Down on her luck, college-educated art teacher Quinn Sanders is a single mom who's returned to Landers Hollow to raise her five-year-old daughter, Linsey. While working at the local diner, Quinn is befriended by Jason Graves. She has no idea Jason's the youth director of Landers Hollow Community Church until he asks her to lend a hand with the children's Christmas pageant.
Jason is dealing with issues of his own--a painful divorce following a doctor's confirmation that he'll never be able to father a child. Jason longs for a family of his own, but, rejected and disheartened, fears it may never come to pass.
Jason and Quinn are both searching for a Christmas miracle. What they find is sweeter than an angel's song.
Quinn Sanders juggled a full tray of breakfast platters in one hand and a coffee carafe in the other as she bustled along the crowded booths at Gus’s Diner. Outside, dark clouds lowered over the horizon like a blanket of lamb’s wool. Snow was imminent. Quinn thought of the bald tires on her weather-beaten sedan and cringed. She’d meant to have them replaced with last month’s tips, but then Linsey came down with bronchitis, and the doctor bills had drained just about every cent she’d earned.
Maybe she’d win the lottery…if only she had the cash—and the time—to play.
“Miss, can I get a refill over here?”
Quinn turned to find Mr. Siefert rapping his coffee cup with the tines of a fork. He arrived at the diner like clockwork, the same time every afternoon, and Quinn was sure his purpose in life was to make her miserable. Despite her irritation, she plastered on a smile and nodded. “Decaf, right?”
“That’s right.” His watery gaze narrowed as he removed a battered leather hat from his head and set it on the seat beside him. “And, if it’s not too much trouble, sometime in this decade would be nice.”
“Of course.” Ugh. There was always one yahoo who pushed to make her day miserable. Quinn struggled to keep a pleasant tone of voice. “Coming right up.”
“I’m not getting any younger.”
No, he wasn’t. The thinning, grizzled hair, complete with comb-over, was proof. Quinn huffed out a breath and gritted her teeth as she turned away. How many more hours ’til she could go home to Linsey? She glanced at the clock on the wall above the cash register as she blew a stray wisp of hair from her eyes…still another two hours—two long hours.
Her feet screamed, her lower back wailed, and she felt the kink in her neck creeping up to invade her brain. It was barely noon, and already she’d put in half-a-dozen non-stop hours. The diner’s door flew open, ushering in a frigid gust of wind along with a trio of women carting shopping bags.
Black Friday. Ugh and double ugh! Didn’t all these people have anything better to do than rush through crowded stores and throw their money at overworked cashiers?
But then Quinn felt the heaviness that filled the pockets of her grease-splattered apron…cash tips—enough to replace the sedan’s tires and pay off the rest of Linsey’s doctor bill, with perhaps a bit left for a special treat for Linsey. She thought of the Christmas list she’d helped her daughter write just last night. There were only a few things Linsey wanted, but even those were more than Quinn could afford on her meager salary and tips from the diner.
If only she hadn’t deviated from Mama Cantori’s teachings during college. If only she’d stayed closer to home and been a bit less foolish.
Coins jangled in Quinn’s pockets, drawing her back to the crowded diner. Maybe the day wasn’t such a waste after all. A bell in the order window chimed, signaling another round of meals ready for pick-up. She nodded to Gus, the rotund owner and head cook, and held up a finger to let him know she was on her way. He offered his signature wink, coupled with a gap-toothed smile, in reply.
She delivered the platters in her hands and filled half-a-dozen coffee mugs as she made her way back to the service counter, thanking God along the way for Gus’s generosity. The kindly man had offered her a job when she needed it most.
“Busy day, huh?” Gus spoke in a thick, southern accent distinctive of someone who’d spent his entire life in the Appalachian area. He’d run the diner for nearly a decade, and could have retired as head cook years ago, but he loved keeping his hands busy. So he still manned the grill several times a week. Now, he smiled as he took the order receipt Quinn offered and clipped it along the wall above the serving line.
“Crazy busy.” Quinn grabbed the tray of meals and a carafe of decaf coffee. “And some people seriously lack the Christmas spirit.”
“Oh, don’t let Joe Seifert get the best of you. His bark is worse than his bite.”
“If you say so.” Quinn nodded and flashed Gus a weary smile before doubling back to fill the cantankerous old gentleman’s mug.
She leaned into the booth, careful not to splatter coffee on the table as it splashed into the ceramic mug. “Can I get you anything else, sir?”
“No, but I think Jason’s trying to get your attention.”
“Jason?” Quinn turned toward the windows, where snow had indeed begun to fall in fat, sloppy flakes that blanketed the parking lot. A guy, tucked into the last booth in the corner, motioned with a single finger raised into the air. He offered a slight grin as if apologizing for interrupting her rhythm, and slipped from his jacket, setting it on the seat beside him. She tried not to notice the way his navy polo shirt hugged a terrain of muscles across the wide breadth of his shoulders. He sported disheveled dark hair, just long enough to make him look a bit dangerous, and eyes the color of blue topaz.
“Oh, I don’t know how I missed him.” Quinn padded in his direction, her tennis shoes squeaking across the polished tile. As she approached his booth, she grimaced. “I’m so sorry—”
“Don’t be.” He brushed her off with a wave of his hand. “I see you’re packed to the proverbial gills in here. Just coffee, please. Make it strong and black.”
“For this round, if that’s all you’ve got. But I’d be beyond appreciative if the next round is fully loaded.”
“Sure.” She splashed a hit of coffee into his cup. For some reason her hands trembled as his eyes studied her, and her pulse raced like she was the one downing gallons of caffeine. She chastised herself as she bumped the creamer, splattering the table. She sopped up the mess as she distracted him with small talk. “Been shopping?”
“No.” He lifted the cup to his lips, drew a long gulp, then tilted his head and offered her a sidelong glance. “I wouldn’t be caught dead out there with all those bargain-hungry vultures.”
“Sorry for assuming.” Quinn’s mouth curled into a slight smile at his offhanded remark. Until now, she’d felt as though she was the only one who avoided the annual sale-hungry mobs. “You just look…”
“What?” He leaned back in the booth, his gaze slipping over her as he waited for her to finish.
“I mean, you seem a bit tired and…frazzled.”
“That so?” He scratched a spatter of stubble across the length of his jaw. His fingers, Quinn noticed, were long and strong. “So, now the coffee comes with a therapy session?”
“No.” Quinn backpedaled, stumbling over a chair. The coffee carafe bobbled in her hand, and she was glad she had a tight grip on the handle or the guy—Jason—may have been gifted with a scalding coffee shower. The song on the radio segued into a festive Christmas tune as she stuttered, “I’ll, um…refill your cup. Would you like anything else?”
“Nothing I can find in here.” He drew another gulp of coffee, his gaze drifting to the snow that began to engulf the parking lot and the two-lane road beyond. “So, no, thank you.”