The Magic of Mistletoe
Diane Burke was never going to kiss under the mistletoe again. Even after seven years she couldn’t forget the feel of Noah’s lips that last Christmas. Angry at her circling emotions, she hefted the ten foot ladder from the back of her old Chevy pickup and leaned it against the nearest apple tree. The neglected orchard was the perfect home for mistletoe. She gave the ladder a shake to set the feet in the soggy ground before grabbing the clipper and a basket.
A warm spell had turned the frozen ground to sludge. If it stayed this warm Christmas would be dirty brown not white this year. She frowned. The weather report this morning had predicted dropping temperatures and rain, possibly sleet tonight.
She studied the spreading limbs. It was easy to spot the clusters of soft green leaves with the white berries. The upper half of the tree was covered with them. Too bad the pretty plant was a parasite and in a few years would weaken and kill its host.
She sighed as she carefully climbed high enough to reach the clumps. The empty basket bumped her side.
Selling clippings to the area florist shops had been a good idea. To her surprise, her website had her filling orders from all over the country this year. She’d already earned enough for the down-payment on a new truck, but had a sudden spurt of orders this last week before Christmas.
She could have traded in the clunker her grandfather had driven but she had a soft spot in her heart for the old truck. It’s wheels had taken her through high school, four years of college and a heartbreaking romance.
Diane shook away thoughts of Noah Watters. Gossip said he was back in town to visit his parents for the holidays. With luck she’d avoid him and keep those feelings locked away.
A loud crack preceded the jerk of the ladder. She dropped the basket and scrambled to get down as the ladder dipped. Suddenly two hands gripped her waist and lifted her away as the ladder clattered to the ground.
Diane’s heart stuttered. She knew those hands, that firm grip. Noah was back.
He’d saved her from a bad fall.
Diane couldn’t believe he was here. Her heart ached. She steadied her body as well as her feelings before she turned to him.
“Thanks,” she murmured and licked her dry lips. Noah looked as good as Christmas candy. His chocolate brown hair was thick and wavy, his soft green eyes as magnetic as ever. A smile curved his kissable lips. She swallowed a groan.
“What were you doing on that old ladder?” he asked as he took a slow step back.
“Filling an order.” Diane waved a hand at the filled basket. “ ’Tis the season and all that.”
“Mistletoe?” He ran a hand through his tousled hair, a nervous gesture she remembered.
“Yep. It’s a seasonal business, but worth the work. I pick them, pack them for shipping and send them out. You’d be surprised how many florists get requests for fresh mistletoe.”
Diane forced herself to turn away. This close his familiar scent filled her lungs and carried too many memories. Noah had asked her to leave with him, but she’d felt a duty to care for her aging grandfather. Grandad raised her after her parents died and she loved him. She’d been glad for their time together and his coming birthday would mark ninety-five years.
Noah had been impatient, eager to shake the dust of this small town from his heels. He left. She stayed.
“Thanks again for keeping me from a bad fall.” Diane adjusted her scarf and moved to put her basket in the old Chevy’s bed. “I’ll have to pick more to fill this order.”
Her gaze searched his face for changes. Those hazel eyes and brown hair were as she remembered. In the six years since he left he’d visited his parents several times a years. Each time she’d avoided him. Her broken hadn’t healed and she knew being close to him would only hurt.
Giving her his wide smile, Noah moved the ladder to a better footing. With his six foot three height and wide shoulders he filled her order in minutes.
He hefted the ladder into the bed and tied it down before he approached the open window. “I hear your Grandad is having a big birthday party.”
“On New Year’s Eve. He loves the holidays.” She managed a smile despite her aching heart as she turned the key in the ignition. A grinding sound hurt her ears. “Oh, no. Not now.”
Noah leaned in the window. “Sounds like you need a new starter. Do you want me to check under the hood?”
“I don’t think I have a choice.” She nodded and chewed on her lip as he looked. Noah had always had a mechanical bent. He could fix anything. Except for their relationship. She bit back a sigh.
“Crank it over again,” he called. His familiar voice wound around her heart and squeezed.
The loud grinding repeated. The old chevy had been slowly falling apart and she wanted to weep.
Noah circled back, wiping grease from his hands on a rag. “I was right. How about i give you a ride back home and we get this baby towed to the garage?”
“How long do you think it will take to get it repaired? I need a truck for business.”
He shook his head. “This truck is so old the starter will need to be rebuilt.” His hand stroked the battered fender like a beloved pet. “I’m surprised you still have it. What’s it? A fifty-one chevy? Not too many left that old and running.”
“Grandad always babied it. He loves this old truck.”
Noah licked his dry lips and cast a sideways glance at Diane’s averted face. She’d gotten prettier since he’d left. Other than a glimpse here and there, he hadn’t gotten this close to her on any of his visits. Not that he hadn’t tried. She seemed to have radar and disappeared at his approach. He’d wanted to talk to her, to explain why he had to leave, to let her know his feelings hadn’t changed. Every day he’d missed her.
He exhaled to relieve the pain in his chest. Telling her he still loved her wasn’t an option. He thought he finally found a way to show her.
After he parked his truck in front of Allen’s garage, he helped her out with a warm smile she didn’t return.
“How about I arrange to get your Grandad’s truck towed in and fixed?”
A puzzled frown wrinkled her forehead. “Where’s Mr. Allen?”
“Didn’t you know? I bought the garage. I’m moving back home.”
“No one told me,” she whispered. Those beautiful green eyes darkened like a shadow crept over them. Her hand rubbed at her throat.
“How about I get you a loaner to drive?” He resisted the urge to lean closer, wanting to press his mouth over hers. He’d never gotten her taste from his lips.
Diane blinked at him like she barely heard his question, then nodded slowly. “Thanks. I guess I should invite you to the party. You know where we live.”
Anticipation flowed through Noah as he towed the old 1961 Chevrolet 3100 pickup into the garage himself. Restoring vintage cars was the main portion of his growing business.This model was immensely popular for restoration. He carefully went over the exterior, then the shabby upholstery. He called his supplier and arranged for the starter rebuild to be given priority. He had less than two weeks. Getting the inside reupholstered, the exterior painted and the engine rebuilt would take a miracle.
And every minute of time he could spare.