by: Joanne Rock
Series: Road to Romance
Genre: Contemporary Holiday Romance
Release Date: October 5, 2017
Publisher: Tule Publishing
Growing up in the Christmas-crazed theme town of Yuletide was fun for fashion designer Rachel Chambers until a family scandal made her unwelcome. Eight years later, she’s home for a friend’s wedding and trying to go incognito… until her old flame spots her.
Snowboarder Gavin Blake wants to make things right with Rachel, and smoothing her way back in Yuletide seems like the best way to do just that. Making Rachel his date for a week of pre-wedding parties is sure to bring them closer. Except he underestimated how long a small town can carry a grudge--or how much the memory of a long-ago kiss could tempt him all over again.
As the wedding approaches, Rachel remembers all she loved about her close-knit, Christmas-loving neighbors. But even if she can win over the town again, will she be able to convince her footloose, mogul-shredding wedding date that they can find happiness beyond the holidays?
A few minutes later, Rachel emerged wearing the green hooded cape and a pair of tall, fur-lined boots. Her dark hair was in a high ponytail and her face looked scrubbed clean in the moonlight. He knew he hadn’t woken her though, because he’d seen her shadow moving around in the uppermost window of Teeny Elf’s place. And yeah, he’d watched her for longer than he had a right to.
He’d been thinking about her all night, his preoccupation making him a fairly poor bachelor party host. Still, he’d done it because Luke was his buddy. Now, however, Gavin was very ready to see Rachel. Their talk the night before had ended too abruptly and left too many questions between them unanswered.
“You’re insane,” she accused in a soft grumble, snow muffling her steps as she moved toward him silently. “I thought you were supposed to be leading your friends in a raucous party before Luke ties the knot.”
“I did all the raucous partying I cared to do.” He shrugged. “I’m in training for one thing.” He didn’t take his performance lightly. “And for another, I knew all day that I wanted to try and see you tonight.”
She stared up at him with wide blue eyes, her dark bangs brushing the tops of her eyebrows. “The traditional approach is to arrange a meeting day ahead of time.”
“Which isn’t easy when you don’t answer my calls or texts.”
“So you pelt my windows with snowballs?” She shivered, hugging the cape tighter.
“You used to like sneaking out at night,” he reasoned. “I did it for old time’s sake.” Taking one of her hands, he threaded her fingers through his and huffed a warm breath over her cool skin. “Why don’t we talk in my kitchen so you can warm up? I make a mean hot cocoa.”
She glanced at his house just a few steps away. Thinking.
“You can tell me how I should lay out the first floor when I pitch the revamped house to the town council.” He did have to write the proposal soon so he could start work on the house in the new year.
“I did want to share a crazy idea of my mom’s.” She looked to where he held her hand close to his lips.
He lowered it, not wanting to scare her off. “I have a lot of things I want to talk to you about too, Rachel. And I promise to be a total gentleman.”
She nodded, flustered. Even in the moonlight he could see her blushing. “Of course. I wasn’t worried about that.”
“Good.” Willing himself to let go of her completely, he forced his fingers to uncurl from around hers. “Because I have some of those homemade marshmallows they sell at the bakery. That’s my secret ingredient for the cocoa.”
“Now you’re just not fighting fair,” she accused softly, but she smiled at him in a way that made his chest squeeze tight. “I’d better have a taste or I’ll be dreaming about—” She slid a glance his way. “Er. That. The marshmallows, I mean.”
Something about that charged look she gave him let him know he wasn’t alone in thinking about her all day. Rachel Chambers had been contemplating him, too.
“Come on.” He pulled his keys out of his pocket and walked the side door of his place, determined to stick to the gentleman agenda.
A promise was a promise, after all.
A half an hour later, they were seated on the floor in front of the fireplace in the living room. She’d been the one to wander out of the kitchen—where he’d had every intention of staying—to bring her hot chocolate in front of the hearth. He’d stirred the blaze to life easily since he’d left a thick hickory log to burn earlier in the day. The thing hadn’t been all the way dry at the time, but after a slow burn for hours, it threw more heat with a little coaxing.
“And you can’t talk her out of it?” Gavin asked about the plan of her mother’s that Rachel was worrying about.
“I’ve tried. She’s adamant. And that’s a lot of money for her.”
“That’s a lot of money for most people.” He didn’t like the idea at all. Molly had been blameless in her husband’s theft. “But I worry if she makes a public act of donating the money, it will be difficult for the town to refuse. The council will be under a certain amount of pressure to accept it.”
Rachel leaned back against the leather wingback, setting aside her empty mug. “When’s the next meeting?”
“The last meeting of the year is on Monday—after the wedding but before Christmas.” His gaze lingered on her in spite of himself. She looked so pretty in a lightweight white sweater and dark jeans. One leg was covered in embroidered roses. “But I won’t be able to be there.”
“You need to return to your team,” she guessed. “I could extend my trip, but what if Mom tried to hand over the money to the mayor before that? She sees all the council members often enough.”
“The mayor and all the council members will be at the wedding, too. Don’t forget that Scott Malek is Luke’s cousin.” The Harris family was proud to have regained control of the town once Rachel’s dad fled.
“You think I should try and speak to one of them there? Ask the mayor privately to refuse the money?” She bit her lip, sending his thoughts wandering down a path that would only lead to kissing her again if he wasn’t careful.
“You could. I’m definitely going to confront him about his plans for the cross-country course. Let him know I consider it his tacit approval for my charity event.”
“Someone needs to push them to start making decisions with the town’s mission statement in mind. Spreading joy and cheer to visitors wasn’t just supposed to be a marketing ploy.” She tucked her knees closer to her chin and wrapped her arms around them.
“Someone should,” he agreed. “The focus on profit, by the way, has actually decreased the overall profitability of the town. But I think the more they focus on making money, the less they’re going to connect with people who want to experience the warmth and beauty of the season.”
He let her think about that for a moment, because he couldn’t help reminding her that her father’s creation was failing without a dynamic leader at the helm. When she was quiet for a moment, he continued.
“I know you don’t want to talk about that though. And I actually wanted to speak to you about something else tonight.”
“You do?” There was a hopeful light in her eyes. Or maybe it was simple relief that he wasn’t going to try and persuade her to stay in Yuletide again.
He didn’t let that sway him from his agenda though, knowing this conversation needed to happen.
“Yes.” He shifted on the floor so he could see her better, anchoring an arm on the couch as he turned more fully toward her. “I think we owe it to ourselves to talk about what happened the other night before the bachelorette party.”
Understanding lit her gaze. Her lips worked soundlessly for a moment before they snapped shut. He waited until she tried again.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” Her voice had a throaty quality to it all the time. Now? The sudden, heated awareness in the room made it sound all the more sultry.
“I just think there was more to that kiss than we’ve acknowledged.” He didn’t take it lightly. And he knew her well enough to know that she didn’t either. “I don’t think we’re doing each other any favors by pretending it didn’t happen.”
“I’m not pretending.” She shook her head fast, her ponytail swishing against the leather wingback. “It’s just not a conversation that needs to happen right now.” She pursed her lips. Frowned. “Or ever.”
“Rachel.” He tried again. How could he leave this weekend without knowing if there was a chance between them? She’d been in his thoughts nonstop. “Think about this. We already parted ways once without knowing where things could lead between us. We just shut it down and moved on. And look what happened. We’re right back where we left off eight years ago.”
“I know where it could lead,” she informed him flatly, frustration evident in her tense shoulders. “Of course I know. That’s why I’m so careful to leave well enough alone, Gavin. I don’t want my heart broken.”
Her words pulled at something inside him. He understood what she was saying all too well. He felt the same way. At least she finally acknowledged the attraction openly.
“I don’t want my heart trounced either, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to go through life in bubble wrap just to keep it safe.”
“You’re a snowboard cross racer. You embrace risk every day.” She gesticulated with her hands, growing animated and making him realize she’d been thinking about it every bit as much as him. “I do not. I don’t like living on the edge.”
“That’s different.” He was surprised by a fierce need to convince her. “I don’t approach personal relationships with the same mindset I use when I race.”
She seemed to weigh the merits of the argument for a moment before some of the tension leaked out of her shoulders. She sagged against the wingback again. “But we can’t possibly have answers about where a relationship could go when you’re leaving town right after the wedding.”
“A lot can happen before then.” Realistically, he should just probably just let her go, for all of the reasons she’d articulated so well. But he couldn’t seem to make himself accept it.
Joanne’s Favorite Christmas Movies
A Muppet Family Christmas
A Christmas Carol (Albert Finney version)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
A Christmas Story
Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas
**How about you? What’s on your Christmas Must-Watch list?**
The Road to Romance Series:
Four-time RITA nominee Joanne Rock has never met a romance sub-genre she didn't like. The author of over eighty books enjoys writing a wide range of stories, most recently focusing on sexy contemporaries and small town family sagas. An optimist by nature and perpetual seeker of silver linings, Joanne finds romance fits her life outlook perfectly--love is worth fighting for. A frequent speaker at regional and national writing conferences she enjoys giving back to the writing community that nurtured and inspired her early career. She has a Masters degree in Literature from the University of Louisville but credits her fiction writing skills to her intensive study with friend and fellow author Catherine Mann. When she's not writing, Joanne enjoys travel, especially to see her favorite sports teams play with her former sports editor husband and three athletic-minded sons.
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