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New Release | Sugar Plum Inn: Christmas at the Inn by @LucindaRace #holidayromance #sweetromance
Title Sugar Plum Inn: Christmas at the Inn
Author Lucinda Race
Genre Clean, Sweet Holiday Romance
The chef and the restaurant critic are about to come face to face. After being unjustly fired from a restaurant position in Boston, Chef Dora Bennett relocates to Northern Vermont in an effort to jump-start her career. Going to work at the small, but well-run, Sugar Plum Inn might just be the second chance she needs. Despite a few scathing reviews, Dora intends to do all she can to restore the inn’s reputation with her amazing food. Charlie Ward is hiding not one but two secrets when he arrives at Sugar Plum Inn. First, he’s an inn and restaurant reviewer who always shows up incognito. Second, he’s been deaf since college. He’s not ashamed of it, but he also doesn’t want to be pitied, so he prefers that the world doesn’t know any more than necessary. He’s enjoying his life of traveling, writing reviews, and working on his first novel. While neither Dora or Charlie are looking for anything outside their demanding jobs and their desire to move forward with their lives, a little holiday magic might make them stop to appreciate there is more to life than work and living single.
Dora Bennett pulled off onto the shoulder of the dirt road, clutching the wobbling steering wheel. Her tire was thumping and she was far enough over so even a farm tractor could safely drive past. It amazed her that dirt roads were still commonplace in northern Vermont and now she was stuck, with snow in the forecast and temperatures dropping. She looked at the time on the dash. Soon it would be dark. What else could go wrong? She withdrew her cell and no surprise—no service. At least someone would be looking for their chef at the Sugar Plum Inn and Cottages especially since they had ten reservations for dinner. In spite of the circumstances, she grinned. It wasn’t too shabby given it was mid-December.
She got out of the brick-red pickup truck and glanced back at the two Christmas trees. They hadn’t moved in the wood-lined bed, so she was pretty sure the thumping was a flat tire. She glanced at the rear tire and on the driver’s side, and it was flat as a pancake. Slamming the driver’s door, she noticed the front tire was in the same condition. She jammed her hands in her coat pockets. She regretted not grabbing her gloves, but this was supposed to be a quick trip to pick up the trees from the general store just a couple of miles up the way on Peen Hill Road. She shivered and zipped her down coat up to her throat and pulled the bright-red cap lower on her head. The inn was only a couple of miles and she could walk.
Grabbing her wallet and phone off the passenger seat, she left the keys in the ignition. No one was going to want to steal something with two flats, especially out here. All the locals knew where to find the owners. After all, the inn had been open for well over one hundred years.
After walking for about ten minutes, a black SUV driving in her direction slowed to a stop. The window slid down and a heart-stoppingly handsome man leaned out. Dora couldn’t help but notice his copper-colored eyes enhanced by smile lines in the corners, framed with longish wavy black hair and a touch of gray at his temples.
“Are you okay?”
His voice was deep and even-toned. Dora wanted to ask if she looked okay; she was tromping through the growing darkness in tennis shoes and definitely not properly dressed for exercise in the freezing temperatures. But the snarky comment died on her lips when she noticed the puppy bouncing in a crate on the back seat.
“Cute pup.” The sweet face tugged at her heartstrings. He looked just like Bruno when he was a pup. It had been a few months since her beloved lab had passed away. Even Oscar missed the big lug.
He smiled. “Thank you. I’m just making a delivery for a friend. I was headed up here to spend a few days at a local inn and they asked if I’d drop him off.”
She shifted from one foot to the other, her toes frozen and the cold seeping into her bones. “You should drive careful. There are some wicked potholes up ahead.” She bobbed her head in the direction she had just come. “I hit two craters and now I’m hoofing it.”
“Where are you headed? I can give you a lift, or better yet I can change the tire for you.”
His eyes never left her face. Under other circumstances, that would have been odd, but here it seemed like he was just paying close attention. That was all Dora needed to do, hop in a car with a stranger. Her mom had drilled that into her head—never take a ride from someone she didn’t know. She held back a laugh. It was just one of the tidbits of sage advice Mom had given her over the years, and if she were here, she would say most of that advice had fallen on deaf ears, especially packing up and moving to the great Northeast Kingdom. At least now she was running her own kitchen at an inn and it overlooked a huge lake. The only thing she hadn’t expected was how much snow fell up here. It was more than she’d ever seen in her life.
She glanced at the clouds that obscured what was left of the sun. Just her luck it would start snowing sooner as opposed to later.
“Thanks. I don’t have much farther to walk, and besides, I have two flats, not one.”
He pointed to the passenger seat. “Hop in. It’s cold out. And if you say it’s not far, then you won’t have to ride with me for that long.” He crossed his hand over his chest. “I promise I’m a nice guy. Heck, if my friends were here, they could give me a character reference, or better yet my mother.”
She couldn’t help but laugh. He was trying to charm her right into the SUV. “Thanks anyway, really. If I get going, I’ll be back at work in less than thirty minutes, and then I can send a truck out to get the tires changed.” She was a little tempted to get in, if nothing else than to snuggle the puppy in the back seat.
He shrugged his shoulders. “If you’re sure I can’t convince you?”
She could hear the question linger in his statement. She pointed down the road in the direction she’d come. “Like I said, watch the potholes and good luck delivering the pup.”
“I appreciate the heads-up. You be safe walking. If you try singing or something just to let the beasties know you’re out here, they should give you a wide berth.”
“Are you trying to insinuate I might not be a good singer?” She couldn’t believe she was standing in the middle of a dirt road almost flirting with a complete stranger.
“Not at all. I’m just suggesting you make some noise, and singing is a good way to do that, so if by some slim chance a human hears you, they won’t think you’re nuts for talking to yourself.”
She laughed. “Good point, Mr.?”
He stuck his hand out the window. “Charlie Ward.”
Her gloveless hand warmed in his and a small zing raced up her arm. “Dora Bennett. It’s nice to meet you.”
She withdrew her hand, even if she didn’t want to, and gave him a bright smile. “Well, maybe I’ll see you around if you’re staying in the area for a few days.” Fat chance. She never saw anyone except her coworkers, guests at the inn, or her cat Oscar.
His smile grew wider and it warmed his eyes. “Now, that would be a wonderful treat. You take care now.”
The SUV eased away and she picked up her pace as she headed down the road. She glanced over her shoulder as he rounded the bend and disappeared from sight. “He’s the best-looking guy I’ve seen since I moved up here.”
She pulled her hat lower over her ears and jammed her fists deeper in her pockets. She was going to have to leave her place with more supplies if she was to survive a Vermont winter. Movement in the tree line made her pick up the pace, and she started to sing the first song that popped into her head, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”
Charlie looked in his rearview mirror as Dora Bennett broke into a light jog. He hated to leave her on the side of the road, but he understood the whole woman getting into a strange man’s vehicle thing, and it wasn’t the best idea. She sure was pretty with her heart-shaped face, long dark hair, and soft-brown eyes. But it was when she caught sight of the pup that her face softened and a twinkle appeared. Puppies had a way of doing that and this little guy was no exception. Charlie needed to drive just another half hour, and then he could turn around and find the Sugar Plum Inn where he would be staying for a few days before heading home. He needed to write a review on the inn. As an anonymous inn reviewer, he often checked in under the guise of a writer off for a weekend retreat of writing. This way it was expected he’d be taking notes and observing details of his surroundings. He did enjoy his job but at this time of year he’d rather be home with his family, spoiling his nieces and nephews, baking cookies, and getting ready for the holidays.
He looked in the rearview mirror and could see the pup was barking. He was one smart dog if he was already asking to go potty. Charlie pulled over to the side of the road, being careful he didn’t end up with the same fate as Dora. Flat tires would definitely slow down this delivery and the pup’s new family was anxious to meet their fur baby.
He hopped out and picked up the pup, nuzzling him close to his chest and inhaling the sweet puppy breath before clipping his leash on and giving him a couple of minutes to sniff around and do his business.
After a few minutes the pup was finished and Charlie praised him, rewarding him with a tiny treat, then he held him close to warm him up. One of these days he was going to get his own pup, but that was a long way off. He needed to stop traveling all the time. It wouldn’t be fair to him or a dog to adopt one now.
He secured the puppy back in the crate and glanced at the dash clock. With any luck he’d have time to settle into his room and still make his dinner reservation at the inn.
His hand was on the shifter when he paused. Dora had mentioned something about an inn. Could she be affiliated with the Sugar Plum Inn? Maybe he’d get a second chance at meeting her.
He eased back on the road and tapped the steering wheel in an old familiar rhythm. It was something that had been a part of his life before meningitis had taken his hearing and changed his plans for the future. A moment of regret flared. You couldn’t be in a band if you couldn’t hear the music.
That was the past. The next few days were a favor to his boss who knew the owner of the inn. Word was there was a new chef and they wanted to promote the new menu in hopes of bringing people back to the area. Tonight, he had a job to do, and with any luck, dinner would be above average and it would make it easy for him to write a rave review.
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Award-winning and best-selling author Lucinda Race is a lifelong fan of romantic fiction. As a young girl, she spent hours reading romance novels and getting lost in the hope they represent. While her friends dreamed of becoming doctors and engineers, her dreams were to become a writer—a romance novelist.
As life twisted and turned, she found herself writing nonfiction but longed to turn to her true passion. After developing the storyline for The Loudon Series, it was time to start living her dream. Her fingers practically fly over computer keys she weaves stories about strong women and the men who love them.
Lucinda lives with her two little dogs, a miniature long hair dachshund and a shitzu mix rescue, in the rolling hills of western Massachusetts. When she's not at her day job, she’s immersed in her fictional worlds. And if she’s not writing romance novels, she’s reading everything she can get her hands on.
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