A Very Merry Christmas

 A Very Merry Christmas

A sweet Christmas eBook

A Very Merry Christmas eBook

Now available in audiobook!

Chapter One
Day 1 – December 22nd

Sail Away


Sophie Lillie stared out the window of the limo, feeling like a kid again as she peered at the cruise ship docked at the Port of Los Angeles. She’d taken many cruises with her family and had sailed to exotic locations all over the world, but at twenty-nine, she still hadn’t outgrown the rush of excitement that always filled her heart on the day of departure to a fun-filled destination.

“There’s the Bird of Paradise,” she said to her older sister, Dawn, as she gazed up at the imposing, fifteen-deck vessel with rows upon rows of rectangular windows gleaming in the December morning sun. Her father had booked their annual family Christmas cruise on this luxurious ship bound for the Hawaiian Islands. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

Dawn paused, responding to Sophie’s question with a cursory glance and a shrug, then went back to searching for something in her purse. “All cruise ships look the same to me—a huge, white box filled with too many people.”

Sophie’s older brother, Reid, snapped his laptop shut and grabbed his black, Under Armour backpack off the floor. “I’m looking forward to the food,” he said as he shoved his computer into the large, square bag and zipped it shut. “Just thinking about it makes me hungry. As soon as we board, I’m heading for the buffet.”

Dawn gave him an amused look. “You’ll be standing in line with half of the people already on the ship. It’ll be like feeding time at the zoo.” Holding up her phone, she checked her appearance using her camera, tucking her straight, chin-length hair behind her ears. “I’m going to visit the spa and make appointments for a facial and a massage.”

Sophie clutched her pink leather purse on her lap, thinking about what she wanted to explore on the ship. “The first thing I want to do after I drop my carry-on bag in my stateroom is to check out the hot tubs.” She looked at Dawn. “We’ll need a nice place to relax after our morning workout.”

“Workout?” Dawn countered with a droll grin as she slipped her phone back into her Louis Vuitton purse. “You’re not getting me on a treadmill. The only heavy lifting I plan on doing for the next twelve days involves a wine glass.”

The limo driver pulled open the passenger door and Sophie stepped out first, checking the time on her phone as she waited for Dawn and Reid. They were supposed to meet their father inside the terminal at one o’clock. She wondered if he’d already arrived or if he was still on his way from the airport.

She and her two siblings had flown in from Minneapolis a day early and stayed overnight in a hotel close to the terminal. Their father, Brad Lillie, had originally planned to join them there so they could all ride to the port together. Sophie didn’t know why, but at the last minute, he’d suddenly changed his plans to arrive this morning instead.

They followed the driver to the back of the vehicle to retrieve their luggage, each suitcase equipped with a special tag provided by Aloha Cruise Line to ensure the baggage handlers loaded them onto the correct ship. The happy trio then handed their checked bags to a porter stationed curbside and proceeded into the terminal to meet their father.

Scores of people swarmed into the sprawling, noisy building. Cruise line staff stood at key points to direct passengers to their correct check-in locations. A large family pulling suitcases cut across Sophie’s path and separated her from her siblings. She maneuvered around them as quickly as she could and glanced about, searching for her brother; a geeky-looking guy in his early thirties with thick, curly hair, a “Pink Floyd” t-shirt, sandals, and cargo shorts. Reid and Dawn both had the same tall, lean profiles as their father. Reid had sandy-colored hair like Brad, but Dawn’s short locks were a tad lighter with a natural reddish tint.

They weren’t easy to spot. By the time she’d located Reid, he and Dawn had blended into the maze-like check-in line for the Bird of Paradise and were slowly disappearing into the moving crowd. Obviously, they hadn’t realized yet that she’d become separated from them.


Reid and Dawn turned at the sound of her voice and vigorously waved at her to catch up to them. Sophie ducked under a black nylon rope and quickly joined them in line.

Dawn glanced at the time on her phone. “We should call Dad and coordinate where we’re supposed to meet him.” She scanned the organized chaos around them. “It’s impossible to locate him in this place.”

As if on cue, Reid’s phone rang. “This is him now,” Reid said as he lifted his iPhone to his ear. “Hey, Dad, what’s up? Are you in the terminal or have you already boarded the ship?” After a brief conversation, he ended the call and shoved his phone back into the side pocket of his shorts. “Dad says he’s running late. He’ll meet us later at the Sail Away party.”

A surge of apprehension filled Sophie’s heart. She hadn’t seen her father in months—six to be exact—and though she desperately wanted to make things right between them, the thought of facing him made her nervous. The last time they’d spoken was the day after her mother’s funeral where their conversation had turned into a heated discussion over his disapproval of her boyfriend and her lifestyle. She’d refused to listen to his warning about Avery Newman and in defiance, walked out, stubbornly determined to do things her way.

It proved to be the biggest mistake of my life.

The Bird of Paradise would be at sea for three days before arriving at Hilo, Hawaii, on Christmas day. She planned to approach her dad tonight with a long-overdue father-daughter talk that she hoped would begin to repair their relationship. Christmas wouldn’t be the same this year without her mother, Maggie, but Sophie still had her dad and she needed to make things right between them again by offering a sincere, heartfelt apology.

It took about fifteen minutes to reach the head of the line. A staff person quickly directed them to the next available representative to check them in. Sophie handed her boarding documents to the friendly dark-haired woman handling the process and received her “sea pass,” a plastic card containing her picture and pertinent information. It served as her room key, her boarding pass, and a credit card aboard the ship.

Once they’d checked in, they headed across the terminal to enter the ship. A small crew of cruise line staff stood at the entrance to the covered gangway to take their “Welcome Aboard” picture. The female photographer stepped behind her tripod. “Smile!”

Sophie and her siblings stood together in front of a large poster of The Bird of Paradise with arms outstretched and wide, exaggerated grins.

The woman laughed as she pressed her finger on the shutter. “You guys have done this before, haven’t you?”

“Every year since we were little,” Reid said and grabbed his backpack off the floor. “Mom used the picture for her family Christmas card, but she’s gone now, so…”

An awkward silence fell over the group.

Reid looked up. “I guess I’ll give my copy to my girlfriend instead.”

Dawn sniffled as she retrieved her carry-on bags off the floor. “Thank you.”

“Check the photo kiosk on the ship tomorrow morning,” the photographer said. “It will be ready for viewing by then.”

Dawn signaled to Sophie and Reid to be on their way.

They walked across the gangway to the entrance of the ship. After they passed through the security line, they headed for the elevator bank and stood waiting for the next available car when Reid’s phone rang again. This time the ringtone sounded different. His face lit up at the sound of Billy Joel singing “Uptown Girl.”

“It’s Ashley,” Sophie whispered to Dawn, referring to the current love of Reid’s life. “He told me this morning he changed her ringtone to that song because it reminds him of her.”

Dawn rolled her eyes.

Sophie grinned.

Preoccupied with his call, Reid handed his backpack to Dawn and punched the elevator button to take him to the Hibiscus Star Buffet. Sophie and Dawn waved goodbye to him as they got off at deck eight to view their staterooms and drop off their small bags. All of their staterooms were next to one another on the port side of the ship, only a few doors away from the elevator bank and central stairwell.

Sophie entered her stateroom of taupe walls and matching carpeting. The long, spacious room had a large closet, a lighted vanity with a built-in desk, a cozy blue sofa, and a double bed. She set a small makeup bag on a corner shelf in the bathroom then walked through the room, dropping her purse and carry-on bag on the bed on her way to the balcony. She pulled back the taupe and cream curtains in front of the sliding glass doors to let the golden December sun stream across the room. Opening the door, she stepped out onto the balcony and rested her elbows on the smooth, wooden rail, gazing at the deep blue waters of San Pedro Bay. A warm pacific breeze and the cawing of California gulls circling about the gentle waves created a mesmerizing backdrop that slowly began to relax her body and her mind.

“What’s the matter?” From the balcony next door, Dawn’s voice suddenly cut into her thoughts. “You look sad.”

Sophie stared at the water and sighed.

Dawn leaned over the railing and tossed a cracker into the air. A white gull with gray wings and a black and white tail swooped down and caught it in midair. “Thinking about Mom?”

Sophie shook her head.

“Don’t tell me you’re obsessing about Avery Newman again.”

Sophie shrugged.

“Look, Soph, you need to get over him. He used you, plain and simple. You’re better off without that guy and you know it.”

“I’m not obsessing over Avery.” Sophie sighed again. Avery Newman had looks, talent, and an abundance of charm but no scruples. Leaning over the rail, she reached past the frosted glass partition that separated their balconies and held out her hand to take Dawn’s box of snack crackers. “I’m thinking about the money and what I fool I was to trust him.”

“Thanks to Dad, he didn’t get a lot,” Dawn said. Their mother had left each of her children a sizable trust fund. The money had been part of Maggie’s inheritance from her parents. “Dad knew you’d be upset when you found out you were only receiving a small slice of your inheritance for now, but he believed he was doing the right thing. We all did.”

Sophie blinked at this new revelation. “You mean you and Reid were in on it?”

Dawn gave her an incredulous look as she handed Sophie the cracker box. “Of course, we were. Dad wanted us unified on the matter before he talked to you. Reid and I agreed to receive the same amount that he gave you. Dad wanted to be fair.”

Sophie laughed ruefully. “I accused him of being unfair anyway.” She tossed a handful of crackers into the air to feed the growing number of gulls circling the area. “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

“Dad asked us to stay out of it.” Dawn slipped on her sunglasses. “Besides, then you would have been mad at me, too.”

Sophie tossed a couple more crackers to the gulls and handed the box back to her sister. She didn’t want to talk about Avery anymore. Looking back, that portion of her life had played out like a bad reality show, one that she never wanted to take part in again. “Let’s go and explore the ship,” she said, turning her attention to their afternoon plans. “I’ll go to the spa with you if you’ll visit the fitness center with me. They’re usually adjacent to one another.”

“Okay, but we have to complete the safety drill by three-thirty and I want to come back here right after that so I have plenty of time to shower and change before the Sail Away party.”

“Me, too,” Sophie said, looking forward to twelve days of tropical fun. “I’m going to have a Mai Tai and enjoy the music. Woo hoo! Let’s get this party started!”


The Sail Away dance party started in the pool area on deck eleven at 4:45 pm sharp. Sophie and Reid congregated in Dawn’s room at 4:30 pm, looking over The Coral Chronicle on Sophie’s iPad, the ship’s daily electronic newsletter while waiting for Dawn to finish perfecting her makeup.

“Ah, c’mon, Dawn, it’s a pool party, not the Academy Awards,” Reid complained as he looked at his Apple watch. He still wore the same t-shirt and shorts he had on earlier. “We’re going to be late and all the good appetizers will be gone.”

“You just ate!” Sophie and Dawn exclaimed at the same time.

Reid adjusted his purple and gold Minnesota Vikings bill cap. “I heard there’s going to be crab cakes and grilled shrimp on a skewer.” He checked his watch again. “It starts in five minutes. Let’s go!”

They arrived at the party just as a four-piece Hawaiian band with assorted drums, ukuleles, and steel guitars started to fill the air with island-style music. Sophie and Dawn parted company with Reid at the seafood appetizer buffet and made their way through the milling crowd to the poolside bar to get Mai Tais.

“This is just what I needed.” Sophie sipped her fruity drink and tapped her foot to the strumming of the ukulele. She wanted to dance, but had no partner. Dawn wouldn’t risk messing up her hair and Reid was too busy wolfing down his Hawaiian barbequed chicken to care about jumping around to the music.

Suddenly, someone grabbed her free hand and twirled her around.

“Ryan Scott!” Sophie burst into laughter as she whirled to the music. “What are you doing here?”

Ryan let go of her hand. “Getting away from the rat race, like you. Didn’t you know we were here? I was looking for something different for our annual company bonus trip and Brad talked me into taking my staff on this cruise.”

Brad Lillie leased all of his company cars from Ryan Scott’s Mercedes dealership and had been a customer for years, long before Ryan had taken over the business from his father. Ryan and his father were clients of Brad’s brokerage firm as well.

Sophie smiled. “Have you ever been on a cruise before?”

Ryan’s brows deepened with apprehension. “Ah…no.”

“Hey, there’s nothing to worry about. The ship isn’t going to sink.” She patted him on the arm. “Believe me, you’ll enjoy it so much you’ll want to go again.”

During her teenage years, Sophie had harbored a mighty crush on the tall, dark, and ruggedly handsome guy, but Ryan, who was five years older, had always been more interested in his snowmobile and talking football with Reid than flirting with her. However, they were both adults now, and perhaps…

Ryan grinned broadly. “Have you met my wife?”


Sophie’s smile froze as a petite blonde with long, layered hair walked toward them carrying a small plate of fresh veggies and fruit.

“Hi,” the woman said warmly. “I’m Katie.”

“H-hi.” Sophie extended her free hand. “I’m pleased to meet you. How long have you been married?” To the guy I used to dream about in high school…

“Not long,” Katie replied. “We tied the knot last summer on Enchanted Island.”

“Oh, really? How was it? Enchanted Island, I mean.” Sophie had only seen pictures of it online but knew that Enchanted Island was a beautiful, heart-shaped isle off the coast of Florida. “I’ve heard it’s the newest, hottest thing for destination weddings.”

Katie stared at Ryan with an adoring smile. “It was absolutely wonderful. It’s a territory of the United States so our marriage was legal there. We didn’t have to go through the ceremony again once we got back home. I would recommend it to anyone in a heartbeat.”

I don’t have a future wedding to plan. I don’t have a steady boyfriend or even know anyone I’d want to have coffee with, much less a date, Sophie thought glumly. Nowadays, her life consisted of her business and her cat. Since she’d broken up with Avery, she’d watched more television than she had in her entire life. At least, it seemed like that, anyway.

The ship had begun slowly gliding out of the harbor. Sophie and Katie moved to the railing to watch the buildings along the oceanfront methodically slide by as the vessel began sailing across the vast waters of the Pacific Ocean to Hilo, Hawaii.

The band started to play an old Elvis hit, “Blue Hawaii.” Sophie turned around and leaned against the railing, watching them play when something caught her eye, or rather someone. A tall man with unruly blond hair approached Ryan wearing khaki shorts and a sky-blue polo shirt that emphasized his broad, muscular shoulders and arms.

Who is that?

Golden brows furrowed over deep blue eyes as the man spoke to Ryan. Sophie couldn’t hear the conversation, but when Ryan shook his head in a manner that conveyed uncertainty, she wondered what they were discussing.

The breeze blew the man’s thick, wavy hair across his forehead. He lifted his hand to brush it away and when he looked up, their gazes collided. For a moment, she couldn’t look away, mesmerized by the intensity of his bold, confident stare.

Ryan spoke again, pulling the man’s attention away, but that brief encounter sparked her curiosity. She had never seen the man before and wondered if he worked at Ryan’s dealership. If so, the grim line of his mouth suggested something wasn’t going right.

“Who is that guy talking to Ryan,” she said to Katie.

“Oh, that’s Sam,” Katie replied matter-of-factly as she watched their conversation with interest. “Sam Alexander. He’s one of our top sales consultants.”

Katie joined Ryan to hear the conversation, leaving Sophie to sip her drink and wonder what was going on.

“Hello, Sophie.”

She spun around the moment she recognized the deep timbre of her father’s voice. Tall and slim with silver streaks in his sandy hair, he looked the same, yet something about him had unquestionably changed since the last time she had been with him. His blue-gray eyes sparkled with purpose; his genuine smile widened effortlessly, creating a window into his frame of mind. She let out a sigh of relief, glad that he was happy to see her, but wondered what had happened to change his mind. Had Dawn given him a pep talk before the cruise and convinced him to let their disagreement go? If so, this was one occasion when Sophie didn’t mind her big sister meddling in her affairs.

“Hi, Dad!” Ready to begin anew, she set her drink on a nearby table and fell into his outstretched arms, giving him a long-overdue hug as she sunk her cheek into his shoulder.

“I’ve missed you so much, honey,” he murmured and wrapped his long arms around her, holding her tight. “I’m glad you’re here.”

In the corner of her eye, Sophie saw a female in her mid-forties with shoulder-length blonde hair standing close behind him. Too close for a total stranger. The friendly, but tentative expression on the beautiful woman’s face puzzled her. Sophie pulled back in surprise.

He turned his head and smiled at the woman then reached out and took her hand, urging her to come closer.

“Sophie,” he said with a gentle note in his voice, “I’d like you to meet my fiancée, Carolyn Roberts.”

His fiancée?

Sophie stared at the couple as her father’s words sunk in. Mom had only been gone for six months. How could he forget his wife of nearly forty years so easily? And so quickly?

Carolyn made the first move, stretching out her hand. The huge diamond on her professionally manicured finger sparkled in the light. “Hello, Sophie. Brad has told me so much about you. I’m glad to finally meet you in person.”

Stunned, Sophie mechanically held out her hand in response. “H-hello.”

Carolyn’s fingers clasped tightly around hers. “I realize this is quite a shock to you,” she said kindly, “but I hope that we can become friends.”

Sophie nodded, struggling for a reply. “How long have you been engaged?”

“Not long.” Caroline marveled at her exquisite, marquis-shaped diamond engagement ring. “Brad proposed to me about a month ago. On my birthday.” She looked up. “It was a delightful surprise.”

“How long have you known him?”

“I had a couple of classes with him in college.” Carolyn slipped her hand into Brad’s. “We met up again a year ago at our college reunion party.”

That was about the time Mom got sick…

Brad shifted nervously. “Would you ladies like a drink? Perhaps a glass of Cabernet?”

“I’ll get it, Dad,” Sophie said and backed away. The last thing she wanted was to be alone with Carolyn and struggle to make small talk. She needed time to process this new information. Did Dawn know about this? Why hadn’t her sister warned her beforehand? Her heart ached with loneliness for her mom and she swallowed hard, missing Maggie more than ever as tears of frustration and profound disappointment rushed to her eyes.

Desperate to get away, she whirled around to head for the bar, but instead, she slammed into a man’s chest. “I’m sorry,” she said weakly as she wobbled backward and blinked furiously, attempting to clear the moisture blurring her vision. “I—I should have looked where I was going.”

The man’s strong hands gripped her to steady her. “It’s my fault. I stepped in your way.”

She looked up and found herself in the arms of Sam Alexander.

Download your copy today on Kindle or Kindle Unlimited!


Audiobook now available!

A Very Merry Christmas by Denise Devine

Amazon Audiobook












Happily Ever After Stories - Sweet Romance Facebook Group

Join my reader group - Happily Ever After Stories – Sweet Romance. If you like sweet romance and want to be part of a great group that has lots of fun and fantastic parties, visit us at