A Blazing Little Christmas

By: Jacquie D Alessandro

Chapter 1

“There’s magic in the air,” Helen Krause said, leaning across the reception desk at the Timberline Lodge to smile at Roland as he entered the inn.

Her husband of forty years stomped snow from his boots onto one of the large red oval rugs that marked the entrance to the lodge’s cozy lobby. Together they owned and operated the rustic lodge, which sat on the shores ofMirrorLake, in the quaintvillageofLake Placid,New York, a location that drew both local visitors and vacationers from all over the country.

“That’s not magic,” Roland replied, gazing at her over the stack of freshly split hickory logs he carried. “That’s a storm. And a bad one. Much worse than they’d predicted, and it’s comin’ sooner than they thought.”

“Last night’s weather report warned of only six to eight inches and that it wouldn’t hit until late tomorrow night,” Helen said, coming around the desk to relieve him of part of his bundle.

“Well, five minutes ago they predicted two to three feet, startin’ now. Wind’s picked up and the snow’s comin’ down hard.” He shook his head. “Crazy weather people. What other job allows you to be wrong so often yet not get fired?”

“Mother Nature loves to throw curveballs,” Helen murmured, walking with Roland toward the roaring fire crackling in the stone hearth. “So…looks like folks might be getting snowed in.”

“Oh, boy. I recognize that tone.” Roland deposited the fragrant cut wood into the curved polished brass log holder then held out his cold-reddened hands toward the dancing flame’s heat. Shooting her a half-indulgent, half-exasperated look over the tops of his bifocals, he said, “Now, Helen, just because Christmas is less than a week away—”

“Don’t go getting any ideas in my head,” she finished, peering right back at him over the top of her own bifocals. “Have you noticed that we have this same conversation every year right around this time?”

“I suppose,” Roland admitted, sounding grumpy. But the effect was ruined when his blue eyes twinkled at her.

“And do you know why we have this conversation every year?”

“I suppose. But just because folks have fallen in love here at Christmastime in the past, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen again this year.”

“Which is what you say every year. But you can’t deny that romance somehow always strikes our holiday guests. I’m not sure if it’s the snow, or the scent of pine from all the Christmas decorations, or something in the lodge itself.”

Roland turned toward her and drew her into his arms. Even after all these years, her heart still skipped a beat. His once thick dark hair was now mostly silver and mostly gone, and his ruddy skin bore the signs of his sixty-four years and hard work. But to her, he was still the handsomest man in the world. And the most wonderful. Not that there weren’t times she’d been tempted to thunk him upside his head with a skillet—he was a man after all and therefore frequently exasperating—but after forty years and five children together, she still loved waking up next to him every morning.

“Uh-oh,” Roland said, pulling her closer, until her reindeer-decorated red sweater bumped against his green flannel shirt. “You have that matchmaking gleam in your eye.”

“Hmmm. You seem to have a gleam in your eye as well.”

“Probably because I’m standing under the mistletoe with my best girl.”

“There’s no mistletoe right here…”

Her words trailed off when Roland pulled a twig of dark green leaves accented with small white berries from his pocket and waggled it over their heads.

“You were saying?” he murmured with a grin, lowering his head toward hers.

After he’d treated her to a kiss that curled her toes inside her sheepskin-lined boots, she leaned back in the circle of his strong arms. “Goodness. I was saying you have a gleam in your eye,” she managed to say, sounding as breathless as she felt. “Clearly I was right.”

“Not bad for an old guy, huh?” A devilish grin creased his cheeks and he leaned down to nuzzle her neck. “You smell mighty good, Mrs. Krause. Like sugar cookies and pinecones. And…” He breathed deep and nibbled the sensitive bit of skin behind her ear. “Magic.”

“As I said, it’s in the air,” she murmured, savoring the pleasurable tingles skittering down her spine.

“Every time I’m near you,” Roland agreed, lifting his head to smile at her. Then his expression sobered. “But I don’t want you gettin’ your hopes up that romance will bloom here this week and then bein’ disappointed.”