Psst! Readers of Inspy Romance, I’ve got a treat for you today: an interview with Marisa, Bren, and Heather, the heroines of the Christmas in Montana series. I caught up with the three of them just before the third book, Better Than a Crown, was set to open.
Valerie: It’s been a while since we’ve got together for a good chat. What is everyone up to these days?
Marisa: Busy! It’s a good thing I thrive on it. Jase and I are headed to Nicaragua to shoot a documentary soon. We’ll be gone for a few weeks.
Valerie: That sounds interesting. What’s the topic?
Marisa: With Jase and me, it’s always all about food and self-sufficiency. We’re driven to let people know what conditions are really like in third-world countries, and how they can help the locals help themselves.
Valerie: That’s a great cause. You were crowned Miss Snowflake (checks notes) almost two years ago. What was that like?
Marisa: (laughs) That kicked off a crazy year. Jase proposed during the final section of the competition on Christmas Eve, but then I spent most of the year traveling and speaking while he stayed in Helena to build our house and establish his photography business. We couldn’t be married while I was reigning, of course. With my mom remarrying that year, we were so thankful Bren came along, able to run the farm and its commitments to the Tomah Community Supported Agriculture organic box program. I have no idea how we’d have managed to run the business with the amount I was away from Helena.
Valerie: What a huge undertaking for someone without a high school education, Bren.
Bren: It was, but so worth it. I studied hard for my GED and then took some agriculture courses by distance education. But the big things were being gainfully employed and having so much room for my two kids, Davy and Lila. We’d been jammed into a two-bedroom apartment before that. Marisa might be thankful for me, but I’m forever grateful to her and her mom, too, for taking a chance on me.
Valerie: What’s been your involvement in pageantry?
Bren: Man, I decided long ago it was a total waste of time. I mean, I could see it for Marisa, right? She’s talented and gorgeous.
Bren: And then she and her sister-in-law, Kristen, ganged up on me to enroll my seven-year-old in the Little Miss Snowflake. I really didn’t want to do it. Not at all.
Valerie: Something obviously happened to change your mind.
Marisa: (giggles) Rob Santoro happened.
Bren: (glares at Marisa) Well, yes. But the whole thing was so silly, anyway.
Valerie: Fill me in. What did Rob have to do with it?
Bren: Kristen’s husband, Todd, hired Rob to market the pageant. He caught my attention. I mean, have you seen the man? And he’s as sweet as he is hot.
Marisa: (lifting coffee mug) Like a caramel macchiato.
Valerie: So the rest, as they say is history?
Bren: (patting a six-month-pregnant belly) That’s one way to put it. When he finally convinced me that he and God both totally loved me, we didn’t see much reason to wait to get married. Davy and Lila wanted a baby brother or sister — guess who wanted which! — and, well, so did Rob and I. Want a baby I mean.
Valerie: Before I forget, how did Lila enjoy the Little Miss Snowflake? That was last year, right?
Bren: She had a great time, honestly. It was good for her. Plus, she’s such good friends with Kristen’s daughter, Charlotte, that it worked out well all around. They can’t wait to enter again this year.
Valerie: Heather, how did you get into all this?
Heather: Pageantry? You can blame my mother. She entered me in over twenty-five pageants when I was a kid, baby through teen. The last one I entered, I came in as third runner-up. (points at Marisa) And there’s your winner.
Valerie: How many have you won?
Heather: (sighs) Not a single one. Can we talk about something else?
Marisa: I’m sorry, Heather. You do know that you are a jewel in God’s crown, right?
Heather: Um, yes. But it’s hard to remember when there are pageant moms like Priscilla Abercrombie who insist on reminding me I was always a princess and never a queen.
Bren: Want me to tell Priscilla where to stuff it?
Heather: Thanks, but no. I’ll handle it.
Valerie: Your current job, or part of it anyway, is to coach girls who are entering the junior competitions. How do you like it?
Heather: I love the girls, for the most part. I love seeing them blossom as they become more self-confident. They learn some public speaking skills, how to perform in public, and, by the time I’m done with them, they even know which fork to use for which course during a formal banquet.
Bren: Speaking of all the banquets, Grizzly Gulch Resort has a new chef, I hear. Kinda cute.
Marisa: Yes, I’ve noticed, too. Levi is here to replace his brother while Jared and Aimee head to China to adopt. You might want to get to know him, Heather.
Heather: (turns red) Aimee promised to introduce me to him. But that probably won’t help.
Bren: Why not? You’re lovely and available. He’s single—
Marisa: Don’t forget cute.
Bren: Right, and cute. A Christian. I mean, what’s not to like?
Marisa: Although I hear he thinks pageantry is stupid.
Valerie: So did Bren, but she got over it.
Bren: But Levi is taking care of Shelby while Aimee and Jared are away, right? She’s in your etiquette classes along with Lila and Charlotte, isn’t she, Heather? So you’ll have a chance to bring him around.
Heather: Stop! He’s a big city chef, okay? Just using his vacation time to help out his brother. He’ll see soon enough that I’m a fraud—
Marisa: You are not a fraud.
Heather: —and a klutz. It’s never going to happen, but thanks for believing in me.
Bren: Oh, we do believe in you. Valerie, can I have a word with you when Heather steps out? Because I have some ideas you might be able to use.
Valerie: I’m all ears…
About Better Than a Crown
As a runner-up in 27 competitions, Heather Francis tries to teach young contestants there’s more to pageants than winning, even though her mother never got that memo. It’s hard enough to focus and ignore the inner voice calling her a fraud without being attracted to Grizzly Gulch Resort’s brooding temporary chef.
Levi Esteban’s temp job as chef in Helena, Montana, and caregiver for his niece, Shelby, would be perfect if it weren’t for the Miss Snowflake Christmas festivities at the resort. Levi’s been against pageantry all his life and isn’t about to change his stance, regardless of his fascination with Shelby’s coach.
When Shelby’s parents’ trip is extended, Levi and Heather must join forces to care for her and pull off the pageant. Is there something better than a crown in their future?
Interested in winning one of the Christmas in Montana Romances? If you’d like to put your name in the hat, please comment below and let me know which heroine intrigues you the most. You have until October 19. Winner will be announced in Sunday Edition on October 22.
“Void where prohibited; the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Entering the giveaway is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws.”