This romantic suspense is set in Colorado in 1921 at Christmas time. My hero is re-visiting the hotel where he spent his honeymoon 40 years before, while my heroine is seeking a refuge from her haranguing family while she makes some difficult choices. Matthew cannot find a reason to go on, and Edith refuses to give up.
I chose this setting because of some research I did into a famous hotel in Colorado Springs, The Antlers, as well as research about other buildings in that city which were razed in the 60’s to make room for urban expansion. I was horrified at the way the downtown core lost its history and its personality, and wanted to write a story where that didn’t happen.
I chose older characters because, well, I’m getting older, and I find my tastes turning to older characters who are more set in their ways, less likely to jump out of moving vehicles or parachute from perfectly good airplanes. The time period seemed perfect because the train had just started coming to Colorado Springs from Denver, and the original Antlers hotel was slated for destruction early in 1922. I wanted to change that history.
Matthew and Edith team up to find a way to save the old hotel, and in the process, they uncover more than they bargained for: a body in a wall; a decades-old murder mystery; a secret somebody wants to keep; and a love that will carry them through the coming years.
Here’s an excerpt:
Edith Cochrane admired the fine lines of the inn as the sleigh traveled down the main street of the small town of Valleyview. Having lived many years in the foreign mission field, she appreciated the trappings of civilization, although, she liked to tell herself, she didn’t need them.
Well, perhaps she hadn’t needed them during the years she and her husband had lived in primitive conditions, but today, or rather, for at least the next week, she needed this inn. Or some other place much like it. She was looking forward to spending some time alone, gathering her thoughts and considering her options.
Because from where she sat right now, her thoughts were as scattered as dandelion seed on a spring breeze, and her options were few.
Drawing to a halt in front of the inn, the driver alighted and held open her door. Doffing his cap, he extended a hand. “Christmas Inn, ma’am.”
She slid across the leather seat, accepted the proffered hand, and emerged, feet first. She winced at the cold, wet sensation in her shoes, and looked to the ground. Slush. Snow. A cold breeze blew down from the snow-capped mountains in the near distance, and she pulled the collar of her thin coat around her neck. She definitely hadn’t missed winters during the years she lived in the tropics.
Unclasping her handbag, Edith pulled a dollar bill from a pocket inside the purse, and handed the money to the driver. “Keep the change.”
He accepted the bill and smiled. “Merry Christmas, ma’am. And a Happy New Year to you, too.”
She nodded. Merry Christmas indeed.
Not without Andrew at her side.
The hotel valet appeared at her side, a young lad barely out of school. She nodded to the rear of the sleigh. “There are three bags.”
The valet nodded, and assisted by the driver, the two carried her suitcases through the door of the inn.
Edith followed at a slower pace, enjoying the atmosphere and the fresh, clean air. So unlike the polluted air of Pittsburgh, where her son lived, or the damp humidity of Miami, where her daughter called home. Maybe that’s why she couldn’t—or wouldn’t—commit to living in either place. The air was unhealthy. So unlike the air of the Congo.
The wonderful smell of fresh evergreen tickled her nostrils as she entered the lobby, and she studied a magnificent tree completely covered with every sort of Christmas decoration imaginable. So much color and glitter overwhelmed her senses. But so lovely to celebrate Christmas surrounded by reminders of the season. The Festival of Lights in the midst of the winter solstice. A Christian influence for a pagan world. How like God to orchestrate a celebration in the midst of darkness. All she needed to make this moment perfect was for Andrew to be at her side, sharing this spectacle with her.
But that was not to be.
She stood for several minutes, staring into the lights and shining ornaments on the tree, glad she’d chosen this place to spend her holidays. Away from the hustle and bustle of the commercial side of the season.
Away from the petty bickering, the outright hostility, and the greed of her children.
Away from the looks of pity and awkwardness from her friends.
So entranced was she by the spectacle before her, so involved was she in her own feelings of pleasure mixed sadness at having to experience this beauty alone, she was startled when the man sitting in a chair in front of the fireplace stood. His look of abject loneliness grabbed her attention and fixed her gaze.
He appeared to be about her age, perhaps a couple of years older. His overcoat and suit looked older but well kept, and the fedora in his hand was clean but worn. The small blue feather tucked into the hatband flared outwards in a curious bend, and for a brief moment, she wondered if he’d sat on his hat once or twice before. Andrew often did that….
He ducked his head and stopped. “Excuse me. I didn’t see you.”
She smiled and extended a hand. “Edith Cochrane. Pleased to meet you.”
The man’s hand darted out, grasped the ends of her fingers, then dropped her hand like a hot potato. “Matthew White. Excuse me.”
He glanced toward the check-in desk then sidled between two chairs and strode up the staircase, his overcoat flapping around his legs like a flag.
She watched until he disappeared from view before turning her attention to the clerk behind the desk. Once more, she checked at the hallway where Matthew White had gone.
If she didn’t know better, she’d say he’d seen a ghost.
About The Mystery of Christmas Inn, Colorado:
Matthew returns to Christmas Inn to celebrate his fortieth anniversary alone, intending to take his own life so he can join his beloved Sarah, who passed on to glory the previous January. Not certain how—or if—he will go on without her, Matthew learns on his arrival that the old inn will close its doors on New Year’s Eve. A developer has purchased the building and intends to tear it down and put up a chain hotel. Determined to keep his memories and his connection to Sarah alive, Matthew embarks on a harebrained scheme to keep the inn open.
Edith Cochrane, a widow, comes to Christmas Inn because she has nowhere else to spend the holidays. Her children are angry with her because she refuses to choose to live with one of them. Edith and her husband enjoyed a long marriage and a long mission-field ministry, but ever since his passing the previous year, Edith has found herself at loose ends. She comes to Christmas Inn to spend some time thinking about her options.
Can Matthew and Edith save the old hotel—and themselves—or will they run out of time?
Donna lives in Denver with husband Patrick, her first-line editor and biggest fan. She writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts. She is a hybrid publisher who has published a number of books under her pen name and under her own name. Her recent releases include The Mystery of Christmas Inn, Colorado and Christmas Under the Stars. Donna is also a ghostwriter and editor of fiction and non-fiction, and judges in a number of writing contests. Donna loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is proud to be represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management.
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