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Love Checks In Chapter 1


Excitement thrums through my chest as I crest the mountain road and the view of Keller Hollow, Colorado, opens below. 

I slow and take in the sight. The box canyon is surrounded by impressive mountain peaks on all sides. From this high up, I can see the whole town, laid out on a grid. It’s not large. Just two miles east to west, and one mile north to south. 

My brother Damian is a travel writer and he visited Keller Hollow five years ago. Looking down from this spot he wrote, “Millennia ago, a great titan ran his monstrous finger along mountain peaks like they were nothing more than buttercream icing, creating a perfect hollow in the Sawatch Mountain Range of the Rockies.” 

His description intrigued me so much, I had to come myself. The first time I visited, it was the middle of summer, and the mountains were vibrant hues of blue, purple, and green. This time, at the beginning of May, the peaks are white with snow. It looks exactly like Damian described: mounds of buttercream icing.  

I take my foot off the brake and am once again swallowed up by a forest of evergreen trees. I crack open my window and let the pine-scented air fill the cabin of the car. That doesn’t last long, because it’s cold. Spring arrived last month in Denver, but at almost eight thousand feet elevation, winter hangs on longer in Keller.

The descent is steep, and the road switchbacks a few times before I’m deposited directly on Main Street. A sign welcomes me: Keller Hollow, Home of the Huckleberry, Population 1,499

The speed limit shrinks to fifteen miles an hour. 

Main Street is itself a sight to behold. The shops are purposefully rustic like I’ve just driven into an old western movie. The first settlers came here to mine silver a hundred and fifty years ago, and without the cars parked along the street, I might forget that era ever ended. 

The mountains are even more impressive from the valley floor. They rise straight up into the sky. I’m liable to get a crick in my neck if I try to see the tops. 

When I stop at the red light at Main Street and River Road, I’m hit with the scent of freshly baked bread. Aunt Eve’s Bakery must be the culprit. My stomach rumbles at the reminder I missed lunch today, and once the light turns green, I cross the intersection and park my black BMW along the road in front of the quaint shop. It’s cold enough I grab my suit jacket from the passenger seat and pull it on. I didn’t think this late in the year I’d need my coat, so I didn’t bring it. Now I know better. 

I text Jorgensen, my work colleague, to let him know where to meet me. The hotel he’s staying at is just around the corner. We can make this a lunch meeting.

A small bell rattles weakly as I enter the bakery. One side of the shop is filled with small, round tables, all empty at two o’clock. The other is lined with glass cases, only a quarter full at this time of day, but they still provide a selection of donuts, cookies, bagels, and loaves of bread. 

Though it all looks and smells delicious, I need something with more sustenance. I glance at the sandwich menu written out on a chalkboard to the right and debate between a Reuben sandwich and a chicken wrap. I’m definitely grabbing the last chocolate donut in the case. 

“What can I get for you?” a teenager asks from behind the counter. Her name tag reads, Starla

After I order, I take a step back expecting to turn and head to a table, but instead, I bump into something that lets out a surprised squeak. Whirling around, I find a woman, probably in her early twenties, wearing low pigtails and paint-splattered overalls. I mean to apologize, but when she looks up, and her wide, brown eyes connect with mine, the words are forgotten. 

She smiles, revealing dimples. “Excuse me.” Her voice is warm and sweet like thick milk chocolate. 

I shake away my mental paralysis. “No, excuse me. I didn’t realize you were there.”

I take a step to the right just as she steps in the same direction. 

“Sorry,” we say at the same time.

We step to the left. 

“Sorry.” Again, we echo each other. 

I think this dance will last forever and surprisingly, I don’t mind. But then, chuckling, she puts her hands on my biceps, moves me to the right, and steps around me. Her touch is warm, even through my jacket, and I’m disappointed when her hands drop.

I shake my head to force myself to focus. I’m not a teenager, easily distracted by a pretty woman. I sit at a table far enough away that I can no longer smell her floral scent. It’s not far enough that I can’t hear their conversation.  

“You’re looking haggard this afternoon,” Starla says to the woman. “How are you?” 

Haggard? Starla needs her eyesight checked because Dimples is nothing but stunning. 

Dimples lets out a long-suffering sigh. “The weasel showed up again last night.”

They both groan as if this person is the worst. Or maybe it isn’t a person, but an actual weasel? This town is surrounded by mountains and forests. I’m sure a lot of weasels make their home here.

Starla leans forward. “What did you do?”

“I told him if he didn’t get off my property, I’d shoot him with my grandpa’s shotgun.”

Her eyes go wide. “What did he do?”

“He got off my property.”

They both giggle.  

An older woman comes from the back and calls out, “Mav, your order’s up.”

That’s me. I go and grab the tray that holds my sandwich and donut on separate plates.

“What can I get for you today?” Starla asks Dimples.

I sit and bite into my Reuben. The rye bread is fresh, the sauerkraut tangy, and the swiss cheese is melted to perfection. I don’t know if I’ve ever tasted anything this delicious before. 

“A chocolate donut,” the woman says. 

“Sorry, we just sold the last one.” Starla sounds apologetic. 

I pull my donut plate closer. I’m lucky I got here when I did. 

“No,” Dimples says. “I saw the last one as I walked in.”

She points to the glass case, but then must notice that the donut is no longer there, and her whole body swings to face me. When she spots my chocolate donut, her eyes narrow.  

She turns back to Starla. “I’ll have an old-fashioned, a raspberry fritter, and one with sprinkles.”

“To go?”

“No, to stay.”

As soon as Dimples has her three donuts, she swivels toward me and glares as she draws closer. Her plate goes on my table, she pulls out a chair, sits down with her arms folded, and leans forward. 

I place my sandwich on the plate and wait. 

“You stole my donut,” she says. 

“It didn’t have your name on it.” I glance down and pretend to study the chocolate frosting. “Or maybe it does? I can’t be sure since I don’t know your name.”

The right side of her lips lifts the tiniest bit, cracking her tough expression. “I want it back.” She gestures to my suit jacket. “I’d guess you’re a businessman.”

You’d be right.”

“I have an amazing business opportunity for you. In exchange for one chocolate donut, I will give you three donuts. That’s triple the return on investment.”

I chuckle. “I’m intrigued by your business proposition, but quality over quantity.” I point to my Rueben. “This is the best sandwich I’ve eaten in the entirety of my life. This is probably the most amazing chocolate donut I will ever taste. Chocolate donuts are my favorite dessert. I can’t let you rob me of the pleasure.”


Her stare softens into Bambi eyes, and she flutters her eyelashes a few times. It’s absolutely devastating, but I’m stronger than I believe and withstand the assault.

I lift the donut, about to take a bite, and her eyes bug out. She reaches across the table and puts her hand on my wrist.

“Eve’s chocolate donuts are filled with luck,” she says. “It’s odd, I know, but I could use some luck tonight. Please?”

I quirk one eyebrow. “You want to get lucky… hunting weasels?” 

The laugh that bursts out of her is shocking in its lightness. “Yes,” she says through her laughter. “I definitely need luck when hunting weasels.”

“What makes you think a donut will help with your aim?”

She ducks, and her cheeks turn pink. “My grandma bought me a donut every time I had a test at school. I aced every single one. I told you, they’re lucky.” 

“I could use some luck. How about we split it?”

Her eyes widen. “No! It’s all or nothing.”

“You’re saying nothing is an option you’re open to?”

She purses her lips, but her eyes are dancing with mirth. “I want it all. You’ll destroy my luck if you eat half of it.”

I’m not one to give in easily during business negotiations, but I find I don’t want to resist her charm, so I push the plate across the table. 

She gleefully lifts the donut and takes a big bite. Her eyes close in pleasure. It’s almost better watching her enjoy the donut than it would be to taste it myself. Almost. 

“Thanks,” she says as she pops up out of the chair. 

I’m not ready for her to leave. I haven’t had a conversation this fun in… I don’t know how long. 

She has her hand on the door when I call out, “Wait, what’s your name?”

A smile flits across her lips, momentarily wiping my head clean of any thought but her mouth. And those dimples. She doesn’t answer but turns back to the door. 

“I can always call you Dimples.”

That makes her pause. “Penny.” 

Then she’s gone. 

I turn in my seat and watch her through the front window until she disappears down the street.  


I wasn’t joking when I told her I needed my own luck today. Since I didn’t get my donut, I’ll have to hope meeting a lucky Penny is good enough.