Good morning everyone!  We're back with Josh and Amanda and my Christmas release, All I Want for Christmas...Is Big Blue Eyes

All I Want for Christmas...Is Big Blue Eyes
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Some dreams were never meant to be... 

Renowned architect, Josh McDaniels, spent ten years avoiding his hometown and the unforgettable memories of his youth. But when a former classmate phones him before Christmas with a proposal he can’t refuse, he finds himself back in small-town, Lexington, Missouri, surrounded by holiday festivities and engulfed in memories of a blue-eyed girl. 

Amanda Masterson knows three things about Josh. She loves him, he loves her, and he’ll walk out when those feelings terrify him, as he always does. Ten years ago, he abandoned their dreams. Eight years ago, he returned to break her heart again. Now, he’s back once more, and this time, he’s jeopardizing not only her heart but her daughter’s as well. 

Can the spirit of Christmas overcome a past riddled with mistakes? Or will fears and doubts destroy the greatest gift of all?



“Uncle Lucas!”

The childish cry of delight pierced through house, all the way up two flights of stairs, and brought an immediate smile to Amanda Masterson’s face. As the front door shut, the window over her desk rattled with the change in pressure. One of the many faults of her aging home.

She yanked her sweater down over her head and reached for her jeans.

“‘Manda?” Lucas bellowed.

“Up here, be down in a minute.” As she hollered back, she tugged her jeans up over her hips and buttoned the fly.

“Mommy, hur-ry,” Emma pleaded at the top of her lungs.

The rest would have to wait. When five-year-olds called, they didn’t give two hoots about hair and makeup. She’d heard that tone too many times to think Emma’s patience would last much longer. Chuckling, Amanda bounded down the stairs.

Rounding the corner of her formal dining room and into what was once the ladies’ sitting room, she found Emma already in her boots. Misbuttoned, her heavy winter coat hung about her lopsidedly, evidence she’d tried to dress herself.

As Lucas attempted to hold the squirming child still to fix her crooked state, Amanda grinned at him. “Morning, handsome.”

“Mornin’, yourself.”

“Uncle Lucas,” Emma protested as she tugged on his hand. “Don’t talk to Mommy. I’ve been waiting all morning. Let’s go get our tree. Santa won’t come if we don’t have a tree.”

“Emma, be nice. Lucas won’t take you anywhere if you act that way.” Although Amanda scolded, her smile didn’t falter. She couldn’t blame Emma for being excited. Already December nineteenth, and she’d shown amazing patience about not having a Christmas tree when all her friends did. It would have been different. They’d have put one up Thanksgiving afternoon if Amanda could have found the extra money somewhere. It took Lucas two weeks to convince her to accept his generosity. Generosity that felt, uncomfortably, like charity.

“Thank you, Lucas. She’s been waiting all morning.”

Understanding her reference, he merely gave her a smile and a nod as he stood up.

Emma sulked, let out a dramatic sigh, and leaned against the door, bouncing the back of her rubber boot on it. When Amanda gave her a sharp look of reprimand, her foot stilled. Her bored expression, however, didn’t change.

Lucas greeted Amanda with a tight hug. “Sorry I’m late. I got sidetracked by the phone. Wanna guess who called?”

“Your mother, panicking over where her fresh greens are for tomorrow night. I told her I’d have them there tomorrow afternoon. She probably also gave you the third degree about whether I really meant it when I offered to help hostess.”

With a smirk, Lucas shook his head. “No.” He paused, a thoughtful look pulling at his dark eyebrows. “Well, yeah, you’re right partly. She did phone, but that was first thing this mornin’. And yeah, she was panickin’. I smoothed that over. But I think you might wanna reconsider the hostessing.”

“Think I can’t handle shaking the hands of Lexington’s finest?” Amanda asked, laughing.

As Lucas’ frown deepened, his expression took on an air concerned, uncharacteristic seriousness. Her chuckles faded away.

“Josh called.”

She drew back, her eyes widening. “Josh? What did he want?”

“He’s comin’ into town. You know Mom won’t let him miss her party.”

A shiver rolled down her spine. It settled in her stomach, clamping it tight. Josh. Back in Lexington. Why?

“He’ll be there?” To her ears, her voice sounded shaky.

It must have to Lucas too, for he hurried to remedy the situation. “Really, you can back out. Mom’ll understand.”

Amanda frowned. Eight years ago, she’d decided she would never again speak to Josh McDaniels. Fate, however, seemed intent on throwing him in her path just as she began to forget the last time he came around. If she stayed home, there’d be no chance of running in to him. Safe. Protected. Nowhere near his mesmerizing green eyes.

A coward’s reaction. She was braver than that.

She shook her head vigorously. “I won’t hide. If he’s going to be there, I’ll be certain to look extra nice so he can choke on regret.” With a teasing grin and a flirtatious bat of her eyes, she asked, “You’ll keep me safe, won’t you?”

“‘Course, darlin’.”

“Okay you two, go on. Go pick us out the prettiest tree ever.”

Emma bolted upright, fastening her hand around Lucas’ to drag him out the door.

Lucas halted and lifted his eyebrows at her. “What do you say, Emma?”

Rolling her eyes, Emma faced to Amanda. “I love you, Mommy.”

“Love you too, sweetheart.”

Amanda eased the door shut behind the pair and leaned against it. She took a deep breath, but it didn’t help. Her hands still trembled against her thighs. Her legs felt weak. Josh. Back again.

Why couldn’t he just stay away? Let her live her life? Forget Lexington like he made it clear he wanted.
Damn it. She didn’t need this now. With everything else going wrong this year, she couldn’t handle Josh’s sudden decision to drop in out of the blue for a hometown holiday. Where the hell did he get off suddenly deciding to come back and stir up everyone’s lives again? She had better things to do, more important things to think about.

She shoved away from the door and stalked across the dining room to her kitchen. Flinging open the cupboard nearest the stove, she pulled down the flour, sugar, and three boxes of brownie mix.

More important things like bake walnut brownies, four one-pound tins of peanut brittle, and four trays of peppermint bark for Mae’s Christmas party tomorrow night.

Would Josh have cut his hair?

Amanda squeezed her eyes shut.

Focus. Baking, not Josh. You don’t give a rat’s ass about Josh McDaniels. Not anymore.

“Eggs,” she murmured as she went to the refrigerator. “No eggs.”

Glancing at the counter, she went through the cook times on her projects, gauging which to start first. The peppermint bark absolutely must be finished and stored before Emma came home. Otherwise, by tomorrow night there’d be less than half left.

The peanut brittle took the longest to cool. Emma would want to help break it up before they went down to the mall to see Santa after dinner. She should start it first. After Santa, she could stop by the store for eggs and make the brownies when Emma was asleep.

Nodding her head, agreeing with herself, she returned to the refrigerator for the packaged peanuts. As she opened the door, a box of Lindt bittersweet chocolate tumbled out, landing on her toe. She picked it up, set it on the shelf again, and paused.

Josh loved rum truffles.

Don’t you dare.

She pulled the box of chocolate back out, grabbed the peanuts, and went to the counter. If he said one inappropriate thing, she could throw them at him. One square between the eyes would certainly get her point across. He was not welcome here anymore.

With a mutter, she flipped open the recipe book and studied the page.

Oh, who was she fooling? It wasn’t like Josh would even give her a second look once he found out about Emma. Josh didn’t like kids. Never mind it had been Lucas who Josh called—not her. He’d made it clear years ago just how low on his list of priorities she fell. When he left Lexington, and their dreams, behind.

The lines on the recipe blurred as tears welled in her eyes. With a little sob, her shoulders shook. Dropping her elbows on the counter, she sank her head into her hands, and gave over to the heartache even precious Emma couldn’t heal.

She hated Christmas.


Lucas opened the door to Amanda’s house with one hand, supporting the thickest, biggest Christmas tree Emma could find on his shoulder. Snow still clung to its branches, dripping down his shirt collar and covering his ball cap. As he stepped inside, a clump tumbled to the floor. It quickly turned to watery slush. Holding the door open with his foot, he backed up and gave the tree a shake, dislodging most of the lingering snow.

The smell of peanuts and chocolate wafted to his nose, bringing a smile to his face. Amanda, despite her loathing of the holiday season, pulled out all the stops to make sure Emma never missed a moment of the magic of Christmas. Of all the holiday traditions, Amanda threw her heart into baking. And the things she created—they could bring a king to his knees.

She’d always had a knack for the kitchen. Even in high school, after Thursday night football practice, most of the team would go to her house for cookies. They’d all bring their girlfriends, camp out in front of Amanda’s television while she made them by the dozens, with Josh doing his fair share to eat the dough before she could cook it. As the weather got colder, her mom made sure they never went without cocoa either. Man, Christmas brought back memories.

“We’re home,” he called out.

Emma took off, racing through the house, her little feet pounding over Amanda’s polished wood floors. “Mommy, come see the tree!”

Strangely, Amanda didn’t answer.

Lucas frowned as he hauled the tree inside and propped it near the front door. “Emma, come back here. Get those boots off before you track water all over.”

“Where’s Mom?” She traipsed into the large front hall wearing a look of puzzlement.

“I’m sure she’s ’round here someplace.” He winked at her as he tugged off first one snow boot, then the other. He kicked off his own and set the two pairs on the grey-blue welcome mat. “Why don’t you go get those boxes we brought up from the basement yesterday and bring ‘em out here? They’re light enough you can carry ‘em. Set ‘em on the couch. Be careful.”

“Okie dokie.”

Emma vanished through a pair of inlaid glass French doors humming Jingle Bells.

He lifted his eyes to the stairs. The soft glow of light against the upper wall told him Amanda was in her room. Napping, if the variety of smells were any indication of what she’d been doing all afternoon. She’d wear herself out burning the candle at both ends, at this rate. His mother wasn’t helping either.

The stairs creaked with his weight as he mounted them. His feet echoed hollowly, marking his ascent, despite his socks. As he stepped onto the landing, he slid his hand along the polished mahogany banister. It wiggled. He’d have to fix that tomorrow. If Emma came barreling down the stairs and crashed into it, the damn thing would give.

Up another flight, he followed the light from Amanda’s open bedroom door. The only light on, it cast shadows throughout the dark-green hall and illuminated a floor-length mirror at the opposite end.

He poked his head in the door and chuckled. Stretched out on her belly, Amanda lay shirtless, passed out in her bed. The sweater she’d worn earlier was piled on the floor, globs of chocolate peeking out between the folds. Her hand hung off the bed, her fingers dangling over a black sweater as if it had tumbled free when she fell asleep.

He sat down on the edge of the mattress and bent over to kiss her cheek. “Rise and shine.”

She mumbled something, turned her head the other way, and snuggled deeper into her pillows. Her short blond hair draped over the side of her face, masking her features. The thin straps on her black bra stood out sharply against her creamy skin, and he let himself admire her for a moment.

Beautiful didn’t really describe her. She was pretty, extraordinarily elegant, and her petite build gave her a delicate quality. But what made her breathtaking was what lay on the inside. Her overly-large heart, the way she nearly always found a smile even in the worst of times, and her strength, amazed him.

Not so very long ago he’d considered asking her to marry him. They’d even tried pushing their friendship to the next level, dated a little, found some comfort in each others’ arms. But any thoughts he had of a taking things farther came to a screeching halt when, to both their humiliation, she whispered Josh’s name in the middle of sex. Dating ended immediately. While Lucas cared for Amanda, he finally understood she’d never get over self-centered Josh McDaniels.

A lesson Lucas should have learned when Amanda’s marriage fell apart shortly after she and Tyler Masterson said their vows. Something he should have picked up on while he was picking up the pieces of her shattered life. But he’d never been one to notice what was right beneath his nose.

Now, Lucas helped her raise Emma. Gave the little girl the father figure she needed and did what he could to make Amanda’s life easier.

He pulled on the back of her bra, snapping it.

Her head jerked up as she jumped.

“Wake up. We’re home with the tree and whatever you’ve cooked is makin’ my stomach growl.”

“Dinner!” she exclaimed as she sat up. “I forgot to get dinner started. I’ll go order a pizza.”

Like lightning, she bolted out of bed, jerked her sweater over her head, and fell to her knees to rummage under her bed. Likely for her thick, wool socks.

A piece of paper fluttered to the floor, catching Lucas’ attention. He picked it up and turned it over. Three pairs of eyes beamed back at him—his, Amanda’s, and Josh’s. They’d taken it on their camping trip to Yellowstone the summer after high school graduation. He closed his eyes with a sigh as something inside him twisted uncomfortably.

“Manda, look at me.”

“What?” Still on all fours, she lifted her head, along with her eyebrows.

He frowned as he noticed the stale trail of tears on her cheeks. Cooking hadn’t brought her up here. Josh had.

He tossed the picture back on her bed stand. “I don’t think you should go tomorrow night.”

“Don’t be silly. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. It’ll be nice to finally tell Josh to go to hell.”

Lucas would like to believe that would happen. He’d turn cartwheels to hear those words come out of her mouth. But his gut said differently. One way or another, smooth-talking Josh would do something to hurt her again. Twice hadn’t been enough, evidently.

Mom-my,” Emma bellowed impatiently from the bottom of the stairwell.

“Did you two find a tree?”

“Course we did. Think I’d come back empty-handed after the way she’s been carryin’ on about it all week?”

“Okay so that was a dumb question,” Amanda conceded. “Let’s get started on it. I gotta call in that pizza. What do you want?”

“Whatever you’re in the mood for.”

“I think Santa’s going to have to wait until Sunday. There’s no way I’ll get her up there tonight along with everything else I have left to do.”

As he stood up, Lucas flashed her a grin. “I already told her Santa would have to wait.”

“She didn’t scream and have a tantrum?”

His grin transformed into a deep laugh. “She knows better’n to try that with me.”

“You’re such a godsend, Luc. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

With a smile that stole his breath away, she vanished into the hall.  Her footsteps padded down the stairs. He followed more slowly, shaking his head at the whirlwind of unfaltering energy that was Amanda Masterson.

If Josh so much as disrupted a hair on her head this time, Lucas would be certain to give him the punch he’d held back for too many years.


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