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When I started “Marrying Miss Kringle: Stella” I pictured the book beginning on Halloween. 👻
I had so much fun dressing the Kringle clan up as villains–Stella’s idea of course. And thought that it was appropriate for her love story because she always flirts with the Naughty List.
The trick was on me, because the timeline didn’t work out and I had to go back and take out all the fun costumes and Halloween references.😩
But, I couldn’t just scrap the chapter that I was looking forward to sharing with you so much.
I’ve put it below. I hope you have a fun time visiting the North Pole for Halloween this year.
And, if you’d like to read more about this exceptional Christmas family, click here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08HPNGPLZ
🎃 🎃 🎃 🎃 🎃
Stella Kringle had turned the formal dining room into dating headquarters. As the last remaining single Kringle—gag! Had she ever thought that name entertaining?—she had less than three months to land the man of her dreams, settle down (double gag!) and save Christmas.
There was just one problem.
“Where have all the good men gone and where are all th–.”
Stella yanked the candy dish away from her oldest sister, Robyn, before she could grab another milk chocolate dipped vanilla. “If you sing that song one more time, I’m going to sew your stocking shut.”
Robyn pouted out her bottom lip. “It’s apropos.” She waved her arm indicating the six laptops open on to different dating apps. Lux streamed them into one screen so Stella could talk to a dozen men at once.
She’d given up trying to keep the conversations straight and shoved Frost into the chair. With her speed reading skills—honed through years of reading letters to Santa—her youngest sister was more than capable of flirting with four times as many men online.
Stella leaned over her shoulder, supervising—something she excelled at. “It’s too bad you always had a thing for Tannon—we could have had so much fun as single sisters.”
Frost hunched her shoulders forward. “If you so much as whisper to my husband that I did this, I’ll fill your closet with Amish clothing.”
Stella laughed. No doubt Frost could do it—within hours. “I could totally rock it.”
“The Amish!” Lux sat up in her seat where she’d crouched over her keyboard counting megabytes like Scrooge counted his money.
They stared at her in wonder.
Lux shoved her glasses up her nose. “What? Besides the Rain Forest, it’s the only place on earth we haven’t looked for a man for you.”
Desperation was not Stella Kringle’s best look and she did her best to hide it behind a lasafair attitude and extra thick eye liner.
The advent calendar didn’t lie. Christmas would come on the 25th of December, just like every other year. Yet she wasn’t any closer to getting married than she’d been four years ago when the North Pole started to fall apart. Life was good back then, before Christmas Magic decided to stir up their lives with an unexpected and irrational demand that one Kringle sister find true love and marry by Christmas.
Stella wasn’t single by choice. Each year she’d found a husband prospect who turned out to be worth less than a lump of coal. And each year one of her sisters saved the day—and Christmas for children all over the world—by getting married.
The scary thing about this year? She was flying the sleigh without a safety harness.
There wasn’t another Kringle to jump in and say I do. She was it. Christmas’s last hope. The woman who stood between the elves turning into a puff of dust, the reindeer crashing, and their family ice castle at the North Pole melting into the ocean.
It wasn’t fair. Her personal life—or lack thereof—shouldn’t stand between Santa and delivering gifts. But, unlike the reindeer, Christmas Magic didn’t play games. It was fall in love or bust.
Talk about pressure.
The kitchen door flew open, the scent of gingersnaps filling the air like an ominous westerly wind. Ginger Kringle stood in the doorway wearing a red velvet coat with a high collar and black leggings. Half her hair was black and half white. Her face was pale as freshly fallen snow and her lips as red as Rudolf’s nose. She planed her fists on her hips a scowl on her usually jolly face. “I’m issuing an executive Santa order—all online dating stops now.”
Stella blinked. “Okay, Cruella.”
Robyn brightened. “You guessed it!” She glanced down at her ensemble, her cheeks flushed with excitement. “Layla picked the costume out online but the wig was a disaster. Bundle had to help me get it on and puff it out.” She patted her head to make sure everything was in place. “Trick-or-Treating starts in thirty minutes. All Kringles are required to be there and be scary or face my wrath.” She glared around the room. A reindeer hoof-stomp later she giggled. “I didn’t know how fun it could be to be bad. Maybe you’ve been onto something all these years.” She clipped Stella’s shoulder, spun on her heel and sauntered out of the room with her lips pushed out like a super model.
Lux closed her laptop, making all the screens go dark.
“Whaaaa?” Frost reached for the keyboard. “I wasn’t done reading.” She’d been so engrossed in words that she missed most of what went on around her. It was the same thing when the Twilight series came out; they hadn’t seen her for a whole hour and a half.
Robyn pushed to her feet, tugging the candy plate with her. “Santa’s orders. What are you dressing up as?”
“The White Witch—naturally.” Frost flipped her snow white hair over her shoulder. “Besides the hair, her dresses are to-die for. I had the hardest time picking one. You?”
Robyn curtsied in her apron while managing to lift her chin in the air. “Lady Tremaine, in ballroom attire–naturally. I need to keep my eye on my daughters and my step-daughter away from the prince.”
“Lucky.” Lux gathered her things. “I let Oliver pick and I’m Nebula. I have about three hours’ worth of blue body paint to do in thirty–,” she checked her watch, “make that twenty six minutes. Bye.” She hurried out of the room, tugging her hair out of the messy bun as she walked.
“How about you?” Frost asked Stella.
“Yeah, usually you’re the first one to pick a costume. Our all-villains Halloween theme was your idea.” Robyn paused before selecting a piece of fudge.
Stella settled into a chair, throwing her leg over the armrest and twirling her hair. “Oh, I have a costume.”
Frost and Robyn exchanged worried looks. Robyn squared her shoulders in a spot-on impersonation of their mother. “Tell me it’s children appropriate—I have a teenaged brother-in-law to consider.” Robyn’s new husband came with a now-sixteen-year-old brother. He was a handful but so darn loveable that he got away with sneaking cookies from the cookie jar and candy canes from the cooling racks.
Stella hopped up, swinging her hips as she walked. “Don’t get your cookies in a crumble, sis. I’m all sugar and no spice tonight.”
She pushed through the swinging door to the kitchen as if her only care was how much candy she would consume during their Halloween extravaganza. As soon as the door shut, she burst into a run. Down the Hall of Santa’s Past, their stern gazes following her. She gave them a wink and kept going to her room where her magic purse hung over the bed’s end post. She reached her hand inside, wishing for a villain’s costume. When she pulled it out, she laughed.
“Whoever said Christmas Magic doesn’t have a sense of humor?”
It took fifteen minutes to wiggle into the tight black dress and sling the leather Pink Ladies jacked over her shoulder. Glancing in the mirror, she decided to wear the jacket instead. The dress was tight and Robyn was right, this was a family gathering.
She’d grown her black hair beyond Rizzo length and had to do some fancy bobby-pin work to get the right look. All in all, she looked hotter than cocoa—for the 1950s.
“Candy!” She used her purse to create a skeleton bowl full of Snickers and answered with a smirk on her face. “Yeah, wadda ya want?” She snapped her gum.
Her nieces and nephews did nothing for the images of evil they’d dressed up as when they burst into giggles at her accent and attitude.
Stella rolled her eyes. “You misfits couldn’t scare a dandelion. Take some candy and get outta here.” She’d join them as they knocked their way to the gathering room where they’d dip caramel apples, make popcorn balls, and play Halloween bingo. Dad was in charge of prizes so it would be good.
Oliver was the smallest Al Capone ever seen and the last one to take a candy bar.
“Hey,” she snapped at him. “Is that any way for a gangster to take candy?”
His brow wrinkled and his hand froze over the bowl—one candy bar in his fingers. “Uh…”
She shoved the bowl at him. “Jeeze. Take what you want—just don’t shoot me.”
His blue eyes lit up as he realized she was trying to give him more candy. He scooped a handful into the violin case he used as a candy bucket. When he was done, he slammed into her legs and threw his free arm around her thighs. “You’re the best, Aunt Stella. I love you.”
She leaned over him to hug him back. “Love you too, little man.” Straightening, she shooed him off. “Now get outta here. I gotta party to go to.”
He grinned. “Me too. Bye.” Running as fast as his little legs would allow, he caught up with the group at Lux’s door. Makeup wasn’t her strong point but she’d managed to be mostly blue. The tight leather pants. Next to her, Quik wore a red mask and a black cape. He smiled in a creepy impersonation of Red Skull.
Stella grinned. It was so good to be bad.
Not that she’d ever jump onto the Naughty List—on purpose. But, flirting with the line was invigorating. She closed her door and clicked the heels of her red shoes together before setting off to join her family. There was no place like home—especially when it was an ice castle.
Pumpkins and fall foliage filled the gathering room. “Wow,” she said to Mom. “You really outdid yourself this year.” She side-stepped Mom’s pirate sword as Mom turned to peruse the decorations.
“The elves got into the spirit of things. I think they’re starting to like our Halloween parties.”
Stella jerked her chin back. “Really? That’s so… un-elfish.”
“We’ve grown fond of the candy,” said Selnora as she bustled past, carrying a pillowcase. She stopped at the buffet table and began dumping full bowls of candy into her sack.
Stella blinked in shock.
“Hey!” yelled Sniffles. “What do you think you’re doing? That candy is for all of us.”
Selnora stared him down while dumping another bowl into the bag. “It’s mine. You’ll have to forage the garbage cave for your share.”
Sniffles stomped his foot. Selnora was not dissuaded by his tantrum. “Careful, or you’ll end up cleaning stalls.” She hugged the heavy bag close.
Stella marched over, Mom right behind her. “Selnora what’s going on? You never act selfishly. Ever. You give your dinner carrots to the reindeer.” She sputtered to come up with an explanation as to why the normally congenial elf was behaving like a spoiled child.
“That’s all I do is give, give give. For once I want to get my share.” She began to stomp away, dragging the pillowcase behind her.
Mom put her hand on Selnora’s shoulder. “Can we talk about this?”
“There’s nothing to say. This is my candy and you’re not getting it back.” She dug her toes into the carpet and pulled like the eight reindeer trying to get off the ground on Christmas Eve.
Mom’s brow furrowed.
Stella stared after the determined, and disturbingly angry elf. “I’ve never—.”
“I’ll get more candy.” Mom patted Sniffles on the shoulder in consolation and promise before going to the kitchen.
Stella opened her mouth to say something—though she didn’t know what because she was still in shock herself.
“She’s in a mood,” Sniffles offered.
“Are elves allowed bad moods?” Stella asked.
“No.” Sniffles tugged at his pointy ear. “I must say, it’s a might bit concerning.”
“You can say that again.”
“Ho Ho Ho.” Dad burst in the room, covered in green hair.
“Dad,” Stella scolded. “You’re supposed to be a villain.”
“I am. I’m Santa, playing the Grinch, playing Santa.” His blue eyes twinkled with glee.
Stella cocked a hip and an attitude. “So you’re a good guy, playing a bad guy, who becomes a good guy? That is so not in the spirit of villains and bad guys.”
He held up a finger, the green hairs on the end flopped over. “But it is in the spirit of Christmas.” He grabbed his bowl full of jelly and gave a hearty laugh.
Stella shook her head. “You can take the Santa out of Christmas but you can’t take the Christmas out of Santa. Come on, I’ll get you a mug of cider, there’s no way you’ll be able to pour it with those gloves on.”
“Thanks. You’re not so bad for a Pink Lady.”
“Yeah, well, don’t let word get around. I can’t let people think I’ve gone soft.”
“Of course not.”
“Hello, Rosa.” Stella reached for the punch ladle. “How’s the mail room.”
Rosa looked down into her drink and then back up at Stella. “Mind your own business.” She threw the drink in Stella’s face.
Stella sputtered and spit. She wiped the liquid off her face, coming away with a palm full of mascara. Her hair dripped sticky cider onto her pink leather jacket. “Rosa!” she screamed.
Dad stepped between them. Although, Stella didn’t know if it was to stop her from going after the elf or to stop the elf from coming after her. “Both of you go to your rooms.”
“B—but…” Stella stuttered. She held her arms out to the side, as if they would permanently stick to her sides if she let them down. “She splashed me.”
The family and elves gathered round looking like a bad musical mashup of Halloween and Christmas. Rosa ran to Frost who wrapped her in a hug as she sobbed. “I didn’t mean to do it. I don’t know what came over me.”
Frost rubbed her back. “It’s okay. We’ll sort this out.” She turned accusing eyes on Stella.
“What? I didn’t do anything.” She lifted her palms higher.
Dad stroked his beard—which was the only part of him not painted green. “It’s as I feared.”
“What honey?” Mom placed a hand on his arm.
Stella wrinkled her nose. She’d have to use a roller to get the hair off her hand.
“Christmas cheer—it’s waning.”
Lux and Quik exchanged frowns.
“Excuse me?” Robyn pushed to the front of the group doing a great impersonation of Cruella with her hand on her impossibly thin hip. “Christmas cheer doesn’t wane. Not when I’m Santa.”
A few of the elves nodded in agreement.
Lux lifted her hand. “Um… well… that’s not exactly true.”
Heads whipped in her direction faster than jump ropes turned circles.
“Go on—you might as well tell us.” Stella studied her nails as if she didn’t care. Inside, her heart beat as if the Little Drummer Boy had a hankering for a drum solo.
“We all have different parts of Christmas Magic inside of us. Robyn can see needs and fill them. Ginger can tell a naughty or nice child at a glance. Frost can speed read letters.” She pointed at Stella. “What’s your Christmas gift?”
“Pft.” Stella scoffed. “Organization, engineering, management, and I make Christmas look good.” She touched her eyebrow.
Tannon pointed at her. “She’s charming.”
“Ding. Ding.” Lux pointed to her nose and to Tannon. “Although, I don’t think it’s as much charm as it is cheer.”
Stella scowled. “Is this a joke? I’m the least cheerful of us.”
Lux narrowed her eyes as if X-raying Stella’s soul. “That’s not true. Not only do you handle stress better than all of us combined—hello, you have to make enough toys for the whole world in 364 days—you are the one who championed us through the last four years of rocky romance.”
Quik put his hand on Lux’s shoulder. Tannon kissed Frost’s hair. Brodey hugged Robyn to his side. Joseph grabbed Ginger’s hand.
Their show of strength and support for her sisters was touching—and a big reminder that she had unfinished business. Stella kept her face impassive. “Yeah, well, it was easier to be positive when I wasn’t the last woman standing.”
Ginger reached for her shoulder. “Stella, you know what you have to do.”
Something stung Stella’s eyes and she blinked rapidly. “No. Nope. I can’t.”
Robyn gathered her family. “We’ll ready the slay.”
“I’m not going,” Stella called after them.
Mom tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “I’ll pack you some food. The lake house isn’t stocked yet.” She headed for the kitchens.
“Don’t bother. I’m not going to need it.” Stella folded her arms, a squishy sound reminding her that she was covered in cider.
Frost clapped her hands. “I have a few new outfits I’ve been holding onto—I’ll pack them and meet you in the stables.”
“It’s not worth your time,” Stella warned her.
Lux rubbed her palms together. “I have new tech. It’s so good I almost put the Stark logo on it.”
“You did?” Quik followed her out. “How come I didn’t know about that. I thought you were a Captain America fan…” Their voices faded away before Stella could tell them not to bother.
She planted her feet and glared at Ginger. “You’re going to have to banish me to get me out of here.”
Ginger linked her arm through Stella’s, ignoring the liquid dripping onto her costume. She turned them toward the door and the elves parted to let them through, their brows and lips pinched in concern.
Guilt was as bad as a clogged paint sprayer. Stella could do without either in her life for the rest of her life.
“Look. We both know there’s only one man you’re going to fall in love with.” She tugged Stella toward the door.
“Who?” asked Dad from behind them.
“We don’t know any such thing. I haven’t spent much time in Italy and I’m partial to a Roman nose.” Stella countered.
Ginger sighed. “Will you please stop fighting it? Wi—”
Stella cut Ginger off with a hand over her mouth. “We do not speak his name.”
“Whose name?” Dad asked again.
Ginger growled and shoved her hand away. “Fine. I won’t say his name. But you will talk to him. You have a lot of explaining to do.”
The sternness in her voice brokered no arguments. Not that Ginger was in charge of her. Stella would do what Stella wanted to do. But she’d avoided this errand for 310 days. “Perhaps it’s time to set things right—for the sake of closure.”
They arrived at the stables to find it bustling with energy from every occupant—except the one hitched to the sleigh. Stella screwed up her lips at the sight of Dunder hitched to the green sleigh.
Dad came through the door practically on top of them. “Ladies—would someone please tell me—”
“Dunder?” Stella hooked her thumb at the grey reindeer. “No offense, but I don’t want to travel with a grandpa. Where’s Blitz?”
“You’ll take the reindeer I tell ya to take.” Selnora did up the last buckle. Her hands dropped. “Sorry Miss Kringle. I’m still under the effects of the party, I think.” Her hand went to her stomach.
“Did you eat all the candy?” asked Mom as she came through the door, grocery boxes in her arms. Dad rushed to take them from her and stowed them in the sleigh.
“Only the suckers.”
Stella snickered. “That was a dum-dum move.”
“Stella,” Mom warned her.
“What? That much sugar should make her a jolly rancher out here in the stables.”
Dad coughed to cover his chuckle. Stella’s confidence boosted.
Her sisters and brothers-in-law poured through the door in a symphony of purposeful chaos. In less time than it took to print a Twister matt, she stood in the sleigh, her foot against the brace. Not that she’d need it. Dunder was the slowest of the reindeer still in the stable.
“Do you think he can make it?” she asked Lux who was busy installing apps on Stella’s new phone.
“He’ll make it, won’t you boy.” Stella scratched behind his ear. “Go easy on him though, okay?”
Dunder huffed as if Lux had insulted him.
“What?” Lux held up a palm. She leaned over and whispered in his ear, just loud enough that Stella could hear it too. “It’s her I’m worried about—she’s crazy.”
“Oh great—a reindeer with a sense of humor. That’s all I need.” As lift off approached, Stella’s stomach fluttered with nerves. She hadn’t been back to Clearfield since she’d kidnapped the man in question for Robyn’s wedding. She didn’t mention it at the time of the heist, but she’d barely been able to get him in the sleigh because he didn’t think his girlfriend would like him jetting off with a lady.
Heartbreaking? That too.
“Looks like you’re all set.” Ginger hugged Stella. “Be nice to he-who-can’t-be-named.”
“I’m not making any promises.” Stella stepped away and laced the leather reins through her fingers. “It all depends on if he’s still dating Cindy-Lou-Shmoo. If he is, I can’t be held responsible for knocking over her Christmas tree.”
Ginger gasped. “You wouldn’t.”
Stella looked up at the ceiling as if gathering strength from a higher power. “You underestimate me, my dear sister.”
Dad stepped forward. “Leave Christmas out of this.” He drew a deep breath and glanced at the group. “And would someone please tell me where my daughter is flying off to tonight?”
Mom’s cheeks lifted. “Clearview, Alaska, dear.”
Dad scratched his snowy white head. “The preacher?”
“The preacher.” Robyn folded her arms. “Tell him thank you for the lovely wedding last Christmas. He did a wonderful job.”
Stella rolled her eyes. “I jump right into weddings. Because that’s not obvious at all.” She flicked the reins. Dunder looked over his shoulder at her, lifting an eyebrow. “How does he do that? Reindeer don’t have eyebrows.”
Lux shrugged. “He’s magical.”
“Well, if he doesn’t get a move on, I’m not giving him carrots when we land.”
Dunder stomped one back foot, shaking the ice cave. Stella grabbed onto the sleigh to keep from falling back into the velvet seat. “Sprockets and springs, Dunder. I didn’t know you had it in you.”
He cocked his head and then bolted from the cave with a mighty whoosh.
Stella whooped. “On Dunder!” she called into the night as the sleigh rose into the inky sky full of stars. She turned to look at her family, gathered in the cave opening. Her throat closed off with emotion. Going alone was the only options. Sure, she’d been a wingman for her sisters, but she couldn’t bear for them to see her fall on her face romantically. They looked up to her. She was the one who had it all together. The confident sister that stood up to bullies and jumped into the crowd as if they’d all love her.
For the most part—they did.
So why didn’t Will?
Yes, she could think his name. It was hearing it that set her heart off like an electric fire truck. Shoot. She needed to update the orders for those. She pulled out her phone and tapped the Toys app, changing the numbers as she kept one eye on the sky. Dunder flew smoothly and made life easy for her. When that was done and her mind blanked, she groaned. Work was usually her distraction from thinking about Will.
What was she going to do if he turned her away?
Christmas cheer wasn’t the only thing on the line. If she didn’t fall in love and get married by Christmas Eve, Christmas Magic would disappear and there would be no more presents under the trees, no more candy canes in stockings, and no more Santa.
And who would she be then?
Because without the magic, she wasn’t anything special.
Her biggest fear? That Will already knew that.
Dunder pitched forward, taking them downward as a sprinkling of lights came into view.
She tightened her grip on the leather. The flight there may have been like riding in a Cadillac, but she was no stranger to the fact that the road through romance was all turbulence.