Katie Guthrie has pie magic.
Intuition tells her what to bake. Whether it’s a Goodbye Pie or a Welcome Home Pie, it will turn out perfect and be waiting for the person who needs it most. She cherishes her life in the small village of Miracle, Wisconsin, and has no desire for change. But to help a friend, she agrees to film a cooking pilot show. Only to realize the filmmaker is the dying boy Katie used to call her angel when she lived in Chicago with her junkie mother.
Gabe Robbins is no angel, and he’s no boy anymore.
Burned out after a three-year stint building a hospital in Africa, Gabe ignores his demons by living day-to-day and filming wedding videos. Nothing deep, nothing he has to become invested in. Nothing that will get under his skin, until… Watching Katie create her pies from behind his video camera makes him realize what he’s missing. Thanks to Katie and her pies, Gabe discovers his passion again. But will it lead him to his heart’s desire…or will this miracle take him away from Katie forever?
“I want you to see something.” The intensity in Gabe’s eyes made Katie’s breath hitch. “Something that could change your life.”
Katie blinked at him. This was the second morning she had an angel in her kitchen, though she suspected he had the devil in him. An angel wouldn’t make her skin warm from the inside out and her fingertips tingle.
“It’s very odd.” She eyed the laptop he was holding.
His smile bloomed. “What’s odd?”
“It’s odd that every time the doorbell rings lately, it’s someone who wants to change my life. I’m only doing this cooking show thing to help Rosa. I like my life as it is.” Her hands curled as she looked up at him. She half expected him to use his charm on her.
Instead, he went still, as if he were processing what she said. As if he really listened to her.
“Who said I wanted to change your life?”
She shook her head, unable to answer, but her skin prickled. This man was about to jerk her out of her comfortable life. She didn’t know why, but she was as sure of it as she was sure Happy loved her from the tip of her moist nose to the end of her waving tail.
“I don’t want you to do anything you don’t want to,” he said, finally breaking the silence.
A laugh and a cry struggled inside her. He was good at this. As if he knew her mind and emotions the way she knew pies.
And she…right now she felt like uncooked pie dough. “Okay, I’ll listen to you.”
He nodded, as if this was serious stuff. “I’ll listen to you, too.”
If this were the Victorian age, she thought, she might swoon. But she was no Victorian lady wearing swoon-inducing stays, though he was certainly swoon-worthy. “Would you like anything to drink?” She stepped back and hit the counter with her butt. “Coffee or tea? Pie?”
“Pie,” he said, no hesitation. “Pumpkin?”
She laughed and heard the breathlessness in it again. She really needed to stop that. If she kept this up, she might as well lie on the kitchen table and say, “Take me now.”
“You finished the pie already?”
“Not alone. Taz helped me. To keep him from eating my half, I had to threaten to break his fingers.”
She stepped away from the counter, grateful to find her legs were steady. He loved her pie. Of course, everyone did, but his appreciation seemed to mean more. “Today’s pie is banana cream.”
His face lit up. “My favorite.”
She crossed to the fridge, not surprised. Just as she hadn’t been surprised to see him when she opened the back door. This morning when she’d been making pies for her deliveries, she’d had a sudden urge to make a banana cream pie. She’d known then that it was for Gabe. She’d known he was going to come to her house and eat a piece.
“Tea or coffee?” she asked. She couldn’t tell him any of that. He’d think she was crazy.
Gabe opted for coffee. A moment later they sat at the table, digging into their pies at the same time. He ate his first bite slowly, eyes half closed, as if it were a sensory experience.
She melted. Wanting to lean forward and kiss his face, his neck…wanting to sit on his lap and feed him bites of pie between kisses. She’d never seen anything sexier than the way he looked eating her pie, as if it were the food of gods.
“You made this from scratch, didn’t you?” he asked.
She nodded. “Always. I like the real thing.”
He stilled, his expression intense for a second, his eyes brilliant. “When you do your own show, that’s what you should call it, ‘The Real Thing.’”
“Isn’t that taken?” As soon as she said it, she realized she should have denied any intention of doing her own show.
“I’ll check to see if we can use it.”
“We? There is no we. And I don’t plan on having my own show. For one thing, I promised to be on Rosa’s show.”
“First she has to sell it.”
“If anyone can do it, she can.”
He took another bite of her pie. She watched the bliss cross his face again, and she took another forkful of hers. She closed her eyes, tasting the blend of vanilla, banana, cream and sugar. Like a bite of heaven inside her mouth. Nothing mattered except for the perfect flavors. Nothing.
Then she opened her eyes and saw that everything mattered.
“How about ‘Pie Me to the Moon’?” she asked.
He laughed. “Why not ‘Katie’s Pies’?”
She grimaced. He’d poked a sore spot. “Someone has that name. I had to call my pie business ‘Katie’s Miracle Pies.’”
“I like that.” His smile was back, his gaze saying he liked a lot of things about her.
She turned back to her pie. Now she was getting fanciful, imagining things in his gaze, though her life was fanciful every day. How many people had pies that talked to them? Whispering to her, telling her to make them?
He finished his pie first, but she finished shortly after. Happy looked up at her expectantly. Happy had a long memory back to when she first came as a puppy. Katie was young, too, and not as strict then. But now she had to think about Happy’s health. As much as she hated to deny Happy, she did.
Most of the time. A little crust couldn’t hurt.
She got up and scraped crumbs into Happy’s food bowl in the corner. Happy barely waited for Katie to step away before she lunged forward and started licking.
When Katie turned to pick up Gabe’s clean plate, he was watching her with an indulgent smile. The kind that most people used watching children do something cute.
Not the reaction she wanted from him.
“She’s nineteen.” Katie heard the defensive note in her voice. “And she loves my pies.”
“That’s ancient for a dog. Maybe your pies are magic.”
Katie felt her eyes widen, but she walked forward because it was silly to think that…and she couldn’t admit to him how often she believed it was true.
“Do you need a warm up?” She gestured to his mug.
“I’m good.” He set his laptop on the table and opened it. “We need to do this.”
“Actually, we don’t need to do anything.”
He attached a USB cord to the computer and the other end to the outlet two feet from the table before raising his head. “People are going to love you.”
“People already love me.” Her dad, she thought. And Happy. Though Happy wasn’t exactly people, she mattered. So did her dad’s dog, Tuck. Katie was Number Two in Tuck’s doggy heart that was technically veins and arteries and muscle, but in reality was 100% love.
The barn cats had affection for her because she often changed their water and fed them, and she petted all the cats that came up to her.
Her mother sent her a birthday card every year and signed it Love, Raelyn.
Rosa loved Katie as a friend. Perhaps a few other women had friend love for her, though her best friend wasn’t answering her calls anymore, and she didn’t know why.
Three men had professed love to her, but none recently. It had been awhile since she’d had a desire to date. She knew every single guy in town and quite a few in the neighboring communities. Lately she’d begun to wonder whether she was asexual.
“More people will love you,” Gabe said. “People you don’t even know.” The laptop on the table lit up.
“Until another show comes along,” she shot back.
His eyebrow arched. “You’re tougher than you look.”
“And proud of it.”
He laughed softly. “You should be proud of this. Just a minute, I’ll bring it up.”
As she waited, she gazed at his profile and his lingering half smile. He was a smiler, with dimples in his cheeks and tiny crinkles that fanned out from the corners of his eyes. She liked that. Liked too many things about him.
He was her pie, she thought. Why him, she didn’t know. From the first time she saw him, it was like puzzle pieces clicking together.
But the problem with puzzle pieces was they had to fit in with all the other pieces to make the whole picture. And she didn’t see how that was going to happen.
“Here.” He angled the laptop so she could see the screen then scooted his chair next to hers, close enough for her to smell him. She breathed his scent in. Like nutmeg…only nothing like nutmeg.
A shiver went through her, and she leaned toward the laptop and saw her image on the screen, wearing a green apron and staring back at her. Her eyes were wide and her smile looked like a frightened grimace. Then she started to recite the script she’d clearly memorized, her voice and body language stiff, as if she were in fifth grade again, reading a poem in front of class.
Gabe bent over the keyboard. Mumbling that he didn’t want to show the cooking part, he fast-forwarded to the end of the show. The video moved again at regular speed. She stood behind the counter but he was the one talking on the video, asking, “Tell us, why pies? Why not cakes or cookies or cupcakes?”
He must have edited Rosa’s objections out, because she was wrinkling her nose then leaning over the counter and saying, “Pies are love.”
His on-screen voice laughed softly. “Tell me how pies can be love.”
Sitting next to her tormentor as she watched the screen, Katie groaned and laughed and covered her eyes and then uncovered them. Finally, the video ended, freezing with her bemused face looking back at her.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” She couldn’t think, as if banana cream pie filling was clogging up her brain cells.
He twisted in the chair, so close she could see three shades of blue in his eyes. See that his eyelashes were golden brown, darker than his hair. Close enough that she could lean forward and kiss him.
She drew in her breath.
“I thought it was great,” he said. “So did Taz. Viewers will love it.”
“You mean…” She sat back in her chair and shook her head. Shaking the thought of kissing him right out of her mind.
“I can’t promise it will go viral, but I can promise a lot of views. Not with just this one—we’d have to do a series of similar videos to build your viewers. We can do it. You’re passionate about pies. People love passion. They can get recipes anywhere, but what you have is unique. They’ll love you. They’ll want to watch you. They’ll tell their friends about you.”
She shook her head again. Sometimes she thought she might be a little insane, but she was nowhere near as insane as this man.
“You don’t have to do anything. Leave it to me. I’ll do it.”
She shifted her gaze. Not toward the camera but toward the back door. Wishing she could step outside. The sun was out. Coming home this morning after delivering pies to the truck stop and the Italian restaurant in Tomahawk, she noticed a few yellow and orange leaves on the sugar maple tree in the front yard. In the dawn redness it looked like an old painting. She had an urge to go outside and see them now, in full sunlight.
“You’re afraid,” he said.
Her head snapped around. “No.”
His eyebrows lifted. “It’s very common. Some people are afraid of greatness.”
“I bake pies.” Her tone was sharp. What didn’t this man understand about baking a pie? Anyone could do it. In fact, everyone should do it. If all the leaders of all the countries in the world went into their kitchens and made at least one pie every day, the world would no doubt be a better place.
Slowly, her breaths shallow, she turned her gaze back to him. He watched her. Unmoving. Implacable.
She wanted to kick him.
“I promised Rosa to do this with her. I can’t do it with you.”
“It’s not the same thing. She’s doing a show. What we’re doing is small moments of time.”
“You sound like a politician.”
He put his hand over his heart. “You wound me.”
“If the knife fits…”
Dropping his hand, he leaned closer again. Inches away. His blue eyes brilliant, enthralling her so she couldn’t pull back or look away. “Think of the videos like movie trailers. If they become popular, it will make her show all the more valuable. In fact, I’ll ask her to do some.”
“She said yesterday she doesn’t want to do short videos.”
“Then she doesn’t have to. It will be just you and me.”
“You’re worse than a bulldog.”
“I promise…” his smile returned… “I don’t bite.”
She gritted her teeth and put both hands to her hair, grabbing handfuls. This man. This insane man. Can’t he leave me in peace?
“You have no excuses,” he said.
“I don’t need an excuse. I don’t want to do it.”
“Because you’re afraid. You have this…magic.”
“Magic!” She stared at him. Her? She was the quiet one. Her pies were special, she didn’t deny that. But she had nothing to do with it. It was a gift, the way another woman was born with a beautiful singing voice. The way Gabe was born to captivate her. “This is too much.”
Emotion churned up inside her and she drew back from him. Her body started to shake, as if she were in the middle of an earthquake.
“Out.” Her voice quaking, she pushed up from the chair. She was overreacting, she knew it, but right now she didn’t care. “I just want you to leave. You didn’t have to say that.”
“You don’t believe me.” He shook his head, staying in his chair. “You really don’t know how powerful you are.”
“If I were powerful, you’d be a pile of ashes.”
“Powerful doesn’t mean the person who talks the loudest or laughs the loudest or has the most money.” His gaze locked with hers, and she couldn’t look away. “You’re powerful because you care, and that shines out of you. You care about your dog, your friend, your grandmother. I know you cared for her. Love is powerful.”
“You are…” She flailed her arms up. “Insane. Totally and horribly insane.”
“Then humor an insane man.” He smiled and once again his eyes glowed and she could practically feel him sending her waves of seduction that melted her muscles. “Do this for me. We’ll try it a few times. It will prove who’s right. You or me.”
She plopped back down onto the chair. “I don’t have to prove anything.”
“Why does it scare you so much? You saw the bit.” He gestured at the screen. “Once you relax, you’re a natural. Even if I’m prejudiced because I want to sleep with you, there’s no failure in this. No risk. People either watch you or they don’t. If they do and we get ads, we’ll make money. If they don’t…” He shrugged. “The only one who will lose money will be me.”
She sat stunned. She heard everything he said, but the only thing that stuck in her head was that he wanted to sleep with her. A squeaking sound came out of her mouth, but she couldn’t form words. Her brain seemed to have turned into pureed pumpkin.
“I believe in you.” His voice was even and calm. He kept staring straight into her eyes, compelling her to go along with him. “What I want to know is, do you believe in yourself?”
As if his expression unfroze her voice, words spewed out of her mouth in a hot rush. “Yes. Yes, I do. Yes, I believe in myself.”
He grinned and sat back. His intense gaze lessening, as if he were releasing her from a compulsion spell. Which was more crazy thinking. The result of reading the whole Harry Potter series. Real people didn’t have compulsion spells. As for her magic pies… Some people could write songs by the time they were three. Others could do college math in third grade. She made pies.
Yes, they were magic, but everyone had magic. It’s just that not everyone knew it.
“You know I meant…” She stopped, suddenly fighting laughter. “If Rosa gives her okay, I’ll do it.”
“Done.” He slapped his hand on the table, as if he were sealing a deal. And he smiled at her like a man who’d just won the poker hand.
She guessed that made her the loser.
Slowly, she stood. This was the craziest day she could remember since she came to Miracle. This man was turning her calm and ordered life upside down.
“Do you have a card?” she asked. As if this were a normal conversation about business. As if he weren’t crazier than her. Locked up, medicated and throw-away-the-key crazy. “I’ll call you.”
“Am I scaring you?” he asked. “Am I moving too fast?”
“Of course not.”
“Then you won’t mind if I do this.” He stepped toward her, put his arm around her…and then he leaned so close to her she felt his breath on her skin. He pulled her against him and she closed her eyes and sighed, her body curving against his.