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As music played and people danced in Margot Winslow’s living room, Anna Kent stood at the entrance to the dining room and focused her attention on the three newlywed couples in attendance tonight. Their happiness and love and the real-life heart eyes filled Anna with the warm and fuzzies. She was thrilled for three of her closest friends.
I want that.
Anna’s boss, Callie, had married Brandt Winslow this past summer; Taryn had eloped with Callie’s brother Garrett; and Raine had married Callie’s brother Keaton a little over a week ago. None of Anna’s friends had been looking for a boyfriend, yet love found them. Collided right into them, not literally, but close enough. Now each woman was happily married to the man of their dreams and living in Silver Falls.
Anna rubbed a spot of longing over her heart.
That’s exactly what I want.
To meet Mr. Right. To fall in love. To live happily ever after. She wanted to ask for a table for two instead of settling for a lone spot at the bar. She wanted to be loved for who she was.
Anna repeated the word like a mantra. She needed to be patient about finding the man of her dreams. She’d learned by watching her friends a relationship couldn’t be forced. It couldn’t be wished for or made to happen. Love happened when a person least expected it, so Anna was trying that—not expecting anything. Instead, she was waiting and hoping, leaving her dating and love life up to chance or fate or whatever else you wanted to call it.
She smiled at Mrs. Jones before making her way to the buffet table where appetizers and desserts had been set out.
Her time was coming. That first blush of attraction. The excitement of the first date. The falling into something more. The declaration of love. The full acceptance of her past.
Yep, he was out there waiting for her. Somewhere. She hoped somewhere in Silver Falls.
Silently, she repeated the word three more times.
Margot sashayed up to the table. She was in her early sixties, or rather, that was what Anna had heard, but Margot was young at heart with an enviable boho style few could pull off. As she shimmied to the beat of the music, the black and gold feather boa fluttered. “Why aren’t you dancing?”
“Thought I might check on Milo,” Anna said. “He took off with Rex, Autumn, and your dogs as soon as we arrived.”
“Sadie and Angus enjoy having friends over. Same as me.” Margot’s blue eyes twinkled. “Having fun tonight?”
“Once again, you’ve proven you’re Silver Falls’s hostess with the mostest.”
“Moi?” Margot tossed her boa. “Thank you. Get out on the dance floor. It’s almost midnight, and Flynn needs a partner.”
Anna’s muscles tightened. She would never move in on Pippa’s potential boyfriend. Besides, Anna wanted nothing to do with Flynn Andrews. Callie called her oldest brother the arrogant surgeon. She wasn’t wrong. But he was Margot’s family by marriage, so Anna needed to be polite about the jerk. “I…”
“Flynn’s with Pippa. The two were attached at the hip at Raine and Keaton’s wedding reception. And rumor has it they had dinner at the Falls Café the other night.”
“Yes, but after the dinner, they decided they were better off as friends. I’m not sure what happened, which is too bad.”
Too bad because Margot liked boasting about her matchmaking success stories. So far, the Andrews siblings had been her biggest successes. Only Flynn remained single.
“I haven’t heard that.” Then again, Anna had seen few people since the wedding. Callie had taken time off from Wags and Tails, the doggy daycare she owned and where Anna worked as a groomer, to spend time with family in town for the holidays. Anna had happily worked additional hours for her friend and boss.
“Let’s see what happens between them at midnight.” Anna managed not to snort at her own joke, which should earn her a gold star. Flynn Andrews—make that Dr. Flynn Andrews—didn’t seem like the kind of guy to go without a New Year’s kiss. And Pippa, the beautiful, willowy flower shop owner who loved the spotlight, was more of an ostentatious doctor’s type than Anna, who preferred to remain in the background where no one noticed her.
“Pippa left with Timmy.” Margot glanced over her shoulder. “Not sure if they’re friends or more, but Flynn’s here alone, and so are you.”
“He doesn’t like me.” The words rushed out like too much dog shampoo when the spout broke at the shop.
Margot smiled mischievously. “He doesn’t know you.”
Anna took a step back. “I’d rather he didn’t.”
Margot tilted her head with a questioning expression. “Why’s that, dear?”
Anna didn’t want to have this conversation. She liked Margot, even if the woman was nosy and thought she was some sort of superhero matchmaker. “I know he’s your nephew-in-law, but he’s…”
“What?” Margot pressed.
Anna glanced around to make sure no one was nearby. She leaned closer to Margot to keep from having to talk too loud since Callie was also her best friend and boss. “He’s cocky.”
“Yes, but surgeons… Doctors, in general, are like that.”
Margot didn’t sound upset. That was good, but still, Anna shrugged. “Not my type.”
“But he’s so handsome.”
She wasn’t wrong. It pained Anna to admit how attractive Flynn was with thick dark hair, piercing amber-green eyes, and camera-ready features. But those things weren’t enough to make her see beyond his sucky, stuck-up attitude. He didn’t even try to hide the fact he didn’t like Anna or Milo.
No, thank you. Especially since he appeared to be Margot’s new matchmaking project. Anna stopped herself from shuddering. Besides, she wasn’t convinced Pippa had moved on that easily. Timmy was younger than Pippa—not that age mattered. But he was still working his way through college while she owned a business on First Avenue. The two seemed more like friends than potential life partners. “Looks aren’t everything.”
“If you say so.” Margot grabbed a puffed pastry appetizer from a platter. “But don’t hide in the shadows. You’ve never been a wallflower, Anna Kent. So don’t start now. Go have fun with or without Flynn.”
“I will.” Never argue with Margot was an unwritten rule in Silver Falls. One Anna wouldn’t break.
Raine and Keaton approached holding hands. They were the definition of opposites but fit perfectly together.
Anna couldn’t help but think of relationship goals when she looked at them. “How was your mini honeymoon?”
Raine leaned into Keaton’s side. “Too short. I wish we could have stayed longer. But it was perfect and so romantic.”
The look of contentment on Raine’s face sent envy surging through Anna. It wasn’t the first time that had happened tonight. It wouldn’t be the last. She was truly happy for her friend—for all her friends—but Anna didn’t know how she would fit in with the lovey-dovey couples who wanted to spend all their time together. Their treasured girls’ nights might become the couples’ date nights.
Anna swallowed around the lump in her throat. “Leavenworth at Christmastime is like visiting a holiday movie set.”
She’d visited the German-themed town located west of Silver Falls a few times.
“It is.” Keaton toyed with the ends of Raine’s hair. “A film that takes place in Germany except everyone speaks English.”
Raine shook her head. “He tried speaking German, and everyone thought he was a tourist visiting the States for the holidays.”
“Wait. I thought you spoke Norwegian?” Anna asked Keaton.
“I do,” he answered. “But I speak other languages, too.”
“Remember, Callie calls him the brainy professor,” Raine teased.
Callie had names like that for each of her three brothers. But Keaton’s fit the best. In November, he’d been offered a job at Summit Ridge University. The new semester began next week. “Well, he is brainy and a professor so…”
Keaton bowed slightly. “Thanks, Anna.”
“I’m glad you guys could get away,” she added.
“Us, too.” Keaton brushed his lips over Raine’s head. “We’ll take a real honeymoon during spring break or the summer, depending on when Raine can get away from Tea Leaves and Coffee Beans.”
Raine giggled. “You really like saying the name of the coffee shop, don’t you?”
He shrugged, nonchalantly. “I like the way it rolls off the tongue. And it is where we met.”
Raine smiled at him, the heart eyes in full effect. “There’s no rush. We have plenty of time to take a honeymoon and the rest of our lives for vacations.”
If Raine wasn’t such a great friend, Anna might gag. “You’ll figure it out.”
Keaton nodded. “Margot’s been pushing for details.”
“She wants to take credit for us getting married,” Raine explained.
Anna laughed. “She’s been gloating since you got engaged. Her feet didn’t touch the ground on your wedding day.”
“I’m okay with that.” Raine glanced around as if looking for Silver Falls’s favorite matchmaker. “But Flynn better watch his back. I think he’s Margot’s next target.”
“No doubt.” Anna lowered her voice. “She wants me to dance with him tonight. He and Pippa seemed so tight at your wedding, but Margot told me they decided to be just friends.”
“Not surprising.” Keaton picked up a mini-cheesecake bite. “My brother doesn’t have time to sleep. All he does is work. Dating wouldn’t appeal to him.”
Raine nodded. “Pippa wants something serious. Timmy’s going to help her set up a profile on a new dating app.”
Mystery solved. And that made more sense than the two of them dating. “So that’s why they left early.”
Keaton laughed. “As Silver Falls turns. Everyone knows everyone’s business. Or if they don’t, they will tomorrow.”
“Yes,” Anna and Raine said in unison and then laughed.
Raine sipped eggnog from a glass on the table. “If Margot can’t play matchmaker with Flynn, she’ll set her sights on someone new.”
“Someone like you, Anna,” Keaton said.
“She gave up on me after Davis, but thanks for the warning.” Anna eyed a bite-sized brownie. So tempting, but she’d eaten enough sweets. “I need to check on Milo. He’s been quiet for too long, and that’s never a good sign.”
Anna wove her way through the crowd in the living room. Taryn and Garrett laughed with Callie and Brandt. Mrs. Jones straightened Mr. Jones’s collar. The Hurleys held hands. One couple after another. Robin Baxter, who also worked for Raine and was recently divorced, had stayed home with her two kids. Now that Pippa had left the party, Anna and Margot appeared to be the only single women there.
Weird. Or perhaps, this was Anna’s new normal, and she was destined to be a singleton her entire life. Her children would be fur babies, and she’d own a grooming salon someday.
Not a bad life.
Only not the one she’d dreamed about for so long.
Still, she didn’t regret her past decisions. She could’ve gone out with Davis Tucker again, but that didn’t mean they would have worked out when they wanted different things. Well, until he met the woman who became his new wife. He’d quickly changed his mind about what he wanted then.
Don’t think about him.
Anna hurried into the entryway. The music and conversations kept her from hearing any paw sounds or barks. The hallway doors were closed, and Margot would never lock the dogs in a room. They must be on the second floor.
She climbed the stairs.
Only one door was open. She peeked inside.
Milo, Rex, Autumn, Sadie, and Angus slept in the middle of a queen-sized bed. An adorable pile of pups. Two large, a medium sized, and two small ones.
Warmth flowed through Anna. She removed her phone from her pocket and snapped several photos to share with Callie, Raine, and Margot tomorrow.
“Hey,” a man’s voice called out.
She turned to face him.
Dr. Flynn Andrews, board-certified surgeon—as he liked to tell everyone—strode toward her. His hair bounced with each step. “Looking for the doctor in the house?”
His flirtatious tone was impossible to miss.
She fought the urge to roll her eyes. Anna might not like Flynn, but Callie, who was his sibling, and Taryn and Raine who were his in-laws, they were stuck with him. Anna needed to be civil. Since he lived in L.A., she wouldn’t have to deal with him much so that was a plus.
Anna motioned into the guest bedroom. “Looks like you’ll have company tonight.”
A puzzled expression crossed Flynn’s face. He peered around her.
And his jaw dropped. “What are those mutts doing on my bed? Especially your troublemaker.”
Milo got into his fair share of trouble, no sense denying the obvious, but Anna loved him unconditionally. “It’s Margot’s guest bed. And the door wasn’t shut. That’s an open invitation to dogs used to being on furniture and having the run of a house.”
He took a closer look and shrugged. “I guess they aren’t hurting anything.”
His stiff tone and posture were dead giveaways. “Not a dog lover?”
“We never had pets growing up. My dad’s allergic, and my parents were too busy with work and us. Though Callie’s Rex is cool, and Keaton’s Autumn is sweet.”
“You know, it’s never too late to get your first pet.”
“Not interested.” Flynn bit his lip. “In dogs, that is. Now you…I’ve been looking for you.”
He struck a casual pose against the doorframe that belonged in a high-fashion photo shoot.
“Why?” she asked.
“It’s New Year’s Eve.” He leaned forward. “Did you come with a plus-one?”
She drew back. “No.”
“Neither did I.” He pointed at himself and then at her. “We’re the only single people below the age of forty here—you know what that means?”
The expectant gleam in his eyes confused her. “What?”
He wagged his eyebrows. “You. Me. A kiss when the clock strikes midnight.”
She stared at him in disbelief. The guy didn’t want to kiss her. He didn’t like her. Or Milo. It wasn’t as if she liked him. The guy had bugged her the first time he stepped into Wags and Tails.
And then Anna remembered.
The Andrews brothers were a competitive lot. He must be after bragging rights or something. Most likely, he didn’t want to be the only one who didn’t get a kiss to start off the new year. But the idea of asking her…
Did he think she was desperate for a kiss because she didn’t have a boyfriend and was an easy target?
Her hands balled until her fingernails dug into her palms.
His mouth curved into a sexy grin. “Let’s go downstairs for the countdown.”
No doubt because he wanted his brothers to see him kiss a woman.
The arrogant surgeon was hot. But the guy knew he had looks and money and all the other things women were taught to value in a husband. What he didn’t possess was a thoughtful or humble bone in his body.
“I’m a great kisser.” Flynn pulled something rectangular from his pocket and held it out to her. “Breath mint?”
Even if she’d been tempted—a New Year’s kiss had been on her list—she wasn’t interested in kissing him.
“No, thanks.” Anna stared down her nose. “I hope you have a plan B for midnight. Because I’d rather kiss Milo.”
End of Excerpt