Are you looking for a short, sweet winter romance? Try Loving Luke. This novella is about cookies, kisses and other fun delights. It’s only 99 cents!
The chugging echo of a motorcycle rolled down Main Street. Kim grabbed her oven mitts, the loud sound bringing memories of her wild high school days in Bethlehem. The noise stopped just as she pulled the hot tray of vanilla cookies from the oven. The heated warmth surrounded her face as she sniffed the sweet scent. Sweat beaded her brow, and she placed the tray onto a rack before wiping her forehead with a clean towel.
She removed the box of edible silver sprinkles from the shelf just as the Christmas sleigh bells above the front door jingled. She glanced toward the entrance, spotting Luke Barnes strolling into her cookie shop! Startled, her heart skipped a beat and she dropped the box of sprinkles. Tiny silver balls rolled on the floor, and she inwardly groaned, picking up the box and shoving it onto the table.
“Luke.” She couldn’t even think of what she should say. “I didn’t realize you were back in Bethlehem.” She walked toward the counter, the silver-ball sprinkles crunching beneath her shoes. She resisted the urge to come from behind the counter to hug him. His dark eyes seemed a bit wary, almost as if he’d been unsure about entering her cookie shop.
She had not seen Luke since her junior year in high school, so, why should his sudden presence make her act like a love sick teenager? She shouldn’t let his presence rattle her.
But it did.
He finally nodded toward her. “Kim, it’s been awhile.”
“It sure has.” Eight years to be exact. It was surprising what eight years could do to a person. He still had an enticing, mocha-colored complexion, but, he now sported a full mustache and beard. He looked…bigger, as if he’d grown or gained weight since high school.
She swallowed and took a deep breath. They’d gotten matching dove tattoos when they were dating. She eyed her hand, still sporting the scar that was the result of her having her tattoo surgically removed.
He glanced toward the floor, scratching the back of his neck. “I didn’t realize you were in town either until last night.”
“Oh?” Had he stopped by just to see her, hoping to rekindle old memories?
He studied the cookie shop. “This place hasn’t changed much.”
She’d put up the Christmas decorations that morning, placing red poinsettias on the four small tables in the front. White temporary paint frosted the large windows, giving the effect of a snowy Christmas day.
Luke glanced at the cookie display, as if he were deciding what he wanted to buy. Her dad had taken the afternoon off to go to a dentist appointment, and, for some reason, Kim was glad that her father wasn’t here right now. Seeing Luke rattled her, and she could imagine her dad questioning her after Luke’s unexpected visit.
He continued studying the cookies. “I’ve only been back since August. It’s surprising to see you working in your parents’ bakery.”
Kim stood at the counter, waiting. She didn’t feel like correcting Luke, telling him that only her dad owned the bakery now that her mom was deceased or that she’d been to college and until recently, had worked as an accountant in Chicago. She pushed the thoughts from her mind, again focusing on Luke. For some reason, she doubted he wanted to hear about her life since he’d disappeared from Bethlehem.
Luke shoved his hands into the pockets of his pants, jiggling his keys and change. She recalled he usually did this when he was nervous. She cleared her throat, glanced at the clock. Her dad would be back soon, and before he returned, she wanted to figure out what Luke wanted. “Did you come to buy cookies?”
“I…” he paused, glanced at the display. “I’ll take a dozen chocolate chip.”
She grinned. Memories of eating warm chocolate chip cookies and cold glasses of milk with Luke Barnes unfurled in her mind like snowflakes dancing in the wind. Despite her parents’ objections, she’d baked batches of Luke’s favorite chocolate chip cookies and would secretly meet him at his house. After sharing hot cookies, they’d drink cold milk from the same glass. Luke would always kiss her, telling her how much he loved her and her cookies. Their kisses had always turned passionate, and she shook the thought away, not wanting to dwell on what usually happened after those kisses. Her life was a lot different now that she was saved, but, she still had some regrets over her past mistakes.
She glanced up, caught Luke staring at her with his mesmerizing dark brown eyes. Had he been thinking of the times they’d shared, eating cookies and milk? No way was she going to ask him about that. She boxed up the cookies, rang up the order. After he’d paid, he still stood at the register, hesitating, holding the pastel, monogrammed bakery box. “Yes?” she prompted.
His hand was still shoved in his pocket and he fidgeted. “Look, I didn’t come here to buy cookies.”
“My daughter told me she wanted to work here.”
Kim frowned. What in the world was he talking about? Another thing she recalled about Luke, he was terrible at giving details. When he told her something, she’d always felt like she was only getting half of the story and she’d have to ask questions, forcing him to fill in the blanks. “You have a daughter?” Was he referring to the child he’d fathered in high school?
He nodded. “Yes, I’m talking about Lisa. You met her at school, right?”
“My goodness. The little girl from Career Day is your daughter?” She never would’ve guessed that Lisa was Luke’s daughter. So mind-boggling that Luke, a man from her past, was now in her bakery because his nine-year-old daughter wanted to make cookies with her after school.
The previous day, Kim had participated in the annual Career Day at Bethlehem Elementary School. Career Day always took place the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday. When Kim had asked for a volunteer to help with her staged demonstration, she’d ended up picking a cute, shy-looking child named Lisa. Since part of the Career Day activities included job mentorship, she’d offered to have Lisa come visit the cookie shop and help her bake cookies.
“She’d said you’d offered her a job.”
“Not exactly a job. I’d just invited her over for an after-school cookie baking session.” No way was she telling him about Lisa’s complaints regarding his burning cookies and his failed attempts at making dinner. “We’re usually busy during the Christmas season and if she wants to come and help after school for a day, she can.” She paused. “I don’t know if she’d want to come regularly to help bake cookies. I thought we’d try it for a day or so, and see what happens from there, if that’s okay with you.”
He shook his head. “I don’t know if it’s okay for Lisa to be here with you.”
She stepped away from the counter, silently counting to ten, gritting her teeth. “What do you mean by that?”
“Come on, Kim. You know what I mean. You were so wild in high school.”
“So were you,” she countered, balling her hands into fists, trying to control her temper. He had a lot of nerve, riding here on his motorcycle, implying she’d be a bad influence on his daughter.
He set the cookie box on a nearby table, held his hands up. “Hey, don’t get mad. I’m just saying I’ve got to be careful where my daughter is concerned.”
“You’re basing your opinion of me on the way I was eight years ago and that’s not fair. I’m not the same person as I was back then.” A thought occurred to her. “Are you the same as you were eight years ago or have you changed?”
“I’m a Christian now and –”
“So am I.” She’d accepted Christ a year after Luke had abandoned her. The kids at Bethlehem High School had gossiped about Luke’s desertion for months afterwards. She’d even asked some of his friends if they had a way to contact him, but, they couldn’t help her locate Luke. She couldn’t find anything about him on social media. It was almost as if Luke didn’t want to be found once he left Bethlehem.
He furrowed his brow, as if he didn’t believe her. “You’re really a Christian?”
She nodded. Why was this so hard to believe? Eight years was a long time and a lot of stuff could happen. Luke claimed he’d been in town since August, yet, she had not seen him or Lisa at Bethlehem Community Church. It was possible that they worshipped elsewhere, though.
He glanced uneasily at her, scratching the back of his neck. Kim decided she’d felt rattled enough for one day. She didn’t want her father returning and asking questions about her strange reaction to Luke. Her dad could read her like a book, and he’d know she was unsettled. She needed some time to calm down before her father returned from the dentist. Besides, she needed to frost the vanilla cookies before her customer arrived to pick up the order. “Look, why don’t you think about it and when you decide what you want to do, then call me.”
Luke gave her a quick nod, lifting his cookie box from the table. The sleigh bells jingled as he exited the bakery.
As soon as Luke drove away, the sound of his motorcycle echoing in the bakery, Kim pulled her phone from her pocket, texting her best friends, Carly, Anna and Heather. The four of them had been best friends since elementary school. Since they’d been friends with her when she’d dated Luke, she figured they’d be interested in knowing that he was back in town. She began her text: Ladies, Luke Barnes is back in Bethlehem.
As soon as she’d sent the text, her phone buzzed. She eyed the display, seeing that her friend Heather was calling. “Heather, I can’t believe Luke just came into my bakery. He really made me mad.”
“What did he say?”
Kim put her phone onto the speaker setting, went back into the kitchen, telling Heather all about her conversation with Luke. She dropped softened butter and the rest of the frosting ingredients into a large bowl. After she was done speaking to Heather, she needed to frost the wedding-bell shaped cookies. Her customer would be arriving later to take the cookies to an office bridal shower.
“Hmm.” Heather appeared to be in deep thought. “Seems like a strange coincidence that Luke, your high school ex-boyfriend would come to your shop, right when you’re struggling to get over your ex-fiancé.”
Kim groaned, glancing at the cookies. Just looking at the wedding-bell shaped treats caused vivid memories of her aborted wedding plans, nearly one year ago, to unfurl in her mind. “What’s your point?”
“Maybe the Lord wants you and Luke to rekindle your high school romance.”
Kim pressed her lips together. That was the dumbest thing she’d ever heard. Luke didn’t even want his daughter to spend time with her. Rekindling their romance was probably the furthest thing from his mind.
She hadn’t been saved when she’d dated him in high school and they’d had a torrid relationship. They’d both been young and immature, and she’d recalled how hurt she’d been when he’d gotten Salina Foster pregnant. After he’d abruptly left town with his mom and Salina, not even bothering to say good-bye to her, she’d been devastated. She had not been able to get over her pain until she’d left home and started college.
“I think you’re wrong.” After the shock of seeing Luke and disagreeing with him, she felt she needed something to calm herself down. A cookie, yes, that’s what she needed. She needed a cookie fix to make herself feel better.
“Well, I think I’m right. There must be some kind of chemistry between the two of you if you’re mad at him after one short conversation.”
This conversation with Heather was not making her feel better. “I have to go.” She ended the call, lifted a warm cookie from the rack, her stomach growling with hunger. Biting into the treat, the sweet taste of vanilla and sugar exploded on her tongue and she sighed, leaning back against the wall. Eating this cookie lifted her mood, just a little bit.
These were the best vanilla cookies she’d ever tasted in her entire life, and her heart swelled, recalling how long it had taken her and her deceased mom to develop the recipe, years ago. Unable to resist, she gobbled another cookie, continuing to think about Luke. He’d looked as good as he did back in high school, if not better. It had just seemed weird to see Luke riding a motorcycle while wearing slacks and loafers. Back in high school, he’d worn ripped jeans, a t-shirt and a leather jacket when riding his motorbike.
Continuing to feast on dessert, she closed her eyes, thinking about the last three months of her life. Returning to Bethlehem a few months ago to work in her family’s bakery had been bittersweet. It’d been eight years since she’d left Bethlehem. She’d hoped that the work of baking cookies in the hot kitchen, spending time with her dad, would help her to heal from the pain of her ex-fiancé’s infidelity, and help her deal with her mom’s recent death.
It’d been eleven months since that fateful day of her breakup, and whenever she thought about her ex, her heart pounded and tears rushed to her eyes. Being in love was like a toxic disease and she didn’t know when she’d have the courage to fall in love again. Why couldn’t God lift away this awful pain? How long would it take for her to heal?