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featured in the Madness Under The Mistletoe Anthology

Chapter One

Maggie had to pick out the perfect ornament for Granny.

Her future depended on it. That is, if Grady Cohen was going to be in her future and the five carat sparkler on her ring finger was screaming that he was.

She had no clue how she was going to top last year’s grape and apple ornament. Although it had been ugly, it did stand for happiness and love. After all, the message of the ornament was all that mattered in the annual Greenlee family ornament exchange.

It has to be here somewhere,” she said, thumbing through all the dangling gems, being careful not to damage any of them.

If you would just tell me what you’re looking for, I might be able to help you find one.” Grady said.

She had to wonder if he meant it. His thumb was busy rolling the ball on his Blackberry, not thumbing through the aisles and aisles of ornaments at The Gingerbread House Shop, just north of downtown Manhattan on Christopher Street.

I don’t know what I’m looking for.” There was despair in her voice. “I’ll know it when I see it.”

Just like last year, she walked into The Gingerbread House the day she was leaving for Grandberry Falls.

Why does your family do this?” Grady sighed and continued to click around on his phone.

She wasn’t sure how to answer him.

She couldn’t remember how she, Belle, and Granny Hazel started the annual ornament exchange, but she could remember that there was one rule and one rule only. The ornament had to have a significant meaning behind it. That way they had to search for the perfect gift months, not hours, before Christmas.

Maggie smiled.

Even though it was a pain in the neck at that moment, she did love the exchange and she looked forward to it every year.

It has to be perfect, she thought, looking back at Grady.

Maggie was already nervous about bringing him home to Grandberry Falls to meet her family and the rest of the town. Yes, the town.

Everyone in Grandberry Falls knew everyone’s business, and just because she left when she graduated from high school didn’t make her exempt from the gossip of the small community. Plus Grady didn’t embrace the Greenlees’ superstitious ways, which made Maggie anxious about bringing him home.

Especially this time of the year, when Hazel Greenlee was known to use everything in her bag of granny tricks.

It has to be perfect.” She held a star ornament up to the light before putting it back. “I shouldn’t have waited until the last minute.”

She was surprised that there were so many ornaments left with just a couple days until Christmas.

All the glitter, glass and gold was beginning to blur together.

Found it!” Grady held up a red pitch fork that you’d expect to see a devil holding.

Maggie rolled her eyes.

What?” Grady laughed. She was well aware of his opinion on her family’s superstitious natures. “Isn’t it strange your family celebrates Christmas, yet you live your lives based around superstition?”

Maggie ignored him as usual. He might be right, but Granny had taught her all about karma and being a little superstitious in order to ward off the bad karma couldn’t hurt. If visiting the family with Grady meant he had to pretend to understand for a weekend, he should be willing to do that for her.

Can’t you just humor my family for a few nights?” She momentarily panicked as her mind raced through everything that could go wrong.

If Grady didn’t go along with the superstition or keep his mouth shut, Granny definitely wouldn’t welcome him into the family.

Besides, Maggie was well aware that Granny Hazel already had her married off to Mitch Dozier.

The problem with that was, Maggie thought of Mitch as a brother.

That was one thing you said you found endearing about me when we met.”She reminded him about the time she hitched a ride with him back to the city from the Hamptons.

She didn’t know he was one of the Cohen’s of the New York City Cohen’s.

It was only after she took the prestigious lawyer position that she was successfully using to work toward making partner status at VanMeter and Associates that she found out who her new friend was. She’d seen him around at a few parties in college, but they rarely ran in the same circles.

After all, she was a country girl, not a big city girl. And any social climbing she did was all on her own, or with some help from her best friend and former college roommate Lillian Alexander.

Lillian was one of the socialites of the city. She grew up with the luxury products of Louis Vouitan, Prada, and Gucci at her beck and call. Normally Maggie wasn’t drawn to people like Lillian, but Lillian was different.

She didn’t act any different than Maggie. As a matter of fact, Maggie sometimes found herself wishing she could be as good-hearted as Lillian.

Lillian had chosen to use her hard-earned NYU law degree to be a Goodwill Ambassador overseas, and was going to be spending the next year in a developing country. And Maggie had no idea how she was going to live without Lillian talking her off the OCD wagon.

Well, I didn’t know what you were doing throwing your legs up in the air every time we went over railroad tracks.” He retorted in cold sarcasm, bringing her back to how they met. “I thought you were some hill-jack from the back woods.”

Maggie stood with her hands on her hips. The diamond sparkler shone for the entire world to see.

You love my accent and you know it.” She shook her finger at him. “And you laughed when I told you that you have to hold your feet up and make a wish when you go over train tracks.”

She could still see the surprised look on his face, six months ago when she whipped her feet into the air, her shoes flying up and out of the convertible. It took them two hours on the dark, unlighted road to find her knock off Christian Louboutins.

The next day at work, a real pair of Louboutins showed up on her desk with an invitation to dinner from Grady. They been together ever since

Fine.” He backed off, letting her look through the rest of the ornaments.

All her dreams were coming true. She left Grandberry Falls to go to college in New York. She never fancied herself a big city gal, but loved it right away. By a stroke of luck, she got her dream job at VanMeters and never looked back.

She was on target to make partner within a year, and nothing was going to stop her now. Especially since she was soon going to be a Cohen from New York, New York instead of a Greenlee from Grandberry Falls, Kentucky.

Grady!” Maggie’s eyes lit up with excitement.

She cradled a shiny sterling silver bow in her hands.

This is the one.” A cry of relief passed from her lips.

And why is that little silver bow the one?” Grady plucked it out of her hand and raised an eyebrow. “We could’ve gotten this at a dollar store.”

She saw his jaw tighten when he looked at the fifty-dollar price tag.

I don’t care how much it costs.” She took it back. “A bow is a metaphor for a strong bond. And now, more than ever, granny needs to know that even though I’m getting married, we will always be close.”

Maggie tried to calm the feeling of uneasiness erupting inside her, but couldn’t. There was nothing she wanted more than for Grady to fit in like he did in New York, but Grandberry Falls was a far cry from the big city.

Maggie was able to reinvent herself when she left. In New York, she was seen as strong, independent, and successful. In Grandberry Falls, she was known as poor Maggie Greenlee whose parents were killed in car accident, leaving her and her sister Belle orphans for their granny, Hazel Greenlee, to care for.

Without hesitation, Maggie took the ornament up front and paid the clerk. She handed Grady the keys to his convertible and shooed him out before he could protest.

She was slightly irritated that he had questioned the price of the ornament. He purchased many senseless items that were much more expensive, and she had never questioned him.

The clerk handed the ornament back to Maggie, now in a beautifully wrapped package.

Granny is going to love this, Maggie thought, taking the gift. She glanced at the five carat stunner on her left finger.

For a moment, her heart ached for the antique diamond she saw at the jeweler instead of the Cohen heirloom. Although beautiful, it really didn’t fit her personality.

Quickly, she brushed the thought out of her mind and hopped in the car for the all day ride to Grandberry Falls.

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