BLURB: Can a book change your life? Yes, when it’s Simplicity, Muriel Sterling’s guide to plain living. In fact, it inspires Jen Heath to leave her stressful, overcommitted life in Seattle and move to Icicle Falls, where she rents a lovely little cottage on Juniper Ridge. And where she can enjoy simple pleasures—like joining the local book club—and complicated ones, like falling in love with her sexy landlord, Garrett Armstrong.
Her sister Toni is ready for a change, too. She has a teenage daughter who’s constantly texting her friends, a husband who’s more involved with his computer than he is with her, and a son who’s consumed by video games. Toni wants her family to grow closer—to return to a simpler way of life.
Other women in town, like Stacy Thomas, are also inspired to unload their excess stuff and some of the extra responsibilities they’ve taken on.
But as they all discover, sometimes life simply happens. It doesn’t always happen simply!
Toni was up to her eyebrows in gift bags and wrapping paper when her sister called. “Hey, I was beginning to think you’d run away,” Toni said. “I haven’t heard from you since we had lunch.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“What a surprise.”
“What are you doing this weekend?” Jen asked, ignoring her sarcasm.
“With ten days to go until Christmas? Shopping.” Most of her shopping had been done by November, but she still had a few last minute things to purchase.
“Want to go shopping in Icicle Falls?”
“I want to go check out Icicle Falls. We can go up Friday and spend the night. Come back late Saturday.”
Toni wasn’t spontaneous. She was a planner, and she had her weekend all planned. She was going to the gym on Friday, then out to dinner that night with her husband at Anthony’s. Wayne was a programmer and sometimes it seemed he was married to his computer instead of her. But come Friday they were going to have a romantic night out whether he wanted to or not. She’d already told him to program that into his computer. Then Saturday she’d finish up her shopping.
“I can’t go until after Christmas.”
“Come on. Please? My treat.”
“You can’t afford to treat.”
“Okay, we can go halfsies, then we can both afford it.”
Toni propped the phone between her shoulder and ear and set to work using a pair of scissors to curl the ribbon on the package she’d just wrapped. “Why are you suddenly in such a tear to go to Icicle Falls?”
“Because I think I might want to move there.”
Toni dropped the scissors. “What? What are you talking about? You just bought a condo.”
“I know. And now it’s on the market. My realtor is holding an open house this weekend.”
All right. Spontaneous was one thing, but this was crazy. “You can’t put your place up for sale just like that,” Toni protested.
“Yes, I can,” Jen said, her tone of voice sounding deceptively sane.
“No. You can’t. You don’t have any equity built up. You won’t make a cent.”
“I don’t need to make anything. I need to get free of my debt. Never mind the cheese, just let me out of the trap.”
Toni frowned. That didn’t sound like something her sister would say. “What’s this all about anyway?” And then she remembered. The book. She groaned. “Oh, no. Don’t tell me.”
“Don’t tell you what?”
“You read the book I gave you.”
“Isn’t that why you gave it to me? And yes, I did, and it made perfect sense.”
“That was just to help you prioritize your life, learn how to be less busy.”
“That’s exactly what I’m doing,” Jen said. “I’m shedding all the things that have been complicating my life and holding me down.”
“I didn’t give you that book for you to go off half cocked, sell your place and move to the mountains.” She’d only wanted her little sister to learn to say no, to manage her time better. She should have known this would happen. This was such a Jen thing to do.
“I don’t know if I’m going to move to the mountains yet. I’m taking this slowly, checking it out.”
“Slowly? You read a book and two weeks later your place is up for sale.”
“Okay, fine. If you don’t want to go.”
“Oh, no. You’re not going up there without me,” Toni said firmly. Who knew what her sister would do if left to her own devices? “I’ll pick you up Friday at eleven, after I’m done at the gym.” The romantic Friday night dinner with her husband would have to wait. Right now she had to keep her sister from simplifying her life with a new complication.
And so that Friday afternoon found the sisters on their way to the quaint Washington town of Icicle Falls. Nestled in the Cascades, it was the perfect place … to visit.
“Why way up here in the mountains? Why Icicle Falls?” Toni demanded.
“That’s where Muriel Sterling lives.”
“You know, the woman who wrote Simplicity. I read it in her bio on the back of the book.” Jen frowned. “Sometimes I wonder if you even read that book.”
Of course she’d read it. That was why she’d given it to her sister. Now Toni wished she’d never heard of the dumb thing.
“So, just on a whim you decided you want to live there?”
“I’ve been checking it out on the internet,” Jen said. “Did you know that the town sponsors a yearly chocolate festival?”
“Well, there’s a reason to move.”
Jen matched her sarcasm with a grin. “I thought so.”
“This is nuts,” Toni said, frowning at her sister.
“Hey, watch the road,” Jen scolded.
“Don’t worry. I can drive in the snow. And the Outback has all wheel drive and snow tires. We’re fine.” She shook her head “But listen to you. We’re on the highway and it’s barely sticking and you’re already nervous. You hate driving in the snow and so you’re moving to the mountains? That doesn’t even make sense.”
“I hate driving in the snow in Seattle, which is all hills,” Jen corrected.
“This, in case you didn’t notice, isn’t just a hill. It’s a mountain.”
“It’s a highway and you just assured me we’re safe.”
Toni sighed. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” she muttered. Aiding and abetting her sister in her insanity – – what was she thinking? I must be crazy, too.
But once they hit the town she could understand why her sister had wanted to come check it out.
“Look how cute this is,” Jen said, gazing out the window at the Bavarian architecture of the shops as they drove down Center Street.
The downtown was cute, Toni had to admit, and especially so with everything all dolled up for the holidays. The old-fashioned street lamps were decorated with fat, red bows and greenery, the trees were strung with lights just waiting to bloom come evening. The town was surrounded by glorious mountain peaks frosted with snow. So were the rooftops here in town. It made Toni think of gingerbread houses.
“Let’s check in and then come back and shop,” Jen suggested.
That sounded fine to Toni and they made their way to the Icicle Creek Lodge.
“Oh, my,” Jen breathed as they pulled up in front of the rustic, old place.
It looked like what a mountain lodge should look like — large, rough timbered and accented with stone. The sweeping front lawn was thick with snow. A trio of children, probably staying there, was busy taking advantage of the abundance of the white stuff and building a snowman. Inside, the lobby was done up to the nines for the holidays with greens and ribbon and little twinkle lights everywhere. And in the center of the lobby sat an old fashioned sleigh, piled with presents. It looked like a postcard. Somewhere, someone was roasting nuts and the aroma filled the place.
Toni could envision bringing her family up here for a holiday vacation. Jordan would love this.
Well, maybe. Jordan would have loved it a couple of years ago. These days she didn’t enjoy doing much of anything with her family. Dad was mean, Mom didn’t understand, and Jeffrey was stupid and a pest. Sigh.
Their room was all charm – wood paneling, a bed with a white down comforter, a view out the window that took Toni’s breath away. It would be so easy to fall under the spell of this place.
Jen joined her at the window. “Gorgeous, isn’t it?”
Oh, no. Jen couldn’t afford to fall. “It’s a great place to vacation,” Toni said, hoping her sister would get the message.
“It might be a good place to live.”
Living here would feel like stepping inside a storybook. But her sister had some real life issues to deal with. “You have a place in Seattle you haven’t sold.”
Jen frowned. “You don’t have to remind me.”
“Yeah, I do.” Someone had to keep Jen in line. Toni felt a sudden respect for Jiminy Cricket. It was no easy task keeping someone out of trouble who was always looking to dive in nose first. “I don’t want to see you get the cart before the horse.”
“I’m just looking. Remember? Come on, let’s go check out some of the shops.”
Jen had been right about the shops. The first one they walked into sold imported lace goods and teapots, and within ten minutes Toni had purchased a lace tablecloth for their grandmother. And a holiday table runner from Germany for herself.
That was only the beginning of the shopping spree. After that she went on to buy novelty hats for both her kids in the hat shop, several ornaments for the tree in a shop that specialized in all things Christmas, and a box of chocolates from Sweet Dreams Chocolates, the town’s chocolate company.
Jen purchased some, too. “For us for later tonight,” she said. She gave Toni’s arm a sisterly hug. “Isn’t this fun? Aren’t you glad you came?”
“I am,” Toni admitted. Who didn’t enjoy girl time and shopping? And everyone here was so darned friendly. Even she was beginning to harbor dreams of moving to Icicle Falls, ogling the beautiful scenery and stuffing her face with chocolate. “But remember, I have to be back by six tomorrow,” she reminded both her sister and herself. “Wayne and I have reservations for seven.” She was still determined to get in that dinner with her husband. They were going to be romantic even if it killed them.
“Look,” Jen said stopping in front of Mountain Meadows Real Estate. She studied the pictures of homes for sale displayed on the window and her eager smile fell away. “Prices up here aren’t cheap, are they?”
“It looks like real estate has held its value,” Toni said. Another plus for residents of the town, but Jen couldn’t afford those prices. “Of course these are houses. Condos might be less.” What was she saying?
“Good point. Let’s go in and find out what’s available,” Jen said, starting for the door.
Toni held her back. “Come on Jen-Jen, let’s just have fun this weekend and leave it at that. You really shouldn’t even be looking until your place is sold.”
“It can’t hurt to look,” Jen insisted, and went in.
“Yeah, it could,” Toni muttered and followed her inside.
Once in the office, the woman on duty was happy to show Jen what they had in her price range … which wasn’t much.
“None of those condos were as nice as what I have in Seattle,” Jen said as they left the office.
“Then maybe you should stay put.”
Jen frowned. “I really want to change my life.”
“That’s all well and good but what would you live on if you moved up here? You work in Seattle. Remember?”
“I saw help wanted signs in a couple of windows. I could find a job here in town.”
“Oh yeah. You’d make a lot of money working in some shop,” Toni scoffed.
“You don’t need a lot of money to live simply,” Jen told her. “That’s what Muriel Sterling says.”
“Muriel Sterling has never gone shopping with you.”
Jen didn’t answer. Instead she pulled her cell phone from her coat pocket and began to surf the Internet.
“Great,” Toni muttered, “I feel like I’m back home with my daughter, being ignored. What are you doing now?”
“I just had a thought.”
“What kind of thought?” What was Jen up to?
“Maybe I could rent something.”
“You don’t want to have nothing to show for your money but rent receipts,” Toni protested.
“Not down the road. But for right now, I don’t know. It might be nice to rent. No responsibility. If something goes wrong the landlord fixes it.”
Toni shook her head. “I think you’re nuts.”
Jen held her phone out for her to see. There on the screen was a picture of a cottage with wisteria climbing up the front porch railing and along the roof. “That’s kind of cute. And look at the price.”
“For that price there must be something wrong with it.”
“Well, I’m going to call and find out,” said Jen.
From a nice condo to a teensy house in the mountains – her sister had lost her marbles. “I wish I’d never given you that book,” Toni said.
Jen ignored her. “Hi, I’m calling about your ad on Craig’s List. Is that house still for rent? Great. I’d like to look at it. Tomorrow morning? Yes, I can do that. Ten? Perfect.” Jen ended the call and smiled as if she’d accomplished something important. “We’re all set. The owner will meet us there.”
“Just remember. You’re only looking,” Toni cautioned.
“Of course,” Jen agreed.
The next morning when they pulled in front of the place Jen quickly slid from looking down that slippery slope into lusting. “Oh, it’s so cute!”
Yes, Toni had to admit, with its white shutters and little front porch it was cute. Camped out at the end of a long scenic road, it sat on a large lot surrounded by pine and fir trees and came complete with a snow-capped roof and a long front porch. Some kind of tree, possibly a fruit tree, occupied the front corner of the lot. But the place looked tinier than Jen’s condo.
“It’s not very big,” Toni pointed out.
“There’s only me. I don’t need a big place,” Jen said, and slipped out of the SUV.
She’s going to do something crazy, Toni thought. Was it too late to demand Jen hand over her checkbook?
A big, black truck pulled up and parked in front of them and out of it stepped a six foot hunk of dark-haired gorgeous. Toni forgot about getting her sister’s checkbook. For a moment she even forgot she had a husband and a romantic dinner waiting for her in Seattle. By the time she remembered, Jen and the hunk had shaken hands and were halfway up the front walk.
“Jen, wait,” she called, and hurried after. But she knew she was too late.
Sheila Roberts is married and has three children. She lives on a lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her novels have appeared in Readers Digest Condensed books and have been published in several languages. Her holiday perennial, On Strike for Christmas, was made into a movie for the Lifetime Movie Network and her her novel The Nine Lives of Christmas has been optioned for film. When she’s not writing songs, hanging out with her girlfriends or trying to beat her husband at tennis, she can be found writing about those things dear to women’s hearts: family, friends, and chocolate.
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