The Christmas Keeper

By: Jenn McKinlay

For my mom, Susan Norris McKinlay: thank you for always making Christmas, and every holiday, so magical. Love you forever.





ACKNOWLEDGMENTS





This was such a fun book to write, and I had so many people help it come into being that I’m hoping I don’t forget anyone. So here goes. I am very fortunate to have a plot group that gleefully helps me rewrite and revise my ideas until I’ve sufficiently tortured my characters. Hugs and high fives to Kate Carlisle and Paige Shelton! They are both brilliant authors, and I feel very lucky to call them my friends.

Also, I so appreciate the enthusiasm of my editor, associate editor, and agent—Kate Seaver, Sarah Blumenstock, and Christina Hogrebe—who cheer me along through the entire process, from the original idea all the way to the finished book. I swear I could not get there without the three of you. Special thanks to the team at Berkley, who are amazing at making all the stuff happen: Jessica Mangicaro, Fareeda Bullert, Tara O’Connor, Brittanie Black, Katie Anderson, and Stacy Anderson.

Special thanks to my friend author Beth Kendrick (who is also a doctor), whose brilliance helped me to understand how to write about head traumas accurately. Any mistakes are mine, all mine!

Lastly, to my fam—the Hub and the Hooligans—thank you so much for making every day a laughter-filled adventure. Truly, I am so blessed to have you three in my life. But also, thank you for Maktao, Shukuru, and Esampu. When I asked for an elephant for my birthday, well, you three certainly delivered, and I am now the foster mama of these babies at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Watching their shenanigans on Instagram has brought me great joy!

For anyone interested, there are amazing groups out there supporting wildlife, and I urge you to find an organization with a solid reputation that will allow you to foster an animal in need (Hub got to name a sea turtle for his birthday). There really is no greater feeling in the world than to know you’re making a difference, even if it’s just a little one.

Happy holidays and happy reading, everyone!






Chapter One





She had never believed in love. Maybe for others but not for her. But then he smiled at her and it was as if she’d found a piece of herself that she didn’t know was missing. When he took her in his arms and held her close, she knew that for the first time in her life, she was home.





SAVANNAH Wilson closed the book and sighed. No one, but no one, wrote a love story that hit her in all the feels like Destiny Swann did. The woman plucked her heartstrings like a virtuoso playing a sonata.

“Savy, come on,” Maisy Kelly said as she entered the room. She slapped Savannah’s feet off the coffee table, grabbed her arm, and hauled her up to stand, which was no small feat given that Maisy was the short side of petite and Savannah was more Amazonian in height and build.

“I’m reading,” Savannah said. She held up her book. “Isn’t that sacred time? You own a bookstore; I would think you of all people would respect that.”

Maisy glanced at the book. Then she crossed her hands over her heart and said, “Oh, Her One and Only, that’s one of my favorite Destiny Swann books. I totally get it, I do, but you’re my sous-chef, and I need you in the kitchen. Besides, you shouldn’t be hiding in the parlor when we have a house full of people coming for Thanksgiving dinner.”

“I’m not hiding. I’m just not very good company right now,” Savannah said. She tossed the book onto the coffee table.

“Work stuff?” Maisy asked. She tipped her head to the side and studied Savy through the black-framed rectangular glasses she always wore.

“Yes, but it’s not about the bookstore. It’s stuff about my old job in New York, and I don’t want to talk about it,” Savy said. “Thus, the book.”

“Escapism 101?”

“I’m getting an A,” she said. “Although, Swann does set the bar pretty high in the hero department. I mean what man could possibly live up to Tag McAllister? He’s smart, kind, devoted to his grandmother, and completely swoon-worthy.”

“Maisy, where do you want me to put my famous smashed potatoes with green chilies?” Joaquin Solis called from the doorway.

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