Dear Reader,

I love the holidays. I love everything about the holidays. From the colder weather that moves in (I live in Texas, so a break from 100 degree temperatures is always welcome) to cooking the turkey at Thanksgiving to the tree trimming to the shopping to the time with family, this is definitely my favorite time of the year.

Which is why, when Harlequin asked me to write a Christmas book for the second year in a row, I was all over it! But what to write, what to write? That is always the question. As I began thinking about this book, I knew I wanted to write a story of love and redemption, preconceptions and unexpected surprises. A book that showed the best, and worst, of human nature. And so The Christmas Present was born.

As I wrote it, I really enjoyed creating a novel that concentrated on the themes of the holiday season—family, forgiveness, hope and second chances. Rafael and Vivian have a long way to travel to get to their happily ever after, but I think the trek is a heart-warming one, and I hope you feel the same.

Thank you so much for letting my vision of Christmas into your hearts. I love to hear from readers via my website, www.tracywolff.com, on my blog, www.tracywolff.blogspot.com, or at www.sizzlingpens.blogspot.com. I hope you enjoy reading The Christmas Present as much as I enjoyed writing it. Drop me a note and let me know what you think.

Happy Holidays!

Tracy




Excerpt from The Christmas Present

© Tracy Wolff

“Having fun?” Rafa asked, the first time he managed to catch up to her. He held out a glass of water, which she gulped down thirstily.

“Your father’s a wild man.”

“Only with the people he likes.”

“Well, he must love me then,” Vivian teased. “I can’t remember the last time I danced so much.”

“I think he is crazy about you.”

“Well, the feeling’s entirely mutual. Your family is fabulous—and you’re so different when they’re around.”

“What do you mean?” His eyes searched hers warily.

“I mean, you smiled more in the first hour you were here than you have in the entire time I’ve known you. You’re happy here.”

“Of course—this is home. Isn’t that what family is for?”

“It’s supposed to be.”

She thought of her own family, of the layers and layers of ice between them and any real emotions. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a conversation with her mother that didn’t include full emotional body armor. And yet here, everything was so effortless, so joyous. And Rafael’s mother was so far away from Lillian Wentworth in style and attitude that she might as well have been a different species.

She’d wanted to talk to him more, to spend some time analyzing this Rafael who was so different than the one she knew. Here his defenses were down, he was relaxed, calm. Centered in a way she never saw when he was fighting for Diego. It was a whole new side of him, and one she found exponentially attractive.

But just as she was leaning in to kiss him, his youngest sister, Michaela, swooped in and spirited her away. “Hey, no fair hogging Vivian,” she called over her shoulder as she pulled Vivian along in her wake. “You get her all the time.”

“Make sure you bring her back in one piece, brat!”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

They swept into the kitchen. “Some of the trays are empty—you can help me refill them.”

“Sure.” Vivian glanced around the kitchen cluelessly. “Where do I start?”

“See the big baskets over there—fill them with chips.”

“Okay.”

They worked in silence for a couple minutes, then Michaela said, “I love that dress—it’s totally cool.”

Vivian glanced down at the dress her mother had gotten her for her birthday. “Thanks-- I don’t wear it very much.”

“If I had something couture, I’d wear it every day.”

“How do you know it’s couture?”

“I’m going to the Art Institute—majoring in fashion design.” She grinned as she loaded a tray with fresh sopapillas. “Fashion is my life.”

“I can see that—your scarf is fabulous.”

“I made it.”

“No way.” Vivian stepped closer, ran the fine silk through her hands. “It’s gorgeous.”

“I know, right? Rafael bought me the material a few months ago—told me he knew I could do something fabulous with it.”

“Rafael?”

“Yeah—he’s always doing stuff like that, you know? Material for me, a new kitchen tool for Mama. He’s a great guy.”

Vivian glanced at her, amused. “Is this the part where you tell me all about Rafael’s virtues?”

“No,” Michaela snapped. “It’s the part where I tell you I’ll break a bone if you hurt him.”

“Well. All right.” Vivian backed off, started arranging watermelon on a plate. Then because she couldn’t resist, “Can I ask which one?

“Whichever one hurts the most. Look, no offense, you seem really nice. But Rafa’s been through the wringer and he can’t take much more disappointment.”

“I think you’re confused about Rafa’s and my relationship—this is our first date.”

“I don’t care if it’s your fifty-first. He wouldn’t have brought you here if you didn’t matter to him—and that’s cool. I want him to be happy, believe me. He deserves it. And I remember what it was like before, when he wasn’t happy. When he wasn’t here.

“I much prefer happy.”

“I’m not planning on hurting him.”

“Good, then don’t. He’s had a lot of disappointments. He doesn’t need one more. Especially now—this whole thing with Diego’s killing him.”

“I know.”

Michaela’s gaze shot to hers. “Do you?”

“Yes.” She fought to keep her voice steady. “He told me.”

“Wow. He never talks it. Never.” She reached for a sopapilla and a bottle of honey, then settled on one of the high stools next to the counter. “I was six when it happened and I didn’t understand. How could Rafael be here one day and gone the next? Mama and Papi—they would visit him, but I was never allowed to go. It was too dangerous, they would say. No place for a little girl. But I missed my brother—missed the young man who would toss me in the air and laugh when he caught me.

“Miguel and Gabriel—they’re not like Rafa. They don’t always take the time to do the little stuff. But it’s the little stuff that makes the difference, you know?” She drenched the sopapilla in honey, then gave half to Vivian.

“I do know.”

“When he came in here today, he was nervous. I mean, really worried about introducing you to us.”

Her heart beat a little faster. “How could you tell?”

“He always sticks his left hand in his pocket. And he does that thing with his face—“ She did a credible reflection of Rafa’s downturned face and furrowed brow. “Like he’s contemplating world peace—or domination.”

“I’ve seen that face before. Are you sure it means he’s nervous?”

“I’m positive. He’s been doing it his whole life.” She stuffed the last of the dessert in her mouth, then hopped off the stool. “We need to get back, before Mama comes in here and starts yelling.” She grabbed two heavy trays and started out.

Vivian followed her, then spent the rest of the party being passed between aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends as they filled the colorful restaurant to the breaking point. Everyone seemed to want to meet her.

When she was sure she couldn’t dance for one more song without a break, she cried “uncle” and made a quick trip to the restroom.

As she splashed water on her overheated cheeks—her make-up had worn off five or six dances before so she had nothing to worry about on that front—she couldn’t help looking in the mirror. And was surprised by how happy she looked. How at peace, despite Michaela’s warnings echoing in her head. Despite her own warnings.

But how could she have known as she dressed for this party—with trepidation and a little fear in her belly—that she was going to end up having such a fabulous time? It was nothing like the parties her parents and work colleagues threw. Those parties were ruthlessly catered and organized with a precision the military could only hope to emulate. And everything was sedate—from the dresses, to the music, to the dancing and conversation. The goal was to see and be seen and fun rarely factored into it.

She hadn’t known what she’d been missing. Oh, she’d hated the parties her parents forced her to attend. Did her best to squeeze out of them when she had the chance. But she’d thought the flaw lay with her—that what had happened to Merry had simply made her too uptight, too untrusting, to have a good time.

Tonight had proven it wasn’t her, she thought in triumph as she applied a fresh coat of the nude lip gloss she wore in the hopes of downplaying her annoyingly crooked mouth. Because she didn’t feel dull around these people—didn’t feel uncomfortable or annoyed or like she had to escape.

Instead, she felt free. Free of all the social conventions her mother worshipped. Free of all the undercurrents that it took so much work to keep up with. Free to be herself—and everything that entailed, good or bad.

Tucking the gloss into her purse, she all but floated to the bathroom door. Maybe she’d be able to snag Rafael for another dance. She had loved the feel of his arms around her earlier, when he’d whirled her around the dance floor to a wild, flamenco tune. And she wouldn’t mind another margarita—though she’d already had three. She was thirsty and never before had the citrusy drink tasted so good.

Opening the bathroom door with a grin, determined to find Rafael in the crush, she was thrilled when she all but ran face first into his broad chest.

“Hey there,” he said, with the slow, lazy grin she’d seen so much of tonight. “Where’s the fire?” he asked, bending down so that his warm breath brushed against her ear.

“I want to dance with you again—you’re really good at it.”

“So are you.”

She grinned. “Eight years of dance lessons. When I was a child I was totally clumsy, always running into things. So Mom enrolled me in ballet and ballroom dancing so I could learn to be more graceful.” They bobbed and weaved their way through the throngs of people, and when they finally reached the dance floor he pulled her into his arms. A slow song was playing—one of the first of the night—and she melted into Rafael. Reveled in the feel of his long, hard body against hers. Relished the fact that she didn’t tower above him in her high heels, that she could comfortably rest her head on his shoulder and absorb the incredible masculine scent of him.

He smelled like the ocean, wicked and wild and so incredibly sexy that she wanted to lick him. To taste him. To pull his scent inside of herself and hold on to it forever.

She must have made a sound that tipped him off, because he tensed against her—the muscles of his back and neck growing tense beneath her arms even as his thighs tightened so quickly it had to be painful.

It was a delicious feeling—having this incredible man so attuned to her moods and feelings that he knew what she wanted before she asked for it. But she didn’t move despite his obvious arousal, afraid that if she did, the rosy glow of contentment that she was using to look at the world would shatter around her.

“Do you want to go home?” He whispered the words in her ear, as if he, too, were afraid of breaking the mood.

She knew what he was asking, knew that if she left with him now, she’d end up making love with him tonight. She turned the decision over in her head, realized that for once she felt no trepidition. Only a sense of rightness she didn’t want to deny.

Pulling away from Rafael, she looked him straight in the eye and said, “Come home with me.”


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Contest!

In anticipation of the Holiday Season and the release of her new Harlequin SuperRomance, Tracy's giving away a copy of her novel From Friend To Father to three lucky winners. One of these three winners will also receive a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble!

All you've got to do is visit Tracy's website and find the answers to any TWO of these three questions:

1. What is the name of Tracy’s first Harlequin Superromance?

2. What is the title of Tracy’s April release?

3. Where is Tracy’s next public appearance?


Email your answers, along with your full name and mailing address to staff@authorsoundrelations.com. Be sure to mark the subject heading as The Christmas Present.

Contest deadline is December 14th, 2009. Winners will be contacted via email shortly thereafter.

Good luck and Happy Holidays!

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