A STITCH IN CRIME:

A Stitch In CrimeTwinkle lights crisscrossed Main Street. Shops windows were decked in pine wreaths and a Finnish Christmas carol, Hanki, Hanki, Hanki (Snow, Snow, Snow) blared from a makeshift public address system. A six-foot sign welcomed all to Pikkujoulu, “Red Jacket’s first annual Finnish-American Christmas festival.”

“It looks like the Finnish Christmas fairy threw up here,” I said. “When was the last time there were this many people on Main Street?”

“1910.”

It was an old joke on the Keweenaw Peninsula, onetime hub of the nation’s copper mining industry. Unfortunately, the copper had run out some fifty years earlier and our best, last hope to save a dying economy lay in tourism.

“Think Pikkujoulu will catch on?”

Sofi shook her head.

“Face it, Hatti, there’s a perfectly good Bavarian Christmas Festival down in Frankenmuth with all-you-can-eat fried chicken. Who in their right mind would drive an additional ten hours for smorgasbord and Saint Lucy?”

“Don’t forget snow,” I reminded her. “We’ve always got snow.”


FOR BETTER OR HEARSE:

Daisy melted and burned.  Heat settled on her like a second skin and she could barely breathe.  What on Earth was going on? Malaria? Menopause?  Was the house on fire?  She tried to twist away from the inferno but when a steel bar clamped across her chest discomfort morphed into panic.   She arched backward, her hips slamming into a new barrier, something hard, hot and totally male.

     She exploded, skyward with a frantic cry.  An instant later she slammed into the unforgiving floor.

Lamplight seared her eyes and she winced.

Good grief.

“You okay?”

Her eyes narrowed at the fuzzy voice.  How could she be okay?  She was sprawled on the floor like a broken piñata.  She squeezed her eyes shut, held her breath and waited for the pain in her hip and elbow to subside.  Finally, she looked up and her breath hitched in her throat.

Nick Bowman’s dark hair was tousled from sleep, his lean cheeks bristled with dark whiskers, his heavy lids hooded glittering gray eyes.

“Damn you felt good,” he muttered.  “ C’mon back to bed, honey.”

Honey?    Daisy struggled to her feet, ground her fists into her waist like an angry kindergarten teacher and replied in clean crisp rifle shots.

Get. Out. Of. My. Bed.”

With a slight shrug he rolled to his feet and stood before her, tall, broad-shouldered, a genetic jackpot magnificently unconcerned about either his lack of clothing or his awe-inspiring arousal.

An awful thought occurred.

“Dear God,” Daisy gasped, “tell me we did not have sex.”

Nick glanced down for what surely was an unnecessary reminder.

“We did not have sex,” he replied, dutifully.  “At least, not recently.”


THE EARL THAT I MARRY:

“My lord?” she said, her brow wrinkled.  “I have a question.”

He lifted a brow.

“How do you do that?  I mean work your eyebrows independently?  It is very effective, I promise you.  It makes you look quite –“

“Wicked?”

“I would say intriguing.”

Intriguing.  Was she flirting with him?  A jolt of desire shot through him.

“You had a question?”

“It is more of a favor.”  Her eyes were huge in the pale face.

      Well, damn. A favor.  He sighed. ”Is this about Bottomsley?”

“No.”  She bit her soft, full, lower lip and his blood surged.  “I wonder if you would mind…that is…I have never been properly kissed and, well, I would very much like you to do it.”

She wanted him to kiss her?  He gazed at the bitten bottom lip, the small, even, white teeth, and the urge to explore them with his tongue was almost irresistible.

      Dangerous.  Reggie knew he should warn her but the words remained unspoken.

He slid one hand behind her slender neck and lowered his head.  Her scent, lavender? And maybe sage? Jasmine? Whichever it was unique and intoxicating.  Her lips quivered as he brushed them lightly with his own.  He drew back a moment later, his chest constricted, his breathing heavy.

“Like that?”

The clear eyes regarded him steadily.  “I thought there would be something more.”

Reggie stifled a groan.  He was not used to self-denial.  “I must be honest with you, Miss Watson.  Honeysuckle.  I am afraid of the ‘something more.’ I am afraid I will not be able to stop with a kiss.”

THAT VOODOO THAT YOU DO: 

Silent tension filled the truck cab as Luke drove the half-mile to the house and parked in the alley. There was no way to open a discussion of what they’d witnessed without bringing sex into the conversation.

Hell. The damn subject already loomed between them like a big, rock-hard elephant in the room. He shifted in his seat. Hell. He’d never been out of control like that just from touching a woman. If he didn’t know how inept they were, he’d think Mabel Ruth and the girls had cast a spell on him.

It had to be abstinence. Abstinence with a little chemistry thrown in. Okay, a lot of chemistry.

Jessie reached for the door handle. He cursed, quietly. The cab was too high. She’d lose her footing.

“Hang on. I’ll Wait til I come around.”

“No thanks.” She pushed open the door. “I’m tired of being treated like a backpack.”

He clamped fingers around her wrist. Her hair had started to dry and it formed little “C’s” around her head. She looked like an annoyed poodle.

“What’re you talking about?”

“The way you keep slinging me around like a sack of potatoes. I have perfectly good legs.”

“They’re good,” he agreed, “they’re just too short.”

She gaped at him and he thrust his fingers through his hair.

“That wasn’t a criticism. I don’t find you unattractive.” Obviously.

Color stained her cheeks.

“If you’re talking about what happened in the costume closet there were extenuating circumstances. Anybody’d be turned on in the middle of a live porn show.”

He studied the small battalion of freckles that marched across her nose. He wondered why they fascinated him. He’d never been a fan of freckles.

“I see you’ve got it all worked out.”

She nodded. “D’you think they knew we were hiding behind the stable?” He recalled faintly hearing Prendergast’s groans as the feel of Jessie’s sweet butt bumping against his groin blocked out the rest of his senses. His zipper tightened again. He swore silently.

“Not a chance.”

ABOUT A BABY:

It was Christmas Eve in Eden.  Twelve months to the hour from the time Baz Outlaw had rejected Hallie’s plea to give her a baby; twelve months to the day from the moment she decided to leave L.A. and change her life.

Hallie gazed out at the pews from her seat in the small choir loft behind the pulpit. Over the past year she’d come to see the familiar faces with a sense of security. Eden had begun to feel like the home she’d always wanted.

Jolene Thompson, owner of the Pink Poodle Beauty Salon sat next to Hallie in the choir stall. Jo was one of Hallie’s two close friends. She spoke under cover of the rambling sermon. “Why’s the Prodigal Hunk here?”

“Beats me,” Hallie whispered back.

“He can’t stop looking at you.”

She knew. His intense stare was having its usual effect on her even in church. She was so short of breath she’d had to mouth the words to O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Her friend frowned. “I’ll bet you a blimpy burger he’s here to get you back.”

Most of the bets in Rockfield County involved mouth-watering blimpy burgers from Little Joe’s Café on High Street.

“I wish he’d just crawl back to where he came from.”

“He came from here,” Jo reminded her.

Hallie made a face.

“It took a year but maybe he finally realized he missed you.”

Hallie dismissed that possibility. “He never called or wrote. Why would he just turn up on Christmas Eve? That doesn’t make sense.”

Jo shrugged. “Who can understand men?”

“Not me. That’s why I work with animals.”