Liam said.
She glanced at him, his blue eyes causing a nervous tumble of her stomach. It was just Liam Adler. No reason to get all flustered.
“And what’s that?” she asked.
“That if there are wild reindeer then the Vaadin must be real.”
Years ago, old Eustace Hapgood who lived in a remote cabin in the hills, had told her and Liam about the legend of the Vaadin, a magnificent and rare female Arctic reindeer. To see her was to be blessed with true love. Or something like that. But Ellie had learned during her extended stay in Finland the Vaadin was more of a divine ancestor to the mountain reindeer, a goddess who could forge magical artifacts.
“You remember that?” she asked. “Do you know if Eustace is still alive?”
“Are you talking about Eustace Hapgood?” Ryan asked.
“He’s still around,” Ryan said. “There’s talk he wants to sell his property. Adler Inc. is interested but he’s rebuffed our efforts to talk about it.”
Ellie wondered if her grandfather would want to buy the Hapgood property, since the Adlers already owned much of the mountain. When Grandpa Adam and Liam’s grandfather had feuded over a woman—Ellie’s grandmother—he had given his share of the reindeer they had imported from Finland to Mr. Adler. When Ellie was younger, she had thought it not fair. She had so wanted her family to have access to the amazing animals. If the Adlers bought Eustace’s property, would it also include the Arctic reindeer that could be living in the mountains?
“And that Vaadin thing you mentioned has changed things,” Ryan added.
“How’s that?” Ellie asked.
“You’ve missed all the hoopla by being away,” Bella interjected. “The Vaadin is our Loch Ness Monster.”
“The myth of the Vaadin has grown into big business around here,” Ryan added.
Liam shook his head. “I guess I haven’t been paying attention.”
“It’s called the Christmas Village. It’s off the bypass road that leads to Eustace’s place.” Ryan nodded toward the mountain visible beyond town.
“People come from all over to try and find it,” Bella said. “The gift shops have the creature on everything from t-shirts to mugs to magnets. It’s a bit overdone, but good for business.”
“Who started this?” Ellie asked, finding it hard to believe it was Eustace. The man had spoken reverently of the myth of the Vaadin, and he had seemed to value his privacy.
Bella rubbed her hands together and blew on them. “Mark Osborn brought in a marketing firm and over the past few years he’s expanded it.”
“Unbelievable,” Ellie muttered, a surge of anger flashing through her that Mark would take advantage of Eustace and the reindeer lore of this area. “Maybe whoever buys Eustace’s land could shut it all down.”
Bella shrugged. “The Christmas Village isn’t on his land but I’m sure Mark is itching to buy it as well. It would make it easy for him to expand.”
The wild reindeer were now out of sight, so Ellie checked her watch.
“Bells, I have an appointment,” she said. “But I’ll stop by later.”
“I close at five. We can go to dinner at the Bistro.”
“Sounds good.” Ellie looked at Ryan and Liam, trying to give them equal time, but even when she didn’t look at Liam, she was all too aware of him. “Nice to see you both.”
“I have to leave as well,” Liam said.
“You’re going to take care of that appointment for me?” Ryan asked his brother.
Liam started walking in the same direction as Ellie, and they moved side by side in an awkward silence.
She tucked her phone into her coat pocket. “You’re not following me, are you?”
“Maybe you’re following me.”
When she spied her destination from the address the realtor had emailed her, she reached for the door handle, Liam’s gloved hand brushing hers.
“What?” She jumped back, their bodies awkwardly near one another.
“You’re going here?”
She nodded, a little too vigorously, but he didn’t seem to notice. Instead, he pushed open the door and waited for her to precede him. As they entered the empty store—a bit musty with random furniture strewn about—she stopped short when the realtor turned to face them.
Mark Osborn smiled, then looked shocked, then disgusted. “You’re the clients?” he asked. He hadn’t changed much over the years, he was still stocky, but his normally gel-filled curly hair was instead cut short. The last time she’d seen Mark had been the same night she’d last been with Liam.
“Hi, Mark,” Ellie said reluctantly. “Where’s Tammy?” she asked, referring to the woman she’d been corresponding with.
“She had a family emergency,” he said. “Her kid swallowed a quarter.”
“That’s terrible,” Ellie said. “I hope he’s okay.”
Mark’s gaze shifted between Ellie and Liam, who had been quiet so far. “Tammy didn’t tell me who the clients were. So you’re both still together?”
“Oh.” Ellie frowned. “No.”
But when Mark’s expression appeared a bit intrigued, Ellie regretted denying it. Liam had not only pretended to be her date but also her boyfriend to get Mark off her back. Osborn had been aggressively pursuing her after a few platonic dates and wouldn’t take no for an answer. When Liam had stepped in, Ellie had been relieved. And then slightly confused because her reaction to Liam had been decidedly different than to Mark.
Liam shifted his attention to her, ignoring Mark. “Why are you looking at this property?” he asked.
“I’m planning to open a photography studio.”
He nodded, a slight smile tugging at his mouth, and she couldn’t help but feel that he was somehow pleased by her answer.
“And you?” she asked.
“I’m taking over Adler Inc. Gramps wants to lease a bigger office in Barstow than the one Ryan currently works at.”
“Would this be large enough for you?” She gestured to the small storefront.
“He wants the entire building,” Liam answered, his voice quiet as if he were hesitant to admit it.
Mark glanced at his notes. “The entire building? Oh yes, it’s here.” He lifted his gaze to her. “It’ll be tough for you to match that offer, Ellie.”
She bristled at Osborn’s smug tone, but he was right. She took in the quaint wooden counter, the high ceiling that would allow for ample wall space for photos from her travels, and the fantastic morning light spilling through the front windows. Not to mention that she’d be down the street from Bella.
She couldn’t afford the lease, of course, but Grandpa Thatcher had set up this meeting, telling her he would invest in her future. Did he know that Theo Adler also wanted the space? Did she want to be the cause of stoking their feud even further?
Mark chuckled. “Well, who’s going to butter me up the most?”
Ellie’s shoulders sagged.
Liam kept his attention on her. “I’ll talk to Gramps,” he said. “We’ll look for another building.”
“You will?” she asked.
With a nod, he said, “You should take it, Ellie.”
Surprised by his gesture, she said, “Thank you.”
Liam turned to Mark. “Make sure she gets a good deal. And tell Tammy that Adler Inc. will need to see other properties.”
“Will do,” Mark said, then he looked at Ellie with a gleam in his eyes. “Let’s go back to the office to sign the papers.”
The last thing Ellie wanted was to spend the next hour with Mark Osborn, and she had an irrational wish that Liam would accompany them.
She gave a silent acknowledgement to Mark, then said, “Thanks again, Liam.”
He smiled. “See you around, Ellie.”
She tried not to stare as he stepped onto the sidewalk and closed the door of the shop behind him.
Copyright © 2023 K. McCaffrey LLC