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Mia Costas is a successful artist, not an event planner. Agreeing to help stage a charity gala is the last thing she needs, but it’s for a good cause and she doesn’t want to let her friends down. When she realizes how important the event is, she knows she’s not the best person for the job—and so will the director of the hospital if he discovers who she is.
Stan Lewis, the Director of Bozeman Deaconess Hospital, needs to organize the biggest fundraising event Montana has ever seen. An event staging company could be the answer to all his problems or create more than he ever imagined.
With the hopes of more than one child resting on their shoulders, Stan and Mia work together to create a night no one will forget. And maybe, if they let themselves believe in the power of love, they can create a little magic of their own.
Chapter One Look Inside
Chapter One Look Inside
Mia held a watercolor canvas against the wall. “What about this one?”
Her friend, Claire, shook her head. “It doesn’t look right. You need something more vibrant beside the other paintings.” She walked to the table in the middle of the room. “Try this one.”
Mia swapped the canvases over. “Tell me quickly if it works. This one’s heavy.” After choosing where more than thirty paintings would be hung for the Bozeman Art Collective’s exhibition, her arms were aching. “Is it okay?”
“Thank goodness for that.” Carefully, she placed the painting on the floor, leaning the top edge against the wall. She looked around her grandfather’s art gallery and smiled. “This will be our biggest exhibition yet.”
Claire picked up her clipboard and frowned. “Everyone’s dropped off their work except Elizabeth. I hope she’s okay.”
“I’ll give her a call before we leave.” Rolling her shoulders, Mia tried to relax her sore muscles.
The side door to the gallery opened and Claire’s sister, Hannah, walked inside. “Wow. You’ve done so much.”
“Granddad’s organized his usual team to hang the paintings this afternoon. All we had to do was decide where they’d go.” Mia tilted her head. “You look worried. What’s happened?”
Hannah dropped her bag on a chair. “Do you remember when I told you about the Jenkins’ wedding?”
“The one that’ll be Montana’s social event of the year?”
“That’s the one.”
Claire’s mouth dropped open. “Did we get the contract to stage their reception?”
For someone who’d been talking nonstop about the wedding, Hannah didn’t seem very excited.
“What did they say?” Claire asked.
Hannah crossed her arms. “Mrs. Jenkins wants us to organize the whole wedding.”
“Everything? But we’re not wedding planners.”
“I know, but Mrs. Jenkins and her daughter saw how we decorated the Trembaths’ wedding. They want something similar, only bigger.”
Claire frowned. “But the Trembaths only had fifty guests. At last count, Beverly and Craig’s guest list was up to 258.”
“I told Mrs. Jenkins this would be the first wedding we’ve ever managed, but she wasn’t worried.”
Mia watched the two sisters digest what an event of that size would mean. As well as being talented artists, Claire and Hannah ran their own event staging company. It had taken a lot of hard work, long hours, and a folder of glowing referrals to get them to where they were today.
Claire bit her bottom lip. “The Jenkins family own one of the largest ranches in Montana. People will come from across America for Beverly’s wedding. We can’t say no.”
Hannah opened her laptop. “I’ve looked at our schedule. We already have a lot of pre-Christmas events to stage. And we know what Mrs. Jenkins and her daughter are like from the engagement party. They might say they want something similar to the Trembaths, but they’re just as likely to change their minds.”
Mia was so glad all she had to worry about was the art exhibition. “I don’t mean to state the obvious, but why don’t you ask someone to help you?”
“We won’t be able to find anyone on such short notice, especially this close to Christmas,” Claire said with a sigh. “The part-time staff we hired aren’t ready for the responsibility of organizing a huge wedding.”
“Not the wedding,” Mia said. “The other events you’re staging. If the Jenkins’ contract attracts more clients, maybe you should concentrate on their wedding.”
Claire looked at her sister. “Mia’s right. We need to prioritize.”
Nick Costas, Mia’s grandfather, walked into the exhibition space. “How are my girls doing?” As he studied each of their faces, his eyebrows rose. “It cannot be as bad as that.”
Mia handed her grandfather a brown paper bag. “This is from Tess. She made huckleberry muffins this morning.”
Nick’s smile was instant. “She is a woman after my own heart.”
Her grandfather’s thick, Greek accent made Mia chuckle. “You’re nearly seventy-five years old, Granddad. Tess is married and too young for you.”
“I am young at heart. Now, Claire. Tell me what is worrying you. It is not like you and Hannah to be sad.”
“We’ve been asked to plan a huge wedding, but we can’t fit it into our schedule.”
“Show me this schedule.” Nick perched his reading glasses on the end of his nose and peered at the computer screen.
Claire stood beside her sister. “Most of the work has already been done for the local high school and mall contracts. I could still do the corporate Christmas party.”
“And these?” Nick pointed to something on the screen.
“They’re our regular events,” Hannah said. “Our part-time staff could look after them.”
Mia moved closer. Even though she knew Claire and Hannah were busy, she was surprised at the number of events they were juggling.
“This is the one that worries me the most.” Hannah tapped her finger against the screen.
Nick leaned closer. “A charity gala for the hospital?”
“They booked us six months ago. We can’t let them down.”
“What does this charity gala involve?”
Hannah opened another file. “It will be a Christmas-themed event. There’ll be a buffet dinner and dancing. As soon as the hospital director approves the concept plans and budget, we’ll start booking what we need.”
Mia studied the photos on Hannah’s laptop. It looked like your typical North Pole Christmas scene, complete with snowmen, candy canes, and Santa’s reindeer.
Nick pursed his lips. “I have an idea. Mia can work on the hospital gala for you.”
Mia shook her head. “I’ve never done anything like that in my life, Granddad. It would be a disaster.”
“Your friends need help.”
“It’s okay,” Claire said. “You don’t have to help us. You’re busy teaching, and your next exhibition isn’t far away. We’ll tell Mrs. Jenkins we can’t organize her daughter’s wedding.”
Mia pulled out a stool and sat down. “When are Beverly and Craig getting married?”
“The second Saturday in January. They didn’t want a long engagement and that was the only date the caterer could manage.” Hannah closed the Jenkins’ file. “Organizing a wedding of that size in four months would be difficult for any company.”
Mia glanced at her granddad. Big mistake. His pale blue eyes bored into her soul, making her feel guilty for not saying yes straight away. “You know how busy I am.”
“You are a good girl. You will do the right thing.”
She sighed, wondering how on earth she could say no to her granddad and two of her closest friends. “I’ll let you know tomorrow morning if I can help.”
Claire and Hannah’s relieved smiles made her feel worse.
Nick patted her hand. “Your pappouli has complete faith in you.”
And those words, thought Mia, would ultimately seal her fate.
* * *
Stan Lewis bent his head. He didn’t need to read the words on his wife’s headstone to trigger the wave of grief rolling through him.
Over the last nine years, he’d visited Sandra’s grave more times than he could remember. He knew the names of the people buried around her. He’d even met most of their relatives.
“Happy birthday, Mom.” Annabelle, his eleven-year-old daughter, walked toward Sandra’s grave. With infinite care, she placed six pink roses on each side of the headstone.
Her small hand brushed across the silver letters. Stan swallowed, knowing it was her only physical connection to the woman who had loved her for two short years.
When she walked back to him, he wrapped his arm around her thin shoulders.
“Do you think Mom’s happy in heaven?”
Tears filled his eyes. “I hope she’s very happy. Did you know she loved celebrating birthdays? One year, she put so many candles on Grandma Jemma’s birthday cake that it exploded into flames.”
Annabelle’s eyes shot open. “Really? What happened next?”
“Grandpa Joe was going to use the fire extinguisher to put out the flames. But your mom had spent hours making the cake and she didn’t want it ruined. Before Grandpa Joe got back, she dropped a saucepan lid over the flames.”
“Did you eat the cake?”
Stan smiled. “We did. Your mom scraped off the frosting and cut it into big slices. It still tasted great.” A cold wind made him shiver. “We should go home soon.”
“Before we go, can you tell me about the day you met Mom?”
He’d told Annabelle that story so many times she must know it by heart. “Okay, but you need to wear your jacket.”
She took her red padded jacket out of his hands. With an impish grin, she rolled up the zipper to her chin. “Better?”
“Much better.” Standing behind her, he draped his hands over her shoulders. “Let’s see…where should I begin?”
“At the dance,” she said softly. “Tell me what Mom was wearing when you first saw her.”
He kissed the top of Annabelle’s head. With his eyes closed, he remembered the tall redhead who had taken his breath away. For thirteen years they’d been inseparable, until one day, she left him forever.
Wiping his eyes, he described Sandra’s blue dress, the one she’d borrowed from her cousin.
Annabelle sighed and leaned against him, sharing with him a long-ago memory.
Fall leaves tumbled to the ground, the wind whispered through the trees, and another year passed without the woman who made him complete.
* * *
A light tap on Stan’s office door didn’t stop him from typing. He needed to finish the report he was writing by the end of the day. Nothing, barring a bomb threat or an outbreak of the plague, would stop him.
“How can I help, Gina?”
“Sorry to interrupt, but have you had a chance to look at the proposal for the charity gala?”
He glanced at the folder in his in-tray. It had been sitting there for a week. “Not yet. Is Deirdre desperate for an answer?”
“She needs to let the caterers and staging company know whether they can go ahead.”
“I’m busy at the moment. Can it wait until tomorrow?” He opened another document, copied some text, then returned to the report he was writing.
“If you don’t look at it today, your major fundraiser for the neonatal unit might not happen.”
Stan glanced at his secretary. “The gala’s three months away.”
“The only two contractors Deirdre has booked are the caterers and the staging company. If you don’t make a decision soon, they won’t be able to finalize their plans.”
He rubbed his forehead, wondering how he ever thought being the director of a level three trauma center could be easier than his job in Chicago.
“I’ll look at the report as soon as I’ve finished what I’m doing.”
Gina walked across the room and placed the folder in front of him. “When you’ve made your decision, let me know.”
Stan leaned back in his chair. “Tell me again why I employed you?”
“Because I’m bossy and keep you on your toes.”
He picked up the folder and started reading. By the time he made it to the second page, he knew their major fundraiser was in danger of becoming a major flop.
“Whose idea was it to do a Christmas theme?”
“You’ll have to ask Deirdre, but it is Christmas.”
“And everyone who buys tickets for the gala would have been to at least three Christmas events before they walk through our doors. There’s only so much Christmas spirit to go around.”
Gina’s eyebrows rose. “You sound like the Grinch.”
Stan closed the folder. He’d seen enough to know what his answer would be. “I’m a realist, and my answer is no.”
He held out the folder. “Tell Deirdre to make an appointment to see me, but not today. If she brings two or three new ideas to the meeting, it’ll make the whole process a lot quicker.”
Gina took the folder. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
“Trust me. Santa won’t have enough pulling power to sell all the tickets. We need something unique that no one else has done.”
“I’ll let Deirdre know. You’ve got fifteen minutes until your next appointment arrives.”
Stan looked at the time and groaned. As much as he wanted to delay the meeting, he needed to see his chief financial officer. The future of the neonatal unit could depend on it.
Fans of Netflix’s Virgin River series will love this small-town, feel-good romance!
Mia is a successful artist, not an event planner. Agreeing to help stage a charity gala is the last thing she needs, but she doesn't want to let everyone down. When she realizes how important the event is, she knows she’s not the best person for the job—and so will the director of the hospital if he discovers who she is.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ "If you want to cozy up with a book and be swept into a love story, this is the series for you!"
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ "It’s a love story for real people. I saw myself in the pages, and that’s rare."
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ "Grab a cup of tea, find a cozy spot, and enjoy this book! It’s a wonderful escape from the hustle and bustle."