magic in the air,” Helen Krause said, leaning across the reception desk at the
Timberline Lodge to smile at Roland as he entered the inn.
Her husband of forty years stomped snow from his
boots onto one of the large red oval rugs that marked the entrance to the
lodge’s cozy lobby. Together they owned and operated the rustic lodge which sat
on the shores of Mirror Lake, in the quaint village of Lake Placid, New York, a
location that drew both local visitors and vacationers from all over the
“That’s not magic,” Roland replied, gazing at
her over the stack of freshly split hickory logs he carried. “That’s a storm.
Bad one. Much worse than they’d predicted. And comin’ sooner than they
“Last night’s weather report warned of only six
to eight inches and that it wouldn’t hit until late tomorrow night,” Helen said,
coming around the desk to relieve him of part of his bundle.
“Well, five minutes ago they predicted two to
three feet, startin’ now. Wind’s picked up and the snow’s comin’ down hard.”
He shook his head. “Crazy weather people. What other job allows you to be
wrong so often yet not get fired?”
“Mother nature loves to throw curve balls,”
Helen murmured, walking with Roland toward the roaring fire crackling in the
stone hearth. “So...looks like folks might be getting snowed in.”
“Oh, boy. I recognize that tone.” Roland
deposited the fragrant cut wood in the curved polished brass log holder then
held out his cold-reddened hands toward the dancing flame’s heat. Shooting her
a half indulgent, half exasperated look over the tops of his bifocals, he said,
“Now Helen, just because Christmas is less than a week away--“
“Don’t go getting any ideas in my head,” she
finished, peering right back at him over the top of her own bifocals. “Have you
noticed that we have this same conversation every year right around this time?”
“I suppose,” Roland admitted, sounding grumpy,
but the effect was ruined when his blue eyes twinkled at her.
“And do you know why we have this conversation
“I suppose. But just because folks have fallen
in love here at Christmastime in the past, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen
again this year.”
“Which is what you say every year, but you can’t
deny that romance somehow always strikes our holiday guests. I’m not sure if
it’s the snow, or the scent of pine from all the Christmas decorations, or the
winter wonderland setting, or something in the lodge itself.”
Roland turned toward her and drew her into his
arms. Even after all these years, her heart still skipped a beat. His once
thick dark hair was now mostly silver and mostly gone, and his ruddy skin bore
the signs of his sixty-four years and hard work, but to her, he was still the
handsomest man in the world. And the most wonderful. Not that there weren’t
times she’d been tempted to thunk him upside his head with a skillet--he was a
man after all and therefore frequently exasperating--but after forty years and
five children together, she still loved waking up next to him every morning.
“Uh, oh,” Roland said, pulling her closer, until
her reindeer decorated red sweater bumped against his green flannel shirt. “You
have that matchmaking gleam in your eye.”
“Hmmm. You seem to have a gleam in your eye as
“Probably because I’m standing under the
mistletoe with my best girl.”
“There’s no mistletoe right here...”
Her words trailed off when Roland pulled from
his pocket a twig of dark green leaves accented with small white berries and
waggled it over their heads.
“You were saying?” he murmured with a grin,
lowering his head toward hers.
After he’d treated her to a kiss that curled her
toes inside her sheepskin-lined boots, she leaned back in the circle of his
strong arms. “Goodness. I was saying you have a gleam in your eye,” she
managed, sounding as breathless as she felt. “Clearly I was right.”
“Not bad for an old guy, huh?” A devilish grin
creased his cheeks and he leaned down to nuzzle her neck. “You smell mighty
good, Mrs. Krause. Like sugar cookies and pine cones. And...” He breathed
deep and nibbled the sensitive bit of skin behind her ear. “Magic.”
“As I said, it’s in the air,” she murmured,
savoring the pleasurable tingles skittering down her spine.
“Every time I’m near you,” Roland agreed,
lifting his head to smile at her. Then his expression sobered. “But I don’t
want you gettin’ your hopes up that romance will bloom here this week and then
“Nonsense. We have a number of single guests
registered, you know. And all my ‘Christmas Magic’ senses are tingling.”
“That’s because I just kissed you.”
She laughed. “True. But that special holiday
magic is shimmering all around us, Roland. I can feel it. You mark my words:
before Christmas arrives, love will once again bloom at Timberline Lodge.”
Jessica Hayden gratefully absorbed the delicious
warmth emitting from the snapping fire which danced in the huge stone fireplace
in the lobby of the Timberline Lodge. She wasn’t certain how long it would take
Eric to get them registered, but after braving the two hour drive here--the last
few miles at a crawl due to the sudden heavy snowfall--then the snow and icy
temperatures on their walk across the parking lot, she didn’t mind lingering
near this heated coziness, at least for a few minutes. But more than thawing
out by the fire, she was anxious for her and Eric to get to their cabin, where
they’d generate their own heated coziness.
Which couldn’t happen soon enough for her.
God help her, she couldn’t wait to get her hands
on him. It had been so long...much too long, since they’d made love, and now
that their much-needed weekend was upon them, she was about ready to burst. The
stress and pressure and problems that had kept them apart and wrought havoc with
every aspect of their lives--including their love life--didn’t exist in this
rustic lodge. Here they would have the time and privacy to get themselves and
their relationship back on track.
She pulled off her gloves and her gaze rested on
the sparkling round diamond adorning her left hand. When Eric Breslin had
slipped the engagement ring on her finger four months ago, it had been the
happiest, most magical moment of her life. She loved him deeply and she’d
believed, they’d both believed, that everything was going to be perfect.
They’d both been dead wrong.
Everything was, in a word, a disaster.
Little had they known their engagement would
spark a family feud that made the legendary Hatfields and McCoys look like rank
amateurs. After much discussion, she and Eric had reached compromises regarding
the big issue of her managing Hayden’s--her family’s upscale restaurant in her
home town of Marble Falls--and Eric’s opening last year, less than a mile away,
a Chop House, a national restaurant chain known for excellent food at reasonable
prices. Even though Chop House was technically the competition--a fact that had
caused them some difficulties at the onset of their relationship--Jessica had
discovered that Eric was everything she’d ever wanted in a man.
She hadn’t believed in love at first sight until
she saw him. That first instant spark of attraction in the cheese aisle at her
favorite gourmet food shop had all but fried her where she stood. The fact that
he’d chosen her favorite Brie and knew the subtle differences between Gorgonzola
and Stilton had piqued her interest. They struck up a conversation and by the
time they made it to the wine aisle she knew, in her heart, he was The One. And
the next six months had only proven her correct.
He was kind, loving, patient, honorable, and
generous. He made her laugh. Made her happy. Sure, he had his faults--but
hey, what man didn’t leave his socks on the floor and coffee cups all over the
place? Growing up with older four brothers, she didn’t let silly little “guy
things” bother her. And best of all, Eric loved her as much as she loved him.
Unfortunately, their families mixed about as
well as oil and water. Jessica’s mother and four over-protective brothers
considered Eric not only business competition, but looked down on his franchise
restaurant, considering it sub par in comparison to Hayden’s. Marc, Andy,
Robbie, and Carl all glared at Eric at every opportunity, resenting both his
opening the restaurant and him “stealing” their little sister, whom they
ridiculously felt was way too good for him.
To make matters worse, Jessica’s mother had
dreamed about her only daughter’s wedding since the day she’d finally given
birth to a girl after four sons. Maybe, just maybe, Carol Hayden could have
gotten over the fact that Jessica was marrying “the competition,” but she simply
could not accept that Eric’s sister Kelley--who was more like his mother since
she’d raised him and their two younger sisters after their parent’s death when
Eric was twelve--was a wedding planner. A very successful wedding planner whose
recent clients included an Olympic gold medalist, a daytime television actress,
and a state senator’s daughter.
Kelley had very definite ideas about her only
brother’s wedding. Ideas that did not in any way mesh with Jessica’s mother’s
ideas for her only daughter’s wedding. Indeed, Carol Hayden viewed Kelley’s
expertise as a threat to her own plans for Jessica’s wedding. Toss into that
volatile mix Eric’s sisters’ resentment toward Jessica’s family for looking down
their noses at their beloved brother, and the entire situation was as explosive
as a powder keg piled next to an open flame.
Holy family feud.
The bickering had spilled over onto Jessica and
Eric’s relationship, even into the bedroom where they hadn’t even ventured
during the last several weeks. These last four months, instead of being joyous,
had brought them both to the breaking point. They desperately needed this long
weekend away from the relentless pressure and arguing, needed this time alone,
to put their relationship back on track. To re-ignite their currently
non-existent sex life. To recapture the magic that had surrounded them right
from the beginning. And they would. They had to. Because the alternative--not
being together, not sharing their lives--was a concept she simply couldn’t wrap
her mind around.
Yet there had been times since they’d announced
their engagement when she wondered if they’d actually be able to rescue
themselves from the relentless quicksand they’d stumbled into and make that walk
down the aisle together. She wanted to marry him, wanted to spend her life with
him. But...how could she ignore all the shrapnel hitting them from the family
feud fallout? And even though he’d never said so, she knew Eric wondered, too.
And she couldn’t help but wonder--and worry--that he’d grow so disgusted with
the whole situation, he’d just walk away.
Well, she couldn’t wonder any more. She needed
to know. She loved Eric. Knew he loved her. But, as she’d unfortunately
learned over the past four months, the adage that sometimes love isn’t enough
was sadly true. She also knew, in her heart, that this weekend was going to
either make them or break them. Certainly it would result in some drastic
changes because they simply couldn’t go on any longer the way they were. For
the past four months she and Eric had tried to keep everyone happy and the
result was that no one was happy. Something had to give.