A very Cottonbloom Christmas!
Jeremy Whitehurst has tried to leave his bad-boy behavior and tarnished image behind in Alabama for a fresh start in Cottonbloom, Louisiana. Unfortunately, trouble has dogged him across state lines. Stepping up and protecting a young woman from her abusive boyfriend earned him a beat-down and got him fired. Although the thanks in the girl’s dark eyes made it all worth it, he recognizes she’s just a different kind of trouble. A trouble he’s not sure he can stay away from.
One rebellious summer dented Kayla Redmond’s carefree innocence. Now her focus is on completing her associate’s degree for bookkeeping, and no one is going to derail her plans. Unfortunately, her job at Fournette Brothers Designs puts her in the path of the one man who has seen her at her worst, yet his blue eyes don’t judge her. He sees beyond the brokenness inside of her and rouses her wild side once more. But, that’s what got her in trouble in the first place.
Christmas is coming and Kayla’s ready to forgive herself and take a chance. But the holiday has only ever brought heartache to Jeremy. No Christmas miracle kept his mother clean or out of jail. Will one reckless night and some time spent in the back of a cop car be the best present Jeremy’s ever been given?
About the Author
An award-winning author, Laura Trentham was born and raised in a small town in Tennessee. Although, she loved English and reading in high school, she was convinced an English degree equated to starvation. She chose the next most logical major—Chemical Engineering—and worked in a hard hat and steel toed boots for several years.
She writes sexy, small town contemporaries and smoking hot Regency historicals. The first two books of her Falcon Football series were named Top Picks by RT Book Reviews magazine. Then He Kissed Me, a Cottonbloom novel, was named as one of Amazon’s best romances of 2016. When not lost in a cozy Southern town or Regency England, she's shuttling kids to soccer, helping with homework, and avoiding the Mt. Everest-sized pile of laundry that is almost as big as the to-be-read pile of books on her nightstand.
Read an Excerpt
Candy Cane Christmas
By Laura Trentham
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Laura Trentham
All rights reserved.
Kayla Redmond checked her appearance in the rearview mirror and tucked fallen pieces of hair back into the pins. The YouTube video had called the trendy chignon "simple" for even the most hair challenged. She should have gone with something easy, like a ponytail, but the need to impress had her attempting something more professional. Opportunities like this didn't often come around for girls like her.
Like most things, it all boiled down to who you knew. The day her friends dragged her to the first Girls at Risk meeting her senior year of high school had changed her life. Monroe Kirby, now Monroe Fournette, had been their self-defense instructor and had done more for Kayla than she could ever repay, including getting her the interview at Fournette Designs as their bookkeeper.
She would graduate with her Associate's Degree before Christmas but could start part-time immediately. If she got the job. The interview practice session she'd attended at Cottonbloom College had only amplified her nerves. The questions ranged from how she would handle workplace conflicts to what kind of tree she pictured herself as. Past experience taught her that conflict was to be avoided at all cost, but after much thought, she'd decided on a willow tree because they were resilient and bent, but didn't break, during storms.
Slipping out of her used gray Honda, she smoothed down the black pencil skirt she'd borrowed from her mother and stifled a nervous laugh. Cade Fournette was not the type of man to care about her life as a tree. She was crazy early, but hoped demonstrating that she was reliable and professional and prompt would earn her points against more experienced applicants.
Fournette Designs was basically housed in a shed — if the shed had been fed steroids. A half-dozen bays stretched out to the left of the parking area. The door appeared small by comparison. The pavement petered into gravel the closer she got to the entrance. A rock slipped underneath her heel. Her ankle turned and she went to her knees, hair falling around her neck and a few choice words escaping.
The growly sound of an engine shot her head up. A motorcycle came around the last bend of the long driveway.
"No, no, no, no, no ..." she muttered, hoping this was one of the nightmares she had about showing up to class naked or unprepared to take a test — or both. Maybe it wasn't him. Lots of men drove motorcycles. As hard as she squeezed her eyes shut, she hadn't magically gained the power of teleportation.
She stood up and rotated her ankle. It barely twinged. By going with the fall, she had probably saved herself a bad sprain, but strawberries marred her knees, her right one trickling blood down the front of her leg. She brushed her hands together to get the grit off. Her palms were fine. At least she wouldn't be a biohazard when she shook her potential new boss's hand.
The motorcycle petered into silence. She glanced over and the man whipped off his helmet and ran a hand through his short blond hair. It was him. Of course, it was him. That's how her luck ran.
Jeremy Whitehurst. They'd run across each other countless times. Cottonbloom was hardly a metropolis. But underneath their polite greetings, an undeniable intensity pulsed. At least for her. If she got the job, she would be seeing him on a daily basis. The thought incited a stew of embarrassment and nerves and a weird excitement.
"Hey there. I thought that was your car. Monroe's not here this morning." Gravel crunched under his black motorcycle boots. He wore jeans and a black leather jacket, the stripe of a red T-shirt with a black emblem showing. Sometime in the fall, he'd cut his shoulder-length hair super short on the sides, but kept the top longer. Long enough to fist in her hand. Her fingers twitched.
Long or short, it didn't matter. The dangerous vibe he emitted attracted her like a bug to a zapper. She'd done the bad boy route once before. Some days still found her sifting through the aftermath.
"I'm interviewing with Cade. I mean, Mr. Fournette. As a bookkeeper. I graduate this semester." She bit her bottom lip to stop the diarrhea of words and rubbed her nape, her fingers tangling in her hair. "Geez, my hair."
"What happened? You ride over with the windows down?" His chuckle jolted her stomach into a frantic jig, this time about the upcoming interview and not him.
She backtracked and tilted her side mirror to assess the damage. "This isn't funny. I need this job." Her words came out with more vehemence than she'd intended.
"I doubt Cade's going to care about your hair."
"Well, I care." She straightened and crossed her arms. Men didn't get the love-hate relationship women had with their hair. If her hair was frazzled, then she would be frazzled and Cade would see her as a screwup.
"Turn around." When she didn't move, he moved around her without actually touching her body. Her intake of breath was embarrassingly audible. He tugged at the comb holding the bulk of her hair, the mass falling over her shoulders. The shivers down her back and goosebumps along her arms could only be partly blamed on the December breeze. It was actually unseasonably warm.
She wanted to close her eyes and arch her back into him and her head into his hands. Instead, she forced her eyes open and her body still while his hands worked in her hair. It didn't last long. He moved back in front of her and cocked his head, assessing her.
His mouth was firm, his top lip thinner than his bottom. A thin white scar trailed over the curve of his chin, lost in the shadows. He had shaved and smelled fresh but with spicy, manly undertones. His eyes were a magnetic blue. Eerie and haunting.
She'd been drunk and hurting the first night they'd met at the Rivershack Tavern, but she'd never forgotten his eyes. And she'd never forgotten his kindness toward her and Monroe that night. In fact, in a roundabout way, it was his good deed that had landed him a job at Fournette Designs. She was glad the beatdown he'd received because of her had come to something good.
"I think you'll pass muster," he said. "Check it out."
She had to ground herself back in the present. Her past was as haunting as his eyes. The small side mirror offered a distorted reflection, but her hair was back up and felt neat. "You're a man of many talents. Did you quit a ladies' salon to work on engines?"
She'd meant it to be a joke, but by the way his slight smile drooped and his gaze skated to the side, she'd missed the mark by a country mile. Before she could stutter out something innocuous, he said, "My mother didn't always take care of herself. So I had to."
A terrible story lurked behind his terse words. Had his mother been sick? Dying? But he'd said "didn't," not "couldn't." She wanted to know. Wanted to help him somehow. Like he'd helped her. The compulsion felt stronger than just fulfilling a debt she owed him.
What was she thinking? She was nobody special. Worse, he probably only remembered her as the pathetic drunk girl who'd let her boyfriend beat up on her. Mentally giving herself a shake, she checked the time on her phone. Ten minutes until the interview. Enough time to clean up her leg and smooth her haywire nerves — maybe.
"Thanks for the fix. I'd better go in."
He nodded, opened the human-sized door next to the huge bay, and gestured her through. The vastness of the work area stilled her a few feet inside, and she took inventory. Gray concrete spread to the left where Sawyer Fournette, Cade's younger brother and partner, talked to a semicircle of about five men, all in identical gray coveralls.
Jeremy passed her but glanced over his shoulder at her. "Cade's office is —" He stopped, pivoted around, and pointed at her leg, his eyes narrowing. "You're bleeding."
"Yeah, I tripped. If you could point me to a —"
"Follow me." He chucked his head toward a brightly lit break room lined with windows.
She fell into step behind him. The smooth confidence of his walk was arresting. His shoulders were broad, but it could be all jacket and no muscle. She wanted to slip her hands underneath and find out. The same urge she'd fought outside to touch him — and be touched — came over her. Want. Need. Desire.
She recognized the feelings even as she cursed them. Why him and why now? Since breaking up with her possessive ex with anger issues, she'd forced that part of herself into a deep freeze. Giving in to such strong attraction meant potentially losing your self-respect and giving up your power.
She clutched the strap of her purse and moved the bulk in front of her as if that could break the pull she felt toward him. He opened the break-room door, but she balked in the doorway. The sooner she was away from him, the sooner she could get her derailed feelings back on track. "I don't want to keep you from your job."
"Sawyer's training some of the newer guys. Anyway, I haven't clocked in, so it's no big deal. Come on, we keep a first-aid kit on hand."
"Okay, but" — she checked her phone — "I've got, like, five minutes before I'm supposed to meet with Cade. Uh, Mr. Fournette?"
"I call him Cade. Grab a seat." Jeremy chucked his chin toward the utilitarian table and metal folding chairs.
The break room was stark. Harsh fluorescent lights emphasized white linoleum, white matte paint on the walls, white ceiling tiles. No sign that Christmas was a couple of weeks away. Considering Kayla and her mom had decked their house out in lights and wreaths and garlands the day after Thanksgiving, the lack of cheer struck her forcibly.
"Do the Fournette men not believe in Christmas?" At the confused look on Jeremy's face, she waved a finger around. "No decorations."
He glanced around and shrugged. "Sawyer made us all put on Santa hats and take a picture for the company Christmas card. We all felt like idiots."
She couldn't contain soft giggles. Odds were he hadn't smiled for the camera. "I'll bet you looked cute."
He barked a laugh, shrugged off his leather jacket, and laid it across the back of a chair before opening a cabinet. His shoulders hadn't been all jacket. They hadn't even been mostly jacket. His back muscles shifted and his biceps flexed under the cotton of the long-sleeved T-shirt. Her insides went in full-on riot mode.
She sank down on the edge of a chair, which only made things worse, putting her gaze level with his backside. Not too flat or too round, but, like Goldilocks, she found it just right. He turned around, and she barely managed to peel her eyes off of his butt. Her tongue might as well be on the floor like some oversexed cartoon character. The wave of heat that flushed through her was mostly embarrassment, yet still it was edged with desire.
His smile didn't strike her as smirky or taunting, it seemed ... nice. His too-mature seriousness made him seem out of her age bracket, but his smile erased the years. He was only in his mid-twenties, a couple of years older than her.
He squatted in front of her, flipped the first-aid kit open, and ripped open a sterile, medicated towelette. On first contact, her leg jerked from the cold sting, and he wrapped a big hand around her ankle.
"Sorry, but you don't want it to get infected." He wiped the blood off and set the towelette aside, keeping his hand on her ankle. His thumb coasted up and down her Achilles, and the calluses along his palm rasped against her skin, sending shivers up her leg. "Band-Aid or not?"
"Band-Aid, I guess. Unless it's like, Hello Kitty, in which case I'll pass."
Laughter welled out of him. Deep and soulful, the sound untwisted her insides and settled her nerves. She found her first real smile of the day.
"Is SpongeBob more professional?" He dropped her ankle and poked through the box coming up with a bland white package and a tube of antiseptic. The plain, tan-colored square bandage covered her entire strawberry and blended into her skin. He smoothed his thumbs along each edge, his fingers brushing the back of her knee.
The strong physical response in her lower belly jolted her to standing. The last thing she needed was to jeopardize this job by letting herself get distracted by a man. It was unprofessional and dangerous in more ways than one.
"Could you point me to Cade's office?" She took long, fake-confident strides to the door and pushed it open.
Not rising from his crouch, he pivoted in her direction. "To the right. Can't miss it."
She rolled her shoulders back and lifted her chin. She was smart and confident and could get this job. She had to get this job.
His softly called out 'Hey' had her glancing back at him. "Good luck."
The same soft smile from earlier was on his face, and despite her self-lecture, she smiled back.
* * *
Jeremy Whitehurst stared at the spot Kayla Redmond had disappeared through until his thighs ached from his awkward position on the floor. Although Fournette Designs was growing, it was still small. They all shared a break room and a unisex bathroom-slash-changing room.
Not that any women worked here — yet. Monroe and Regan, Cade and Sawyer's respective spouses, were the only ladies who dropped by with any regularity. A female prospective client might make an occasional appearance.
If she got the job, he would run into her every day. Every day he'd see her smile and hear her laugh. Something flared. Anticipation. Fear. But there was an added flavor to his restlessness where she was concerned. He recognized the protectiveness and possessiveness, even though he had a right to neither feeling.
He reassembled the first-aid kit, clocked in, and ducked into the bathroom for a two-minute change into his coveralls. He was at his current project, tools in hand, within five minutes. Cade and Sawyer had taken a chance on him, and he never wanted to take advantage of their trust.
The design he was trying to translate from paper to reality wasn't working. The sketch Cade had handed him had been rudimentary. Something he'd jotted down in a flash of inspiration in the middle of the night.
But he hadn't taken small things like the width of the locking washers into account. Jeremy sat back on the stool and turned the wrench in his palm, staring at the puzzle. He might not possess the natural brilliance of Cade or a mechanical engineering degree like Sawyer, but the brothers had told him often enough that his instincts were excellent that he'd finally accepted he was a good mechanic. Maybe a great one.
This morning, though, he felt as sharp as a bag of balls, and his concentration was in negative territory. He stared at the closed door of Cade's office. Although, "office" was a generous term. While Cade hadn't skimped on working floor space, he had underestimated his storage needs, and his office had turned into a dumping ground of parts.
Finally, after the longest half hour of Jeremy's life, the door opened, and he shot to his feet. Kayla and Cade shook hands. Cade was smiling which boded well. The man wasn't exactly known for his good humor and charm. That was Sawyer's thing.
God, she was cute. No, puppies were cute. Kayla Redmond was scorching. The sexiest, prettiest thing he'd ever seen. The first time he'd laid eyes on her, he'd thought the same even though she'd been with her dickhead of a boyfriend — ex, for a long time now, and she hadn't dated anyone since as far as he'd heard.
She'd grown up since then, the wildness muted but not stamped out entirely. He was glad. She'd been through a rough time, and he admired her determination not to let past circumstances and decisions crush her spirit. He had been less successful.
The weight of his regrets was ballast he hadn't been able to free himself from. It had been years since he'd felt carefree. But being around her made him feel ... alive. Expectant. As if she was a spark ready to set off an explosion in his tidy life. As intriguing as he found her, she also terrified him.
And attracted him like no other girl ever had.
She and Cade finished their small talk, and she walked away. Her gaze touched Jeremy for only an instant, and he couldn't be sure, but she may have graced him with another of her warm smiles. Her hips swung, her legs killer in her skirt and heels. He had a feeling she was fully aware he watched her retreat.
He joined Cade in the doorway of his office. They were silent until Kayla disappeared.
"Well?" Jeremy asked.
"Hired her. She starts part-time on Monday until the holiday break while she finishes up school, then full-time at the new year."
Satisfaction battled with worry in Jeremy's chest. Change stalked close just as he was growing comfortable. "You're not interviewing anyone else?"
Cade shot him a telling look. "Monroe wants Kayla working here."
Jeremy couldn't help but poke Cade a little. "And what Monroe wants ...? Dang, Sawyer's right, you are whipped."
"Like he's one to talk. Anyway, at least I'm getting action unlike some people around here." Cade waggled his brows.
Excerpted from Candy Cane Christmas by Laura Trentham. Copyright © 2016 Laura Trentham. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Kayla and Jeremy made their first appearance in Kiss Me That Way when Jeremy helps Monroe Kirby (now Fournette) and Kayla out of a bad situation with Kayla's ex-boyfriend. A couple of years later, Jeremy and Kayla's paths cross again, this time in the workplace.. and with much better results! Considering the length of the story, Kayla and Jeremy were reasonably well developed characters. Both are learning to deal with insecurities from their perspective pasts and with some outside help, and each other, they learn to shake off the past and look towards the future. Their honest conversations and steamy romance had me blitzing through, however, I just wish their story was longer! I'm a sucker for holiday stories and Candy Cane Christmas was the perfect treat! A Christmas romance, along with a generous serving of family and friends, round out this sweet holiday romance!
This short novella was an extremely quick read. I have not read the previous books in this series, but I need to. I recommend you have read them in order to truly appreciate this story. Jeremy Whitehurst had a terrible childhood and became rebellious and got into a lot of trouble back in Alabama. He moved to Cottonbloom, Louisiana. He now leads a quiet and low-key lifestyle that suits him just fine. He works for the Fournette Brothers and is treated like family by them. Kayla Redmond has a troubled past as well. She got involved with an abusive man who has left her reluctant to trust again. While going to school to become a bookkeeper, she is hired by the Fournette Brothers. Can she and Jeremy, the man who saved her from her ex, have a relationship? Can they trust again and get over their pasts? Will love between employees cause problems? With Christmas fast, approaching can these two damaged and weary souls find the strength to take a chance on love again?? This was a sweet Christmas romance, but be prepared for the descriptions of their sexual antics. This did not spoil the book for me, but if that is not your cup of tea, you might be disappointed with the book. I recommend this to romantics everywhere. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book via Netgalley.
4.5 Stars for this wonderful Christmas novella! Candy Cane Christmas is both sweet and sexy. The novella brings together two slightly wounded characters who find happiness and healing together. I loved Jeremy, the ultimate wounded bad boy and fell harder as each layer was peeled back. Kayla was the perfect heroine for him. She’d made some bad choices too but didn’t let her past overshadow her bright future. I highly recommend Candy Cane Christmas. It’s a fun holiday read! I received an ARC from Netgalley and choice to post an honest review.
Candy Cane Christmas is the perfect present that bridges Ms. Trentham's Falcon Football and Cottonbloom series. The novella features Jeremy Whitehurst and Kayla Redmond who were introduced in the previous books. The story starts when Kayla gets a job as an accountant in Fournette Designs and Jeremy is put in charge of showing her the ropes. Their story unfolds as they date and get a well earned happy ending. I really enjoyed this book and still have a smile on my face! Jeremy is the perfect reformed bad boy with a heart of gold and Kayla was realistic and interesting. I was given a free copy for an honest review.
Candy Cane Christmas by Laura Trentham is a novella that is part of her Cottonbloom series. It was nice to be able to revisit Cottonbloom, as I really loved the first three books. Candy Cane Christmas was a sweet romance that had a fun Christmas theme. Kayla Redmon, our heroine, was rescued from an abusive boyfriend in the first book by Morgan, our then heroine. Kayla has pulled herself up from those dark days, and with Morgan’s help, gets a job working at Fournette Brothers Designs. Jeremy Whitehurst also had a rough childhood, and moved to Cottonbloom for a fresh start. Jeremy , who works for Fournette Designs, still feels that trouble follows him. He remembers Kaya, whom he helped with the rescue and now with her working at the same place, feels the attraction to her. Both of them are somewhat unsure of their future, and each does not want to become involved. However, their new friendship will eventually over time escalate into a romance that will heal them, and give them a life together. Kayla loves Christmas, and Jeremy does not believe in it. It was nice how Laura Trentham brought them together in this sweet fun romance, and tied it into a Christmas celebration for the Fournettes, Cottonbloom and our wonderful couple. Candy Cane Christmas was a sweet, heartwarming story. I hope we still get the visit Cottonbloom again.
I’ve been waiting a long time for Jeremy to get a HEA and Trentham delivers beautifully. She gives us all of his background info that we’ve been waiting for, plus forgiveness and a chance at something more than just living for him. Jeremy’s been beating himself up for his bad decisions for a long time but he’s proven himself to be a better man, to have learned from his past. Now he just has to realize it :) Kayla also has a little self-forgiveness to do and to realize that bad choices don’t define us. Like Jeremy, it’s what you do from then on that’s important. While there isn’t a lot of conflict here, the growth that they go through is just as important. It’s a Christmas novella so there’s the requisite heart and emotion, learning and moving forward, fresh starts and healing old wounds … but of course with Trentham flair! She’s not going to give us just any old holiday cheer – ours has leather, motorcycles and cop cars just to keep things hopping. (Honest review given voluntarily after receipt of this ARC)
Candy Cane Christmas is a lovely short holiday novella, set in Cottonbloom, Louisiana with characters that touch on the settings of both the Cottonbloom and the Falcon Football series by this author. I’ve read one of the football series and quite enjoyed it, but hadn’t read any of the Cottonbloom ones yet, so the secondary characters were not particularly familiar to me but the story reads well as a standalone. Kayla has embarrassing memories of the night Jeremy saved her from her abusive ex, but he’s been in her thoughts on occasion since then. Interviewing for a job at Fournette Brothers Designs (run in part by her good friend Monroe’s husband), she knows that if she gets the job, she’ll have to face Jeremy on a daily basis as he has a job there as a mechanic. Jeremy had a rough upbringing, and got into several scrapes with the law, so having a full time job with men who have taken a chance on him is something he cherishes. He and Kayla have both experienced emotional heartache and abuse, and neither judges the other as a result, making them soon on the path to friendship. Can it turn into something more, with a little holiday sparkle to brighten the way? The attraction between Jeremy and Kayla, now that they meet again under better circumstances is clear from the outset. But both are shy and hesitant to get involved for obvious reasons, not the least of which is concerns about how working at the same business would affect a relationship. Kayla is just finishing her college degree in accounting and this will be her first big break, so she can’t afford to screw things up. But their friendship soon leads to more and some sexy scenes as a result. While Jeremy doesn’t believe in Christmas, having had very poor experiences with his mother as a child (a woman who is now in jail), Kayla is able to ease him back into the holiday spirit. There are some sweet scenes too as they share their pasts and trust their secrets with each other. It’s kept fairly lighthearted even with the emotional undertones, and has a lovely happy ending suitable for this young couple. I look forward to reading more from this author in the future. 3.5 stars.
A wonderfully sweet holiday read that will leave you smiling. Laura Trentham takes us back to Cottonbloom with the story of Jeremy Whitehurst. He was a troubled bad boy back in Alabama but since coming to Louisiana and working for Fournette Brothers Designs he's shed is bad boy image and started over. All his hard work is put to the test when the sassy new bookkeeper at Fournette's shows up. Jeremy has never been too fond of the holidays but this Christmas might be his best ever! A really cute short read that will brighten your day. I definitely recommend it.