Sunday, December 19, 2021

Muffins And Mistletoe by Debora Dennis



Welcome to Starlight Hills! Mountain views, small town charm, and one little bake shop, where romance is always on the menu.

Christmas is the best time of year to be in love in Starlight Hills. Cold nights perfect for snuggling, plenty of mistletoe to be caught kissing under, and an abundance of gingerbread muffins for sharing under the stars. But when Corinne Mackenzie turns down a proposal from the man she loves at the Thanksgiving table, it could be the worst time of year instead. Convinced the only way to fix the biggest mistake of her life is to enlist the help of the town's resident matchmaker, she's got a plan to make this the best Christmas ever.

After his proposal is rejected in front of family and friends, Jimmy Crane knows his only chance of surviving the holiday is to avoid the woman who stomped on his heart. The only obstacle to his plan is his matchmaking mother and Corinne's knack for getting him under the mistletoe.


Corinne walked inside the Itty Bitty Bake Shop while Jimmy held the door open. She brushed past him and inhaled the clean smell of his soap mingling with the coffee and fresh muffins from the shop. Home. That was what it smelled like, what it felt like, to walk through a door with him on the other side. She’d always known in her heart that this man meant everything to her, that walking through any door and into his arms was all she would ever need.

Yet at that table last week she’d let her head convince her she needed more time. She’d looked over at her brother, alone and divorced after less than a year of marriage. Then she’d thought about their parents and the years of fighting after they split up when she was five. Instead of comparing their relationships to hers, she should have been looking in the eyes of the man she loved and let her heart do the thinking. What she wouldn’t give to be able to go back and do it all over again. The right way this time.

The tiny bell over the entry jingled as the bake-shop door closed behind her and forced her thoughts back to the present. She scanned the deserted shop, each table with a small potted poinsettia in the center. Soon the regular morning crowd would bring the little shop to life. She tried not to look into Jimmy’s eyes, not wanting to see the hurt she caused, but she couldn’t help herself. For a second, their gazes locked, and then he quickly turned his head. She couldn’t blame him, but she wasn’t ready to give up.
She’d hoped for a few minutes alone with his mother to go over their plan for tonight. Catching him here now was an added bonus.

She removed her gloves, shoved them in her pockets and swallowed the nervous lump in her throat, knowing she had to say something. “Thanks for letting me in. It’s freezing out there this morning.” She tugged on the red and green scarf looped around her neck as she stood there, hoping he’d stay and not rush out the door.

“Supposed to be below freezing all week, I hear.” He shrugged and reached to retrieve the bag off the table by the window where he’d left it before opening the door for her. “I guess you’re here for the gala committee meeting.”

“Yes. Perfect timing to catch a ride into town with Dalton, too.”

“Speaking of your patient brother, he’s waiting for me. I should go.” He was eager to escape, but also too polite to grab his muffins and run. No matter how angry or upset he was with anyone, his character would never allow him to be rude. It was one of the many qualities she loved about him. She’d latch on to any opportunity that might enable her to get back into his good graces. If he wanted her to run barefoot and naked out into Triangle Park and dance around the Christmas tree proclaiming she was as idiot, she’d probably do that too.

She decided not to suggest that.

With a tentative smile, she looked up at him and hoped it would be contagious. “He’s in the truck, but...”  She tilted her head and tried to gauge just how long being polite would last before he raced out and away from her. “You might want to give him a few minutes alone, though. He’s not in a good mood this morning. Maybe if he came in and had breakfast here—”

“No…no, that’s definitely not a good idea.” Jimmy quickly said with a quirky grin while looking over his shoulder at the door to the kitchen.

She followed his gaze, and while she knew he was talking about his mother, Corinne only noticed the mistletoe hanging on a small hook above the swinging door. She simply couldn’t pass up the gift that little sprig of holiday magic offered, right then, right there.

“You know, your mother was right about Dalton and Melanie.” She undid the top button of her coat and took a step toward him, the heels of her boots clicking on the tiled floor.

He stepped backward and watched her every move, following her fingers as they slowly undid the rest of her coat buttons. Why didn’t she have the foresight to wear something more provocative? The black ankle-length skirt she wore beneath her coat would hardly tempt him. Though, from the way his eyes were focused on her, she might not be so sure.

With his hands full of coffee and the bag of muffins, he didn’t have a free hand to zip up the down vest he wore over a gray flannel shirt. In fact, he didn’t have a free hand to do anything but move his feet. His work boots scuffed across the floor as he tried to move away, but she blocked his path to the door. When his breath hitched slightly, she knew he might be losing his battle for control. She took advantage of his discomfort and let her gaze linger on the sensual curve of his lips before continuing down to the base of his throat, where the muscles in his neck moved when he swallowed. And he swallowed hard, spurring her on. A few dark curls peeked out from the neckline of his white undershirt, sending shock waves of warm twitches along her fingertips.

There was something so sexy about a man in jeans and a flannel shirt. No pretenses, no overblown ego, simply a hardworking man with muscles naturally honed from his trade. There was no place she’d ever felt safer, or more loved, than in the arms of Jimmy Crane.

Now wasn’t the time to remind herself how stupid she’d been. She needed to focus on making everything right again. So she moved another step closer. “Your mom’s got a sense, Jimmy. Even Dalton says he should have listened to her.”

Jimmy cleared his throat. “Her lucky streak continues. Good for her.”

“It’s more than luck. Give her credit. I’ve never known her to be wrong. Have you?” she questioned, inching toward him with her fingers running along the side of her neck.

“You can call it whatever you want, but all streaks come to an end.” His jean-clad backside hit the glass display and he moved to his right. The bag crinkled as his grip tightened. “Maybe you should do an article on her for the Herald.”

“I’m covering the gala, but thanks for the idea. She would make a good interview.”

Only a few more feet and he’d be right where she needed him to be. Corinne leaned in, so close her coat bumped against the muffin bag in his hands. Her heart threatened to beat right out of her sweater and burst through the front of her coat. Her pulse pounded in her ears, but she pressed forward. This was her chance. She wasn’t going to blow it.

Corinne looked into his deep blue eyes and knew that was where her future was. When he met her stare, the smallest hint of a smile tugged at his lips. He was softening. She could feel it down to the tips of her red-painted toes.
The open sign in the window flashed to life and Johnny Mathis crooning “Winter Wonderland” filtered into the small shop to complete the festive mood. The rest of the committee would be there any minute, so she had to move now.

“Jimmy, I’m sorry. I don’t need any more time. I know we fit.”

He blinked, clearly shaken, and took a step back—directly under the mistletoe.

She stood on her tiptoes, reached for his shoulders and kissed him.

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