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Call me crazy, but I decided the holidays weren’t hectic enough, so I planned a Day Trip by TRAIN for my whole family!

We rendezvoused at the Merced, California, AMTRAK depot at 8:30AM to board the northbound train—all 10 of us—for Sacramento. The travel time is slightly longer than it would be to drive, but driving would have defeated the purpose. Plus, this was especially exciting for the kids as only one had ever ridden a train!

To our profound surprise and delight, we learned that Amtrak had a special visitor onboard, too—SANTA! And I’m convinced he was the real one! Poppy ran right up to him and explained in detail about the BIG unicorn she wanted. Della stuck her tongue out at him and ran the other direction. LOL. (She’s 3.)

The entire ride was a delight—from watching the bigs do art and sticker books with the littles to seeing our youngest’s fascination with the seat back trays and five-year old Poppy having a conversation with an older lady traveling alone.

We only had 4.5 hours in Sac, but we made the most of our day and refused to be intimidated by the rain.

First stop: Old Sacramento for lunch on the Sacramento River. We sat on the covered patio of Rio City Café and were serenaded by the pouring rain! It was spectacular, as was the food.

Second stop: The Crocker Art Museum (after a brisk, wet walk in the rain).

We loved this amazing, 3-story museum/art gallery, which originally had been the home of Judge E.B. Crocker and wife Margaret, who gave the home and the art to the city after her husband’s death. The Crocker has something for everyone—from the hands-on exhibit for our preschoolers to American art ranging from the Gold Rush era to the present, and European art that the Crockers acquired while on a trip to the continent between 1869 and 1871. We also were mesmerized by the international ceramics and African and Oceanic art. All agreed we needed more time there, which, of course, means a return trip in 2020. 😉

Here are just a few of the cool photos my team of amazing photographers took and shared with me. (Photo credit from top: Malte Salonen, Jon-Paul Salonen, Christina Armor and me.)

The trip home in the dark reinforced how glad we were NOT to be driving in a car. It was such a treat to relax and chat about our day while the youngsters munched on pizza and watched a holiday movie on their devices. It was a perfect family Christmas adventure! Thank you, Amtrak.

Book “Ghosts” of Holidays Past

Four sisters named after royalty, with dowries fit for a queen. Their Gypsy fortuneteller mother predicted each would marry a prince…of sorts.

Dear Santa: #1 wish? A child of my own. P.S.: Heartbreaker single dad from Christmas past need not apply—even if he does have an adorable son.

After then-cop Mark Gaylord--her less than honorable prince charming--left her at the altar, Alexandra—Alexa—Parlier poured her hopes, dreams, and trust fund into creating the Dancing Hippo Day Care. Now, Mark’s back. With his traumatized young son. Both need her help. How can she say no when it’s almost Christmas…and her heart hasn’t forgotten how much she loved him?

Dear Santa: #1 wish? See my son smile again. #2 wish? Find a way to redeem myself in the eyes of the woman I never stopped loving.

Mark isn’t expecting a miracle. He screwed up nearly everything good in his life when he broke Alexa’s heart, but none of that is Braden’s fault. The poor kid has been through hell, thanks to his late mother. Mark needs help and there’s no one he’d trust more with his son than the woman he should have married.

A MATCH MADE IN VEGAS is Book 4 in the Betting On Love series. If you're a fan of romance with a side of suspense, you'll love this action-packed story that introduces you to the kind of family Debra Salonen—past winner of Romantic Times Reviewer's Career Achievement "Series Storyteller of the Year" award—is known for. “Debra Salonen captures reader attention with multifaceted characters, layered conflict and fast pacing.”—Pamela Cohen, Romantic Times

Buy A MATCH MADE IN VEGAS – the perfect, second-chance-at-love holiday romance between two memorable characters who will do anything for the sake of a great kid. Enjoy Christmas in Las Vegas, but remember: when your heart's on the line, there’s no such thing as a safe bet.

Second chances can be scary. Will Alexa and Mark be able to move past old hurts and open their hearts to the holidays—and each other?

Copyright © All Rights Reserved

      "Ho, ho, ho," a booming voice said from the street behind her. "Merry Christmas."
      She whirled about. "Santa," she exclaimed. "You scared me."
      "Perhaps that's because you haven't been a good girl this year," the large-bellied man in a red suit and full, shiny white beard said. From his lack of stature—and because her mother had warned her ahead of time—Alexa knew the portly character was her uncle, Claude.
      She put down her sack and rushed to him, hugging him soundly. "Oh, Santa, you know better than that. I'm Saint Alexa, in some circles."
      Her uncle's hearty laugh touched her deeply, giving her the first real taste of holiday spirit. The merry twinkle in his eyes was probably from the many Christmas lights on the eaves of the houses, but for a second, she almost saw her father behind the lush beard and mustache. "Well, if that's true, then I expect you'll be getting a very special gift beneath your tree tonight, my dear. Very special, indeed."
      She laughed and patted his shoulder. "So, you got my letter, then? You know what I want?"
      His white gloves squeezed her arm and, keeping in character, he said, "That I do, my girl. That I do. Now, I must be on my way. The rein-ponies are waiting."
      "Rein-ponies?" He just waved and kept walking. His black cowboy boots clicked on the sidewalk.
      Her mother had mentioned something about Claude rigging up his pony cart to resemble a sleigh. Her heart suddenly felt lighter than it had been in days; she picked up her bag and went inside.
      "Hey, everybody, I just bumped into a guy in a red suit outside. Who's got the number for our Neighborhood Watch?”
      Children's squeals and shouts echoed throughout the house as Maya, Luca, Gemilla and half a dozen second- and third-cousins stampeded to the windows to look for Santa.
      "Way to go, Alexa," Grace teased. "We were just gonna feed them."
      "Sorry," Alexa said, handing her bag of wrapped gifts to Gregor. In a soft voice, she asked, "How come you're not out helping with the sleigh?"
      "Nick and Mark volunteered so I could stay with MaryAnn," he answered in an equally quiet tone.
      Mark's here already? She glanced around and, sure enough, there was Braden standing between Luca and Maya peering out a window. And sitting on the sofa, as demurely as a princess, was Gregor's wife. She scooted forward slightly, looking interested in what the children were doing.
      "Wow. MaryAnn looks great," Alexa whispered. "Better than great. She looks like her old self."
      Gregor beamed as if Santa had handed him the best gift of all. "I know. I think she's going to make it. I really do." Alexa gave him a quick hug then dashed to the couch to talk to the woman she'd once considered a dear friend. They'd lost a lot of the closeness over the years—from work and pressures only MaryAnn truly understood, but Alexa was determined to be a better friend to MaryAnn in the future.
      "Welcome home, stranger," she said, sitting down. "Santa really has granted us our collective wish—to have you back, safe and sound."
      MaryAnn smiled tearfully. “Thank you, Alexa. It's good to be here. I honestly wasn't sure this day would ever happen, but Gregor promised me it would, and I guess that's what I needed—someone who really believed in me."
      They talked a bit longer, until Grace walked into the room and shook one of Alexa's sleigh bells to get everyone's attention. "Dinner is served," she said theatrically, then added, "Santa won't come until the last plate is in the dishwasher, so let's move it, people."

~ ~ ~

      Three hours later, after the mock sleigh rides with Santa Claude and the rein-ponies and a fairly well-orchestrated gift exchange, Mark sought out Alexa. He'd been watching her all evening and could tell she was starting to fade.
      "Kate, would you mind keeping an eye on Braden? I think I should walk your sister home. And congratulations on the new addition."
      “Thank you. We're really excited—even though Maya is convinced Santa—not Rob—is the father." They both laughed, and then she added, “Take your time. The kids are all immersed in their gifts. We won't be able to get out of here for hours."
      Mark double-checked on his son before seeking out Alexa. Indeed, Braden and Luca were shoulder-to-shoulder building some kind of futuristic war machine with plastic interlocking blocks.
      Alexa, he discovered, was still in the kitchen with her mother, putting away dishes. He went to Yetta first. “Thank you so much for having Braden and me tonight, Mrs. P. This could have been a tough holiday for us, but you and your family really made us feel welcome." He kissed her hand.
      "Oh," she said with a flustered little laugh. "You always were such a gentleman. I'm sorry Kingston was so hard on you. I think you reminded him too much of himself."
      "I take that as a compliment," Mark said. "Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to run off with your daughter— before she has a relapse."
      Alexa put up a halfhearted protest, but her mother seconded Mark's suggestion. "You know her well. Always doing for others and not herself. She needs someone to remind her who comes first."
      Mark agreed, and he had a sense that they both knew he was that someone.
      "Will we see you tomorrow at Romantique?" Yetta asked, as Mark took Alexa's hand and started toward the door.
      "Absolutely. Braden and I are both looking forward to joining the serving line. I've had more than my share of good fortune recently and I can't wait to give some back."

Purchase A MATCH MADE IN VEGAS here!

If you love second-chance romances filled with heart, hope and forgiveness, please give A Match Made in Vegas a try. (As always, your kind review is GREATLY appreciated.)

DON’T FORGET: This collection will only be available until January 15th.

Purchase HOLIDAY HEROES now!
Kindle | Nook | Kobo | Apple Books

Last week’s Q&A was: Do you send Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year cards? Y or N?

I was tickled to learn over 90% of you still send cards—although many are moving toward e-cards. Most of mine went out on time, except for a few that fell through the cracks. Sincere apologies.

My two randomly selected winners this week are:

Marci K – YES
Pam Erickson – YES

(Marci and Pam congrats. Please email me your pick of either a $5 Starbucks or a $5 Amazon gift card.)


This week’s Q&A: Will you be awake at midnight on Dec. 31, 2019, to usher the new decade in? Yes or No? (I’m pretty sure I won’t be, but I’ll let you know.)

(Two winners will be chosen by random drawing to receive either a $5 Starbucks gift card or a $5 Amazon gift card. Please reply the usual ways: email or on my DebraSalonenAuthor Facebook page.)

Get your resolutions in place, my friends! January is almost here so you can start breaking them! Have a safe and delightful New Year’s Eve!


Next week: Going, going, gone forever & some Property Sisters “insider” news.



Copyright © 2019 Debra Salonen