Thank you so much for taking the time to read the first chapter of my latest wine country romance Kissing Mr. Mistletoe and for sharing your thoughts about the story! One of my advanced-copy readers said it reminded her of the movie The Holiday and another said she could see it as a movie on the Hallmark Channel! :-)
As I mentioned before, writing this novella was not on my "official" agenda this year, but I couldn't resist finally telling the story that had been simmering in my brain for years. If you haven't read the first part of chapter one, you can read it here.
In this blog, we pick up where we left off in the story and complete chapter one.
I hope you enjoy getting to know Trace, Monique and Adele as much as I loved writing their story.
Synopsis: Kissing Mr. Mistletoe: A successful country singer, home just long enough to sell an inherited Christmas tree farm. His old flame, now a single mom struggling to make a life for herself and her little girl. When they're thrown together for a wine country Christmas, a sprig of mistletoe may just rekindle love.
Smiling, he ran a hand through his light brown hair “I arrived a few hours ago. Didn’t expect to play Santa delivering trees, but Joe’s daughter is having a baby so I’m covering.”
“Jessica went into labor today?”
“Mama.” Adele tugged on her shirt. “Is he the man we saw on TV?” Trace cocked his head.
“You were watching me, huh?”
The last thing Trace needed was encouragement. He’d take an inch and she’d end up buck naked with her boots on the dashboard of that old Christmas tree truck. Buying time, Monique tugged on a vine and wound it around her finger, trying to think of a fib to worm her way out of being caught fawning over his recent television special. She couldn’t come up with any lie Adele wouldn’t catch her on.
“I don’t believe we’ve met.” Trace crouched down to Adele’s eye level. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Adele Jacobson.” She jutted her hand out for a shake. “And I’m four.” Clutching her tiny fingers in his big hand, Trace caught Monique’s eye.
“Jacobson . . . Well, I’ll be . . .” Then he aimed his charm back on her daughter. “Adele Jacobson, what a lovely name, and you have your mother’s exceptional blue eyes too, don’t you? Call me Trace.”
As he straightened, Adele craned her neck back, keeping eye contact all the way up. “We were trying to make Bunny Fru Fru—Rudolph.” Adele pouted her plump lips and pointed to the limp nose stuck between two vines, hanging on a wire.
Trace followed the direction of her finger and casually strolled over to the cable. “This is what turns a flying rabbit into a reindeer?” After untangling the plastic snout, he waved it at Adele.
“Uh huh.” Adele nodded. “But p-please be careful. Mommy says it’s not a toy.” Trace tossed his head back, laughing, unleashing the wide insanely wonderful smile Monique hadn’t seen in person for so long. It lit up his face and made the sun seem brighter.
“Okay. I promise not to play with it.” Standing in front of a row of yellow and red vines, Trace furrowed his brows, scrutinizing the airless ball and stuck his hand into the slit destined for the bunny’s muzzle. Hanging on to it, he ambled to the ladder.
“No.” Monique trailed him. “We don’t need any help. We’ve got this.”
He swiveled his neck around and shot her a smirk, then gripped the ladder and began climbing.
“You really don’t have to do that.”
With his blue jeans hugging and flashing boot leather under the hem, up, up, the ladder he climbed.
“Careful, it isn’t steady,” Monique said, grabbing Adele’s hand.
Trace threw her a grin, but Monique barely noticed because she wasn’t eyeing his face. His butt looked stupendous up there.
“Please don’t hurt yourself.” She held her breath. “It’s kind of”—Trace reached the top— “tricky.”
Without another glance down, Trace leaned over, and secured the red ball onto Bunny Fru Fru’s nose. After effortlessly descending from the ladder, he tossed his hair back and with extra bluster in his step, strolled over.
“Rudolph!” Adele broke into a smile wider than her little hand could cover. “Mommy, it’s Rudolph!” She giggled, pointing at the reindeer in all of his gleaming magnificence.
“Thank you, Trace.”
“Don’t mention it.” He winked.
“Thank you, Mr. Trace, for helping Rudolf.”
“Happy to assist, Miss Adele.” He adjusted the fabric at his knees and crouched down. Monique tried to recall the last time a man Adele’s father’s age had given her the time of day. “It just wouldn’t be Christmas without big bunny Rudolf guiding Santa into the valley, right?”
“Right!” She shot up her hand, and he clapped it. “High five!”
“So.” Getting out of his crouch, Trace brushed his hands together. “Are you ladies ready to see your masterpiece?”
“You have no idea how much I’m counting on this tree.” She grabbed Adele’s hand. “Almost time for decorating.” When her boss, Michael Santino, surprised her in October by assigning her the responsibility of the Santino Winery holiday party, Monique jumped into action.
Although Michael, the eldest of six Santino brothers, ran Napa’s prestigious Santino Corporation with his father, the winery was Michael’s baby. All of their worldwide businesses stemmed from the success of Napa Valley’s Santino wines. The entire Santino family and their closest friends would attend the party and if there was one family you didn’t want to disappoint it was the Santinos, especially at Christmas.
After hiring a designer to create custom wine bottle ornaments featuring miniature Santino wine labels, Monique ordered a specifically sized tree to show them off. If she impressed Michael with the party tonight, maybe she’d finally get a promotion. She hated denying Adele the new clothes she needed or the kitty backpack and playhouse she wanted. If she could just get a raise, Monique could climb out of the financial hole Jarod had left her in.
“Right this way, ladies,” Trace said, grinning. When they reached the truck, he threw his head back. “Let the jingle bells ring.” Resting his arm on the side of the vehicle, he waved her over. “Come on. Get a load of this beauty.”
After waiting months for this moment, Monique barely contained her excitement. Clutching its cool metal side, she peered into the truck —and her heart hit the dirt. “That’s not the tree.”
Trace frowned. He glanced into the bed and back at her. “Of course it is.”
Tears welled in her eyes and Monique blinked them back. No raise. Why had she put her faith in Joe Rozzi at the Christmas tree lot? When Joe guaranteed he’d have her tree delivered by today, she believed him. Because she put her faith in him, her party plans were ruined. The whole shebang hitched on the custom adornments, now waiting in boxes, ready to be hung on a particular sized tree. She didn’t have time to track down another one before the party. “No. It’s not what I ordered.”
The corners of Trace’s lips reversed down, something that rarely happened. “Yes, it is. When Joe told me I’d be delivering it to you, I even double-checked the paperwork. I remember how picky you can be.”
“Well.” She sighed. “I ordered a twelve-foot blue spruce with enough space between the branches for specific ornaments, and that appears to be a scrawny Leyland cypress.”
“Like the Charlie Brown tree?” Adele asked.
“Yes, sweetheart, exactly like the Charlie Brown tree.” She redirected her focus from Adele to Trace, narrowing her eyes. “And although the puny pine was pretty in its make-believe way”—she raised her eyebrows—“I have to have a particular tree for work.” Her ears thudded waiting for his response.
“It’s okay, Mommy, maybe he’s only good at singing.” Adele scampered off a few yards and found a stick.
Trace crossed his arms in front of him and harrumphed in a way that made his pecs bulge. “You need to take another look.”
Acknowledging his frustration, and trying not to be too distracted by his annoyingly masculine physique, Monique angled her chin down and inspected the truck’s bed again.
“Now, see? It’s a fine tree. Once you get your hands on it and cover it with lights, you’ll be all set.”
“No.” She shook her head. “I can tell you right now, we shouldn't bother moving it into the winery because it’s a waste of time.” She studied his dumbfounded expression. “It isn’t going to work.” Although he used to be perceptive when they dated, Trace threw her a blank stare, seeming to not understand she wasn’t a magician, didn’t have a magic wand and therefore couldn’t do anything with that measly tree to merit a promotion.
“Look.” She pressed against the truck on her tiptoes, dipped into the bed and grabbed a damp branch. Fresh sap stuck to her palm. Trace touched the back of her shoulder, completely invading her personal space, and leaned against her backside presumably to get a better look. The intoxicating scent of leather and sexy-man coming off of him, combined with the smell of fresh-cut pine made her dizzy.
Gulping a deep breath, Monique concentrated on the task at hand, her career and Adele’s future. “There are only a few inches, at most, between the branches.” She wedged her hand in between the pointed needles and grasped the tree trunk. “See? There isn’t any place for me to hang the bottle ornaments. They’ll get squished, and if I start cutting branches, there won’t be any tree left.”
Monique let go of the trunk. The fresh boughs bounced back in place. “I don’t know what to do at this point,” she muttered, stepping away from Trace and the jalopy. Throwing her hands in the air like an Italian even though she wasn’t one, she moaned. “I’m only making a big deal out of this because I’m trying to get a promotion.”
She glanced at Adele drawing in the dirt and something clicked. The sight of her cheerfully absorbed in the simple beauty of her art project gave Monique a chance to refocus on what really mattered. “I’m sorry I blew a gasket. No one is dying here.” She sighed. “I’m running the party tonight, and wanted it to be perfect.” Unfortunately her eyes began to well again and her chin started quivering. She inspected a clump of dry pine needles on the ground so Trace wouldn’t notice she’d become an emotional wreck over the last six years.
“I’ll tell you what.” Trace pulled keys of his pocket. “Your tree is probably still in the lot with a delivery tag. I’ll jet back and get it.” When he shrugged, Monique caught the familiar glint under his black lashes. God, how she loved the way Trace used to make her feel like the most beautiful woman on the planet.
“Hey, to be honest, I don’t know the difference between a spruce, a General Lee, or what kind of tree Charlie Brown had for that matter. With Joe so worried about Jessica having a baby, who knows? Maybe I brought the wrong one.”
“Oh my God. Do you think it’s still at Napa Pines? Thank you. Thank you. I’ll go to the lot with you, though, just to be sure it’s the right one. Okay?” She pivoted to Adele. “Honey, have you finished your drawing?”
“Almost, Mommy.” Adele added a circle to her picture and after tossing her stick, galloped back to her.
Trace took long, sexy strides to the passenger side of the truck and gallantly opened the door.
“Oh no.” She took Adele’s hand. There was absolutely no chance in hell she’d risk having her female body parts encased in a vehicle with that tall drink of . . . sexy songwriter. In a drought for so long, Monique didn’t trust her nipples or anything tingling below to behave. Trace already wreaked enough havoc on her breasts and he’d barely touched her. Suddenly springing out of a long dormancy, Monique kept having to hide her high beams with her arms. “We’ll take our car.”
He squinted at her. “You can drive with me, Monique.”
“No. I can do this by myself, Adele and I don’t need any help. Besides, I don’t want you to have to drag us around and interrupt your day.” She folded her arms over her chest, smashing her breasts against her body.
Trace brought his hand to his face and massaged his chin. “After six years, I finally see you again, and after only ten minutes, you’re already being stubborn.”
She jutted her chin out, returning his grumpy grimace right over her nose.
“We’re going to the same place, Monique.” He shifted his weight from one boot to the other and cocked his head. His sultry green gaze, the same one that transformed his fans into quivering bowls of pudding, scanned her body like an X-ray and then locked on her eyes. “There is only one truck on the lot. Therefore, I will be driving said truck back to this very location, with the right tree, hopefully.”
“Well, okay then,” she mumbled. Adele would sit in the middle as a blockade between any bumping thighs or arms. “I just didn’t want to put you out.”
He opened the door. “Please get in.”
(End of Chapter One)
I hope you enjoyed getting a taste of my story. I think you'll love how it ends. If you'd like a copy of the novella, it's available for pre-order on Amazon here:
Soon after it releases on Amazon, Kissing Mr. Mistletoe will be available on all online retail stores. Until next time, -Kate
PS: Send me an email, I'd love to hear your thoughts!