Mistletoe Kisses Episode 1
A Homecoming Surprise
Hello, dear reader. You are receiving this free serialized Christmas story as a gift from me to thank you for being one of my VIP readers.
This is the first episode. There will be four more. These are raw, unedited chapters just for fun. There will no doubt be errors, typos, and such, but again, it’s for fun and a tiny gift to you from me with love. I hope you enjoy Mistletoe Kisses and will let me know with a like, comment, share, or restack!
One - A Homecoming Surprise
The bakery's doorbell announced the arrival of a customer. I ran from the back, flour dusting my apron, ready to assist with a warm smile.
The comforting and familiar scent of baking cookies filled the air, but there was nothing comforting about the surprise that walked through the door.
Caspian Reynolds, known to the world as the Bad Boy Billionaire, had returned to Evergreen. The same Cas who had left me heartbroken at eighteen and questioning everything I thought I knew about love.
I couldn't help but gape as he stopped inside the door, the cold December wind following on his heels. His tall, imposing figure, clad in a stylish, charcoal gray overcoat, dominated the cozy space. His dark hair was perfectly disheveled, and his intense gaze swept across the cheery yellow walls, cafe tables, and assorted Christmas decorations.
Closing my mouth and smoothing my apron, I forced a smile back on my face. After all this time, how was it that his presence could still leave me speechless?
His intense blue eyes landed on me, roaming my face and then dropping to my lips. “Sarah.”
Hearing my name in his deep baritone sent shivers down my spine. My traitorous, racing pulse made it a challenge to keep my composure. “Cas.” It came out a bit high-pitched. I cleared my throat. “Welcome home. I’m sorry it’s under these circumstances.”
He gave a soft grunt and tore his gaze from mine. “You’re running this place?”
“Mom and Dad still have a hand in things, and Caleb works four days a week.” My parents, who’d started the bakery before I was born, were out of town seeing yet another specialist for Dad's heart problem. He'd seen three in the past year, and so far, none of the medications they'd offered had helped. A pacemaker appeared to be his last option, but the hospital bills were piling up. At least, they'd be home for Christmas—I hoped.
My brother was covering the afternoon shift so I could bug out and finalize the tree lighting preparations. Claudia Reynolds, Cas’ grandmother, had been the town’s biggest supporter and president of the Christmas Committee. Her sudden passing had left a lot of holes. Holes I was determined to fill. “I’m so sorry about Claudia. She was such a cheerleader for our town and a good friend to our family.”
His shoulders tensed. He ran a hand through his hair, focusing on a picture from the 70s of the bakery’s grand opening that hung over one of the cafe tables. “I never understood what she saw in this town.”
My pride and love for our citizenry welled up in me. “We may not be big like New York City, but Evergreen is special. We have a tight-knit community and traditions that have been passed down for generations. Claudia knew how rare and important that kind of place is. I would think you’d know it, too.”
A muscle in his jaw jumped. He strode to the case, eyeing the pastries. “She felt like she belonged, unlike some of us.” He pointed to the last two raspberry turnovers. “I’ll take those. To go.”
Losing his parents before he was a toddler, his grandmother had taken him in. He’d been a wild child, testing her patience and seeming to revel in rebelling against everyone and everything. My family, who lived next door, had done what we could to befriend him and support her. It had been no easy task.
As I packaged the pastries, I couldn't help but steal a glance at the kitchen. The batch of Mistletoe Kisses cookies were nearly done. Claudia claimed the recipe was magical, and I hoped it was true. The bakery was on the brink of financial disaster, thanks to a bad investment my dad had made two years ago, and I needed something extraordinary to reinvigorate it for the holidays.
Cas' eyes narrowed, and he inhaled deeply. Did he know that his grandmother had given me her secret family recipe? “What are you baking?"
What if he demanded the recipe back? I hesitated, torn between sharing the truth and keeping it to myself. “Christmas cookies, what else? Tis the season, you know. How long are you in town?”
His brow furrowed. “Trying to get rid of me already?”
Maybe. I added a flyer of the town's holiday events to his bag. “There’s nothing better than Christmas in Evergreen. I hope you’ll take time to enjoy it and honor your grandmother’s legacy. She’d like that.”
He paused a minute, looking more like the young man I’d fallen in love with as he stared down at the tops of his expensive loafers. He was a brilliant entrepreneur who’d left everything—including me—to amass a fortune in the tech industry. “Too late to make her happy now. As soon as I have the arrangements in place to sell off her house, rental properties, and possessions, I’ll be done with Evergreen for good.”
My chest tightened. Our worlds were too different, and the divide between us was impossible to bridge. Worse, this building was one of Claudia's many downtown properties. Investors had been trying to buy them from her for years in order to knock them down and put in a spa, of all things. It would be the final nail in the bakery's coffin. "Why not hire a property manager for the rentals? They're a good investment."
He gave me a speculative look. "I don't need the money, nor the hassle."
How could I convince him otherwise?
The doorbell jingled with his exit and the oven timer went off. The first batch of Mistletoe Kisses was done. Even if I couldn't pay off the loan from the bank or stop Cas from kicking us out and putting this wonderful old building on the market, I could at least bake cookies and bring a touch of Christmas wonder to a town that had lost its cheerleader.
It was the only thought that kept me from breaking down and having a good cry. Not only over the potential threat to the only life I'd ever known but to the loss of a great woman.
Little did I know that Cas' return would set in motion a chain of events that would change both of our lives, as well as the heart of Evergreen, forever.
Episode Two - Unwelcome Memories releases next Wednesday. Watch your inbox for it!