Dr. Ian Baker is a man dedicated to his work and his patients. He recently moved to New Skye, North Carolina, because he knew he was needed in the small town. But with Thanksgiving fast approaching, and his family scheduled to arrive for a holiday visit, he realizes he needs a life outside the hospital — if only to convince his relatives that leaving Atlanta was not a huge mistake. That's where Cassandra Stuart comes in.
Cass is used to running things. She runs her own successful catering business in the day, but her take-charge attitude could be the reason she still spends her nights alone. What she needs is a man who needs her. And Dr. Baker definitely needs her — to make Thanksgiving dinner and turn his house into a home before his family arrives. Will he realize what's really missing in his life is Cass?
Ian Baker heaved a sigh of relief as the garage door closed behind him. He'd written today's date a hundred times during the past fifteen hours, yet hadn't realized the significance until he drove home from work to find the streets of his neighborhood crowded with Hobbits, Star Wars storm troopers, and Powerpuff girls, firefighters and Special Forces soldiers. Halloween, of course. His newly adopted community?? New Skye, North Carolina?? appeared to celebrate the holiday with great enthusiasm.
The front doorbell rang as he came into the kitchen, then rang again. Ian jogged to the entry hall, fished his keys out of his pocket, and turned the big brass lock.
On the porch, upward of ten little goblins stared hopefully at him. "Trick or treat!" A contingent of adults stood on his front lawn, just outside the circle of light.
Ian wiped his hand over his face. "Uh?I?" He didn't have any candy in the house. No apples or oranges. Handfuls of cereal wouldn't cut it. What the heck could he give these kids?
He held up a hand. "Wait just a second." Back in the kitchen, he surveyed his pantry. A box of Grape Nuts, a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter. There was jam in the fridge, but he doubted PBJs would go over well.
The light shining in the laundry room caught his eye. He'd left it on this morning when he was searching for matching socks in the dryer. And on top of the dryer? That's it!
At the front door again, he crouched to kid level and held out the gallon pickle jar in which he saved the change from his pockets.
"One fistful apiece, okay?"
"All right!" They lined up efficiently to take their turns at the jar. "Thanks, mister."
"This is cool!"
His impromptu treat appeared to do the trick.
Wincing at his own stupid pun, Ian straightened to watch the kids flee across the grass to his neighbor's porch, followed by their adult bodyguards. Then he turned to go inside to prepare his nightly gourmet dinner?? a couple of PBJs and a glass of milk. What the menu lacked in variety, it made up in predictability.
Hearing a woman's voice, he swung back around, automatically offering the jar. "Did I miss somebody?"
She stepped out of the darkness and onto the porch. "Not at all. And I'm betting the handout at Dr. Baker's house will be the talk of New Skye Elementary School tomorrow morning. But you and I have an appointment." Her smile was wide and bright as she offered a handshake. "Cass Stuart. Sugar and Spice, Incorporated."
Ian stared at her, his mind a total blank. "I'm sorry, it's been a really long day." Belatedly, he closed his palm against her warm one. "Come on in, please."
He led her through the dark family room to the adjoining kitchen, where there was light, a table, and chairs. "Have a seat." Setting the pickle jar on the table, he crossed his arms and leaned his hips back against the counter to take some of the weight off his tired feet. "Now, Ms. Stuart, I hate to admit it, but I don't have a clue as to why you're here. What are we meeting about?"
"Food." Ian scoured his brain. "Dinner?" Yes, he worked hard. Some nights he got home so tired he could hardly spell his own name correctly. But surely he would remember having asked this very attractive woman for a date.
She nodded, her big brown eyes sparkling with laughter. "Thanksgiving dinner."
"Thanksgiv??" He snapped his fingers as the pieces clicked into place. "Right. I remember?? I asked my office manager to find somebody to make dinner for my family."
"And she called me. Sugar and Spice is a catering firm." She definitely fit the description, with her shiny, cinnamon brown hair, cinnamon sugar freckles sprinkled over her creamy skin, and those deep chocolate brown eyes. "I'm here to discuss the menu with you." She'd pulled her hair back from her face with an orange velvet band and wore black cats dangling from her earlobes.
The touch of whimsy made him realize he hadn't thought about how much fun Halloween could be for?fifteen years? Twenty? "That's great." He heard his stomach growl and, from the quirk of Cass Stuart's full lips, knew she'd heard, too. "Would you mind if I made a sandwich? I haven't eaten since?" The memory escaped him and he shrugged. "Whenever."
She opened her hands in a generous gesture. "Be my guest. But since I'm in the business of feeding people, I'd be glad to make a sandwich for you, if you'd like."
He turned from the pantry with bread and peanut butter in his arms. "No, that's?" Then again, the idea of someone else making him a simple meal seemed close to heaven. "Will you join me? If you get the sandwiches, I could change clothes."
"Sounds like a plan." She came to the counter as he set down the supplies. "I'll find what I need. Come back in ten minutes."
Cass watched the gorgeous Dr. Baker disappear into the shadows beyond the kitchen. Rita, his new office manager and Cass's best friend since high school, had warned her. Now, she believed?? believed in the broad, rangy shoulders, the athletic build, the curly blond hair cut close to his beautifully shaped head. And the deep-set blue eyes, looking warily out on the world as if he hoped for friendship but didn't expect it.
The house was nearly as magnificent as the man. As a kitchen aficionado, Cass definitely approved of the granite countertops and professional-grade appliances, although she wasn't sure the room had ever been used for meaningful cooking. A peek inside the spotless double ovens pretty much confirmed that guess.
She put together four neat peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches, moved the pickle jar to the counter and set the glass-topped table with plates and two glasses of milk. Then, since Dr. Baker hadn't yet reappeared, she turned on the one lamp in the family room. Twice as large as the huge kitchen, this space offered a fireplace framed in black marble surrounded by exquisite paneling and built-in bookcases. Two long brown leather couches faced each other across the hearth, complemented by two tapestry armchairs and the lamp table between them.
Otherwise, the room was empty. No curtains or drapes, no pictures on the walls, no rugs on the floor. Not a single accessory, not even a poker with which to stir a fire, should one ever be lit in that pristine space. Altogether, Dr. Baker's house looked like a cold, heartless place.
Cass was still standing in the center of the room when Dr. Baker returned. He stopped short by the fireplace wall. "Something wrong?"
"Not at all. Let's eat." They sat at the table and spent a couple of silent moments inhaling their food. Finally, Cass sighed. "This is good. I haven't had a bite since dawn."
He raised a straight blond eyebrow. "A caterer doesn't get to eat?"
"Too busy cooking." She reached into her purse for her notebook. "Now, do you have an idea of what kind of food you'd like for Thanksgiving dinner?"
"Just the usual?? turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls, vegetables, pies. Cranberry sauce. My mother likes cranberry sauce."
Making notes, she shook her head. "You don't really need a caterer for this. Every grocery store will have all these dishes prepared and available the day before."
"Yeah, I know." He put a hand on the back of his neck and rolled his head, obviously trying to loosen kinks. "But, see, this is a big deal. I just moved to New Skye to start my CT surgery practice."
"Cardiothoracic?? heart surgery. Coronary artery bypasses, that kind of work. Anyway, my whole family wants to drive over from Atlanta and celebrate the holiday. They weren't happy about my coming here, so my plan is to demonstrate that I'm doing fine and they don't need to worry anymore. I'd like everything to be really special, including the food. That's where you come in."
"I understand." Cass added a couple of notes to her list. "But I have to tell you, Dr. Baker??" "Ian." He finished the last of his milk and looked at her with an endearing white mustache above his firm?? and very kissable?? mouth. "Call me Ian."
Cass repressed her smile. "I have to tell you, Ian, that your grand plan doesn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of working out."
To be continued...