Chapter One

"Missy? Missy Donnelley?"

Heart pounding in her throat, Melissa shoved the trashy tabloid magazine back on the checkout lane end cap. Her fingers trembled as she tried to make sure her hair wasn't sticking straight up or coated with flour. She'd been in the middle of baking a batch of gingerbread cookies when she'd realized they were running out of molasses. She'd tossed off her apron and grabbed her sneakers without bothering to check her appearance in the mirror.

She sucked in a bracing breath before turning to face the man who'd recognized her. Tall. Short, wind-tousled honey-blond hair. Green eyes. Lean shoulders beneath a gray cashmere sweater. The chunky black glasses threw her for a moment, but she'd recognize that angular face anywhere.

Harry Warwick. Redgrove High School's star pitcher. Class president all four years. Salutatorian. The boy who'd made her teenage heart swell with every smile and fleeting glance.

"Hello, Harry." She prayed that he didn't notice the way her breath hitched when he folded his hand over hers and gave it a brief squeeze. It had been sixteen years since he'd kissed her on graduation day, but his smile still gave her butterflies.

"Is it safe to assume we'll be glutting ourselves on Donnelly's famous sugar cookies after the service tonight?"

Melissa forced herself to relax against her shopping cart. "Mom's already iced three dozen cookies. I was working on -,"

"Gingerbread," Harry interrupted. "You smell like gingerbread. It smells fantastic."

Melissa swallowed. He was closer, far closer, than she'd realized. The smolder in his gaze was something she hadn't seen in ages. "Yeah. Gingerbread. What're you doing here? I can't imagine Mama Anne let you anywhere near her kitchen."

Harry held up a six-pack of locally brewed pilsner. "My car was the last one in the driveway so I volunteered for the beer run. I didn't realize that this would be a mini class reunion. I ran into Evan Patrice in the parking lot."

"It's always like this at the holidays. Polly Asher and I spent twenty minutes chatting at the Exxon off Madison. We had all kinds of pissed off people waiting on us." Melissa glanced around Harry at the woman impatiently tapping her foot. "Speaking of pissed off people, I should get this stuff checked out."

Harry's smile dimmed. He shifted his beer to the other hand. "Sure. That's probably a good idea. I'll see you around?"

Melissa grinned. Harry had always been the confident one. It was nice to have the tables turned. "Of course. I'll see you tonight. You'll be the one covered in cookie crumbs, right?"

"You know me too well," Harry laughed. He shook his head as he walked toward the self-checkout lane.

The echo of his rich, deep laughter lingered with Melissa long after he disappeared from sight. If the teen scanning the groceries thought Melissa's smile was a bit too wide or cheery, he didn't say. There was a skip in her step that had nothing to do with the three cups of coffee she'd had with breakfast and everything to do with a pair of warm, intelligent green eyes.

"I'm home!" she called out as she dumped the plastic grocery sacks on the kitchen island and toed off her shoes. "Mom? Where'd you go?"

"Where'd I go?" Ellen Donnelley countered, rounding the corner from the living room. She stopped near the dining table to plant her hands on her hips. "I was starting to think you'd gotten lost on the way home."

Melissa ducked her head to hide her smile as she unloaded the groceries. In the three days she'd been home, she'd been subjected to numerous questions about her relationship status and general happiness. She wasn't in the mood for another inquisition. "I ran into a few friends at the store. You know how it gets around this time of year."

"Spent more time jawing than you did shopping," Peter Donnelley teased from his recliner in the living room. "Don't know which gets you women in more trouble."

"Careful or I'll teach Mom how to do both at the same time. Then you'll really be in for it."

"Ignore him," Ellen encouraged, taking the butter from Melissa's hands and putting it in the fridge. "Who was it this time?"

"Rachel Ybarra in the produce section. She lives up in San Antonio now. Works as a nurse at one of the hospitals." Melissa checked the oven timer before turning her attention to the mixing bowl of batter. "She hasn't aged a day, which is really not fair. She had a passel of kids with her. Half of them were her sister's, I think. Cute little brats."

Ellen reached out to ruffle her daughter's dark brown, shoulder-length curls. "Are you okay?"

Melissa rolled her eyes. "Of course I am, Mom. I'm not going to run off in hysterics every time I see a kid. Besides, didn't you promise we weren't going to mention my biological clock until after the holidays?"

"You're right. I'm sorry, dear." Ellen pecked Melissa's cheek. "Who else did you see?"

"No one."

"Ha!" Ellen laughed. "You haven't lied this poorly since you wrecked your daddy's truck."

Melissa felt her cheeks warm. She tucked her chin against her chest and kept her gaze glued to her batter. "Harry Warwick. He was on a beer run."

"Mitch said the boy came in last night," Peter said, ambling into the kitchen. He scooped a finger of batter out of the bowl and popped it into his mouth. "Ol' Mitch was surprised. He wasn't expecting Harry in until Christmas Eve. The boy's a workaholic."

Melissa's lips curled into a tight smile. It was an accusation she'd heard a time or twelve. "We chatted for a few minutes. He'll be at the nativity service tonight."

Ellen perched on a barstool across the island from Melissa. She swatted at Peter's hands when he dove in for a second taste. The two shared a long heavy look before Ellen pulled him to her side. "Harry lives in Dallas, too, you know. Works as a lawyer for some big firm downtown."

"Well, we can gripe about the traffic together, then."

"He didn't bring anyone home with him," Peter offered gruffly.

Melissa paused mid-stir. She leveled a glare at her mother before transferring it to her father. "I love you both dearly, but I do not want any hijinks or schemes from you or the Warwicks. Harry and I'll see each other as often as we see each other. It'd be great to reconnect with him, but I'm not holding my breath."

"Melissa Dawn," Ellen snapped, straightening on the stool.

"Sometimes people just drift apart. You can be close as two peas in a pod, but time and work and life tug you in different directions. It sucks, and it hurts, but you can't always make the pieces fit again." She shoved the bowl at her mother. "Now, can you finish this? I need to shower before church tonight."

"Of course, dear. Take as long as you need." Ellen smiled knowingly. "And why don't you wear that new red blouse?"


"Try the black skirt, too. It'll be warm enough inside the church."


"Do you want to borrow my black boots with the heel and the silver buckle? I saw the shoes you brought, sweetheart, and I know you're here to relax, but those flats have seen better days."

"Daddy, make her stop!"

Peter's deep chuckle rumbled through the kitchen. "Do you need me to get Gram's pearls out of the safe for you?"

"Argh! One more word out of either of you, and I'm wearing sweats!" Melissa stomped toward her bedroom only to stop, spin, and glare. "From high school!"