A Kiss In The Snow. Susan Mallery
father, a pediatrician, had done his best to comfort his young daughter, but he’d had his own pressing work schedule. Summers had been difficult—with Nancee out of school and her father busy with his patients, the solution had been for Nancee to spend those three months with her great-aunt Gladys in Fool’s Gold.
Nancee had always loved the town. There were plenty of kids for her to play with and tons to do with all the festivals and a lake and hanging out with her favorite relative. Gladys wasn’t one for rules. She believed in seizing the moment—which meant staying up late to watch a meteor shower or having pancakes for dinner. So for five glorious years, Nancee had spent all her summers in Fool’s Gold.
Even after Nancee started college and her summers were filled with things like jobs and getting dumped by Shep, she and Gladys had stayed in close contact. They talked on the phone, texted and commented on each other’s Facebook pages. Gladys might be pushing eighty, but she was sharp, funny and a bit of a flirt when it came to younger men. All of which Nancee loved. Gladys had always been there for her. These days her aunt had given Nancee a place to run to when things had gone south with her terroristic ex and her career. Which explained why she hadn’t started shrieking the second her aunt walked in the door, even though the older woman had given her no warning that Shep had moved to Fool’s Gold.
“I got a giant bag of Cheetos,” Gladys said, setting a reusable grocery bag on the counter. “And vodka. You’re going to need both to help you settle in.”
Gladys was about five-four, with white hair. She wore false eyelashes, lots of jewelry and plenty of makeup. She’d married young and been widowed at forty. There had been plenty of money, and Gladys could have gone anywhere, but she’d chosen to stay where she’d been raised. She’d joined the city council. Nancee was sure she made more than her share of trouble both politically and personally.
Annoyance battled with a wave of love. Nancee surrendered to the latter because honestly, who else would have bought her Cheetos and vodka?
“Are there more bags in the car?” she asked.
“Yes, and you can get them.” Gladys shook off her coat. “It’s snowing again. I’m going to have to get the driveway cleared for the third time this week.”
Nancee went into the garage and retrieved the groceries.
“I thought we’d make lasagna tonight,” Gladys told her as she settled on a stool at the kitchen island while Nancee put the groceries away. “It’s my favorite, but it’s silly to make it for one.”
“You could make it for Shep,” Nancee said as she put a carton of ricotta in the refrigerator.
Gladys didn’t even blink. “Did he stop by? He said he might.”
“And you didn’t think to tell me?”
“I thought of it, but then I decided you needed a nice surprise.” Gladys’s expression turned impish. “I know he’s your young man, but you have to admit he’s very impressive. Those shoulders. That butt. Delicious.”
Nancee winced. Her aunt did like younger men, which she mostly found amusing. But when Gladys talked like that about Shep, it was just plain unsettling.
“You should have warned me. I almost had a heart attack.”
“Nonsense. You come from sturdy stock. Besides, after that asshat Sean, you need Shep back in your life.”
“What part about ‘he left me at the altar’ is unclear?” Nancee used little air quotes as she spoke.
“He had his reasons.”
“Yes, he leaves. That’s his style. I suppose I deserve as much blame for trusting him.”
Gladys shook her head. “I wouldn’t be so quick to judge him. He’s been in town over a year. That’s a long time.”
“It won’t last,” Nancee said firmly. “And even if it does, what he does with his life means nothing to me. We’re not together. We’re just old friends. Former friends. Exes. Whatever. I’m moving on with my life.” She pointed to the cooling racks covered with cupcakes. “I’m busy.”
And she was. The amazing Gladys had given her a single morning to sleep in before taking her to meet Shelby Mitchell—the owner of Flour Power. The thriving bakery did a big mail-order business. Nancee had baked cupcakes, Shelby had tasted, then hired Nancee on the spot. Now Nancee had a challenging baking schedule through Christmas, which was exactly what she wanted. The cupcake work kept her days filled but allowed her plenty of time to think. She had to figure out her next act. Did she want to go back to being a lawyer or make cupcakes her life’s work? Or was what she needed something else entirely?
“You can’t ever be too busy for a man,” her aunt pointed out. “And Shep is all that.”
He was, Nancee admitted, if only to herself. All that and more. The things he did to her body should be illegal. But more than that, he had a way of making her feel safe. She liked who she was when she was around him. He was funny and kind and...
“No,” she said firmly. “It’s not happening. He leaves. He can’t help it.”
She remembered her first summer with Shep, when they’d been so eager to know everything about each other. He’d told her about growing up in foster care but had glossed over the specifics. It wasn’t until their next incarnation that she’d learned the horrible details. How he’d been confined to a single small room with no windows and no light. How his foster father had left him tied up in a chair for days at a time. How he’d run away at fifteen and had never gone back.
She understood why he felt he had to keep moving, but that didn’t change the outcome. That she had been left standing in front of an officiant, waiting to become Mrs. Jesse Sheppard, while he’d taken off for parts unknown.
“So you’re over him?” Gladys asked.
Her aunt handed her the bag of Cheetos. Nancee ripped them open and grabbed a handful.
“Mostly,” she said before taking a bite.
Gladys reached for the vodka. “If you’re sure.”
“I am. Well...almost.”
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