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MAGICAL HOLIDAY ROMANCES, BOOK TWO

VISIONS OF SUGAR PLUMS

VISIONS OF SUGAR PLUMS

"An adorable read reminding us of the beauty of the season."- Teri, BookBub Reviewer

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It’s been nine years since Carter Reed’s mystical journey to an alternate reality taught him about love and loss . . . and second chances. Since his return, he’s made it his mission to be the best husband and father he can possibly be.

But as the holiday season approaches, Carter‘s children face a crisis of faith, and it could be that only another miracle can save the day.

If you enjoyed Second Chances, you’ll love this peek into Carter and Kenzie’s happily ever after. Visions of Sugar Plums will take you on a magical journey where anything is possible . . . and Christmas wishes can come true, if you only believe.
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First, a whisper.

“Daddy?”

Then, a little bit louder.

“Daddy?”

Carter shifted under the warm blankets, his face pressed into the pillow as he mumbled incoherently. It had been a late night at work, and Saturday morning was for sleeping in, after all. He hadn’t even bothered to set his alarm clock.

Apparently, though, someone else had a different idea. A little hand shook his shoulder once . . . twice. Then his morning visitor released a heavy sigh, obviously considering a different approach. Carter rolled over, and was just slipping back into a deeper sleep when tiny fingers prodded at his eyelids, gently prying them open, and the blurry mass of white and red before him slowly took shape. Wide hazel eyes peered at him, so close he could see the little flecks of gold and green in the little girl’s irises.

“It’s time to wake up, Daddy,” she whispered, blinking owlishly.

Carter stared at her through his one open eye. “Peyton, what are you doing? What’s wrong?” he grunted into the pillow.

“Nothin,” she said. “It’s time to get up!” She released Carter’s eyelid and stepped back to twirl in a quick circle. It’s time to go see Santa!” she squealed, throwing her hands up and bouncing on her toes.

Carter still didn’t move, lifting his gaze to the clock on the nightstand. “Baby, it’s five in the morning. The mall doesn’t even open for hours.”

Peyton frowned. “But you have to get ready.”

“I don’t need four hours to get ready.”

“You said you’d make pancakes,” she reminded him in a sing-songy voice.

“Peyton,” Carter groaned, rolling onto his back and throwing an arm over his eyes. “It’s too early.”

His daughter stepped to the side of the bed, placing her little hands on his cheeks and tilting his face toward hers. “But I have to write my letter to Santa,” she said quietly. “I need you to help me, Daddy.”

Carter gazed into Peyton’s pleading hazel gaze, the mirror image of his own, and knew he was lost. His daughter had him wrapped around her little finger, and he found it extremely difficult to deny her anything, especially when she asked for his help.

“Okay,” he said finally.

“Yay!” she shouted, jumping up and down.

“Shhh!” Carter hushed her, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. “Mommy’s still sleeping.”

Kenzie groaned slightly, rolling over on the other side of the bed. “You’re kidding, right?” she said wryly, shoving her hair back from her face. She sat up, rubbing a hand over her growing belly. “It’s been a whole two hours since I’ve had to pee.”

Carter smirked, reaching over to touch her stomach and then leaning down to kiss it. Kenzie was six months pregnant with their third child—their surprise—the one Carter hadn’t known was coming. After Brady’s birth almost nine years earlier, they’d waited anxiously for Peyton’s arrival. When she’d shown up four years later, they’d assumed their family was complete. Then, the past summer, Kenzie found herself rushing to the bathroom for the third day in a row. At first, she’d dismissed it as food poisoning, but when the morning sickness continued, they’d both quickly realized a third child was on the way. Once the shock wore off, they were both thrilled, actually reveling in the fact that they didn’t know what to expect. When the doctor asked them if they wanted to know the baby’s gender, neither had hesitated in telling him no.

As exciting as it was to see the children from Carter’s strange other life appear in this one, he and Kenzie felt in some ways, this child was even more of a miracle.
Carter smiled at the thought. His whole life was a miracle, really.

“Daddy!” Peyton hopped up and down a few times, demanding his attention.

“Okay, okay,” Carter muttered, getting out of bed and kissing the top of her head. “Let me take a quick shower, beautiful. Then I’m all yours.”

“Peyton?” Kenzie slid to the edge of the bed, and Carter saw her eyes narrow on their daughter as he grabbed his bathrobe. “What in the world are you wearing?”

For the first time, Carter took a good look at Peyton’s outfit and couldn’t keep back a choked chuckle when it fully hit him. She wore the new red velvet dress Kenzie bought for her Christmas pictures, but evidently, Peyton didn’t feel that was Christmassy enough. Underneath, she had added a bright green tulle skirt from her dress-up chest, as well as red and white striped tights and sparkly red Mary Janes she’d received for her birthday; the girl was obsessed with The Wizard of Oz. She’d also added a bright green sweatshirt with an embroidered Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on the front, as well as a white cardigan with sequined poinsettia buttons.

Peyton had attempted to tame her wild hair—apparently with every red, white, or green barrette she owned. Half of her blonde curls lay matted to her head, the other half sprouted wildly, clipped in haphazard tufts. On top of it all, she wore a sparkling tiara from the past Halloween’s princess costume, tilted just a little to the left. It slid a bit more when she tipped her head, her fists propped on her hips.

“It’s festive, Mommy,” she said with an exaggerated eye roll that spoke to Carter of what lay ahead in her teenage years.

Kenzie stood up, reaching for her hand. “Maybe a little too festive, sweetie,” she said with a smile. “You know what they say, less is more.”

Peyton frowned. “That doesn’t make sense, Mommy.”

Kenzie paused, curling a lock of Peyton’s hair around her finger. “Think of it this way. If you’re too festive, you might make all the other little girls feel bad that they’re not festive enough.”

Peyton considered that for a moment, then smiled brightly. “Okay, Mommy.” She skipped out of the bedroom, and Kenzie cast an amused glance at Carter over her shoulder.

“Not bad,” he admitted, more than a little impressed.

“That’s why I’m The Mommy,” she said with a grin, following her daughter to her bedroom.

***

By the time Kenzie made it to Peyton’s room—after a brief stop in the bathroom, thanks to the child currently taking up residence on top of her bladder—her daughter had obviously made another dive into the dress-up trunk. Apparently, a Superman cape and a pair of green fleece mittens with the word Ho embroidered on the backs were necessary additions to her holiday ensemble.

But before Kenzie could say anything about it, Peyton plopped on her bed, patting the space beside her.

“Mommy, I have a serious problem,” she said. Her brow furrowed as her tiara tipped over her eye, and she shoved it back distractedly. Kenzie sat down next to her daughter, wondering what could have sparked such a change in mood.

“What is it, baby?”

“I’m not a baby, Mommy.”

“You’re my baby,” Kenzie insisted. “Always will be.”

Peyton shook her head slightly, but let it slide, glancing toward the door and lowering her voice.

“I’m worried Santa won’t bring Brady any presents,” she said.

Kenzie smiled. “Of course he will, sweetie. Brady’s been a very good boy.”

Peyton’s eyes narrowed. “He pulled my hair the other day. And he says girls are stupid.”

“He doesn’t really mean that, honey. And he said he was sorry about pulling your hair.”

“But that’s not the worst thing, Mommy,” Peyton said in a hushed voice, her eyes growing wide. “I don’t think Brady believes in Santa anymore.”

Kenzie blinked, surprised. “Why would you say that?”

“I heard him talking to Ben,” she whispered. “Ben said only babies believe in Santa, and Brady said yeah.”

“And you think he won’t get any presents because of that?”

Peyton nodded soberly.

Kenzie leaned over, touched by her daughter’s concern, and kissed her lightly on the forehead. “Don’t worry, baby. Even if Brady doesn’t believe in Santa, I know for a fact Santa believes in him.”

“Really?”

Kenzie nodded, running her fingers over Peyton’s soft cheek. “He’d never do anything to hurt your brother, sweetie. You don’t need to worry, okay?”

Peyton thought for a moment, then smiled brightly. “Okay, Mommy.”

“Now,” Kenzie said, standing up. “I think you need to take all of this off for now, at least until after breakfast.”

Peyton’s shoulders stiffened, and Kenzie braced for an argument.

Thankfully, it only took a little convincing for Peyton to trade her festive outfit for something a little more breakfast-friendly. Once she was dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, Kenzie kissed her forehead and sent her off to the kitchen, telling her she’d join her after another trip to the bathroom.

“But Mommy, you just went!” Peyton said with a pitying shake of her head.

“I know, baby. I know,” Kenzie replied. “Go on now. I’ll be down in a second.”

Kenzie was so intent on her goal that she didn’t notice that her daughter didn’t go downstairs right away. Instead, she watched her mother go into the bathroom, then tiptoed down the hall to Brady’s room. With a quick glance back and forth to ensure she wouldn’t be caught, and a peek in to see that Brady was already up, she slipped into his bedroom, closing the door quietly behind her before making her way to his cluttered desk. Luckily, she knew just what she was looking for, and it only took a moment before she slid it carefully into her pocket, patting it gently.

With an ear to the door, she paused before quickly exiting the room and heading down the stairs, singing Jingle Bells with a smile on her face.

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