Sweet Christmas Kisses 2

- 19 Christmas romances -

Beate Boeker

I pressed my thumb and forefinger into the sides of his belly, using more force than necessary. He didn’t take kindly to being mishandled – gingerbread rarely does. But I wasn’t in a mood to handle him with the care that I usually used for my sweet Christmas creations. I was furious. In fact, I felt like rolling him into a ball and smashing him against the wall. A little too much belly-pressure was nothing compared with what I really wanted to do with him.

Though it wasn’t his fault. He was a faultless gingerbread man – or rather, he would be, as soon as I had repaired his midriff, which reminded me now of a wasp.

“He’s way too fat.” That’s what my sister Natasha, the Christmas bride and Queen of this year’s holiday celebrations, had decreed five minutes ago when she’d checked on my progress in the spotless kitchen of the Dolomitissimo Luxury Hotel & Spa. Too fat! My little, yummy, sweet gingerbread man!

Not that I was seeing any parallels here, but I kept my gaze firmly on the flattened dough in front of me, ignoring the little roll around my midriff where quite a few predecessors of my gingerbread man had gone.

It had all started a year ago, when my younger sister got engaged to the richest bachelor in town, Angelo Bertolli. His family owned (amongst other things) a luxury hotel in the Dolomite Alps in Italy, and before I knew what was happening, they made plans for a Christmas wedding to end all Christmas weddings – in Italy, in the mountains!

Not that I wanted to complain. A luxury, chalet-like hotel during Christmas in a winter wonderland would normally have been way out of my league – and even now, when I only had to pay the plane ticket from Boston, my budget was stretched. It had also been quite hard to organize my little company in such a way that they wouldn’t miss me for a full week in the middle of the busiest season. But I had made it. “Carol’s Cookie Company” would fly without me. Now, I only had to create my famous gingerbread men and women as name cards for the one hundred and fifty exclusive guests of the wedding. My sister had asked me to do that instead of a marriage gift, and I had happily agreed, not knowing that she would turn into a nervous control freak just hours before the wedding.

I had it all planned in advance, right down to the last detail – I had even asked the hotel manager to e-mail me a picture of his kitchen, including an overview that showed me where to place everything. Okay, so I’m an over-organizer. It’s because I hate pressure. I also hate last-minute things. I hate to be rushed. And now, when all my gingerbread men and women were formed, when the schedule was running smoothly, when all last minute problems had happened and been dealt with as usual, and when all the cookies were safely turning a golden brown in the oven, giving out their spicy scent . . . now my sister said they were too fat! She didn’t want to have fat gingerbread men and women as name cards. They had to be slim. Ha. A slim gingerbread man? What a farce. A gingerbread man had to be jolly and well-rounded and cute to bite into – not slim and sporty or whatever my deluded sister had in her mind.

I felt a tear running down my face and wiped it away with a mix of anger and helplessness. Where had that stupid thing come from? I didn’t cry easily. In fact, I couldn’t even remember when I’d last cried. Another tear rolled down. I sniffed and turned away from the dough. It wouldn’t taste well soaked with salt water.

I lifted my gaze to the broad window and blinked away the tears, focusing on the breathtaking mountain view behind the log cabins. Craggy mountain tops, piled high with snow, glistened in the pale winter sun. Above them, the sky arched blue and pure, aloof and unreal, so far removed from any earthly problems. To the right of the kitchen building, a fir tree stood, each branch covered with thick snow, perfect like a painting. A winter wonderland indeed.

This afternoon, my sister had an outing arranged for all the guests who had already arrived. Sleighs would take them to the picturesque village down in the valley where they would stop for a hot chocolate, and then, they would return while the sun was setting majestically in an amazing display of red and gold – or so the description in the invitation had said. I’d been looking forward to this outing for months because ever since I was a little girl, I’d dreamed of riding in a sleigh, with little bells ringing and horses snorting. Just like the song, in fact. But now, I could bury that dream. I had to slim down all my gingerbread men and women.

Another tear escaped. If I was being perfectly honest with myself, the tears weren’t only because of the gingerbread-diet. They were also because my sister was starting a new phase in her life without me. She was five years younger than I was, and we’d always had a special relationship, right from the beginning, when my mother had placed that beautiful baby into my chubby arms. Natasha had been sickly at first, but whenever I held her, she’d calmed down, and gradually, without really noticing, I became her surrogate mother, probably because our mother rarely showed motherly feelings. When I was fifteen, our parents left Boston and moved to Los Angeles. We had an elderly aunt taking care of us at first. She loved us dearly and had been living right next to us for years, so it wasn’t much of a change in our lives. After her death five years later, we continued on our own, and that had been fine; we had each other.

But now she had left me behind.

No, I was not going to think of that.

I pulled a tissue from my red apron that featured the distinctive logo of “Carol’s Cookie Company” – three curlicued Cs entwined around each other – and resolutely blew my nose. I stuffed it back, doused my hands in disinfecting alcohol, and returned to my dough, but at that instant, I saw someone out of the corner of my eye.