Is she the one
who can bring new love into his darkened heart?
As a new landlord, Dr. Gideon Bowen is more irritating than ingratiating. Eden Berman should probably consider moving. But in the spirit of the holidays—and curiosity about Gideon and his enigmatic past—Eden offers her friendship instead. As their relationship ignites, it’s clear that Gideon is more mensch than menace. With each candle of Hanukkah burning brighter, can Eden light his way to love?
From Harlequin Special Edition: Believe in love. Overcome obstacles. Find happiness.
Book 1: Moonlight, Menorahs and Mistletoe
Release date: November 30, 2021
Print pages: 224
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Moonlight, Menorahs and Mistletoe
Holliday, Oregon, was at its most beautiful in the fall. Vine maples as richly red as the local pinot noirs, the licking orange and gold flames of oak and birch leaves turning as autumn burst across the Willamette Valley in all its customary unsubtle glory.
In contrast to the explosive color, the wind whispered on this November morning, its breath chilly but still a week or so away from the puff-cheeked blow of true winter. And inside Holliday House, a three-story, brick Federal-style building that housed the local history museum, information center, a small library and a popular tea room, Eden Berman sat at her desk, warm and comfortable, yet tingling with anticipation.
Back straight, arms at ergonomically correct ninety-degree angles and fingers poised above the keyboard, Eden scanned the area immediately around her to make absolutely certain she was audience-free. No way did she want anyone to see what she was typing.
The only patron in this morning was Sherry Rhoades, recently elected president of the Holliday Historical Society, who lounged near the reference section of the museum’s small library, ostensibly perusing a copy of Pictorial History of the Willamette Valley. Eden knew the woman had tucked a copy of Fifty Shades Freed inside the history book’s cover. Sherry would be ungainfully occupied for the next hour, at least. There was no one else close by, so...
With adrenaline pumping in her veins, Eden tapped the keys as quietly as possible.
Mrs. Brandon Buchanan.
Eden Berman Buchanan. Ooh, didn’t that one have a nice ring to it?
Brandon and Eden Buchanan.
Brandon Buchanan and the former Eden Berman...
Each letter that popped onto the screen made her feel fizzy, as if she’d taken a sip of champagne.
She could totally picture the chuppah—birch poles, wild similax and roses!—and Brandon stomping on a glass to cries of “Mazel Tov!” He wasn’t Jewish, but they would honor each others’ traditions.
Not that she was engaged yet, or even dating. Nosiree, she was as single as she’d been when she’d moved to Holliday a decade ago. And until just recently, she had preferred it that way.
She was thirty(ish), financially independent, lived in a very nice one-bedroom apartment with built-in bookshelves and engineered hardwoods, and she had a cat. Nothing too shabby about that picture. Although the cat hadn’t been her idea. It had simply appeared on her patio one evening around dinnertime, cranky and hungry-looking, and when she’d tried to ignore it (because you’re not supposed to feed someone else’s cat, right?), it had hurled itself repeatedly against the sliding glass door.
Eden had opened the slider a crack—just a crack—to tell it to go on home and get a Xanax, but it had streaked past her, jumped onto the coffee table and devoured her pad thai. The freeloader had been eating her out of house and home, not to mention waking her up to play at 2:00 a.m., ever since.
Nevertheless, Eden had thought her life was pretty good. No need to make any major adjustments...until two things happened. First, her closest friend, Nikki, and then her brother, Ryan, had both met their life partners and were now planning weddings. That wouldn’t have thrown her ordinarily. She’d caught that illness once herself and barely made it out alive. Considering herself immune for life, she’d said a quick prayer for her friend, her bro and their future spouses, then planned engagement parties and showers and attended numerous wedding dress hunts and cake tastings. In her own life, she’d carried on as usual, expecting not much to change, but then she’d begun to feel...different. Off-kilter. Restless and itchy, as if it was the hottest part of summer, and she was stuck in a wool sweater she couldn’t take off. That’s when the second thing happened—
Brandon Buchanan moved to Holliday.
With another furtive glance at Sherry, Eden kicked off the leopard-print stilettos that were pinching her toes and tapped the keyboard again, switching to a screen shot of a photo that had appeared in the local paper a month ago. In it, Brandon Angus Buchanan, who was 100 percent Scots on both sides (Outlander, anyone?), stood grinning in the middle of a group of local youth. The man was six foot two
if he was an inch and appeared capable of hoisting a minivan with two-point-four kids and a Labradoodle onto his broad shoulders after participating in a Highland Games log toss.
His face, on the other hand, was reassuringly average. Nose a little too large, lips on the thin side, eyes sincere and crinkly around the corners when he smiled. Wasn’t that wonderful? Brandon Buchanan was just an average guy who looked as if he could keep a woman’s heart safe and warm her entire life.
To be clear, it wasn’t his looks that made her blood rush. (That was a lie; his looks made her blood pump plenty!) But they weren’t the only thing that impressed her. Brandon was a good guy. No—Brandon was a mensch. Despite moving to town just last spring, the man had already coached a peewee soccer camp, started a social action group for youth that he called “Community Kids” and taught Danny Ziddle, who had Down syndrome, how to catch a baseball so he could sit on the bench with the rest of the boys instead of merely being in charge of snack distribution like he’d been doing year after year just to feel included.
Brandon had been hired to teach history at South Willamette High beginning this fall. (All that and a master’s degree, too!) Phone calls and emails had been pouring into beleaguered Principal Casey’s office as parents—mostly mothers—requested Mr. Buchanan for their students.
How had Eden come by all this information about a man with whom she had yet to trade a single word? Simple. Holliday, Oregon, was a small town, or small enough. The museum-slash-info-center-slash-library-slash-tearoom where she’d worked for years now was not only a tourist destination, but also the hub of local committee meetings and book clubs and gossip sessions. She heard stuff.
Holliday had a total population of 7,453, of whom Brandon was resident number 7,452. He’d arrived solo—no wife, no girlfriend, not even a sofa until he’d brought the Statlers’ “like new” sectional at the neighborhood-wide yard sale.
Ergo, Brandon Angus Buchanan, burgeoning pillar of the community, was quite likely up for grabs.
Eden’s fingers danced across the keyboard again.
Eden Lea Berman and Brandon Angus Buchanan, together with their parents, request the pleasure of your company at their wed—
“Good morning, Ms. Berman. Or it would have been if I’d had any sleep last night.”
Gah! Dang it. The voice, a cross between Scotty McCreery and Darth Vader, startled her so badly she typed weddingurgurk. As swiftly as she could, Eden switched to a spreadsheet titled Community Hanukkah Volunteer Schedule so Gideon Bowen, Harbinger of Doom, would not see what she’d been writing.
“For Pete’s sake, where did you come from?” she snapped, forgetting to use her welcome-to-your-local-museum manners.
“My office,” Gideon answered, lowered brow and wavy hair as black as his soul.
Sheesh, lighten up, Cruella, her conscience admonished. Dude can’t be that
Alas, her conscience was wrong. Dude was that heinous, and Eden was not the only person in town who thought so.
Gideon was Holliday, Oregon, resident number 7,453, having acquired dear old Doc Shlessinger’s family medical practice three months ago. Most folks said they couldn’t understand what the longtime physician had been thinking when he’d sold to Gideon. Before he’d retired, Doc S. had still made house calls. He’d accepted meat loaf and a pan of seven-layer bars as payment when Lynnette Murphy and her husband lost their insurance, and he’d held an open house once a year, with a barbecue, a bouncy house for the kids and a photo booth. It was practically tradition for the local doctor to be a sweetheart. The town’s biggest park was named after the former local physician and philanthropist. But Dr. Bowen?
Requests for house calls were now referred to the urgent care clinic in Albany, and he couldn’t be bothered with the open house. Janette Timmons, his receptionist, had offered to get the ball rolling since he was new in town, and you know what he told her? “I’m not a party person, Ms. Timmons.”
Just like that. No discussion, no concern for local tradition. It was safe to say Gideon would not be getting a park named in his honor anytime soon. No one knew much about him, but more than a few people had come to Eden hoping for enlightenment, or a bit of gossip as grist for the mill. Why her? Because Gideon wasn’t only the town doctor; he was also her new landlord.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, company tone still on hold.
“Looking for information. The sign outside says Information Center, and you’re the person to speak with, correct? Unless your button is strictly ornamental.”
Positioned between her shoulder and bosom, the button proclaimed, Ask Me Anything... Within Reason. She’d pinned it onto a fitted, 1950s vintage dress with a keyhole bodice. Very sexy. She’d been channeling Ava Gardner lately and had even dyed her naturally auburn hair a deep mink brown.
“Nothing about me is strictly ornamental, Dr. Bowen.” She batted her mascaraed lashes. “What kind of information do you require?”
The man hadn’t even glanced at her chest, which was widely acknowledged to be her best feature and shown to advantage in the keyhole dress. He’d never spared her more than a passing glance, ever, unless he was irritated about something, which was most of the time, and then he looked sinister.
“Has anyone ever mentioned that you bear a striking resemblance to Voldemort?” she asked pleasantly.
His expression did not budge from aloof indifference. “Only my mother, but she promised I’d outgrow it.”
Eden shook her head. “Wait... Did you just make a joke?”
“I don’t think so. I have no sense of humor.”
And in fact his face remained completely impassive. Interestingly, it wasn’t a bad face. Eden rested her chin on her palm. “You know, if you ever smiled, you could look handsome.”
Well, what do you know? A brief...something...skittered across his features. A definite change
in expression, though it was just a flash and quickly disappeared. “On the other hand,” she mused, “you might look like you’ve just eaten an angel.” She nodded as if giving this great thought. “Yeah, better not smile.”
His well-shaped lips did something, twitched a bit. And deep inside the eyes that were so dark gray it was hard to distinguish iris from pupil, there was some flicker of emotion that, for once, did not look like irritation.
She had to admit that when she wasn’t irked by her new landlord and neighbor—he occupied the larger owner’s unit in the duplex she rented—Eden found him to be a somewhat interesting puzzle. She judged Gideon to be an inch or two over six feet. He had beautiful posture—had to give him that—and thick, wavy black hair that was cut short. Life had etched lines around his mouth—prematurely, she guessed. Quite likely he wasn’t beyond his late thirties, but his demeanor made him seem older. From the first time they’d met—the day he’d introduced himself as her landlord—she’d thought he looked like someone with a story to tell, one with unhappy bits she’d be able to relate to, and she’d felt a stimulating curiosity. Because they lived next door, sharing a common bedroom wall, in fact, she’d imagined that their landlord-rentee relationship might blossom into a comfortable buddy thing, the kind in which one of them could knock on the wall, and the other would know the knock meant, “The Crown is starting. Bring popcorn and Flake bars.”
Then he’d spoken to her and ruined everything.
“I’m Dr. Bowen. I’ve purchased this duplex. I don’t know what the previous policy was on parties, but I prefer that you not have any. You’re welcome to entertain a reasonable number of guests on your patio between the hours of nine a.m. and ten p.m. Before or after, I would appreciate your keeping the noise inside and the decibel level to a minimum...” And on and on it had gone.
Looking for a guy who knows how to have a good time? Swipe left.
Eden had listened to him with her jaw slack. Who said stuff like that? She...they...lived in a duplex in a neighborhood that made Mayberry look like Miami by comparison. What exactly did he think she was going to do on her patio?
“No fun before nine or after ten. Gotcha,” she’d agreed, cocking her finger at him.
“If it’s easier for you, I can provide a hard copy of the guidelines,” he’d offered, dead serious.
She’d set her lips in an extra wide smile. “No thanks. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t forget this moment if I tried.”
At the end of their meeting, she’d closed her door, considered hiring movers, then phoned a few friends instead, inviting them to her place that night for a rousing game of Pictionary. On the patio. With strings of glowing twinkle lights, a fire pit and music. Loud music.
Immature? Unquestionably. Petty? Mmm...yeah, okay. It wasn’t like her to react with malice aforethought, but she’d wanted him to get the message loud and clear: You’re not the boss of me.
A sealed envelope containing a typed hard copy of Gideon’s house rules had been
left in her mailbox the next day.
“So what kind of information are you looking for?” she repeated her question now, gazing up at him.
“Pet care? You have a pet?”
“No, you do. And I suggest you learn how to take care of it.”
“Would you like me to elaborate?”
“No, I’m good.”
“Your cat began yowling outside my bedroom window at two a.m. It continued to yowl until three this morning.”
Ouch. Dang cat. Eden was about to apologize—really—when he continued.
“If you’re going to have a pet, please be responsible for it. I get up at four every morning. I never got back to sleep, which means I am working on only three hours of rest today.”
“You get up at four? And you don’t go to bed until—” she did the mental math...awakened at two, had only three hours of sleep... “—eleven? So typically you sleep five hours? How do you survive?” This bit of information made him more interesting to her. “Four a.m., sheesh. Might as well be a bat. I’d get up at noon if I could get away with it. Later if I had a really good reason to stay in and snuggle.” She gave him her best naughty-girl eyebrow wriggle.
Gideon did not respond; he merely gazed at her with his inscrutable Mount Rushmore expression. Crossing her arms, she leaned back in her chair. “So, why do you try to operate on too little sleep? Holdover from your med-student days? You know, since Doc Shlessinger's office doesn’t open until eight thirty, ...
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