Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.—Norman Vincent Peale.
Runaway law student, Gabrielle Preston, stared out the large plate glass window of Perks coffee shop, watching the bustling holiday activity going on across the street at the Twilight, Texas town square, and finally took a deep breath.
Workmen strung Christmas lights on all four corners of the square while teams of town folk decorated themed trees. Angel ornaments on the north side. Pets on the south. Santas on the east. Bells on the west. Performers in Dickensian costumes strolled the sidewalks. Gabi spied Miss Havisham in her shabby wedding dress and one sad shoe. Scrooge hoisted Tiny Tim up on his shoulders. Artful Dodger led a group of soot-faced children as they pulled faux swag from participants’ pockets. Horse drawn carriages picked up and dropped off visitors. “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” poured from outdoor speakers. A light dusting of snow had started to fall, putting smiles on faces and making everything look like a snow globe world.
Bedford Falls from It’s a Wonderful Life had nothing on this town.
Twilight was exactly what she was looking for. It was a place where she could hit “pause” while she revaluated her life, a place where she could actually breathe, a place where she could experience the sweet, homey kind of Christmas that she and her older brother Derrick had always dreamed of having but never did.
“I made it, Derrick,” she whispered under her breath and blinked away the tears misting the tips of her eyelashes. “I’m here, and it’s as adorable as we always imagined such a town would be.”
Momentary sadness washed over her, but she shook it off. Derrick wouldn’t want her to be sad. He would encourage her to seize the moment. Live out the dream they’d dreamed so long ago. Embrace the adventure. Discover the path she was truly meant to be on.
Her way for once, but in order to do that, she had to change.
That was her buzzword. She was ready—no, eager—to change. Change her life. Change her mind. Change herself. Change everything right down the color of her nail polish.
Which was why her fingernails were painted hunter green with red and white candy cane art. Grinning, she admired the fingernail art. Courage. Her candy cane fingernails represented courage. And Gabi was so certain of her mission that she’d taken a huge leap of faith and simply jumped.
She exhaled slowly, felt the tension of the last week start to slide off her shoulders as she glanced back out the window to watch the Ghost of Christmas Past tap Scrooge on the shoulder. But try as she might to hold onto that serene space, Gabi couldn’t stop her mind from skipping endlessly, worrying thoughts like fingers on prayer beads, over what she had done.
Not showing up for her final exams, leaving town without a word to anyone, impulsively making like Cameron Diaz in The Holiday and swapping, not just houses but lives, with a woman she’d met online.
The good girl gone rogue.
Hungry for a simpler time and place, Gabi had wanted—correction—she desperately needed to escape the hustle and bustle of LA and find a quaint, quiet place to spend the holidays.
She’d been brave yes, but she knew it came with a price. There would be consequences. In order to reach for what you truly wanted, you had to let go of what kept you safe, and in the letting go, you risked falling into the gap between the two places. Right now, she was in metaphorical mid-air, staring down at the chasm below.
“Here you go,” said the pixie-haired barista whose nametag identified her as Brittany, slid an oversized latte and a plate of salted mocha fudge cake in front of her. “Enjoy.”
Sighing with pleasure, Gabi took a bite of rich moist cake.
“Oh my gosh!” She moaned, and put a hand to her mouth. “This is better than sex.”
“As delicious as Maddie’s cakes are,” drawled a deep masculine voice. “If you think cake is better than sex, then you’ve been doin’ something all wrong, darlin’.”
Gabi startled, banging her knee on the bottom of the table, and darted a gaze over at the man who’d stalked through the door.
He wore a brown leather jacket, tight-fitting faded Levi’s, and well-worn cowboy boots. He smelled like pine and leather and cool sunshine. He slipped off a pair of aviator sunglass, stuck them in his jacket pocket, and ran a hand through thick, light brown hair that curled bewitchingly at the collar of his shirt. A roguish dimple punched provocatively into his left cheek darkened by beard stubble.
Holy habeas corpus! Whatta man!
Hot. He was hot. She was hot. The room was hot. Hot. Hot. Hot.
His gaze drilled straight through her and his eyes lit up as if he possessed X-ray vision and could see exactly what she looked like without a stitch of clothing on and he approved of what he saw.
She hiccupped. Damn it.
Whenever she got nervous, she hiccupped. Which was part of what had sunk her in law school.
Why was she so nervous? He-Man wasn’t nearly as intimidating as a jury or her law professors, or heaven forbid, her parents.
She didn’t know whether it was his tanned skin or white straight teeth or that gorgeous face sculpted with just the right amount of hard ridges and sharp angles or those eyes the sinful color of fudge cake or his long-legged, leisurely strut that said the world was his oyster and he knew how to shuck it, but she hiccupped again.
Whatever it was, she wasn’t accustomed to this intense level of masculine scrutiny and she didn’t know if she should encourage it or not. She wanted to, but she was anxious.
And whenever she got anxious, out came the hiccups.
Easier said than done.
In the end, she fell back on instinct. Narrowed her eyes and shot him her best prosecutorial stare. As the daughter of two high-powered Los Angles defense attorneys, she’d at least perfected the you’re-swimming-in-shark-infested-waters-buddy glare.
But he wasn’t intimidated.
Not in the least.
Fully in control, He-Man deepened the dimple, gave her a wink and a nod and sauntered off to the counter.
Who was he?
Gabi shouldn’t have craned her neck to watch him go, but hey, sometimes biology won out. Darn it. His flipside was as enticing as his front. Her gaze zeroed in on his butt cupped so provocatively by those snug jeans.
And yet wasn’t that what she was doing here? Trying to live out a long-held dream?
The barista greeted him and he ordered black coffee. A crazy part of her hoped that he’d come sit at the table beside her, but once he’d been served, he wandered out the back door to a courtyard beyond without a backward glance.
Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.
Goodbye forever, Good-looking.
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