I’ve got a visitor on my blog today – the gorgeous Rebecca Raisin has popped in to share a sneaky preview of her new book, Christmas Wedding at the Gingerbread Cafe. I must warn you that every time I read one of Rebecca’s delicious romances I crave cakes and biscuits for days (weeks, possibly) afterwards.
Christmas Wedding at the Gingerbread Café
You are invited to the wedding of the year!
Snow is falling thick and fast outside the Gingerbread Café and, inside, its owner Lily is planning the wedding of the year. Her wedding! She never dreamt it would happen, but this Christmas she’ll be marrying the man of her dreams — in a Christmas-card-perfect ceremony!
The gingerbread is baking, the dress is fitted and the mistletoe’s in place — for once, everything’s going to plan. That is until her mother-in-law arrives… Suddenly, Lily’s famous cool is being tested like never before and her dream wedding is crumbling before her eyes.
In the blink of a fairy light, the Gingerbread Café has been thrown into chaos! Lily thought she had this wedding wrapped up, but with so much to do before she says ‘I do’, can Lily get to the church on time — and make this Christmas sparkle after all?
The fluffy white meringue hypnotizes me as it swirls around the mixer into soft valleys and peaks. A chocolate cake cools on the stainless-steel bench ready for me to layer with meringue, which will look like fresh snow for the cheery-faced fondant reindeers to graze in. High-pitched voices interrupt my reverie, and I turn to see the small children of Ashford making their way along the icy street, caroling.
It’s almost nightfall; through the tinseled window and flashing fairy lights I watch them sing, their faces lit up with the excitement of Christmas. I switch off the mixer, and dust my hands on my apron. Edging closer to the door, I listen to them pitch and warble. I sing along, enraptured by the catchy festive songs.
A couple of young stragglers pull away from the crowd of carolers, and race to the window of the Gingerbread Café. They push their tiny red noses against the glass; their breath fogs up the view. I duck my head around the door. “See those marshmallow snowmen? CeeCee made them especially, so when you’re finished caroling you can take as many as you want. Tell your friends too.” Their eyes go wide, as they squeal and dash back to the group, gesticulating wildly back to the sweet treats on display.
Smiling at their exuberance, I glance back to the window, and see why they’re so animated. At their age and height it must look like a monolithic ode to gingerbread. CeeCee insisted we make our own Christmas tree this year…out of gingerbread. It took us the better part of three weeks to work out how exactly to bake the pieces so they’d fit together to form branches. There were plenty of mistakes made, which were hastily eaten up by our regular customers.
We felt like the most accomplished engineers when it was finally erected and we’d decorated it with golden candy floss ‘tinsel’, and ‘baubles’ made from scarlet toffee. The ‘ground’ is made from marshmallow, and the Christmas presents made from chocolate dusted with edible glitter sit afoot the tree. All the late nights baking seem like nothing when a crowd of children stop and ogle it as if it’s something magical. I can’t wait for Damon’s daughter, Charlie, to see it. For a moment I picture her, with her beautiful blond curls, following the kids along the street, singing. I miss her when she’s gone, almost as if she’s my own child.
The doorbell jingles, catching me mid-chorus. I turn, half expecting the tiny revelers to rush in. “Oh, golly, that’s the voice I love,” Damon teases. His hands snake behind my jacket and he rubs the warmth of my back. “Operatic, and dramatic.”
“Very funny.” I grin. “I would have tried a bit harder if I knew I had an audience.” So, my singing leaves a lot to be desired. I blame my mamma — she’s sings as if she’s being strangled and unfortunately I inherited that gene.
“And I get to wake up to the sound of that voice every day until…for ever.”
Gazing up at him, my mouth hanging open like a love-struck fool, I say, “Ten days until I’m Mrs. Guthrie. Ten days until I swan down that aisle. I’m tingly with excitement even if I do have to wear gloop on my face, and be tortured with hair devices to make my curly hair…curly.”
He laughs so hard little dimples appear on his cheeks. “I’m tingly too, in more ways than one.” He half groans as he leans down and kisses me full on the mouth. I close my eyes as my whole-body throb reaches swoon level. This fine-thing sure knows how to kiss a girl, all right.
Slightly breathless, we pull apart, silent for a moment until the blood rushes back to wherever the hell it’s supposed to be. We stare hard at each other, but I don’t dare kiss him again. We’re likely to close up shop and jump into bed for the evening. As tempting as that is, I have cakes to bake.
I have cakes to bake.
Damon runs his hands through his hair. “Let’s just close…”
Jelly-legged from his presence, I fight to stay strong. “Nope.”
He hooks his fingers through the belt loops of my jeans and pulls me against him. I step back, but he pulls me close again in an effort to convince me. “Lil…”
His lips part slowly, and my restraint almost crumbles. Cakes, think of the cakes.
He moans low. “You’re a temptress…”
I laugh. “It’s a hard life.”
“Very hard,” he agrees, winking. He makes a show of exhaling, and shakes away the desire that is plain on his face. Composed, he says, “Let’s stop canoodling in the doorway before we end up in some compromising photos on CeeCee’s Spacebook.”
I imagine a picture of us wrapped together squid-like, flushed, for the world to see on Facebook. I giggle and drag Damon close to the fireplace when my friend Missy ducks her head in and says, “Hello, lovebirds! You’re looking mighty sweet all tangled like that.”
“Come out of the cold, Missy.” I wave her over to the fire. She struts in. Despite being heavily pregnant, she still manages to saunter rather than waddle.
Missy, who owns The Sassy Salon, has all these grand plans for my wedding hair and make-up, and, while it’s not usually my thing, it’s hard not to get caught up in her excitement. She is an expert, after all.
I rub her belly before giving her a hug. As always she smells sweet with perfume and hair products, her heavily made-up face perfection as she fluffs her big auburn curls. “I don’t intend to interrupt you two from whatever it is you were doing…” she arches an eyebrow, and grins “…but I wanted to give you these, Lil.” She hands me a brown paper bag. “Some make-up samples, colorstay, so no matter how much toying you do to your pretty little face, it should stay put.”
I go to protest, but she shakes a finger. “Before you start shaking your head, hear me out. You need to decide what colors you like…so just try it, OK? I know make-up is not your thing, but you’ll get used to it if you try it out a few times before the wedding.”
Damon lets out a huge belly laugh. I pivot, hands on hips, and give him a fake pout, he stops immediately and claps a hand over his mouth. “You think this is funny?” I tease; ruing the fact that at almost thirty years of age I still don’t understand the basics of applying make-up. I’ve tried, but it feels so unnatural, as if I’ve cemented my face, that I can’t help but mess with it, as a child would.
“No, no!” Damon holds his palms up, stifling a laugh. “Definitely not funny.” I give him a shove with my hip and turn back to Missy.
“I just hope I’m not going to look like a Dolly Parton impersonator.”
Missy rolls her eyes heavenward. “There’s nothing wrong with Dolly Parton, Lil. That woman knows what real beauty is.”
“She’s my people and I won’t hear a bad word about her!” Missy laughs. I grin back. Missy dresses similar to Dolly Parton, all tight miniskirts, bold prints, the odd sequin or two. She’s vibrant and sassy and has a heart of pure gold.
“OK, no more Dolly jokes. So are there instructions with this stuff?” Doubt creeps in as I survey the bag full of colorful vials and tubes used for God knows what. Missy knows I’m erring on the side of natural rather than full-on war paint, but so far all I see are pinks and reds so bright they make my eyes hurt.
Missy scoffs. “No, there aren’t instructions! At least try the lipsticks and see which shade you prefer. We can sort the rest at the make-up trial, OK?”
“I better go and close up shop or else Tommy’ll think I’ve run off with another man.”
Laughter barrels out of us at the thought of a heavily pregnant woman running anywhere, least of all off with another man. “See you tomorrow, and thanks.” I hold up the bag. Missy air kisses us both and struts away. From behind you can’t even tell she’s pregnant — all the gingerbread men and slices of pie she’s consumed have obviously gone straight to the baby.
“Only ten more days…” Damon’s voice brings me back to the present as he kisses the top of my head.
Ten more days marks our one-year anniversary, and our wedding day.
I wasn’t searching for love a year ago, far from it, when it fell in my lap — or rather my café — in the form of this tight-jean-wearing, curly-haired, six-packed, glorious man. Some days it still doesn’t feel real, that this kind of passionate, all-consuming love could just happen, in the blink of an eye, but thank my lucky stars, it did.
Nipping my fingers into Damon’s back pockets, I pull his hips close. “Look at them…”
Ashford’s mini carolers huddle together as they wait to cross the road. They’re bundled up in woolen scarves and beanies, their mittened hands holding candles. They chorus Amazing Grace, and I stiffen in Damon’s arms. Oh, no. I bite the inside of my cheek. I wiggle my toes. Isn’t that what people do to stem their tears? It’s too late. My eyes well up; it’s no use. That song kills me. It’s the very heart of Christmas and it speaks to me like nothing else.
“Lil?” Damon says. “You OK?”
I half laugh, half hiccough. “It’s that darn song. It’s even more of a tear-jerker when six-year-olds are singing it.” My voice comes out a little strangled as I try to laugh it off.
“How could I forget?” he says wistfully. “The Amazing Grace blubber-fest exactly one year ago today.”
I cock my head. “Wait…what? You saw that?” This time last year I had my hand wedged well and truly up a turkey’s behind, stuffing the damn poultry to sell in the café as I sang my little heart out to Amazing Grace, laughing-shrieking-sobbing with the sadness of one whose life wasn’t going as planned. And that very same day, I met Damon.
Damon smacks his forehead. “Whoops. So I may have been spying on you long before you marched across the road to shout at me for stealing your customers.”
The memory makes me smile. I’d been all riled up when this handsome newcomer strode into town selling the same things as my beloved Gingerbread Café. It hadn’t helped matters he was gorgeous and instantly had a shop full of ladies, single or not, flicking their shiny hair, and strutting about, trying to make his acquaintance.
“You were spying on me?” I ask, mock seriously.
He puts a hand to his chest and does his best to keep his face straight, but his lip wobbles as he gulps back laughter. “I fell in love with you that very second. I thought, if a girl can stuff a turkey, simultaneously cry, and laugh, and sing like it’s the only thing that’ll save her, then she’s the one for me.” He presses a fist to his mouth, no doubt reliving the scene in all its sob-fest glory.
I laugh and blush to the roots of my hair. I really did make a spectacle of myself that long-ago wintry morning in the café. I had no idea anyone could see me in such a vulnerable state. “I’m surprised —” I hit him playfully on the arm “— that you’ve never mentioned this before.”
He raises his eyebrows. The deep brown of his eyes is so easy to get lost in, I forget for a moment what we’re even discussing. “You were upset, and I didn’t want you to know I’d seen. I only wanted to make you smile. Little did I know that you’d take offence to my mere presence in town, and that it would become a bit harder than I’d first thought.”
Thinking back to that day, I’m caught up in a rush of mixed feelings. Back then, I was pining for my ex-husband Joel, too naïve to know he was no good, not realizing it was just the idea of love I missed — and not actually him. And that very day, I’d vowed to run Damon out of town because I’d seen him as a threat to my business, and without the café I would have been lost and broke. That version of me, sad and lonely, seems like a lifetime ago.
Shaking my head, I marvel — what a difference a year makes. It hadn’t taken long for me to fall in love with Damon; he truly was a Christmas miracle. And now, we’re about to get married! I resist the urge to pinch myself.
When a man turns every notion you had of love upside down, and shows you what a genuine heart he has, it’s almost impossible not to well up, and again it makes me wonder why I let my ex-husband treat me callously for so long. Silently, I thank the universe he’s out of my life for good, and instead focus on the wonderful man in front of me.
And next year, I vow, I’ll only listen to Amazing Grace when I’m alone, and can bawl for the full five minutes and afterwards will feel strangely refreshed, and altogether festive.
“Where’s CeeCee?” Damon asks, glancing around the café.
Frowning, I push a tendril of hair back. “She dashed out to get some Christmas presents for her grandbabies.” I glance at my watch and shrug. “But that was a while ago. She’s probably bumped into someone.”
You can never really dash anywhere in Ashford. Everyone knows everyone — you can’t get down the main street without stopping to chat to people. Even the inclement weather doesn’t deter the locals from stopping to shoot the breeze.
Outside snow drifts down like white confetti, pitching in the wind, and settling on the square window panes. The sight makes me want to curl up and watch the world go by. With that in mind, I push Damon towards one of the old sofas in front of the fireplace, and sit with my legs over his lap. He’s impossible to resist and the cakes can wait, for five minutes, at least. The fire is stoked up, and crackles and spits as if it’s saying hello. Damon groans. “I’m beat. You don’t realize till you stop for a minute.” He covers his mouth as he yawns, which immediately makes me yawn.
“How’d today go?” I ask. Damon owns a small goods shop across the road, and hosts cooking demonstrations as well as sorting out the finer details of our catering business. No matter what you do, money is tight for shopkeepers in Ashford purely because it’s such a small town. Though the lead-up to Christmas is frantic for us all.
“Busy. I must have made a hundred cups of coffee…”
I smirk. Damon’s fancy coffee tastes like tar to me, but women still flock there, and grimace their way through a cup. He’s totally clueless they’re ogling him as he dashes behind the counter, while they stare, mouths hanging open. I don’t blame them. I’d spend my morning at his coffee bar and stare too if I could.
Find the book here:
Amazon US http://amzn.to/1qIb9VQ
Amazon UK http://amzn.to/1m7wGWP
Amazon Aust http://bit.ly/1uCJVjx
Google play http://bit.ly/ZnNjTF
Find Rebecca here:
Rebecca Raisin is a true bibliophile. This love of books morphed into the desire to write them. She’s been widely published in various short-story anthologies, and in fiction magazines, and is now focusing on writing romance. The only downfall about writing about gorgeous men who have brains as well as brawn is falling in love with them — just as well they’re fictional. Rebecca aims to write characters you can see yourself being friends with. People with big hearts who care about relationships, and, most importantly, believe in true, once-in-a-lifetime love.