Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Magic of Mistletoe by Barbara Edwards, Chapter Three

                    
                           
The Magic of Mistletoe by Barbara Edwards

               Chapter Three

Christmas leaped on her faster than she could believe. Snow blanketed the town on Christmas Eve and it stayed cold enough to remain. Family dropped in for hot chocolate. Neighbors dropped off fancy Christmas cookies and promised more for the up-coming party. 

On New year’s Eve Day Diane stopped trying to keep it a surprise when Granddad laughed at her efforts.

“Can’t keep a secret in a small town,” he added. “Wondered when that boy would smarten up and come back for you.”

“He didn’t come back for me. His father is having heart problems and he came home for his family.” Diane managed to keep from crying. 

“And this is why he’s helping with the party? I know you’re not blind. Take the time to talk to him. Get how you feel off your chest.”

“I’ll think about it.” She gathered up the ironed tablecloths from the closet. Her Grandmother had loved lace and this was the time to show them off. 

“Those old things remind me of so many meals with my love. You’ll be using them in your home soon.”

“Grand-Dad, you’re such a romantic.” Diane pressed a kiss to his forehead and headed out to the decorated garage.

A new sign hung over the building. Noah’s Repairs and Restorations it declared in bright metallic letters. She blinked at the display before hurrying inside.

Someone had been busy. Streamers hung from the ceiling, the tables were arranged and chairs lined them. Happy Birthday banners hung from each wall.

She blinked back tears. 

“Don’t cry,” Noah murmured in her ear. “Think of all the wonderful years you’ve been together. You taught me a lesson about family by staying with him. It made my decision to come home so simple. Everything I love is right here.”

He turned her around and tilted up her chin with the side of his hand. His lips skimmed over her tears. 

“Please,” she asked. “Don’t.”

“Diane. I can’t apologize enough, but i can show you that I do care.”

He slid his arm around her waist and lead her toward the corner of the last bay. A wide canvas covered a lumpy shape. 
“Ta Da!” Noah jerked off the cover.

She barely recognized her Grand-Dad’s truck. The new turquoise paint matched the original color, the chrome sparkled under the overhead lights.  New leather upholstery gleamed on the bench seat.

“Does it run? Did you get the starter?” Her eyes sparkled as her gaze locked on his. “What a wonderful gift! Oh my goodness, Noah!”

Diane threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. He whirled her in a circle until she was dizzy. All her hurt feelings dissolved in her joyful laughter.

Noah grinned and pointed up. One of her mistletoe balls hung directly overhead.

“About the starter,” he laughed and kissed her until she couldn’t breath. “It’s here. It arrived just before you did. I’ll have time to install it before the party. I do have one more question. Will you marry me?”

When Diane and Noah showed Grand-Dad her engagement ring, he nodded. “i knew all along you’d be together. Can’t keep a secret in a small town.”

Grand-Dad wiped away another tear as he climbed into the seat of his old truck.

To all My Friends and Readers, Happy New Year.

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Friday, December 30, 2016

The Magic of Mistletoe by Barbara Edwards, Chapter Two

                     The Magic of Mistletoe by Barbara Edwards                                               

                                              Chapter Two 
Diane rubbed at the headache building in her temples. Her Grand-dad’s birthday party was turning into the event of the year. People she hadn’t seen in years were asking to come. Food wasn’t the problem. Everyone offered to bring a dish so it was a matter of not having two or three of each one, except so many people were coming they’d need the food. Using their house was no longer an option. She needed to find a hall. Only everyone was booked solid and had been for months. 

Her phone said ‘unknown caller’ a second before it rang. She answered, expecting another last minute order for her mistletoe.

“Hi Diane, “ Noah’s smooth voice rubbed over her nerves with a remembered tingle. “I wanted to give you an update. The starter is on order. I gave them a push, but with the season…”

“I understand,” she sighed. “Can you tell your parents the birthday party is no longer at our home.  With so many friends wanting to come, I have to find a hall big enough. And all the local places are booked. I hate to go out of town but suspect that won’t work either.”

She dropped her head onto her hand and blinked back tears. 

“Hey, don’t cry,” he coaxed. He’d always know what she was feeling even when she wanted to keep it hidden. She rubbed her arms. “I have an idea. We cleaned out the huge triple bay garage and painted the floor. It’s big enough to hold a crowd. My business won’t pick up until after the New Year. There’s even parking.”

“Are you serious?” Diane lifted her head to stare at the phone. “I don’t want to impose.”

“No problem. You can even decorate ahead of time. Don’t forget the mistletoe,” his voice warmed with laughter.

“Ah, thanks. That’s so nice.” Diane hung her head over the desk for a minute. How was she going to avoid Noah now?  “I can get tables and chairs from the church.”

“How about decorations? A special chair and a banner?”

“Sounds nice,” she agreed. Being in the same room with him would remind her of all their plans. The ones he’d walked away from. She shivered. Just talking to him on the phone was painful. 

Their last Christmas had soured her on celebrating. 

What a piece of irony that they’d stopped under the mistletoe hung from the porch roof. 

“I want to ask you something,” he said and pressed a soft kiss to her mouth.

She felt her lips tremble and swallowed to wet her suddenly dry throat. He’d been building to something all week. Something important. The only thing she could think of was a proposal. She shut her eyes, then blinked them open. She wanted to see his face when he asked. That wide smile. Her heart thudded with excitement.

“I’m leaving town and I want you to come with me,” he whispered. His hands cupped her face as he leaned closer. 

She jerked free. Shock froze her insides. “Leaving? Why?”

“I need to learn more about the business I want. I can’t do that here.”

“Business?” Diane searched her memory for any hint of this business. Noah liked cars, fixing them. Was that what he meant?

“You could do that here,” she mumbled. Her mouth felt stuffed with cotton. Her heartbeat hurt her chest. “What about my Granddad? He needs me.”

His arms circled her and drew her to him. “I need you. Come with me.”

Tears flooded her eyes. “I can’t leave. He’s old and I owe him for everything. He raised me when my parents died. You know.”

“He’d tell you to go.”

“Granddad would, but I would never forgive myself for abandoning him.”

“Please think about it.” His hand trembled when he brushed her hair from her wet cheeks. “I love you, but I have to go.”

Diane’s heart broke into jagged pieces.


“And I have to stay.”

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Magic of Mistletoe by Barbara Edwards

The Magic of Mistletoe

                         Chapter One
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.

“Okay.” 

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.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Mistletoe Kiss - Part Three by Diane Burton


Part Three

Though dinner passed in a flurry of excitement, at least on Bethany’s and Flo’s part with George grinning happily, Sam watched Abby as she pasted a smile on her thinned lips. A smile that didn’t reach her eyes. Though she made a production out of moving the food around on her plate, he knew she’d eaten little.

When she started to get up, Bethany announced, “Mom, sit. You cooked. Grandma and I will clean up.”

“Me, too,” George added. “I’ll help, if you ladies don’t mind.”

As the others grabbed bowls and platters, Sam held up the bottle of wine to Abby. “There’s a little left. Would you like to finish it?”

She glanced around at the empty table. “Sure. I could use something stronger, though.”

“You aren’t pleased.” He poured the last of the wine into her glass.

“Surprised.” When her cell chirped, she pulled her phone out of her slacks’ pocket.

“I’ll get you a stronger drink.” As Sam scooted behind her, he glanced down at her phone.

George Watson checks out A-Okay. No worries for your mom. Report to follow via email. Merry Christmas! – Alex, O’Hara & Palzetti Investigators.

“What is that?” He pointed. “You had my dad investigated?”

“Shh.”

“Don’t you shush me.” Sam felt his blood pressure escalate. She’d sicced an investigator on his dad?

“Let’s go outside.” She rose and grabbed his hand. “Sam and I are going for a walk,” she called to those in the kitchen before hauling him to the front closet. “Please don’t make a scene.”

“Me? Make a scene? Why would you think that?”

When she rolled her eyes at him, he knew his sarcasm had gotten through. Bundled up in hats, gloves, coats, and boots, they headed outside. The snow had stopped and the sun, though low in the sky, made the trees sparkle. The fairy tale scene was lost on him.

“You had my dad investigated?” he repeated when they reached the sidewalk. He brushed aside a twinge of guilt.

“When I got home from the jail yesterday morning, all I knew about your dad was that he and my mother had been arrested and were spending Christmas in jail. At the time, I thought it was your father leading my mother astray.” As he sputtered at the unfair accusation, she added, “Note, I said thought he’d led her astray. I know better now. Anyway, I called my girlfriend Alex who is a PI. Can you blame me? I had to protect my mother. Father left her comfortably well off. For all I knew, your father could be a gold digger.”

Sam threw his head back and laughed. If she only knew. “Dad doesn’t look like much, but he’s pretty well off himself.”

More than well off. With several patents to his name and a smart attorney, Dad was a millionaire several times over. “I suppose I should tell you, I did the same.” Despite the cold, his ears burned.

They’d circled the block. At Sam’s announcement, she stopped in front of her mother’s house. “What do you mean you did the same? The same what?”

“When Dad started dating Flo, I had her investigated. Alex is quite thorough.”

“You what?” She stooped to retie the boot laces—although he couldn’t figure out why since they were going inside.

“You heard me. I hired Alex O’Hara. She does a good job.”

As Abby rose, she let loose a round, white ball. Smack into his chest.

“You know this means war.” With an evil laugh, Sam grabbed a handful of snow and packed it well. As he threw it, she dodged. The snowball clipped her shoulder.

“Bring it on.” She fired another ball and got his ear.

They flung a barrage of snowballs at each other. Finally, he lunged for her and brought her down. Her fall was well cushioned by the snow that had fallen two nights ago and that which had fallen since last night. “You will pay for that last one,” he said in a falsetto. “I plan to have children someday.”

She dumped a handful of cold stuff down the back of his collar. “Someday? You’d better hurry. Someday is about to pass you up. Ooh,” she shrieked as his handful of snow went down the V-neck of her holiday sweater.

With strength that surprised him, she managed to roll him over then sat astride him. “Did you say war? You ain’t seen nothing yet, mister.” With a girlish giggle, she rubbed a handful of snow in his face.

“What are you two doing?” Flo stood on the front porch, hands on her hips. “Get up before someone sees you acting like children. What will the neighbors say?”

Eyes twinkling, Abby scrambled to her feet then reached down to help him up. “Oh my, yes. What will the neighbors say?”

When he clasped her hand, he laughed softly. “Can’t have that.” He scooped her up in a fireman carry and headed for the backyard.

“You two behave yourselves,” Flo called out.

“You’d better let me down, Sam Watson, or you’ll be sorry.” She pounded on his back.

With all her struggling, her jacket had pulled up as well as her sweater, exposing a delicious strip of skin. He couldn’t resist. Using his teeth to remove a glove, he scooped some snow off her jacket and, oh so carefully, trailed it along that strip.

She shrieked and wiggled so much, he had to drop her . . . in a big snowbank. This time, he straddled her. “Uncle?”

“Never. Soldiers never give up. Or in. We never cry uncle. We make war.” While she protested, she gathered two hands full of snow.

Before she could throw it, he stretched out on top of her. “I’d rather kiss than make war.”

He lowered his head, making sure his lips hovered over hers. “What do you say? Kiss or war?”

Her eyes darkened, not in anger. In anticipation. She wanted that kiss. Thank God. He brushed his lips against hers. A deep sigh ran through her as she raised her arms to loop them around his neck. Oh, yeah. Her lips softened, drawing him in.

Something wet and cold was shoved down the back of his neck. With a yelp, he scrambled off her. She lay in the snow mound, laughing, as he shook off the snow.

“You are a menace,” He groused. “A sneaky menace.”

“Poor baby.” She got up. “Want some help?”

He checked her hands. “I’d rather have another kiss.” When she hesitated, he added, “Only a kiss, Abby.”

After hesitating for another moment, she said, “I’m not sure if I’m ready for more than that.”

“I can wait until you are.”

Looking out the kitchen window, George turned to Flo. “They’re kissing again.”

“Wonderful.” Flo leaned against him.

“Gross,” Bethany said. “They’re too old for that stuff.”

George and Flo just laughed. “Never too old.”


I hope you enjoyed The Mistletoe Kiss. For more stories that take place in the fictional town of Far Haven, Michigan, read The Case of the Bygone Brother (An Alex O'Hara novel) and The Case of the Fabulous Fiancé, both available at online retailers. Coming soon: The Case of the Meddling Mama.


Please return tomorrow for Barbara Edwards’ story, The Magic of Mistletoe.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Mistletoe Kiss - Part Two by Diane Burton


Part Two

From his father’s stories, Sam Watson knew more about Abby Ten Eyck than she probably wanted. Intense, driven. Abby had inherited much from her conservative, workaholic father. Sam knew all about being driven. Though his ulcers had healed, he remembered the consequences of his former life. Other than her brief marriage against her father’s wishes, she’d toed the straight and narrow, running her gift shop as if it were a Fortune 500 company—the same approach she applied to cooking Christmas dinner. The woman rarely laughed. He’d hoped a quick kiss under the mistletoe would help her ease up, maybe even make her laugh. Instead, he’d made things worse.

“Do you feel your mother is betraying your father by loving mine?”

She started beneath his hands. He’d kept them on her shoulders when he wanted to wrap them around her. He’d never fallen so hard for a woman. Especially a woman he’d formally met yesterday. Or maybe learning about her from his dad and her mother over the past two months had drawn him in. Meeting her in person, wearing a sleepshirt over faded jeans and her bare feet stuffed into flannel-lined clogs, had clinched it. Or maybe it had been her wildly-tousled brown hair. Not the usual tightly-bound bun or French twist she wore at the store. Even today, she’d scraped back her hair into a clasp at the base of her neck.

“Not really. Father has been gone for over five years.” She turned beneath his hands to look up at him, surprise and sadness in her deep blue eyes that reminded him of Lake Michigan on a summer’s day. “Everything has happened too fast. She never told me she was dating. I guess she wasn’t playing bingo all those nights.” She ended with a bitter laugh.

Sam had to chuckle. “Nope. Unless ‘playing bingo’ is a euphemism for the horizontal mambo.”

“Oh, please.” She shivered. “That’s an image I could do without. Thanks for the coat. We should go in. You must be freezing, and I need to check on Christmas dinner or we’re all be going to Denny’s or the Chinese Buffet.”

“Hang on a minute.” He stopped her from opening the back door. “My father loves your mother very much. I’m glad he found someone who makes him happy. Mom’s Alzheimer’s took a lot out of him. Out of both of us.”

She reached up and touched his cheek. “I am so sorry. I didn’t know.”

Sam captured her hand. “How would you? We hardly know each other. I’d like to remedy that.” He searched her gorgeous blue eyes.

When she jerked her hand away and averted his eyes, disappointment raced through him. He had a long way to go before she stopped being so skittish. Before she trusted him. Damn that ex-husband.

Warmth and cooking aromas greeted them as they went inside. At the stove, George turned from stirring something and raised his eyebrow at Sam. “Everything okay?”

“Abby needed some fresh air,” Sam said before she spoke. “She’s been working in the kitchen too long, while we were all goofing off.”

“Oh, Mom.” Bethany hugged her. “I’m sorry I didn’t come out and help you.”

When Flo chimed in, Abby snorted. “You all offered, but you know me. I like being in charge.”

And that was the crux of her problems. Sam knew exactly how that felt.

“Now, where are we?” Abby lifted lids on pots and gave the turkey—at least a twenty-five pounder—sitting on the counter next to the stove a long look. “I take it Tom is done?”

“Yep,” Bethany said. “The little thingee popped up right before the timer rang. Before you ask, ten minutes ago. I scooped out the stuffing, and Grandma started the potatoes. After Mr. Watson took out the turkey, he said it has to rest.”

“George, dear. You can call me George.”

The five of them in a one-butt kitchen kept running into each other. Still, they managed to bring all the food—enough for three times as many people—out to the formal dining room. A cheery red tablecloth covered with white lace held five place settings of Spode Christmas Tree dishes. Sam swallowed hard. His mother had the same set. He wondered if his dad had the same feeling of loss. Even though, physically Mom had been gone for four years, she’d mentally left them two years before that—the reason Alzheimer’s was called the long good-by.

As he set the large turkey-laden platter in the middle of the table, he glanced up at his dad. Unshed tears swam in his eyes. He remembered.

Sam had taken a step toward his dad, when Flo bustled out with a crystal cut-glass bowl of cranberry salad in one hand and a pale green fluffy one in her other. “George, please take this before I drop it.” She held out the glass bowl of green fluff. “Wait until you taste my Watergate Salad. It is so refreshing.”

“Watergate? As in Nixon’s Watergate?” George exclaimed, to which Flo replied, “Yes, silly. It’s a salad they serve there.”

“Coming through. Hot gravy. C’mon, Mom,” Bethany called over her shoulder. “We only need the rolls.”

Abby followed with a holiday towel-covered red basket. “I’m coming, I’m coming.”

“Oh, my goodness.” George shook his head. “What a feast.”

A feast was right. So different from the last four Christmases when he and Dad grazed an assortment of appetizers all day rather than make a traditional meal. The holidays always hit them hard. Sam was surprised that Dad had accepted Flo’s invitation to dinner. He’d never accepted Aunt Grace’s invitations.

As soon as everyone sat, Flo insisted they hold hands for the blessing. Sam clasped Abby’s while she held George’s. Sam liked that she sat between them, as if she belonged in their family. If his dad had his way, she would. Soon.

“Heavenly Father, bless my loved ones gathered together at this table.” Flo gave George a big smile, before sharing it with the rest of them. “Two families about to become one. Bless this food and the hands that prepared it. Amen.”

Everyone echoed the “Amen.” For several moments, as the food was passed, nobody spoke. Then, Abby said, “Mother, what did you mean about two families becoming one?”

“Last night, George asked me to marry him.”


Please return tomorrow for Part Three.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Mistletoe Kiss by Diane Burton


I was thrilled the Roses decided to use this first sentence for our stories. Last year, my story ended with a kiss under the mistletoe. Here’s what happened next.

Part One

This was the absolute last time she kissed anyone under the mistletoe. As she and Sam broke apart, Abby’s cheeks burned hotter than the steam-filled kitchen.

First Bethany gasped “Mo-ther!” with all the exasperation seventeen-year-olds could muster. Then Mother and her boyfriend—could you really call a seventy-year-old a boyfriend?—George showed up, both grinning widely.

George slapped Sam on the back. “Hehehe, son. Better watch out for those Ten Eyck women. Just ask me. Now get out of the way and let me have some fun.”

With a playful poke, George elbowed Sam out of the doorway and took his place. With a move straight out of a 1940’s flick, he dipped Mother over his arm and planted a steamy kiss on her. Abby hoped she hadn’t had that dopey look on her face when Sam finished their kiss.

“Go, Grandma!” Bethany cheered.

Abby fumed. It was okay for her grandmother to kiss under the mistletoe but not her mother? She would have words with her daughter when they got home. Strengthening her resolve, Abby repeated her vow not to let anything spoil their last Christmas in the home she’d grown up in.

Our last Christmas.

Damn. Tears gathered behind her eyelids. She had to get out of there before she embarrassed herself further. Ignoring her mother’s giggles, Bethany’s cheers, and George’s antics, Abby raced to the back door and yanked it open. Blessedly cool—make that cold—air hit her along with a spray of snow. She stepped out onto the wide back porch, pulling the door closed behind her. God, what a mess. And she didn’t mean the blizzard blanketing Far Haven and most of West Michigan. Starting last night, the winds howled off Lake Michigan. Though the winds had diminished that morning, the snow kept falling. At least ten inches, according to the weather report that morning. More by now, eight hours later.

She wrapped her arms around herself, holding in her grief. If she let the tears fall, they’d freeze on her cheeks. Tears for a house. How ridiculous. Grief for her childhood home? A tear escaped. With freezing fingers, she swiped at it.

For the past month, she’d tried to convince her mother not to sell the old Victorian in Far Haven’s historic district. Did her mother listen? Of course not. Did her mother ever listen to her? Yeah, right.

A blast of heat enveloped her. Someone had opened the door.

“Go back inside, Bethany. I’m fine.”

“Not Bethany.” The deep baritone rumbled behind her.

Sam Watson. The man she’d met at the jail when they’d come to rescue her mother and his father, neither of whom wanted rescuing. That’s when Abby discovered her mother had a boyfriend. And met his son, aka Mr. Tall, Dark, and Sexy, according to Bethany.

“Same message. Go back inside.” Abby didn’t bother to hide her displeasure at Sam’s presence.

A heavy coat landed on her shoulders. “Flo is worried about you. So is Bethany.”

Nobody called her mother Flo . . . until George and Sam came along. Father thought nicknames inappropriate. He certainly didn’t approve of her nickname. “If we wanted you to be called Abby, we would have named you that.”

“I’ll bet they’re worried. Mother is more anxious that dinner will burn.”

“I think the three of them will make sure it doesn’t. Dad isn’t too bad in the kitchen.” Sam kept his hands on her shoulders, on top of the coat, generating a different kind of heat. “Did I upset you with that kiss?”

Upset her? Hell, yes. She’d liked it. More than liked it. His kiss that started out playful had turned into something more intense and awakened long-buried wanting inside her. A longing that embarrassed her more than Bethany’s exasperation or George’s teasing. What had she been thinking to succumb to a kiss under the mistletoe? From a guy she’d met in the wee hours yesterday morning?

When she turned her head to tell him to leave her alone, she realized it wasn’t her coat around her shoulders. She should have known since it was so long the cuffs covered her hands. The rich leather felt buttery smooth against her cheek. Besides the smell of leather, she caught a hint of sandalwood and outdoors. Like a forest. Not pine but something—

“I’m sorry.” Sam rubbed the top of her shoulders. “Not for kissing you, which I liked very much. I embarrassed you. And for that I am sorry.”

“I should go back inside.”

His hands held her still. “It’s beautiful out here. The first time Flo invited me over, I fell in love with the gardens.” He scoffed. “Me. A condo guy. I didn’t realize how soothing a beautifully-designed garden could be.”

“Mother has a green thumb. That is such a clichĂ©, but it’s true.”

Mother’s pride and joy had always been her flower beds. As a Master Gardener, she’d arranged the flowers so something bloomed from early spring to late fall. Although she had a lawn-mowing service, Mother never let anyone touch her garden. The new owners would probably destroy the garden. Too much work.

“I can’t believe she wants to sell this.” Abby waved her hand to include the backyard plus the huge garage. At one time, it had been a carriage house, large enough for two coaches and four horses to pull them. Now the garage held her mother’s red Mustang convertible, the outdoor furniture, and Father’s workshop, with room to spare.

“That bothers you. A lot.” He stated the obvious. “She’s starting a new life, with my father. I think that bothers you more.”

She nodded. “She kept saying the house and property were too much to keep up. I didn’t know about your father until the two of them were arrested.”

Sam laughed. The way he was holding her, back against his chest, she felt the rumble of his amusement vibrating behind her. She wished he would let her go. She didn’t like the feelings provoked by a man holding her. A man kissing here. Fifteen years of going without holding and kissing. Without longing for more.

Ferret Face had killed that part of her.


Please return tomorrow for Part Two.