Added Bonus: Be sure to keep reading for Aubrey's holiday review of Christmas Jars By Jason F. Wright
Henry, a shy and talented artist, moonlights as a security guard at a museum and loses his heart to a beautiful, melancholy woman in a painting. As his obsession grows, he finds a kindred soul who helps him in his search for happiness. On Christmas Eve, Henry dares to take a chance on love and fulfill his dream.
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“The museum will be closing in five minutes. Please make your way to the nearest exit.”
Henry tore his gaze from the painting, and looked around at the weekend crowd hurrying by. No one noticed him. He always blended into the background. Henry the Trifling—that would have been the title of his self-portrait. A soft sigh escaped as he pulled his gray coat over the frayed cuffs of a cotton shirt. There were extraordinary people and there were ordinary people. Henry considered himself less than ordinary. He was insignificant.
“You’ll never amount to nothin’. Just like your worthless father.”
He shrugged off the memory of his mother’s nagging image and looked toward the last group of art enthusiasts headed in his direction.
This was his favorite part of the day. In a crush of people, everyone was equal. No one stood out in the sea of indistinguishable faces. There was no pressure to make witty or charming conversation. Henry liked people but had never been good at interaction. The anonymity of a crowd gave the illusion of belonging. For a man as painfully shy as Henry, it was the only way to mingle in a city like Chicago.
Casting a last wistful look at the lady in the painting, Henry took a deep breath and eased into the middle of the exiting crowd. A large woman trying to grab her boisterous child knocked into his left shoulder. She distractedly patted a chubby hand at the obstruction and mumbled a quick apology without glancing his way. Henry smiled and nodded.
The group approached the turnstile and bunched up, shoulder to shoulder, waiting for their turn to leave. Someone jostled him from the side and he felt the heat of another body against his back. He tried to absorb the vivid energy surrounding him. Last week a pretty woman had smiled at him. He had felt warm all the way home. He’d started painting her but had not yet decided on the setting. It had to be somewhere as beautiful and inviting as her smile—Venice, perhaps.
Stepping onto the sidewalk, he buttoned his overcoat against the early November chill. Christmas lights intermingled with the traffic lights, blinking and glowing on the wet streets. The wind had picked up and people rushed by with their heads down. Henry pulled his collar up against the icy sting of a light rain and quickly walked the few blocks to his small apartment.
Stopping in front of the dilapidated building, Henry looked up at his fourth floor window. He always left the light on so it seemed as if someone was home to greet him. He smiled as his thoughts returned to the woman in the painting. He would never forget that snowy December day she arrived at the museum. He had been working his usual graveyard shift and the day manager had needed help with a shipment arriving that morning.
“Hey, Henry, you want a little overtime?” the supervisor had asked. “Charlie called in sick and I could use an extra hand. Another rich collector remembered us in his will. We’ve got a pricey piece arriving in about an hour and I’d feel better with some extra security.”
Henry tried to wipe the smile off his face. Five years in the city and he still felt like a country bumpkin. “Sure.”
“The paper says a Rubens. Flemish, wasn’t he? But it’s a small one.”
Henry gave a whistle. “Impressive.”
“There’s a companion painting with it, artist unknown. We’ll have to find a spot for it in appreciation for the collector’s piece.”
An hour later, Henry held a priceless painting in his hands. God, he loved this job.
“The family probably figured they wouldn’t get any money out of the other one. But this one sure is a beauty,” the supervisor said as he reached for the Rubens.
“Yes, indeed,” Henry replied, as his eyes landed on the second painting. “Striking.”
Henry’s boss laughed. “I’m talking about this one, Bud. The little one is worth the big bucks!” His boss headed toward the office to start the paperwork on the new museum pieces.
“Yes, of course,” he murmured, but his attention remained focused on the woman in the larger painting.
She sat on the edge of a rocky cliff, her face slightly turned as if looking over the edge. Her legs were out to the side, knees bent, a long, olive-colored skirt spread around her haphazardly as if blown by the wind. The stormy ocean breakers rushed between jagged rocks then turned into frothy waves that lapped at the sand. The details in the picture were crisp and stark, the color was minimal—just the woman on a cliff with the turbulent water below. But the overall effect created a hauntingly beautiful scene.
He felt her distress, her sorrow. His fingers itched to reach out and pull her from the painting and hold her, soothe her, give her comfort. Henry knew that if she could turn and face him, he would be looking at the most exquisite creature he’d ever seen. His hand shook as he reached out to touch the canvas.
“Are you okay, Henry?”
Henry drew his hand back quickly as if he’d been caught in the act of—of what? Touching a frame? Good lord, he must be tired.
“What? Oh, yeah, I just need some sleep. ” As Henry turned to leave, he took one last look at the woman who had just stolen his heart. Fate had given him a precious gift. He whistled “Angels We Have Heard on High” all the way home.
Aubrey’s first love is historical romance. Her current story, Rolf’s Quest, is set in the chivalrous 12th century court of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitane. It will be released in the anthology Love Least Expected February 2015. Though she is an avid reader of historical fiction, her own works usually involve some level of fantasy.
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By Aubrey Wynne
Baron Rolf Arbrec, the royal wizard for King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, is burdened with a centuries-old quest to break the spell cast on his descendant, Merlin. To lift the enchantment, he must find true love without the use of magic or deceit, something that has eluded the men generations before him.
Finding genuine love is no easy task, even for a wizard, and time is running out not only to complete his Quest, but to give future generations a chance at happiness. When Melissa steps from his dreams and into his arms, he realizes his need for her love runs deeper than just a way to free Merlin.
Lady Melissa Garrick travels to London to meet her betrothed. Along the way, she encounters a man who haunts her dreams and makes her reconsider her destiny. Torn between loyalty to her family and her intense attraction to Rolf, she struggles to remain an obedient daughter. Though she desires him, will she defy her family and turn her back on her betrothed? Or will time run out and Rolf be doomed to a life of discontent and bitterness like his ancestors before him?
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Aubrey's holiday review of Christmas Jars
In this literary world, a handful of stories will stand the test of time. A modern classic novel holds the attention of every generation with a thoughtful plot, complex characters and a scene or two that lingers long after the final page.
These books will never be traded in at the paperback store or sold for a quarter at a garage sale. An ageless romance is passed on to your sister, then to her daughter who loans it to a friend. By the time it makes it back to your shelf, the pages are yellowed, earmarked and appreciated. And every so often, when you need to be reminded of the remarkable power of love, you dust off that old friend and peruse its pages again. These are the stories I want to share with you in Aubrey’s cafe.
By Jason F. Wright
Published: 2005 Publisher: Worzalla Publishing POV: Third person
Setting: Present day in Anywhere, USA
In the lilting words of Bing Crosby, “Oh, I have plenty to be thankful for.” With the coming holidays, I find myself counting my blessings. Since this is a major theme that runs through Christmas Jars, I thought it would be appropriate for my next book review.
No matter how bad life gets, there is always someone who has it a little worse. Take Louise, for instance. She is a hard-working, old maid housekeeper. Her Christmas Eve tradition is dinner at Chuck’s Chicken and Biscuits. One year she comes down with the flu and must postpone her annual holiday meal until New Year’s Eve. That evening she finds a baby abandoned. A note from a desperate mother explains the abuse in the house and her hopes for a better life for her child. Louise never looks back. She takes on a child she cannot afford and her life explodes with happiness.
After her death, daughter Hope continues the holiday tradition and endures an emotional Christmas Eve meal at Chuck’s Chicken and Biscuits. When she returns home, she finds her apartment ransacked and anything of value stolen. As the police go through the crime scene, Hope finds a paper bag. Inside is a jar with silver change and some bills and the words ‘Christmas Jar’ painted on the outside.
As an up-and-coming journalist, the mystery and the motive appeal to her. She is determined to find out where the jar came from and why it was given to her. As she investigates, she finds newspaper archives with several letters from others who had received Christmas jars. Each story had a common thread: sadness, frustration, loneliness or despair chased away by the giving of a jar. In some cases, it provided financial assistance, for others it offered hope.
The story follows Hope as she searches out and spends a day with the recipient of each jar. The encounters provide not only a great newspaper article but renew her faith in people and their desire to help one another.
Christmas Jars is a heartwarming holiday tale that will remind you to count your own blessings. The reader will not find actual romance between the pages. Yet, the idea of strangers reaching out to help others is a story of love in its own right. The novel is well written and avoids the sappiness of a Lifetime movie. If you are feeling cynical as this jolly season approaches, I highly recommend this book. It is a short and easy read and good for the soul.
The author tells us in his acknowledgements: “It is indeed thrilling that the spirit of Christmas Jars is now bigger than this book… with countless stories and no limits to the good it can do. Each of you is to be thanked for fueling this simple miracle. I hope that when you give your jar away, or if you’ve received this book with a jar meant for you, you will visit www.christmasjars.com and tell me about it. The world would love to hear your anonymous story.” Go ahead, grab the box of Kleenex and visit the site. Then hug your family and find a way to continue this altruistic tradition.
I give this wonderful, uplifting novel 4 stars.