Read an exclusive extract of Sarah Morgan’s Snowed in for Christmas!

Feeling too hot and dreaming of cooler days? Well, we’ve got the perfect thing to help because Christmas has officially come early to this July day! Scroll down and read an exclusive extract of Sarah Morgan’s brand-new Christmas novel, Snowed in for Christmas. Coming this October!

“Do I look okay?”

Rhea reached out and smoothed a strand of hair out of Lucy’s eyes. “You look calmer than the rest of us. We’re all in a state of panic. Maya has just bought her first flat. Ted’s wife is expecting their first baby any day.”

“Stop! If you keep reminding me of the stakes I’ll be waving goodbye to calm.” Lucy pressed her hands to her burning cheeks. “I ran the last mile. Tell me honestly, does my face look like a tomato?”

“It has a seasonal tint.”

“You mean green like holly, or red like Santa?”

“Get in there—” Rhea gave her a push and Lucy sprinted toward the meeting room.

She could see all of them gathered around the table, Arnie standing at the head wearing the same red sweater he al­ways wore when he wanted to be festive.

Arnie, who had set up this company over thirty years ago. Arnie, who had left his family’s Christmas celebrations to be by her side in the hospital when her grandmother had died two years earlier.

Lucy pushed open the door and thirty heads turned to­ward her.

“Sorry I’m late.”

“Don’t worry. We’ve only just started.” Arnie’s smile was warm, but she could see the dark shadows under his eyes. The situation was hard for all of them, but particularly him. The unexpected blow to their bottom line meant he had dif­ficult decisions to make. The thought of it was obviously giving him sleepless nights.

She’d seen him working until midnight at his desk, star­ing at numbers as if willpower alone could change them. It was no wonder he was tired.

She sat down in an empty seat and tried to ignore the horrible burn of anxiety.

“It’s a Christmas campaign,” Arnie returned to the sub­ject they’d been discussing before she’d interrupted. “Think festive sparkle, think Christmas trees, think snow. We want photographs of log fires, luxurious throws, candles, mugs of hot chocolate heaped with marshmallows. And fairy lights. Fairy lights everywhere. The images need to be so festive and appealing that people who think they hate Christmas suddenly fall in love with Christmas. Most of all they need to feel that their Christmas will not be complete unless they buy themselves and everyone they know, a—” Arnie looked blank. “What is the product called again?”

Lucy’s gaze slid to the box on the table. “The Finger­snug, Arnie.”

“Fingersnug. Right.” Arnie dragged his hand through his hair, leaving it standing upright. It was one of his many endearing habits. “The person who advised them on prod­uct name should rethink his job, but that’s not our problem. Our problem is how to make it the must-have product for Christmas, despite the name and the lack of time to build a heavyweight campaign. And we’re going to do that with social media. It’s instant. It’s impactful. Show people look­ing warm and cosy. Has anyone tried the damn thing? Lucy, as you were the last one in through the door and you al­ways forget to wear gloves, you can take one for the team and thank me later.”

Lucy dutifully slipped her hand inside the Fingersnug and activated it.

They all watched her expectantly.

Arnie spread his hands. “Anything? Are you feeling a warm glow? Is this life changing?”

She felt depressed and a little sick, but neither of those things had anything to do with the Fingersnug. “I think it takes a minute to warm up, Arnie.”

Ted looked puzzled. “It’s basically a glove.”

“Maybe—” Arnie planted his hands on the table and leaned forward “—but running shoes are running shoes until we persuade the public that this particular pair will change their lives. There are few original products out there, only original campaigns.”

The comment was so Arnie. He was a relentless optimist.

Lucy felt the lump in her throat grow. Arnie had so many big things to deal with, but the client was still his priority. Even a client as small as this one.

“It’s warming up,” she said. “It may even cure my frost­bite.”

Arnie grabbed one from the box. “It would be the per­fect stocking filler. I can see it now, keeping hands warm on frosty winter nights. Does it come in small sizes? Can kids use it? Is it safe? We don’t want to damage a child.”

“Children can use it, and it comes in different sizes.” Lucy felt her fingers grow steadily warmer. “This might be the first time in my life I’ve had warm hands. It might be my new favorite thing.”

“We need photographs that appeal to kids, or more spe­cifically parents of kids. All those activities parents do at Christmas. Ice skating, reindeer—the client specifically mentioned reindeer,” he floundered and glanced around for inspiration, “doing what? I have no idea. Where does one even find a reindeer, apart from on the front of Alison’s sweater, obviously? And what do you do when you find one? Maybe someone could ride it. Yes! I love that idea.” One of the reasons Arnie was such a legend in the creative agency world was because he let nothing get in the way of his imagination. Sometimes that approach led to spectacu­lar success, but other times…

There was an exchange of glances. A few people shifted in their chairs and sneaked glances at Lucy.

She looked straight at him. “I think using reindeer is an inspired idea, Arnie. Gives us the potential for some great creative shots. Maybe a child clutching a stack of prettily wrapped parcels next to a reindeer, capture that look of wonder on their face, patch of snow, warm fingers—” she let her mind drift “—aspirational Christmas photos. Make it relatable.”

“You don’t think someone should ride it?”

She didn’t hesitate. “No, Arnie, I don’t.”

“Why not? Santa does it.”

“Santa is a special case. And he’s generally in the sleigh.” Were they seriously having this conversation?

There was a moment of tense silence and then Arnie laughed and the tension in the room eased.

“Right. Well…” Arnie waved a hand dismissively. “Get creative. Whatever you think will add that extra festive touch, you’re to do it, Lucy. I won’t tell you to impress me, because you always do.”

“You want me to take on the account?” Lucy glanced round the room. There were twenty-nine other people in the meeting. “Maybe someone else should—”

“No. I want you on this. Getting influencers on board at this late stage is going to be next to impossible, and you’re the one who makes the impossible happen.” He rubbed his chest and Lucy felt a flash of concern.

“Are you feeling all right, Arnie?”

“Not brilliant. I had dinner with one of our competitors last night, Martin Cooper, CEO of Fitzwilliam Cooper. He was boasting about having too much business to handle, which was enough to give me indigestion. Or maybe it was the lamb. It was very spicy and I’m not good with spicy food.” He stopped rubbing his chest and scowled. “Do you know he had the gall to ask if I could give him your contact list, Lucy? I told him it would do him no good, because it’s your relationship with those contacts that adds the magic. The whole thing works because of you. You have a way of persuading people to do things they don’t want to do, and definitely don’t have time for.”

Lucy chose not to mention the fact that a recruiter from Fitzwilliam Cooper had approached her twice in the last month about a job.

She thought it wise to change the subject. “Finding a reindeer in the middle of London might be—”

“There are reindeer in Finland and Norway, but we don’t have the time or the budget for that. Wait—” Arnie lifted a hand. “Scotland! There are reindeer in Scotland. I read about it recently. I’m going to ask Rhea to track down that article and send it to you. Scotland. Perfect. I love this job. Don’t you all love this job?”

Everyone grinned nervously because almost without ex­ception they did love the job and were all wondering how much longer they’d be doing it.

Lucy was focused on the more immediate problem. How was she supposed to fit a trip to Scotland into her schedule?

“It’s only two weeks until Christmas, Arnie.”

“And you know what I always say. Nothing—” He put his hand to his ear and waited.

“Focuses the mind like a deadline,” they all chorused and he beamed like a conductor whose orchestra had just given a virtuoso performance.

“Exactly. You’ll handle it, Lucy, I know you will. You’re the one who always swoops in and saves the day and you’re always great with everything Christmas.” Arnie waved a hand as if he’d just gifted her something special. “The job is yours. Pick your team.”

Lucy managed a weak smile. His enthusiasm and warmth swept you along. You couldn’t say no to him, even if you wanted to.

And what would she say, anyway?

Christmas isn’t really my thing anymore. No, she couldn’t say that. She’d leaned on them hard at the beginning, when the agony of grief had been raw and sharp. But time had passed, and she couldn’t keep being a misery, no matter how tough she found this time of year. She needed to pull herself together, but she hadn’t yet figured out how to do that. There were days when she felt as if she hadn’t moved forward at all.

But her priority right now was the company, which meant she would have to go to Scotland. Unless she could find reindeer closer to home. The zoo? Maybe she could per­suade the client to switch the reindeer for a llama. Alpaca?

Large sheep? Her mind wandered and then someone’s phone pinged.

Ted jumped to his feet in a panic, sending papers flying. He checked his phone and turned pale. “This is it! It’s com­ing. The baby I mean. The baby is coming. My baby. Our baby. I have to go to the hospital. Right now.” He dropped his phone on the floor, bent to retrieve it and banged his head on the table.

Lucy winced. “Ouch. Ted—”

“I’m fine!” He rubbed his forehead and gave a goofy smile. “I’m going to be a dad.”

Maya grinned. “We got that part, Ted. Way to go.”

“Sophie needs me. I—” Ted dropped his phone again but this time Alison was the one who bent and retrieved it.

“Breathe, Ted.”

“Yes. Good advice. Breathe. We’ve done lots of prac­tice. I mean obviously it’s Sophie who is meant to be doing that part, but no reason why I can’t do it, too.” Ted pushed his glasses back up his nose and cast an apologetic look at Arnie. “I’m—”

“Go.” Arnie waved him toward the door. “And keep us updated.”

Ted looked torn. “But this is an important meeting, and—”

“Family first.” Arnie’s voice was rough. “Go and be with Sophie. Call us when you have news.”

Ted rushed out of the room, then rushed back in a mo­ment later to collect the coat he’d forgotten, and back again a moment after that because he’d left his laptop bag.

“Also,” he said, pausing by the door, breathless, “I have a train set arriving here today. Can someone take the de­livery?”

Maya raised her perfectly sculpted eyebrows. “A train set?”

“Yes. It’s a Christmas present for my son.” His voice cracked and Arnie walked round the table and put his hand on Ted’s shoulder.

“A train set is a great choice. We’ll take the delivery. Now go. Ask Rhea to call you a cab. You need to get to the hos­pital as fast as possible.”

“Yes. Thank you.” Ted sped out of the room, knocking into the doorframe on his way out.

Maya winced. “Can they give him a sedative or some­thing? And is a cab really going to be quicker than taking the train?”

“It’s going to be quicker than Ted getting flustered and lost,” Arnie said. “At least the cab will deliver him to the door, hopefully in one piece and with all his belongings still about his person.”

“A train set?” Ryan, the intern, grinned. “He does know that a baby can’t play with a train set, doesn’t he?”

“I suspect it will be Ted playing with the train set,” Arnie said. “Now, exciting though this is, we should return to busi­ness. Where were we? Fingersnug. Lucy? Are you on it?”

“I’m on it, Arnie.” She’d find a way to show it at its most appealing. She’d put together a last-minute Christmas cam­paign. She’d find a reindeer from somewhere. She’d pull in favors from her contacts, content creators with high pro­files and engaged followings who she’d worked with before. She’d find a way to handle it all and try not to think about the fact that her job was occasionally ridiculous.

Arnie cleared his throat and Lucy glanced at him.

It was obvious from the look on Arnie’s face that they’d reached that point in the meeting everyone had been dreading.

“Now for the tough stuff. You all know we lost two big accounts last month. Not our fault. One company is down­sizing because they’ve lost so much business lately, and the other is trying to cut costs and decided to go with someone cheaper. I tried telling him that you get what you pay for, but he wasn’t listening. It’s a significant blow,” he said. “I’m not going to pretend otherwise.”

“Just give us the bad news, Arnie. Have you made a de­cision about who you’re going to let go?” Maya, always di­rect, was the one to voice what they were all wondering.

“I don’t want to let anyone go.” He let out a long breath. “And not just because you’re a fun bunch of people when you’re not being annoying.”

They all tried to grin.

“Thanks, Arnie.”

“And the truth is that to win accounts, we need good people. To staff accounts, we need good people. But I also need to be able to pay those people and unless we bring in a significant piece of business soon, we’re in trouble.” He rested his hands on the table and was silent for a moment. “I’ve never lied to you and I’m not going to start now. This is the most challenging time we have faced since I started the company thirty years ago, but all is not lost. I have a few new business leads, and I’m going to be following those up personally. And there’s something else we’re going to try—speculative, but worth a shot. It’s major. If we could land that, then we’d be fine.”

But what if they weren’t fine?

Lucy thought about Ted and his new baby. She thought about Maya and her new flat and how scared she’d been tak­ing on the responsibility of a mortgage. She thought about herself, about how much she loved this job and how badly she needed to keep doing it. In the early days after she’d lost her grandmother, work had given her a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Her job was her source of secu­rity, both financial and emotional.

It was the most important thing in her life.

She felt her chest grow tight.

She couldn’t handle more change. More loss.

Snowed in for Christmas is out in paperback, eBook and audio this October.

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