by: Alicia Hunter Pace
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: November 21, 2016
Publisher: Crimson Romance
Bennett Pontellier Watkins and Hélène-Louise Soileau had a secret, youthful love affair—until their mothers found out. Hélène-Louise, the housekeeper’s daughter, was sent to France to study lacemaking while a bereft Bennett drowned his sorrows on the beach with beer and sorority girls.
Eight years later, Hélène-Louise, now a master craftsman, owns a shop in Beauford, Tennessee, and teaches a series of workshops at the Cultural Arts Center in Merritt, where Bennett is the director. It isn’t long before they fall into each other’s arms once more.
But old patterns begin to re-emerge, and despite Bennett’s declarations of love, it’s clear to Hélène-Louise that he still has no intention of coming clean with his upper-crust parents about their relationship. Is she willing to give up everything she’s built for herself in Beauford for a man who may never see her as more than the hired help’s daughter?
Or will Christmastime in Merritt reveal love to be the greatest present of all?
In one way or the other, all brides glowed.
Hélène-Louise Soileau wasn’t in the wedding business, but as a master lacemaker, she’d had enough dealings with brides to recognize the different kinds of glows and how they correlated to the chances the marriage had of making it past the paper anniversary. The ones who glowed only from cosmetics didn’t have a chance. The ones with a low lit, dreamy glow had a fifty-fifty shot at best.
But this bride had the best kind of glow—like she had roman candles inside her that were going to ignite any second. Hélène-Louise had seen enough relationships go bad that she wouldn’t have bet her lacemaking shop that this marriage was in for the long haul, but she had a feeling Sammy Anderson and Pam Carson would be exchanging gifts made of gold in fifty years.
“You’re beautiful.” Hélène-Louise reached up one last time to make sure the silk ivory lace was secure on Pam’s head. What Pam wore was a really a shawl, but it had been easy to turn it into a mantilla veil by attaching a simple tiara. Hélène-Louise knew every nuance of every inch of that lace because she’d made it.
The fall she turned fifteen, Hélène-Louise had found her great-grandmother’s
lacemaking tools and some pieces of handmade bobbin lace. The desire to try her hand at lacemaking was immediate, but she didn’t know where to begin. Hélène-Louise’s mother, Leonie, was no help. Leonie remembered her grandmother making lace but had no knowledge of the technique. There was a small book of patterns with the tools, but they made little sense. Yet the very idea of turning thread into something so beautiful with just the help of bobbins, pins, and a pillow was magical. After checking a book out of the library and watching some instructional videos, Hélène-Louise taught herself the basic Torchon stitches and eventually made a narrow strip of simple lace.
She tried hard to teach herself one of the more complicated techniques—Brussels, Chantilly, La Puy, Valenciennes—but she couldn’t. She longed for a high quality roller pillow, beautiful carved bobbins with bead spangles, and pins with glass heads.
She turned sixteen, then seventeen, and her skills grew but not by much. There was only so much she could learn on her own. There were a few people in the city who taught tatting, but not bobbin lacemaking.
Her mother fretted over Hélène-Louise spending all her time making lace and never dating, but Hélène-Louise figured Leonie would fret if she were dating too, so she just kept crossing her bobbins, moving her pins, and watching the magic happen.
By the time she graduated from high school, Hélène-Louise had progressed to making bookmarks, Christmas ornaments, and lace-edged linen handkerchiefs. When a classmate’s mother commissioned enough lace to trim baby bonnet, a germ of an idea took hold.
And from that germ, she made a plan. Though she had accepted that her skills were probably as good as they were going to get, she thought she might be able to make her passion pay. New Orleans was nothing if not full of tourists year round, and eventually they all ended up at the historic French Market, which sold everything from cheap Tshirts to fine crafts and local foodstuffs.
She intended to set up shop, and not just to sell the small items she’d been stockpiling.
She would demonstrate her craft and take orders—if she were lucky.
Had she been lucky? In some ways, yes. In others, decidedly not. Yet, she stood here today adjusting a bridal veil that had been completely of her own making.
“I can’t thank you enough for helping me figure this out,” Pam Carson whispered.
“You know, when Sammy gave me the shawl, he put it over my hair and said he hoped he would one day see me walking toward him with lace on my head. This will be a surprise.”
“My pleasure,” Hélène-Louise said. “After the wedding, I’ll meet you in the bride’s room at Beauford Bend and remove the veil so you can wear the tiara alone for the reception.” Hélène-Louise had never been to Beauford Bend plantation before. It was the home of country music superstar Jackson Beauford as well as the venue for his wife, Emory’s, party business, Around the Bend.
She’d heard it was a great house with some of the most beautiful grounds in the country—though at a week away from Thanksgiving, she didn’t expect the gardens could be at their peak. Hélène-Louise had grown up in a great house with a fabulous garden, too—though in New Orleans and below stairs, five hundred miles away from Beauford, Tennessee.
Back then, Leonie had never missed an opportunity to impress upon Hélène-Louise how lucky they were. Not only were they able to live in one the most beautiful mansions in the enormously desirable Upper Garden District of New Orleans, but also most of the time the family wasn’t even in residence. When Vincent Watkins and Cecile Pontellier married, two great shipbuilding empires were merged, and the couple spent most of their time in Savannah, one of the locations of Pontellier-Watkins Shipyards. Leonie’s duties consisted mainly of overseeing staff and the basic upkeep of the New Orleans home. Leonie’s job enabled Leonie and Hélène-Louise to eat food they didn’t pay for, to live rent free, and for Hélène-Louise to attend a good Catholic school.
“Don’t make the mistakes I did, cher,” Leonie had often warned Hélène-Louise.
“Remember who you are. I forgot that once, and it is but for the Grace of God that we aren’t reading palms in Jackson Square.” Leonie never explained herself fully, but
Hélène-Louise understood well enough. Her birth had been the result of Leonie forgetting who she was and finding her way into the bed of a boy from one of these great houses.
Leonie had never said much about Hélène-Louise’s father—only that when he’d found out she was pregnant, he had claimed he loved her, just not enough to marry her, though he’d been willing to continue the relationship and support them. Leonie had walked away. Hélène-Louise didn’t even know his name. Leonie had told her he’d died years ago when he got behind the wheel drunk, and that if Hélène-Louise wanted to know his name, all she had to was ask. But she never had, had never seen the point.
Hélène-Louise had the feeling that Leonie liked to pretend the house they lived in was her own, but Hélène-Louise never had. She hadn’t seen that house or the city since she was nineteen, and she didn’t expect to again.
Purchase Mistletoe in Merritt from:
The Crossroads Series:
(Clicking on the book covers will take you to Amazon.)
As Alicia Hunter Pace, Stephanie Jones and Jean Hovey write contemporary romantic comedy and light fantasy with a distinct southern voice.
Stephanie lives in Jasper, AL, where she teaches third grade and wishes for a bigger bookstore. She is a native Alabamian who likes football, civil war history, and people who follow the rules. She is happy to provide a list of said rules to anyone who needs them.
Jean, a former public librarian, lives in Decatur, AL, with her husband in a hundred-year-old house that always wants something from her. She likes to cook but has discovered the joy of Mrs. Paul's fish fillets since becoming a writer.
Places to find Alicia Hunter Pace: