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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 9, 2018. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Chloe Warner wriggled under her bed, sneezing as dust tickled her nose. She hadn’t used her suitcase since last summer—more than five months ago—and she definitely hadn’t dealt with the army of dust bunnies that had sprung up since then, either. But she didn’t care about that right now. In an hour, Chloe and her dad would be hitting the road for an incredible weekend at the Lodge Resort in the Pocono Mountains. And in three days, Christmas would be here!
Chloe had been counting down to the pre-Christmas getaway ever since Dad had told her about it back in October. She’d spent hours swiping through the lodge’s website on her phone, imagining what it would be like to sleep in one of the rustic log cabins or ski down a snowy slope. She’d picked out the perfect dress (and the perfect accessories) for the big party on Christmas Eve Eve. The one part of the trip that Chloe wasn’t able to prepare for was what it would be like to meet Dad’s girlfriend, Jessica, and Jessica’s daughter, Sandy, for the very first time.
Dad had told Chloe all about Jessica—that’s how Chloe knew how important Jessica was to him—but it was still hard to imagine what she’d be like in person. And it was even harder to imagine what Sandy would be like, probably because Dad had never met Sandy, so there wasn’t much he could tell her. Would they like the same music? Share the same hobbies? Become besties? Or would they have nothing in common at all?
Soon Chloe wouldn’t have to wonder anymore.
Soon she would know!
Jeans, snow pants, shirts, sweaters—Chloe tossed them all into her suitcase. She was a little more careful with her special dress for the party. It was made of cranberry-colored lace, with a matching slip in exactly the same color. Chloe carefully folded it and placed it right on top.
Chloe glanced over at the bed, where her dog, a cuddly white terrier named Charlie, watched her with bright, curious eyes.
“What do you think, Charlie?” Chloe asked as she held up two different shoes. “Black velvet shoes or sparkly silver ones?”
“Woof!” Charlie barked.
“I agree,” Chloe said with a giggle. “Sparkly silver all the way!”
She sat on the edge of her bed and checked the list on her phone. She’d packed just about everything—her clothes, her shoes, her accessories, her snow gear. Her toiletries bag was tucked into a side pocket. But Chloe still couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d forgotten something.
“What is it, Charlie?” she asked, scratching her pup behind his ears. “What did I forget?”
Suddenly, a knowing smile crossed Chloe’s face. “Of course,” she whispered. Chloe leaned across the bed for a framed photo on her bedside table. She couldn’t leave her mom behind.
Chloe nestled the photo in the lacy folds of her party dress. Her mother had died a long time ago—Chloe had only a few vivid memories of her; the rest had grown hazy over the years—but before she fell asleep every night she still liked to look at the beautiful photo of her mother.
Chloe zipped her suitcase closed and whistled to Charlie. “Come on, buddy!” she called.
Thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk. The suitcase thudded so loudly as Chloe dragged it down the stairs that Dad poked his head out of his room to see what was making all the noise. “Hey! I would’ve carried your suitcase downstairs!” he called out.
“No worries! I’ve got it!” Chloe replied. Once she reached the first floor, she wheeled the suitcase over to the front door, where she’d already left her backpack and a duffel bag packed with Charlie’s food, leash, and dishes. She was happy Dad had managed to find a hotel that allowed Charlie to stay with them. The next few minutes passed by in a blur as Dad and Chloe loaded up the car. Then Chloe settled Charlie into his special dog bed in the back seat before she climbed in and fastened her seat belt. It was almost time to go!
“Ready?” Dad asked.
“Ready!” she replied.
“Then let’s hit the road!” Dad announced as he started down the driveway. Chloe reached for her backpack to check the inside pocket one more time. She already knew that she’d packed Charlie’s medicine—in fact, it was the very first thing she had packed—but she wanted to be certain before they were all the way in the mountains.
“Got everything?” Dad asked with a quick sideways glance at Chloe.
“Yes,” she replied. “At least, I think so. And whatever I forgot, I’ll just have to do without.”
Dad chuckled. “We’re spending the weekend at a three-star resort in the Poconos, not going on a mountaineering expedition,” he told her. “There will be plenty of stores and shops if there’s anything you need.”
“Thanks, Dad—I know,” Chloe said. “I just want everything to be perfect!”
Chloe inhaled deeply, breathing in the scent of the miniature pine tree that she and Dad had bought as a surprise for Jessica and Sandy. The sharp, piney smell filled the car and made it feel even more like Christmastime.
“Can’t believe it’s finally here,” Dad said, breaking the silence. “Are you excited?”
“Are you kidding?” Chloe laughed. “I’ve been thinking about this trip nonstop! It’s going to be incredible! Do you think Sandy and Jessica will get there before we do?”
“It depends on when they leave,” Dad said. “Apparently, Sandy tends to sleep in. But Jessica said she’d do her best to get them on the road by ten o’clock.”
“There’s no way I could’ve slept late today,” Chloe said. “I could barely sleep last night, either.”
“Same here,” Dad replied. “I’m so glad that you’ll finally be able to meet Jessica. She’s… she’s really special.”
Chloe glanced at Dad out of the corner of her eye, but he was focused on the road ahead. There was something about his voice that filled her with quivery excitement. It gave her the courage to ask the question that had been on her mind for months.
“Dad?” she began. “Are you going to ask Jessica to marry you?”
“Marry me?” Dad repeated. He started to laugh—a laugh that was both surprised and kind. “I don’t know, Chloe. Marriage is a big commitment… one that should last a lifetime. We’re not quite there yet. But Jessica means a lot to me, which is why I’m so excited for you two to meet. It’s way past time for the most important ladies in my life to finally know each other.”
“Got it,” Chloe said. “I was just thinking… if you marry Jessica… then Sandy would be, like, my sister. Stepsister—whatever.”
“That would be a big change, wouldn’t it?” Dad asked.
“The sister I’ve always wanted!” Chloe joked. At least, she tried to make a joke. But in her heart, she’d always longed for a sibling. A sister—a sister her own age—would be like a dream come true.
Don’t get carried away, Chloe told herself. After all, she’d never even met Sandy before.
But there was no harm in hoping—right?
Two hours later, Dad and Chloe finally arrived at the lodge. The lobby had been so extensively decorated—there were swooping pine garlands, strands of twinkling lights, and enormous Christmas trees everywhere Chloe looked—that she didn’t even mind the wait while Dad checked in.
“All set!” Dad finally announced. He handed Chloe her own key. “Keep this in a safe place, okay? We’ll be staying in Sugar Plum Cottage.”
“Sugar Plum Cottage?” Chloe repeated with a grin.
Dad grinned back. “They rename all the cottages for December,” he explained. “Jessica and Sandy are in Mistletoe Cottage—which is just a short walk from ours.”
Chloe’s heart started to beat a little faster. “Do you mean—are they here?” she asked.
“They sure are. Jessica texted me twenty minutes ago,” Dad told her. “Let’s get settled into our cottage and then we can—”
“Let’s go over there right now!” Chloe said in excitement.
Dad chuckled. “All right, all right. But let’s at least bring our luggage inside first,” he said. “And maybe we should wait a little while to bring them the Christmas tree.”
Chloe giggled. “It would probably look pretty weird if we just showed up with a tree without any warning,” she replied.
Together, Dad and Chloe unloaded the car and took a quick tour of Sugar Plum Cottage. It was filled with rustic decorations—patchwork quilts, woven baskets, lamps in the shape of lanterns, and a weathered pine box filled with chopped-up wood by the fireplace.
“Hey, we have three bedrooms,” Chloe said. “Does that mean Charlie gets his own room?”
“If he wants it,” Dad said. “But I have a feeling he’ll be sticking close to you, like always.”
“Which room is mine?” she asked.
“Whichever one you want,” Dad told her.
Chloe finally decided on the bedroom with a window seat that offered an amazing view of the snow-covered mountains. She didn’t want to waste time unpacking, but there was one important thing Chloe wanted to do before she, Dad, and Charlie set off for Mistletoe Cottage. She unzipped her suitcase and pulled out Mom’s photo. Once the photo was sitting on her bedside table, Chloe almost felt like she was at home. She adjusted the frame so that she could see Mom’s loving smile better.
“Here goes,” Chloe whispered to the photo. “Wish me luck!”
On the walk over to Mistletoe Cottage, Chloe held on tightly to Charlie’s leash. He was so excited by all the wild and unusual woodland smells that he was frolicking around like a puppy! It was almost impossible to keep him on the path.
“Charlieeeee,” she groaned. “Stick with me, please. We’re not wandering in the woods right now.”
“It’s hard to say who’s more excited—you or Charlie,” Dad teased Chloe.
But Chloe’s attention was focused on something else: a carved wooden sign that read MISTLETOE COTTAGE in bright red letters. “Dad! Look! There it is!” Chloe cried. “We’re here!”
“I think I see Sandy looking out the window,” Dad said.
Chloe caught a glimpse of her, too—but just as quickly, Sandy disappeared behind the curtain.
“Why don’t you and Charlie go ahead and knock on the door,” Dad told Chloe. “I’ll be right behind you.”
Chloe didn’t need to be told twice. She and Charlie jogged the rest of the way to Mistletoe Cottage. On the doorstep, Chloe paused for a moment to catch her breath. Then she knocked three times.
The woman who opened the door had short chestnut-colored hair. She smiled brightly. “Chloe? Hi! I’m Jessica!” she said warmly. “Come on in.”
“Hi,” Chloe said, suddenly feeling a little shy. She’d tried to imagine this moment so many times—but now that it was here, she wasn’t quite sure what to say.
A girl—who had to be Sandy—was standing a few feet behind Jessica. She looked just like her mom, except her hair was much longer and twisted into a loose braid on one side.
“Hey,” Chloe said, stepping forward. “I’m—”
Then she saw it: a cat. A beautiful gray cat rubbing against Sandy’s ankles.
Unfortunately, Charlie saw it at the same time. He lunged forward a split second before Chloe could tighten her grip on his leash. The leash slipped through her grasp—
“Charlie! No!” Chloe exclaimed. But it was too late. He was already barking wildly as he charged at Sandy’s cat.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” Sandy screamed, her voice more high-pitched with every word. “Make him stop! He’s going to kill Elsa!”
No, he’s not! Chloe wanted to yell back—but she knew that if Charlie heard her speak loudly, he’d only get more riled up. She knelt down and used her softest, most soothing voice. “Come here, boy, come here,” she cooed.
But Charlie was having way too much fun to stop now. He was running in fast, wild circles, barking his head off at Elsa, who was yowling and hissing with fear as she tried to escape. The cat was obviously miserable—her back was arched, her fur standing on end—but Charlie was just a dog. He didn’t understand.
“Why isn’t anyone doing anything?” Sandy cried. “Please! Don’t let him hurt Elsa!”
Dad arrived just in time. “Charlie!” he said sternly. “Come here!”
Jessica hurried to the kitchen and returned with a container of kitty treats. “Want a treat, Charlie?” she said in a singsong voice, shaking the container.
“No!” Chloe said—and this time her voice was loud. “He can’t have—”
At that moment, Elsa ducked under the side table—and even though Charlie was a small dog, he was too big to follow her without knocking into one of the table legs. As the table shuddered, a lamp on top of it began to wobble.…
“Whoa!” Dad said, lunging forward to grab the lamp before it fell.
“Don’t grab the lamp—grab the dog!” Sandy shrieked.
“Hey!” Chloe began. But then she caught a glimpse of Sandy’s face, all blotchy and red; her eyes were filled with tears. Sandy’s really terrified, Chloe realized.
From under the table, Elsa’s hisses turned into an angry spitting sound. She growled, a low, guttural sound that was audible even over Charlie’s happy barks. Chloe came up with a plan. She’d shimmy under the table, grab Charlie, and take him outside so Elsa—and Sandy—could have a few minutes to calm down.
- On Sale
- Oct 9, 2018
- Page Count
- 176 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers