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Author Katie Mettner

Hotcakes and Holly Cover Reveal


Santa Claus is coming to town! I've been singing this for weeks as I've prepared the files and covers for my new Christmas book, Hotcakes and Holly! It's the second book in the Bells Pass Series and I'm SO excited for everyone to visit Bells Pass, Michigan again. If you read Meatloaf and Mistletoe last year, you'll remember Mason and Melissa playing Santa and Mrs. Claus. This year, Mason and Melissa find themselves being hit with a little Christmas magic in the Bells Pass gazebo. Hotcakes and Holly will release on November 1, 2018! Read on for the first chapter and I hope you love this book!



Chapter One

I ripped the paper off the pad and scurried around the end of the counter. As soon as I reached the window I slapped the paper down on the old Formica top. “I need a granddaddy stack, a daddy stack, and a baby stack of hotcakes!” I called to our cook, Mason.

He didn’t turn, simply stuck his thumb up in the air over his head, which amused me. We didn’t have a granddaddy stack of hotcakes, so I couldn’t wait to see what he came up with. I spun on my heel and noticed two regulars waiting to cash out at the register. My notebook went into my apron pocket and my feet automatically moved me in their direction.

“Did you enjoy your dinner, Mayor Tottle?” I asked, taking the bill and cash from his hand.

“It was wonderful, dear, as always,” his wife, Cynthia, answered.

“I suppose Ivy is running herself ragged right now,” Mayor Tottle said as he accepted the change back from my hand.

I grinned as I leaned on the counter with my elbow. “She’s freaking out, actually. Only three days left on the countdown,” I said, pointing behind me. The large black numbers hung on a hook under a sign that read: Ivy’s Getting Hitched!

Cynthia clapped excitedly. “I’m thrilled they chose the gazebo to get married in, and the night of the tree lighting to boot!”

I crossed my arms over my chest as we chatted. “It’s going to be epic, but also super romantic. Considering half the town was there the night Shep got down on one knee, it seems fitting that the whole town is there when they say I do.”

Mayor Tottle nodded as he wrapped his scarf around his neck. It might only be a few days away from Thanksgiving, but the chill in the air of Bells Pass, Michigan, was already warning us that Old Man Winter was about to blow into town. “She told me the community has kept her going since Lucille died. When she was handed this diner as a result, everyone stepped up and kept her in business. She thinks they deserve to see the fruits of their labor.”

“They do,” I agreed. “It’ll just be hectic with it on the heels of the Thanksgiving dinner and pie baking.”

Cynthia patted my hand. “Are you serving again this year, Melissa? I didn’t get an RSVP from you.”

I cocked my head in surprise. “Really? I sent it back, too! I’m so sorry,” I said shamefully. “I plan on bringing the pies and staying to serve.”

She did a two thumbs up. “Good. I saved your spot just in case. I’ll mark you in your usual position. Thanks for always giving up your Thanksgiving to spend it with the community.”

I brushed my hand at her. “It’s no problem. I have nowhere else to be.”

“Hotcakes for the honey bear!” Mason called from the window and Mayor Tottle laughed.

“We’ll let you get back to it.”

I waved as they walked out the door and hot-footed it back to the window. “Honey bear?” I asked, one brow in the air as I stared at The Nightingale Diner’s Chef-in-Residence, Mason Hadley.

“Got your attention, didn’t it?” he asked smartly, a smirk on his face.

I grabbed the plates of hotcakes to set on my tray, but my hand paused on one. “What’s this?” I asked, pointing at the pile stacked five high with whipped cream hanging down the side in dare I say, a beard? “We don’t have a stack of five pancakes.”

He held out his palms. “You called for a granddaddy stack. We don’t have one, so an extra cake and a whipped cream beard made the most sense to me.”

I grinned, adding the plate to my tray. “You never let me down, Mason Hadley,” I said, heading away from him with the tray, but not before I heard him say, ‘But clearly I have.’

I delivered the hotcakes to the smiling Bells Passers and tucked the tray under my arm as I headed back to the counter. The only thing left on my agenda for tonight was to figure out what the heck he meant by that.

***

I parked the car and sat for a moment, my head turning left and then right a few times. Living in the Bells Pass Motel was cheap, but safety was a factor I didn’t always enjoy. Determining the coast was clear, I grabbed my to-go tray of hotcakes and climbed from the car, my keys between my fingers as I walked to my door. As soon as I moved into the hotel, I stopped carrying a purse. Don’t let them see you with a backpack either. Keep your phone and money in your pocket so no one sees them, and you should be relatively uninteresting to anyone looking to rob or rape you. In this place, you have to stay on your toes and not let your guard down, at least if you want to stay alive.

I keyed myself into the room and closed it behind me, flipping the switch to light up the bedside table. Once I had the locks bolted, and the special bar jammed under the door handle, I let out a breath. Was I safe? No. I lived in a part of Bells Pass where drugs were rampant and bullets flew. The measly windows of this place wouldn’t keep anyone out, but on my salary, I wasn’t going to find anyplace else to live right now. I tossed the keys on the counter and my hotcakes in the small efficiency fridge in the corner. At least this particular greasy motel comes with a full kitchen, if you count a microwave and dorm fridge as a full kitchen. It worked for me, since I ate most of my meals at the diner.

I stripped my gravy and syrup-stained uniform off and tossed it in the hamper in the corner of my bathroom. The room consisted of a toilet, sink, and shower, all jammed together in a room the size of a closet. I grabbed my shower handle, an open-end ratchet wrench, to crank the water toward hot. Here’s the trick about showering at Bells Pass Motel. Do not pass go. You jump in as soon as the water is lukewarm and don’t waste time.

Since I kept my hair short anyway, it was easy to use the two in one shampoo, which saved a step in the hygiene routine. While the shampoo sat on my head, I soaped up and ran a razor over my legs while the tepid water rinsed the soap off me. Satisfied I was clean, if not a bit cold, I grabbed my towel and climbed from the shower, the sides thick with cigarette burns and soap scum. With the towel tucked around me, I took a minute to run a brush through my hair, the locks laying across my head in a shaggy do, which led most people to believe I was a lesbian. I’m not, but if it keeps the men away, I’m pretty okay with that. Well, if it keeps most men away, that is.

My pajamas were warm and comfy as I slid into the fleece pants and thermal shirt. My thick socks covered my feet and protected them from whatever was on the carpet. I didn’t think about it too much because chances were, it wasn’t pleasant or sanitary. I flipped the old TV on, the remote a universal one with the battery cover missing. I used tape to keep the batteries in and it worked, but this place left you with the feeling of utter despair and a skewed opinion about life.

I plopped down on the bed and sighed. It had been a long shift and I was tired. The extra fifteen pounds I put on this past year didn’t help matters when I was on my feet so many hours a day. Honestly, I shouldn’t be gaining weight considering how much I work. I eat two meals a day and sometimes have a small snack before bed. I stood up, my right big toe unhappy when I put weight on it. I must have stubbed it at work and not realized it. I walked to the mirror in the bathroom, standing far enough back I could inspect myself. I turned left and then right. The weight wasn’t noticeable, maybe because I was used to how I looked. Then again, maybe everyone else can see the extra weight and I’m deluding myself.

I lowered myself to the bed and picked up my phone, checking for messages, there weren’t any, and then opened the secret vault app on my phone. I stared at the image I wasn’t supposed to have. The first tear rolled down my cheek and I closed the app, lying back on the bed and curling into a ball. “You can’t do this, Melissa,” I scolded myself. “You start and you’ll never stop. You’ve made it through the whole day.” I hit the button on my phone to see it was almost eleven. “One more hour and you’re set.”

My eyes attempted to focus on the screen of the television, but it was of little use. Some reality show was on the only channel I could get, which did nothing for me. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know those shows are as fictional as every other television show. When I was a kid, we weren’t allowed to watch television and I always wondered if that’s why my interest in it was nil. When people find out I grew up without a television set they immediately say, ‘Oh man, you must love it now!’ I don’t. I put it on in the background for noise and to drown out the sounds of babies crying, couples having sex, couples screaming at each other, and drug deals going down. There was definitely a level of hopelessness surrounding me I couldn’t escape. My eyes drifted shut, the long shift on my feet wearing me out. I could handle the physical exhaustion. I was used to my body being weak with fatigue. It was the emotional exhaustion of what this day was that nearly broke me this year. Sleep, Mel. One more hour and you’ve made it another three hundred and sixty-five days.

I sat up slowly, the clock telling me I’d only been asleep ten minutes. I sniffed the air, and while my mind was still foggy from sleep, it registered that something was burning. I ran to the door and threw it open, searching for the smell. If someone set their room on fire again I was going to kill them. I’d spent too many nights smelling charred polyester curtains. Everything was quiet, which meant someone probably started their bed on fire with their cigarette, but got it out in time. I was about to close the door when I saw a familiar Jeep pull into the parking lot. “Say it ain’t so, Joe,” I sighed.

Indeed, it was Mason climbing out of the Jeep and jogging over to me. “Hey, Mel,” he said, stopping in front of my door.

It was then I remembered what I was wearing and shrunk back in the room a bit. “Hey, Mason. What brings you by?” I asked nonchalantly, as though my coworker didn’t just discover me in a fleabag motel.

“I finished cleaning up at the diner and wanted to talk. Do you have a minu—”

The sound of breaking glass and a crackling fire reached our ears and we both spun toward the sound. Flames were leaping from the front window of the motel room five doors down.

“Not again,” I sighed, walking back into the motel room.

“Mel! You have to get out of here,” he yelled over the sound of the fire, and the people clamoring out their doors.

I waved him away. “This happens once a week. The fire department will come and put it out. I’ll be fine.”

He turned his head toward the fire and when he glanced back he was biting his lip. “Not this time, Mel. Get your stuff, we gotta go!”

The frantic tone of his voice spurred me into action. I slammed my suitcase, which doubled as my dresser, closed and threw it at him, then jammed my feet in my shoes. I ran into the bathroom and grabbed my dirty uniform from the hamper, since I didn’t think Ivy would appreciate it if I let it burn. I swiped my keys off the table and my phone off the bed on my way by. Before I made it to the door, smoke was pouring in through the cracks in the ceiling.

“This place is going to go!” Mason yelled over the sound of the fire. “Get in your car and follow me!”

I waved as he threw my suitcase in his Jeep and backed out, while I stuffed my fleece-clad body into my car and jammed it into reverse to follow him out of the driveway, just as the fire department came roaring up the street. I had no idea where I was going to go, but at least the car didn’t burn up, too. “What the hell have you done with your life, Melissa,” I asked myself as I drove through the dark night. “You’re literally homeless, you loser,” I whimpered, shaking the tears away. Deep breaths. You’ve done this once and you can do it again.

“Yeah, I’ve done this before, and look how successful I was in finding a safe and happy place to live,” I said sarcastically into the night. “Where in the hell is he taking me?” I asked, wishing I had at least put a bra and underwear on after my shower. Now they were all in my suitcase, which happened to reside in the backseat of Mason’s car, where I wasn’t. It meant I had no choice but to follow him. Maybe he was taking me to a shelter. I snickered. “Sure, Mr. Nice Guy is going to take you to a shelter and forget about you, Mel. Totally going to happen. Not,” I huffed. “Maybe he’s taking me to Ivy’s. That would work,” I theorized aloud. “At least until she gets married.”

I’d known Mason for four years and in those four years he was never anything but kind. In fact, he probably could have lettered in high school as team captain of chivalry. I wouldn’t know, since I didn’t go to high school here, but chances were good he was their homecoming and prom king all four years. It wasn’t just the single ladies he cared about either. He was respectful and thoughtful to every woman in Bells Pass. Whoever his mother was, she had done quite the job of raising him to be A-plus husband material. The only question I’ve asked myself over and over is why is he still single? He surely would have been snapped up by now in this town at almost thirty. I shook my head. I must have inhaled more smoke than I thought and it caused lack of oxygen to my brain.

He signaled right into a driveway, so I followed, seeing as how he had my underwear in his backseat. For a moment that sounded kinky. I haven’t done kinky in, well, ever. His Jeep turned into a spot and I saw his hand motion for me to park next to him. I swung my Kia Rio into the parking space to his left. The car was silver, old, had too many miles, and hardly any paint left, but it ran, which was all that mattered.

Mason climbed out of his car, my suitcase in hand, and waited for me to get out of mine. He stood at my hood and motioned me out, while I gave him what the heck hands from behind the wheel. Instead of answering, he stood in place, one hand motioning me out, as though I couldn’t see that’s what he wanted.

I blew out a breath. “Fine, you know what, fine. I’ll get out of the car, get my suitcase, and find a place to hang for the night. I’ll have to pony up for a regular hotel room for the night and figure something else out come morning.” I grabbed my phone and squared my shoulders. With that I pushed the door open and climbed out. I plastered the same smile on my face I wear at work when it’s ridiculously busy, I’m tired, and no one wants to leave.

He recognized it and put his arm around my shoulder. “It’s okay, you know. I’m sure you’re upset, but we’ll get this sorted out.”

He dropped his arm as he motioned me up a set of stairs at the back of a large house. “Welcome to my new place. I just moved in last month. Sorry I haven’t had you over for dinner, but I just got the place together.”

“Oh, I’m excited to see it!” I said enthusiastically as I climbed the stairs, praying he couldn’t see through my pajama pants in the dark. Nothing like knowing the cute guy from work knows you’re going commando to spur you up the stairs at a record pace. I waited on the landing while he set the suitcase down and unlocked his apartment door, holding it open for me.

“Here, let me get the lights on,” he said, holding me back for a moment. Soon a soft glow shone in the space and he stepped out the door, picked up my suitcase, and herded me in as if I was a cow. “Are you thirsty?” he asked as he closed the door and set my suitcase on the floor next to the small table. I stood in a wide open kitchen, which served as a small dining room as well. From where I stood I could see the living room, which was long and somewhat narrow, but homey.

“I could use a drink,” I admitted. “This is a cute little apartment.”

He smiled as he shoved his hands in his pockets. “Thanks, I lucked into it because no one wanted to climb all those stairs,” he said, pointing out the door. “Wine, beer, soda, or whiskey?”

“How about whiskey?” I asked and he whistled.

“Well, hello big momma,” he said, opening the cupboard.

His words made me crumble and I stood in the middle of the floor shaking, tears threatening to fall down my face. My heart started to race and my breathing was loud enough to fill the room. The edges were closing in around me and I couldn’t catch the breath that was puffing from my chest.

“Time to sit down,” he said in my ear as his arm went around me. He helped me into the living room and sat me down on the couch, pushing my head between my knees. “Stay there for a second.”

The position forced me to take short breaths, since I was crushing my solar plexus. By the time I saw his shoes again I was in better control of my emotions. I sat up just as he set two glasses down on the table.

“Water first,” he demanded, pointing at the clear glass, “then the whiskey.”

I picked up the glass and drank it, my hand shaking as I kept it in a firm grip to keep from dropping it. Once it was gone I sat it down on the coffee table and picked up the whiskey, slamming it back in one swallow. I gasped, the burning amber liquid reminding me I was alive. I had to get a grip on reality before I did, or said, something I couldn’t take back.

He rubbed my back in a rhythmic circle. “Better?”

I nodded and went for a shaky smile. “Sorry. Had a small freak out back there.”

“It’s scary when your home turns into a fireball,” he agreed.

I shrugged absently. Let him think that was the reason. I had no problem with lying to him. I’d been lying to his face, and everyone in Bells Pass, for years. “Usually the fire is put out quickly and we all go back to our business as usual,” I said, my voice still choked from the whiskey.

He shook his head as his hand kept rubbing my back. “Not this time. I think that old rathole is done for, which is fine. It has besmirched the reputation of Bells Pass long enough.”

I raised one brow, turning to face him. “Besmirched? Really? Every town has a greasy motel, Mason.”

“While you’re right, Bells Pass Motel went from greasy motel to drug infested rathole about two years ago. Why were you staying there?”

“How did you know I lived there?”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“You didn’t answer mine,” I said pointedly.

He held up his hands in surrender. “A customer from the diner saw you pulling in there the other day. They were concerned you were doing drugs or some other not so safe activity. I told them I’d check on you once I finished my shift.”

I rested my chin on my hand. “Is that why earlier you said you’d failed me?”

He bit his lip and dropped his hand from my back, the warmth of it disappearing. With the loss of it I was reminded how truly alone I was in the world. “I didn’t think you heard me. I’ve been worried sick since this morning and I had worked myself up into believing you were doing drugs or turning tricks.”

I rubbed my hands on my thighs. “Come on, Mason. You know me better than that after four years of working together. I don’t do drugs and I’m certainly not a hooker.” I motioned at my body stuffed in fleece pants covered in coffee cups. “Let’s be real, no one is going to pay to sleep with this.”

He held his hands up, as if to say he overstepped. “You’d be wrong on that account, but I’m sorry for not trusting you. I’ve been worried and while I knew you weren’t doing those things, the idea that you were actually living in that place was even harder for me to swallow.”

I shrugged as though I believed what I was about to say. “Shep used to live there and survived all right.”

He took my shoulder and turned me to face him. “Shep lived there over a year ago and it’s gone downhill since then. He got out just as the drug deals were starting. You were in the thick of it. I’m amazed you weren’t killed,” he said, shaking his head.

“I had nowhere else, Mason,” I whispered. “I was out of choices. Do you honestly think I wanted to live in a place where I had to worry about bullets coming through the walls or dying in a fire when some idiot fell asleep with their joint lit? I was out of choices.”

His hand came up and rubbed my back again. I remembered I didn’t have a bra on and I shivered at his touch.

“How long did you live there?” he asked softly enough I could tell he was afraid to hear the answer.

I rubbed my forehead for a second before I could bring myself to tell him. “About three months. The cabin I used to rent was sold as part of the resort, so I was kicked out. I couldn’t afford anything else. All the cheap apartments were rented already. I was biding my time until spring in hopes something would open up. That rathole rented me a room for under three hundred a month.”

He hung his head and sighed, his body rigid. “I’m ashamed of myself. I knew something had changed. I wondered why you stopped inviting me to your place. On top of that, you’ve become a different person. You’re jumpy, you never want to leave work early, and I always see you hanging out around town at the library or coffee shop. I’ve noticed you spend hours at the diner when you don’t need to be there, sitting in the back booth until close.”

It was my turn to rub his back. “You have nothing to be ashamed of, Mason. I’m not your responsibility. You’re not in charge of taking care of me.”

His head came up to make eye contact. I stared into his baby blues and knew I could get lost in them if I let myself. The smart thing to do was not let myself.

“But I do, Mel. I have a two bedroom apartment here and I’m gone half the time. You’re going to stay here until we find you a safe place to live.”

My hand came off his back and my head started shaking. “No, Mason, no. It’s super sweet of you to offer, but I can’t do that. I can’t stay here.”

He cocked his head to the left, deeply confused. “Why not? I have a full kitchen and bath, which we can share, and you’ll have a small, but safe and warm, bedroom.”

I swallowed hard, my voice coming out way too quiet when I spoke. “Honestly, it sounds like heaven, but I can’t impose on you that way. I’m not worth your trouble, Mason. I should go,” I stood and he was on me in an instant, his hands holding my shoulders.

“Geez, Mel, did you just say that? What’s happened to you?” he asked, his eyes boring into mine as he searched for my darkest secrets. “Life has clearly taken a toll on you the last few months. I’m not going to be responsible for letting it break you. I will not be the one who has to tell Ivy I could have helped you, but I didn’t, and now you’re dead.”

My eyes closed and I swallowed before I spoke. “I’m not myself right now,” I answered lamely.

He pulled me in against him and hugged me, his scent intoxicating. He smelled of clean soap with a hint of the daily special still clinging to him. He was strong, his chest was chiseled, and his arms were gentle. “You’re not the Mel I met four years ago, I’ll give you that. Not all of the changes are bad, but I can see by the look in your eyes you’re scared and no longer sure about anything. Stay here with me, at least until Saturday and then we’ll figure out where to go from there.”

I ran my schedule for the next few days over in my head. I forgot tomorrow was Wednesday and he and I were making pies all night. Then I had to serve on Thanksgiving at the community table, and Friday was the tree lighting and Ivy’s wedding, which I was in.

“With how bad my living arrangements have been, I’ve lost track of time. It’s almost Thanksgiving. I’ll never get another room right now.”

He rubbed my back, his arms still around me. “You don’t need to get another room. I have one and it’s completely empty. Stay here with me, Mel. I promise you have nothing to worry about from me.”

I gazed up into his face and noticed an indescribable look on his. “I’m not afraid of you, Mason. I know you’re a stand-up guy, but I worry about cramping your style. If I stay here you have to let me pay rent.”

He stiffened and I wondered if I insulted him with my words. “First off, my style is nothing other than working and coming home, so there is nothing to cramp. Secondly, we can talk about you paying rent once we decide what the plan of action is, on Saturday morning. Honestly, that’s the soonest we will be able to do anything other than work and sleep.”

I sighed heavily. “You’re right. I’m exhausted and I’m not thinking clearly. I could use some sleep.”

His arms loosened and then fell away. He picked up my suitcase from the kitchen and carried it back to me. “I’m glad you’ve seen the light. Your eyes are like slits in your head right now. Come on, let’s get you settled into bed.”

He grasped my hand tightly and pulled me along to the back of the apartment where he paused. He set the suitcase down, rather than let go of my hand, and pointed to the right. “The bathroom is there. If you’d like, you can take a nice warm shower after I show you your room. I’m sure showering in that place was no picnic,” he said, his teeth set and his jaw pulsing.

I shook my head lightly. “It was always interesting. I haven’t had a hot shower in three months, so don’t think for a second I’m not taking you up on that offer.”

He smiled his usual smile for the first time since he showed up at the motel. “Trust me, the water is hot and the soap is sudsy. Now, for the bedrooms.” He pointed to the left. “It’s small, but you’ll have enough room for a bed and dresser. The closet is empty, too,” he said, pulling me along toward the rooms.

“You’re holding my dresser,” I said, tongue in cheek, but it came out sad and pathetic.

He didn’t respond, but his lips thinned at my words. “That room is mine,” he said, pointing to a room with blue paint on the walls and a gigantic bed in the middle of the room.

“Holy man, now that’s a bed,” I sighed.

He laughed as he paused in his movements. “It’s my one luxury in life. Being six feet three inches tall, it’s hard to find a bed long enough. I can sleep diagonally on that bad boy if I want to,” he said, his voice filled with laughter.

He snaked his hand around inside the door to the right of his room then picked up my suitcase and tugged me inside.

“Wow,” I said softly, the room taking me by surprise. “It’s so clean.”

He set my suitcase down and turned to me, taking my shoulders. “It’s not much, but hopefully it’s more comfortable than the last place. I only have a futon in here, but we can bring your bed over anytime. Is it in storage?”

I shook my head, my cheeks reddening as I glanced down. “I don’t have a bed, Mason. I always slept in whatever was in the place I rented. That suitcase you just set down holds all my belongings.” I paused. “Oh wait, I have a pillow and my work backpack in my car.”

He glanced to the ceiling for a moment as if praying for strength. “Okay, enough talk for tonight. It’s time to sleep, and in the morning light, life won’t seem so daunting, I promise.”

I laughed, almost hysterically. “Mason, life has always been, and will always be, daunting for me, but thanks for trying.”

“If that’s how you truly feel then I’ll keep trying until I prove you otherwise. Now then, how about that shower while I make your bed? There’s soap and shampoo in the shower and towels in the linen closet.”

I stepped away from him and nodded. “Thanks, Mason. You can just give me a blanket and I’ll be okay. Don’t go to any trouble.”

He turned me by my shoulders and directed me out the door. “Go shower and give your mind a break from worrying. You’re safe here now and I’m going to take care of you.”

He spun back toward the room and I forced my feet to move toward the bathroom. He was going to take care of me? Why? Why would anyone want to take care of me? Not even my own parents wanted to do that. I closed the door to the bathroom and leaned on it, my chin touching my chest. What have I gone and got myself involved with here? The bigger question was, how was I going to get out of it with my heart intact?





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