Jingle Belle Knowles is excited about the opportunity to write a Christmas jingle for a new restaurant in
she meets the company’s cocky PR man. Despite an immediate personality clash
with much-too-handsome Italian Nick Santini, Belle finds herself irresistibly
and unacceptably drawn to her insufferable client. Pohono, Oklahoma
Nick isn’t pleased about working with the dangerously lovely jingle writer. But with a grand opening date just two weeks before Christmas, he and his brother need something to draw shoppers off the streets and into their Tuscan-themed restaurant. Given Belle's sterling reputation, Nick makes up his mind to grit his teeth and get through the project.
They’re both adults. They’re both Christians. They’re both determined to make the project a success. But when a passionate, self-assured, hard-headed Italian butts heads with a stubborn, auburn-haired, confident Irish spit-fire…the results could make for a highly chaotic Christmas season.
Nick Santini’s foot was buried in his mouth clear up to the ankle. His efforts to correct the problem only made it worse.
“Perhaps inexperienced is the wrong word choice. It’s just that I need someone who has been working in advertising longer. Someone with a feel for this market. There is someone like that employed here, I presume?‛
Still bad. He needed to stop talking. Everything he said came out wrong.
First, the beautiful face across from him turned to white ice. Then, an expensive ink pen she was trying to cap landed hard on the surface of the table and shot toward him like a grounded bullet. He caught the thing before it could slide off the edge, but something told him that little rescue didn’t earn him any points.
Belle Knowles leaped to her feet and tossed the trendy eyeglasses that usually perched on the tip of her perfect little nose onto the conference table. For a moment, she stood there, shaking, in a pair of fancy red heels for which she’d probably laid out at least two hundred bucks. Her large, almond-shaped eyes flashed green fire beneath a mass of curls the color of vivid flames.
Nick watched through a narrowed gaze.
Fury clearly had the lady by the throat, but his own anger, if unleashed, would make hers look like a child’s tantrum. He managed to keep his lips sealed only by exerting the iron control he’d practiced for years.
“You, Mr. Santini, are the rudest, most arrogant, chauvinistic, and condescending man I have ever had the misfortune to meet. I don’t like you—and I’ve no doubt the feeling is mutual—but I had hoped we could both be professionals and manage to work together long enough to make this project a success.”
She slapped shut the presentation folder in her hand, whirled, and strode to the door. After jerking it open so hard it bounced against the wall, she sent one withering glance back at him. “I was obviously wrong. I’ll get Cameron to assign your account to someone else.”
Then she was gone—mesmerizing eyes, copper-colored hair, long legs, and all.
Probably for the best. Belle Knowles’s beauty took Nick’s breath away, but she was right—he didn’t like her either.
So why was he on his feet and charging after her willowy figure before the door ever closed?
“Ms. Knowles, wait. Please…allow me to apologize?”
She stopped dead still and executed a slow, graceful pivot to fix him under a look of blatant disbelief. Nick cringed. Was it really so hard for her to imagine him admitting any kind of fault?
Be honest with yourself, Nick. You don’t even believe you’re doing this.
“I’m listening, Mr. Santini.” Ice edged Belle’s voice, sending an unpleasant shiver down Nick’s spine. Despite his general disapproval of the lady, from the time their meeting began until he’d started dismissing her ideas, her voice had flowed over his senses like warm butter on a loaf of hot garlic bread.
And exactly where had that errant thought come from?
“I’m sorry, Ms. Knowles. Please…come back inside. Let’s talk about it. I—“ He paused, surprised at what he was about to say, but it was true. Anyone capable of this passionate outburst had the fire, the spark needed to get his restaurant off the ground and into the public’s eye. “I don’t want anyone else on this account.” The weak grin he dredged up felt out of place on his lips. “Cameron tells me you’re the best. As far as I know, he’s never been wrong about such things. So, please…forgive me for being a stubborn, hardheaded Italian.”
Her sharp gaze raked his face, inch by painful half-inch. Nick had no doubt she’d turn and walk away for good if she thought she spotted any duplicity on his part. Well, he was not being duplicitous.
This gorgeous, confident, successful woman was pretty much everything he disliked in a female, but he needed her to help him get Santini’s Italiano started off on the right foot in
. Pohono, Oklahoma
Until now, each of the half-dozen existing Santini’s restaurants had been strategically placed in large cities throughout the mid-West. Opening its doors in a place like Pohono, where folks kept mostly to themselves and held to the “old ways” of a hundred years past was a risky venture. But the gears of progress churned on, and whether the townsfolk liked it or not, Pohono was caught up in the forward motion.
Besides, the mid-sized town’s close proximity to
worked in Nick’s favor, making it feasible that a dining establishment of
superb quality might draw attention from that population as well. Tulsa
Santini’s Italiano was that kind of restaurant. A place customers wanted to visit, because the food and the service were that good. A quality dining experience.
As each other’s sole siblings, Nick and his brother, Alex, had worked hard for years to make Santini’s a household name. Their efforts had paid great dividends, and every location so far had been highly successful.
Opening the newest branch in a smaller town like Pohono was risky, but they hoped to draw customers from miles around. Definitely as far away as
, and hey—why not dream big? Tulsa wasn’t even
out of the question. A hundred miles wasn’t too far to drive for a celebratory
night out, was it? Oklahoma City
But first things first. They’d gotten a late start on the Pohono project, after an unexpected trip to
when their mother had a stroke. The visit to their hometown had become an
extended stay when, once released from the hospital, she experienced a series
of mini strokes. As busy as they needed to be in Pohono, neither he nor Alex
was willing to leave until they were certain their mother’s health was no
longer at risk. She was alone except for them, having lost their father when
Nick and Alex were young boys. Boston
Now, with Santini’s grand opening only six weeks away, time was running out to create a buzz that would draw folks inside the doors to see what all the hoopla was about. Once they visited, they’d be back. As far as Nick was concerned, that was a given.
But getting those frenzied shoppers into the restaurant in the middle of December, during the frantic holidays, would require a little of the season’s own magic. He and Alex hadn’t given the fact that they’d be opening the Pohonan location smack in the height of the Christmas season a lot of consideration until they received the latest demographics for the area, and the problem became painfully clear. They’d need a small miracle to make their grand opening event any kind of success.
Cameron Hilliard owned the public relations and advertising firm in the hallway of which Nick now found himself facing an irate Irish beauty. His best friend since college, Cam had guaranteed Nick that Belle Knowles could come up with a commercial jingle catchy enough to capture anyone’s imagination—even stubborn Pohonans who didn’t “cotton” to anything new.
considered the fiery redhead the best jingle writer in the industry, bar none.
If his old friend awarded Belle that kind of trust and respect, the woman had
done something to earn it.
Nick needed the best. So yes, he would apologize, even if he didn’t think he’d been wrong to cross the lady.
He’d grovel, if it meant success for Santini’s. They had no time to waste.
He pulled in a deep breath and offered a genuine, eyes-and-all smile. “I’m really, truly sorry, Ms. Knowles.‛ He narrowed his eyes, tilted his head toward her and allowed his lips to quirk sideways. For whatever reason, the crooked smile almost always won the ladies over in an instant. “Forgive me?”
DELIA LATHAM is a born-and-bred
gal, raised in a little California farming
community called Weedpatch and currently living in the lovely mountain town of Tehachapi with her
husband, Johnny. She enjoys multiple roles as Christian
wife, mother, grandmother, sister and friend, but especially loves being a
princess daughter to the King of Kings. She has a "thing" for Dr.
Pepper, and loves to hear from her readers. Contact her through her website or send an e-mail
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Off to read another great book!
Sandra M. Hart