Desired in December (Spring River Valley Book 12)

BOOK: Desired in December (Spring River Valley Book 12)
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Desired in December

 

By

Clarice Wynter

 

 

 

Published by:
Clarice Wynter

 

copyright 2013, Clarice Wynter

 

Cover art by Niina Cord

 

 

This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, brands, media and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.

Kindle Edition

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

* * * *

 

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

This series is for everyone who needs a little romance in their lives.

 

Once again I’d like to thank: JB Lynn, Jean Cooper and Niina Cord for all their hard work and support and I’d like to thank all my readers who’ve spent the year with me in Spring River Valley. There’s more to come to read beyond the The End and find out what you can do to send your favorite couple to the altar in 2014.  

Chapter One

 

 

“Mmm. Perfect.” Cassie licked her lips, eyes closed for a moment in appreciation of the delicate balance of chocolate and mint that she’d just created. That split second of ecstasy distracted her from the conversation she’d been having, on
e she would have been quite happy to forget all together, except that her cousin Max was family, and she couldn’t really tune him out just because she wanted to avoid the topic he’d called to discuss. “What? Yes, I’m still here.”

She hastily dumped the spoon she’d been using to sample her newest flavor of cupcake batter into the sink and reached up to adjust the Blue
tooth earpiece she wore so she could talk and bake at the same time.

Max’s voice came through loud and clear on the small device, so she couldn’t blame a bad connection as an excuse to check out of their awkward conversation. “Just say the word, Cass, and I’ll ask Janet to give the assignment to someone else.”

“That’s ridiculous. Why would I have a problem with you photographing James for the paper?” Moving quickly, she prepared a set of pans for her first test batch of chocolate chip mint holiday cupcakes, certain Max hadn’t been able to hear the faint hitch in her breath just before she said James’s name.

“I just don’t want to dredge up any bad memories.”

Cassie almost laughed at her cousin’s concern. He was, after all, a guy, and this type of thing, the unexpected encounter with an ex, didn’t usually register on him as any kind of problem. Clearly he’d learned a few things since Cassie had accidentally fixed him up with his current girlfriend, Audrey Desmond. The couple had been dating for ten months, and during that time Max had matured into quite a catch…and no one was happier than Cassie that he’d been caught by her friend. “I’m fine, really.”

“I know what you went through when James left
, and I understand if it would bother you…”

Cassie had to wonder if Audrey had put him up to this. It was sweet but completely unnecessary. “Max, it’s your job. I would never ask you not to do your job, even if it did bother me, which it doesn’t. Obviously the paper wants to cover the story. James is a hero
, and everyone is town is proud of him. Of course your editor picked you to take the pictures because you’re the best photographer they have. You shouldn’t have to step aside for me. I appreciate you thinking of me, but you don’t have to worry. I’m good.”

“I still can’t believe Grant Addison asked you to cater
James’s homecoming party.” Relief tinged his voice. Clearly it hadn’t been a hundred percent his idea to offer to give the assignment to someone else on the
Herald’s
staff.

“I’m glad he did. It’s a great opportunity. I’m thrilled to work with Taverna Fiora.”

“It really doesn’t bother you?”

“Not at all. James and I broke up over five years ago. I’m over it, and I’m over him. A job is a job
, and this one is local, it’s easy, and it pays well. Plus it could lead to a long-term contract to supply desserts to TF, so I’m thrilled.”

“All right. I just wanted to be sure. The interview is the day after tomorrow. If he asks
about you, what do you want me to say?”

The day after tomorrow.
The words seemed to echo in Cassie’s head, or maybe it
was
a bad connection, but somehow the whole situation suddenly seemed a lot more real.

James Galloway was home. He was finally back in Spring River Valley after five years in the army, five years that had taken him all over the world and culminated in a
second tour of duty in the volatile Middle East. Of course everyone in town was glad to have him back, his parents especially, and all his friends who’d organized a huge party to be held at the fanciest catering hall in the area. The
Herald
was doing a front-page spread, and Cassie had heard the Mayor had invited him to a town meeting to receive a commendation.

James was back home, safe and sound, and that thrilled her
, almost as much as seeing him again would break her heart. So while she planned to make cupcakes and cookies for his party, and she planned to read the article in the paper, she had absolutely no intention of running into the first, best, most unforgettable love of her life. As long as she avoided that, she’d be perfectly fine.

“Tell him…” The words came out a little shaky, so she scooped up a finger full of her famous eggless,
gluten-free cupcake batter and tasted it to cover up the treble in her voice. “Tell him I said hi.”

“That’s all?”

“That’s all. But only if he asks. For God’s sake, don’t mention me if he doesn’t mention me first. Got it?”

“Sure.”

“Thanks, Max. You’re a gem.”

“So I’m told.” She heard the smile in his voice.

After wishing him good luck, she hung up and surveyed her kitchen. Soon she’d have her own shop, and she could move production of her gourmet baked goods out of her small apartment and into the center of town where, hopefully, her business would really take off. A month ago, when she’d signed the lease on the storefront on Commerce Street, it seemed like a dream come true. Now, she had to consider what the odds were that one day James would come waltzing into her store for a cupcake and break her heart all over again.

 

* * * *

 

Nothing had changed.

The thought struck James Galloway as he strolled down
West Denton Avenue toward the music store where his old friend Owen DeWitt still worked. The sights in downtown Spring River Valley were the same as they’d been when he’d left five years ago, except it had been early summer then, and now it was winter.

Small banks of clean, white snow decorated the nooks and crannies between the storefronts
. Naked trees, taller now than when he’d left, grew in square wells in the sidewalks, ringed by bright blue metal benches. Evergreen wreaths with huge crimson bows hung from the street lamps, and the scent of croissants and fresh oatmeal cookies wafted from the coffee shop, competing with the salty, fried aroma of French fries and burgers coming from the diner.

If he closed his eyes for a second and listened to the sounds of the light, mid-morning traffic and the conversations of passersby as they clopped along in their heavy boots, he could almost convince himself that he
’d never left.

Except that everything was different.

The comic book shop on the corner of West Denton and Baxter had closed. The storefront was empty along with several others, victims of the economic downturn which had just begun when he’d decided to enlist in the army. There seemed to be fewer cars on the street and more pedestrians, as if people had given up driving in the face of ever-rising gas prices. Some of the neighborhood houses were vacant too; people his parents had been friends with for years had packed up and moved. Unable to sell their houses in a depressed market, some people had just abandoned them. Those holiday wreaths, if he looked closely, turned out to be a little shabby as though they’d been saved from prior years rather than purchased new for the season, and a couple of the mom-and-pop businesses that had been anchors of the community had been replaced by chain stores where the prices were higher and the staff less friendly.

Nevertheless, this was home. It looked like home, it smelled like home
, and the moment he pushed open the door to Love Notes and caught sight of Owen at the front counter, it sounded like home too.

“Holy crap, you’re really back!” Owen nearly vaulted over the glass
countertop and drew James into a hasty “guy” hug accompanied by some back slapping and a few four-letter words. “Goddamn, you look great. How are you?”

“I’m good. Glad to be back.” James ran a hand through his still too short military haircut and did a
three-sixty scan around the store. The place he’d used to spend hours listening to sample CDs and daydreaming about being a rock star looked different and achingly familiar at the same time. “Wow, this place has gone upscale.” He nodded to the expensive guitars that hung on the walls above racks of sheet music. “Are you still playing?”

“Every Friday night at Colette’s, except this Friday because we’ve got your…u
m…” Owen fell silent, guilt widening his eyes.

James burst into laughter. Half the people he’d seen since he’d gotten off the plane two days ago had danced around some nebulous plans they had this coming Friday
night. By now he’d figured out the big surprise his parents had been tripping over themselves trying not to mention. “It’s okay, dude. I know there’s going to be a party.”

“What? No. There’s no party—”

“Come on. You could never lie to me.”

Owen’s shoulders slumped, but his sly grin reached his eyes. “Okay. Yeah. There’s a party. But don’t tell anyone I told you.”

“Told who what?
Oh my God
, James, you’re back!” A feminine shriek drew James’s attention. He hadn’t even noticed the pretty brunette come out of the music store’s back room. Clearly a few days of civilian life had completely softened him, and in the back of his head, he heard his CO’s voice admonishing him for not being more vigilant.

His lack of attention didn’t stop him from catching Claudia Galvin when she jumped into his arms.

He spun her around in a bear hug, momentarily enjoying the feel of a woman in his arms, until he noticed Owen’s raised brows. Grinning, he set Claudia down and delivered a chaste kiss to her upturned cheek. “Hey, Claud! Yep, I’m back. Got home Saturday morning, but my parents have been monopolizing me. I was able to escape the house this morning by promising to run a couple errands for my mom. She needed a break from staring at me and crying.”

Claudia swiped tears from her own
jewel-blue eyes and slipped into Owen’s possessive embrace. “Good tears, though. They’re finally happy tears. She must be so thrilled to have you back so she can feed you properly. You got so skinny! Oh my God, look at those abs.” She jabbed at his stomach. “And those shoulders…ooh, that’s muscle!” She fanned herself while Owen tried to hide a scowl.

James’s gaze bounced between the two of them.
His friends hadn’t been a couple when he’d left, and now they looked like they were joined at the hip. “Hmm…I’m sensing a little something going on here. Are you two—”

“An item,” Claudia finished his thought, entwining her fingers with Owen’s. “I chased him until he caught me.”

“I got seriously lucky,” Owen admitted. He squeezed Claudia’s hand, and they shared a look that would have made James blush if he hadn’t suspected the two would end up together eventually.

“Congratulations!”
he said. “It’s about damn time.”

Claudia beamed. Her radiant smile reminded James that he’
d always thought she was gorgeous. Definitely the second most beautiful girl in the Valley. Owen was truly a lucky man. Change was a good thing, he decided.

“Enough about us,” Claudia plowed on. “What are you doing? What are your plans? You’re home for good, right?”

James hesitated. That question had crept into every conversation he’d had since the second his toes touched American soil, and his response was always the same dismissive nod. Fortunately it worked on Claudia and Owen, and the conversation veered in another direction before either of them noticed he’d hedged.

BOOK: Desired in December (Spring River Valley Book 12)
3.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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