Texas-born World Cup champion goalie, Dante Moretti, only expected tiny Starlight, Iowa to be a blip on the radar of his life. Stopping at Barney’s Diner for a quick meal two weeks before Christmas, Dante meets two women who capture his heart in very different ways. Then his rental car won’t start, stranding him overnight. Could the Lord have a plan for bringing him to Starlight?
Amanda Marston is excited to be home in Starlight for her big brother Jake’s wedding. When she drops in for a cup of Caroline Picasso’s coffee at Barney’s, who is that handsome, Italian-spouting cowboy? Before she knows it, Dante’s staying with Ben and Caroline and helping out with projects all over Starlight. Does God have a plan for Dante in Starlight, one that might include Amanda?
“It’s been an honor to meet you, Miss Marston. Ciao.”
“You, too. Have a nice…life, Dante.”
Most women tried to ingratiate themselves in his life and wanted whatever he was willing to share or give. Not this woman. He wouldn’t be a full-blooded man if her attitude hadn’t issued an irresistible, if unspoken, challenge. Amanda had dismissed him, sipped her coffee and wished him well on his life’s journey with a casual good-bye. Well, fine. He owed no one any explanations. Blip on the radar. Keep moving.
“You, too.” When Dante started to tip his hat to her, the realization hit him he’d left it on the counter stool.
Without missing a beat, Amanda reached for the hat and flung it at him with precise aim. He caught it one-handed.
“Grazie. Great toss.”
Although he’d heard it many times in his career, it’d never meant the same thing as it did coming from Amanda’s lips now.
“I know how Texans revere their Stetsons,” she said. “I wouldn’t want you to leave Starlight and realize later on that you’d forgotten something important here at Barney’s.”
Seemed Amanda was every bit the straight-shooter as Miss Caroline, and her words weren’t lost on him. Dante dipped his head, positioned the Stetson, and ran his fingers around its brim.
“Why do men always do that? Run their fingers around the edge of their cowboy hats?”
Eyeing her for a few seconds, he tried to come up with an answer she might actually believe. “They get a lot of wear and tear and it helps reshape it once it’s on my head.” He had no idea, but it sounded plausible.
She shrugged. “Makes sense. I always kind of wondered about that.”
“The truth? John Wayne and Clint Eastwood do it in their movies. For whatever reason, it comes naturally.”
“Oh, so you do it for the coolness quotient.” It wasn’t a question.
“Worked on you, signorina.” Now he was flirting? He needed to get out of Starlight. Now.
“Curiosity doesn’t necessarily imply interest.”
“Che piacere conoscervi. . .spero ci sia una prossima volta, arrivederci.”
Amanda’s brows rose. “Care to translate? You have the unfair advantage, you know.”
He zeroed in on her lovely, clear brown eyes. “I’m delighted to have met you, and I hope there’s a next time.”
Something he couldn’t translate flickered in her expression and caused his breathing to slow. “I don’t know how to say it in Italian, but likewise. Ciao, Italian Cowboy.”
“Ciao.” Regret flooded his senses as he tugged open the door and stepped outside, breathing in the brisk evening air to clear his head. The clanging of the bell behind him only reinforced how alone he was in the world. At least for the past hour, he’d been welcomed and appreciated by two very different but incredible women. For the first time in years, he felt like the cowboy from little Justis, Texas again. No more, no less.
And that felt pretty good.
Starlight, Star Bright is the sequel to the popular Meet Me Under the Mistletoe, part of Pelican Book Group's 2012 Holiday Extravaganza.
Jacob Marston, Starlight, Iowa's hometown hero made a long-ago promise to the Lord: he won't kiss a woman until he knows she's "the one." Now at age twenty-eight, the rugged firefighter questions if it'll ever happen. Then, he meets his best friend's sister, and Jake believes he's found the woman of his dreams. But what will she think when she discovers his vow? When Julia makes an unexpected confession on Christmas Day, Jake shares his secret with her, and it looks as though happily-ever-after will make a holiday appearance. But somehow, everyone in the tiny town of Starlight learns Jake’s secret, and he's instantly transformed from town hero to laughingstock. Did Julia reveal his secret? Can Jake forget the humiliation and find his way under the mistletoe to share a forever kiss with Julia?
“I’d better get over to the firehouse,” Jake said, his gaze lingering on Julia. The way she cut her pancakes into miniscule bites was fascinating, but the woman must take an hour to eat a sandwich. Thank goodness Dylan didn’t share that trait, or there’d be a few more houses in Starlight burned to the ground while the man finished his food. Now, you’re being ridiculous.
“Who’s watching Bailey while you’re at work?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
Julia lowered her cup to the counter, her expression incredulous. “Please tell me you put her in a crate in the kitchen, in a closed room, or in a contained area with a baby gate or something?”
“No, I didn’t.” Owning a dog was a lot more involved than he’d anticipated. “Will I need to file an insurance claim?”
“You might. Here’s a tip: before you go to the station today, you might want to stop by the house and check on her . . . and take my suggestion to keep her in an enclosed space.”
Jake frowned. “Point taken. I’m sure you’re right.” His shoulders drooped. “Man, I stink as a dog daddy.”
“You’ll be fine.” The smile she gave him distracted him to the point where he tossed down a five by mistake on the shiny countertop for Carolyn’s tip. He’d look like a heel if he made change, but he figured she could use the extra since her stove was on the fritz.
“Hey, Caroline?” he called.
She paused while slathering Dan Johnson’s toast with too much artery-clogging butter. “Yeah, Jake?”
“I’ll come over on Thursday morning about ten to take a look at your stove.”
Caroline’s doting smile was reward enough. She raised the knife in her hand and waved it in Julia’s direction. “Honey, if I was you, I’d snap this man up in a heartbeat, for no reason other than he can fix anything. That and the fact he could melt the chocolate on your s’mores. You keep that in mind.”
Jake coughed and turned aside but not before he noticed the flush spreading across Julia’s cheeks. He went over to Caroline and pushed a ten dollar bill into her hand, curling her fingers around it. “Tell her breakfast is on the house. Grand Reopening special or whatever.”
“You’re a sweet boy, Jacob. Will do,” Caroline said, giving him a quick hug.
Passing by Julia, he leaned close. “I’ll see you tomorrow night, Miss Sinclair, in case you need anything fixed.”
Putting one hand over her chest, she moved her eyes upward to meet his. “I beg your pardon?”
Jake darted a glance at Caroline. She’d turned her back, but her shoulders shook with unmistakable laughter. At least she was discreet and from what he knew, no one else with decent hearing sat close enough to hear. He scratched his head and tried not to roll his eyes. “I’ll see you at the soup kitchen at the church tomorrow night, if you’re helping out. I mean—”
“I’ll see you then, Jake. Try to be good in the meantime, and go check on Bailey.”
Julia’s smile was a lovely sight to behold, and at least it wasn’t mocking. Not much more he could say. Jake tugged on his hat and gloves before strolling out of Barney’s with as much dignity as he could muster. Well, it can’t get much worse. Good thing Dylan’s sister was already taken because after that totally inept blunder, she sure wouldn’t have any romantic interest in him.
The author of seven books, JoAnn is an estate administration paralegal in a Louisville, Kentucky law firm and lives in southern Indiana. Visit her at www.joanndurgin.com or via her Author JoAnn Durgin page on Facebook.