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?
The crowd around the hundred-foot Christmas tree in the Yuletide town square counted down to the lighting ceremony two weeks before Christmas. Gavin Blake waited and watched along with all the rest of the tourists. He’d been back in town—off and on, according to his training schedule—for a month now, but he hadn’t made it a point to be outdoors at this time of day to see the daily tree lighting.
“…one! Deck the halls!” The onlookers crowed with delight at the spectacle, a flood of red and green spilling over all of them while the local elementary school choir burst into a rendition of “O Christmas Tree.”
Gavin knew the choir varied according to the day, and the whole schedule was online at the Yuletide website to help visitors plan their trip. Chris Chambers, the idea man behind the town revitalization efforts, might have been a crook, but there was no denying his vision to remake Harristown into a Christmas-themed tourism destination had paid off.
Not for the first time, Gavin’s gaze strayed to the Chambers’ house next door to his own on the other side of the town square, remembering the girl who used to live there. Remembering the time she’d sneaked out of an upstairs window to tag along with him when she’d heard he was going to a bonfire in the woods with some friends from school. He’d been scared she would break her neck climbing back in, so he had canceled his plans and walked her back home, giving her hell the whole way so he didn’t do something stupid like make a pass at her.
He knew, even then, that Luke’s ex was off-limits. It didn’t take a genius to see the guy had been crazy about her even after their split. But damn. Rachel Chambers had been something special. They’d all been friends for years before everything started changing when Luke went into the military. Luke had been a year older than Gavin and Rachel, and they’d spent more time together that year he’d been gone. Just as friends, but still.
When Luke returned from his deployment, Gavin figured things would go back to normal for the three of them. But then Rachel dumped Luke and things took a turn for the awkward.
Fat snowflakes swirled like memories in the dusk. Tonight, the second floor of the old Chambers’ house was quiet except for the lighted wreaths. He could see a family on the front porch, a father holding open the front door so a mother pushing a stroller could enter the gift shop.
Then, on the side of the house, he noticed a slender figure in a dark coat and red ski cap darting out into the snow.
Something about the woman made him do a double take. The furtive way she peered around, maybe. Or the careful way she pushed the door closed behind her with an extra shove—like a woman who knew that it would stick otherwise.
He couldn’t see her well, since she wore her hat low on her forehead and she kept her face turned away from the overflowing town square. But the long, dark hair tied in a ribbon in the middle of her back was familiar. So was the way she moved. Of course, Rachel Chambers hadn’t set foot in Yuletide for eight years—ever since the summer he’d let his guard down and kissed her. She wouldn’t come home now, of all times, with Luke’s wedding just around the corner.
Curious all the same, Gavin left the tree revelers behind to take a closer look, telling himself he was just being a good homeowner since the woman had been skulking around the alleyway next to his house. With his boots crunching through the packed snow, he continued to watch her as she headed toward the parking lot, her steps light and quick. Most of the foot traffic moved in the opposite direction, with families and couples heading into town for dinner or shopping. She darted and dodged, keeping her head down as if she was determined not to be seen.
Closing the distance between them, he calculated the best angle of pursuit. She glanced up once, and he could have sworn her gaze landed on the vintage blue Cadillac sedan parked at the far end. That would be Molly Chambers’ vehicle—and another indicator that his strange hunch was correct.
His pulse quickened. He was about to intercept Yuletide’s second most infamous escapee—one Rachel Chambers.
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.