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Grace twisted the ring on her finger as she watched the barren winter landscape speed by. "Do you think they'll like me, Jake?"

Jacob's mouth lifted in a smile as he piloted their rented Range Rover down the narrow country road. "I don't think anyone human could not like you, Grace."

She gave him a sideways look. "Aww, you're so sweet—I still don't forgive you for to eating my cheesecake."

"Hey!" Jacob's brows lifted in mock affront. "It was two in the morning. I was delirious!"

Grace harrumphed, but couldn't keep from grinning. She poked Jacob playfully in the arm. "How much longer 'till we get there anyways? That cheap diner coffee's come back to haunt me with a vengeance."

Squinting through the windshield, Jacob said, "Not long, if Google doesn't deceive me. Mom said to look out for a green mailbox."

"In all this snow?" Grace was incredulous. "It's probably buried six feet deep!"

Jacob shrugged. "There aren't many homes out here, we should be able to find it."

Grace sighed and snuggled down in her seat. "Why couldn't your folks live somewhere closer to civilization and good coffee?"

"What, city girl can't handle a country Christmas?" Jacob asked, carefully avoiding bumping their rearview mirror against frozen snowbank.

"They'd better have WiFi," Grace warned.

Jacob shook his head, a pitying expression on his long face. "Don't count on it, hun."

The Rover bumped along for another twenty minutes before Grace spotted the prophesied mailbox. They turned into the drive and had to inch along a narrow passage between fir trees. Shaggy branches clawed and scraped at the windows like eager fingers as they passed. Grace found the sound unnerving, and was grateful when they made it out the other end.

The Carpenter property turned out to be a wide expanse of land hemmed in by tall pines. At the end of the snaking driveway was a two-story log cabin with smoke curling gently from its chimney. Lights had been wrapped around the porch, birch-bark deer posed jauntily in the snow, and a jingle-bell wreath adorned the front door.

"Gosh, looks just like a Christmas card," said Grace, admiring the little house.

"Mom loves the Holidays," Jacob replied, fingers tightening on the steering wheel as they pulled up in front of the cabin. "You're probably going to gain twenty pounds before we leave. She bakes cookies like a maniac—I mean, at least, she used too."

Grace reached out and squeezed his hand. "You gonna be okay, Jake? I know this must be an emotional roller-coaster..."

"I'm fine," he reassured her, making an effort to smile. "I'm glad you came."

She leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Me too."

He turned and caught her mouth with his lips, lingering on the kiss for a moment before pulling away. "I love you," he murmured.

"Still feeling guilty about the cheesecake?" she teased, adjusting his coat collar.

"I'm tormented," he replied with a solemn nod. "The burden of my shame might be too great to bear much longer..."

"If you're about to ask me to punish you, Jake, I'll remind you that we're spending the next few days in your mom's house," Grace said. "You know I left the wrack at home."

"I was going to offer you all my desert for the next week," Jacob said, his face a picture of innocence. "As compensation."

Biting her lip to keep from rewarding his bluff with a giggle, Grace climbed out of the car. Jacob followed, pulling his scarf tighter as they stepped out into the brisk air. It was a sunny, frigid morning, glittering with ice and tinsel—the kind of day that made you sweat inside your coat and burned your sinuses with cold at the same time. Grace groaned and pulled on her mitts. She hated winter. It was a contrary bitch.

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