Star Cookies & Comfort

BOOK: Star Cookies & Comfort
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STAR COOKIES & COMFORT

A Sweet Christmas Romance

Plus 7 Sweet-Treat Recipes

 

Mimi Riser

 

Copyright 2012 by Mimi Riser

www.mimiriser.com

 

Kindle Edition

 

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author, with the exception of brief excerpts used for the purposes of review. Also, this ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

[Disclaimer: This story is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author's imagination, or have been used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.]

 

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Star Cookies & Comfort

by Mimi Riser

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Debbie Dawn Dixon limped into Star on three and a half tires and a tank full of fumes. It had been a fast, hard haul from Nashville, but having finally reached the little West Texas town, she didn’t have much farther to go—nothing in Star was very far from anything else.

“Don’t worry, we’ll make it,” she told her companion. “Aunt Ina’s house is just around the corner. Think she’ll be surprised to see us?”

A long, plaintive meow answered her.

The cat must be a mind reader.

Aunt Ina would be surprised all right. She was Debbie’s great-aunt, actually, near ninety but still going strong, and she didn’t much approve of country singer nieces who never visited and seldom called. But Ina Lorene Dixon was also the only family Debbie had left in Star. And it was Christmas Eve. If a girl couldn’t come home for Christmas, when could she come home?

Her sputtering car gave up the ghost as she rounded the corner, and Debbie coasted to a rocky stop in front of a weathered wood house—then sat a moment, resting her forehead on the top of the steering wheel and gathering her courage.

A tap on the passenger side window made her jump in her seat.

“Sorry, ma’am, didn’t mean to startle you,” a deep voice said. “I couldn’t help noticing your right rear tire’s flat. I’ll be happy to change it for you if you got a spare.”

Debbie heaved a sigh. “That is the spare.”

“Oh.” The man walked around the front of the car to peer in the driver’s window.

She rolled it down for a better look at him. A man about her age, with brown hair and a mild manner. Not handsome by any stretch of the word, not her type at all, but that was probably a good thing since “her type” always turned out to be all show and no substance, all fancy clothes and fancy talk full of empty promises. This man looked
real
at least. Looked friendly.

Looked familiar?

Her heart hitched as recognition dawned. He wore faded denims and a plaid shirt and squinted as though he needed glasses but hated to wear them. He always had, she remembered.

Tears stung Debbie’s eyes even as a tiny grin tugged at the corners of her mouth. “Hey, Harvey, been a long time. It’s good to see you.”

“It is?” He squinted harder, no doubt wondering how this strange blurry blonde happened to know him.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Harvey, put your glasses on so you can see me right.”

He coughed, blushed, and fished his black-rimmed specs out of his shirt pocket. A big silly smile spread over his face. “Well, I’ll be danged… Debbie Dawn! What brings you home after all these years?”

The tears suddenly flooded down Debbie’s cheeks. She and Harvey Baker had played together almost everyday as kids. They’d never had any secrets from each other back then, and it seemed somehow pointless to start now.

“Because I’m tired and broke and didn’t have anywhere else to go!” she wailed.

“Oh, heck…” Harvey’s blush deepened. He obviously couldn’t think what else to say.

Neither could Debbie. The cat covered for her by springing from the passenger seat onto her lap and yowling in her face.
“You promised me there’d be food when we got here,”
he seemed to be saying.

Well, she had, of course. The poor thing was half starved, but he wore a pretty black tuxedo with white spats and had been doing his best to clean himself up during the last lap of her trip. Debbie swallowed down her sobs and stroked his head.

Then Harvey reached through the window and petted him, too. “Um…nice cat. What’s his name?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. He picked me up at a rest stop back on the highway. Just jumped in the car when I opened the door, and I didn’t have the heart to put him out. I was kinda thinking of calling him Siren. ’Cause he sounds like one.”

A soft chuckle came from behind Harvey.

“Looks more like a Bubba to me,” Wanda Baker said. For all her bulk, the old gal stepped lightly; you never knew she was there until she was. Her eyesight was worse than her son’s, but she had ears like a fox and had probably heard everything. “Harvey, bring Debbie Dawn’s bags into the house. She’s stayin’ with us.”

She was?

Debbie hesitated. “That’s real nice of you, Miz Wanda, but I figured I’d be staying with Aunt Ina…provided she’ll let me in the door.”

Wanda chuckled again. “Oh, honey, she’ll welcome you back with open arms, and you know it. But she ain’t home. Her grandson drove in a couple days ago and carried her off to spend Christmas with him in Houston.”

Great. Thank you, Cousin Winslow.

“Well, there’s no need to pout about it,” Wanda chided. “You’ll see her soon enough. In the meantime we got plenty of room for you, what with Cissy married and livin’ in Abilene.”

Really?

Debbie glanced at Harvey. “Your little sister is married?”

“Yeah, quite a while now.”

“And you’re…” She left the question hanging.

“Not.”

Debbie barely stifled a cheer. She wasn’t sure why that news made her so happy, but it did.

“What about you?” Harvey asked.

“Nope, me neither. Came close a few times, but it never worked out.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

No, he wasn’t. He was grinning like a fool. For some reason, that made her happy, too.

“Quit gawkin’, boy, and get the girl’s gear.” Wanda pointed to the duffle bag and Gibson guitar on the backseat, then pulled open the driver’s door and confiscated the cat. “C’mon, Bubba”—she cradled him against her broad bosom—“I got a big can of tuna all for you.” Clucking like a mother hen, she led the way to the neat white house across the street.

Harvey followed with Debbie’s duffle and old Gibson, while Debbie tagged behind humming a holiday tune to herself. Suddenly it felt a lot like Christmas.

Inside the house, it looked and smelled like it, too. Garlands decked the living room, and a fat, fragrant evergreen stood in the corner, all lit up like…well, like a Christmas tree. From the kitchen wafted the scent of home-baked goodness. Wanda had probably been cooking up a storm for days—all her specialties, cakes and candies and cookies galore. Debbie’s mouth watered, remembering those cookies. The star-shaped ones had been her favorite. Even as a child she’d always been reaching for a star…

---

Bug Baker welcomed the prodigal with a big bear hug, but could’ve done without Bubba.

“Wanda, what’d you think you’re doin’? You wanna feed that thing, do it outside.” He glowered at his wife as she set bowls of water and milk and a dish of tuna on the spotless kitchen floor. “I mean it, woman, either he goes or I do! You know I can’t stand cats in the house.”

“Suit yourself, old man.” She planted hands on her ample hips. “You know where the door is. Don’t let it hit you in the tail feathers on the way out.”

“Hmph!” he grunted, snatched an oatmeal cookie from a plate on the table, and stalked off into the living room.

A little later, his tummy full, Bubba padded after him as though he owned the place.

Debbie waited for a holler that never came. Cautiously, she peeked through the doorway. Laughter bubbled up in her throat.

“What?” Harvey looked over her shoulder, then motioned for his mother to look, too. Together they stared at Bug snoozing in his recliner in front of the TV, with a ball of black and white fur curled up on his potbelly.

“It’s just like I’ve always said,” Wanda murmured, “that old dog is all bark and no bite.”

And his son doesn’t even bark, Debbie thought. It suddenly occurred to her that she’d never seen Harvey really angry or ill-tempered. He’d been a sweet, gentle boy, and didn’t appear to have soured any with age. Still slow and steady in his movements. Still quiet and kind and quick to blush.

Still Harvey.

He caught her studying him.

“What?” he said again. “Somethin’ wrong?”

Hardly. For the first time in a long time things were starting to look right.

She smiled at him. “I was just thinking how much I’ve missed you.”

“Oh. Um…yeah…same here.” He reddened under his West Texas tan and turned to help his mother take two trays of buttery rich shortbread cookies from the oven. Working with a spatula and obvious experience, he scooped Christmas stars onto platters and sprinkled their warm tops with red and green sugar crystals.

Wanda winked at Debbie. “I’ve raised that boy right. He’ll make some girl a good husband someday.”

“I always thought so,” Debbie said softly. Except she hadn’t realized she had until that moment. Harvey had been such a fixture in her early life, it had been easy to take him for granted. Too easy to become bored with the plain boy next door and start yearning for a handsome knight in shining armor. She hadn’t known back then how fast armor could tarnish.

Harvey’s shoulders tensed, but he went on working, never turned, never looked at her. “If that’s what you thought, why’d you ever leave Star?”

He said it lightly, like a joke, but underneath the tease, Debbie heard a hint of hurt. She understood. Regardless of girlish fancies and boyish bashfulness, she and Harvey had been friends from kindergarten through high school. Once upon a time, everyone in town had figured they’d end up married. But, heck, the reason they hadn’t wasn’t
all
her fault.

“Maybe because someone never asked me to stay?” she suggested.

“Well, maybe ‘someone’ didn’t want to stand in your way.” He swung round then and met her eyes. “Dang it, Debbie Dawn, you were always quicker and brighter than me. You had the looks and the talent and the dreams. You were going places. I wasn’t.”

Wow, for him that was quite a speech, quite a show of emotion—though few besides Debbie would have noticed. Even at his most agitated, Harvey was pretty low-key, never raised his voice. He gave her a crooked grin, blushing again, embarrassed by his outburst, soft as it had been.

It was the grin that got her, but good. It gripped her heart like a fist. Her throat constricted, and her reply came out sounding like it had been forced through a knothole.

“Yeah, well, I didn’t get very far, did I?”

She glanced down at her toes, then around the kitchen—anywhere to avoid looking at Harvey. She didn’t want to see any pity. Especially not his.

At some point during their careful confrontation—when, Debbie wasn’t sure—Wanda had discreetly disappeared, leaving a saucepan of penoche on the back of the stove. Harvey moved it to the front and stirred in some butter, vanilla, and nuts. He did know how to cook. Several years ago, Aunt Ina had mentioned Harvey was in charge of the Star high school cafeteria, and doing right well for himself.

Better’n me.

He poured the finished penoche into a buttered pan and set it aside to cool, then gathered a fresh bunch of ingredients and began mixing up a batch of peanut butter chocolate dots—her second absolute favorite (the star cookies being her first favorite, of course), and she hadn’t had any in ages. The man was merciless.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said while he worked, “you were in Nashville almost ten years. It couldn’t have been all bad.”

“Bad enough. I got a few okay gigs now and then, but mostly I just sang backup in the studios.”

“There’s good money in that, I’ve heard.”

“Can be. But it costs a lot to live in the city, too. No matter what I made, there was never enough to last for long. It got so I felt like I was running as fast as I could all the time just to stay in place.” She leaned back against the kitchen counter beside him, feeling like a portrait of defeat.

“I’m tired, Harvey. Tired of the hype and tired of pretending I’m something I’m not. I mean, I love playing music, but I sure don’t like the games you gotta play to get anywhere. You wanna hear what happened a few days ago?”

She didn’t wait for an answer; she had to confess this whether he wanted to hear it or not.

BOOK: Star Cookies & Comfort
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