Christmas Wish List
(Hartbridge Christmas Series, #2)
Publication date: November 25th 2021
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Holiday, Romance
In need of work and a change of scenery, Aussie ex-pat Jayden Turner agrees to a short-term chef position at a Bed and Breakfast over the Christmas holidays. After all, how hard could it be in a small town in the mountains of Montana? What he finds is a grand old house in a beautiful town, and his new boss is gorgeous, gay, and single.
After his divorce, Carter “Cass” Campion bought his great-aunt’s rundown country manor in his home town, and he’s determined to get it ready for the busy holiday period. Recently out as gay, he’s been focused solely on his business and hasn’t had time for a man. Not that many gay men come through Hartbridge . . .
As his new clients arrive, and being away from his two kids, celebrating Christmas is the last thing on Cass’s mind, but his new chef has other ideas. And if there’s one thing on his Christmas Wish List this year, Jayden can make it come true.
My to-do list was a mile long, and every time I crossed off one thing, I found another two things to add.
Eighteen months of planning and a lot of hard work was coming down to days, and while I was really excited to get started and finally see some income coming in, I was also dreading it.
Maybe dreading it was a harsh call. But I was nervous and worried sick.
I couldn’t fail at this.
I’d thrown the last year and a half into this place, into this business. I’d also thrown a lot of money into it.
I needed it to work.
It wasn’t my only income, but making it my only income was the long-term plan.
Renovating a once-grand old country manor and turning it into a Bed and Breakfast was no small plan, either. Some days I thought I had to have been crazy. Some days I was sure I was.
My parents sure thought I was.
But totally renovating my great-aunt’s house to its former glory to be my home and business, while being able to claim some of it back as a taxable write-off, wasn’t crazy.
It was long hours, some back-breaking work, but it was rewarding to see my hard efforts pay off. I did almost everything myself. Of course, things like electrical rewiring and plumbing upgrades were done by professionals, but the rest was all me. I pulled up carpets, sanded floors, sanded back the walls, stripped ghastly wallpapers, put new stringers on porch steps, fixed fence palings, graded and gravelled the driveway, and painted.
So much painting.
And that was just to name a few of the jobs I’d done myself.
I could decorate the guest rooms just fine, and I could refurbish old pieces to new again, buy new linens to make it all match and look like a million dollars. But one thing I couldn’t do was cook.
Well, I could cook a little. Your basic home cooking to ward off starvation, I could do. I’d advertised this holiday period to include all meals, not just breakfast. I figured it was a good draw card for a brand-new business that had no reviews.
Breakfast, I could stumble through. Cook fancy lunches and dinners for a number of people, I could not. Especially Christmas Eve lunch and dinner. They were special events, and there were no DIY videos or magazines that were going to get me through that.
And I had to get the food right. If guests loved the food and ate well, they’d be happy. So I did what any sane and savvy business person would do.
I asked Carl at the diner if he wanted to cater for me. I mean, I knew he was busy . . .
Anyway, after he stopped laughing, he suggested I advertise for a temporary chef for the holidays.
So that’s what I did.
I narrowed the applicants down to a few, called their references and past employers, and I pared it down to two. I spoke to both of them on the phone and settled on the guy with the accent.
He was young, experienced, and eager to work. And he was also arriving this afternoon.
Which reminded me . . .
I was going to have the sign fixed before he got here. I was supposed to have had the sign fixed a year ago—I had asked the Department of Transportation to do it, as they should have—but it never was. Then it became a non-priority on my to-do list, and then with customers arriving in the next few days, like most things, it became urgent.
Well, it wasn’t urgent urgent, because the first customers weren’t arriving for another three days. But my newest, and only, staff member was arriving today, and if he couldn’t find the place . . .
So I drove into town and pulled up at the hardware store. I kinda hoped Hamish wouldn’t be there, which was stupid. I liked Hamish, Ren’s fiancé. Everyone in Hartbridge loved Hamish; he was funny and charming, and he made Ren ridiculously happy. I just had the feeling Hamish didn’t like me. Actually, I was sure he didn’t. He wasn’t very good at hiding it.
Not that we’d ever really had the chance to clear the air between us, either.
But anyway, into the hardware store I went. And, of course, Hamish was there, but Ren welcomed me with a smile.
“Morning,” he said. “We were just talking about you. Well, kind of.”
Oh. That didn’t bode well. “Really?”
“Yeah.” Then he turned to Hamish and the guy Hamish was talking to. “Excuse me, Jayden. The owner of the B&B who’s expecting you? This is him.”
I was expecting him?
Jayden . . .
Oh shoot. The chef. My first employee.
I put on my best smile and held out my hand. “Carter Campion. Most people call me Cass.”
He seemed a little stunned at first, but he quickly snapped out of it. “Jayden Turner. Nice to meet you. I just stopped in here to ask for directions. I couldn’t find the turn off for your address.”
His accent was cute. Kinda faded now. A bit American, a bit . . . something else. English?
Then what he said dropped in my head. He’d tried to find the place already and had to ask for directions. The sign, yes . . .
“That’s what I came in for,” I said. “Ren, I need some supplies to make a sign.”
“They still haven’t fixed that yet?” Ren asked.
“Nope. Still just a post in the ground. And I’ve got my first clients turning up in a few days. I best get something sorted out so they can find the place.” I turned back to Jayden and Hamish. “Jayden, if you want to wait a few minutes while I get this sorted out, you can follow me to the house.”
“That’d be great,” he replied.
I gave him a nod and looked at Hamish then. I gave him my friendliest smile. “Morning, Hamish.”
“Carter, what kind of sign are you making?” Ren called out from the lumber section, “The hanging kind with a cross post?”
It was a good excuse for Hamish not to answer, and I wondered if Ren had called out deliberately to intervene. I smiled at Jayden. “Will just be five minutes, if that’s okay.”
He nodded. “Sure.”
I followed Ren into the lumber section and, with his help, quickly got everything I needed. He helped me carry it out to my truck and I followed him back inside to pay. By the time all that was done, Hamish was trying to take the shoes off their dog, and Jayden was waiting for me.
“I’m all done if you’re ready?” I asked. “Did you need to grab anything while we’re in town?” Then I gave that another thought. “Actually, we’ll probably have to make a list and come back in later, if that suits you?”
He gave a nod. “Yeah, that’ll be fine.” He then turned to Ren. “Thank you. Please tell Hamish I said goodbye.”
Ren replied with a broad grin. “I will.” Then he turned that killer smile my way. “You two have fun. Oh, and there’s the Christmas Tree Night thing, four days from now. Be sure to bring Jayden in.”
Well, that was a little weird. The way Ren smiled and nodded suggestively from me to Jayden gave me flashbacks of when Ren and I were in high school and would fool around after football practice.
Wait a minute . . .
Was he implying that me and Jayden . . . ? That we could . . . ? That Jayden was . . . ?
He was an employee, and I needed these next ten days to go smooth and professional. That was all.
Even if Jayden was cute as hell.
“What’s the Christmas Tree Night?” Jayden asked.
“Oh, they light up the Christmas tree in the main street, by the park,” I explained. “Well, they actually light it on the first of December, but they hold a night where they re-light it and cut a ribbon, and they block off the street and make a festival out of it.”
Ren was doing that smiling thing again. “Everyone comes. There are carollers and a snowman building contest, and Santa brings little gifts for the kids. Carl from the diner puts on a food stall. The whole place is lit with fairy lights and lanterns and it’s a lot of fun.”
“Oh,” Jayden said with a bit of smile. “That actually sounds kinda nice.” He blanched and glanced at me. “I mean, if I’m done working for the day, I could come in after . . .”
Why did I feel so put on the spot? I wasn’t prepared for being a boss in front of other people. “Yeah, sure,” I said. What he did outside of work was of no concern to me. If our clients had had dinner and the kitchen was tidy, Jayden was free to do what he wanted.
Ugh. This was weird.
I tapped the service counter. “Thanks again for your help with the sign, Ren. But I should get back to it.”
He waved us off. “My pleasure. See you both again soon. If you need some help putting the sign up, give me a call.”
“Will do. Thanks again.” I gestured toward the door and Jayden followed me out of the store and onto the sidewalk. “Well, this is me,” I said, nodding toward my truck.
“And that’s me,” he said, gesturing to the dark SUV next to mine. It looked packed full and I had to wonder just how long he thought he was staying for. “I’ll follow you, yes?”
“Sounds great. Just try not to get separated by the traffic rush.”
I tried to joke. It was lame . . .
He looked up the very empty street. I think it was old Barney Durnell’s Dodge turning two blocks up. “I’ll certainly try.” But then a car went through the intersection, driving all of five miles per hour, and crossed the bridge. Jayden put his hand to his heart. “Phew. That was close. There was almost a collision.”
I snorted because those two cars were half a mile apart. “Almost.” Glad he added his own lame joke to mine, I got in my truck and he followed me out down Main Street toward home.
As I pulled into my gate and headed up the long driveway to the house, I was acutely aware that he was following me and also that he was seeing my pride and joy for the first time.
The front pastures were covered in snow, a large frozen pond sat centred before the house. There was an open field behind the house, with gardens and a barn before the land began to incline, and the sheer mountain and trees behind the property completed the picture worthy of a painting.
It was hard not to be impressed, even if I did say so myself, and I loved seeing people’s first reactions.
I drove around the back to the barn and Jayden slowly followed me and parked. He got out of his car smiling and looking up the mountain peak that disappeared into the low cloud. “Wow.”
I grinned, a little proud. “It never gets old.”
“And the house,” he said. “It’s huge. And beautiful.”
“Come on, I’ll help you get your stuff inside. You must have had an early start and probably want to rest.”
“I was a bit early,” he admitted, and opening the backseat, he pulled out two large duffle bags and some kind of toolbox. But then he closed the door.
“Oh, did you want to bring the rest of your stuff in?” I asked. There were some boxes and bags in the back, from what I could see.
“No, that can stay for now,” he said. “But if you’d like to carry this, that’d be great.” He handed me the toolbox, which was odd, but I took it. He picked up his two bags and smiled at me as if he was waiting for me.
Take him inside the house, you idiot.
N.R. Walker is an Australian author, who loves her genre of gay romance. She loves writing and spends far too much time doing it, but wouldn’t have it any other way.
She is many things: a mother, a wife, a sister, a writer. She has pretty, pretty boys who live in her head, who don’t let her sleep at night unless she gives them life with words.
She likes it when they do dirty, dirty things… but likes it even more when they fall in love.
She used to think having people in her head talking to her was weird, until one day she happened across other writers who told her it was normal.
She’s been writing ever since…
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