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Gather under the mistletoe for another round of caroling with the Quinn family in this heartwarming third addition to Elin Hilderbrand’s bestselling Winter Street series.
Some of the stormy weather of the past few seasons seems to have finally lifted for the Quinns. After a year apart, and an ill-fated affair with the Winter Street Inn’s old Santa Claus, Mitzi has returned to rule the roost; Patrick is about to be released from prison; Kevin has a successful new business and is finally ready to tie the knot with Isabelle; and best of all, there’s hopeful news about Bart, who has been captured by enemy forces in Afghanistan.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few dark clouds on the horizon. Kelley has recently survived a health scare; Jennifer can’t quite shake her addiction to the drugs she used as a crutch while Patrick was in jail; and Ava still can’t decide between the two lovers that she’s been juggling with limited success. However, if there’s one holiday that brings the Quinn family together to give thanks for the good times, it’s Christmas. And this year promises to be a celebration unlike any other as the Quinns prepare to host Kevin and Isabelle’s wedding at the inn. But as the special day approaches, a historic once-in-a-century blizzard bears down on Nantucket, threatening to keep the Quinns away from the place–and the people–they love most. Before the snow clears, the Quinns will have to survive enough upheavals to send anyone running for the spiked eggnog, in this touching novel that proves that when the holidays roll around, you can always go home again.
Follow the Quinn family through the entire Winter Street Series:
- Winter Street
- Winter Stroll
- Winter Storms
- Winter Solstice
Table of Contents
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Here is a little-known fact about Margaret Quinn: She likes some news stories better than others. At the bottom of her list are terrorist attacks, random shootings, and… the election. Margaret has to fight off her indifference on a daily basis. She has been on familiar terms with the past three presidents and her overwhelming emotion toward them wasn't awe or admiration, it was pity. Being president of the United States is the most stressful, thankless job in the world and Margaret can't fathom why anyone would voluntarily pursue it. End of topic.
Margaret's favorite kind of news story is—would anyone believe this?—the weather. The dull, the prosaic, the default I-have-nothing-else-to-talk-about-so-let's-talk-about-the-weather topic is, to Margaret's mind, a stunning daily phenomenon, overlooked and taken for granted. Margaret loves it all: hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, lightning storms, and—the ultimate bonanza—an earthquake followed by a tsunami. This may seem sadistic, but even as she mourns any loss of life, she is intrigued by the science of it. Weather is a physical manifestation of the earth's power. Margaret also likes that weather defies prediction. Meteorologists can get close, but there are no guarantees.
The world, Margaret thinks, is full of surprises.
Margaret's ex-husband, Kelley Quinn, has prostate cancer. He was diagnosed just before Christmas, which made for another muted, maudlin holiday. Margaret was tempted to take a leave of absence from the network in order to manage Kelley's care, but Kelley's estranged wife, Mitzi, returned to the fold and is now very much in charge. After twenty years of barely concealed animosity, Margaret and Mitzi have come to a place of peace, bordering on friendship, and Margaret would like to keep it that way—so she's backed off. She gets updates every day or two from her daughter, Ava. Kelley's cancer is contained; it hasn't metastasized. He has been traveling back and forth to the Cape five days a week for his radiation treatments. Mitzi goes with him most days, although she's made no secret of the fact that she finds the radiation aggressive. She would prefer Kelley to treat his cancer holistically with herbs, kale smoothies, massage, energy work, and sleep.
Margaret bites her tongue.
One thing that Margaret knows will make both Kelley and Mitzi feel better is getting definitive news about their son, Bart, who has been missing in Afghanistan since December of 2014. Margaret checks her computer first thing each morning for briefs from the DoD. One soldier from Bart's platoon, William Burke, escaped to safety, but he remains at Walter Reed in Bethesda. He sustained life-threatening head trauma and, hence, the DoD has no new intelligence about where the rest of the troops are, or even if they're alive.
But they might soon, Margaret guesses. Assuming the kid makes it.
The winter months are mild, a welcome change from the year before, and spring arrives right on time in the second half of March. It's not a false spring either, but a real, true spring, the kind portrayed in picture books—with bunny rabbits, budding trees, children on swing sets. Margaret's apartment overlooks Central Park and by the first of April, the park is a lush green carpet accented by bursts of color—beds of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, iris. Model yachts skim across Conservatory Pond. There are soaking rain showers at night so that in the morning when Margaret steps out of her apartment building and into the waiting car, driven by Raoul, the city looks shellacked and the air feels scrubbed clean.
It's a good spring. Kelley will be fine, Margaret tells herself. Their son Patrick is set to be released from jail on the first of June. He already has a handful of investors and he plans to open his own boutique investment firm. How he managed this from inside the lockup, Margaret isn't sure. She made him promise her that, from here on out, everything he does will be legal.
Margaret's granddaughter, Genevieve, is growing and changing each day. She can now sit up, and technology is so advanced that when Margaret and Kevin connect on FaceTime, Margaret can wave and coo and watch Genevieve laugh. Kevin and Isabelle are busy with the inn, which, thanks to the clement weather, has been filled to capacity since the middle of March.
But what is really painting Margaret's world pink is that she's in love. Dr. Drake Carroll has changed from a sometime lover to her constant companion, best friend, and fiancé. They'd both vowed to make time for the relationship to grow. Margaret had wondered if she would be able to keep her promise, and then she'd wondered if Drake would be able to keep his—but she has been pleasantly surprised at how organic and natural it is to be part of a couple again. Weeknights, they stay at Margaret's apartment, and weekends, they're at Drake's. They go out to dinner downtown at places picked by Margaret's assistant, Darcy, who is a wizard at finding the most fun and delicious spots in the city—the Lion, Saxon and Parole, Jeffrey's Grocery, Uncle Boons. They've been to the theater three times, and they work out side by side at the gym; on Sundays, they order in Vietnamese food and watch old movies. Drake sends Margaret flowers at the studio; he writes I love you in soap on the bathroom mirror. Margaret is besotted. When you're in love, every day is like a present you get to open.
Margaret's daughter, Ava, wants to take a trip, just the two of them, before Margaret gets married. It will be a bachelorette trip to celebrate the end of Margaret's freedom! Ava says.
Margaret is lukewarm on the idea. The last thing she needs at her age is a bachelorette celebration. She harks back to a very drunken night nearly forty years earlier that found her roaming the West Village with her six bridesmaids. Alison, the leader of Margaret's bachelorette foray, had insisted they stop at a bar to hear acoustic guitar music and then further insisted that Margaret join the singer—a very cute guy with shoulder-length hair and a naughty gleam in his eye—onstage to sing "American Pie." Margaret impressed the crowd and the band so much with her voice and her knowledge of the lyrics that she got a standing ovation, and the lead singer asked if he could take her home.
No, Margaret had said. She had been genuinely confused. I'm the one getting married.
Obviously any trip with Ava would be a far cry from that, but at her age, even the word bachelorette makes Margaret cringe.
But one day, as she's kicking it up a notch on the treadmill, Margaret is struck by a realization. This trip Ava is suggesting isn't for Margaret—it's for Ava.
Her daughter needs her.
Using her mother's credit card and her mother's assistant, Darcy—who has an inexplicably deep reservoir of general knowledge, considering her young age—Ava books five nights in adjoining ocean-view suites at the Malliouhana resort in Anguilla over her spring break.
She needs to get off the island of Nantucket.
Her love life is in a state of emergency.
Through the winter and into the spring, she has been unable to choose between Nathaniel and Scott and so she dates them both. Has anyone on God's green planet ever successfully dated two men at once? Oh yeah? Well, how about on an island that is thirteen miles long and four miles wide? One night, when Ava was out with Scott at a romantic dinner at Company of the Cauldron, Nathaniel walked by outside, saw Ava, and started waving like a madman. He then proceeded to take a lengthy phone call right outside the window, directly in Ava's line of sight. Ava wanted Nathaniel to leave so she could finish her dinner with Scott in peace, but she also wanted to know who Nathaniel was on the phone with. He seemed to be laughing pretty hard. Another time, when Ava was with Nathaniel at Cisco Brewers having a Winter Shredder and listening to the Four Easy Payments, Scott walked in with Roxanne Oliveria, aka Mz. Ohhhhhh, who still had a slight limp from breaking her ankle in December.
Scott said, "Hi, Ava."
Roxanne said, "Oh, hello, Ava."
Ava sipped her Shredder and said nothing. Nathaniel raised a hand to Scott and said, "Hey there, Scotty boy," in a tone of voice that announced his victory. Roxanne smiled at Ava in a way that announced her victory, and then she requested "Brown-Eyed Girl," a choice Ava found overplayed and obvious. Ava bumped knees with Nathaniel under the table, and although he certainly wanted to stay and make Scott uncomfortable, he asked for the check.
Ava has told Nathaniel and Scott that she is dating both of them, and she makes it clear they are free to date other people. Nathaniel says he has no interest in anyone but Ava. This is an effective strategy, especially since Ava has had trust issues with Nathaniel in the past and has, on occasion, questioned his devotion. On nights when Ava goes out with Scott, Nathaniel either stops in at the Bar with his crew or stays home and reads Harlan Coben novels; he always texts her when he's hitting the hay. When Ava is out with Nathaniel, Scott goes out with Roxanne. This is also an effective strategy. Ava suspected that Roxanne was making a play for Scott, but she'd never believed Scott would fall for it. When Ava is at school, she will sometimes see Roxanne emerging from the main office wearing one of her low-cut blouses and a tight pencil skirt and absurd wedge heels. Roxanne teaches English at the high school—two buildings away—and there is no reason why she should be at the elementary school except to lean over Scott's desk and let her long hair fall into her cleavage. Ava can't believe the superintendent hasn't spoken to Roxanne about the provocative way she dresses, and Ava can't believe Roxanne still insists on wearing heels even after she's broken her ankle on the cobblestones of Federal Street. Ava's real problem, however, is jealousy. She is insanely jealous of Roxanne. Roxanne is beautiful and alluring; the wedge heels make her calves look amazing. Roxanne has also, apparently, revealed her vulnerable side to Scott, something he is unable to resist. Roxanne has been through three broken engagements—Fiancé One was gay, Fiancé Two was a cheater, and Fiancé Three died in a surfing accident while on vacation in San Diego. Roxanne's loss of the third fiancé leaves Ava unable to hate her. Scott confided to her that Roxanne still sees a therapist to cope with Gunner's death, and she bursts into tears over strange things—orange sunsets, the smell of lily of the valley, the song "Last Nite" by the Strokes.
Both Nathaniel and Scott have been available and supportive for Ava throughout Bart's continued absence and Kelley's illness. Nathaniel is better at doing things—he is the one who picks up Kelley and Mitzi from the boat or the airport after radiation; he is the one who wakes up early every day to check the DoD website to see if William Burke has made any medical progress or if any other troops from Bart's platoon have escaped. Scott is better at talking—he asks Ava how she feels about Kelley's illness (although outwardly optimistic, inwardly she's terrified); how she feels about Bart's disappearance (although outwardly optimistic, especially in front of Kelley and Mitzi, inwardly she's terrified).
Together, Nathaniel and Scott are the perfect partner. Ava would like to live with them both forever or be married to each of them on alternating weeks. But since that practice isn't acceptable in Western cultures, Ava will have to choose, and she can't choose.
She needs time away with the wisest woman she knows.
Are there any woes that a five-star hotel in the Caribbean can't fix? The Malliouhana resort is set amid lush, impeccably manicured gardens that are silent but for the sound of a gurgling waterfall and birdsong. The spa is down one winding brick path, the fitness center down another. The lobby is Moroccan inspired, with marble floors and rattan ceiling fans and gracious arches that frame the expansive view of the turquoise sea. Ava is further charmed by their connecting suites—pencil-post beds with crisp linens and piles of fluffy white pillows, enormous soaking tubs, French champagne in the minibar, and a bright orange hammock chair on the balcony.
Who needs Nathaniel? Who needs Scott? Here, Ava has to decide only between her Jane Green novel and her Anita Shreve; between the hotel's infinity pool and one of three secluded beach coves; between rum punch and a glass of chilled rosé.
The first morning, Ava runs down the mile-long white crescent of sand that is Meads Bay, then, at the Viceroy hotel, she cuts in and runs another mile down the road. She passes a man, her age or a little older, who is wearing a Nantucket T-shirt and a hat from Cisco Brewers. Ava scowls—she can't get away! Nantucket is everywhere, even here on Anguilla! She gives the man a lame wave, then picks up her pace.
Margaret has gone to the fitness center and they meet for breakfast at ten o'clock in the open-air restaurant, both of them still in their workout clothes. At the buffet, Ava piles her plate with pineapple, papaya, and mango, whereas Margaret dives into the French cheeses, the ham, salami, and pâté, and the warm croissants. The woman can eat whatever she wants and never gain an ounce.
Ava sees the man in the Nantucket T-shirt sitting in the restaurant with a much-older gentleman, probably his father or his uncle or his boss. Margaret notices the Nantucket T-shirt and says to him, "Oh, my daughter lives on Nantucket!"
"No, Mom," Ava says, but it's too late, of course. The man whips off his hat and stands up.
He says, "You're Margaret Quinn."
Ava closes her eyes. She loves how her mother rolls through life like she's a normal person, seemingly unaware that every single soul in America—in the world, practically—recognizes her as the anchor of the CBS Evening News.
Margaret doesn't respond. Instead, she nudges Ava forward. "This is Ava," Margaret says. "She teaches music at the Nantucket Elementary School. Her father—my ex-husband—owns and operates the Winter Street Inn."
"Mom, he doesn't care," Ava says.
"No, I do care," the man says. "I'm Potter Lyons, and this is my grandfather, whose name is also Potter Lyons, but everyone calls him Gibby." Potter smiles at Ava. "I love Nantucket better than any place on earth. I go every August for Race Week. Do you sail?"
"We put her in sailing camp when she was seven years old," Margaret says. "There was a bully on her boat and she refused to go back. She hasn't sailed since." Margaret puts a thoughtful finger to her lips and turns to Ava. "Except that one summer when you sailed in the Opera House Cup."
Mom, he doesn't care! Ava thinks. He's only appearing interested because it's Margaret Quinn talking and she has a talent for making the mundane details of Ava's growing-up sound like national news.
Ava smiles at Potter and Gibby. "Confirmed," she says. "The bully's name was Alex, and in 2009, I sailed in the Opera House Cup on the Shamrock."
"They rent Sunfish here, down on the beach," Potter said. "It's not the Shamrock, but let me know if you want to go for a sail. I'd love to take you out."
Ava stares down at her plate of fruit. Her face is most likely the color of the papaya.
"Nice to meet you," she says. She leads her mother across the restaurant to the table farthest from Potter and Gibby.
"I think he likes you!" Margaret whispers.
No, Ava thinks. He likes you.
They bump into Potter and Gibby again at lunchtime at a place down the beach called Blanchards. Blanchards is a beach shack, and at first Ava is thrilled with the find. She and Margaret walk up to the counter in their bare feet and ask for one grilled mahimahi BLT with smoked-tomato tartar sauce, one order of shrimp tacos, and two sides of coleslaw. And while they're at it—two passion-fruit daiquiris.
Ava is so in love with the beach shack that she takes a picture of the menu and texts it to Kevin, saying, You could do this at home! Quinns' on the Beach! Kevin and Isabelle are running the inn, but Kevin has been looking for a second business opportunity. This is it! Ava thinks. Isabelle is a fantastic cook; she will be able to figure out the smoked-tomato tartar sauce, no problem.
Ava's reverie is interrupted by Potter and Gibby. "You've discovered our secret," Potter says. "We've eaten here six days straight."
"Jonum, phtzplz," Margaret says. Ava puts a hand on her mother's arm. The last thing Margaret needs is to be photographed with her mouth full of shrimp taco. She'll end up front and center in Us Weekly's "Stars—They're Just Like Us!" (They talk with their mouths full!) Besides, Ava fears Margaret was trying to say Join us, please.
"We're almost done," Ava says, though she's taken only two bites of her heavenly sandwich.
"Hey, do you want to go for that sail later?" Potter asks.
Ava looks up at him. He's wearing orange board shorts and a white polo shirt. He has a little bit of gray in his dark hair, and his eyes seem very blue, probably thanks to his tan. He's way too handsome for her. He must be pursuing her because she's Margaret Quinn's daughter.
"Let me see how I feel later," she says.
The blue eyes light up. "Great!" he says.
When he and Gibby walk away, Margaret says, "You'd be a fool not to go."
"Mom," Ava says. "I have too many men in my life as it is."
"Sometimes what you need is a fresh perspective," Margaret says. "Go for a sail. It's not like you're marrying the guy."
Ava decides to ignore the fact that Potter is so good-looking and go for the sail. The first thing that happens is that the wind whips Potter's Cisco Brewers hat right off his head, and before either of them can react, it's dancing off toward the horizon.
"My favorite hat!" Potter says.
"Don't worry," Ava says. "I'll get you another one."
Potter Lyons is thirty-six years old. He's divorced and has a five-year-old son, also named Potter Lyons (though he goes by PJ), who lives with his mother in Palo Alto, California. Potter has a doctorate in American literature and teaches English at Columbia University. He wrote his dissertation on Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and he teaches the most popular class in the department, which is entitled the Nautical Novel: From the Odyssey to Spartina. He lives in a three-bedroom condo on the Upper West Side, only ten blocks north of Margaret, and he owns a sailboat, Cassandra, which he docks on the Hudson.
"Was Cassandra your wife?" Ava asks.
"My grandmother," he says.
Potter then tells her that his parents were killed in a car accident when he was in high school, and his grandparents—Gibby and Cassandra—took over raising him.
"My grandmother died a few months ago," Potter says. "So I planned this trip for Gibby. He needed to get away."
"I'm so sorry," Ava says.
"But enough about me," Potter says with a grin. "What do you think of me?"
Ava laughs. She thinks he's charming and smart, and she loves that he brought his grandfather on vacation.
"Just kidding," he says. "I want to hear about Ava."
"We'd have to sail to Cuba and back," she says.
He says, "I like complicated women. But just start by answering me this: Are you single?"
"No," she says. "I have two serious boyfriends." She is embarrassed by how absurd this sounds. "I love them both. I can't decide between them."
"Well, you know what that means," Potter says.
He winks at her.
By the time Ava and Potter pull the boat back onto the shore, Ava has a fresh perspective: There are men everywhere—cute and smart and successful and available. Her choices aren't limited to Nathaniel and Scott.
She really likes Potter, for example.
"Do you want to meet for a drink later?" she asks.
"It's our last night," Potter says. "I think I'd better keep it just me and Gibby."
"Oh," Ava says. "All right." She feels a little… stung. How is this possible? She's been alone with this guy for only an hour. She wonders if she said something that turned him off. Possibly the thing about two serious boyfriends.
She hastens back to the infinity pool, where she finds Margaret lying on her chaise, eyes at half-mast. Ava is very proud of her mother. She works at her laptop for only an hour in the early morning, and she calls Drake every night before bed. Margaret is nothing if not disciplined, and on this trip she has been very disciplined about relaxing.
"How was the sail?" she asks. "Helpful?"
"Sort of," Ava says.
That night, Margaret and Ava wander down the beach to a place called Straw Hat, where all of the chandeliers are made of straw hats. It's the most charming thing Ava has ever seen, although she wonders when the hats will catch fire.
Ava drinks too much at dinner and starts to cry. "How did you know about Dad?" she asks Margaret. "How did you know he was the one you wanted to marry?"
"I was young and in love," Margaret says. "I didn't think about it. When he asked, of course I said yes. Kelley was amazing. He's still amazing. We wanted all the same things. We wanted careers in New York, we wanted a brownstone on the Upper East Side, we wanted three or four children. And guess what? We got everything we wanted, but we couldn't handle it. One of us had to give in, to concede, and that ended up being your father." Margaret takes a sip of wine. "A better question was how I decided about Drake, because I was very unsure for a long time. But then I realized that all marriages are a leap of faith. You love as hard as you can, you try to think of the other person first, and you hope for the best."
"What does it mean that I can't pick between them?" Ava says. "I like them both exactly the same amount, but for different reasons."
Margaret smiles. "I think it means you should keep your options open."
Ava and Margaret decide to have a nightcap at the bar at the hotel—and there, sitting alone, is Potter.
"Actually," Margaret says, "I should call Drake. He has an early surgery tomorrow."
"Then I'll head up to the room," Ava says. "I don't want to sit here by myself." But at that instant, Potter sees Ava and waves hello. Or maybe he's waving her over; Ava can't tell.
"I'll just say good night now," Margaret says. "I'll see you in the morning, sweetheart."
Ava watches her mother leave the bar and she nearly follows her out, but in another second, she's taking the stool next to Potter and ordering a glass of sauvignon blanc.
"Put that on my room," Potter says to the bartender. He smiles at Ava. "I was hoping I would see you here. Gibby went up to bed."
Ava's heart is a hummingbird.
Potter says, "What do you say we go for a walk on the beach? It's a beautiful night."
Ava sees no harm in a walk. There is a half-moon shining on the water, and the sound of piano music from another hotel floats down to the sand. They decide they'll walk to the Viceroy and back; that should be enough time for Ava to describe her dilemma. She tells Potter everything: how she had been dating Nathaniel for two years and he took her for granted, how he went away the Christmas before last and maybe slept with his old girlfriend or maybe didn't—Ava has never been brave enough to ask him—but while he was away, she hooked up with Scott, the assistant principal at the school where she teaches. She'd always known Scott liked her but she had never thought him sexy or desirable until… until he was nearly matched up with someone else. She dated Scott happily for a year while Nathaniel was conveniently away, working on Martha's Vineyard, and then, as luck would have it, Nathaniel returned to Nantucket on the very day that Scott went on this weird do-good mission with this other hot teacher who had broken her ankle. That was in December, Ava tells Potter, and since then, she has been dating both of them, openly. Her best friend, Shelby, thinks she's a wizard for living every woman's fantasy, but Ava is feeling torn in half every second of every day. She would like to feel whole.
PRAISE FOR WINTER STORMS:
- "[Hilderbrand] expertly meshes everything together so that peace exists within each character and within the family dynamic...The queen of the romance novel is on top of her game, and she won't let you down."—Vivian Payton, Book Reporter
- "[A] dishy and readable conclusion to the Winter Street trilogy, with some luxurious details adding a touch of glamour to the drama."—Booklist
"A series only works when the characters are worth following over the long haul, and Hilderbrand is a master, making for a satisfying conclusion to her Christmas at the Inn story."
PRAISE FOR WINTER STREET:
"A holiday package filled with humor, romance, and realism."—Jocelyn McClurg
- "The holidays wouldn't be complete without a little family dysfunction, and Hilderbrand writes it well."—Library Journal
- "Winter Street...[will] get you in the holiday mood."—Kirkus Reviews
- On Sale
- Oct 4, 2016
- Hachette Audio