All Holly wants for Christmas is to prove to her parents that her pricey college education was worth it. When she lands a reporting job in tiny Blue Lake, where the chill winds blow off Lake Huron all winter long, and a guest dies at a dinner party, she isn't sure she can meet that goal. Holly has a second writing gig as a true crime reporter in mind, but there's only one problem: the new love interest keeping her warm is determined she should not write about the one thing her heart desires.
Bob has one goal: to get his life back on track after a train wreck of a relationship with a fragile first love named Lily. Oh, it would also be nice to feel excited about work again. Not to mention Christmas. Holly’s new in town and she stirs something cheerfully seasonal in him, but when he realizes she’s willing to take down Lily for her own purposes, he decides a holiday romance is the last thing he needs.
She wanted to say I can get the news off the police blotter, thank you very much, but settled on “I’m so sorry, but I have to work. I’m running the paper on my own these days.”
“Yeah, I heard about that. Well, maybe next weekend, then.”
She made no comment but hung up thinking no way in hell.
Then she put in four hours of solid writing time before taking a shower and getting ready for dinner with Bob. No nap. On the way to his house, she stopped at the Farmer’s Market. They had a great selection of greenery, and she picked out a little pine tree in a glazed pot for Bob. He could stick it on the porch, so the dogs wouldn’t dig it up.
When Holly got to Bob’s, she was glad she’d stopped by the drugstore and picked up a couple of chew toys, because the boys, as Bob called his dogs, clearly expected something of her. And when she pulled out the toys, they stopped trying to edge each other out of the petting contest and began nipping at the little stuffed furry things.
Bob admired the miniature pine tree and agreed it should stay on the porch. “Some Christmas plants are poisonous. Probably not trees. I have a pamphlet around here somewhere,” he said. “And thank you. I’m not sure how the dogs will do with a full-sized tree. Even a fake one. So this is nice.”
Holly thought it was sweet that he seemed a little nervous. She was too, but when she looked around his house, she felt immediately comfortable. You could tell so much about a person by the way they lived, the things they surrounded themselves with.
“Your house is amazing,” she said, taking in the expanses of glass, the big room open to the kitchen, loft, and living area. A beautifully set little round table for two had been placed next to the crackling fire. Crystal wine glasses sparkled on the table.
“How are the dogs with the swags of green on the mantel?”
Bob had lit the pair of hurricane lamps that anchored the greens. A gorgeous bow on a pine wreath hung over the mantel picked up the gold tones on the edge of the pretty plates. Hanging under the mantel were two stockings for the boys, Corky and Sidney. They were of course red to match the tablecloth. Holly could not have created such a tableau herself. It was a work of art. “Bob, everything is so lovely.”
“I didn’t do it. Eva. My sister-in-law.”
“Oh, well, good because I really don’t like a man who is a better decorator than I am. But you designed this house, right?” Holly felt a warm glow that Bob would enlist someone to decorate for her. She hadn’t given a thought to decking her own rented halls, but now she felt in the mood. “This place is a little jewel.”
“Thank you. The condos will be more in this style. Lots of glass for views of wooded areas.”
“Oh, the condos! I want one already.”
“I’ll take you to view the site tomorrow if you like.”
“Yes, I would. Is it okay to get my photographer to take pictures to run with the article?”
“Sure. Hey, you want some wine?”
“I’d love a glass.”
Bob pulled a bottle out of his fridge and opened it like a pro. “I noticed you drink Chardonnay, so I got a bottle of that and a red.” He poured her a glass of the white. “Hope it’s okay?”
Holly sipped. “It’s great. You don’t know how much I needed this night out. You are so sweet.”
“Well, I hope you’re hungry. I have sautéed mushrooms and baked potatoes. Eva loads them up with sour cream and cheese and bacon. The potatoes, I mean. I did the mushrooms myself.” Bob stood over a pan, his wine glass in one hand, stirring the sizzling mushrooms. He turned down the heat like he was used to cooking on a stove, something Holly was not very good at. Not yet. But she could learn.
They sipped their wine while the steaks grilled out on the patio. Bob, like most men she knew—well, her dad and Uncle Eddie anyway—had a barbecue big as an oven on his patio.
While Bob flipped the steaks, Holly took a closer look at the picture on his mantel. It was Bob and a young woman. Lily Van Slyke. Holly’s heart hammered. She’d forgotten about Lily and her ties to Bob for a minute. When Bob came back with the steaks, she brought the plates into the kitchen so he could dish out the food. Then they carried everything to the table in front of the fire and talked all through the yummy dinner about everything except Lily.
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