Read an Excerpt
Flirting with Disaster
Instant regret washed over Susan when she realized she'd underestimated the weight of the box of mason jars clutched in her arms. The thick glass clanked together as she stepped over the curb and onto the sidewalk. She eyed the front door of her shop, praying she'd make it before dropping her cargo to the ground. Setting the box down wasn't an option because she feared she'd tip forward too fast, break the jars, and face-plant onto the concrete.
"Oh boy . . ." Panting, she took another careful step forward, but her hefty purse slipped down her puffy coat sleeve, sending her off balance and causing her to do a staggering dance sideways. A brisk breeze whipped her long, dark hair across her face, making her progress even more difficult. Slightly disoriented, she tried to right her direction but the box started to slip down her arms. Panic welled up in her throat, halting just behind her gritted teeth. Blinded by her curtain of hair, she backpedaled and came up against a big wall of something solid.
"Whoa there!" said a deep voice next to her ear. Long arms wrapped around her from behind, keeping her from falling and the box from sliding to the sidewalk.
"Oh my goodness! Sorry!"
"It's okay, I've got you," he assured her.
"No . . . really . . . I'm okay now." Well, she hoped so, anyway. Blowing at her hair, Susan tried to look over her shoulder but she was trapped between him and the box. "You can let go."
"Can you hold the box? Sounds like something breakable."
"Yes," she said, although she had serious doubts. "Maybe . . ." She squirmed a little bit and the mason jars clanged together.
"Susan, please stand still and let me help. I'm guessing you're heading into the shop?" he asked. His voice seemed to vibrate through her body.
"That's the plan." She nodded. He knew her name, but so many people knew her from her shop that it didn't help her identify him.
"Let's get you in there." The smooth, Southern drawl sounded familiar but then again, most of the men in Cricket Creek had a bit of an accent, so he could be anyone, although it was most likely someone she knew. She tried to look over her shoulder again. "Who . . ." she began, but the box dipped sideways and she decided right this moment she really needed to make it to the front door without breaking the mason jars she was using for her Christmas cookie mix. Casual conversation could wait. "What should I do?"
"Do you think you can hold the box long enough for me to scoot around in front of you and grab the bottom?"
"Oh . . . I don't know." She winced. "My arms are already protesting." Note to self: join a gym.
"Well then, just move forward and I'll keep holding on from behind."
"It's kind of hard because the wind blew my hair in my face and I can't exactly see where I'm going," she explained.
"You have a lot of hair," her hero said with a low chuckle. "I'd brush it from your face but I'm afraid to let go of the box."
Susan nodded, thinking she should get the unruly curls cut short. "I should head next door to the salon and get it fixed," she grumbled.
"Your boyfriend might not like that," he said, carefully moving her forward.
"I don't have one," she said, then immediately wondered why she'd just divulged that embarrassing information. She wasn't exactly thinking straight at the moment. Just then the wind kicked up again, and she could smell his aftershave; spicy with a hint of outdoorsy pine.
"We're almost there," he said near her ear. "Okay Susan, I'm going to take a lightning quick step to the right and grab the box."
"I'm afraid it will fall!"
"Don't you trust me, Susan Quincy?" he asked, but before she could react he suddenly had the big box in his arms. "See?" he asked.
"Not yet," she said, getting another chuckle from him. It took another moment to realize that her arms were suddenly free.
"You can brush your hair back now, Suzy Q."
Oh no . . . Susan's heart thumped as she suddenly realized she had a pretty good idea who the sexy voice belonged to. She wanted the sidewalk to open up and suck her beneath the concrete like quicksand. Inhaling a deep breath, she brushed the curls from her face and looked into the startling, sky blue eyes of Danny Mayfield, the last person in Cricket Creek she would want to come to her rescue. "Hello, D-Danny." Oh great, now I'm going to stutter, she thought and nearly groaned. Ain't life grand.
"Hi Susan," Danny said cheerfully, bestowing her with his killer smile. He nodded down at the box, which he held easily in his strong arms. "What's in here?"
"M-mason. J-jars." Feeling heat in her cheeks, she lowered her gaze and dug inside her purse for her keys. She rarely stuttered anymore. This is so embarrassing, she thought with another inner groan. Where in the hell are my keys?
"If you open the door I'll bring them, and anything else you want from your SUV, inside for you."
"Oh . . . you don't have to do . . . that." Susan was so happy to have kept the stutter at bay this time that she looked up from her search and actually smiled.
"My mother would have my hide for not doing the gentlemanly thing," Danny said with an easy grin. He lowered the box to the tiled floor of the alcove between two big display windows in front of the front door entrance. "And I value my hide."
Right, just like back in high school, she thought and nearly cringed. "It's okay. I'm used to lugging th-things inside."
"Well, I'd love to see Rhyme and Reason, if you don't mind. My mom's birthday is coming up and she raves about the interesting stuff you have in your shop. You could help me pick something out for her."
"Oh, I'm sorry, D-Danny. I'm not really open right now. I stay closed on Mondays to restock after the weekend." Lowering her gaze to her purse, she frantically pushed past a pack of tissues, a tin of mints, a mini flashlight, and hand sanitizer. "My keys are playing hide and seek," she said. "I don't want to keep you. I can get it from here. Oh, but thank you so m-much." She glanced at him and nearly jumped-she hadn't realized how close they were. At just under six feet tall, Susan was used to towering over women and being eye to eye with men, but she had to look up at Danny. She'd forgotten how tall he was, and it made her feel feminine instead of gangly. "Okay, keys, this isn't funny anymore. Oh hey, there's my phone that I couldn't find."
Danny chuckled. "You're funny."
"I get that a lot. Problem is that I'm not trying to be funny," Susan said, and he laughed again. She lifted a corkscrew from her purse. "You know, just in case I need to uncork a bottle of wine on a moment's notice. S-sorry, you can get going. This could take a while."
Danny shrugged his wide shoulders. "I'm in no hurry. I was just going to grab lunch at the deli next door. I'm obsessed with Damn Good Sandwich," he said calmly while her heart raced.
"Ham Good Sandwich. City council made him change the n-name."
"I know, but I'm a rebel and John Clark does make a damn good sandwich, so I still call it that."
"Oh yes, the food there is amazing. It's hard to resist the aroma of the bread baking. I'll l-let you get back to your lunch," she said in a rush.
"Have you had lunch? I'd be happy to get something for you." Danny smiled. "Or you can join me. He has a few tables inside. My treat."
Lunch with Danny Mayfield? "Oh . . . n-no," Susan said, forgetting for a moment what she was looking for in her mess of a purse.
Susan nodded firmly. "But thank you for the offer." This was the closest she'd been to Danny since he'd been her prom date back in high school, and her reaction to him was just as instant. She picked up another hint of his aftershave and had an insane urge to reach over and touch the dark stubble shadowing the bottom half of his handsome face. He'd been a cute teenager but he'd matured into a very sexy man. A man that she'd done a very good job of avoiding for the past ten years-not an easy task in a small town.
"Did you find your keys?"
"Keys? Oh . . ." Susan scooped her hand around in her purse. "Here they are!" She lifted her Tinkerbell keychain and jangled it in triumph.
"How could you miss that big thing?" Danny chuckled and then gave her a high five that she promptly missed. He laughed, thinking she'd missed on purpose, and she decided she'd let him believe that.
"Gotcha," Susan said, hoping she didn't sound as nervous as she felt.
"You did," he said as he picked up the box.
Susan opened the heavy door and flicked the lights on, illuminating the main showroom. The calming scent of cinnamon and vanilla filled her lungs and she glanced at Danny to see his reaction to her eclectic array of handmade gifts and repurposed items. She simply loved her store. If she won the lottery tomorrow, she'd keep Rhyme and Reason open just for fun.
"Wow, Susan, this is really cool," Danny said, eyeing a display of old silverware made into wind chimes. He put the box down. "No wonder my mother loves to shop here." He walked over and touched one of the chimes, making the silverware tinkle. "Do you mind if I have a look around? I'm really impressed."
"Thanks." Susan felt a warm rush of pride. "Go ahead."
Danny picked up a colorful rug and looked at it. "Sweet. Mom would love something like this."
"Made from old T-shirts."
"Resourceful idea. Did you make them?"
"Most of them. My mom made a few too. They're easy to do."
Danny nodded and put it back in the stack. "I have plenty of old T-shirts I could donate to the cause. How about socks? I have a million of just one."
Susan grinned. "Socks are repurposing gold. Puppets, holiday snowmen, pin cushions, pet toys . . . I have a display over against the wall called Sock It to Me."
Danny shook his head. "This is really amazing."
Susan felt another rush of pride. "I get such satisfaction out of finding new ways to use old things, especially if they're going to be thrown away." She pointed to a colorful display of candles in various shapes and sizes. "Those were all molded from pieces of broken crayons," she explained with a smile.
"Smart and useful." He seemed duly impressed.
"And see those bowls over there?"
Danny nodded. "Oh wow-they're made from vinyl record albums."
"Yes, but I only use ones that are too scratched to play. I collect vinyl. There's just something soothing about listening to music on a turntable," she said with a sigh.
"Yeah, I agree. My sister Mattie's husband got me interested in records. You should see Garret's collection. It will blow your mind, especially listening on his state-of-the-art sound system."
"I'd like that," she said without thinking. Her heart thumped when he nodded.
"Great, I'll be glad to take you. Oh, and if you'd like to sit in on a recording session at My Way Records, I can arrange that too. Jeff Greenfield is working on a new country album and Garret is one of the studio musicians. He said that Jeff's wife Cat is going to do a couple of duets with him and she wrote several of the songs."
"Oh, everyone in Cricket Creek is so proud of Jeff's success. I just love his old-school country voice. I was at the concert at Sully's when Jeff proposed to Cat."
"I was too. I think the entire town was there. Well then, that settles it. You have to come." Danny gave her another bone-melting smile and then pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. "Give me your number and I'll let you know when we can sit in on a recording session."
"Oh . . . um . . ." Reality smacked Susan in the face at the idea of giving Danny Mayfield her number and she swallowed hard. "My schedule is rather full."
"There will be a lot of sessions to choose from." He looked at her and waited.
"Well . . ." What in the world was she doing getting cozy with the one person in Cricket Creek she wanted to avoid? How could she forget the embarrassing circumstances behind their one and only date? Feeling warm, she took off the puffy jacket that made her look like the Michelin tire man. She seriously needed to shop for a cute winter jacket. And then she remembered she was wearing a green sweater embellished with Santa's sleigh and all eight reindeer, led by Rudolph, who had an actual blinking red nose. Susan's mother didn't get the whole ugly Christmas sweater concept and bought Susan a new addition to her growing collection at the beginning of each holiday season. Susan always accepted the new sweater with ohs and ahs, along with an inward groan, but she wouldn't hurt her mother's feelings for the world. "I wouldn't want to be an imposition." She put her hand over Rudolph's nose.
"It wouldn't be an imposition," Danny insisted and looked at her expectantly.
Susan would bet there weren't many girls in Cricket Creek who wouldn't readily give their number to Danny Mayfield. But just like in high school, he was way out of her league and she knew he was just being kind. She had sort of initiated the invitation, even though it hadn't been her intention. "Well, I appreciate the nice offer but I'm really b-busy with the Christmas season coming up," she said. "I have a lot of decoration to do before the parade and the Christmas Walk."
"Okay, I understand." Danny slipped the slim phone back inside his jeans pocket and his smile faltered. He pointed at the box of mason jars. "Where do you want the box?"
"Up in my . . ." she began and then stopped herself. "Oh, it's okay right there. You've helped enough."
Danny gave her a level look and then sighed. "Susan, I know you don't want that box sitting here in the middle of your shop. Instead of you having to struggle I can take the box wherever you'd like it to go." He jabbed his thumb over his shoulder. "Or if you'd prefer I can get out of your hair," he said with a slight frown. "I get the feeling I've overstayed my welcome."