Jacob Marston, Starlight, Iowa's hometown hero made a long-ago promise to the Lord: he won't kiss a woman until he knows she's "the one." Now at age twenty-eight, the rugged firefighter questions if it'll ever happen. Then, he meets his best friend's sister, and Jake believes he's found the woman of his dreams. But what will she think when she discovers his vow?
When Julia makes an unexpected confession on Christmas Day, Jake shares his secret with her, and it looks as though happily-ever-after will make a holiday appearance.
But somehow, everyone in the tiny town of Starlight learns Jake’s secret, and he's instantly transformed from town hero to laughingstock. Did Julia reveal his secret? Can Jake forget the humiliation and find his way under the mistletoe to share a forever kiss with Julia?
Where will you end up?
Applying pressure to the stuffed bear’s eye, Jake counted under his breath and waited for the glue to set. The guys in the firehouse would tease him if they knew, but he always said a prayer for the kid who’d get one of these fix-it projects. This teddy bear, like most of the dolls, animals, or toys from Starlight’s Christmas drive, had been “gently” loved—another way of saying the previous owner held no special affinity for it. Satisfied the plastic eye was secure, Jake relaxed his grip and placed the bear on the shelf next to the train set, model car, and sock monkey he’d repaired, painted, or patched. His shoulders ached from hunching over the desk the past couple of hours, but it was worth it.
The doorbell rang, loud in the quiet of the century-old family home. Darting a quick glance at his watch, Jake grimaced at the pain radiating through his lower back as he rose to his feet—a none-too-subtle reminder of his on-the-job fall a couple of weeks ago. Not enough to warrant short-term disability but sufficient to give him plenty of grief. His heating pad was his constant companion when he climbed into bed every night. Maybe he should get a dog. The affection, plus the added warmth, sure would be nice. A big, furry canine would be the perfect, loyal companion. Merry Christmas to me.
After hobbling through the foyer, Jake switched on the outside light and took a quick peek through the beveled glass oval on the front door. The oversized Christmas bulbs strung along the bottom of the porch roof formed a cornucopia of vibrant color, an iridescent halo, behind Dylan’s head. Jake couldn’t resist his grin as he opened the door. “To what do I owe this honor, Sergeant Sinclair?”
“Sorry I didn’t call, buddy, but I didn’t want to give you the opportunity to turn me down.” Dylan waved a hand to a far corner of the covered porch. “I brought my sister for reinforcement. Julia, come meet Captain Jake Marston, Starlight’s resident wounded hero.”
He squinted in the dim light, wondering why Dylan felt the need to introduce him that way. Dressed in a red flannel shirt, jeans and heavy socks, Jake shivered when a gust of bitter wind blew the door open wider. “Come on inside and get warm,” he said loud enough for Julia to hear.
After reattaching a drooping section of bulbs, she turned. “All better now.”
“She’s used to saying that,” Dylan said. “Julia’s a pediatric nurse over in Cedar Rapids.”
“I also know how to keep impertinent patients in line, and you remind me of some of them. Be good, brother.” Shoving her mitten-covered hands in the pockets of her down jacket, she walked across the porch in their direction.
This is Julia? For whatever reason, Jake’s mental picture of Dylan’s kid sister was stuck way in the past—a gawky teenager with a mouth full of metal. That preconceived image paid her no justice whatsoever. Taller than most women, she was slender without being skinny. A white cap covered her head but dark, wispy bangs escaped, tousled by the wind. Even in the dim light, her eyes were bright. Could be a reflection of the porch light, but no…there was definite sparkle.
“It’s nice to finally meet you, Julia. Thanks for…taking care of my bulbs.” Jake ignored Dylan’s smirk of amusement at that inane comment. He could handle talking to kids, but women proved a daunting challenge. Great. He’d already wedged his size twelve foot in his mouth. If they taught a class at the church—or sponsored a support group—for clueless single men on how to hold a conversation with a woman, he’d be the first to sign up. His bumbling and often idiotic statements would make him the star pupil, or at least a living, breathing example of what not to say when it came to social graces.
“Happy to help,” Julia said with a shy smile, stepping into the front foyer.
Dylan brushed past him, giving him a light pat on his not-so-banged-up left shoulder. “How ya holdin’ up? A word of advice,” he said, lowering his voice to a whisper, “don’t say anything about Julia’s fiancé. Touchy subject with her.”
Jake closed the door. “Wouldn’t think of it.”
Headed straight for the staircase—with its handrails and balusters hand carved by Jake’s great-grandfather, the original Jacob Marston—Dylan grabbed the jacket hanging on the knob. “Come on. It’s time to get you out of the mausoleum. We’ve got some holiday do-gooding to do.”
Jake quirked a brow. “If that’s your misguided way of convincing me to go out in below-freezing temperatures, you should know better.” Getting to know Julia was an appealing option, but he was tired. What he needed was a good, long soak in the tub, but no way would he ever admit that to another man, especially Dylan. He gestured to the shelf displaying his recent handiwork. “I’ve already put in my time tonight.”
“You need to recirculate among the land of the living and end this self-imposed exile.” Dylan mock-shivered and darted a wary glance at the toys lined up on the shelf. “Those dolls give me the creeps. It’s like they’re following me with their eyes.”
“Reason number one to stop watching silly movies.” Silky dark hair tumbled halfway down her back as Julia removed her cap. Peeling off her mittens, she smoothed flyaway strands away from her cheeks.
Jake found it difficult not to stare. Dylan’s sister was stunning and hands-down the most beautiful woman ever to grace his front foyer. No wonder he couldn’t talk to women. Even his thoughts were harebrained. Rubbing his hand over his jaw, he regretted not shaving since yesterday morning.
“First thing you should know about me is that I don’t always share my wayward brother’s opinion,” Julia said. “I’m sorry you were hurt, Jake, but from what I hear, you saved a beloved family dog and risked a lot.”
Jake’s pulse raced at the compliment. “Thanks. Just doing my job. I’ll live.”
Her perusal encompassed the living room before moving back to the front foyer and staircase. “This house has so much character. I imagine it holds fascinating stories. How old is it?”
Eyes the color of warm sapphires met Jake’s, momentarily stealing his breath. Digging deep, he found his voice. “It’s over a hundred years old. My great-grandfather, Jacob, built it as a wedding gift for his bride.”
“How romantic.” Julia ran her hand over the smooth, rich oak of the handrail. “That makes it even more special. Did you grow up here?”
“Pretty much. I spent a lot of weekends and holidays in this house. My grandparents lived here until they moved to a smaller place when I was ten. That’s when we moved in.”
“So many people have gotten away from tradition and family, but it means everything.” Her tone sounded wistful. “I’m sure a house this old requires a lot of upkeep, but it’s also a labor of love, isn’t it?”
He couldn’t have said it better himself. “Exactly.”
“Ask Jake the name of his ancestor’s bride,” Dylan said from the living room. “For the record, did you note my buddy here is also named for his ancestor?”
Julia lifted her eyes to Jake’s. “I’ll humor him. What was your great-grandmother’s name?”
“Julia.” For once, Jake’s voice didn’t waver.
Buy links: http://pelicanbookgroup.com/ec/meet-me-under-the-mistletoe