'Twas the Night

'Twas the Night

Sandra Hill - Trish Jensen - Kate Holmes

$14.95 November 2010
ISBN 978-1-61194-002-2

Laugh-out-loud, holiday romance

Now available in audio book from Audible.com or wherever fine audio is downloaded.

Our PriceUS$14.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

What do a Blue Angels pilot, a bounty hunter and an ex-NFL football player have in common:? The three bad-boy bachelors of Snowdon, Maine have to make it to a friend's Christmas Eve wedding on time or die trying! They're willing to risk anything to make that happen--even dashing through the snow in the goofiest bus on Earth, bright red and filled with a bunch of merry, meddling senior citizens known as the Santa Brigade. All too soon, these men will have met their matches in three special women: a woman from their past, a forest ranger so hot she ought to be declared a fire hazard, and a woman on the run.

Ho, ho, OH!

Com along for the ride, as three unforgettable couples discover who's naughty and nice while serving up holiday cheer with the Santa Brigade.

Three roguish St. Nicks are hoping what they truly want for Christmas will be nestled in their beds after the stockings are stuffed and the gifts placed under the tree.


"It was a light, fun, sexy read." -- Vanessa Brooks, Net Galley

"There are many references to The Waltons throughout the book but there are just as many spicy steamy scenes…Just when you think 'ok the road is clear the rest of the way,' something up occurs." -- Julie Barrett, Books-a-Million customer review

"A love story that will set hearts on fire and one with the Christmas joy and spirit. " -- The Elephant Paragrapher Blog

"Together the three authors put together a book that sparkles with hot romance and humor." -- Lesa's Book Critiques

"This book is a feel-good heart-warming book for the Christmas season! A lovely book to curl up by a fire with!" -- Sugarbeat's Books

"This most humorous tale is full of clever maneuvers and solid-gold hearts spreading Christmas cheer wherever and to whomever they touch." -- Kay Quintin, Fresh Fiction Reviews

"Overall, it's a sweet romantic story perfect if you want to read something light to get in the Christmas mood." -- Maria Guajardo, Oh My Books!

"'Twas the Night offers entertaining, seasonal reading with just the right amount of steam to keep you warm without having to sit by a fire. Brava!" -- Tricia Joerger, Blogger TFJ Enterprises

"I loved this book. Three authors have collaborated to produce a humorous book about three men trying to get to a good friends wedding, a snowstorm, and a bus full of geriatric Santa's. It is a great holiday read and should be put on the top of your list. " -- Susan Abolafia via NetGalley

"This is a hilarious story…" -- Lynn Fowlston, Miss Lynn's Books & More



Monday afternoon, four days 'til Christmas Eve.

"Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way...”

"American Airlines, Flight One-oh-one to Boston is cancelled. Passengers are directed to the information desk for further instructions.

"Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way...”

"U.S. Air, Flight Six-seven-three to Syracuse is cancelled. Passengers are directed to the information desk for further instructions.

"Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way...”

"United Airlines, Flight Nine-eight-five to Bangor, Maine is cancelled. Passengers are directed to the information desk for further instructions.”

"Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way...”

On and on the staticky public address system went with cancellations of what appeared to be all northbound flights in the face of a coming blizzard. The only planes taking off today from Philadelphia International Airport were those headed south, or to the western U.S. Since the southbound storm was headed this way and would probably hit full-force tomorrow, chances were there wouldn't be any northbound flights tomorrow, either.

As a backdrop to the distressing announcements, speakers in the airport terminal piped out, over and over and over, like a stuck record, a bouncy version of Jingle Bells. Meanwhile, holiday travelers—those not stunned over being land-locked at this all-important time of the year—laughed and called out to strangers with jolly "Merry Christmas” greetings as they hurried along toward their designated gates.

One person in particular was feeling less than jolly. "I hate snow. I hate that sorry song. In fact, I'm beginning to hate Christmas.” Navy Commander Samuel Merrick slunk lower in his Naugahyde booth and glared out the window of the airport coffee shop. He watched grimly as fat snowflakes were beginning to come down like celestial post-it notes... reminders that mere mortals and their technological advances, such as aircraft, could be frozen in place on a whim of the gods.

In the midst of Sam's grumbling to himself, Lt. Andrew O'Dell slid into the opposite booth and handed him one of the two cups of coffee in his hands, the whole time smiling. "Now, now, Slick. Since when did you become the Bluebird of Christmas Happiness? Or rather, the Blue angel of Christmas un-Happiness?” he corrected, staring pointedly at the distinctive blue and yellow Blue Angel badge with the F/A Hornet Jets in a diamond formation that was positioned proudly on Sam's uniform... just as it was on his.

He and Andy were current members of the renowned six-man Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron. Considered the best of the best, these jet pilots performed high-precision, aerobatic maneuvers in breath-taking, razzle dazzle air shows across the world. Although their flying talents were famous, the Blue Angels' main role was to serve as role models and goodwill ambassadors for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

"Easy for you to say, Andy. You're not gonna be stuck in the City of Brotherly Love for the next day or two. You're almost home... just a short puddle jump to Harrisburg.”

Andy didn't look a bit sympathetic... probably because his thoughts were consumed with his fiancee—a dairy farmer, of all things—whom he hadn't seen in three months. He and Andy had come up from Pensacola, homebase to the Blue Angels, less than an hour ago. It should have been a short layover for them. Then, after Christmas, they'd travel to NAF, the Naval Air Facility, in El Centro, California, where the squadron wintered.

"Knowing you, Slick, you'll find something to occupy your time,” Andy said in an awestruck voice.

Oh, swell! Another Navy nugget suffering from a bit of misplaced hero worship.

As if on cue, an American Airlines flight attendant walked by, gave Sam a quick once-over, then flashed him a not-so-subtle smile that said clearly, "Hey, sailor, I'd like to know you better,” before sitting down with companions at a nearby table.

"See, see!” Andy hooted in an undertone.

"It's just the uniform. Women have this thing about men in a killer uniform.”

"Hah! You don't see them going ga-ga over me, do you?”

"Ga-ga?” Sam questioned with a raised eyebrow, even as he instinctively returned the woman's once-over. His slow, lazy perusal registered her trim figure and attractive facial features and the fact that she could pass for a red-headed version of Cameron Diaz. Even better, her legs were a shade longer than a Hornet jet stream. Still, he turned back to his coffee with an "Oh, well.” shrug. Reciprocating her smile would amount to an invitation... one he was not interested in. In fact, he'd become bored with the whole dating game for a long time now.

Sam wasn't a vain person... well, not too vain... but he'd had no trouble attracting females since he was thirteen years old and discovered that his dark hair, blue eyes and tall frame were assets to be milked for all their worth. But it wasn't just his looks. Hell, he'd gotten charm down to an art form before he'd turned ten, and earned his nickname of Slick which had stuck all these years, right down to being his call name in the Blues. Yep, charm had been a necessary survival skill when dodging the law and criminal elements in the inner city neighborhood where, during his early years, he'd been raised—or, rather, ignored—by a druggie mother, who'd been practically a kid herself.

But now Sam was feeling all charmed out. He didn't give a flying fig about meeting another woman—gorgeous or not. He was tired. Perhaps it was this forced trip back to Snowdon, Maine... a place he had studiously avoided for fourteen years, ever since his high school graduation. He had no choice now, though. His old mentor, George Garrison, was getting married, and he couldn't let him down. He'd promised he would be there by Christmas Eve, and he would be, by damn... blizzard or not.

"Man, oh, man! I can't imagine what it must be like to have women... and men, too... do double takes when you pass by... just because you're so good looking. God, I envy you.” Though he was in perfect physical condition, as required by the Blue Angels regimen, Andy would never be described as handsome... not with all those freckles and his gap-toothed, David Letterman smile and a cowlick sticking up on his crown, in spite of his short haircut.

Sam was only thirty-two, but he felt old compared to the exuberant, impressionable and over-talkative Andy, who was a mere twenty-six. Andy had just joined the Blues this past year, while Sam was in his third year with the Blues... including ten years with the Navy, after college.

Taking a deep breath, he said, "Andy, I envy you.”

"Me?” Andy was clearly taken aback.

"I've seen the pictures of you and Cindy... and the farm she inherited when her parents died. You can tell, just by looking at the glow on her face, how much she loves you. And that farmhouse will be perfect when you start to raise a family. Hell, you've already got a readymade family with those younger sisters she's helping to raise.” He shrugged, at a loss to explain himself further. "You've got it all.”

Andy's Adam's Apple bobbed up and down a few times before he choked out, "Yeah, I guess I do.”

"Tell me what your Christmas will be like,” Sam encouraged, wanting to take the attention away from himself.

Andy smiled and his face lit up like a Christmas tree. "Cindy and I both come from big families. I have three brothers and two sisters. She's got three younger sisters. Then, there are lots of aunts and uncles and grandparents. Loud, that's the best way to describe our Christmases. And crowded. Plenty of good, homegrown food. Always a stuffed turkey and a baked ham. My mother makes the pies... eight of them... two each of pumpkin, apple, mince meat and lemon meringue. Aunt Nellie makes the cakes; my favorite is Devil's Food with boiled icing. Yummm. We probably never got as many big ticket items as other kids did, but I can't recall feeling deprived.”

He thought for a moment, still smiling, "It's a happy time.”

That's exactly how Sam had always imagined a family Christmas should be. The Waltons... only better.

"How about you, Slick? What do you do on Christmas?”

"Get drunk.”

Andy tilted his head quizzically, not sure if he was kidding or not.

"How's this for a dose of reality? My earliest Christmas memory is of me grabbing the bell from the Salvation Army lady, whacking her over the head with it, and stealing all the money in the kettle.”

Andy narrowed his eyes at him. "Exactly how old were you?”

Sam blinked several times in rapid progression. What had come over him to reveal a memory he'd thought long-buried? Finally, when Andy refused to accept his silence as a reply, he told him, "Eight.”

"Ah, Slick!”

"It was a long time ago. No big deal!” he said gruffly.

Andy seemed about to say more, then cut himself off. "Hey, I have an idea. Why don't you come home with me for Christmas? Good grief! My cousin Valerie would go ga-ga over you. She's a massage therapist.” Andy jiggled his eyebrows meaningfully.

Sam laughed. "I wish I could. Especially with a ga-ga massage therapist. But I have to be in Maine by Friday.”

Andy put his hand on Sam's forearm. "You seem really down in the dumps. It's not just the weather delay, is it?”

Thank goodness, Sam's cell phone rang then. He was spared from answering Andy's question... a procedure which would involve even more painful revelations.

"Merrick here,” Sam said, flicking up the lid of his cell phone with a thumb and holding the mini console to his ear.

"Samuel! It's so good to hear your voice,” a jovial voice spoke out.

It had to be George. He was the only one who could get away with calling him by his given name.

In the background could be heard the loud barking of dogs... lots of dogs. George was a veterinarian, and the man who had practically saved his life as a wayward teenager, along with the lives of his best buddies, Kevin "JD” Wilder and Stan Kijewski, fellow inmates... uh, residents... of the White Mountain Home for Boys in Snowdon, Maine. Kevin, a former cop and currently a D.C. private eye, and Stan, until recently a pro football player with the San Diego Typhoons, were supposed to meet up with him in Maine.

Sam could pretty well guess why George was calling now. He had asked the three of them to come back to Snowdon this week to be best men at his wedding. Now, George was checking up on him... like he always had. "When can Molly and I expect you? Chowder's on the stove, just the way you always liked it. The weather's getting a mite rough up this way, and I wanted to make sure we get to the airport in time to pick you up.”

George's deep Maine burr was a welcome melody to Sam's ears. Furthermore, "a mite rough” to a Maine old-timer meant ten-below temperatures, wind chill equal to a North Pole gale, and snow to the rooftops... what the rest of the world considered emergency crisis conditions.

"Uh, George, have you turned on the TV today?”

"No. Mable Gentry's poodle was constipated again. I keep telling Mable not to give her dog cheese doodles.”

"Mrs. Gentry still has that poodle? Bella was her name, right?” Sam had worked enough in George's kennels as a teenager that he knew his regular customers, even after all these years.

"Yep! Bella. Mus' be more'n fifteen years old. But what was that you said about the television?”

"Huh? Oh. I asked if you've turned on the TV today.”

There was a long sigh on George's end.” Don't tell me, you're on TV again. Goldurnit, boy, you've got more moxie than good sense. I couldn't believe that somersault you did in your aeroplane over the White House last summer. I hope you're not gettin' yourself in trouble again with my weddin' so close.”

Sam smiled, loving the way George's conversations tended to ramble. He even loved the sounds of all the yips and woofs and bow-wow's and meows that always seemed to surround him. Most of all, he loved the way George was concerned about him, as if he were still "Slick Merrick, Teenager-In-Trouble”... again.

"George, you are in the midst of a major storm, and it's headed this way. I'm stuck at the airport in Philly, with all flights northbound being cancelled for the time being, possibly the next two days.”

There was a long pause of silence. "Does that mean you're not coming?” George's voice was soft when he spoke, and full of disappointment. Just like it was the time Sam had shoplifted those condoms from a convenience store when he was fourteen... or when he'd gotten picked up by the police for speeding when he was fifteen... or when he'd broken both legs skiing down Suicide Run after an ice storm when he was sixteen.

"No... no, I'll be there. I mean, I'm almost certain I'll be there. It's just a delay for now.”

"Hold on a minute.” George could be heard talking to a female in the room with him. Probably his fiancee. Finally, he came back and informed Sam excitedly, "Molly came up with a perfect solution for you.” He paused in a ta-da manner before suggesting, "You can hitch a ride on the Santa Brigade bus.”

"What the hell is a Santa Brigade?” Almost immediately, he added, "I beg your pardon, sir.” Old habits died hard. George never tolerated bad language.

"The Santa Brigade is a troupe of volunteers from Winter Haven. And they're headed back up this way any day now. They better be. They're all invited to the porchbreaker of a weddin' celebration we're planning.”

"Winter Haven? The retirement community?” Good Lord! What did a retirement community have to do with him?

"Yep. For years, a bunch of the residents have been dressing up as Santas, entertainin' kids hereabouts with magic and stuff. Then, three years ago, they rigged up this special bus so they could travel down the eastern seaboard visiting homeless shelters and such for a couple weeks before Christmas. They're famous, boy. Haven't you ever heard of 'em?”

He paused to listen to the female in the room again. Before finishing. "Molly just reminded me. They were on Good Morning America a few years back. Dint'ja see 'em? Diane Sawyer sat on Morey Goldstein's lap. That old fart's gonna have a head so big when he gets back here his hat won't fit. You remember Diane Sawyer. She passed out in a Blue Angels plane 'bout the same time. I saw it myself on the TV.”

Sam braced an elbow on the table and put his forehead in his palm. Between George's rambling and the approaching snow storm, Sam felt the mother of all headaches beginning to throb behind his eyes. "George, what do all these geriatric Santas have to do with me and my cancelled flight?”

"Be careful how you use that word geriatric, boy. I'm in that category now, too.”


"Those geriatric Santas, as you call them, are the answer to your prayer, Samuel.”

What prayer? Call me crazy, but I don't recall praying for a long time... probably since the time my mother told me she was abandoning me when I was ten. Sam shook his head, hard, to clear it. He was becoming way too maudlin today.

"At this moment, they're at the Good Shepherd Shelter in Allentown, Pennsylvania. That's right down the road from you.”

"I hate to tell you this, but Allentown isn't down the road from Philadelphia.” Andy whispered some specifics to him. Then Sam informed George, "It's a two-hour drive under good conditions.”

George was talking right over him. "Molly's ringing up their bus driver right now. You remember Betty Morgan.”

"Betty Morgan is the bus driver? The Betty Morgan? I thought she was a Marine.” Betty, nicknamed Betty Bad-Ass by him and his buddies, had caught him necking one time behind her father's garage with Sally Sue Simpson. She'd given him a lecture that day, complete with blue language that still turned his face red in memory, on the need for always carrying proper rubbers. And she hadn't been referring to boots, either.

"Retired. Now she's a NASCAR mechanic... famous, actually... and a bus driver for the brigade on her off-time. Orders everyone around like a drill sergeant. What's that you say, Molly? Oh, Betty wants to know if you can you be in Allentown by fifteen hundred hours?”

"I can't be there in one hour,” he replied testily, glancing at his wrist watch and making some quick mental calculations. "It's already two o'clock. I have no means of transportation handy. There's not enough time. And the weather's getting bad.” Besides, I have no desire to ride for a day or more in a crowded bus with a bunch of senior citizen Santas through a blizzard. Not to mention Betty freakin' Bad-Ass Morgan. She'd probably give me a more up-to-date lecture on condoms.

George ignored all his protests, and was giving him the number of Betty's cell phone, which Sam jotted down on a napkin.

"Don't let me down,” George said then. The wily old fox was manipulating him to his will, just like he always had.

"I'll try to find a way to get there in a day or two, George, but I'm not coming on a Santa bus,” he pronounced firmly.

"Now, don't rule it out. There are no guarantees that the storm won't get worse, and you'll be stuck in Philadelphia through Christmas. Talk to Betty. See what you can arrange.”

"I'm not coming on a Santa bus.”

"Maybe you could hire a taxi to Allentown.”

A taxi? Is he nuts? "I'm not coming on a Santa bus.”

"Oh. Molly just reminded me about somethin'. The director of Winter Haven is on that bus, too.”

So? "I'm not coming on a Santa bus.”

"You know who that is, dontcha?”

I don't care if it's Julia Roberts. "I'm not coming on a Santa bus.”

"Reba Anderson.”

The wind was knocked out his stomach, and his heart raced wildly. Jet pilots and astronauts, and especially Blue Angels who performed tight maneuvers fighting gravitational pull, were taught to lift weights regularly and learn how to tense their abdominal muscles as if to prepare for a stomach punch. It was called "hooking.” Without it, they might lose consciousness. In essence, the news about Reba hit Sam like a lethal G-force, and he'd had no chance to "hook.”

Through discipline and occasionally alcohol, Sam had kept thoughts of Reba banked in the recesses of his memory. Now, they all came rushing forward, like a burst dam.

Reba... Reba... Reba...

"That was a low blow, George,” he said when he could finally speak with a modicum of calmness.

"Huh? All I said was that Reba was on the bus. I know you had a crush on her when you were kids.”

Yep, George is manipulating me, bigtime. "A crush? I was crazy about her.”

"Well, ya mighta told her that... before you skipped town like a cat with its tail on fire.”

"That was fourteen years ago. I was headed for the Naval Academy,” he pointed out, then took several deep breaths to control his temper, before adding, "She's married, George. Why rake up dead ashes?”

George gasped. "Samuel H. Merrick! You are ten kinds of a fool. Reba Anderson got divorced more'n ten years ago. I don't think she was married for six months before she discovered that Whitby boy was light in the loafers.”

Reba isn't married? he marveled. Thank you, God! Apparently, he hadn't forgotten how to pray, after all.

The most incredible feeling swept over Sam then. It took him several moments to realize that it was happiness, the kind of happiness a little kid experiences, awakening on Christmas morning, when he believes that everything is possible.

He caught himself smiling like an idiot before he spoke into the phone again, "It appears I'll be riding on the Santa bus, after all, George.”

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