Christmas at Quiet Castle
Book 1 in the Quiet Castle series

Meredith Vincent, the popular co-host of the #1 talk show; "It's a Great Day, New York", is at the top of her game and has everything she's ever dreamed of. Her perfect world comes crashing down when her husband is killed in a plane crash and she discovers that she was under investigation for embezzlement. In the aftermath of the scandal that follows Meredith loses everything.


On the recommendation of her attorney Meredith must leave town and lay low. With little more than the clothes on her back she catches a bus and heads to the last place she remembered being happy; a Hippy retreat in West Texas called Quiet Castle.


In the hills of Texas with the help of a troubled orphan, the spirit of the previous owner and a lost love, Meredith begins the process of picking up the pieces of her broken life and discovers what true happiness really is.

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"Who was on the phone?" Meredith Vincent yelled from the changing room. She was slipping on one of the last of the designer dresses sent for her consideration; a Dior.

"It was Randy," Lee called back.

"Did he need to talk to me?"

"Nope, he asked if you were here. I said yes. He asked if I was sure. I said yes again and then he hung up."

"That's odd," Meredith murmured.

"I've been telling you for years, the man's odd," Lee replied with a sniff.

"He may be odd but he's a good agent," Meredith said, feeling the need to defend her agent. "And let's give credit where credit is due. If my darling husband hadn't insisted thatI hire that 'odd man', I wouldn't have my own talk show, and if I didn't have a hit talk show I wouldn't be able to afford you as my stylist."

Lee chuckled. "Point taken. Remind me to grovel at the man's feet the next time I see him. So c'mon out and let me see the dress."

Meredith came out of the changing room and did a quick pirouette. She let out a sigh when she saw Lee's expression. "Don't tell me. This isn't the one." They'd been at this for hours.

Lee shook her head. "It's pretty, but…you heard the boss' instructions." She began mimicking Chad Vincent's tone and hand gestures. "'You be sure to put my wife in a dress that will make everyone sit up and take notice.'" She paused, looked at the dress again and shook her head. "This dress isn't going to make anyone sit up, let alone take notice."

Meredith had to bite her lip to keep from laughing at Lee's dead-on impression of her husband. She walked around the rack of dresses to look in the mirror. Lee was right. This wasn't the dress. She turned back toward Lee. "What am I going to do? The gala's only two weeks away."

Lee went over to the rack and pulled out the green Versace gown she had proposed hours earlier. "Okay, I know you told me you didn't like this one, but I'm telling you, you're wrong. I get paid to know what looks good on you. Please try it on. If you don't like it, I promise I'll get on the horn and hunt down more dresses." Meredith tilted her head and studied the dress.

"C'mon, Mere," Lee begged. "I had Maggie send this one over as a special favor. Can't you at least try it on as a professional courtesy?" When she saw Meredith softening, she added one more plea, "Pleeeese…for me."

Meredith rolled her eyes at Lee's puppy dog expression. She studied the dress swinging back and forth on Lee's finger. "It is pretty," she admitted. "But you know Chad doesn't like me in green. Besides, do you think it will make me stand out?"

"Duh," Lee said, flipping the hanger around so Meredith could see the back. The dress plunged to a very deep V.

Meredith's eyes widened. "Whoa, that's…low. I don't want to stand out in a hoochie momma kind of way."

This time it was Lee who rolled her eyes. "Hello…you're Meredith Vincent, host of the most popular talk show in New York. Everyone's expecting you to make a fashion statement." Lee flipped the dress around so Meredith could see the front again. "Look, you're covered up… the neck is high and it has long sleeves. Your legs are covered except for one slit. C'mon, Mere, trust me. No one is going to look at you in this dress and think hoochie momma."

Meredith's brows furrowed. "Are you sure we can't wait till Chad gets back to make the final decision?" Meredith could always tell when Lee was getting frustrated with her. "I know you think I'm being spineless but this gala is a huge deal. I have to pick the perfect dress." She wished for the umpteenth time that Lee and Chad got along. With Chad being both her husband and her manager the two were forced to be around each other constantly and they always seemed to be bickering, forcing Meredith to be in the middle.

Meredith loved that Lee spoke her mind. She knew that Lee wasn't fond of Chad or her agent, and had told Meredith on more than one occasion the two were idiots. Lee even accused Chad of telling lies about Meredith her to the crew. When Meredith told Chad what she had heard, he went ballistic and insisted that Lee be fired. Meredith refused, but she did agree to have a final heart-to-heart with Lee. Lee had to promise never to speak bad about Chad again and to respect his position as Meredith's manager. If she didn't, Meredith told her she'd have no choice but to fire her. Lee complied. True to her word, she never talked bad about him again; though the promise didn't keep her stylist from rolling her eyes on occasion behind Chad's back.

Lee shook her head. "I've held onto these dresses far longer than I should have. I promised to return the dresses you don't select today."

"Can't you talk them into letting us hold them a few more days?" Meredith asked. "I'd like Chad to give the final okay."

Lee sighed and tried another tactic. "Listen, Meredith, you know the designers did us a favor letting us get first crack at these dresses. If we don't get the dresses back to them, they won't get a chance to get someone else to wear them." She paused before adding in a droll tone, "They won't be happy campers."

Meredith studied the dress. She'd have hell to pay if Chad didn't like her choice, yet Lee was right. If she wanted to stay in the designers' good graces, she needed to return the dresses she wasn't going to wear.

Lee jumped up, giving her final argument. "Seriously, Mere, you wear this dress and I guarantee you'll be in all the magazines. You know Chad'll love that." Lee did a Vanna White movement with her hand, up and down the dress. "Have I or have I not gotten you on top of the Best Dressed Lists?"

"You have," Meredith agreed. "It's…I wish Donna was here to give me her opinion." Donna was both her best friend and her personal assistant. Chad thought Donna had great taste, so if she put her stamp of approval on the dress Meredith would be much more comfortable with the decision. It was lousy timing for both of them to be out of town right now. "Do you think we could Skype with her?"

Lee threw up her hands in frustration. "You told me Donna had to go back home this week because her mother was having surgery. Do you really want to bother her with helping you to choose a dress?"

Meredith sighed. Lee was right. She looked back at the dress. She hated that she didn't trust herself to make the decision on her own. She looked up when the door opened and the young woman Donna sent to help out in her absence walked in. "Perfect timing. What do you think of this dress, Vicky? Do you think it's too…much?"

Vicky paled. Donna had warned her about Meredith's short fuse. Vicky hadn't seen that side of her new boss yet, but Donna told her that Meredith was like Jekyll and Hyde so not to let down her guard.

Seeing her hesitation, Meredith pressed, "Tell me what you think. I want your honest opinion."

Vicky took a deep breath and looked from the dress to Meredith. "Well, I'm not a fashionista or anything…but I love the color. I think it would photograph great with your blonde hair and green eyes." Seeing Meredith was listening, Vicky's voice grew more confident. "The style is deceptively simple. It looks nice on the hanger but I bet when you put it on…" She wiggled her eyebrows, making her implication clear.

"Exactly!" Lee said triumphantly. She began swinging the dress in front of her boss again.

"So you think it will look good?" Meredith asked, taking another look at the dress.

Vicky nodded. "I think it will look fabulous!"

Lee looked over Meredith's shoulder and gave Vicky a wink. "Okay, Mere, picture a smoky eye, soft pink lip and your hair up in a loose chignon. Then we'll get a gold chain that will hang halfway down your back with a cool pendant…" Lee stopped, her eyes sparkling with excitement. "Do you think you could get Fred Leighton to lend you that emerald pendant again? I'm telling you, Mere…you'll knock'em dead!"

Meredith was finding it hard to resist Lee's enthusiasm. Over the years, Lee had made it into Meredith's tight inner circle. Even though Chad didn't like her, next to Donna, Lee was the closest thing Meredith had to a friend and she trusted her. After Chad fired the last in a long series of makeup artists, Lee stepped up and began doing both Meredith's makeup as well as her styling. She looked from the dress to Lee. "You're really sure this is the one?"

Lee's expression softened. When the cameras were on, Meredith Vincent was in her element with confidence to spare. Yet the minute the cameras clicked off, it was Chad who stepped in and made the decisions. "I wouldn't be pushing so hard if I didn't," Lee told her.

Without another word, Meredith held out her hand for the dress.

Lee's smile turned into a grin. "Yes!" she said with a fist bump and kick.

Meredith was chuckling when she went into the changing room. "Don't celebrate too soon. I haven't agreed to wear it yet."

"You will," Lee said, her voice brimming with confidence.

While Lee waited for her boss to slip into the dress, she picked up the People Magazine she brought in with her that morning and started flipping through it. "Hey, Mere, did you read the article in People yet?"

"Chad got an advance copy and read it to me over the phone yesterday," Meredith called out. "What did you think?"

Even though Meredith couldn't see her, Lee was shaking her head. "I don't know. I think making you out to be a cross between Angelina Jolie and Mother Teresa put a big target on your back. They've got you on a pedestal and you know how the press loves taking pot shots at celebrities on pedestals."

"Funny you say that. I thought the same thing," Meredith called out. "I didn't say half the stuff in there…they must have gotten those quotes from Chad. But the main tenant is true. I'm pretty content with how my life is going, and I don't think thirty-three is over the hill."

Meredith walked back into the room. Her head was down while she adjusted the dress around her hips. "When I get pregnant, I'll be totally hap—" She looked up when Vicky gasped.

"Wowza!" Vicky's eyes were wide with admiration. There was no doubting her sincerity.

"Now that's a dress," Lee agreed. She twirled her fingers. "Turn around, let me see the back."

Meredith smiled and complied.

Lee's smile widened. "You have got to wear that."

Forgetting she was intimidated by Meredith, Vicky chimed in, "You look gorgeous, Ms. Vincent, absolutely knock'em dead gorgeous."

"Really?" Meredith asked even as she walked around the rack of clothes to get a look of herself in the full-length mirror.

The dress fit like a glove. She was a curvy 5'10" and this dress showed off every curve to perfection. It looked nothing like it did on the hanger. She twisted around to see the back. If the 'V' went any lower, it would have been too much. As it was, it showed the graceful line of her spine. "It does look nice, doesn't it?"

"Oh yeah," Lee said with a satisfied nod. "I knew it would look good. But it even looks better than I imagined." She sat down on the arm of the chair and stared at her boss. She was one of the few at the television station where they worked who truly liked Meredith. The others in the station, including her colleagues, pretended they liked her to stay on her good side, but Lee heard the talk. They all considered Meredith to be a spoiled diva. But it was Chad who was the diva, not Meredith. Lee was convinced the man went out of his way to cultivate his wife's reputation as being arrogant, demanding and high-maintenance. She was beginning to suspect that he did it on purpose since she had caught him on more than one occasion giving orders or reprimands that he said came from directly from his wife, when Lee knew Meredith had said no such thing.

Meredith turned and smiled. "You're right. I think we have a winner. Do you think they could adju—"

Meredith was interrupted when the door flew open and her agent burst in, breathing so heavily he could barely get the words out. "Is Mer…is Meredith…is she here?"

Meredith came out from around the rack. When she saw Randy's face, she went quickly to his side.

When Randy saw her, he gasped, "Thank God," before bending over at the waist and resting his hands on his thighs.

"Do you want us to call 911?" Meredith asked. Her agent's face was beet red and covered with perspiration. "Vicky, can you get him some water?" Taking Randy's arm, Meredith and Lee helped him to the chair. "Randy, sit down before you pass out."

Randall Littleton hated being called Randy, but he didn't have the energy to correct her. He sank into the chair and took the bottle of water Vicky held out. . It was several long seconds and a few swigs of water before his face returned to its normal shade of pink and his breathing slowed. Meredith put her hand on his shoulder. "Are you okay? What on earth happened?"

Randy's face paled again. "Twitter's blowing up with a story that you and Chad were killed in a plane crash in the Bahamas."

Meredith relaxed. "Is that all? At least that's more believable than the story they did that said I had been abducted by aliens." She did a little spin. "See…I'm very much alive. How do you like the dress, by the way? Do you think Chad will approve?"

For the first time, Randy noticed what she was wearing and gave a little whistle. "That's some gown." He was back in agent mode. "It'll pop in pictures."

"Good," Meredith said, running her hands down her hips. "I'm surprised you got so worked up over the rumors. Aren't you the one who's always telling me to ignore that stuff?"

"Yeah, but with Chad being out of town—" Randy stopped abruptly. He schooled his expression and shook his head. "You're right. I don't know why I let it get to me."

Meredith gave him a pat on the shoulder. "Relax. I talked to Chad a few hours ago. He's in Chicago at a meeting about the show's syndication. He said if all goes well we'll both be looking at a bump in our paychecks." She watched Randy's expression brighten at the promise of more money.

His eyes widened when he remembered the documents he was carrying. "Speaking of money. I forgot all about why I was in the building. I need your John Hancock on these." "What are they?" Meredith asked. She had gone back behind the rack to look in the mirror again.

"Nothing major, just more of the never ending paperwork the network sends us," Randy said with a shrug. He pulled out a pen and walked around the rack to stand beside her. He held it out for her to sign while looking at her reflection. "That is some gown," he said approvingly.

Meredith waived the papers away. "I don't want to sign anything now. I'm pooped. Let's wait and sign them tomorrow."

Randy shook his head and held them out again. "No can do sweetheart. That husband of yours would have my head if I don't have these signed and back to the network today like he told me to. You don't want to get me in trouble with the old man now do you?"

Meredith was about to argue then thought better of it. She didn't feel up to having the 'quit rushing me to sign documents speech', she had planned to have with both Chad and Randy. Chad acted like she was an airhead sometimes and it was getting old but the talk could wait till Chad got home. It wasn't Randy's fault.

She held out her hand for the documents and tried to push down her irritation. This had become more and more of a sore spot with her lately. It seemed like she was always in a rush when there were documents to sign. "Fine," she sighed. "Give them to me. I'll sign this group but I'm serious about wanting to get more involved in all sides of the business. I want to sit down with you and Chad and have you guys fill me in on what's going on. Things have been so crazy these last few years I feel like I'm out of the loop." She signed where he pointed as she talked.

Randy nodded. "No problem. I'd like to point out though that things are starting to gel. Didn't Chad say this week that the network brass has almost come out and said that your show will be syndicated? Chad's been telling me not to worry you about some of the behind the scenes stuff. He said you're under enough stress. We're trying to free you up to do what you do best…get in front of that camera and do your thing. So stop worrying. You know nothing gets by without Chad's approval."

"I guess you're right," Meredith agreed. She signed the last document then handed it back along with the pen. "I'm serious though. When Chad gets back I'd like to sit down&mdash " She was interrupted when Randy's cell rang. He glanced down at the caller ID before holding up a finger. "Hold that thought Meredith. I've got to take this." Without waiting for Meredith's reply he left the room. She heard him say, "It's only a rumor, Ray. Yeah, I'm with her now. You can…" before he went out of earshot.

Meredith looked over at Lee and rolled her eyes. Then she let out a long sigh and turned around and looked back at her reflection. "Can you believe the stories they come up with?" She was doing her best to keep her voice light but she put her hands on her stomach, trying to quell the uneasy feeling bubbling up.

"Sleazebags," Lee agreed. "So can I tell the Versace team that you selected their gown?" When Meredith didn't answer, Lee stuck her head around the rack and asked again. "Mere, can I tell the Versace team you made a decision?"

Meredith blinked. "Yes, please. Tell them I'd love to wear it and that I appreciate them letting me borrow it."

Lee relaxed. "Great, now let's look at the shoes. I picked out some gorgeous Jimmy Choos." She was bent over a stack of shoes when Randy walked back into the room, his face grim.

Meredith walked slowly around the rack. "Anything new?" she asked in a voice that was no more than a whisper.

"That was Ray with Entertainment News. He's insisting that it's not a mistake, at least not all of it. There was a plane crash off the Bahamas and they're saying Chad was on the plane."

"Call him back," Meredith insisted. "Tell him his source is wrong. I'm obviously alive, and I told you Chad is in Chicago. Make them print a retraction or something."

Randy nodded. "I'll see what I can do but I'd feel better if we could get a hold of Chad. I tried calling, but he's not picking up. Can you give it a try? Maybe he'll pick up if he sees you calling. In the meantime, don't talk to the press." Not waiting for an answer, he left the room.

Meredith stared after him before looking over at Lee. She made a feeble attempt at a smile. "Won't Chad think it's a hoot he's trending on Twitter?"

"You bet he will," Lee agreed.

Meredith went into the changing room and leaned against the wall. She had talked to Chad a few hours earlier. He told her he was in Chicago. She clearly remembered him saying how he hadn't expected it to be so cold in Chicago in October. Why was it then that she couldn't get rid of this niggling feeling that something was wrong?




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Christmas at Quiet Castle
August 15, 2015
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