Karen Schaler is a three-time Emmy Award–winning storyteller, author, screenwriter, journalist and national TV host. She has written original screenplays for Netflix and Hallmark and Lifetime Christmas movies. Her travels to more than sixty-five countries as the creator and host of Travel Therapy TV inspired Christmas Camp. All of Karen’s stories are uplifting, filled with heart and hope.
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Haley Hanson was right in the middle of one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments every girl supposedly dreams of. She was trying on a spectacular wedding dress. But looking at herself in the mirror, instead of feeling overjoyed, she almost felt—guilty, because this had never been her dream.
A successful career woman and the youngest partner at one of Boston’s most prestigious advertising agencies, Haley had always been more of a realist than a fairy-tale kind of girl. But somehow, in the most unlikely way, she had found her HEA, her Happily Ever After.
Meeting Jeff had changed everything.
Even as she thought about him now, she had to catch her breath. He had a way of doing that to her, taking her breath away. His love, his kindness, his dedication to family, his passion for life and his work, and most of all, his unconditional love for her had opened a door to a future she had never dared dream of. The fact that he was also incredibly handsome was just a bonus.
From the moment she had met Jeff and his dad, Ben, at Christmas Camp a year ago, the path she had always been on shifted. With Jeff, her journey to find love had been far from easy. There were bumpy roads, wrong turns, detours, and delays, but in the end, she knew that right now, even if this hadn’t been a dream she’d grown up with, she was exactly where she was meant to be, standing on a dressing room platform, inside one of Boston’s beautiful boutique bridal stores.
As she did a slow spin in front of the mirror, taking in her stunning silk-sheath wedding dress, she still couldn’t believe how trusting her heart had led her here.
It was really happening.
She was marrying Jeff in forty-eight hours, on Christmas Eve!
She still couldn’t believe how fast the last year had flown by. The last few months especially were a blur, planning the wedding while helping Jeff’s dad franchise his Christmas Camp concept.
When she first pitched Ben the idea, she believed it would be successful, but nothing had prepared them for the overwhelming response of people wanting to do the Christmas Camps, not just in the United States but in Europe, as well.
Working in advertising, she knew one of the keys to being successful was creating something people needed. She had learned firsthand just how powerful and life changing a Christmas Camp experience could be. She knew the day she had given up a prestigious national account to help Ben launch the Christmas Camp franchise idea that she was doing the right thing, just like she knew now, two days before her wedding, that she was marrying the right person for all the right reasons.
The fact that she had no doubts left her with an incredible sense of gratitude and wonder at how this could now be her life. She had gone from being nicknamed the Grinch to having her own Christmas miracle.
As her sparkling oval-cut engagement ring caught the light, she smiled remembering how Jeff had proposed to her at the same place his dad had proposed to his mom, at Star Peak, overlooking a breathtaking snow-covered mountain range.
Jeff had started off by having them both look for a pinecone so they could make a Christmas wish together, a tradition in Jeff’s family. After he had helped Haley pick the perfect pinecone, she had found a stunning engagement ring tucked inside. Jeff had told her it was his dad’s idea to use diamonds from his mom’s wedding ring to have a special ring created just for her, to continue the tradition of true love. He had then gotten down on one knee and proposed, saying how much he loved her and that he wanted to spend every Christmas together for the rest of their lives.
Knowing that Jeff had proposed to her at Star Peak, just like his dad had proposed to his mom, meant everything to her. Now that his mom had passed away, she knew it was even more important to him to honor her memory by keeping special traditions like this alive.
Haley would be the first to admit that when she first met Jeff and his dad, Christmas traditions weren’t exactly her thing. That’s why her boss, Larry, had sent her to Holly Peak Inn, to Christmas Camp, to find her Christmas spirit, hoping it would help her land a huge new holiday advertising campaign.
For years, Haley’s idea of celebrating Christmas meant getting out of town and taking her parents to the Caribbean to avoid all the Christmas craziness and celebrating the holiday. While her parents would vacation on the beach, she would always work, using the time not celebrating Christmas to get ahead, while her competitors took time off.
But as soon as Haley had arrived at Christmas Camp, she quickly found there was no avoiding the Christmas craziness there. She was surrounded by Christmas 24–7, from the decorations, to the activities, to the meals, you name it. If it had anything to do with Christmas, it was happening at Christmas Camp. Haley had desperately wanted to escape, but when her boss insisted she stay the entire week, all she could do was try to find ways to avoid all the holiday hoopla. But every time she tried to take a shortcut, she kept running into one big roadblock.
Jeff’s dad, Ben, owned the inn and ran the Christmas Camp, so Jeff had made it his personal mission to keep an eye on Haley. He’d known she didn’t want to be there and had told her he wanted to make sure she didn’t wreck the other guests’ experiences. That’s when she had nicknamed him the “Christmas Camp Police.”
But what had started out as Christmas Camp chaos had turned into something much more meaningful for Haley. Through Christmas Camp, she was able to learn what mattered most at Christmas—family, friends, community, and love—and was then able to open her heart to finding her Christmas spirit and finding true love.
If someone had told her back then that the following Christmas she’d be marrying the “Christmas Camp Police,” she would have laughed them all the way to the North Pole.
But yet, here she was, wearing a wedding dress. It was crazy. Christmas crazy, in a good way.
Haley twirled around one more time in front of the mirror. “So what do you think?” She looked over at her best friend, Kathy, who was enjoying the posh surroundings, lounging on a white velvet settee, sipping champagne.
Kathy lifted her glass in a toast. “I think it’s perfect for you. It’s simple but chic, classy but not stuffy, expensive but not showy. It’s totally you. I love it!”
Haley smiled brightly. “So do I. They did a great job with the alterations.”
“It’s going to be perfect for the pictures,” Kathy said.
“I hope so.” Haley reverently touched her silky dress. “You know, at first, I only agreed to do all of this—the designer dress, the fancy cake, and all the flowers—because my mom and dad needed some promotional pictures to get ready to open their B&B. But now, honestly, I’m really getting into it. I guess it’s happened. I’ve officially caught bridal fever.”
“And why not?” Kathy said. “You only do this once. You deserve this.”
“I’m just glad I was able to get everyone to donate everything in exchange for all the publicity this will hopefully bring them.”
Kathy nodded. “Your parents are lucky they have a brand specialist for a daughter who can work her magic and make all these things happen.”
“I’m just thankful all the renovations are finally done at the Money Pit, in time for the wedding, and to open after Christmas,” Haley said.
Kathy gave her a look. “Hey, remember, you’re not supposed to call it the Money Pit anymore? That’s bad karma. It’s now your parents’ beautifully restored Victorian that’s going to be one of the hottest B&Bs in Massachusetts.”
Haley laughed. “As long as I’m still paying the bills on it, I’m calling it the Money Pit.”
“Fair enough,” Kathy said and smiled back at her.
A pretty salesclerk walked over to Haley holding a fabulous bejeweled tiara and veil. “Are you ready to try this on?” she asked.
Haley nodded, excited.
As the salesclerk arranged the veil, Haley shut her eyes.
“Okay, you can open your eyes now,” she said.
When Haley opened her eyes and looked at her reflection in the mirror, she let out a small gasp. As she fought back tears of happiness, she couldn’t believe this was really her life. She was getting married to a man who was better than any dream she’d ever had. “I feel like . . .”
“Cinderella?” Kathy asked.
“No,” Haley laughed, breaking the spell. “I could never do those glass slippers.” She thought about it for a moment, then smiled. “I feel like Meghan Markel in my own fairy tale.”
They all laughed.
When Haley struck the perfect princess pose, Kathy snapped a quick picture with her phone. “Well, no one deserves a fairy tale more than you and Meghan.” Kathy lifted her glass of champagne for a toast. “To the fairy tale . . .”
Haley held out her empty hands. “Wait, where’s my champagne?”
Kathy was already pouring her a glass. “After you get out of your dress.”
“I think that’s our cue,” the salesclerk said to Haley, as she led her back into the dressing room and carefully help her out of her dress. Haley, with a grateful smile, handed her the veil and tiara. “Thank you, this is all perfect.”
The salesclerk smiled back at her. “We’ll have it all ready for you up front. You’re going to look beautiful. This dress is perfect on you. We can’t wait to see the pictures.”
“Thank you, again, for everything.” Haley gave her a grateful smile.
A few minutes later, Haley came out of the dressing room wearing chic black pants, strappy high heels, and a sapphire-blue leather coat. She looked every inch the success she was.
When Kathy handed her a glass of champagne, they clinked glasses. “Now we can toast together. To my best friend getting married, chasing her dreams, and creating her own happily ever after. You’re my inspiration.
Haley gave Kathy a heartfelt hug. “And thank you for being here and doing all this with me.”
Kathy sipped her champagne, smiled. “You’re my best friend. Where else would I be? Plus, I love the dress I get to wear.” Kathy walked over to a gorgeous burgundy velvet cocktail dress that was hanging up.
“Only the best for my best woman,” Haley said. “It really is going to look amazing on you.”
“I love that you’re not calling me your maid of honor,” Kathy said. “The word ‘maid’ is too close to the word ‘old maid,’ and I don’t need to be reminded . . .”
Haley laughed. “We’re only thirty-three. You’re not an old maid.”
“Yeah, well tell that to my dating app where all the guys only want to date hot twenty-year-olds.”
“Then you need to find a better place to meet guys,” Haley said.
“Well, one of those places is supposed to be a wedding, but then you decided to have this small, intimate wedding, so you’re not helping me out one bit.”
Haley laughed. “So, you’re saying I should have done a big wedding so you could meet someone?”
Kathy poured herself more champagne. “Exactly. You’re supposed to help me get my HEA.”
Haley put her arm around her. “I’m sorry I let you down on this one, but I know your happily ever after is just around the corner. Jeff’s dad always says at Christmas anything is possible. You just have to believe.”
Kathy laughed. “And to think a year ago I was calling you Grinchy.”
Haley grinned back at her. “I guess my heart has grown three sizes, just like the Grinch’s.”
“And then some,” Kathy agreed.