Since leaving Brookhollow and her fiancé, Luke Dawson, twelve years earlier, Victoria Mason hasn't looked back. She's traded the small-town dream of marriage, kids and family Christmas dinners for late nights working at a high-powered acquisitions firm, lunches at trendy New York restaurants and jet-set vacations on the slopes.
So her latest work assignment, to acquire Brookhollow's sporting-goods store, poses a challenge for Victoria, in more ways than one. Because it's almost Christmas, and she's got other holiday plans. And the owner is reluctant to sell. And the owner is Luke. She needs to wrap up the deal before she gets caught up in her old life and her old love…or becomes trapped under the mistletoe. Again.
“Please don’t hit, please.” Victoria Mason closed her eyes as her tiny rental car slid into the parking space on Main Street. Parallel parking was not a skill she possessed and yet she was relieved to see she’d cleared the other cars. She wrapped her scarf around her neck and reapplied her lipstick. The pink, shimmery gloss did the trick of adding a touch of color to her pale complexion. The two-hour drive on the busy interstate from New York City to Brookhollow, New Jersey, had tested her already frazzled nerves. She prayed the unpleasant road trip, with its bumper-to-bumper traffic and icy road conditions, wasn’t a sign of things to come as she stepped out into the cold. The early-December wind whipped through her cashmere winter coat and her breath came in puffs of white clouds as she locked the car.
An unnecessary gesture in her small hometown. This wasn’t New York. Anyone here for more than two minutes could see Brookhollow at rush hour was the opposite of Manhattan’s fast pace and crazy traffic.
The Christmas season was in full swing and all the small mom-and-pop shops lining both sides of the quiet street boasted holiday displays in their storefront windows. Kitty- corner from where she stood, Pearl’s Petals showcased a frosty winter wonderland with pale pink and white poinsettias lining the base of the window. The crystal snowflakes hanging from the ceiling glistened against the white scrim backdrop. Next door, the town’s secondhand bookstore, Dog-Eared Books, featured a selection of holiday cookbooks and children’s stories positioned under a Christmas tree decorated with crayons and bookmarks. From here, she could also see Town Center Square in the distance. The twenty-foot Christmas tree had been put up the day before, as was the tradition for the first weekend in December. On the corner the town’s welcome sign was bordered with holly and twinkling white lights. Welcome to Historic Brookhollow, Population 10,810.
According to her mother, that number had decreased in recent years. Victoria had certainly been eager to remove herself from the population count. Now here she was, for the first time in three years. Freezing her butt off.
Victoria shivered as she walked the short distance to Legend’s Sporting Goods. The quicker she started the acquisition process, the better. Her previous acquisitions had closed without the slightest hiccup, but she suspected this would be different. Why hadn’t she declined this one? Being back in her hometown was tough enough. Having to deal with this particular store owner would be torture. Her gaze fell to the acquisition papers in her hand. Luke Dawson. She hadn’t seen or spoken to her ex-fiancé in twelve years. A different agent, a stranger in Brookhollow, may have had an easier time. Leaving town for a career in New York, abandoning the star quarterback and homecoming king two weeks before their wedding, hadn’t exactly put her on Brookhollow’s favorite people list. She bit her lip. Could she really be successful in a place she’d always considered a roadblock to her ambition?
She had to focus on what mattered: securing this purchase and getting out of Brookhollow before Christmas.
Pausing in front of the store, she checked her reflection in the window, running a hand over her blond, shoulder-length hair. She forced several, slow deep breaths. It had been twelve years, how bad could this reunion be? She reached for the door handle.
“The store is closed for renovations,” a deep voice said to her right, several feet above her.
“Oh, well, I have a meeting with—” Victoria turned and took in the man on the ladder she’d walked right past without seeing “—Luke?” She placed a hand over her eyes to shield them from the low, setting sun glaring off the roof of Ginger Snaps, the bakery next door. She could barely make out his face in the blinding light, but the voice was unmistakable. “How long have you just been watching me from up there?”
“Long enough to enjoy that painful parking job.” He turned back to his work, placing a string of lights along the roof.
She glanced toward the rental car, parked on a slight angle in the space that now looked much larger than it had when she was trying to park in it. Squaring her shoulders, she moved closer. “Renovations? Didn’t you receive the letter from Clarke and Johnston Acquisitions earlier this week?”
“The one claiming you’d be here at noon today?” Luke asked.
Victoria struggled to maintain her composure. This wasn’t exactly how she’d pictured this meeting. In truth, she’d had no idea what to expect, but she hated that she’d given him the upper hand by being late. “Traffic was a lot slower than I’d predicted.” And she’d left the city three hours later then planned. “Anyway, the letter also stated that my firm will be placing an offer on Legend’s within the week.”
“I’m not interested in selling the store.” The sound of the nail gun reverberating off the awning made her wince.
“Either way, we should still discuss my client’s interest in obtaining it.”
He ignored her as he continued to work. An older couple she didn’t recognize stepped out of the bakery and shot her suspicious looks as they passed. Victoria shivered as big, wet snowflakes began to fall from the darkening sky. “Do you think we could go inside?” She danced from one foot to the other, her feet chilled in her two-inch leather boots. “I’m kind of in a hurry.”
“Well, maybe you should have gotten here earlier.”