printed copy

The Sugar Cookie Sweetheart Swap

Donna Kauffman, Kate Angell, Kimberly Kincaid

ISBN 9781617732102
Publish Date 10/7/2014
Format Paperback
Categories Kensington, Contemporary, Hobby Reads


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PROLOGUE

December 12

The evening air was crisp, with a light breeze whispering the promise of snow. The air inside the community center was significantly more heated. Every man, woman, child, and baked good in the little Blue Ridge town of Pine Mountain was jammed inside the big redbrick building for the annual Twelve Days of Christmas Cookie Swap and were excitedly bidding on tins filled with delicious holiday treats, all in the name of charity.

Normally Clara Parker looked forward to the event. She loved the holiday season, the town traditions, the decorations, and, most definitely, the cookies. Normally. This Christmas, however, the very idea of cookies was filling her with anxiety and dread.

Abby Denton, best friend and professional cookie baker, nudged her elbow. When Clara looked down—she had to look down to make eye contact with pretty much everyone—Abby was pushing a small box into her hands. “Shh, secret cookie swap,” she whispered.

Clara looked over Abby’s head at her other best friend, Lily Callahan, who was also the recipient of a box of Abby’s cookies. Which could only mean one thing. Lily immediately shoved the box into her purse. “Oh no, you did not smuggle your X-rated gingerbread men into the community center. The community center filled with families. With children.” Lily looked over the red rims of her signature librarian-frame glasses, which looked fabulously smart with her smooth blond hair and neat-as-a pin attire, and glared at their shorter friend. “We can’t open these here!” she hissed under her breath.

Clara, on the other hand, picked open the little flap on the cutely decorated little brown box. “What did you do to them this time?” was all she wanted to know. She peeked under the lid at Abby’s famous—or rather, infamous— anatomically correct gingerbread men. Her eyes went wide and stayed that way as she glanced at Abby, who tried—and epically failed—to keep her expression innocent and unknowing. “Peppermint sticks? Really?” Clara’s giggle turned into a significant snort that had heads turning their direction, despite the noise level in the building.

Clara’s pale skin warmed at the unwanted attention. With her narrow, six-foot frame and short cap of red curls, she liked to pretend she gave off a certain capricious, whimsical air, in the manner of, say, Katherine Hepburn. Only, in reality, it always seemed to play out a lot more like a really tall, awkward-looking Lucy Ricardo.

Lily leaned over and glanced in Clara’s box, her mouth forming the shape of an O as her eyebrows lifted above the red frames, but she quickly smoothed her expression and pretended to have a sudden, significant level of fake interest in the auction. “Put those away. People are watching,” she said out of the side of her mouth.

“They can look all they want, but they can’t have mine,” Clara said, her spirits significantly lifted. Or certainly more than she’d anticipated. To say it had been a rough week was the understatement of the year.

“Actually,” Abby said, shifting her weight from one foot to the other, her curvy frame tensing a little as her expression took on a brief, pensive look. Which immediately dissolved as a mischievous light set her warm brown eyes to twinkling. “Someone here can.”

Clara looked from the little box in her hands to the tables that lined the walls around the community center’s main recreation room. All of them had started the night loaded down with boxes and tins filled with homemade Christmas cookies, but were rapidly emptying as Marianna, the center director, auctioned them off to the highest bidder. Most of the festive parcels went for ten to fifteen dollars, some higher. No one was supposed to know whose tin was whose, and the contents were a surprise for the winner. But Clara had seen the distinctive mail-order cartons Abby had ordered for her brand-new online cookie business and she skimmed her gaze over the remaining goodies. “Where is your . . . there!” She zeroed in on a gaily decorated brown box printed with white icing trim. “You put your cookies in the swap.”

“We all did,” Abby reminded her.

“Yes, but you usually keep your gingerbread cookies G-rated for friends and neighbors,” Clara pointed out.

“No one is supposed to know about your little R-rated online enterprise.” She grinned. “But I guess that’s about to change. Go, you!”

Lily was forced to stop pretending she wasn’t paying attention to their every word as she realized what Clara was getting at. She turned her full attention to their short friend, who, though also a blonde, looked nothing like Lily. Abby was a bit shorter, a lot softer, and dressed significantly more casually. Both women were bakers, though Lily was a trained chef, whereas Abby had learned the craft at her grandmother’s side. Clara thought of Abby as soft hugs and warm cookies, whereas Lily was far more starched chef ’s jacket and meticulous career plan.

“You did not,” Lily demanded of Abby. “Tell me you did not.”

Abby sniffed and looked anywhere but at her two closest friends. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” But Clara saw the twinkle, and she applauded it. She wished she had half the confidence of either of her friends. And, with the recent sudden change in her job description, a fraction of their baking skills. She quashed the dread that curled right back into her gut and shamelessly kept the topic of conversation anywhere but on her. She’d been the center of enough of that in the past two days to last her a lifetime.

“Yes, Lily,” Clara said, “Abby put gingerbread men with peppermint-stick peni—”

“Shh!” Lily whispered, so severely heads turned once again. “Don’t you dare say that out loud.” She pasted a serene, calm smile on her always carefully made-up face and nodded to some of their nearby neighbors as if to say, “nothing to see here, move along.” Once folks had returned their attention back to the next item being auctioned off, she turned her severe expression right back to Abby. “I thought you’d decided to keep the nature of your online business a secret. At least from the folks in town.” Clara snorted again. “Like the town wasn’t going to find out. Nothing stays a secret in Pine Mountain. Trust me, I know that better than anyone.”

But Lily wasn’t listening to her. “What were you thinking?” Abby lifted a smooth shoulder, her shiny blond hair brushing the shoulders of her hand-knit, soft green sweater. “That this town could use some livening up?

Come on, I was just trying to have a little fun. Lord knows we could all use a little of that. Which is why I gave you your own little treat boxes.” Her expression softened as she looked at Lily. “We’re all going through stuff right now.

You with this big cookie competition at the resort, me trying to get my online cookie business up and running, and Clara getting dumped right in the middle of Joe’s Grocery.”

Clara sucked in a breath. “You already heard?”

Abby rubbed Clara’s arm. “Honey, the whole town has heard. Half of them were in the store when it happened.”

Clara groaned, even as Lily said, “I didn’t hear. What happened?” She turned to Clara. “Why didn’t you tell me? Are you talking about Pete Mancuso?”

“Of course you didn’t hear,” Abby said. “Because you don’t have a life. If we didn’t drag you out to things like this, you’d never leave your kitchen.”

“I’m trying to launch my career, you know that. You better than anyone, with your business starting up. The big resort cookie competition is going to be my ticket. I have to win it. And if I’m going to win it, that means I have to come up with the best, killer cookie recipes on the planet. The galaxy. This means everything.”

“You put your business card in your cookie swap tin, didn’t you?” Abby asked, though Clara might have said it sounded a bit more like an accusation. “That’s the only reason you agreed to come tonight. You probably made test cookies for the contest and the ones in your swap tin are the rejects.”

Now it was Lily’s turn to pretend she didn’t know what Abby was talking about, but she quickly relented. “It’s not like they were horrible, they’re wonderful. Just not up to competition greatness. And of course I put my card in the tin. That’s just good business sense. Didn’t you? Now that you’re going public?”

Clara barely heard a word they were saying; the noise in the hall had turned into a buzzing inside her head. Everyone knew. Not just the folks in Joe’s, which had been awful enough. Everyone. Dear God, she wanted to crawl under the nearest table. The only reason she’d agreed to come tonight was because Lily was looking for an excuse to duck the event and Abby had forced Clara into double-teaming with her to get their workaholic bestie out of the house and into the real world, at least for the evening.

If Clara had known just how much of a laughingstock she actually was at the moment, she’d have picked Lily’s side and quite shamelessly hidden out in Lily’s tiny apartment kitchen with her. Heck, maybe she’d have learned how to bake something. Which would come in real handy, given she was now in charge of a cookie-baking column for the local paper and she couldn’t so much as boil water.

“She put a card in mine, too,” Clara offered helpfully, then winced when Lily jabbed her with a pointy elbow.

“What?” she said, rubbing the spot. “You did. And I was happy to help.” She looked at Abby. “It is a smart idea. I’m surprised you didn’t do it, too.”

“Lily baked your swap cookies?”

Clara’s face warmed again, and she knew, with her fair skin, that her freckles were now standing out like little beacons of guilt. “I didn’t know you were going to put your gingerbread guys in the swap, I mean . . . Lily’s are G-rated, and this is a family thing, so . . . I’m sorry.”

“I didn’t mean that,” Abby said. “I’m not hurt that you got her to bake your cookies instead of me. I meant that it’s tradition to make your own. Even the kids have to make their own.”

“You of all people apparently know that I’ve had a hard enough week.” Harder than even they knew. “The last thing I needed was to burn my house to the ground trying to make snickerdoodles. And given my run of luck, and my significant lack of baking skills, you know I would have.”


"Three writers, three fun, sexy Christmas romances." --Kirkus Reviews

"Witty." –Publishers Weekly

For three friends, only one thing is more delicious than the Pine Mountain holiday cookie exchange--finding romance before they ring in the New Year! Whether true love comes in the form of a sexy firefighter, a mysterious stranger or a hotshot chef, Clara, Abby, and Lily are ready to mix it up, turn tradition on its ear and put their hearts on the line. Getting snowed in, putting an extra spicy spin on their gingerbread men, and finding the perfect Christmas treat are just the beginning. . .

Includes recipes and tips for cookie swapping

"This book has everything--sexy firefighters, porny gingerbread, a chef-on-chef ego battle--and it'll make you want to break out the icing sugar and pastry tips a couple months early." --B & N.com

"Deliciously sensual. . .Perfect for readers who like their holiday treats with a hefty helping of spice." --Library Journal

About Donna Kauffman:

USA Today bestselling author of the Cupcake Club Romance series, Donna Kauffman has seen her books reviewed in venues ranging from Kirkus Reviews and Library Journal to Entertainment Weekly and Cosmopolitan. She lives just outside of DC in the lovely Virginia countryside, where she is presently trying to makeover her newly empty nest into something that doesn’t have to accommodate piles of sports equipment falling out of her coat closet (okay, out of every closet...and under every bed....), size 13 cleats and sweaty uniforms cluttering her foyer (and stairwell, and laundry room, and...), and a kitchen that should have come with a traffic light. And a pantry monitor. (Anyone with a clever idea on how to repurpose lacrosse sticks into matching reading lamps, she’s all ears!) When she’s not stripping paint, varnishing an old auction house find, or trying to avoid bodily injury with her latest power tool purchase, she loves to hear from readers!

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About Kate Angell:

USA Today bestselling author Kate Angell lives in Naples, Florida. She's an animal lover, avid reader, and sports fan. Bookstores are her second home. She takes coffee breaks at Starbucks. Her philosophy: Out of chaos comes calmness. Enjoy the peace. Please visit her on Facebook or at kateangell.com.

About Kimberly Kincaid:

Kimberly Kincaid writes contemporary romance that splits the difference between sexy and sweet. When she's not sitting crosslegged in an ancient desk chair known as “The Pleather Bomber,” she can be found practicing obscene amounts of yoga, whipping up anything from enchiladas to éclairs in her kitchen, or curled up with her nose in a book. Kimberly is a 2011 RWA Golden Heart® finalist who lives (and writes!) by the mantra that food is love. She resides in northern Virginia with her wildly patient husband and their three daughters.

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