Angela Murphy’s plans for a cozy Colorado Christmas shatter when she finds her fellow-teacher boyfriend entangled with another woman. But she goes home anyway—to her grandmother Mollie’s Berthoud Boarding House where she’s forced into tasks with Mollie’s handsome new boarder, Matt Dawson.
While temporarily rooming at the boarding house until his new furnace arrives, Matt sees through Mollie’s manipulations to pair him with her granddaughter, but he can’t complain about spending time with the beautiful gray-eyed school teacher and the mangy stray they pick up on their way home from cutting a Christmas tree. In the company of both a beauty and a beast, Matt understands more clearly the words of a long-forgotten youth leader.
Will those words draw him back to a long-forgotten God? And will Angela find that home lies not in the Victorian house of her
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Angela Murphy squeezed her eyes tight against the invisible onion mist and prayed she wouldn’t slice her fingertips off with the next few strokes. Why did she always get the job of dicing onions for Mollie’s sweet onion jam? Angela rubbed her sweater sleeve across her watery eyes. Over the years she had tried everything to prevent the sting—from holding a slice of bread in her mouth to cutting the onions under water. Nothing helped, so she cried her way through the process. But this time, the onions served as a perfect cover for the waterworks coming from her heart.
“Angie, dear.” Mollie padded into the kitchen and stopped at the stove to check on supper. She lifted the cast-iron lid from her stew pot, peeked inside at the simmering Swiss steak and then looked at Angela. “You about finished with those rascals?”
“I’m on the last one now.”
Mollie walked over and swept the onion skins and end pieces into her apron and peered into Angela’s face. “He’s not worth those tears.”
Angela glanced at the diminutive woman and forced a shaky smile. “You’re right. He’s really not. But it still hurts.” How did Mollie always know if a tear was real?
“Well, there’s plenty of fish in the sea—or deer on the mountain—as my Jim used to say.” She emptied her apron into the wastebasket by the back door. “There are also several nice-looking young men at the church, I’ve noticed. You might meet someone there on Sunday.”
Angela’s heart squeezed at the thought of her adoptive grandmother’s constant husband-hunt. She loved the woman dearly, the woman who had rescued her from Social Services, and raised her as her own grandchild. Mollie and Jim were the only family Angela had ever known.
“I never really cared for ol’ what’s-his-name anyway,” Mollie said. She opened a lower cupboard door and pulled out another pot. “A little too wrapped up in himself, if you ask me.”
Like a bad movie stuck on replay, Angela’s memory flashed the image of what Aaron had really been wrapped up in. She dropped the knife in the sink and washed her hands under hot water. “You don’t know how right you are, Mollie. Better to find out now than later, I guess.”
Mollie patted Angela’s back as she passed by on her way to the pantry. “Speaking of better”—the woman said from inside a closet off the kitchen—”there will be one more for supper this evening.”
Here we go already.
Mollie rummaged around, sliding cans out and in as if looking for some vital, hidden ingredient. “Remember that nice man down the road I told you about who helped me with my sink drain?”
Angela knew exactly what Mollie was doing. She was hiding. This was her standard way of broaching a touchy subject—casually, conversationally, from the security of the pantry shelves.
“He’s a boarder now and has the room at the end of the hall upstairs.”
No wonder Mollie was hiding.
“He bought the old Oxford place, if you remember. Fixing it up, he says.” Mollie stepped out of the tight little room with a slight flush, as if she’d bent over and all the blood rushed to her mischievous face. “His furnace is out and he needed a place to stay until he can replace it. Naturally, I offered him an upstairs room.”
“Besides, no one should be alone for Christmas, don’t you agree?”
How could she not agree with this lovable, hopelessly romantic woman? As Victorian as the house she occupied, Mollie had always considered a well-planned romance a thing of beauty, and frequently said so.
“He’s an architect, dear. And a wonderful handyman. He’s helped me with quite a few repairs.” She rifled through a large cutlery drawer for a manual can opener.
“Let me do that.” Angela took the tool from capable but aging hands and set the metal tooth against the rim of the green bean can. “I know what I’m getting you for Christmas.”
Mollie looked up with the delighted grin of a child. “What, dear?”
“An electric can opener. This is ridiculous.”
Mollie swept away the remark. “This old thing keeps my hands flexible. They have to be to turn it.”
For all Mollie’s pretense of living in the past, the can opener was about the only thing in her house that wasn’t cutting edge. The antique cook stove had been refitted with gas burners and a gas oven, and the oak-paneled ice-box door opened into a spacious, modern refrigerator with a freezer below. Forced air heat ran through every room, in spite of oak-mantled fireplaces upstairs and down, and a small sitting room on the main floor served as an office, complete with the latest computer, printer, and fax machine.
Mollie pulled two strips of bacon from a refrigerated package and laid them neatly in a cast-iron skillet. As they sizzled, she added a little of Angela’s chopped onion and some freshly diced tomatoes.
“You could use a food processor, too. No more onion eyes.”
Mollie ignored the suggestion. “Could you put some potatoes on to boil, dear?”
Angela retrieved several potatoes from a bin in the pantry and rinsed them in the sink. She had to give her grandmother credit. The woman knew how to keep hands busy when a heart was aching.