A little bit of manipulation…
Jillian Thorne was ecstatic that Grandma Thorne had willed her prize Spritz recipe to her. Unfortunately, the recipe came with strings attached. Conniving Grandma gave portions of the recipe to boyfriends from her past. She’d need to date each of them in order to get the full recipe.
A little bit of magic…
When River Hawke’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, his best friend helped ease the pain. Jillian’s support and companionship through the darkest time in his life brought to light how much he loved her. The problem? Jillian had his position in her life permanently cemented in the friend zone. Even love spells were failing.
A whole lot of adventure…
Jillian steels her nerves to face both the best and worst of men from her past so she can get the pieces of the secret Spritz recipe. What she didn’t expect was discovering she kept comparing them to the man who occupied her present…one River Hawke. Now she just needed to figure out the recipe for making her current best friend into her future husband.
Ghosts of Spritzes Past – Sneak Peek
Jillian Thorne held onto family traditions tighter than most. She refused to rush the Yuletide, even if decorations were available in stores in September. The Christmas season didn’t start until Thanksgiving weekend and never a moment before. She made an exception for pumpkin spice, but not Christmas trees, twinkling lights, Yule logs, or her favorite holiday fare. Carols and holiday movies were out of the question until Thanksgiving Day.
This year was going to be especially hard. Grandma Jo had passed away in October, and in her final words, she’d made Jillian promise to pass down the stories associated with every ornament, stocking, and especially how Grandma won the cookie contest where she’d met Grandpa Mike. The Thorne Spritz recipe was a guarded secret. So much so that no one knew it. Grandma never wrote it down. Instead, she put it in her will. On the Monday following Thanksgiving after she passed, a messenger would deliver the recipe to the family historian.
Jillian assumed Grandma would pick one of her four daughters, but she secretly hoped she’d pick her only son—her dad. The aunts were deserving, but they’d all moved away when they’d married. Her dad was the only one who’d stayed close and taken care of his aging parents until they’d passed.
Those prized spritzes were the only cookie Grandma never let anyone help her make. Not until after the dough was chilled. Then she’d let the rest of the family pick a special cookie press design to form the spritzes into their desired shape. They were the most melt-in-your-mouth delicious cookies.
Jillian had requested the day off work in hopes the fated letter would arrive at Mom and Dad’s. She’d swung through the local coffee shop and grabbed two pumpkin spice lattes on her way.
She took the porch steps two at a time and unlocked the front door to her childhood home. “Hello.”
“Hey, Jilly-Bean. In here,” Mom called from the family room.
Jillian turned the corner and navigated between the stacked boxes of decorations to deliver Mom’s coffee to her. “Why does it look like we have more decorations each year?”
“They were on sale.” Mom smiled and savored a sip. “That’s what I tell your father. Thanks for the coffee. Have you had breakfast?”
“Not yet.” Her gaze drifted to the kitchen counter where a platter of cinnamon rolls beckoned. “Ooh, you started baking.”
“Don’t mind if I do.” Jillian’s phone rang. She glanced at the caller ID and accepted the call. “Hey, River.” She took off her coat and draped it over a kitchen chair along with her purse. “What’s up? Something wrong?”
“No. Ah.” River Hawke was one of Whitman Chronicle’s featured reporters—”The Rundown with River Hawke.” He reported on local news that affected their small community. He’d done some environmental pieces that were picked up by larger news agencies and was building a name for himself—and Jillian couldn’t be prouder of her best friend. He deserved every bit of success life offered. They’d interned together and were hired after college at the Whitman Chronicle five years ago.
“I didn’t see you in your usual cubicle and hoped you were feeling okay. Do you need me to bring you anything?” The Chronicle had shared workstations with zero expectations of employees coming into the office unless they wanted to. She and River made a habit of being there one or two days a week.
“No. I’m fine. I took the day off to spend with my mom. We’re decorating the house for Christmas.”
River had been raised by a single mom and she’d passed in February. This would be his first Christmas without her. Since he was an only child, Jillian’s heart ached for him. She’d invited him to Christmas dinner with her family, but he’d declined. He was going to rent a secluded cabin somewhere and write. He didn’t want to spend the holiday with anyone this year.
She still had a month to help him change his mind.
“I’m glad you’re okay. Have a great day then.”
“I know you’re kind of wanting to take a raincheck on Christmas this year, but we could use your help hanging Christmas lights. My dad’s not so steady on a ladder anymore.”
Mom’s eyebrows rose.
“Yeah. Deadline’s not until Friday. Sure, I could drop by.”
Jillian fully expected him to decline. “Excellent. I want to hear about your weekend.”
He’d spent Thanksgiving weekend at a cabin his mom took him to every summer when he was a kid. He loved that place. Jillian had been there for his mom’s memorial and helped spread her ashes. It wasn’t Jillian’s idea of a perfect getaway. With tall trees came enormous spiders. Vacations should never involve screaming unless it was from a roller coaster ride, not from invading critters. “There’s a homemade cinnamon roll in it for you too.”
“Say no more. I’m grabbing my coat.”
She ended the call.
“Don’t let your father hear you say he’s feeble.”
Jillian laughed, then slipped a cinnamon roll onto a plate and put it in the microwave.
“River’s such a nice guy.” Matchmaker Mom was on full alert. “Why hasn’t he asked you out?”
“He has, but I have a strict ‘don’t date guys from work’ policy.” The microwave chimed. She snagged a fork from the drawer before grabbing her warmed gooey deliciousness and sitting at the table. “Not after what happened to Angie.”
Mom frowned. “Your sister’s former sexually-harassing, troublemaking boss is nothing like River.”
“I know, but I like to think I learn from other people’s mistakes.” Jillian sat. “Angie lost everything because of him. She was going places in a job she loved. She had to reset her whole career trajectory all because she wouldn’t sleep with her boss. Even when she transferred to a different department, he kept making her life a living hell.”
Mom’s concern framed her eyes. “Angie did what was right at the time.”
“It took her six months to find another job. I can’t afford to do that.”
“No. I’m not moving back home. My tiny studio apartment may be five hundred feet of cramped fun, but it’s mine. It’s my independence.”
Mom slid her a side glance. “If you’re not careful, River will find someone else, and then where will you be?”
“Probably the best woman at his wedding. I could rock a tux.” She tried to imagine that ceremony in her mind but it felt off. She moaned as she took the first bite. “You make the best cinnamon rolls. This is Christmas.”
“Thank you. Let’s hope Grandma Jo’s recipe finds its way to our house today.” They both knocked three times on the table for luck. A family tradition to seal the deal on wishes coming true. “What if River got a job somewhere else, would you date him then?”
Jillian thought it over. “I don’t know.” She’d kept him in forbidden territory for the last five years. They saw each other almost every day and if they didn’t, they still sent texts. “He’s my best friend. I’m not sure if I could go from friends to lovers.” She grimaced. “Would it be like kissing Kyle or James?”
“River’s nothing like your brothers,” Mom was quick to point out. “River’s thoughtful and kind. Your brothers think only of themselves. If I didn’t remind them when everyone had a birthday in this family, they’d plumb forget.”
“Yeah. River’s thoughtful.”
“He’s cute too.”
“Cute?” Jillian’s eyebrows rose. “He’s totally hot. Like an 8 out of 10, but I’ve worked hard not to think of him that way.”
“Why?” Mom’s eyes bulged. “I think he’s hot. Why not 10 out of 10?”
“Are you kidding? Then he’d be an arrogant ass. And no girl wants to date one of those.”
“Tell me where he’s lacking?” Mom sipped her coffee.
He had a great sense of humor and was thoughtful, respectful, and ambitious. His mama raised him right in the manners department. Her dad even liked him, and Dad never liked any guy she’d brought home. River was easy to talk to, and when she went through every relationship failure, he was there to pick up the pieces, bringing her chocolate chip ice cream and brownies.
Jillian blushed. “Oh, my gawd. Once I’d asked if he could bring me some tampons.” She burst out laughing. “I thought for sure he’d tell me to take a flying leap.” She sipped her coffee. “Four hours later he showed up.”
“Four hours?” Mom almost spewed her coffee.
“He waited for Amazon to rush the delivery.”
“You’re pure evil.” Mom shook her head. “What were you hoping he’d do? Fail?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. Quit putting thoughts in my head about River Hawke. He’d be the perfect guy if I wasn’t working with him.”
Mom’s mouth formed in a sly smile. “So, if he worked for another newspaper, you’d be interested in him.”
Jillian rolled her eyes. Matchmaker Mom was relentless. “Yes, I know. I’m not getting any younger. Contrary to popular belief, my reproductive eggs are not evaporating into dust.”
“What can I say? I want more grandchildren.” Mom lifted a shoulder, snagging a bite of her cinnamon roll. “And since you have rules about being married for five years before having children, I’m kind of hoping you start sooner rather than later. You know, before I die.”
Jillian ignored Mom’s comment, instead staring at the Christmas tree they’d chopped down last Friday, ready for decorating. “Do you think the Thorne Christmas tree could handle more ornaments? Think of it this way—”
The doorbell interrupted.
“I’ll get it.”
“You just want to fawn over River.”
“Touch those pecs while I remove his coat? Me?” Her mom smiled. “Don’t tell your father I like eye candy.”
“I think he knows from your romance novel collection,” Jillian said, still chewing her gooey bite.
“It’s my secret addiction. You’d be surprised what positions I learn from those books. Your father doesn’t mind one bit.”
“Stop. My ears are burning.”
Mom laughed as she opened the door. A man in a brown uniform stood there. “A delivery for Jillian Thorne.”
Jillian let her fork clatter against her plate and ran to the door. “I’m Jillian.”
“I need you to sign for this.” He handed her a large white envelope-sized cardboard package.
She scribbled her name on the electronic pad. “Thank you.”
River headed up the sidewalk as the messenger ran back to his truck. “Is that what I think it is?” He already knew the story about Grandma Jo’s secret spritz recipe.
“River,” Mom said, giving him a quick hug. “I’m so glad you could join us today.”
“Sorry it took me longer than I thought. I picked up coffee. I heard you like pumpkin spice like your daughter, Mrs. Thorne.”
“Please call me Leah.” She winked at Jillian. “Let me take your coat.”
“I got it.” Jillian strategically maneuvered to block her mom’s path. She closed the door and helped River out of his coat. Her mom was right. River Hawke had a body to die for. Mm-hmm. His muscles flexed along his broad shoulders as she helped remove his coat. When he turned around, he stared at her in silence.
What was going on in that mind of his? The thought of River not being in her life every day would be devastating. Jillian had never liked change. She liked her life to be the same routine every day. It kept her anxiety at bay.
A life without River would break her heart.
5 out of 5 stars
This story was hard to put down. In fact, I read it in one sitting. The characters River and Jillian were so endearing and their journey so engaging that I could not wait to see how it ended up. I was worried there for a bit about past boyfriend number two, the Italian Stallion. Whew! Glad to move past that one! This is a lovely holiday read.
5 out of 5 stars
Charming, delightful, sweet with affection and steamy with the romance. A perfect holiday read for me.
5 out of 5 stars
Such a fun story, loved Jillian and River’s friendship. Grandma Jo had a sweet idea leaving clues to her recipe after she passed , with that and Fate the true love of Jillian’s wins.