Cover image for A Christmas secret / Katherine Spencer.
A Christmas secret / Katherine Spencer.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2018.

Physical Description:
x, 326 pages ; 24 cm.
"Before Christmas comes ... Martin Nightingale is no stranger to Cape Light. He spent many happy summers there as a boy. Now he has returned to fulfill the unusual terms of his grandfather's will. In order to collect his inheritance, Martin must spread joy throughout the town with anonymous gifts. A shy man who doesn't make friends easily, Martin is stumped by his new role as Secret Santa. But as a pretty police officer named Louisa Tully shows him, 'A stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet.' One Christmas, long ago ... Martin's grandfather Walter was a toy-making genius, but he was a terrible businessman. The Christmas of 1955 seemed to be the last for Nightingale's Magical Toy Shop until miracles arrived, along with a stray dog named Otis. But as Martin discovers, his grandfather's greatest legacy is a priceless lesson about giving from the heart"-- Provided by publisher.


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SPE Book Adult General Collection

On Order



The Christmas season brings the promise of new beginnings in this next novel by the New York Times bestselling author of the Angel Island series.

Before Christmas comes....

Martin Nightingale was no stranger to Cape Light. He spent many happy summers there as a boy. Now, he's returned to fulfill the unusual terms of his grandfather's will. In order to collect his inheritance, Martin must spread joy throughout the town with anonymous gifts. A shy man who doesn't make friends easily, Martin is stumped by the role of Secret Santa. But a pretty police officer, Louisa Tully shows him that, "A stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet."

One Christmas, long ago...

Martin's grandfather, Walter was a toy-making genius, but a terrible businessman. The Christmas of 1955 seemed the last for Nightingale's Magical Toy Shop. Until miracles arrived, along with a stray dog named, Otis. But, as Martin discovers, his grandfather's greatest legacy is a priceless lesson about giving from the heart.

Author Notes

Before becoming a full-time writer, Katherine Spencer was a fiction editor. She has written over 20 books for both children and adults including the Cape Light series.

(Bowker Author Biography)



Chapter One   Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 22, 2018   Martin heard the siren coming up behind his car well before he saw the flashing lights. He was rounding a curve on the Beach Road, looking for the turn to the old house where his grandparents had once lived, the house that would soon be his. Right after the orchard, he recalled. Had he missed it? Maybe the orchard wasn't there anymore; he hadn't thought of that.   The scenery was distracting: woodsy stretches that opened to sweeping salt meadows, golden waves of tall, reedy grass that shimmered in the fading light of the November day.   He hadn't been to this place in over ten years-not for a real visit-and he recognized the views like old photographs discovered in the bottom of a drawer.   He had set the GPS on his phone for the route into town, but the cell service was iffy here and the signal kept drifting. Now he was lost and wondered if he should turn around.   The siren drew closer, commanding his full attention, and a police car filled the rearview mirror. He pulled over to let it pass, but instead of flying by, the cruiser slowed and then parked behind Martin's SUV, the red light on top still flashing.   "Was I speeding, Milo? I don't think so." Martin turned to his traveling companion, who sat in the back seat.   The shaggy border collie mix leaned forward and nudged Martin's shoulder with his nose. The dog was pleased about the stop and eager to stretch his legs. The drive from Boston to Cape Light was at least two hours, and Martin could tell poor Milo was losing his patience.   "We'll be there soon, buddy. Let's see what this policeman has to say." It was almost dark out now and Martin watched the silhouette approach, backlit by the cruiser's bright headlights.   Milo stood up and wagged his tail. Martin glanced at him. "Let me do the talking, okay?"   The officer tapped on the window, and Martin quickly rolled it down. "License and registration, please."   "Sure . . . no problem." Martin looked up into a pair of startling blue eyes. A woman's eyes. He tried but couldn't hide his surprise.   He had a feeling she was amused by his response, though her stern expression did not alter. "Your license, sir?" she repeated.   "Absolutely. I have it right here . . ." Martin fumbled with his wallet as his library and credit cards, gym membership, and other plastic rectangles spilled into his lap. He fished out the documents she wanted and handed them over. "I'm sorry. Did I do something wrong?"   "The radar showed you driving over sixty in a fifty-mile zone." She didn't sound as if she were accusing him; she was merely stating a fact.   "That fast? Really? I never saw a sign for the speed limit."   "I guess not." She checked his license, front and back, and glanced at him and then back at his photo, which had been taken a while ago, before he'd grown a beard. He noticed a nameplate on her jacket: officer l. tulley. He wondered what the L. stood for but didn't think it was a good time to ask.   Though she was all business, he still couldn't help noticing that she was pretty. Very pretty, despite the bulky uniform-a heavy blue jacket, dark pants, and a peaked blue cap. Her hair was gathered at the back of her neck, under the hat, but the severe style brought her fair skin and fine features into even sharper focus. Like a portrait of a Victorian beauty.   She met his gaze again but didn't return the ID. A bad sign; she needed that to write a ticket. Some guys could talk their way out of a situation like this, especially with a pretty girl, but Martin knew he was not that sort and never would be. Efforts to disguise his innate shyness only made him seem reserved, even aloof. He wasn't really like that but knew it was the impression he made at times, and he couldn't quite help it.   "What brings you to Cape Light, Mr. Nightingale? Visiting for Thanksgiving?"   "I'm here on business. A few days or so." He kept his explanation brief. He didn't want to get into the details. He actually wasn't allowed to. "If you need to give me a ticket, Officer, I understand. But I really didn't see a speed-limit sign. I must have been distracted. I was looking for a turn."   She leaned closer to the window, about to reply, when Milo pushed his furry head out the window. He licked the police officer's chin and knocked off her hat. The officer jumped back with a shocked expression that made Martin bite back a smile.   "Milo, get down!" Martin turned and tried to grab the dog's collar.   The officer turned to pick up her hat, and Martin saw that her hair was clipped in a large knot. Loose strands curled around her face. Dark red hair, an unusual and striking shade.   "I'm so sorry." Martin turned to the dog. "Calm down, Milo. Sit back in your spot." He looked at the officer. "He's just too friendly sometimes."   "No harm done. I like dogs. My dog is even more rambunctious." She adjusted her hat and didn't look quite so intimidating now.   "He's just restless. He's had enough of the car and wants to get out."   "Was he complaining a lot? Is that why you were speeding?"   He couldn't tell if she was joking. "I was wondering about directions. Isn't there a big inn around here somewhere? A friend told me about it," he added quickly.   "The Inn at Angel Island, you mean?"   "Yes, that's it." He remembered the place and had looked it up online. The website said they took dogs, too.   "It's not too far. Is that where you're staying?"   "I hope so."   "No reservation?"   "I didn't get a chance to call." Martin was usually much more organized when he traveled and rarely took a trip without knowing exactly where he would stay and how long he'd be there. But he had put this trip off a thousand times, dreading it. Until finally, it was just time to get up and go. He'd never expected rooms would be rare in this out-of-the-way place.   "I doubt the inn has any rooms tonight," she said. "They're always booked solid on a holiday. The Spoon Harbor Inn will be filled, too. There's a motel on the highway, before the exit."   He'd noticed that place, but it looked so dreary. He had come all this way and had expected to stay in the village.   As if reading his thoughts, or maybe his disappointed expression, she said, "There's a guesthouse in town that might work out for you. It's very nice. A woman named Vera Plante runs it. She might even take a dog."   "That would be great." Maybe it was worth getting a ticket if it solved his hotel problem. Before Martin could ask for Vera Plante's phone number, Officer Tulley jotted a note on a pad. She handed the slip through the window.   Her small hand was very much at odds with her uniform. No wedding band or engagement ring. Though he wasn't sure why he noticed.   "Vera Plante, on Meadowlark Lane. Need directions?"   "I'll set the GPS. Did I miss the turn to Cape Light? I thought it was on this road somewhere."   "About two miles more. You'll see Potter Orchard on the left. It comes up after that."   "The orchard. Right. It's still there. That's good." He was talking to himself, but she heard him.   "The sign says 'Potter,' but new owners took over the business. Sophie Potter still lives on the property. Have you visited this area much?"   "Not at all. My first time." A bald-faced lie. But he had to remain anonymous. That was important. His attorney had warned him. Just his luck that he hadn't even reached town and had to give out his real name. But it was unlikely that he and the attractive Officer L. Tulley would meet again. He was determined to be done with his business as fast as possible. A few days was all it would take, he hoped.   "My client mentioned the orchard." Another lie. If anything, he was the only "client" in this assignment.   She kept her eyes on him, studying him carefully. He wasn't sure she believed him, but she didn't ask more questions.   "Maybe I'll do some sightseeing while I'm here. I've heard it's a pretty place." He wasn't sure what else to say.   "I hope you do, Mr. Nightingale." She handed back his ID. "And while you're at it, watch your driving."   "I will, Officer." Was she letting him go? Just like that? "No ticket?"   Good going, Martin. Does she really need to be reminded? Maybe you should write one out for yourself.   Her blue eyes flashed with amusement. The start of a smile tugged the corner of her mouth. "I'll let you off with a warning this time. In the future, slow down."   He nodded respectfully. "Absolutely. Thank you very much."   He waited for her police car to pull away before he steered his own car back onto the road, heading for the village.   "We wiggled out of that one." Martin glanced at Milo, who watched the road from his window. "Maybe knocking off her hat helped our case. In general, I doubt you should do that again."   Police officers were much friendlier here than they were in the city, he reflected. That was the way he remembered the place, though he wondered if it was just the lens of childhood coloring his memories in such a positive light.   His last visit to the town had been over ten years ago, for his grandfather's funeral. He had come down for the day from his boarding school in New Hampshire. His grandmother had died two years prior, and by that time, he had outgrown the long summer visits with his parents. His mother was gone by then, too.   But before those losses, he would travel on this road all summer long in the back seat of his grandfather's big, stuffy station wagon, the trunk loaded with beach chairs, umbrellas, and a huge cooler that took two to carry over the sand.   His grandfather drove so slowly, Martin could count the passing trees on the road side. The Red Sox were always on the radio. Martin recalled sticking his face out the window to catch the passing breeze until, finally, the ride ended, and the reward was worth all the bother-a long, golden day at Crane's Beach, sandy sandwiches, naps in the shade of a huge umbrella, and, on the way home, an ice-cream cone that melted faster than he could lick the drips.   Other days were passed picking peaches or strawberries at Potter's and hunting for butterflies, hermit crabs, frogs, and salamanders in the boggy places behind his grandparents' house, which was set in a secluded spot on a large pond. At night he chased fireflies and kept them in a jar; in other containers, bright ladybugs and lazy caterpillars. His grandmother had an endless supply of jars and shoeboxes; she saved them all year for him. His mother was always excited to see the creatures he found, examining them curiously and never once flinching or even making a face. "That's a beauty, Martin," she would say. Though she did urge a "catch, observe, and release" philosophy.   Some days started in the cool dawn, sitting in a rowboat, rubbing sleep from his eyes while his grandfather carefully baited their fishing lines. At night, there were clambakes and bonfires, toasted marshmallows and stories whispered in the dark. Stories that started with goose bumps and ended with laughter.   He wondered what kind of shape the house was in now; if it was as roomy and interesting as he remembered. He would find out soon. He wondered what had become of his old room, the one his grandparents had kept especially for him. A cozy space with eaves in the ceiling and a big window over the bed where the fresh, salt-scented breezes blew in. Shelves filled with toys lined one wall-special toys his grandfather had made by hand. Martin spent rainy days in his grandfather's workshop, though he had never learned to be handy. At night, the toys seemed to come alive in the dark, but in a friendly, enchanted way.   As Martin got older, he realized how much his mother had loved that house and the long summer visits with her in-laws-maybe even more than his father had. Or maybe his father just took it all for granted because he had grown up there. His mother had no family of her own. Martin's grandparents had loved her like a daughter and had felt as if they had lost their own child when she died so suddenly. He could see now how the event had fractured the entire family and abruptly ended his childhood.   Once Martin's mother died, his father rarely returned to Cape Light. Martin was never sure why; they had never spoken about it. He guessed the memories were too painful for him. His own connection to the place had ended then, too.   Soon after his mother's death, his father sent him away to prep school, and his summers were spent at sleepaway camp or on teen trips. His father remarried quickly, settled in Arizona, and soon had a new family. Martin barely knew his stepmother and much younger stepsiblings. Visiting their home was like landing on another planet, a hot, sandy terrain dotted by cacti where he was a stranger with no hope of ever fitting in.   Of course, his father had invited him out West for Thanksgiving, as he always did on a holiday. An offhand, pro forma invitation he and Martin both knew rarely amounted to much.   Just as well. Martin needed to start his special project, one he could only take care of here, in Cape Light. Thanksgiving was a family day. Despite the good intentions and invitations of friends and coworkers, he was not comfortable joining a family gathering. He rarely celebrated holidays and barely noticed this one's passing-though he did enjoy roast turkey with stuffing and all the trimmings, and wouldn't mind such a dinner even if it wasn't homemade. Maybe after he found a decent place to sleep, he could find a restaurant that was still serving.   He hoped the guesthouse the officer had recommended would pan out, even for a night or two. He usually planned trips with little left to chance. This one had been put off for months. Martin had tried hard to avoid it altogether, but last week he'd learned that his legal attempts to maneuver around the terms of his grandfather's will had failed. His attorney had advised him to give up the fight. There was no choice other than to fulfill his grandfather's strange request-or Martin's entire inheritance, a sizable sum, would go to charity. Finally, he had taken an extended leave from his job and forced himself to make a start. Excerpted from Thomas Kinkade's Cape Light: a Christmas Secret by Katherine Spencer All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.