25 December 2008

Excerpt Thursday: Jennifer Mueller

NUTCRACKER SWEET by Jennifer Mueller
Thursdays on Unusual Historicals means excerpts! Here's a special one for the Christmas season from Jennifer Mueller, whose Red Rose short entitled "Nutcracker Sweet" is available now. Happy holidays!

Sometimes the Nutcracker really is a Prince in disguise! Tara Barbour hasn't had the easiest time since her husband died, but all that's about to change when a secret admirer starts signing The Nutcracker. The only real question is will she wake up come morning and find it all a dream, just like Clara did?

"What...What are you doing here? How did you get here?" Tara stammered.

"They have your address at the ballet school. I asked to send the nutcracker."

Tara couldn't believe her ears. "Yeah, and you just showed up?" His grin did things it shouldn't. That's why she left early. Megan would have been fine for her to sit and talk. The dreams wouldn't have been an issue.

"The show is over, I don't have to cook for people I don't know for a few days, and I feel like cooking for someone I know."

"You hardly know me."

"Maybe I thought you could use a night out, and I knew you wouldn't leave the house for it. I brought the date to you."


His eyes bored into her. He didn't even have to say the words 'triple dog dare you.' The look said it all. "You remember those, don't you? Where's the kitchen?"

A dinner she didn't have to cook, without a child in tow. She couldn't even come up with any argument. Taking a deep breath, Tara lifted her chin and stared into his eyes. "In the back. I'm sure it's nothing like what you're used to using."

Jake only grinned. "Show me the way."

The kitchen was the one room they had redone after moving in. It was small, but well furnished, at least for her needs. The beige granite countertops matched perfectly to the mahogany cabinets. For the price, they should.

He sat the bags on the butcher-block island and pointed to a barstool. "Get comfortable."

"You cook all the time. Are you sure you don't want me to do it?"

"Sit." He ordered and pulled out a bottle of wine. "Glasses?"

"In the dining room, top shelf of the china cabinet." Tara sat down slowly, still trying to figure if this was really happening. He was right that she wouldn't leave Megan to go out, but for him to show up? A drop dead gorgeous man couldn't have really shown up to make her dinner on Christmas Eve, could he? The glass he handed her was full, but if she thought that he was trying to get her drunk, he hardly even looked at her before he started going through the cupboards, seeing what there was to work with.

"You've a better stocked kitchen than some restaurants I've worked at." He was busy pulling out bag after bag from what he brought.

"I doubt that. There's never enough counter space. It's only clean because the neighbor is coming for supper tomorrow." She knew he was serious, though, when he took out a knife and sharpened it on the hone she'd never even touched before.

"So where do you want to travel?" He was looking at her as he cut fresh herbs without even a glance.

"You're showing off."

He still hadn't looked at his hands even as he took another bunch. "Is it working? You might not let me stay if you don't think I'm really a chef."

"I'll throw you out on your own if you cut yourself. I'm not spending Christmas Eve in the emergency room." It had been a long time since there was real laughter in that kitchen, and suddenly how he got there no longer mattered. There was someone to talk to, and his laugh was enough to seduce any woman.