Excerpt from
The Gingerbread Cookie Code

“Come on, Shelby. Think about it. It’ll be fun. Anymore, all I do is design for corporate clients. I’ll have your website and business platforms optimized and running in no time. And don’t worry—I’ll teach you everything you need to know to maintain them. I could help you write a business plan, too. Your dad will take your idea more seriously if you work it out on a spreadsheet.” He winked at her from over his mug. “I’m all yours, any day after four.”

She arched a delicate eyebrow and gave him a conspiratorial look. “Did you also forget to tell me you were once a salesman?”

Clay chuckled behind his fist. I’m beginning to like her. A lot. “So, what do you say, Shelby?”

He watched her twist her napkin into a knot, then she met his eyes. “Oh, all right. Yes, I’d like your help—but on one condition. You let me return the favor by fixing you supper.”

He smiled on the inside. “Including sweets?”

“Definitely sweets.” Her cheeks turned a peachy pink. “So any allergies or foods you hate?”

“Not a one. Please. Surprise me.” The levity in his voice was unmistakable, and it surprised him. “So, how about we start tonight? I’ll bring the wine. Red or white?”

Shelby dropped the crumpled napkin on her plate. “Tonight’s good. And white please.”

When the server approached their table with the check, Clay pulled several bills from his wallet and placed them in her palm. Plenty of coffee refills, a stack of napkins—and privacy with Shelby—all without even asking. “Thanks for the service—keep the change.”

When they got back to the hardware store, Clay picked up his box and loaded it in his king-cab truck. Propped against the tailgate, he pulled out his smartphone.

“What’s your number?” He typed what she said, and moments later her phone pinged.

—Your place. 7 pm. White.—

Her fingers danced over her screen, and his phone vibrated.

Perfect. And I’m glad you like surprises.—

© 2021 Ann M. Trader