Here’s another title in the Holiday Cottage series by author Linda Baten Johnson
Carrie Highsmith’s boss insists she secure a land contract between a toy company and an elderly couple before year’s end. If she succeeds, she becomes a partner. If she fails, she files for unemployment. Standing between Carrie and her goal is a handsome obstacle—Matt Wilder.
Matt, a lawyer who represents the landowners, stays one step ahead of Carrie in her attempts to seal the agreement. He loves the area and the people and intends to protect both. In a battle of wills and personal values, who will win—the small-town lawyer or the driven career woman?
Carrie Highsmith checked her teeth in the car mirror for food or lipstick, finger-combed her short blond hair, and took three cleansing breaths. If she successfully negotiated the land deal for Joy Games and Toys before the end of December, she could add the word partner to her business card.
Carrie hummed We Wish You a Merry Christmas as she pulled her wheeled presentation cart with her carefully prepared materials to the address listed for the lawyer, Matt Wilder. She’d selected a tailored red suit for today, not only for the holiday season, but because she’d read in some magazine that wearing red made you look confident. She hoped it was true because her stomach felt like she was in one of those bouncy castles from her childhood. She squared her shoulders, lifted her head, and plastered on a smile. A bell jingled when she opened the building door.
“Watch yourself.” From the third highest rung of a ladder standing in the middle of the foyer, a long-legged man in jeans and a faded sweatshirt waved to her with a chandelier light bulb. “Two more to do.”
“I have an appointment with Mr. Wilder at ten. I’m Carrie Highsmith, Carrie with a C, not a K.”
She maneuvered her rolling bag sideways to get inside and close the door to keep out the chilly December wind. Carrie bit the tip of her tongue. Silly things jumped out of her mouth and surprised her when she was nervous, like “Carrie with a C, not a K.”
“That’s the office.” The man nodded his head to a room to his right. “Go on in. Wilder will be there shortly.”
Carrie detected a chuckle floating down, and when she looked up, he winked at her. Had he winked? She must’ve been mistaken. She jerked her rolling bag then cringed at a sickening screech as the ladder’s metal feet skittered across the tiled floor. She jumped backward, staring in disbelief as the ladder wobbled and fell. Glass shattered, and the man who might’ve winked at her, but who probably hadn’t, sprawled unceremoniously at her feet.
“You cut your hand.” The tapping of her stiletto heels echoed through the silence as she rushed to his side.
“I cut my hand? I disagree. My hand suffered a cut when I landed on broken glass.” Angry brown eyes stared up at her.
“Let me help you.” Carrie reached for him.
“No. Go in the office and leave your wrecking machine here.” He retrieved a handkerchief from his pocket.
“But I need it for my meeting with Mr. Wilder.” Carrie stepped away from the ladder-felling bag.
He glared at her, dabbing a blood-soaked handkerchief on his hand.
“I’ll get it later.” Carrie retreated to the room he’d indicated and sank into a chair as deflated as a birthday balloon on the day after the party.
Judging from the anger in the handyman’s eyes, she surmised he’d definitely tell his boss about the mishap. Carrie hoped the real estate lawyer would understand. She couldn’t change what happened, but she could give a superb presentation. After practicing the major points and rehearsing so many times for this meeting, things could only get better.
Carrie rose and studied the office, seeking clues for conversation starters. Other than a map of Sprucewood, Colorado, the only relief on the utilitarian beige walls was a calendar featuring Labrador dogs. December’s black puppy wore a big red bow around its neck and sat next to a Christmas tree. Carrie’s best friend in elementary school received a sweet-tempered Labrador puppy for Christmas one year, a dog who grew and grew and grew.
Mentioning her friend’s dog when Mr. Wilder arrived might be a good idea. He was ten minutes late. With time to kill, she examined the room more closely.
The bookcase held law books, a paperweight which didn’t hold down any papers, a coffee carafe, and two Christmas mugs. Labels noted contents of the file cabinets, and his desk was clear except for a picture of two little boys and a wire basket with several thick files. The top one bore Jay Peterson’s name. Her fingers itched to open the file.
The handyman entered. “Carrie, I’m Matt Wilder, double T in Matt, because it’s short for Matthew.” The amused twinkle made his eyes sparkle. He waved his bandaged fingers toward the chair opposite the desk.
“You’re Matt Wilder, the lawyer for Jay Peterson?” Carrie tripped over the chair’s leg and plopped into the seat. She straightened her suit jacket. He was young and handsome.
“I am. Sorry for the display of temper. I’m not accustomed to being knocked off my feet by a beautiful woman.”
“And I am not used to knocking men off…” Carrie felt the warmth spread from her neck to the root of each hair. “I am so sorry. I expected a lawyer to . . .”
“To be wearing a suit?” Matt leaned back in his office chair. “Gave up those a couple of years ago when I moved back to Sprucewood. Still have some in my closet in case I need to go to court.” He put his elbows on the desk and leaned toward her. “Will I need to pull out one of my suits, Carrie?”
Carrie didn’t like the uncomfortable directness of the man or the accelerated beating of her heart. She motioned to the picture of the two boys. “Cute kids.”
“I think so.” Matt gazed at the photo on the desk then stared at her. “You’re avoiding my question, Carrie. Mr. Peterson gave the owner of Wade Brinkman Realty his answer. Are we going to end up in court?”
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Linda Baten Johnson loves traveling, meeting people, and collecting stories. Her favorite memories include parasailing, white water rafting, and being mistaken for a tour guide in Mexico and Russia. She writes squeaky-clean stories for Barbour Publishing, Chicken Soup for the Soup, Winged Publications, and Lovely Christian Romance.