USA Today Bestselling Author
A matchmaking aunt
wants her nephew to find love
under the mistletoe…
All doggy daycare owner Callie Andrews wants for Christmas is to win first prize this year. The annual window display competition is a huge event in Silver Falls, and she’s determined to showcase her success when her family visits her small town. It’s time for her parents and three older brothers to realize the “baby” of the family is thriving on her own.
The last thing Brandt Winslow wants to do is rehash the past, but returning home to Silver Falls means confronting the reason he left. His vacation, however, takes an unexpected turn when his well-meaning aunt meddles in his love life, and he finds himself caught up in her misguided efforts at matchmaking.
Despite their reluctance at being paired up, Callie and Brandt discover the holidays are full of surprises…and romance. But is the magic of Christmas strong enough to keep the couple together through the new year?
With the second book in this series coming out in just a few days, I thought I’d go back and read the first one. Of course it’s July and the story is Christmas, but seriously what is better than Christmas in July?
Callie Andrews has a successful doggie day care business in Silver Falls. She started it after careful research and this is the first year her family is coming to visit. She’s also planning the perfect Holiday window to win this year’s competition. She wants to show her family this is a serious business not just her ‘playing’ with dogs as they see it.
Brandt Winslow has come home to Silver Falls to spend time with his Aunt Margot. He’s taking a break from his computer consulting business. It’s been six years since he’s been back and he’s looking forward to spending Christmas here. If he can just keep the reason he left out of his mind it would be perfect.
Of course his Aunt Margot has plans for him, and one of those includes him getting to know Callie. She starts by having him walk her dogs to the doggy day care. Unfortunately he doesn’t make a good impression. Not really his fault but the tone of his advice on one of the window decorations rubs Callie the wrong way.
The second part of Margot’s plan is for Callie to give Brandt a walking tour to show him all the things that have changed over the years.
This is a favorite scene during that tour.
“So how does this ice cream parlor compare to the old one?” he asked.
Callie looked around as if to see who was nearby.
The closest person was on the other side of the street.
“Why is that?”
“This new place serves the same cones, bowls, sundaes, and milkshakes, but they also offer frozen yogurt where you pick the toppings. Oh, and ice cream cakes they’ll decorate however you want.”
“Not only a welcome addition to First Avenue but also an improvement.”
“Yes, on both counts.”
His rich laughter wrapped around her heart. That was the last place she wanted anything associated with him to be near, so she took a step to her left to put distance between them.
“You must be a connoisseur given how much you know about this place,” he said.
“I pay close attention when sugar is involved, but I make a point to learn about each business in town.”
Callie didn’t tell him how she’d studied—okay, stalked—each business on First Avenue online before coming to Silver Falls to visit the doggy daycare in person. Buying Wags and Tails hadn’t been a lark as her family thought. The shop hadn’t been the first one she’d visited, either. She’d passed on two other dog-related businesses in other towns for various reasons.
“I stay on top of what’s happening with our monthly First Avenue Business Association meetings,” she continued. “There’s a mixer with refreshments, and that’s where I tasted one of the ice cream cakes for the first time. Delicious, and I’ve been buying them ever since.”
“I forgot about those meetings.” Brandt faced Callie. “Does my aunt attend?”
Guess he didn’t know everything about Margot. Callie bit back a grin. “Always, because she’s on the board.”
“I had no idea, but I’m not surprised. My aunt likes being involved.” A strange expression crossed Brandt’s face. Not surprise, but almost…concern. “She’s not working as many hours at the quilt shop, but she hasn’t mentioned her plans for the future.”
The way his voice trailed off ramped up the worry on his face. There might have been a twinge of guilt in there, too. From staying away so long? Callie shouldn’t want to know, but she did.
“Having a full-time manager gives Margot flexibility with the quilt shop. Lyndsey is a perfect fit. Customers adore her. Not quite as much as they do your aunt, but a close second.”
Margot had been cutting back for a couple of years now. If Lyndsey ended up buying the place, no one would be surprised, but maybe Brandt didn’t know that yet.
Callie continued. “Margot doesn’t need to teach any classes, but she enjoys passing on her love of quilting. Though if you ask her, she says she teaches to get Angus and Sadie out of the house so they can interact with other dogs.”
That made him laugh. His entire body relaxed. “That sounds like Aunt Margot. Angus and Sadie are the children she never had.”
Callie had a feeling Brandt was, too, but she kept that to herself. “Ready to keep going?”
As he fell in step next to her, he shortened his stride, which she appreciated. “Your aunt is a wonderful woman. I got to know her better when I took the Quilting 101 class.”
\His eyes widened. “You quilt?”
“I wouldn’t call what I do quilting.” Callie had struggled. Big time. “But I had fun, made friends, and learned the quilt shop is gossip central in Silver Falls. If everyone doesn’t know your business there, then something is wrong.”
Brandt grimaced. “When I lived here, I hated the lack of privacy.”
She shrugged. “I must be getting used to it.”
His hands burrowed deeper into his coat. “I never did.”
People talking about others was unavoidable here. “Then it’s a good thing you left, because that’s part of small-town life.”
He started to say something but then closed his mouth. Taking a few steps, he stopped and turned to her. His gaze appeared full of questions. “Why Silver Falls?”
She hadn’t been expecting that one. “Excuse me?”
“Why did you move to Silver Falls? Wags and Tails?”
She nodded as they continued forward. “I wanted to work with animals, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity.” She kept quiet about all the jobs she’d tried—pet sitter, dog walker, obedience trainer, and rescue volunteer. That she’d been saving her money since her first job at sixteen, living frugally, and making sure she had strong credit to be able to qualify for a business loan. “I saw an ad online for a doggy daycare that was for sale. I’d never heard of Silver Falls, but I emailed the owner for more information. The rest, as they say, is history.”
He jerked to a stop. “You just upped and moved here?”
His flippant tone bunched her muscles. Taking a breath, she counted back from ten.
“Far from it.” She kept her voice calm, even though part of her wanted to yell. “I visited the town, met the owner, and shadowed him for three days. But as soon as I arrived, I knew.”
“Knew what?” Brandt’s breath hung on the air. The temperature must be dropping again.
“That Silver Falls was home.” Thinking about the day she arrived in town made her feel warm and fuzzy. “I made an offer on the business before I left.”
He eyed her warily. “You were that certain?”
“Nervous, yes, but I had no doubt,” she admitted.
“Things haven’t always gone as smoothly as I hoped. I have a great staff now, but getting to that point wasn’t easy. Running a new business isn’t, either. But I knew I was making the right decision from the beginning.”
Despite what her family thought of her moving away and buying the doggy daycare.
“I had that same kind of certainty once.” He moved at a slow pace, taking in each and every store window.
“Gave up my personal life. Threw my heart and soul into making the start-up I’d founded with my best friend a success.”
“That’s what I’ve been doing. Must be one of the occupational hazards of owning a business.”
“True, but I didn’t realize that until everything was…gone.”
Gone suggested he didn’t have a choice in the matter. The way his jaw tensed was the second clue he hadn’t.
A weight pressed down on Callie’s chest. She hated being nosy, but she couldn’t help herself. “What happened, if you don’t mind me asking?”
He shrugged. “My partner didn’t view the business the same as me. He wanted…out.”
Callie waited to see if Brandt said more—like where this had happened or when. Margot had never mentioned mentioned anything other than saying she had a nephew who was into computers and used to live here.
He remained silent. Not something he wanted to share.
She understood, except…
Her throat thickened with emotion.
She’d been quick to lump Brandt into the same category as her family. Maybe she needed to reexamine her first impression of him, instead of assuming the worst when he’d offered her advice about the waterfall. He might have been trying to help—given what had happened at his apartment building—rather than telling her what to do.
“I’m sorry.” Callie felt bad for his business and how she’d acted yesterday. “Hearing what happened to you, however, makes me relieved I didn’t take on a partner when I purchased Wags and Tails.”
Her brothers had offered to be silent partners. Her parents, too. But Callie had followed her gut. A good move, in hindsight. Sure, she worked longer hours and owed more to the bank, but not answering to anyone but herself was worth the extra time and loan payments.
Brandt’s nostrils flared. “I wouldn’t go into business with anyone again. I never want to be in another partnership.”
His tone was firm but haunted. She wondered if he meant a business partner or a personal one, too. Whatever had happened still hurt him. Maybe that was why she wanted to bring back the light to his eyes and the smile to his lips.
Worth a try.
McClone, Melissa. The Christmas Window: A Small-Town Holiday Romance. Kindle Locations (974-1039). Tule Publishing. Kindle Edition.
In spite of her resolve not to like Brandt he does start to break down her walls as she realizes he really isn’t like her brothers.
Then of course there has to be a bit of a confrontation with his ex-partner Nick. One that truly gives more insight to the self-centeredness of the man.
Brandt’s more than a little upset that Callie is friends with him then on top of everything there’s a problem at Wags and Tails that threatens all of Callie’s holiday plans,
Full of fun, intriguing, romance and plenty of Christmas spirit.
5 Contented Purrs for Melissa!
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USA Today bestselling author, Melissa McClone has published over forty novels with Harlequin and Tule Publishing Group.
With a degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University, Melissa worked for a major airline where she traveled the globe and met her husband. But analyzing jet engine performance couldn’t compete with her love of writing happily ever afters.
Her first full-time writing endeavor was her first sale when she was pregnant with her first child! When she isn’t writing, you can usually find her driving her minivan to/from her children’s swim practices and other activities.
Melissa lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, three children, two spoiled Norwegian Elkhounds, and cats who think they rule the house. They do!