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Grant Reed’s cell pinged. Juggling the coffee and pastry box he was carrying, he stopped his trek down Warren Avenue and dug the phone out of his pocket.
“Someone promised me coffee. Should I come get it?”
Texting with one hand wasn’t one of his better skills, but he managed. “Haha. On my way.”
Despite the clear sky overhead, a chilly December breeze slipped inside his coat. It was all good, because Christmas in Angel Point had a special smell—pine mixed with cinnamon and nutmeg—almost as sweet as his newest creation, an apple fritter decorated with white holiday frosting that looked something like a clumsy snowflake. He wanted his best friend to be the first to give him an opinion.
As usual though, when he got to the Attic, a building made of brick with a large picture window, the front door was locked. Faith had forgotten to leave the door open for him. He knocked on the glass and turned to survey the shops along the avenue.
Christmas decorations were starting to go up. Ginger Murray was on the same block, decorating the doorway to her coffeehouse with pine boughs wrapped in lights and red bows. She waved. He lifted the coffee he’d brought for Faith in a friendly salute. Other merchants farther down the way were also decorating for Angel Point’s favorite holiday.
When he turned back, Faith still hadn’t responded to his knock. He retrieved his cell and texted, “You are my first stop, but if you don’t let me in, I’ll take my Christmas cheer elsewhere. Mrs. Burroughs, next on the list, never turns down one of my pastries.”
Erica Burroughs owned Secondhand Dresses on the next block south of Faith’s. He put the elder shop owner on his mental list of possible customers who might enjoy a personal delivery from Santa or his helper.
The bribe worked. As quick as Santa’s wink, Faith was there, unlocking the door. He accepted the silent invitation as she let him in out of the cold and took the coffee cup he offered.
“I see how this is going, Faith Hathaway. The price of admission is a threat to give away your food.”
“I’m sorry, Grant. I got a box of Christmas snow globes yesterday and was making room for them in the display case. I can’t help it if I got sidetracked by how beautiful this batch is.”
Faith, a little flustered, was so dang cute. Just telling him about snow globes made her brown eyes sparkle. Her long blond hair was pulled into a ponytail that cascaded down her back nearly to her waist. She wore a soft rose, vintage-style dress that clung to all the right places—places that weren’t appropriate for a friend to notice.
Shaking off the momentary lapse, he followed her into the warmth of her shop. A glass display case sat in the middle of the store, directly in front of the door. She was right. The Christmas globes were something special to behold.
She eyed the pastry box in his hands. “So, what have you brought for me?”
“I’m calling it a Christmas fritter.” He shrugged, a little smug as he handed her the container.
Opening the box, she held it close to her face and, closing her eyes, breathed in. “Oh. My. Word. It smells heavenly.”
Now that was what he called success. From the look on her face, he’d hit a home run. “Taste it.”
Eyes open now and bright with anticipation, she broke off a piece, put the bite in her mouth, and hummed softly as she chewed.
“I take it you like my latest creation?” he asked, laughing.
“Like it? Heck no. I love it!” She broke off another piece and stopped just before shoving the morsel in her mouth. “Not only do I love it, I think this fritter is the best pastry you’ve ever made.”
That was high praise from a girl who professed to love anything he conjured up in the pastry department.
“I’m glad you like it.”
“Love it!” she corrected him emphatically.
While she practically inhaled the rest of the fritter, he grabbed the shipping box she’d been unpacking and finished the job for her, placing the snow globes with the others on top of the display case.
“I wish my publisher were as enthusiastic as you are. They seem interested in another cookbook but not necessarily another Christmas book. To quote my editor, Rachel Barret . . . it’s overdone. They’re looking for something more outside of the box that will appeal to a larger audience than the typical holiday cooking crowd.”
Faith licked her fingers. “Well, I think they’d be crazy not to publish a cookbook with this fritter on the cover.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence. I just have to convince Rachel I can give her a cookbook that Christmas lovers will buy.”
He set aside the empty box and leaned against the counter, watching as Faith arranged the globes on the glass shelves to her satisfaction. He picked up the nearest one, a Christmas tree with a bright silver star on top. A couple dressed in old-fashioned clothes, holding hands, skated in front of the tree. He shook the globe until miniature snowflakes floated around the tree and skaters.
Faith looked up and grinned at him. “Maybe what you need is to give her a marketing proposal she can’t turn down.”
He returned the globe to its place on the glass counter. “What are you thinking?”
“Look, you’ve been talking about doing a cooking tutorial for YouTube for a while. I’m no business guru, but what if you propose a series of videos featuring different Christmas pastries to go along with your pitch for the cookbook?” She parked her hands on her hips. “You can teach viewers how to make a different sweet treat each week and at the same time, build followers. I’d definitely watch those videos.”
His mind started percolating. A YouTube series, even one video, would be a quite an undertaking for a guy who was handier in the kitchen than he was on a computer. He could use a cell phone and Google if that was the only option he had.
If he was hearing Faith correctly, he’d have to learn how to do a full-blown marketing pitch that would appeal to more than a half a dozen viewers. Then he’d have to upload it to YouTube. Given enough time to research the process, it was probably doable.
It took him a minute to clue into what else she said. “What do you mean, you’re not a business guru? Grandma told me your granddad says you’ve practically turned this place around since you took over.”
Faith stood back to survey the display. “See, that’s what was really cool about living in New York City. Outside of my close circle of friends, no one knew my business.”
“It’s true. Everyone knows what’s going on here, but you have to admit, Angel Point is a great little town.”
She laughed. It was a nice sound; one he’d come to look forward to. “I can’t fight you on that.”
“Where do you want this?” He picked up the empty box after stuffing the packing material inside.
“In the storeroom with the other boxes.”
When he came back, he found Faith dusting shelves. “When are you going to decorate for the holidays?”
“Sometime this week.” She continued cleaning the nearest aisle.
“You don’t sound excited.”
She started on the next row. “I guess I’m not.”
“Good things don’t happen at Christmas. My parents moved to Kauai to start their own coffee company just before Christmas, three years ago. They haven’t been back for the holiday since. I don’t get to see them much, since I’m usually working too. Have you ever tried to celebrate Christmas without at least a hint that snow is coming?”
She sighed heavily.
“I can see how that would be a problem.” He smirked instead of patting her arm. “Just because half the country has a sunny Christmas instead of a white one . . .”
“I know, it’s a silly reason not to just jump on a plane and go visit.”
He started to reach out anyway but stopped himself just in time. From the way she kept her gaze on her duster, he had a feeling she wouldn’t appreciate anything resembling sympathy. Still, he couldn’t dismiss the feeling there was more.
She took a long time responding, which made him suspect she was keeping secrets. Well, didn’t everyone? Still, secrets between good friends weren’t conducive to a long friendship. “Come on, Faith. Spill.”
Her lips twisted wryly. She briefly stuck out her tongue at him, almost making him laugh. She finally gave in. “My fiancé broke up with me last Christmas. At our engagement party. He said I wasn’t what he wanted. Three months later, he was engaged, and by summer, they were married and pregnant.”
That quickly, he didn’t care one soft bagel if she would turn down his sympathy. He placed a consoling hand on her shoulder. “I’m so sorry. What a jerk.”
“Right? But that’s life.” She plastered a bright smile on her face. “No biggie. It happens. He just wasn’t the right guy for me.”
Shrugging, she went back to her dusting. Grant lifted an antique wall clock so she could clean underneath. “Well . . . since this is the first Christmas in Angel Point for the both of us, what we need to do is make it the best holiday ever.”
“You can try,” she allowed, her tone still a little stiff.
“Challenge accepted.” He winked at her. “In fact, as your friend, I’ll bet you a cup of coffee—not made from beans from Hawaii—that I can make you fall in love with Angel Point’s version of Christmas.”
“You think so?”
“I know so. Do you want to start by seeing the new Christmas play Belle Chartress is putting on at The Old Town Playhouse?”
Faith put away the duster, grabbed her coffee, and snickered. The light sound caught his attention as she headed for the seating area she’d made by putting different pieces of furniture together haphazardly in front of the fireplace on the near side of the shop.
“Just so happens, you’re looking at the costume designer for that play, so it doesn’t count.”
“Huh. I’ll come up with something better, then.”
“I don’t know if you can, but be my guest,” she said, her tone suggesting she had no faith in his ability to prove that Christmas in Angel Point was magical. Settling into an old-fashioned side chair, she cradled her coffee cup in both hands. “Belle’s calling the play A Christmas Carol in Angel Point. In her version, the story is about Eleanor Scrooge.”
He glanced around Faith’s stock. She certainly had a lot of clothing on her racks. “I can understand why she hired you. Eleanor . . . that’s a clever take on the classic.” He was due back at the bakery, but Grant couldn’t help a little personal trespassing first. Grabbing a seat across from her, he waggled his brows so she wouldn’t take offense. “I thought you gave up your costume designing gig when you moved here from New York.”
From what Faith had told him, she’d had a very successful career working as a costume designer on Broadway. The list of shows she’d mentioned was impressive. Then her grandfather tripped over his cat, a gray and black tabby named Oscar, while emptying a box of china, and broke his leg. She’d dropped everything to come take care of him.
When Stuart was better, he’d convinced her he really wanted to retire. So she’d bought him out and had been working to get Faith’s Attic out of the red ever since.
“I did, but when Belle first told me about the play—that she was writing an adaptation of A Christmas Carol—I couldn’t say no.”
“Who could?” he agreed.
“Right?” She crossed her ankles, and the fabric of her rose dress settled gently around her calves. She could certainly pull off the midcentury look like nobody’s business. “Belle and I already have most of the costumes picked out, so as we get closer to the play’s opening, I’ll work here during the day and at the Playhouse a couple of evenings a week.”
Humor sparked in her dark eyes. “Not really sure when you can show me the best of Angel Point’s Christmas.”
“I’ll work something out, don’t you worry,” he promised.
Oscar, purring a mile a minute, wound around Grant’s feet. He reached down to scratch the cat’s head. “So that’s why you and Belle have been having so many girls’ nights out. Wait. Did you tell me you were working on a play a while back?”
Her delighted laugh took him by surprise. It wasn’t supposed to. “I don’t tell you everything I do, Grant Reed. Besides, Belle wanted to keep the play under wraps while she finished writing the script and securing actors.”
All right, then. Mostly to change the subject, he asked, “How’s your granddad doing?”
Faith’s grandfather was a huge fan of his grandma’s cupcakes. It wasn’t unusual to see him in the bakery several times a week getting his favorite, carrot cake.
“He’s fine.” She pushed loose strands of her long hair behind one ear, pulling the tail over the opposite shoulder. Her brows knit together. “He seems to be enjoying retirement, but I think he wishes he was still working. I told him to come here whenever he wants. He won’t hear of it. Says he doesn’t want to get in my way.”
“Retirement can be hard. My grandma won’t even talk about it. He may change his mind and decide to come back to work.”
“Maybe. It would be okay with me. I’d love to have his company,” she said softly, then shot Grant a grin that erased her frown.
Across the room, a faint beam of sunlight found the snow globe that Grant had seen earlier. It lit up the miniature tree and skaters. In the sudden quiet, the star on top of the tiny tree seemed to wink at him with a bright sparkle.
He rose, crossed to the counter, and picked up the globe. “I think I’ll take this one off your hands.”
“Good choice. It’s one of my favorites.”
The silver bell over the door tinkled. Turning, he was greeted by the sight of a very pretty, dark-haired, green-eyed woman wrapped in a long, red wool coat and a red-and-blue plaid scarf.
The lady’s searching gaze passed over Grant. “I’m looking for Faith Hathaway?” Her voice was low and musical. “I’m told she works here.”
His pulse took notice. Without looking away, he raised his voice slightly. “Faith, you have a visitor.”
She rose and came toward them. “Tara, hi.”
“You ladies know each other?” It was stupid to ask the obvious, but all of a sudden, for no good reason, he had scrambled brain.
Faith’s brows rose. “We worked together on a few plays in New York. Grant Reed, this is Tara Kelley. She’s a very talented stage actor on Broadway.”
“Now, Faith, don’t exaggerate.” Tara gave a small laugh and turned briefly to Grant. “Faith was the best costume designer in Manhattan. No one could believe she left us for a small town in Oregon. We all miss her. She always made it so easy to get into character.”
He looked from Tara to Faith—raised his brow at her, which she conveniently ignored—and back to Tara. Faith wouldn’t be friends with just anybody. It might be nice, if the chance came up, to get to know Tara better.
“Well, ladies, I’ve got to get back to the bakery.” Grinning, he headed for the door. “It was nice to meet you, Tara Kelley from New York.”
He waved as he went out and was a block away before realizing he’d left the snow globe behind, dang it. For a second there, before Tara came into the store, it seemed to be speaking to him.
Grant shrugged. He could pick up the globe from Faith another time. Right now, he really needed to get back to work.
Maybe it would start his holiday season off on the right foot if Ms. Kelley dropped into the bakery too.
End of Excerpt