by Courtney Kae
I take in what I ran over, and my lungs lose breath again. Two wooden beams stick up from the snow, a piece of crushed wood barely hanging on between them. Directly beneath is a smattering of jagged splinters, a puzzle of red-painted words I piece together with what’s left of the sign: Reed Family Tree Farm, a Fern Falls Tradition!
I crashed right into the Reeds’ sign.
I force myself to breathe through the panic and take in more of my surroundings.
Beyond the crushed wood, slushy snow slopes into thick, green forest. Candy cane–striped caution tape blocks off the foremost section of trees, and a small red hut that resembles Buddy the Elf’s handiwork stands right before the border. Just how I remember it.
Unbidden emotion springs to my eyes. Jesus. So much for slipping through this place unnoticed. Now I’ll be lucky if the entire town doesn’t know about my crash-landing by noon.
I take a deep breath. Maybe Rachel moved away, like me. The last time I heard from her (and only time) was in an Instagram message two years ago, saying she was in LA. I try not to think about how that message messed me up so much, I never replied, let alone viewed her profile. How seeing her face-to-face would undo me. But no, she can’t be here. This place must still belong to her parents. Rachel and her brother Adam must have moved away by now.
I open the door and step into slushy mud, knee-high boots sinking in as I dodge broken pieces of the sign. I’ll go right up to that little shack and speak with an employee, sort this all out.
There’s a rush of color at the edge of my vision. Someone runs out of the trees—wielding an ax? I take two startled steps, and my Fendis betray me. I slip and fall face-first into freezing mud.
The wet cold shocks my nerves, and I make a graceful grunt as I push up, swiping filth from my eyes.
“Are you okay?” asks a deep, feminine voice that must belong to the ax-wielder who ran through the trees. Probably an employee. Great, now I can pay for the damages, deal with the insurance shit, and be on my way before having to face a Reed.
“I’m fine,” I sputter as I scramble to catch my footing, eyes burning. Then my damn fashion betrays me again and I sprawl forward—straight into flannel-clad arms.
She’s strong and holds me up with ease. I push my forearms between us, trying and failing to keep the mud to myself. I’ve splattered her with it, and as I follow my trail of dirt to her face, my stomach nosedives to the flaming core of Earth.
Her long brown hair is slung in a braid that trails from a white beanie, pulled low on her brow. Those molten brown eyes, rimmed with lashes that never needed mascara. Her sun-kissed cheeks are flushed beneath a light smattering of freckles that fans from the bridge of her nose. I once wanted to count every one, sweet little spots that softened her edges. I take a shuddering breath. She smells like the goddamn forest.
“Morgan?” Her voice pulls at my bones, and I will every ounce of balance and dignity I possess to keep me upright as I jerk back.
Rachel Reed stares at me, and I can’t blink. She’s here. She caught my fall. I covered her in sludge. Those melted chocolate eyes are transfixed on my face like I’m a ghost.
Offering a steamy, queer spin on the feel-good tropes of a Hallmark movie, this sweet, funny #OwnVoices rom-com is perfect for fans of Casey McQuiston and Alexandria Bellefleur!
A BUZZFEED MOST ANTICIPATED LGBTQ ROMANCE
Morgan Ross can plan world-class events, but she didn’t plan on returning to the hometown that broke her heart seven years ago—and re-discovering the girl of her dreams . . .
With her career as a Los Angeles event planner imploding after a tabloid blowup, Morgan Ross isn’t headed home for the holidays so much as in strategic retreat. Breathtaking mountain vistas, quirky townsfolk, and charming small businesses aside, her hometown of Fern Falls is built of one heartbreak on top of another . . .
Take her one-time best friend turned crush, Rachel Reed. The memory of their perfect, doomed first kiss is still fresh as new-fallen snow. Way fresher than the freezing mud Morgan ends up sprawled in on her very first day back, only to be hauled out via Rachel’s sexy new lumberjane muscles acquired from running her family tree farm.
When Morgan discovers that the Reeds’ struggling tree farm is the only thing standing between Fern Falls and corporate greed destroying the whole town’s livelihood, she decides she can put heartbreak aside to save the farm by planning her best fundraiser yet. She has all the inspiration for a spectacular event: delicious vanilla lattes, acoustic guitars under majestic pines, a cozy barn surrounded by brilliant stars. But she and Rachel will ABSOLUTELY NOT have a heartwarming holiday happy ending. That would be as unprofessional as it is unlikely. Right?
“Perfect for the holidays!” —Helen Hoang, New York Times bestselling author of The Kiss Quotient