Amy Morgan is determined not to let her injury affect her love for dance. Moving to the tiny town of Barrett's Mill, she takes over her aunt's dance studio and begins to organize a children's Christmas ballet recital. She just needs a little help from handsome lumberjack Jason Barrett. Charming and an all-around good guy, Jason volunteers to build the stage sets. Working together with the pretty ballerina forges a connection he never expected. But is Amy really ready to leave the limelight behind? It'll take a few dancing candy canesand a whole lot of faithto bring them together in joy and love.
Barrett's Mill: In the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a family legacy leads to love
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Standing outside Arabesque, Amy Morgan studied the sign from the sidewalk in front of her dance studio, wondering if she should've added some details. Unfortunately, she admitted with a sigh, she really didn't have any. She'd spent most of her life at the front of the stage, so she was well versed in choreography, costumes and toe shoes. The more practical elements of set design and construction, not so much. Now that her performing days were behind her, she'd have to learn the mundane aspects of the business, she supposed. She wasn't exactly looking forward to it.
"So, you're looking for a carpenter?"
Startled by the deep voice that came from behindand far aboveher, she spun into a wall of plaid flannel. Looking up, she saw that it led to windblown brown hair, tanned features and a pair of hazel eyes shot through with gold. When their owner smiled, they sparkled with honest male admiration, and her polite response flew straight out of her head.
Once she regained some of her usual composure, she carefully straightened to her full height, which was still a foot shorter than his. "Yes, I am."
The smile warmed, and he offered her the biggest hand she'd ever seen. Covered in scars, some old and others more recent, it clasped hers with a surprisingly gentle touch. "Jason Barrett. My day job's building custom pieces out at the sawmill, if you'd like some references for my work."
"Amy Morgan." When she registered his name more clearly, she asked, "Are you related to the Barretts who founded the town and run Barrett's Mill Furniture?"
"Yeah, I am." He pointed across the street to the trolley facade of the town's famous diner. "I made the new planter benches for the Whistlestop and replaced the park benches and seats around the old gazebo in the square."
Amy had admired the handmade pieces many times and was impressed with his obvious skill. "They're very nice. You did them by yourself?"
"Start to finish." Cocking his head, he grinned. "I take it that means you're looking for someone who's good at working alone."
"And quickly," she clarified with a sigh. "My uncle Fred was building sets for our production of The Nutcracker, but he hurt his back during our family football game on Thanksgiving Day. I've only got three weeks until the show, so I need someone who can pick up where he left off and get everything done in time."
"Sounds doable. Mind if I check things out before I promise something I can't deliver?"
Unlike my ex-fiancé, she grumbled silently. He'd promised her the moon and then bolted when she needed him most. Still, her schoolgirl reaction to this towering stranger bothered her. The last time she'd followed her foolish heart, it hadn't ended well. Who was she kidding? she chided herself. It turned out to be a complete disaster, and she still wasn't over it. But she was a dancer, not a contractor, which meant she needed someone's help. If she waited even a day or two longer to give other people time to respond, there was a good chance the charming sets she'd planned would have to be trimmed back to something less elaborate that could be completed in time.
Being a perfectionist by nature, that simply wasn't acceptable to her. "Sure. Come on in."
"This is real nice, by the way," he said, motioning toward the huge display window. It was decked out with a rendering of Tchaikovsky's famous ballet in miniature, and she'd just finished framing the scene with twinkle lights. "Makes me wanna come see the show."
"I hope lots of people feel the same," she confided. "The studio hasn't been doing all that well in this economy, so Aunt Helen turned it over to me, hoping some new ideas will bring in more business. I'm doing everything I can to make sure she doesn't regret it."
Pulling open the entry door for her, he said, "Helen gave classes here when I was a kid. My mom used to drag my four brothers and me here to get us some culture to go along with the hunting and fishing we did with my dad."
The way he phrased it made her laugh. "Did it work?"
Spreading his arms out, he looked down at his clothes and battered work boots, then grinned at her.
"I don't know," she hedged, tapping her chin while pretending to study him carefully. "Looks can be deceiving."
"Not with me," he assured her in his mellow Virginia drawl. "What you see is what you get."
How refreshing, she thought as she led him into the studio. In her world, you never knew what was truly going on behind the performer's mask. Here in Barrett's Mill, it was a relief to find people who were content being who they were, rather than acting like something else altogether. Knowing that didn't totally make up for the glittering life she'd left behind, but it helped ease some of the sting that had a way of sneaking up on her when she wasn't prepared for it.
Putting past regrets aside, she surveyed her studio with a sense of pride for what she'd accomplished since Aunt Helen handed over the reins to her. After plenty of scrubbing, painting and refinishing, the original plaster walls and wide-plank floors had a fresh, timeless quality to them. The wide-open space was dominated by the stage, bracketed by faded burgundy velvet curtains she'd replace as soon as she had the money. Structurally, the platform was as sound as the days when she'd starred in her aunt's dance recitals.
So long ago, she thought wistfully. If she'd known her ballet career would end before she was twenty-five, she'd have valued those productions more.
"This music is nice," her visitor commented in a courteous tone that made it clear he'd rather be listening to something else. "What is it?"
"One of Mozart's violin concertos. Number four, I think."
"Pretty," he went on with a grin. "It suits you." She wasn't sure how to respond to that, so she didn't say anything. As they made their way to the stage, she found herself appreciating the self-assured nature of Jason's long strides. He was well over six feet tall, with wide shoulders and a powerful build to go with the out-doorsy history he'd mentioned earlier. He had a strong, solid look to him; it made her think of an oak tree that could stand up against any storm nature chose to throw at it. And yet he moved with a confident grace she envied. She'd give anything to walk that freely again.
When he stopped to look at the framed pictures displayed on the wall at stage left, she knew what had drawn his attention and braced herself for the inevitable question. He turned to her with an amazed expression. "This is you?"
"They're all me," she replied politely, the way she always did when someone asked. "Back in my performing days." Sometimes, they struck her as being from another lifetime. Other days, she felt as if she'd just stepped off the stage after taking her bows. When she allowed herself to think about them, she missed those days with an intensity that made her wonder if teaching was really the right decision for her. The problem was, dance was all she'd ever known, which didn't leave her with any other options. She'd simply have to find a way to make the best of things.
"I'm not an artsy kinda guy, but these are incredible. What's this move called?"
Going to join him, she saw where he was pointing and did her best to smile. "An arabesque jump. It was my favorite to perform, so I renamed the studio Arabesque."
His eyes roamed over the rest of the grouping and stopped on one of her dancing Clara in a youth production of the holiday ballet she'd chosen for this year. The photographer had caught her in midair, making her look as if she was flying. It was by far her favorite shot and the one she would have most liked to shred into a million pieces.
Staring at it for a few moments, he looked down at her with a remarkably gentle smile. It was as if he'd sensed her reaction and was making an attempt to ease her discomfort. "Incredible. How old were you?"
"Twelve. I'd been taking classes at a ballet school in D.C. for four years, and that was my first Christmas production."
"Not really," he teased, tapping his finger on a framed print of her as a six-year-old Rosebud. "I was here for this one, and I remember you."
"You do not," she huffed. "I barely remember it myself."
"You came onstage after the other flowers," he corrected her with a grin. "The older ones all stayed in line, doing their thing, while you floated around like a butterfly. They were good dancers, but there was something different about you. Not to mention, I thought you looked like the pretty ballerina in my cousin's jewelry box."
Amy felt a blush creeping over her cheeks, and she blinked up at him in total bewilderment. She'd always assumed boys that age were more interested in bugs and snakes than classical dance, and that he still remembered her all these years later was astounding.
Realizing she'd been staring up at him like a brainless twit in some old-time romance movie, she gave herself a mental shake. "I'm flattered."
A slow, maddening grin stretched across his features, transforming them into something she was certain most women couldn't resist. Fortunately for her, she'd been burned by a master, and she'd learned to be very cautious around the male species. Since you couldn't accurately predict when they might turn on you, she'd learned it was best to avoid close contact with them whenever possible.
"So, let's see what Fred left you with."
Jason easily leaped onto the low stage, then reached back to offer her a hand up. More than a little jealous of his athletic maneuver, she shook her head. "I'll just take the stairs."
That was all she said, but compassion flooded his eyes, and he jumped down as easily as he'd gone up. "You're hurt, aren't you? That's why you came back here, because something happened and you can't dance anymore."
His quick assessment came in a sympathetic tone that made her want to scream in frustration and weep at the same time. Getting a firm grip on the emotions he'd unleashed, she straightened her back as far as it would go and gazed defiantly up at him. She might have lost a lot of things, but she still had her pride.
"I've changed my mind about the sets," she said curtly. "Thank you for coming in."
He didn't even flinch. Small as she was, most people backed off when she glared at them the way she was doing now. Apparently, Jason was made of sterner stuff, and she grudgingly admitted he had some grit to go with those rugged looks and killer smile. "You're not getting rid o' me that easy, Miss Amy Morgan."
"I don't need your pity."
"Wasn't giving you any," he reasoned, folding his arms as if daring her to argue with him. When she didn't, he went on. "I admire anyone who can take a hit, then pick themselves up and keep on going. You're tougher than you look."
No one had ever spoken to her that way, so directly and with such obvious sincerity. Accustomed to people who fawned or blustered depending on the circumstances, she wasn't sure how to take it. "Thank you?"
"You're welcome. Mind if I ask what happened?"
She winced, but decided that since he seemed determined to work with her, it was easier to get the explanations out of the way sooner rather than later. "In a nutshell, two years ago I was driving back to D.C. and took a shortcut that turned into a patch of ice. Next thing I knew, I woke up strapped into a hospital bed, completely immobilized. They told me I had a fifty-fifty chance of ever walking again."
"Guess you proved them wrong."
"That was the plan."
The response came out more tersely than she'd intended, but Jason didn't seem the least bit fazed. "Good for you."
Flashing her an encouraging smile, he offered his arm, and for some insane reason she took it. The old-fashioned gesture seemed appropriate for him while standing in this old building, dressed like someone who spent his days working hard. Now that she thought about it, he reminded her of the guy on the wrapper of her paper towels.
Only this lumberjack had a real twinkle in his eyes, and he'd managed to get past her usual defenses without any effort at all. That could only mean one thing: he was trouble. And she'd had enough trouble lately to last her the rest of her life.
Amy Morgan was still the prettiest girl he'd ever seen, Jason thought while he inspected the progress Fred had made on the set pieces. Some were partially assembled, but others lay in a heap backstage with hand-drawn schematics thumbtacked to them. Everything was still in raw form, with no paint or details at all.
It was a big job to complete in only three weeks, and with the holiday shopping season in full swing, it was all hands on deck filling custom orders at the mill in time for Christmas delivery. While he'd much rather be back in Oregon logging, his first obligation was to the family business. It wasn't only Jason and his brother relying on it now. A dozen other people worked there, too, and closing the doors wasn't an option for any of them.
But if he didn't take on Amy's project, who would? Everyone was busy this time of year, and being single, he had more spare hours than most. Each day she spent trying to find a handyman was another day of lost build time. If he didn't step up, when someone finally did it might be too late, and she might have to cancel the show. Some of those kids were probably the same way she'd been, working hard and eager to get their turn in the spotlight. He'd feel awful if they lost out and he could've done something to prevent it.
"I know there's a lot to do," she lamented with a worried look. "Uncle Fred's collision shop just lost a good mechanic to that new chain over in Cambridge, and he's been working extra hours to keep up. He fit this in whenever he could."
"Yeah, it's tough."
She seemed to think he was framing a no, and she stepped forward with desperation clouding her china-doll features. "I can pay you for your time. It wouldn't be much, but you could use it to buy some nice Christmas presents for whoever."
For some crazy reason, Jason got the feeling she was trying to determine if he was unattached. He couldn't imagine why she cared, but women were funny that way. A guy just asked you straight out if you were seeing someone, while a woman skirted the direct route and snuck in sideways. One of the many reasons he avoided getting tangled up with anyone in particular. He liked his nice, uncomplicated life just the way it was. Dramaespecially female dramahe could do without.
Recognizing she was in a tight spot, in the spirit of the season he decided to give her a break and not yank her chain. "My shopping's done, so I don't need the money."
Her dainty mouth fell open in a shocked O. "Are you serious? Everyone needs money."
"I've got a little more than enough." Grinning, he added, "And I don't have a whoever, so I'm good."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
We briefly meet Amy and Jason in book one of Barrett's Mill, but we don't learn very much about them. Jason is the brother to the new owner of the mill and has been instrumental in its new found resurrection and success. He is a good hearted, hard working, down to earth type of man that thinks he has life figured out. And for the most part he does. He stays pretty steady throughout the story in a very good way, with only small changes and developments to his character. Amy on the other hand, has a lot going on in her life and she tends to dwell on it a bit much. Her past accident is a central focus and one of the primary conflicts in the story, but Amy as a character just seemed to wallow in her grief over it a little too much. At one point in time a side character even mentions this, and I was so glad they did. This conversation jump started Amy's change and I adored her every step of the way - just not her beginning self. The story is a slow moving and relaxing one - the kind I love to enjoy once in awhile, especially around Christmas time. There is a hint of drama here and there, but again, it seems that Amy is the one to continue to bring it up and make a big deal of it. The rest of the town is so much more laid back that her attitude really stood out. In the end I loved who she was and was happy with her decisions. *This book was received in exchange for an honest review*
“Sugar Plum Season” by Mia Ross is the second book of her 'Barrett's Mill' series but can be read as a stand alone book. This is a story of overcoming both hurts and fear, plus so much more. This is a book that is worth reading that is for sure. Amy is a woman who is doing what she can to remain in close contact to the activity that she loves dearly. She has not only been physically injured but emotionally as well yet she is still putting one foot in front of the other. She has this quiet strength about her that is seen more and more through the story and things in her life begins to change in ways she didn't expect. There are flaws about this young woman without a doubt though she does her best to overcome then and make herself perfect. Jason is about as completely opposite from Amy, for he is a laid back kind of guy who always has a smile on his face, and a heart as large if not larger than he is. When he gives his word then he sticks by it regardless what it costs him. It seems that Jason is also a man who can forgive pretty easily which is something we all need to remember, but he is no fool either. This story is your typical two souls who find each other but weary because they have been stomped on in the past, yet there is nothing typical about the hurdles that are thrown in their way. Hurdles that each had a choice to make to jump over together, jump separately or throw their hands up all together. These hurdles by themselves could have been easy enough to handle but when they came back to back like they did it made it interesting to see what happens. I have a confession to make for I am the type of reader who reads the last two paragraphs of the book before the epilogue if there is one, and frankly I didn't know what was going on or maybe where it was happening might be the better way to say it. This is a great example of the twists and turns that this story takes with these hurdles for I just couldn't be sure what the end results were for the decisions that needed to be made. I do hope that there are more books in the 'Barrett's Mill' series for I am hoping that Jenna gets her own story for there is something there with her that is for sure, not to mention I am a little curious about the lone wolf Barrett who is in Texas. I hope all who read this book enjoys it as much as I did.