Being naughty was nice, but now these friends-turned-lovers are in for an unforgettable Christmas…
Just when Kaitlyn Barnes vows to get over her longtime crush on Rafe Langdon, they share a sizzling evening that delivers an epic holiday surprise: Kaitlyn is pregnant. And if that weren’t life-changing enough, everyone assumes they’re engaged — a charade they must keep alive through the holiday season. But Kaitlyn knows Rafe better than anyone, and Rafe settling down is about as likely as Santa skipping Angel Falls this year…
Rafe would rather Kaitlyn believe a lie — that their night together was a fling — than face his own dangerous truth: he’s falling for her, hard. After a devastating loss, Rafe swore he’d never risk his heart again. Yet the longer they pretend to be engaged the more Rafe starts to want the real thing. But now he has to convince Kaitlyn he wants to be by her side — and their baby’s — for all the Christmases to come.
Includes the bonus novel Christmas on Mistletoe Lane by Annie Rains!
It was a very bad day to take a pregnancy test, Kaitlyn Barnes decided as she washed off the counter at her coffee shop, the Bean, on a snowy late November evening. But she'd taken the test, and in light of how crappy she'd been feeling lately, the bright blue plus sign hadn't come as a surprise.
She was way too busy to even think about being pregnant, let alone ponder how on earth it could ever have happened.
Okay, she knew how it had happened. And when. And she wasn't going to lie to herself: the sex with Rafe Langdon had been, after years of dancing around their attraction to each other, epic. But with two forms of birth control, how on earth…Nope. She wasn't going there. Not now, not with worries about her family, her business, and her life at the forefront of her mind.
Mary Mulligan, the last customer in the shop, brought her empty mug up to the counter, her kind but mischievous blue eyes twinkling. "You're good friends with Rafe Langdon, aren't you, dear?"
"Oh, yes, I've known Rafe forever." Kaitlyn squeezed her eyes shut to avoid thinking of his strong, muscular body, his square jaw, his dark, well-defined brows. And other parts of him that she really was not going to think about.
"I haven't seen him in here lately. How's he been doing?" Mary asked.
Kaitlyn wouldn't know. She hadn't spoken much to Rafe since what she was coming to call the incident, which consisted of one wedding, a few drinks, a rainstorm, and a much too inviting cabin. "I-I haven't seen him," Kaitlyn said with a shrug. "Maybe he gave up coffee."
Yet not even a minute had gone by that she hadn't thought about him, and his nice full mouth that always seemed to be turned up in the tiniest smile.
Oh, that smile. That's what had gotten her in trouble—Rafe's ability to take any kind of worry or concern and somehow lighten it up with that easygoing, assured grin. It was irresistible--he was irresistible, especially to her, whose life was typically chock-full of worries and concerns.
She blinked to find Mrs. Mulligan staring at her. "I'm sorry, Mary," Kaitlyn said. "What did you say?" She had to stop her mind from wandering.
"I said I hope you're going home soon, dear. You look peaked."
Kaitlyn flicked her hand in a dismissive gesture. "Just a little tired." And nauseated. And losing her lunch on a regular basis. And breakfast. "Want another cup of tea?" Kaitlyn asked. "It's no trouble."
"Oh, no thank you. I know you're closing. I just can't get over how Rafe posed for next year's first responder charity calendar. Mr. December—Chief Walker made a poster of him to help sell the calendars and gave it to a lot of the shop owners on Main Street. Someone even hung one at the base of the angel statue. All the girls in the beauty shop were talking about it. Don't you think he's a hottie?" Mary punctuated her statement with a knowing look.
First off, the police chief, Colton Walker, was Rafe's best friend, and he'd goaded Rafe, a firefighter, into posing for that calendar, knowing full well that including Rafe's image would sell dozens. Second, Colton had not delivered her a copy of Mr. December (not that she wanted one), but she wondered why, since her coffee shop was right in the middle of the main drag. And yes, Rafe was a complete hottie, but she knew too well he didn't do serious. So it didn't really matter what she thought.
She skimmed her hand lightly over her abdomen, which was a little fuller than usual but still flat enough that no one would suspect a thing. Another wave of nausea hit her, but she clutched the counter and took a deep breath to quell it. Like it or not, she'd be thinking of Rafe Langdon for a long time to come.
"He's sure going to sell a lot of calendars for Children's Hospital," Mary said, clapping her hands together. "What an inspiration for the Christmas season."
Yes, Christmas. Even now, outside the big plate glass windows that faced the street, snowflakes eddied around the orange glow from the streetlight. Swirls of chaos that reflected how Kaitlyn felt inside. Someone from the Angel Falls maintenance crew had hung a big lit-up candy cane on each light post, making the Main Street cheery and festive, and she herself had strung multicolored lights around all the coffee shop's windows. She loved Christmas. It was her favorite time of year. But not this year. Not now. She felt anything but festive.
"How's your niece doing, dear?" Mary asked. "I heard she'd gotten into some kind of trouble."
Ah, Hazel. Kaitlyn's older sister, Nikki, had sent her seventeen-year-old daughter to be with family and away from the bad influences at her huge high school in LA. Needless to say, Hazel was beyond thrilled to be dumped off in Angel Falls to complete her senior year far away from home. Kaitlyn knew that Hazel was simply biding her time until she turned eighteen and could kiss Angel Falls and their whole family goodbye.
"She's…settling in. Thanks for asking, Mary," Kaitlyn said. Hazel was having some serious problems fitting in at Angel Falls, but Kaitlyn had learned a long time ago not to feed the gossip mill of their close-knit town, no matter how concerned and kind her customers were.
Suddenly the shop bell tinkled, bringing in a few eddies of snow as well as the police chief himself, who was holding on to Hazel's bony elbow. With her thin frame, big brown eyes, and delicate bow-shaped mouth, Hazel still reminded Kaitlyn of a pixie, a sweet, fragile creature. Except it was difficult to get two words out of her now, and personality-wise, she nowhere near resembled the little girl who used to love spending summers here. Catching Colton's worried eye, Kaitlyn braced herself and set Mary's tea mug on the counter with a thunk.
"Colton. Hazel. Is everything all right?" She wiped her hands on her apron and bolted around the counter.
"Thanks for the tea, sweetie," Mary said, blowing Kaitlyn a quick kiss. With a wave to Colton and a wink at Hazel, Mary astutely let herself out the door.
Kaitlyn approached her niece and held her by the upper arms, a move that forced Hazel to face her. Hazel's eyes met hers with their usual stoic look of well-practiced indifference. But just for a flash, they might've held fear, until she made her expression go flat again.
Colton gave Kaitlyn a sympathetic look. He practically made a second career out of helping the misguided youth of their town, so she knew whatever Hazel had done, it must've been serious for him to drag her in at closing time like this.
"Tell your aunt what happened, okay?" Colton said. It came out as more of a command than a question.
Hazel crossed her arms and tossed Colton a glare. "Why don't you just tell her? You're the one who insisted on bringing me here."
Kaitlyn braced against another wave of nausea, willing it away. Oh, please, oh, please, she prayed. Not drugs. Anything but drugs.
"Okay, fine," Colton said, blowing out a patient sigh. "Hazel here decided she wanted to get a magazine over at the pharmacy—without paying for it."
Kaitlyn frowned. "A magazine?" She turned to Hazel, who was nervously shifting her weight from one foot to the other, a move that showcased her Chuck Taylor high-tops. Under her coat, she wore a burnt-orange sweater with a crazily patterned scarf that looked straight out of the seventies. A thief with fashion flair. "I could've given you the five dollars."
Hazel's face flushed, which Kaitlyn took as a sign that maybe there was the teensiest bit of the old Hazel left in there somewhere. "Mr. Barter said this isn't the first time," the chief said. "He's looking to press charges."
Kaitlyn gasped. Oh, this was not good. "Colton, no."
"Hazel, do you have anything to say?" Colton asked.
"I didn't do it."
Struggling not to roll her eyes, Kaitlyn looked at Colton. "Can I talk to you—privately?"
She pulled him off to the side, next to a vintage life-sized sign of Santa holding a cup of coffee up to his mouth and winking. "Look, I've been…preoccupied the past few weeks. I should've been looking out for her more." Guilt pummeled her. "I'll hire her here…as punishment. And to keep an eye on her." Not exactly the best plan to recapture the relationship they once had, but what else could Kaitlyn do?
Colton narrowed his observant cop-eyes at her. "You okay? You look almost as bad as Rafe."
"What are you talking about?" she asked, narrowing her eyes right back.
"It's no secret you two have some kind of tiff going on."
"It's not a tiff." She really didn't know what to call sleeping with someone you never should've slept with in the first place, someone you couldn't avoid because his sisters were your best friends and his family was just like your own. Complicated and awkward—yes. But a tiff—no.
"Well, whatever it is, he looks like crap too." Colton dropped his voice. "Look, you told me Hazel's done this in LA. That makes her a repeat offender. Letting her slide again isn't going to do her any favors in the long run."
"I'll be more diligent. I won't let her out of my sight. Please, Colton. If you tell Mr. Barter that, he'll listen."
Colton grimaced. "You can't be responsible for everyone, just to let you know."
Colton was well aware of Hazel's situation, and Kaitlyn appreciated his understanding, but still, she felt like she'd been too wrapped up with her own…issues. She'd left the tending of Hazel to her mother, and that had been a mistake. "Thank you, but…I can handle it."
He let out a heavy sigh. "It's against my better judgment, but okay, I'll see what I can do. But next time…" He made a cutting motion across his neck with his hands…accompanied by the faintest lift of his lips.
"Thank you," she said, giving him a hug.
"And you'd better go get some sleep. Or make up with Rafe or something."
She ignored that, then walked back over to the table where Hazel sat drawing patterns in the sugar she'd dumped from packets onto the table.
"So, are you throwing me in the clinker?" Hazel asked, her mouth pulled up in a smirk. Kaitlyn tried not to be upset.
"You're going to work here," Kaitlyn said. "Every day after school."
"What?" She sat up and shot Kaitlyn an outraged look.
Kaitlyn forged on. "That's the deal. And when your shift is done, you'll do your homework in the back. And if your fingers get sticky again, I won't be able to stop anyone from pressing charges. That will look bad on your college apps."
Hazel snorted, and Kaitlyn knew why. Because there were no college apps. And possibly because of the fact that she'd said "sticky fingers," as if she'd been watching too many old mafia movies.
The point was, Nikki had worked long hours and sometimes multiple jobs to give Hazel everything a kid needs. But she'd struggled, and funds for college were simply…not there. And with Hazel getting into trouble recently, both with her grades and with the shoplifting, her shot at a scholarship or a free ride to college had slipped away.
At parent-teacher conferences a few weeks ago, Hazel's teachers had said she was bright but undisciplined. Unfocused. She didn't seem to care. Maybe that was because she didn't think anyone else did.
"I'd like to go back to Gram's now," Hazel said, not looking her in the eye.
"I'll drop you off on my way to the station," Colton said.
Kaitlyn thanked Colton. "I'll see you here after school tomorrow," Kaitlyn said to Hazel, as Colton ushered her out the door. She didn't get an answer back.
Kaitlyn locked the door after them and dimmed the lights. Then she sat down at a table and put her head down on the cool wooden surface.
She had to do something to help Hazel before it was too late. But she couldn't help wondering if maybe she was already too late, that Hazel's decisions so far had set her on a certain course and changing that would be almost impossible.
Kaitlyn had no experience in her own life to compare—she'd always been responsible, a good daughter and a faithful sister. Nikki had always been the more emotional, more impulsive one. She'd gotten pregnant at eighteen and had ended up marrying her high school sweetheart, but things hadn't worked out.
Kaitlyn had always been determined not to allow her emotions to rule her decisions like her older sister had. But hadn't the same thing happened to her? She'd acted rashly with Rafe. She'd gotten swept away. How could she not, when every time he looked at her, her pulse skittered and desire rushed through her like a tidal wave?
In the darkened coffee shop, the strings of Christmas lights were as cheery as always, and the blinking lights from the ice cream shop across the street continued to remind her that life was going on as usual for most everyone else.
That crazy night with Rafe had led to something that would change—was already changing—her whole life. She was going to be a mother, something that, at nearly thirty-two, she was beginning to think might not happen. A baby—hers and Rafe's—was growing inside of her right now. That was overwhelming, frightening, miraculous, and…awesome.
She imagined how Christmas next year would include a whole brand-new little person in their lives…a sweet bundle to hold and love and carry around, tiny arms outstretched toward all the shiny ornaments on the Christmas tree.
She wanted to be a mom more than anything, even if the circumstances weren't perfect. She was going to do all she could to make smart choices so her baby would have the best life she could give it. That meant growing up, setting aside her misplaced feelings for Rafe, and focusing on securing her business.
She reached into her apron to examine the clipping she'd ripped from a baking magazine earlier in the day. Win $15,000 Plus Three Months of Pastry Classes for the Best Christmas Cookie Recipe! the headline read. Kaitlyn tapped the clipping on the table. She had to start thinking of sustaining her business. Becoming a real businessperson. Growing. Winning this contest would give her a chance to put her café on the map. And it would give Hazel a shot at college.
As for pastry classes…well, Kaitlyn had always dreamed of taking those. She'd always wanted to expand her baked goods section, which was popular. Plus, she knew exactly the recipe she'd submit—one for the most amazing Christmas cookie in the entire world. Her grandfather's chocolate snowcap cookies, which were slightly crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside with melted chocolate, and coated with powdered sugar that cracked in the oven so they looked like snow-covered mountains. She'd grown up eating them after school in the Bean, her grandfather placing a warm plate full of them before her and Nikki and asking them about their days.
She had to start securing her future. Because she hadn't needed a pregnancy test to tell her that she was going to have Rafe Langdon's baby.
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