Christmas of Love
SWEET Long Valley Romance Novella - Book 5
Coming November 2017, Christmas of Love is the fifth novella in the Long Valley world, although all books in the Long Valley world can be read as standalones. This is the “sweet” version of the book, which means on a heat scale of 1 - 5, it is probably around a 1.5 or so. If you are interested in the “swexy” version (sweet + sexy), please check out the other listing for this book. Either way, enjoy!
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Well, this party was exactly as exciting as Ivy McLain thought it was going to be.
Which was to say, not very exciting at all.
Of course, this was Sawyer, Idaho. What else could she expect?
She sighed. Only this, unfortunately. A bunch of old farmers, standing around and jawing about how their crops didn’t bring in enough money and there wasn’t enough water this past year, or maybe there was too much water, and the combine broke down in the field again...
It was enough to make Ivy’s head hurt. Why people intentionally chose to live this way was beyond her. Especially the cold part. She shivered, pulling her woefully inadequate jacket tighter around herself. Ugh. A little over two weeks before Christmas in Sawyer freakin’ Idaho. She should be grateful it wasn’t snowing, but she couldn’t find it in herself to be that saintly.
It was too cold to be grateful or saintly.
Her mom looked up from her discussion with Mrs. Frank about plans for next year’s garden, and waved. Ivy smiled as cheerfully as she could – which was to say, not cheerfully at all – and huffed out a breath. If she didn’t love her parents so much, she never would’ve made herself come back here. Thank heavens it was just a weekend visit. To actually live in Sawyer again…
Another shiver ran through her – from disgust or cold, she couldn’t tell – and spun on her heel to head towards the refreshment table. She’d make herself some hot cocoa and—
“Ooff!” she gasped, when she ran into a brick wall.
She looked up to see...
Well, the cutest brick wall she’d ever laid eyes on. The phrase “tall, dark, and handsome” was definitely appropriate. Thick brown hair just long enough to run her fingers through, and the most piercing emerald green eyes she’d ever had the pleasure to see. Whiplash quick, he reached out a hand to steady her, gripping her elbow to keep her upright.
“Howdy,” he said, pushing his cowboy hat a little further up on his head. In his hand was a mug of mulled apple cider.
An empty mug of mulled apple cider, because she’d spilled it all over him with her clumsiness.
The world froze as she realized what she’d done. Darn it all, she was a waitress! She knew how to navigate in tight spots. What on earth was she doing, running people over like that? A painful silence stretched between them, a chasm as she stared at the damage she’d wreaked.
And then the dam broke, and the words came tumbling out.
“So sorry!” she said gasped, looking at his jacket, covered in a brown liquid that was now dripping off onto the frozen ground. “So, so sorry. I wasn’t watching where I was going and then you were there and…let me help clean you up. It’s the least I can do.” Not waiting for his response, she began dragging him towards the refreshment table, thankfully only a few feet away. She’d get him cleaned up and on his way, and then she’d run and hide in her parent’s broom closet.
Preferably for the next year or so.
“No worries!” he said with a low chuckle as he hurried along behind her. She stopped abruptly at the table and began grabbing the paper towels. “This jacket needs to be dry cleaned anyway,” he continued. “Kept meaning to take it on over to the Wash ’N Spin, but haven’t had—”
Which is when she started patting his face dry, and he had to shut up. Darn it, darn it, darn it. She’d gotten apple cider everywhere. How on earth did she get it on his earlobe?! She was patting him dry and trying really hard to ignore his strong jaw covered with just a light dusting of dark brown hair and green eyes and–
Just get this done already, Ivy!
Her pats were coming a little slower, though, as she got caught up in his gaze. They were only inches apart from each other, and sure, her hands were filled with dirty paper towels, and sure, his jacket was sticky to the touch from the cider, but in that moment?
None of that mattered.
All she could do was stare at him. She caught her lower lip between her teeth, her breath uneven.
“My name is Austin Bishop,” he said, breaking the silence between them. “And yours is?”
She probably should’ve thought to introduce herself before she put her hands all over his body, but better late than never, right?
“Ivy McLain,” she said, proud that she could get her name out at all. She sounded breathless, but she was breathless, so there wasn’t much to be done about that.
“I thought you looked like Iris,” he said, with what was possibly the cutest grin she’d ever seen on a man’s face.
“People say I look like her,” Ivy said with a shrug, happy to note that her voice didn’t sound quite as breathless as it had before. “I don’t see it, personally.”
“You don’t see…” His voice trailed off and he cocked an eyebrow at her in disbelief. “You two could be twins,” he said bluntly.
Ivy threw back her head and laughed. It was sweet of him to say it, of course. And she wasn’t going to be coy and demure and say that it wasn’t true – even though it really wasn’t – in an attempt to get him to give her more compliments.
But everyone knew that Iris was the prettier of the two, and there was no use pretending otherwise.
“So why the plant names?” Austin asked after her chuckles had died down a bit. His gaze was as intense as ever, like he was trying to memorize every curve, every freckle, every laugh wrinkle on her face. It was disconcerting to have someone look at her so…intently.
She tried not to read too much into it, though. He probably looked at everyone that way.
She shrugged. “My parents wanted us girls to remember ‘our roots,’ so they named us after plants. Mostly what ended up happening was they couldn’t keep our names straight. I kid you not – I thought my name was Iris-Ivy for the longest time.”
He chuckled, and a warmth spread through her that belied the brisk winter temperatures. She wanted to lean into him again, but this time, not be blotting up spilled apple cider. She wanted—
“Oh, there you are!”
The voice cut through the cold air like a whip – slicing through Ivy’s heart and sending spasms of pain through her. No, not her. She can’t be here! Iris promised me she wouldn’t invite—
And then Tiffany was draping herself over Austin, practically climbing up his side. Tiffany sent Ivy a sickeningly sweet smile that didn’t even vaguely reach her eyes, as she looked her up and down. Dismissing her, Tiffany turned back to Austin. “I didn’t realize you’d be here, darlin’,” she cooed. “I tried calling you about going to the ice skating show tomorrow night, but you didn’t answer.” She ran her fingers up his chest and to his face, bopping him on the nose playfully. If she was going to get any closer to him, she’d have to strip naked to do it.
Ivy began backing up, mumbling something that could’ve been, “Have a good time,” or “Good food tonight,” or “I hope you eat bugs and die…”
Really, it was quite mumbled, and even she wasn’t sure what she said, and then she was spinning on her heel and heading towards the house, the dirtied paper towels still in her hands. She began wringing them in her hands as she walked.
“Austin and Tiffany?” she muttered under her breath as she stalked, blinded by rage as she went. “Tiffany?!” She could forgive him for anyone but Tiffany.
Okay, maybe not Ezzy, either.
But anyone but Tiffany or Ezzy, she could understand. But those two…they just didn’t seem his type.
Not that she knew his type. She barely knew his name. But floozy, awful girls didn’t seem like they should be anyone’s type, if you asked her.
Not that anyone had, of course.