Authors: Robyn Neeley
appy New Year
Caitlin Reynolds clinked her silver-rimmed flute to Abby Swift’s before a lovestruck Brandon swept his new bride away for a long kiss.
“Maybe you two should take your newlywed merriment upstairs,” Caitlin called out while shaking her head. Who would have thought she’d be happy for Brandon Swift—the handsome former
Los Angeles Times
reporter now prominent Buttermilk Falls resident and inn owner. Certainly not her.
Caitlin pulled her long, wavy brown hair to the side as she watched the happy couple ring in the New Year. There once was a time not so long ago where the sight of Brandon and Abby kissing would’ve made her blood boil. When Caitlin had met Brandon last summer in Las Vegas, they’d had their own summer fun. For the briefest time, she thought he might be the one.
A lot had happened since then. She drained her sparkling white grape juice and rubbed the pink satin fabric covering her round belly.
Now she was single, five months pregnant, and carrying not one, but three babies.
And it didn’t appear that her relationship status would change anytime soon. Not when the father of her triplets and Abby’s brother—Josh Stevens—wanted nothing to do with her.
She definitely thought twice before accepting Abby and Brandon’s invitation to attend their wedding followed by a small New Year’s Eve gathering at Brandon’s inn. The hotel and restaurant on Buttermilk Lake wouldn’t officially open for business until Memorial Day weekend, but the small group of wedding guests was enjoying a sneak peek of what was to come.
Caitlin looked around the main room, feeling a little out of place. Earlier, she’d at least had Abby’s parents and Brandon’s mother to talk to, but they had left hours ago. Now, she was the only woman not experiencing a knees-wobbling, toes-curling lip lock—and, well, that sucked.
Sighing, she headed to the bar, pushing past her cousin Bridget Reed who was, of course, making out with her husband, Tom. Caitlin grabbed the sparkling white grape juice bottle she’d shared with Abby and refilled her flute, desperately wishing she could have champagne. “Cheers to me,” she muttered, toasting the air.
“And your three little ones.” Emma Stevens pulled herself away from her boyfriend, Jason Levine, to join Caitlin at the bar. Cousin of Abby and Josh, Emma owned the Sugar Spoon bakery. Like Brandon, Jason was a big city reporter who fell under the Stevens women’s charm. He’d moved to town this fall and was Brandon’s former roommate in graduate school and best friend.
Caitlin smiled, patting her belly. “And cheers to my triplets.”
“How are you feeling?” Emma asked.
“Great.” She sighed because that wasn’t exactly true. “If feeling like an elephant in heels classifies as great. Maybe that’s why I haven’t gotten one single kiss tonight.”
“I can fix that. Happy New Year.” Jason leaned down and kissed her cheek. “You look beautiful,” he whispered in her ear. “And I’m proud of you.”
She smirked, knowing full well what he meant. She hadn’t always acted appropriately in public around Emma and Abby. She’d squabbled most of her life with Emma—mostly about petty stuff involving an ex-boyfriend—but had never had a beef with Abby until last summer when Caitlin had caught her making out with Brandon. All that was water under the bridge. She really was trying to turn over a new leaf.
Because the babies she was carrying had Stevens blood, Emma was willing to call a truce, and she and Abby were making an effort to welcome Caitlin into the family. Caitlin appreciated the olive branch, but deep down she knew why it was being extended. They felt sorry for her. She’d managed to get herself knocked up by a man—relative to them or not—who didn’t want anything to do with her.
She’d never admit it, but she was actually enjoying her new friendship with both Emma and Abby—although, their special skills still freaked her out. The two were known for dabbling in spells and witchcraft.
Emma was infamous for performing one spell each Monday during Batter Up night, in which one lucky bachelor was selected to see the name of his true love in the cake batter she whipped up with her enchanted pink mixing spoon.
Not that Caitlin had actually ever seen the spell or the pink spoon for that matter—only men were allowed in the Sugar Spoon bakery on Batter Up night.
All the men who benefited from Emma’s spell were either now married to their true loves or on a direct route to their happily ever after. Even Caitlin’s cousin Bridget’s name had appeared in Tom’s batter last spring. Two months later, they eloped in Las Vegas.
Caitlin and Emma were far from becoming BFFs, but she had to admit their truce was nice. She hadn’t realized how much energy it took to hate someone as much as she hated Emma growing up—and well, she didn’t have a lot of energy these days to begin with.
“Thank you. I’m doing my best.” Caitlin waved them off. “Now go back to kissing.”
She didn’t have to tell the smitten couple twice.
Caitlin thought back to last summer. When she’d found out that Emma had performed the Batter Up spell on Brandon and it was Abby’s name, not hers, that had appeared in the mixing bowl, she was furious. Marching over to the Sugar Spoon bakery the next morning, Caitlin dropped the gauntlet, declaring she’d fight Abby for him. Deep down she knew she didn’t have a chance.
Even if Emma’s spell had been wrong—and it never was—Caitlin knew that what she was doing with Brandon was just sex. They really didn’t have much in common. He’d ended things between them shortly after he saw Abby’s name in his batter, and it wasn’t long before Caitlin saw with her own eyes how interested Brandon was in Abby.
That rejection led to her decision to leave Buttermilk Falls for a while, but not before doing something completely impulsive with the one man from this town who had always despised her. Never in a million years did she ever think Josh Stevens would end up in her bed, but that’s exactly what happened.
“It’s time to investigate the third floor,” Brandon announced as he and Abby joined the group at the bar.
“Now?” Abby asked, wrapping her arms around Brandon. “You can’t be serious.”
Brandon nodded. “I need to see what’s up there.” He tapped his buddy’s shoulder. “Come on, Jason. I’ve got a couple flashlights in my office.”
Caitlin laughed at the two reporters acting all macho. Earlier in the evening, Emma and Abby had teased Brandon extensively about it being over two months since he had purchased the inn, and he still hadn’t stepped foot onto the third level.
She didn’t blame him. Everyone in Buttermilk Falls knew this place was haunted, including the last owner who’d hightailed it out of town after spending one night in one of the bedrooms on the second floor.
Abby had insisted that it was probably her and Emma’s deceased grandparents roaming the halls. They’d met at the inn where her grandmother, Gwendylyn Stevens, had worked, after all. Still, Caitlin had no plans for this night to turn into a slumber party with creepy ghosts—late relatives to her unborn babies or not.
Jason grabbed onto Emma’s hand. “We might need your magic skills for backup.”
“I feel so used.” Emma giggled, letting him lead her upstairs.
see them again.” Abby laughed, rolling her eyes and motioning to Caitlin. “This could take a while. Let’s go feed our kids,” she said, patting her stomach.
Caitlin followed Abby into the kitchen because a snack sounded good. When she’d first heard that Abby was also pregnant, a part of her was green with jealousy. Brandon was head over heels in love with Abby and couldn’t wait to be a father.
Unlike Josh who had sparred with Caitlin on more than one occasion and hadn’t spoken to her since she’d surprised him with the news.
Caitlin was grateful that Abby wasn’t shunning her, too. They’d even gone shopping right before the holidays for their nurseries and had made plans to do it again for new maternity clothes later in the month. It was nice to have someone to talk to who was also experiencing all the hormones and cravings pregnancy produced.
Although, she totally wished she looked as radiant as Abby did with her glowing complexion and small baby bump. Most days, Caitlin felt like she didn’t have the energy to breathe.
Unplugging a slow cooker pot and bringing it to the center kitchen island, Abby reached for some Italian bread. “I’ve been dying for my mother’s Reuben dip all night. She made it for me before she left. Do you think it’s normal to crave sauerkraut?”
“Sure.” Caitlin nodded. “I read yearning for something you normally wouldn’t eat is completely normal. These days, all I want are mashed potatoes with sour cream, and I hate potatoes.”
“Yeah, I crave them all the time—even breakfast.”
“Strange,” Abby said, slicing the bread into small chunks.
“Why’s that so weird?” Sauerkraut was stranger in Caitlin’s opinion.
“It’s Josh’s favorite comfort food. Literally, at Thanksgiving, that’s all he eats. No turkey, no stuffing, no cranberry sauce . . . only mashed potatoes with a heap of sour cream. My mother makes a batch just for him.”
Caitlin took the bread Abby offered and swirled it in the dip. “Strange indeed.”
Abby turned and leaned back on the counter, straightening her back. “Speaking of my brother, have you heard from him?”
“No.” Caitlin frowned. “I’m sorry he wasn’t here for your wedding. I think I know why.”
Abby gave her a sympathetic smile. “He’s really busy at work with his overseas launch.”
“That, or he didn’t want to see me.”
“He wanted to be here but said it would be nearly impossible to get away. I gave him a pass since Brandon and I didn’t give any out-of-towners much notice. He’ll come around.” Abby swirled a piece of bread and took a bite, her eyes rolling back. “Man, I love this stuff. I hope I feel the same way about sauerkraut after I have the baby.”
Caitlin’s hands went instinctively to her stomach. “I hope so.”
“About my dip obsession?”
Caitlin smirked. “No, silly. About your brother. I hope he comes around because I really want him in the triplets’ lives.”
Abby nodded, soaking another piece of bread with dip. “He will be. Let him get through the launch. He’ll man up and be there for you and the babies. I know my brother. He just needs some more time for all of it to sink in.”
Caitlin wished she could believe Abby’s pep talk, but she wasn’t so sure. Josh was a business man with drive and determination. She was pretty sure having a kid—let alone three at once—was not part of his plan. Not to mention the mother was someone he loathed.
She’d felt awful delivering the news to him. After completely blindsiding him in his Manhattan Central Park West apartment, he’d asked her if Brandon could be the father.
It was a fair question, but she had assured him that Brandon wasn’t. Unlike Brandon, who’d threatened to make her take a paternity test, Josh didn’t further question that it was his. Still, after the triplets were born they’d have the test done, confirming he was the father.
He’d said he’d be there for the babies and would support them financially.
She didn’t need his money. Even though she was currently unemployed, her family was one of the wealthiest in Buttermilk Falls.
Josh’s gesture, however, gave her a tiny flicker of hope that he’d come around. That was snuffed when he ditched his sister’s wedding. Abby could say it was because of his work, but Caitlin knew the truth. He didn’t want to see her.
“So, there is a question I have.” Caitlin decided to move the conversation to something that had been needling her since she learned she was pregnant.
“Yes, there is a possibility your kids will have red hair.” Abby flipped her loose ginger curls.
Caitlin laughed. “That’s not the question.” Although it had crossed her mind. Abby took after her mom with long red locks, while Josh’s hair was raven black like his father’s. “Do you think my babies will be able to do what you do?”
Abby motioned with her hands. “Are you talking about baking . . .” She grabbed a wooden spoon from behind her and moved it in stirring motions. “. . . or magic?” She flipped the spoon, waving it like a wand.
“Maybe.” Abby leaned against the counter. “I know my little turkey has been known to cast a spell on her daddy.”
Caitlin’s eyes widened at that news. “Like what?”
“Well, this fall, when Brandon was kissing Rachel Foster on the park’s gazebo, she made it rain.”
“Wait . . . rewind . . . why was Brandon kissing Rachel?”
Abby waved her off. “It was a big, tangled up mess. He didn’t even remember we were together when it happened.”
“Long story. I’m sure you can find it on Amazon,” she joked.
“Apparently I missed a lot while I was away. How did Adam feel about seeing Rachel kissing Brandon?” Adam Reed was Tom’s older brother who had been in a long-term relationship with Rachel Foster, the town’s one and only florist, up until last summer. Everyone had been abuzz about the breakup. Adam was also Josh’s best friend.
“He was pretty pissed about it. Anyways, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. Josh could never perform the Batter Up spell. I don’t think there’s a magical bone in his body,” she said and walked over to the refrigerator. “Or maybe he needs a shimmering blue mixing spoon or something.” Opening it, she pulled out another bottle of sparkling white grape juice for them to share. “So, how exactly did all this go down?”
“Go down?” Caitlin repeated, grabbing two clear plastic flutes from the counter.
“You and my brother.” Abby opened the bottle and poured.
“Oh, you mean after I caught you making out with my boyfriend this summer . . . on my parents’ front porch . . .” Friends now or not, Caitlin couldn’t resist that zinger.
“You know, I’m sorry you saw us kissing, but for the record, Brandon was never your boyfriend.”
“I know.” Caitlin took a sip of her juice. “It still hurt . . .” she paused, adding, “. . . mostly my ego. I always knew Brandon and I weren’t long term. You two are perfect for each other. I mean that.”
“Thank you. I think I loved him the moment I met him.” Abby laughed sarcastically. “Although, the first time I had laid eyes on him he’d come into the bakery to buy breakfast muffins to take back to you.”