Cody Madsen and Olivia Dixon are actually the stars of my *upcoming* release (Feb 25th), Best of Four. But readers have already gotten to know these two in the first three books, She's the One, It Takes Two and Best of Three. And they have a bit of a past that I was happy to reveal in this short holiday story! Enjoy!
Two years, one week and three days ago
There was nothing sexy about gingerbread men. Especially ones that were really just big
blobs of gingerbread with a foot sticking out here and there. There was also nothing sexy about sugar cookies. Especially ones that were burnt on the bottom. And there should be nothing sexy about his best friend’s little sister muttering words that would have shocked her mother while putting colorful gumdrops on the top of green Rice Krispie treat trees.
But Cody Madsen found himself a little tighter in his blue jeans when he stepped into Olivia Dixon’s kitchen. She was beautiful. Her jeans were faded across the butt, her hair was escaping the twist on top of her head, she had green frosting smeared up one arm and cocoa powder on her left thigh.
And he wanted to kiss her.
But then again, he wanted to kiss her nearly every time he saw her, green frosting or not.
The timer on the oven went off, startling him. She turned away from the table where she
had at least four different kinds of cookies spread out and saw him.
“Hi. Didn’t mean to sneak up on you.” Of course, with Bruce Springsteen belting out his version of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, she couldn’t have heard his knock or him coming in through the front door.
She reached for the stereo that sat on the shelf where she kept her cookbooks and turned down the volume. “No problem.”
“Conner asked me to come over and get his cooler. He said he sent it home with you after the last tailgate.” Among other things, Cody and Olivia’s brother Conner, played on the local amateur football team, the Omaha Hawks, together. Once a month, the guys hung out with fans pre-game at the Hawks sponsored tailgate party.
“It’s in the garage,” Olivia said, gesturing toward the door.
Cody started in that direction, but something in her eyes made him stop. He’d only been able to appreciate her from the side. Now looking at her straight on he realized she’d been crying.
He frowned. “You okay?”
She sniffed, but nodded. “I’m baking for the bake sale at St. Anthony’s.”
St. Anthony’s was the big local trauma center where Conner, and their buddy Ryan, worked as paramedics. The Christmas bake sale was an annual event that raised money for Christmas gifts for the local women and children’s center.
“It smells great.”
It did. Underneath the aroma of burnt sugar.
“My gingerbread men are more appropriate for Halloween, my Rice Krispie trees are too mushy, I’m out of coconut, and I can’t even get the sugar cookies to turn out. And,” she went on. “I have to come up with a unique recipe for the contest and everything I’ve tried has ended up in the garbage.”
It was obvious she was distracted. Olivia was a fantastic baker. He’d had her cookies, pies, cakes and brownies in the years since he’d met Conner in college. They were all amazing. Almost as amazing as his.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
She sniffed again and shrugged. “Nothing. I’m just stressed about getting the cookies done.”
“How many are you doing?” There were a lot of cookies in that kitchen already.
She lifted a shoulder. “Baking makes me happy. It comforts me.”
“You need comforting?” He hated that idea. Olivia was the sweet one of the Dixon Divas—as she and her three sisters were collectively called. She was the bubbly optimist. Everyone loved that about her. Cody loved that about her. She was one of those people that could put you in a good mood no matter what else was going on. He hated to think she was anything less than happy.
“No. I just need to make six dozen more cookies.”
Her eyes widened. “You’ll help me make cookies?”
Well, hell, he hadn’t really meant to say that but… cookies he could do. Comforting a woman, he wasn’t so sure about and he suspected that she did actually need comforting.
Cody tossed his keys onto the counter by the coffee pot and rolled up his sleeves. “I’ll help you make cookies.”
She looked wary. “Do you know how to make cookies?”
“Olivia,” he said, stepping to the sink to wash his hands. “I’m going to blow your mind with how I make cookies.”
Her expression brightened. “Well, I haven’t had my mind blown by a man in a long time.”
He paused and looked at her. Was she flirting? Did she mean that the way his mind had taken it?
Her cheeks were pink. “In the kitchen,” she added. “I haven’t had my mind blown by a man in the kitchen in a long time.”
Yeah, he could blow her mind in any room she wanted.
He focused on the running water. No he couldn’t. She was his best friend’s little sister. His best friend who had seen Cody watching Olivia across Trudy’s Tavern three months ago and said “Don’t even think about it.” Cody’s response had been “nothing to worry about man”. It had to be. Conner knew things about Cody’s past with women that gave him good reason to worry about Cody getting involved with someone Conner cared about. The fact that it was his little sister… yeah, never gonna happen.
“Tell me about this unique recipe you have to come up with,” he said, reaching for a towel.
“It’s for the Cookie Contest. Winner gets a hundred dollars to donate to their favorite charity.”
Feeling a little more composed with talk of cookies and charity, he turned to face her.
She was beating something in a big plastic bowl with a vengeance. And wearing a deep scowl. He rescued the innocent cookie dough, setting it to the side.
“What do you have for the contest so far?”
She sighed and reached for the huge mug sitting in the middle of the stove, then leaned against the counter. “I’ve done a peppermint sugar cookie that wasn’t pepperminty enough, I tried making mocha gingerbread men—” She wrinkled her nose. “—that were a disaster. And I tried an eggnog cookie recipe that was… okay.”
He looked around. “Where are the remnants?”
She leaned to the right, revealing a plate of cookie pieces behind her. He reached for one but she didn’t move, which meant that his body ended up closer to hers than it had ever been.
He was instantly hit by heat and the urge to put his lips against her neck. As he slowly straightened, he caught the scent of peppermint. But it wasn’t coming from the cookies.
“Schnapps?” he asked.
She sipped from her cup again and nodded.
“You tried the schnapps in the cookies to make them more pepperminty?”
She smiled. “I put the schnapps in my hot cocoa to make my attitude better.”
She shook her head, but said, “Yes.”
“Is the schnapps helping?”
She drank again. “Yes.”
He bit into one of the peppermint cookie pieces. It was good. It wasn’t amazing, but it was good. “I can fix these cookies,” he said. “Does that help?”
She looked at him in surprise. “Yes. That would definitely help.”
He moved toward the collection of ingredients she had spread out on the counter top. “I think it’s interesting that you didn’t realize what you needed to do here.”
“What do you mean?”
“Peppermint cookies are good, but chocolate peppermint cookies are awesome.”
She opened her mouth, then looked down at her cup, then up at him. Her mouth curved into a smile. “I guess I’m a little slow today.”
Cody started measuring and stirring. “Yeah, what’s going on?”
“I went to the grocery store for supplies. I ran into George.”
He glanced at her. Her eyes filled with tears and Cody abandoned his bowl and spoon, instinctively stepping forward. He didn’t know who George was, but the encounter had clearly upset her. That made him want to punch George.
“He was with another woman.”
Ah. The fact that she was upset about George being with another woman probably meant he wasn’t her accountant. Cody reached out and ran his hand up and down her arm. “I’m sorry, Liv.”
She smelled like chocolate and peppermint. He loved both.
“You were dating a man named George?” Cody asked, trying to concentrate on the issue. George making Olivia cry. The fucker.
“Yes. And George is apparently dating a woman named Maggie.”
Dammit. He definitely wanted to punch George. “But he took her to the grocery store. That’s not very romantic.”
“They were buying whipped cream and chocolate syrup.”
Cody thought about that. “Ice cream?” he suggested.
Her eyes filled again. “George has sensitive teeth.”
Cody thought about that. Then laughed. “You’re better off without George.”
“It’s not his fault his teeth are sensitive to cold.”
“George was buying whipped cream and chocolate syrup with another woman, Liv,” Cody said gently. “He’s an idiot.”
She shook her head. “It’s me.”
“It’s not you.”
“It is. I told him…” She trailed off and sniffed, wiping her hand over her wet cheek.
The motion left a streak of green granulated sugar behind. Which went along well with the powdered sugar that dusted her hairline at her temple, the red frosting that was smudged on her neck and the streak of chocolate at the corner of her mouth.
Cody felt himself move in closer without even thinking about it. “You told him what?”
Please God, don’t let her have said she loved him. Cody wasn’t completely clear on exactly why that idea put a huge knot in his gut, but it did.
“I told him I wouldn’t sleep with him. It was too soon. I wasn’t ready.”
Cody let out a long relieved breath. Relieved was a strange emotion to be feeling about it, but he decided it was too complicated to spend much time on at the moment. “I think that’s amazing. Good for you.”
One eyebrow went up. “Amazing?”
“You deserve a guy who will wait and put every effort into winning you over.”
She shook her head. “Why do men only think of sex? I mean, is it really that important?”
Cody shrugged. “Well… yeah.”
“But with the right woman… a guy would be willing to wait, right?”
He looked into those big blue eyes, the tendrils of blond hair escaping her ponytail, the bright red apron that covered her and said, “Absolutely.”
“So, what’s wrong with me?”
“Not one damned thing.”
She stared at him for a moment, then shook her head. “I think what’s wrong is that I only wanted to kiss him.”
“That doesn’t make you wrong.”
“It means that I was with the wrong guy,” she said, setting her cup down.
There was something in her eyes, and her voice, that made him swallow hard. “It might just mean you weren’t ready to move to the next level with him.”
“That’s strange considering that with you I’m ready for the next level right now.”
Her words rocked through him and now he couldn’t swallow. “Wh…wha…what?”
“You heard me.”
She shrugged. “I’m tipsy. But it’s not like this is the first time I’ve wanted to kiss you.”
“Liv,” he said, his heart twisting in his chest. “We can’t.”
“You don’t want to kiss me, Cody?”
She reached behind her and untied her apron. She slipped it over her head and tossed it to the side.
“What are you wearing?”
She looked down and smiled. “My ugly Christmas sweater.”
“It was supposed to cheer me up.”
The sweater was a light knit in shimmery gold. Except for the two Santa-type mittens curving around either side and covering her breasts. The bottom said “Feel the joy”.
He couldn’t resist his own smile. “Did it work?”
“A little.” She moved closer. “Not as much as kissing you would.”
He took a deep breath. She was tipsy. But she was also sad. He hated that George had chosen Maggie over Olivia. She understandably needed some reassurance. He was a big fan of hers, so he could easily assure her that she was amazing. “You’re gorgeous and sexy and sweet and any guy would be a damned fool if he didn’t kiss you every chance he got.”
She looked him straight in the eye. “Prove it.”
Yeah, he’d kind of known that’s where this was going.
Even as he stepped closer and put his hands on her hips, he knew he shouldn’t. Even when he lifted her up to the countertop, he knew he shouldn’t. Even when he stepped between her knees, lifted his hand and wiped the chocolate from the corner of her mouth then licked it off, he knew he shouldn’t.
But he did anyway.
He pulled the clip from her hair and tossed it over his shoulder, he ran his hand through her hair then cupped the back of her head.
He took a moment to appreciate the way her breath caught. The way her pupils dilated. The way her cheeks flushed.
Then he kissed her.
And it turned out that the chemistry he’d imagined between them, was very, very real.
The kiss went from sweet to spicy in two seconds. She gripped the front of his shirt, arching closer. He opened his lips over hers and she moaned, allowing him to stroke his tongue deep, tasting the chocolate and peppermint and the underlying deliciousness that was all Olivia.
She wrapped her legs around his waist.
He slid his hand up under her sweater, stroking her spine, her ribs, then cupping her breast.
Feel the joy, indeed.
She whimpered as he brushed his thumb over the hardened tip.
Just as he heard the front door bang open.
“Liv, we’re here to help!”
Cody ripped his mouth from Olivia’s as her sister, Amanda, called to her.
“Damn,” Olivia muttered.
Cody stepped back, taking a deep breath and trying not to notice how gorgeous she looked with her hair tousled and her mouth wet from his.
She pressed her lips together and pulled her ugly sweater down as she met his gaze. “Damn,” she said again.
Yep, that about summed it up.
Olivia slid off the counter as her sisters came into the kitchen.
Cody reached for the bottle of peppermint schnapps.
Want the recipe that Cody whips up?
Click here for Cody's
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Cody and Olivia get their full story February 25th! Mark your calendars for Going for Four!
Counting on Love, Book 4
It’s either true love…or the biggest mistake they’ve ever made.
Cody Madsen has stayed away from Olivia Dixon for almost two years—technically. Even though he talks to her every day and sees her every weekend. But there’s no kissing, touching, or telling her how he really feels. Because they’re just friends. Anything more than that would mean crossing the line that Olivia’s older brother—Cody’s best friend—has firmly drawn between them.
Olivia wants what her three sisters have—true love. She could almost believe she’s found it with Cody, if it weren’t for the fact that her brother won’t have it. And he’s never steered her wrong before. Her head is telling her to trust her brother, but her heart won’t let go of Cody.
Her solution? A dating site where she and Cody can each find their “Perfect Pick” once and for all.
But when the site yields some unexpected results, their real feelings come front and center. And they have to decide if it’s worth the risk to cross the line from friendship to love after all.
Warning: Contains a starry-eyed romantic, a wanna-be Knight in Shining Armor, and chocolate chip cookies. A lot of chocolate chip cookies.
You can also catch up with Cody, Olivia and the whole gang right now with
She's the One, It Takes Two and Best of Three!
And there's MORE!
Tidings of Comfort & Schnapps
Part TWO is at my blog! :D
For more information about this event,
check out last Friday's post!
And remember that all comments here get entered to win your very own ugly sweater kit! You can also comment over on our Sweater Season event page for a chance to win, or hey, post an ugly sweater pic there for a chance to win a $50 gift card!