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One More Kiss

Maddie James writing as

Sophie Jacobs


Harbor Falls Romance, Book 14

Sweet Hart Inn



Copyright © 2018, Sophie Jacobs

One More Kiss

ISBN: 978-1-62237-494-6

Cover Design by Jacobs Ink, LLC


Originally released as Hard Candy Kisses by Maddie James, 2014.

Reissue with revisions and updates as One More Kiss by Sophie Jacobs, September 2018.


All rights reserved. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work, in whole or part, by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, is illegal and forbidden.


This is a work of fiction. Characters, settings, names, and occurrences are a product of the author’s imagination and bear no resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, places or settings, and/or occurrences. Any incidences of resemblance are purely coincidental.


This edition is published by Sophie Jacobs, Sand Dune Books, Turquoise Morning, LLC, PO Box 20. New Holland, OH 43145.


Sophie Jacobs is a pen name of bestselling romance author Maddie James.

Visit Sophie at http://www.sophiejacobs.com


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One More Kiss

Harbor Falls Romance, Sweet Hart Inn, Book 14


New Year’s Eve is just around the corner and Emma Jo Baker has tried every trick in the book to land a date for the annual New Year’s Eve Bash at Falls Lake Lodge. This year she doesn’t want to go alone. She even tries setting up a kissing booth at the Harbor Falls Elementary Winter Carnival to meet a potential new date (under the guise of a school fundraiser, of course) until the school principal promptly shuts her booth down, deeming it inappropriate.


She would love to show him inappropriate!


After eight years of teaching and five more in his role of principal, Will Craig knows he has just about seen it all. Between the students, their parents, and occasionally his teachers, school life is never dull. When he spies the kissing booth in the corner of the gym during the winter carnival, he knows things are about to get interesting—and he’s not at all surprised that Emma Baker is behind the supposed fund-raising effort. That woman has both intrigued and frustrated him for far too long.


It’s about time he does something about it.


There is one thing Will knows for certain—if Emma is passing out kisses, candy or real ones, he intends to be the first, and last, in line to sample the goods. And he definitely doesn’t want to sample them in front of the student body.





Chapter One


“I need a man.”

Emma Jo Baker watched her best friend, Annie Carter, turn her way and roll her eyes. “Emma,” she began, shifting her teacher’s bag full of papers on her shoulder, “You’ve been saying that for years. If you need a man so darned bad, why don’t you go out and get you one?”

Feeling a little defensive, Emma shot up off her teacher desk chair and, hands on hips, glared at Annie. “It’s not like I haven’t been trying!”

Annie waved her off. “Oh, posh. Get serious. What have you really been doing besides draping yourself in tinsel and hanging out at Hooters? I tell you, Emma, the men at Hooters are not there to find a date. At least not one to take home to Mama.”

“I know. They go for the wings.”

“And the breasts.” She grasped her arm. “Face it. They are just there to ogle. That’s not where you find a man.”

“So where do I find one then? You tell me. Because I’ve tried every online matchmaking service there is, and I’ve done them for years. You know, matched.com, singlemingle.com, marryarichguy.com, cuddleup.com and even that ebliss.com that costs big money. I splurged. And guess what? They hooked me up with a short, conservative Southern Baptist with small hands. I clearly stated that I was liberal and non-religious. What were they thinking? Besides, the same guys are on all of them, and they’ve been there for years.”

“Small hands? What does that have to do with anything?”

“I like a man who can handle me.”

“Emma!”

“I mean, shoot. Small hands are dainty. Who the hell wants a man with small hands or, for that matter, feet? I can’t believe they matched me with that guy. My perfect-for-you match. Geez.”

Annie arched a brow. “That should tell you something.”

“What do you mean?”

“Those things don’t work.”

“But have you seen the commercials? And the testimonials?”

“How many years have you been on all of those sites?”

She shrugged. “I dunno. Five? Six?”

“I rest my case.”

Emma thought about that for a moment, glancing off over her empty classroom. How else was one supposed to meet a man in Harbor Falls, North Carolina? She knew every single man in town and there were no prospects here. None. She was forced to go out of her boundaries. She needed a man bigger than what Harbor Falls could offer—larger than life, worldly—one that would worship the ground she walked on and adore her quirkiness unconditionally. But how far would she go? She’d heard of a woman over in Dalton Springs who found a husband by placing an ad in Mother Earth magazine.

Maybe she should try something like that. Not Mother Earth, but maybe something like A Man’s Cave or Alaskan Wilderness.

But not now. It was the end of the day, and she was tired. The classroom Christmas party was over, and the kids just left for their winter break. She had a mess to clean up in here, but she wasn’t in the mood.

Sighing, she looked back to Annie. “I guess I would settle for a date for New Year’s Eve.”

“Hire Suzie.”

“Who?”

“Suzie Matthews. You know, The Matchmaking Chef.”

Suzie. Of course, she knew Suzie. Everyone in Harbor Falls knew Suzie Hart Matthews, hostess with the mostess, cookbook author, owner of the Sweet Hart Inn…her own television show to boot. “She’s not a real matchmaker.”

Annie shrugged. “I think she is. I’ve heard stories.”

Emma thought about that. “But I thought it was just a television show.”

“Don’t think so,” Annie drew closer and sat her bag on the desk. “Sometimes I think she’s subtly behind the scenes working, and other times I’ve heard she’s gone to great lengths to get people together.”

“Like who?”

“Well, Nash Rhodes and Mary Lou Picketts, for one.”

Emma gasped. Mary Lou! “I wondered how Harbor Falls’ Plain Jane had landed that big hunky country singing sensation!”

Annie nodded. “Yep. I heard that one was intentional, planned right down to the proposal. And you know about Lyssa Larkin, right?”

Emma scowled. “Lyssa, too! Why, she was practically an old maid.”

“Practically as old as you.”

Playfully sneering, Emma said, “Watch it, sister.” Leaning her backside against the desk, she added, “She married that new guy in town, didn’t she? The one with the dogs?”

“Yep.”

“That’s pretty cool.”

“I guess Suzie set up a speed dating lunch thing for her at Sweet Hart Inn.”

Emma’s brain spun with possibilities. “Seriously. I wonder how much she charges.”

Shrugging, Annie went on, “There are more I’ve heard of, like her cousin Sydney, and her sister Shelley, and the librarian, Katie Long, and I think she even did some work for someone in New York—someone she works with up there.”

Emma sat back down behind her desk. Perhaps she needed to take another tack and quit the online match sites. Perhaps, she should try out this thing with Suzie, just to make sure she is covering all of her bases…

“Well, I’ve got to get home. Baby Jess is waiting for me at the sitter, Danny is likely home from basketball practice already and hungry by now, and Curt and I have a get-together tonight at his office. Should be a rowdy evening with all those ATF agents. I need to get ready.”

ATF?

Sigh….

Emma knew Curt had cute friends. And men in law enforcement turned her on a bit. Hm.

“Need a third wheel?”

Annie smiled and patted her friend’s hand. “Nope. Believe me, you don’t want to get tangled up with anyone in that crew. The testosterone and Alpha male attitudes will be hitting it hard tonight, I’m sure. They just solved a huge case, and Curt’s entire team is ecstatic.”

“But that sounds pretty fun.”

“Believe me, you’re better off doing…” She paused and looked into Emma’s eyes. “What are you doing tonight?”

She didn’t want to say ‘nothing.’ It was Friday night, the last day of school for almost three weeks. Everyone in Harbor Falls likely had some sort of Christmas plans, but not her. Not much of anything, anyway. “I’ve got a ton of work to do before the Winter Carnival on Wednesday, Annie. I’m too busy to go anyway.”

She registered the look on her friend’s face immediately and knew that Annie wished she hadn’t made that last statement

“Hey, shoosh!” She waved her away and moved toward the classroom door. Annie backed up. “You’ve got things to do, and I have a classroom to clean. I don’t want to leave this to come back to after break. Be gone with you!”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m positive.”

But Annie hesitated. “Emma, are you okay?” Annie’s worried look was getting to her.

“Fine! Skedaddle. Get a move on. You have a hunky ATF hubby waiting. Now, vamoose.”

After a held gaze, Annie nodded and turned toward the open door. “I’ll talk to you on Monday. And I’ll be back then and all day Tuesday to get the carnival booths set up.”

“Excellent.”

“See you then.”

“Sounds good.”

And Annie left. Emma stared after the door for a moment, the silent classroom echoing the thoughts rolling around in her head. She wanted a husband, and a child to pick up from day care, too. Just like Annie. Of course, Annie hadn’t had it easy. She and Curt had had their own difficulties getting together, but in the end, it had worked out for them.

Could it work out for her, too?

She just wasn’t sure if finding her happily-ever-after was in the grand plan.

****

Will Craig perched his elbows on his desk, his head in his hands, and rubbed his temples. Hard. What a week. If any instruction had happened this past week, he would be surprised. The powers-that-be would be down his throat had they realized all of the ‘play,’ or extra-curricular, that had occurred, particularly if instructional hours were lacking. Between the music and band departments’ joint Christmas concert on Wednesday night, and the dress rehearsal for that during the day, and the new dance and drama club’s recital on Thursday evening, and the dress rehearsal for that during the day, and the Christmas party today that was supposed to be only on Friday afternoon, but pretty much was extended to the entire day…not to mention that it took Monday and Tuesday to get ready for all of the above.

He sure hoped that no one on the school board got wind of all that.

But truly, he wasn’t worried. Harbor Falls Elementary was a high-achieving school. He’d worked hard to ensure that the children in the school were scoring proficient on their mandated state exams. The small school had received accolades for the academic achievement of the students, and sat high on the North Carolina list for making the required gains set by the state.

Besides, he believed in play. It was developmentally appropriate for kids to play, at any age. He was still a strong proponent for recess, no matter what federal standards—or someone’s interpretation of federal standards—indicated. And since his school was strong, he could get by with a little down time once and again.

His right temple throbbed like a mother. Play. He could use a little of that himself. He’d not played in…well, if you were talking about adult play, too damned long. Being principal kept him busy 24/7, and there were certain expectations set for principals who resided and worked in small Southern towns. But if he didn’t allocate some time for adult play, or at the very least adult conversation, soon, he figured this headache he’d been carrying around for the last two weeks wasn’t going to go away.

Besides, it was damned difficult for him to date in this town. One dinner and all the jowls in town would flap like geese flying south over the lake. One date and every busybody in town figured he was looking and strived to hold their single and lovely-on-the-inside daughters up as available and potential wife-material.

Not for him. Made a busy and complicated life that much more complicated.

Thank God, it was winter break. He knew he’d be coming in to the office every day to catch up on paperwork, but at least he could sleep in, arrive on his own time, and didn’t have to deal with kids or staff.

A brisk knock sounded on his partially open door. “Will?”

He glanced up. Immediately, his shoulders jerked back, and he sat up a little straighter. Speaking of adult play…. “Emma? I didn’t know you were still here.”

“Do you have a sec?”

“Absolutely.” He motioned to an old, overstuffed leather chair across from him. “Come on in.”

Down boy. His libido was doing a little salute. Emma Jo Baker had been getting to him lately. Unsure of exactly why, it didn’t seem to matter. Yesterday, he’d had to turn his gaze the other way and not intentionally watch her sashay down the hall and bend to pick up an errant paper off the floor.

How long had he known her? Five, six years?

She was dangerous. Not to mention kooky and smart and funny as hell to be around. Lately he’d been wondering why someone hadn’t snatched her up.

Maybe they had and he didn’t know it. He tried not to get too involved in his teachers’ personal lives, but talk in the lounge often turned to family and relationships, and he’d not heard of anything new going on with her, but then you never know….

Certainly, she was hooked up with someone. He had to make that assumption, so she was definitely off limits.

Not to mention that he had this unspoken rule of not dating his teachers. Bad ethics. Bad idea. Nothing good could come of it.

“Will, I have this big problem.” In all of his musing, he had almost forgotten she was there.

“Yes?”

“Well…” She paused.

“Well?”

“Will, I’ll just be blunt. I need a man.”

Will just about swallowed his tongue.

****

“I mean, I need a man’s help!”

Oh, shit. Shit. Shit. Shit! Blundering forward, she rushed out, “I need someone tall to help me put some decorations up in the gym, Christmas stuff, you know? On the basketball backboards and goals. Will you be here any next week?”

Trying very hard not to be embarrassed at her idiotic choice of words, Emma shut her mouth and breathed deep. Still, heat flooded to her neck and ricocheted up her cheeks. Will was an all right guy—a really nice guy, as a matter of fact—and he could usually rib and joke around with the best of them. But the look on his face right now was what was making her extremely uncomfortable.

His face was red!

And he shifted in his seat as if suddenly uncomfortable. Finally, he reached up and rubbed a hand over his forehead.

Oh, and he’d been rubbing his temples, too, when she’d rushed in.

“Long day, huh?”

“Long week.”

“You okay?”

“Oh, just tired.”

So was she. At the moment, though, she had this incredible urge to slip behind his chair and rub his temples for him. Where did that come from? Bad, bad idea. “Headache?”

He nodded. “Yeah. Nothing that caffeine and an aspirin won’t cure. Too busy today for much coffee, I think.”

Emma reached into her purse, fished around a bit, and then came up with a small bottle of aspirin. “Here you go.” She rose, leaned over his desk, picked up a bottle of water sitting on the corner of his desk, and handed him the aspirin. As the bottle descended into his outstretched palm, his brown eyes lifted to meet hers and held for a mite second too long.

She’d never realized his eyes had little gold flecks in them before. That was kind of cool.

Her fingertips grazed his palm, sending a slight tingle up her wrist, which she instantly acknowledged as something new and different, which also caused her to jerk her hand back suddenly and stand straight up.

“Hey, I’m heading home. I’ll be here on Monday to get ready for the carnival. Maybe you can help me then.”

He snatched his palm closed over the aspirin bottle, rose and agreed. “Good idea. Let’s both get out of here. And you’re right, this can all wait until Monday. I’ll help you then.”

It felt like he was in a damned hurry to leave, and Emma, not wanting to be in his way or to delay him any further or add to the modicum of confusion that seemed to surround this entire conversation, said, “Sounds good. See you then.”

So she turned and left, heading back toward her empty classroom, and then subsequently, to her lonely apartment.

Being a singleton was a bitch.




Chapter Two


On Saturday morning, Emma woke with a cloud of dread hanging over her. In a weak moment the night before, she’d called Suzie Hart Matthews and asked if she could come by today. Of course, Suzie insisted she come for breakfast—because she was cooking anyway, Sweet Hart Inn was booked to capacity—and why didn’t she just come over early and keep Suzie company while she cooked? She thought Emma might like to sample her new cinnamon candy coffee brew she’d created especially for Christmas. And since she was sampling the coffee, she might as well give her an opinion on the Christmas coffee cake she’d recently concocted that was made with oranges, dried cranberries, and pecans.

Since she was there anyway.

So Emma had agreed and thought it might be a good idea to do this, but now, at six o’clock in the morning on a Saturday, the first day of her winter break, she wasn’t so sure.

Trying to find a husband online was one thing—she could control everything, from her shopping around, reading profiles, and picking whom to talk to. But giving up that control to another person, to pick someone for her and try to make a match, was a little unnerving.

Groaning, she rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling. She thought about what Annie had said yesterday. Even though she could control it, the online thing wasn’t working. Maybe Suzie could help her. She had her doubts, but….

If it hadn’t been for the fact that she had been so damned lonely the night before and that, for some strange reason, her mind kept drifting to Will and his weirdly sexy, upturned gaze at her earlier, she might not even have called.

But she had.

And she supposed she had to show up there this morning. You know, the recipes and all.

And if she let herself admit, even a little, that she might want to hire Suzie, it could frighten the bejesus out of her.

She’d just go and sample the goods. I mean, it wasn’t every day you got to sit in a famous chef’s kitchen while she was cooking, was it? If she just happened to forget why she was there, it wouldn’t matter, would it?

All right.

Swinging her legs over the bed, Emma glanced about her room. Suddenly it hit her that maybe her entire life needed an overhaul. Her apartment was decorated practically the same as it was when she had moved in right after college. That was ten years ago. If she ever expected to bring another man into this room, she needed to do some redecorating.

And pronto.

Okay, so she had a lot to do today, and this week. See Suzie, shop for new bedroom stuff, and see that the Winter Carnival went off without a hitch on Wednesday.

Crap. Only five days to pull it off.

Looked like her vacation was pretty much planned.

****

Will stepped up to the counter at Sydney’s Sugar High Bakery. “Hey Syd.” He greeted the owner.

“The regular, Will?”

“Naw.” He looked over the chalkboard behind her head. “I’m feeling like splurging today. I’ll try one of those scones with the red candies, along with my regular cup of coffee.”

Sydney whistled. “Whoa, Will! Going a little wild on me, huh?” She reached into the bakery case with a piece of wax paper. “Those Red Hot scones will set you on fire. I have to warn you that there is a little cayenne pepper mixed in that white chocolate frosting. You might need to be hosed off later.”

He didn’t want to think about being hosed off, although he probably needed it. He’d had erotic dreams all night long about Emma.

Dammit.

He had to get her off his mind.

“I’ve heard those things are lethal.”

Will glanced to his left, where Curt Carter, the husband of one of his teacher’s, Annie, leaned in.

“Seriously,” Curt added, “Get a milk chaser. They’re great, but you need something to cut the heat, and the coffee only makes it worse. I swear I think she snuck a little Tabasco in there.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

Will turned to Sydney. “Give me two.” Then on second thought he added, “And add a milk.”

She arched a brow, grinned and shrugged, then reached in for another.

Curt chuckled. “That bad, huh?”

Will eyed him. “It’s about the only spicy thing I’m going to get around here, I think. Might as well tie one on with the scones.”

Sydney broke in and handed Will his bag of scones, milk, and coffee.

Curt laughed. “You in a hurry? I thought I’d have my coffee here.”

“Last thing I want for the next few weeks is to be in a hurry.” He motioned toward a table. They sat. Reaching into the bag and pulling out one scone after another, he added, “Here, eat one of these things. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Curt chuckled as both men laid their wax paper encased scones on the table. “So Will, how is your love life lately?”

Having just taken a bite of the scone, Will choked a little, then chewed and swallowed.

“No love life, Curt. Hence the Red Hot scone. And I’m about to jump out of my skin.”

Curt leaned forward. “You mean sex?”

He shrugged. “I suppose. Yeah. Maybe. It’s been a while.”

He sat back. “Wow, man, that’s not cool.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Got your eye on anyone?”

Will’s mind flashed to Emma, and then he immediately dismissed the thought. “Do you realize how difficult it is to date in this town? Especially being the elementary principal? One-night stands are out. Casual dating is out. Dating the mom of one of my students is out. Dating anyone on my staff is out, and since there are a lot of kids and moms out there, and the elementary school employs a lot of women in this town, that’s a lot of outs.”

Curt stared at him. “I see your dilemma. Maybe you should try out of town.”

“Like where? Asheville? Charlotte?"

“So, Curt, tell me how I do that? Hang around in bars, sign up for those cheesy Internet dating sites? Sorry, not for me. Besides, can you imagine the tongue wagging should someone stumble over my picture on one of those sites? My reputation would be ruined.”

“Sounds like a rock and a hard place, Will.”

“Meanwhile, I eat Red Hot scones.” He took another bite.

“Sorry about your luck, man.”

Yeah. So was he.

****

Suzie’s kitchen smelled awesome. The cinnamon candy coffee was a very nice surprise.

And the Christmas coffee cake? Well, the word that came to mind was superb. Absolutely phenomenal. Emma licked her fingers to get every last crumb, morsel, and drip of candy-tinted powdered sugar glaze. She was making a little piggy out of herself.

“So, how are things coming for the carnival?”

Groaning inwardly, Emma closed her eyes. “Ugh. It’s coming, but I’m so not in the mood to head it up this year. Seems like every year I have to outdo myself.”

Suzie laughed. “You need to get over that.”

She did, and she knew it. Thing was, she was such a damned competitor, even with herself.

She spied another half-slice of the crumb cake on the plate. Brad was gone, the guests had all eaten, and Suzie was tidying up the kitchen. “Mind if I have that last half-slice?” She shouldn’t, she knew, thinking about that slinky, little black dress she’d been eyeing for New Year’s Eve.

That is, if she had a date for New Year’s Eve.

Suzie glanced up from where she was arranging some fruit in a bowl. “Go for it. You liked the cake? I wasn’t sure what the guests thought. No one said a word. I need your honest feedback, Emma.”

The chef stood and looked at her while she moved the last slice to her mouth. “I wouldn’t have asked for the rest if I hadn’t liked it!” She took a bite. “Um, yes. Very nice.” She chewed and savored. Suzie Matthews really did know how to bake. Her mouth still semi-full, she added, “You don’t see any left, do you?”


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