After receiving a life-altering health diagnosis, Jada Beldane heads to a holiday cottage in Sprucewood, Colorado. Armed with a handbook titled “Ten Days to Find Joy,” she vows to use every exercise to fight her way out of this funk and face a new year with a positive attitude. All she needs is a little time to herself and to stay away from children.
Following a disastrous marriage, single dad Graham Seaver does his best to avoid the tourists in his hometown. He’s determined to give his young daughter the best Christmas ever. Hopefully, keeping her busy will distract her from asking questions about getting a new mother.
On paper, Jada and Graham are a horrible match. But when the town’s scheduled events throw them together, will they succumb to the holiday magic?
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In the clear light of day, playing like a child seemed the easiest from the book’s suggested tasks. Jada glanced at the swings, slides, and overhead bars. But she kept returning her gaze to the slightly tilted merry-go-round. When she was a kid, she used to love that apparatus. Pulling on her gloves, she looked in the car mirror. A few strands of long, dark hair dangled along her cheeks, and she tucked them into the forest green knitted cap. She took one last look at the book opened to the correct chapter on the passenger seat and scanned the instructions.
Play like you did when you were a younger version of yourself and every activity was an adventure. Tackle that single task and dig for your inner child to share the joy.
Once outside the car, she shivered and rubbed gloved hands along her arms. Even with a sweater underneath, this fleece jacket was not thick enough. When she knew skiing wouldn’t be part of the trip, she’d left behind her insulated clothes. Big mistake. Jada jogged to the merry-go-round painted in primary colors. She rested her right knee on the metal platform and shoved off with her left about every two feet in the wet dirt as the speed increased. Ah, the feeling of almost flying. Such a wonderful sensation for a kid who felt trapped by other people’s rules.
After she built up enough speed, she hopped on and slid her body flat, resting her neck at the outside edge. Miniature clouds formed above her mouth as she caught her breath. The cold from the metal platform seeped through her clothes. She hooked a leg around the upright bar in the center and stretched out her arms. The circling motion didn’t feel like too much as long as she focused on the puffy cloud directly overhead in the cornflower blue sky. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine all those times when she and Issie did—
“Daddy, what’s that lady doing?”
At the voice, Jada popped open her eyes and spotted two sets of legs—one jean clad, and the thinner one in gray sweatpants—as she circled. No…not a child. Her breath caught in her lungs and stuck. The merry-go-round slowed and came around again. The upside-down image of a tall man in a cowboy hat holding the hand of a small girl flashed then disappeared again.
“But why is a grown-up playing on the playground?”
Good question, kid. Unfortunately, Jada didn’t have an answer. She rubbed a fist on her chest to release the painful breath. Of course, a playground proved a risky place for avoiding kids. Why hadn’t she chosen a solitary child’s activity—like skipping rope or blowing bubbles?
“I want to spin and hang my head upside down.”
“It’s not safe.”
The stern note prompted Jada to sit upright. Her stomach fluttered at the throaty warning. At the quick change in position, combined with the spinning, she swayed and wrapped both arms around the closest handle. His comment about safety stabbed her conscience. Setting an example for young observers never entered her thoughts as she sought her own enjoyment. A deep breath calmed her jumpy stomach.
“Let’s go to the swings.” The man stretched out an arm toward the other side of the playground.
“No, I want to spin.” The girl scrambled onto the platform and hugged the closest upright bar. “Hi, lady.”
“Hi.” Hearing the girl’s piping voice, Jada bit back a groan. The exact encounter she wanted to avoid sat not three feet away