Christmas on Mistletoe Lane

Includes a bonus short story


By Annie Rains

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This USA Today bestselling author invites you to the delightful small town of Sweetwater Springs where the magic of Christmas brings two strangers together in this “story you won’t forget” (RaeAnne Thayne, New York Times bestselling author).

Christmas is coming to the North Carolina mountains, and the air is fresh and crisp and filled with promise. After the devastating loss of her job in the big city, the small town of Sweetwater Springs feels like heaven to Kaitlyn Russo. She’s inherited her grandparents’ charming (if a little rundown) bed and breakfast, and it’s just the new lease on life she needs. Only “heaven” comes with a catch – and a handsome and completelyinfuriating one at that.

After what he hopes will be a quick trip, Mitch Hargrove wants nothing more than to put his hometown in the rearview mirror. But his plans get derailed when he learns he’s now half-owner of the Sweetwater B&B. The fact that he’s given only two months to make the inn a success is a huge problem, but it’s his pretty – and incredibly headstrong – partner who’s the real challenge. With the holiday fast approaching and a grand re-opening looming, will Mitch keep running from the ghosts of Christmas past . . . or will he realize the true gift he’s been given?

Includes the bonus short story “A Midnight Clear” by Hope Ramsay!

What readers are saying about Christmas on Mistletoe Lane

“This book was exactly what I needed to kick off the holiday season.”

“A holiday story full of second chances, romance and magic…It’s got all the feels-and a fabulous holiday message.”

“I truly enjoyed this fun holiday read.”

“This book needs to be made into a Hallmark Christmas movie!”



No book is ever written alone. There are so many people who come together to make a book come alive. First, I want to thank my family for making sure I have the time I need to put my stories on paper. Sonny, you win the "Best Husband Award" for spending an entire day touring bed and breakfasts with me as research for this book. And to my mother-in-law, Annette, for watching the kids during said research. Thank you to my parents for always encouraging my love of writing. Your support means everything to me, and I love you all to pieces!

Thank you to my editor, Alex Logan, for believing in this project and pulling me aboard the Grand Central / Forever team. Working on this book together has been a dream come true for me. I'm still pinching myself! A huge thanks to the entire Forever team for everything that goes on behind the scenes! I would also like to thank my agent, Sarah Younger, for your tireless work in finding this book its perfect home. I am so honored to be a part of your team and NYLA!

Thanks to my wonderful critique partner, Rachel Lacey. Your advice is worth its weight in gold, as is your friendship. Also to the #TeamSarah ladies and my #GirlsWriteNight gals. You all inspire me so much! Thank you for everything (to include ideas, support, and friendship).

A huge thank-you goes out to my readers group for offering up ALL the Christmas ideas to incorporate into this book. Thank you to all my readers for spending time in my stories and falling in love with my characters. Every review, message, and line of encouragement means so much! Xoxoxo.


Kaitlyn Russo twisted the key in her hand but the front door to the Sweetwater B&B didn't budge.

"Great. Just great," she muttered under her breath, which floated away in a little white puff of air. Shivering and wishing she'd worn a heavier coat, she turned the key again, pressing her full weight into the door as she did. This time it flung open and promptly dumped her on the pinewood floor inside. Dust flumed under her nostrils. With a cough, she looked up and inspected her grandparents' old bed and breakfast.

Scratch that. Her bed and breakfast.

She climbed to her feet, grabbed her luggage, and then closed the front door to bar the wintry cold. Turning on the light in the front room, she surveyed the homey design with high wood-beamed ceilings, a detail that, as an interior designer, she'd always loved. The furniture was a tasteful blend of antique and contemporary. This place was exactly how she remembered it from her infrequent childhood visits, minus the dust mites.

Nothing a little hard work couldn't fix.

But first she had plans to meet with the lawyer handling her grandmother's estate. He'd be arriving sometime in the next half hour. When she'd spoken to Mr. Garrison by phone earlier, he'd mentioned something about another person in Mable's will. Kaitlyn couldn't imagine who that would be. Other than her parents, who'd inherited various other family heirlooms, her grandmother didn't have any living family. The Russos were a dwindling clan—all the more reason to keep their legacy alive.

From the corner of her eye, Kaitlyn saw movement in the window. Then a dark figure filled the space behind the curtain. Something told her this wasn't Mr. Garrison. Lawyers tended to be civilized people who knocked on doors. Maybe a squatter had been camping out here since her Grandma Mable's passing last month.

The shadow slipped out of sight. A moment later, she heard a shuffling sound behind the front door.

Terror sliced straight down her middle, and her heart kicked into a choppy staccato. She dashed to the fireplace and lifted one of the long metal pokers used to move hot coals. It could second as a lethal weapon if necessary.

Like it had for her, the front door didn't release immediately. Why, oh why, didn't I lock it after myself? If she were still in New York, she would have.

The intruder gave the door a firm push, and it swung open, crashing against the wall behind it and making Kaitlyn scream.

Standing before her was a broad-shouldered man with dark eyes, wavy, overgrown hair, and a close-trimmed beard. He was dressed in a nice pair of jeans and a weathered leather jacket. Her gaze fell to his brown mountain boots. Definitely not homeless, she decided.

She held the fire poker up like a sword. "Don't come any closer," she warned with a shaky voice.

"Are you planning to use that on me?" His voice, in contrast to hers, was deep and gruff. And if she wasn't mistaken, there was a little humor threading through it.

Was he teasing her? Because while, yes, he was larger than her, she was the one holding a pointy metal death stick. "I might," she said, wishing there wasn't a warm, tingly awareness settling low in her belly, competing with the fear still coursing through her veins. Rugged good looks had never been a more accurate description. This guy had it down to an art form.

He held up his hands in surrender. "So, you're little Katie Russo?"

She cocked her head to one side. "How do you know that?"

"Mable spoke of you often."

Kaitlyn lowered the metal poker just a notch. "She did?" she asked, keeping her eyes pinned on him.

"Your grandfather too—when he was alive."

Grandpa Henry had died several years earlier, leaving Grandma Mable to run the Sweetwater Bed and Breakfast alone. They'd been the only two people in the world to call her Katie, and her mom had always been vocal about her objections, preferring the formal name Kaitlyn instead.

"My name's not Katie. It's Kaitlyn. And you could've read that on my luggage there by your feet." She'd met her fair share of con men living in the city. Guys who could conjure a name with only a pair of initials. "A simple inquiry into this place could've told you who my grandparents were."

The man stepped forward and offered his hand. Kaitlyn didn't move to shake it.

"I'm Mitch Hargrove. I grew up around the corner. Mable and Henry used to take care of me after school while my mom worked. They kept me supplied with milk and cookies and helped with my homework."

That sounded exactly like something her grandparents would do.

"In exchange, I did odd jobs for them here at the inn during the school year. During the summers, my mom and I RV'd with my aunt, much to Mable's disappointment. She always said she wanted to introduce us."

He continued to hold his hand out to Kaitlyn. "Guess Mable finally got her wish. She always was a stubborn one."

Reluctantly, Kaitlyn returned the rod to its place on the hearth and slipped her hand in his. Rough, calloused skin dragged across her palm as they shook. "I think I remember my grandmother speaking of you. She had a photo of you on her nightstand." Kaitlyn was only able to come for a brief visit once each summer, the trip sandwiched between various camps her parents had enrolled her in. Each year, the photo on her grandmother's nightstand was updated with a more recent version of the boy with the magic eyes. That's how Kaitlyn had thought of him back then. Dark, magic eyes that seemed to jump out of the frame. In all honesty, the boy in that picture was her first crush.

And now he was standing in front of her.

Pinning her gaze to his, she recognized those eyes, changed only by a shimmer of something that resembled sadness. "I'm so sorry for your loss," she said quietly.

"You're family. I'm just"—he shrugged—"the neighbor boy. I'm supposed to be offering my condolences to you," he said.

Kaitlyn swallowed thickly. Mitch was almost a foot taller than her, which required her to look up at him. "Thank you. So, did you break into the B and B to introduce yourself?" she asked.

"Jacob asked me to meet him tonight. Since I already have a key, he told me to come inside and wait where it's warm."

"Jacob Garrison, the estate lawyer? Why would he want to meet you here?"

"Seems Mable left half this place to me." Mitch's gaze roamed around the front room as he said it.

Kaitlyn shook her head, feeling breathless with panic. "No. You must be mistaken. I inherited this B and B."

His gaze dropped to hers. Mistaken, but holy moly hot. Her cheeks flushed, and she looked away, reminding herself of her resolution on the drive down Interstate 95. This was a fresh start for her, an opportunity, and she wasn't going to blow it.

"All I know is what I was told," Mitch said.

As if on cue, someone knocked on the front door.

Mitch held up a hand, signaling her to stay where she was. "Wouldn't want you to threaten Mr. Garrison with that fire poker," he teased.

Kaitlyn watched as he opened the door to an older man with salt-and-pepper hair and a dark-gray suit buried under a heavy coat.

Despite the cold, the man smiled warmly from the porch. "Hey, Mitch. Good to see you."

"You too, Jacob."

They shook hands, and then Mitch gestured the man inside, closing the door behind them.

"Mr. Garrison, I presume," Kaitlyn said, stepping forward and shaking the older man's hand.

"That I am. Nice to finally meet you, Ms. Russo. Your grandparents spoke of you often over the years."

"Please, call me Kaitlyn. Thank you so much for coming. I know it's late." She'd offered to meet Mr. Garrison tomorrow at his office but he'd insisted on seeing her as soon as she arrived in town. He'd apparently asked Mitch to come as well. And that little tidbit wasn't sitting well with Kaitlyn at the moment.

"No problem at all. I'm on my way home, actually," Mr. Garrison said.

"Well, let's sit and get to business, shall we?" She moved toward the room's high-backed Victorian couch and sat down. "I would offer you a warm drink but I just arrived myself. I'm not sure what's in the cupboards."

"Oh, I'm fine." Mr. Garrison sat next to her and laid a briefcase on the coffee table in front of them. She watched as he pulled out a file. Hopefully, it would set things straight. She was the owner of the Sweetwater B&B, and only her.

Mitch sat in a matching antique chair off to the side and leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees. His chest was thick and broad like a linebacker's, although his appearance made her think of a man who'd emerged from a mountain cabin rather than a football field.

Kaitlyn pulled her gaze back to Mr. Garrison. What if she'd misunderstood on the phone? What if this place wasn't hers after all? She'd purchased a used car and had moved out of her pint-sized apartment in New York City, taking everything she owned with her. She had no home or job to return to because she didn't plan on going back. It'd been a rash decision, yes, but she hadn't really had another viable option. This was it, her only lifeline, and she'd latched on with all the grit and determination that had once made her an up-and-coming interior designer.

"So." Mr. Garrison clapped his hands together. "Congratulations, you two. Looks like you'll be business partners."

Kaitlyn straightened. "I'm sorry. What?"

"Mable left you half of the Sweetwater B and B," he told her and then looked at Mitch. "And you the other half. I'm sure you know the Russos thought of you as a grandson, Mitch. They were very proud of your service as a military police officer."

Kaitlyn's eyes darted between the two men. "Excuse me, Mr. Garrison, but I was under the impression that I was the new owner."

"You are. Along with Mr. Hargrove." Mr. Garrison pointed at the papers in front of him. "Says so right here. Under one condition that your grandmother spelled out in no uncertain terms."

Kaitlyn's head was spinning. "Condition?" she asked.

Mr. Garrison nodded. "That's right. The condition is that you and Mr. Hargrove must run this place together for the first two months after signing these documents." Mr. Garrison settled his glasses up on his long, narrow nose as he read. "Both parties must stay in Sweetwater Springs and run the Sweetwater Bed and Breakfast on Mistletoe Lane as a fully functioning inn for exactly two months from the date of signature. If either party declines, the bed and breakfast is forfeited for both parties and turned over to charity."

"What?" Kaitlyn sat up straight, panic gripping her as it had when she'd thought Mitch was an intruder. And he was. She did not want him here, claiming half of what she'd thought was solely hers.

"No way I'm staying in Sweetwater Springs for two months," Mitch said flatly. "I love Mable but charity can have this place."

Kaitlyn shot him a scornful look. "This was my grandparents' business. We can't just let it go."

"I hate to break it to you but this place has been declining for years," Mitch said. "Mable rarely had a full inn. Any charity we offered it to likely wouldn't even take it. A bed and breakfast requires time and money. I say we save ourselves the trouble and forfeit now."

"We are not forfeiting," Kaitlyn snapped between gritted teeth. She didn't care how big or attractive Mitch Hargrove was—and he was big and attractive—she'd lost too many fights lately. She was fighting for this B&B with every ounce of strength she had. "Is there any way to get around the legal terms?" she asked. "So I can run the B and B and Mr. Hargrove can go on his merry way?" Which would be best for everyone. The sooner, the better.

Mr. Garrison frowned. "I'm afraid not. The will is detailed. Mable was insistent that you two work here together. Leaving the inn to the both of you was her final attempt to revive this old place."

Mr. Garrison angled himself to look at Kaitlyn. "Mable was proud of how creative you are. She said you could turn menial things into magic." He turned back to Mitch. "And she said you could fix just about anything. Between the two of you, she was adamant that the Sweetwater Bed and Breakfast could be transformed back into the jewel it once was. Her words, not mine. Two months. That was Mable's terms, and she asked me to make sure that's what happened."

Mr. Garrison's gaze flitted between them. "She knew it would take the talents of both of you combined."

Kaitlyn stared at Mitch. She'd liked him a whole lot better when she'd thought he might be trying to kill her.

"So," Mr. Garrison said on an inhale, "do you accept or not?"

"No," Mitch barked at the same time that she said, "Yes."

Kaitlyn folded her arms across her chest. How dare he even consider refusing her grandmother's final wish. "We're not giving up on this B and B."

"Do you have money for repairs? Money to keep the lights and heat on for guests? This inn is a money pit. We'd be fools to go into business together." Mitch shook his head. "And I don't know about you but I have a life to get back to. Two months of trying to avoid the inevitable isn't in my plans."

"I have a life," Kaitlyn shot back. Albeit one that seemed to be in shambles lately. Apparently, Grandma Mable had been struggling too. How had Kaitlyn not known her grandmother was under so much financial strain? Not that Kaitlyn could've helped. All she'd really had of value when she'd driven down from New York to the North Carolina mountains was hope, and even that was dwindling fast.

*  *  *

Mitch was having a hard time listening to Mr. Garrison. Partly because he was too distracted by little Katie Russo all grown up. She was gorgeous, yeah, but also feisty enough to threaten a six-foot-one former marine with a poker stick. He could've disarmed her faster than she could bat those long eyelashes of hers, if he'd wanted to. He'd enjoyed watching her think she had the upper hand though. He'd enjoyed watching her, period.

"The B and B doesn't make a profit?" Kaitlyn asked as Mr. Garrison laid out the paperwork.

"Not in recent years, no," Mr. Garrison said apologetically.

Mitch already knew this. He'd always visited Mable whenever he'd come off a deployment and returned to Sweetwater to see his mom. Since Henry's death, Mable had been struggling financially. She'd never seemed undone by it though. She was a strong woman, didn't give up easily, and was as stubborn as the valley here is deep. Mable was always expecting a surge of new business. Always hoping the Sweetwater Bed and Breakfast would return to its glory days.

"This business belonged to my grandparents. It means something. At least to me."

Mitch swallowed, remembering how he'd sat in this very room after school. As a teen, he'd worked behind the scenes at the bed and breakfast on weekends too. Mable had taught him to cook fancy breakfasts and fold napkins just so. Henry had taught him to care for the landscaping. There weren't a lot of good memories locked up in this town for Mitch but the Russos and the Sweetwater B&B were some of them.

He turned to Mr. Garrison. "So, you're telling me that in order for Katie to keep this place, I have to stay in Sweetwater Springs?"

"Kaitlyn," the woman in question snapped.

"That's correct," Mr. Garrison said.

"And if I leave?"

"Then she loses the business as well."

Mitch rubbed a hand over his forehead. Thanks a lot, Mable. He couldn't stay in Sweetwater Springs—wouldn't—and she'd known that. The last few times he'd come to visit, he'd mentioned that he wasn't reenlisting in the corps. Mable had known he would have time available. But she'd also known he was planning on taking a contract job running security in Northern Virginia. He knew quite a few ex-military who'd done the same kind of work after getting out. The job offered good money. Too good to pass up. This would complicate things.

"Two months?" he clarified.

"Two months. And what a perfect time. You'll be home for the holidays, Mitch," Mr. Garrison said, as if that was a selling point.

Mitch hadn't been home for the holidays since he'd joined the military when he was eighteen years old. There was a reason for that. One that made the stipulations of Mable's will feel more like a death sentence than a vacation.

"How you go about running things isn't specified," Mr. Garrison continued. "After the two months are up, we'll complete the paperwork and the bed and breakfast is yours to sell or do with as you choose."

"Please," Kaitlyn said, turning to Mitch, her brown eyes wide and hopeful.

He didn't know this woman from a stranger off the street. He didn't owe her anything. But he did owe Mable and Henry. They'd practically raised him while his mom worked two jobs. Mable and Henry had stood by him after the accident too. He'd never forget their loyalty. "I'm not making any decisions tonight," Mitch finally said. Especially not a decision that would cost him the next two months of his life.

"Of course. The clock doesn't start until you sign the preliminary paperwork though," Mr. Garrison advised.

Mitch nodded, catching the look of disappointment in Kaitlyn's eyes. He couldn't help that. This deal was a lot to ask.

The lawyer closed his briefcase and stood. "Just give me a call when you two make your decision."

"We will." Kaitlyn followed him to the door. "Thank you for coming."

"Of course. Anything for Mable."

That should've been Mitch's immediate answer too. Anything for sweet, caring, kind Mable Russo.

Anything but this.


Look, it's been a long day," Mitch said, turning to face Kaitlyn, who stood only a few feet away. "Neither of us were expecting this…complication. Let's get some rest and revisit how we'll handle things in the morning."

She hugged her arms around herself, lifting tired, beautiful eyes to meet his. "Yeah, you're right. The drive from New York was exhausting. We can meet back here first thing and look over the papers Mr. Garrison left us."

"Meet back here?" Mitch didn't like the sound of that. Since he was 50 percent owner, he thought he would at least get a room at the B&B.

"Well, you're not staying here. This is where I'll be sleeping."

"It's a bed and breakfast. It's meant to house more than one person," he said.

"Yes, when it's open, but we're not open. Yet."

An argument rose in his throat and settled on the tip of his tongue. Then his gaze caught on the poker stick resting against the wall behind her. He'd unintentionally scared her when he'd gotten here. Understandable, considering he was a stranger who appeared to be breaking and entering. As much as Mable had told him about her, she obviously hadn't told Kaitlyn much about him. A young, single, beautiful woman had every reason to be wary of a strange man staying under the same roof.

"Fine," he said, wishing he wasn't such a nice guy, because he didn't want to impose on his mom. He hadn't even told her he was coming to town. His mom, being the workaholic she was, would've insisted on cleaning and cooking and driving him absolutely nuts with all her doting. She had enough to do without taking care of him. "I'll sleep somewhere else tonight and be back at seven a.m. tomorrow."

Kaitlyn's jaw went lax. "Seven? Isn't that a little early?"

He smiled. "Get used to it. If you're set on running this place, Mable was up at four thirty every morning cooking breakfast for her guests." He got a little satisfaction as the realization dawned on his would-be business partner's face. He guessed she hadn't thought that far ahead. It didn't seem like she'd thought about this at all.

Gesturing behind him at the door, he said, "I'll see you tomorrow. Bright and early."

*  *  *

Kaitlyn dragged her tired body and suitcase past the wooden staircase and headed down the long hallway to her left. She remembered that her grandmother had always stayed in the downstairs bedroom near the kitchen and laundry area. The three rooms were blocked by a swinging door and made separate living quarters, which, even on their own, were much larger than her city apartment had been.

What Kaitlyn didn't remember is her grandmother waking so early to cook breakfast. Then again, like a good hostess, her grandmother had the first meal of the day ready when she'd stayed over. Kaitlyn was none the wiser about when or how it'd been prepared.

Four thirty? Well, if that's what she had to do, so be it. This was a new life for her. A godsend. At least that's what she'd thought on the drive down. Now doubt niggled in the dusty recesses of her mind, not unlike the inn's unkempt corners. This place was run-down, and she'd already spent a good portion of her savings on a used Ford Taurus to get here.

With a sigh, she dropped her luggage on the bedroom floor. The room was spacious with a king-size bed on one side fitted with a handmade quilt that Grandma Mable had likely made herself. An antique dresser sat along the wall and a rocking chair invited Kaitlyn to sit and possibly cry her eyes out later. Right now, she bent to unzip her suitcase and search for her favorite pair of flannel pajamas. As she sifted through her belongings, her cell phone rang against her hip. She pulled it from her pocket to her ear.

"Well?" her best friend Josie said in lieu of a hello. Josie still lived and worked in New York. "How is it?"

Kaitlyn climbed into the wooden rocker and clutched the phone to her ear. "It's awful. I mean, the inn itself is gorgeous but it needs work. And according to my new co-owner, this place can't even cover its own power and heating bills."

"I'm sorry—what?" Josie asked on the other end of the line.

Kaitlyn sighed. "Apparently, I'm not even the full owner. Grandma Mable left this place to me and the guy who grew up down the street." The image of the large, sexy man that Kaitlyn had spent the last hour with came to mind. "According to the will, Mitch and I have to run the bed and breakfast together for two months or we both forfeit to charity."

"Whoa. That's an unusual scenario," Josie said.

Indeed it was. "After the time is up, we can do as we like with the B and B, and since Mitch doesn't seem to care about staying, I plan to take out a loan and buy him out."

"There you go. That's perfect."

Kaitlyn pressed her head back against the rocker and closed her eyes, grateful to shut out at least one of her senses. "Except he hasn't said yes to the agreement. Also, since the business isn't turning a profit, there's no way the bank will give me a loan to buy him out. I thought this place would be my fresh start." Those tears threatened behind her eyes. She swallowed hard, refusing to let them through.


  • "The premise is entertaining, engaging and endearing; the characters are dynamic and lively...the romance is tender and dramatic... A wonderful holiday read, Christmas on Mistletoe Lane is a great start to the holiday season."—
  • "Top Pick! Five stars! Romance author Annie Rains was blessed with an empathetic voice that shines through each character she writes. Christmas on Mistletoe Lane is the latest example of that gift."—
  • "Settle in with a mug of hot chocolate and prepare to find holiday joy in a story you won't forget."—Raeanne Thayne, New York Times bestselling author
  • "Annie Rains puts her heart into every word!"—Brenda Novak, New York Times bestselling author
  • "This first installment of Rains's Sweetwater Springs series is cozy and most enjoyable. A strong cast of supporting characters as well as expert characterizations and strong plotting will have readers looking forward to future installments."—Publishers Weekly
  • "How does Annie Rains do it? This is a lovely book, perfect for warming your heart on a long winter night."—Grace Burrowes, New York Times bestselling author
  • "What a sweet Christmastime romance! Christmas on Mistletoe Lane was a fun series starter and I am looking forward to see where the Sweetwater Springs series goes!"—The Genre Minx

On Sale
Sep 25, 2018
Page Count
432 pages

Annie Rains

About the Author

Annie Rains is a USA Today bestselling contemporary romance author who writes small town love stories set in fictional places in her home state of North Carolina. When Annie isn't writing, she's living out her own happily ever after with her husband and three children.

Learn more about this author