Nobody does Christmas like Miranda Hamilton, and now that she finally has her chance to chair Magnolia Bay's tree lighting and the cotillion, which benefits her late mother’s breast cancer foundation, this Christmas is shaping up to be the best ever. That is until her childhood nemesis Logan Mauldin buys his way on her committee and starts making plans of his own.
Logan Mauldin loves to get under Miranda's very sexy skin, and it's only fair. She's been getting under his since long before their first kiss at 13. Logan’s the last man interested in co-chairing a Christmas committee or participating in a sexy bachelor auction, but since that night he interrupted Miranda on a date and cornered her under the mistletoe, he can't stop thinking about her. Or vying for her attention and bugging the hell out of her.
Christmas cheer isn’t the only thing that heats up between the Miranda and Logan, but, thanks to a lie that is as much her fault as it is his, he loses the woman he’s loved since forever. Logan will need a Christmas miracle for Miranda to forgive him. A grand gesture to melt her heart and win her back just in time for Christmas.
Miranda Hamilton yanked the freshly baked sugar cookies out of the oven and lightly touched the tops of them to make sure they were as perfect as the B&B experience she created for all her guests at Ivy Cottage. She put the pan of biscuits in the oven, cranked up the temperature, and set the timer. Normally, she kept freshly baked chocolate chip cookies on the warming plate on the ancient mahogany table at the top of the stairs, but Christmas called for sugar cookies. Perfectly decorated, like the rest of Ivy Cottage, Magnolia Bay’s finest B&B.
Outside, friendly magnolia wreaths with bright red plaid bows adorned each of the fifteen windows of her gorgeous historic home. At night the house sparkled, completely outlined in white twinkling lights. The same for the base and lower branches of the ancient live oak in the front and the tall slender trunk of each stately palm. Powder pink Camellias in full bloom encircled the house like a delicate bracelet and were also interlaced with lights as well, because goodness knows, if Miranda learned anything from her dad, she learned there was no such thing as too many Christmas lights.
She headed up the stairs with the cookies and couldn’t help smiling at the smell of the fresh pine garland that lined the bannister mingled with the scent of the cookies, making her heart quicken. She loved Christmas as much as she loved her beloved two hundred year old home that was considered by most to be one of Magnolia Bay’s finest bed and breakfast.
Eying one of the red plaid bows that was a hair cockeyed, she made a mental note to set it right on her way back downstairs. She put the cookies on the table and noticed that three of the five copies of the Charleston Post and Courier were missing from the threshold of the bedrooms. That meant she’d have guests downstairs soon; she’d better get a move on if she was going to have breakfast ready and be out the door before nine.
She hurried back downstairs straightening the plaid bow and the handmade stockings she’d hung over the fireplace. She’d missed the Thanksgiving bargains that weekend. While she loved to shop as much as the next girl, Miranda’s Black Friday was always spent in Boone, in the other Carolina.
As usual, she’d chosen the perfect Christmas tree for her foyer. Sure, she always caught hell for not buying her tree local at Pineville Farms, but she ignored the complaints from friends who gawked at and secretly coveted her gorgeous Douglas fir. The requirements were simple, not too fat as to overpower the foyer, not so skinny that it looked like a stick, and it had to be at least twelve feet tall. At just a hair under fifteen feet, this year’s tree was exquisite decorated in white twinkling lights and ornaments from the sea. Starfish. Sea urchin angels with white seashell wings and sand dollars of all sizes bleached white by the sun, collected from the beaches on Bulls and Capers islands, the nearby barrier islands.
The train set her grandfather willed to her meandered around the base of the tree and throughout the living room. He had obsessed over it for as long as she could remember, and it always made Miranda feel childlike to see it chugging around the room. Christmas figurines her grandmother had given her dotted the living room and were tastefully arranged around the cottage. The poinsettias throughout the house would need watering today, all forty-two of them.
In the kitchen, she filled a big pot with water and grits. The shrimp had been peeled the night before. The timer on the oven sounded; the biscuits were golden brown. She smeared butter over the tops of them and threw together what many had called the best shrimp and grits in the Lowcountry together. She could make this recipe in her sleep and, if she’d enjoyed herself a little too much with her best friends, the Six Chicks, sometimes she did.
She’d already whipped peppered pimiento cheese into the snowy white grits. Stirred the heavenly shrimp sautéed in olive oil and garlic, sweet red pepper, and swimming in her secret creamy sauce.
“Good morning,” the cute couple from Arkansas chimed in unison as she placed the chafing dish on the antique buffet table. They’d come the day before Thanksgiving and were staying until Wednesday.
“Morning, y’all. Everything’s almost ready. Juice, coffee, mimosa, or all of the above?”
“Mimosa for me,” Ms. Arkansas drawled. “Coffee for him.”
Miranda thought it was funny that these two had been married for so long, the husband rarely spoke. He didn’t have to; his wife did it for him.
“We adore your place, Miranda. Thanksgiving was perfect and waking up yesterday to a Christmas wonderland was even better.” Ms. Arkansas looked at her husband who nodded in agreement on cue. “I can’t believe it’s already Monday. Seems like we just got here.”
“Thank you. I’m glad you love Ivy Cottage as much as I do. Wish you all could stay until the Christmas tree lighting. You’d adore the formal,” Miranda nodded at the wife. “It’s elegant and beautiful, really something to see.”
“I wish we could stay too. Maybe we’ll come back next year for the event, although we’d already planned to come back for your Thanksgiving feast. The sweet potato casserole alone is worth the trip.”
“Thanks. I’d love to have you.” She set the rest of the breakfast in place. “Everything’s out on the buffet. The chafing dishes will keep things warm. There’s plenty of coffee and juice, an endless supply of champagne,” Miranda smiled as she poured the mimosa. “I apologize for leaving you all this morning, I have to dress and get to a meeting by nine.” And Miranda couldn’t wait. “I told the other guests last night. They’ll find their way to the food and coffee, and I’ll be back before you know it.”
The meeting was a block away at City Hall; if it went well, she’d be back by ten. And everything would go well. Even if it was just for this year, the Bloom Bitches, Daisy and Camellia, who ran The Historical Society and thought they ran Magnolia Bay, had finally and begrudgingly handed over the reigns to two of the biggest annual events in Magnolia Bay. Miranda couldn’t be more proud to be the chairman of the city Christmas tree lighting and Winter Formal.
With her organizational and creative hooks into the events, Miranda was in heaven. Just two weeks away, the events were going to be bigger and better than ever, but Miranda wasn’t doing it for the accolades that would surely bring. A large portion of the money raised from concessions at the tree lighting as well as the silent auction and tickets to the Winter Formal went to her favorite Lowcountry charity. While the tree lighting and formal had been around as long as Miranda could remember, both now carried the name of the Barbara G. Hamilton Foundation, named for Miranda’s mother who’d died of breast cancer the year Miranda graduated from college.
Half of the proceeds the foundation received went to research. The other to half went into a fund that provided help to patients and their families with travel and medical expenses, which, as Miranda from experience, could eat up a family’s resources in a heartbeat.
Miranda had honored her mother’s memory every year working tirelessly for Daisy and Camellia. The Bloom Bitches didn’t like to give up control of anything, much less the biggest events in Magnolia Bay. Lucky for Miranda, Daisy was receiving a lifetime achievement award at the American Historical Society the first weekend of December and her sister and co-chair Camellia wouldn’t miss seeing that for the world. With Miranda as chairperson, she could do things the way she wanted, make the event bigger, better, and raise more money to help families in need. Help find a cure for the horrible disease that had taken her mother.
She pulled on a lovely Christmas red sheath dress and a gorgeous pair of Stuart Weizman black pumps. She ran a brush through her thick blond shoulder length air and finished the look with her mother’s pearls. Saying her goodbyes to the guests who were in heaven around the breakfast table, she was out the door. The crisp Lowcountry morning felt delicious as her heels clicked along the sidewalk. She’d checked ticket sales for the formal online last night before she went to bed and again this morning. They’d already surpassed last year’s record and if sales kept going up, they’d need to find a bigger venue, which could be a problem. But a wonderful problem.
Daisy and Camellia had almost canceled their trip when they’d learned that Miranda had advertised the formal to the public. It had always been a hoity-toity affair for the locals held at the historic city gardens with the silent auction bringing in the most cash. Miranda had changed things around a bit, raising the cost of tickets, inviting the public, and in addition to the same old silent auction with the same old items, Miranda was auctioning off dates with Magnolia Bay and Charleston’s most eligible bachelors. That alone probably accounted for sales being up ninety tickets over last year.
She entered City Hall and was greeted by Dee, a sweet round receptionist in her fifties who singlehandedly ran City Hall. She’d been invaluable to Miranda, getting her up to speed so that she could do this job, even with the scrutiny of the Bloom Bitches. “Morning Sunshine,” Dee said, handing Miranda her coffee.
“You’re a mind reader, I really needed a third cup.” Miranda took a sip and nearly spat it back in the cup.
“About the coffee,” Pat began in a hushed tone, “You’re going to need that shot.” Crap. Pat had known Miranda since she was a kid. This couldn’t be good.
She tossed the cup in the trash and poured herself a fresh cup. The last thing she wanted was the board members thinking she was a lush. “Are Daisy and Camellia here again? I thought after the last meeting, they trusted me to get this thing right.”
“They’re not here, but--.” Pat was cut off as Mayor Delaney breezed out of her office in a flowy navy dress.
“Miranda.” She had a pained look on her face she tried to make pleasant with a smile. This wasn’t like Mayor Delaney at all. She gave Miranda an air kiss, but never looked directly at her. “Come. The meeting’s already started.”
“But I’m fifteen minutes early,” Miranda stammered following her down a long hallway toward the boardroom. “Aren’t I?”
“Yes and no. There’s been a new development. Really, a wonderful development that came with a great big fat donation made out to your mother’s foundation. I know the Christmas tree lighting and the Christmas Cotillion are your pies, but there’s going to be another pair of fingers in them,” she said hesitantly. “But it’s all good. All for charity.”
“Fabulous.” Miranda said, but what had this woman so tentative, almost worried?
“The money comes with some strings,” the mayor continued. “That’s what we were meeting early about. I left a message on your cell last night.”
“I’m sorry, when I’m decorating the cottage for Christmas, I’m oblivious. It’s wonderful about the donation. Whatever those strings are, I’m thrilled.”
As they were passing the ladies room, the door opened and out strutted Pammy Anderson dressed like a runway model in couture. Shit. Was this where the money came from? Was the catch that Miranda would have to work with the woman who was vying to take the title of Biggest Bitch in the bay away from the Bloom sisters? Great. But if it came with money that would go to her mother’s foundation, she could work with anyone. Even Pammy.
“Morning, Pammy. Great to see you.”
Miranda put on her best smile. She was sure Mom was looking down from heaven and laughing at the show. Mom had comforted Miranda through her grade school years when Pammy lived to torture her. If Miranda achieved something, was given or earned something, Pammy made it her job to bully her out of it. But in the sixth grade, after Miranda grew a little backbone and some boobs, which shouldn’t have but did improve her social status but did, things were better. Not that Pammy didn’t try to Miranda really thought Pammy would eventually grow out of it, but no such luck.
Pammy still loved to get her digs in whenever she could, but since she started working for Big Jim Mauldin’s huge Arcadia Dunes development as sales director, she’d been busy. Making a shrimp boat full of money, which she loved to throw around town, buying fabulous clothes and shoes and a custom made BMW that cost more than Miranda made in a year.
Miranda took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. This is for Mom. “Thanks for your very generous donation, Pammy. I looking forward to working with you.” For a moment, Miranda was hypnotized by Pammy’s predatory smile.
The mayor paused outside the boardroom and was saying something; Miranda only caught the tail end. “—New co-chair.” What? Pammy Anderson is her co-chair? This couldn’t get any worse.
For you, Mom. This is for you. . “You’ll make a great co-chair,” Miranda offered. But you taught me to let people know where I stand. Never back down. “I look forward to working with you, Pammy.”
“Oh, Pammy’s just a new committee member Logan Mauldin brought on,” the mayor gushed, as she pushed open the door. “He’s your new co-chair.”
Fabulous. Logan Mauldin. The only person other than Pammy Anderson she would never want to be stranded on a committee with.
He stood with the rest of the gentleman as she entered the room and buttoned his black blazer. Her eyes glided down his well-worn jeans for a fraction of a second and then jerked back up to his face. The crisp white shirt he was wearing stood out against his perfect year round tan and accentuated his disgustingly beautiful blue eyes that sparkled. No. Twinkled, and he was enjoying this. Too much. Between the shock, and well, him, no wonder, Miranda’s mouth was gaping open.
She should have slapped herself for gawking at him. Instead, she turned her attention to the rest of the board members, and gave even Pammy, her most genuine smile. “Everyone. Wonderful to see y’all. Logan.”
“You can’t imagine my surprise when Logan here, nabbed me Saturday night at Crusoe’s,” the mayor said, like the man was the second coming. The sexy smirk on his face wasn’t helping Miranda at all. “Put a great big fat check in my hand and said he had some fabulous ideas for our little Christmas events. Even asked if he could co-chair. Of course, knowing you wouldn’t mind, I said yes.”
Miranda nodded. She’d been at Crusoe’s Saturday night and had seen the mayor and her husband. Miranda had been on a date with John Jackson, a yummy attorney from Charleston who Miranda had recently met at one of the gallery crawls there. He had talked her into taking a break from decorating the house, and she was glad she did. The food and the wine had been as good as his company.
Although there hadn’t been any real sparks at dinner, they were just getting to know each other and the night was young. John asked Miranda if she wanted to walk on the docks; when she said yes, he asked the waiter to split the last of their wine in to-go cups.
John had just put her wrap in her shoulders when she noticed Logan coming in with a stunningly beautiful leggy redhead. As Miranda and John and some other diners who had the same idea bottlenecked near the restaurant door that faced the docks, Logan was headed to his table. His hand brushed Miranda’s, and the current that always passed between them made her jerk away. Her heart beat faster than it had at any point during the evening. Her chest felt tight.
“Sorry,” she muttered to Logan. Jesus. She was with a date and totally embarrassed by her body’s immediate reaction to him. She was so grateful no one had seemed to notice. Especially John.
As the diners in front of her filed out the door, Logan leaned in close enough to whisper. “Not. Sorry.” Then he sat down and gave his date a polite smile, obviously not as affected as Miranda was by their brief exchange.
The cool Lowcountry night was beautiful, and the full moon hung over the center of the bay like a giant luminous ornament. Hand in hand, she and John walked to the very end of the pier where it was more private. He kissed her. He was a good kisser, at least an eight on her friends’, the Six Chicks’, scale, but Miranda didn’t feel anything close to what she felt from simply brushing hands with Logan Mauldin.
And now he was here at her committee meeting trying to upend things in the ninth hour. Usual sexy smirk. A big fat donation with strings attached. What did that mean? That he was nuts? They were oil and water. This would never work.
“Miranda.” He extended his hand. “Always a pleasure.”
That smirk said he knew exactly what he did to her. She sat in the only available seat beside him, determined to get down to business. When she gave his hand a firm shake, her heat fluttered.