Seabreeze Christmas by Jan Moran

Chapter 1

Summer Beach, California

“What a gorgeous wreath,” Ivy said as she greeted her parents on the stone steps of the Seabreeze Inn. The delightful pop of holly red and pine green against the gray marine layer encroaching on the winter beach caught her artist’s eye. She pulled her sweater closed against the swift chill breeze.

“It’s to celebrate the beginning of your first holiday season here at the inn,” Carlotta said, hugging her daughters—first Ivy, then Shelly. As she did, chunky turquoise bracelets clinked, and the swish of her long, rust-colored skirt reminded Ivy of Thanksgivings spent on the beach with her parents years ago. A bag of fresh-baked rosemary bread hung from her forearm.

Ivy was thankful that she lived close to them now. Not that they were frail or feeble—far from it. Active and in their early seventies, they planned to embark on a sail around the world on their boat this spring.

“Your mother just finished making it.” Her father held up the large wreath woven of natural pine boughs wrapped with a red velvet bow. Into the greenery, her mother had tucked silver ornaments—tiny bells and sleighs—that Ivy remembered from years ago.

“I can hang it on the front door for you unless you’d like it somewhere else,” Sterling said, his deep voice booming with cheer. He glanced at the bare porch and window sills. “We thought Shelly would be in full decorating mode by now.”

“We’ve had other priorities,” Shelly said, casting a swift glance at Ivy.

Ivy put her arm around her father. “The front door is perfect for this magnificent wreath.”

“I wish you would’ve let me help more with this huge feast,” Carlotta said.

“Making the bread was enough, Mom,” Ivy said, smiling. But preparing dinner for their large family wasn’t why they hadn’t decorated. “Since we’ve been back east for so many Thanksgivings, this weekend is our gift to the family.”

Ivy breathed in the scent of fresh pine needles from the wreath. Nearby, the ocean crashed against the beach, and the crisp scent of the sea mingled with other aromas wafting through the house. Turkey with garlic mashed potatoes, spiced pumpkin pies, and homemade apple cider from the nearby mountain village of Julian. These were the scents of her childhood and celebrations by the sea.

“Your first holiday feast at the inn is special,” Carlotta said, taking Ivy’s hand. “The first of many to come, mija. I’m so proud of what you and Shelly and Poppy have managed to do here.”

“We have a lot to be grateful for this year,” Ivy said. She and Shelly had arrived in Summer Beach in the spring—Ivy from Boston and Shelly from New York. Between renovations, summer guests, and a few surprises at the old beach house, they’d hardly had time to think about the holiday. However, after the summer crowds left, their occupancy and income experienced a sharp drop.

“What a lovely dress you’re wearing,” Carlotta said. “Is that new?”

“New to me.” Ivy picked at a thread on her forest-green, crushed velvet dress. “I found it at a thrift shop and thought it could work for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

“That was a real find,” Carlotta said, admiring her choice. “That green is beautiful with your eyes.”

Behind their parents, their twin brothers Flint and Forrest and their families spilled from their cars. Forrest had a solid, stocky build and made his living in construction, while Flint was a marine mammalogist more comfortable on the sea than land. Between the two men, they had nine grown children in their twenties, finishing college or starting careers.

Cheerful cries of “Happy Thanksgiving” rang out, and everyone hugged each other. Only their oldest sister, Honey, was missing. She and her husband Gabe lived in Sydney, Australia. Ivy greeted their daughter Elena, who had just arrived from Los Angeles.

“Looks like the holiday season at the Seabreeze Inn is officially underway,” Ivy said to Shelly over the happy chaos.

As everyone poured into the grand old house, their footsteps clattered across the polished oak floors. The sound filled the high-ceilinged rooms as they roamed past the foyer, through the old ballroom, and into the enormous kitchen designed for a large kitchen staff or caterers. These days, it was filled with guests of the inn, new friends, and extended family.

Ivy made her way to the long kitchen counter to resume her work. Here the décor, like that of the rest of the house, had changed little since the 1950s. The kitchen looked like a photo layout from an old Better Homes and Gardens magazine. With a pair of vintage O’Keefe & Merritt stoves and twin turquoise refrigerators they’d named Gert and Gertie—plus a large prep-island—there were plenty of work stations for helpers.