Cupcake Christmas Story

A Cupcake Christmas Story – Part II

Chapter 6:

         Clara spent the rest of the day prepping for her new role as a ‘professional baker.’  As much as her sensibility told her to not get carried away by this temporary job, she could not help but have her cake and eat it too. She hadn’t realized the toll the long hours at Data Dot had taken on her mental and physical health. The opportunity to bake an income with her passion was icing on the cake and she planned to savor the sweetness.

         “I’ll focus on finding a ‘real’ job in January.” Clara decided as she perused the baking aisle at the grocery store.

         After a quick dinner of leftover lasagna, Clara began experimenting in the kitchen – perfecting the week’s recipes. Matt suggested ‘Clara’s Cupcakes’ for her baking business.

         “It does have a nice ring to it, but I am baking more than just cupcakes. How about Clara’s Cupcakes and Creations?” Clara thought aloud as Pumpkin Spice jumped on her lap. “What do you think sweet kitty?”

         “Meow,” Pumpkin Spice purred softly.

         “Clara’s Cupcakes and Creations it is.”

         In addition to her break baking for Soulful Java, Clara was surprised to receive nearly a dozen holiday orders from families she met at the Winter Carnival.   

“I need to get a book of business and organize everything in Excel,” Clara realizing this demand meant a more focused approach to ensure orders were met.

         Realizing she was beginning to have a real side hustle Clara’s business brain went to work. She stared by creating a custom log with Adobe and Canva.

         She decided it wouldn’t hurt to set up a social media presence on Facebook and Instagram. She tweaked Lucy’s business card with her new logo.

         “Maybe I can make a business out of my baking passion after all.” Clara smiled as she looked at her list of holiday orders. She headed to the kitchen and started mixing her cupcake base. “Here we go.”

Clara felt more energized than she had in years. While she loved her job at Data Dot, she realized how it drained her from work life balance. She never had time for self-care and nurturing her own hobbies outside of work. “God, you transform the worst into something good. I’m trusting you here.”

Chapter 7

         “Those cupcakes look to die for” Margie, one of Soulful Java’s regulars noted the pastry case of scrumptious cupcakes.

         “They are the best cupcakes I’ve ever eaten,” Matt enthused as he poured the Jamaican blend into Margie’s reusable coffee thermos. “They are made by a local baker, Clara Keene.”

         “It is too early to resist a cupcake. I’ll take the Winter Spice and Nutcracker Sweet cupcakes.” 

         Clara walked in during the tail end of the transaction.

         “Margie, this is Clara, the baker I told you about.” Matt introduced the pair.

         “Pleasure to meet you, Clara. I just took a bit of the Nutcracker Sweet and it is heavenly.”

         “That means so much, thank you!” Clara smiled trying to contain her excitement her heart racing faster than the Indy 500.

         “Margie is one of our ‘daily grinders’ at Soulful Java.” Matt had created a loyalty program for his regulars called ‘The Daily Grind,’ they get perks and free coffee once a month. “She is an attorney at Whitfield, Barclay and Drummonds across the street.”

         “We are having a holiday party on December 15th – I know your cupcakes would be a hit…can I place an order for four dozen cupcakes?”

         “We’d be honored,” Clara’s face lit up. She turned briefly to Matt, whose encouraging blue eyes met her in the moment. “It never hurts to have fresh brewed coffee with cupcakes – would you be interested in a few carafes of Soulful Java’s seasonal blend.”


         Clara spent the next ten minutes helping Margie customize her cupcake order. “I definitely recommend the Hot Cocoa Cupcakes along with the Nutcracker Sweet and Lavender Vanilla cupcakes.”

         “I better get to the firm. I’ve gained five pounds just thinking about how mouthwatering the cupcakes will be,” Margie joked as she rushed out the door.

         “I knew you would be a success,” Matt toasted Clara with a fresh cup of coffee. “And thanks for upselling the coffee.”

         “You do have the best cup of Joe in town. Coffee is always welcomed at a work party.”

         “I never thought about marketing my coffee to local businesses during the holidays. It is a clever idea.”

         “At Data Dot, we’d have coffee and pastries brought in from places like Panera during big team meetings,” Clara noted. “Being in the heart of downtown, Soulful Java could make an impact providing coffee for local businesses and even events.”

         “Absolutely, a lot of clients come and buy carafes to go for co-workers – I should advertise we cater coffee and treats.”

         “You roast your coffee in house-correct?”

         “Yes, all of our beans are roasted in house.”

         “Have you ever sold your coffee in bulk to businesses…I’m thinking you could sell packaged coffee with a local businesses logo, and they can give those out for holiday events or office promotions.”

         “You are the wizard at sales and marketing – or should I say sales architect.”

          “I enjoy creating ways for businesses to connect with their clients. It’s why I’ve been in sales for over a decade.”

         “That is why I wanted to open the coffee shop,” Matt explained. “I wanted to establish a gathering place for people to connect and enjoy the moment – be it that quick rush hour caffeine fix or catching up with an old friend over lattes.”

         “You’ve done a wonderful job with Soulful Java. The atmosphere has character. The architectural details you’ve incorporated make Soulful Java feel like a third place – a haven.”

         “That means a lot.”

         “I do have one question though.” Evaluating the space, Clara noticed that the café was devoid of any holiday cheer. “You have a holiday menu, but where are the Christmas decorations?”

         “I could say that I’m being a minimalist, but honestly I haven’t had time to decorate between managing the coffee shop and overseeing a building project with my firm.”

“I have tons of extra decorations, I’m happy to be a Christmas Elf and decorate the shop – if you want?”

“I don’t want to interfere with your schedule – you do have a lot of cupcakes to bake, but of course I’d love it if you’d help decorate the shop.”

“Sure, in fact I can ask Lucy and Becca to help – Tomorrow is a teacher workday, and they’d enjoy the activity.”

         “You really are the icing on the cake, Clara.” Matt corny humor made him more charming.

         “Speaking of icing, I’m going to be in the kitchen for the next few hours prepping your next order.”

Outwardly Clara held her poise, but inwardly Matt makes her feel like a schoolgirl. Sure, he is tall and handsome, with a crooked dimpled grin, but Clara was connecting to his warmth. She appreciated the fact that he admired her talent and business savvy. He made her nervous and relaxed at the same time – the paradox of a crush in motion.

Chapter 8

         Luckily, Clara had just finished baking a fresh batch of desserts when the café ran out of cupcakes at noon.

“I can’t believe we sold out already.  The case was full this morning.”

“We get a lot of lunch traffic and who can resist a cupcake with their peppermint mocha.”

“I have another batch of cupcakes in the oven, in the meantime we have fresh raspberry crumble tarts and Santa Cookie mini cakes.”

“I might have to steal a tart – that gooey raspberry filling is too hard to resist.”

“As long as you pay for it first,” Clara teased.

“I know you are busy, but would you be interested in helping me with an event on Friday?”

“Sure, give me the details.”

“I’m on the Historical Architecture Board and we are hosting a Christmas open house at the historic Thornton House. I am going to be serving coffee and hot cocoa on the grounds. I could use some help and baked goods?”

“I love the Thornton House, what a gorgeous property. I used to volunteer there in high school with my mom.”

“Wow, small world.”

“Outside of baking and cupcake sales, I’m a huge history buff.”

“Another thing we have in common.”

“I could make a spiced carrot cake to serve Friday. We can sell the slices and would be easy to serve.”

Lexie, a high school senior, who works as a part time barista walked into the conversation.

“Hey! Wow, I can see why Matt was so hyped for your baking.  Those desserts look like they came from the North Pole.”

“I saved you a test santa cookie.”

“I’d love to bake with you sometime – can you teach me how not to burn my cupcakes. I’m great with a painter’s palette but I burn everything in the kitchen.”

“Baking is just another form of art, you’ll catch on.” Clara encouraged. “What I want to learn is how to make the peppermint latte.”

“That’s easy,” Lexie shrugged. “I’ll show you.”

“You two have fun. I’ve got to run to a firm meeting,” Matt noticed the time. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Chapter 9:

Clara spent the evening watching Carolina basketball and Hallmark movies while finishing up an order of Winter Spice cupcakes.

Word of mouth spread quickly, especially with Emily and Lucy handling cupcake ‘PR.’ Clara had two dozen orders through New Year’s Eve.

“I am grateful for the business, but I don’t want to overbook myself,” Clara eyeing her calendar. “I can offer bulk orders on standard goods like cookies or Nutcracker Sweet cupcakes. That was I can bake in bulk without losing quality control. We can sell them at Soulful Java and that way Matt and I both benefit.”

Looking at her balance sheet, Clara was shocked that in only a few short days she generated enough cupcake revenue to pay the bulk of her mortgage payment.

“Thank you, God, for this opportunity.” She expressed gratitude as she whipped up the special-order batch of Sugar Plum cupcakes her sister’s book club ordered.


         “Thanks for looking after Lucy and Becca today,” Emily hugged her sister as she entered their cozy brick ranch. “Usually I have Thursdays off, but I have a staging at 11 a.m.”

         Emily is an interior designer who started a staging business with her realtor husband.

         “Don’t thank me, sis, you know I love spending time with Lucy and her friend, Becca.”

         “How are things going with Matt?”

         “Cupcakes are selling out and we have a good business plan. I’m glad you and Lucy pushed me to start my own side business.”

         “I’m proud of your baking success, but how are things with Matt? He is drop-dead gorgeous and obviously is attracted to you.”

         “Matt is a nice guy, but it is strictly business.”

         “You know you like him,” Emily teased. “You get that lovelorn flicker in your eye when you talk about him.”

         “Give it a break, Em,” Clara rolled her eyes.

         “It wouldn’t hurt to put up the mistletoe in the coffee shop, just in case.”

         Before Clara could plan a retort, Lucy ran into the room. 

         “Aunt Clara!!!”

         “Hey Luce, you ready for a Christmas decorating party?”

         “Beyond excited! Samantha and I painted ornaments last night to help decorate.” Lucy and her doll were wearing matching Christmas outfits with light up ornament necklaces.

         “I love your holiday spirit.”

         They arrived on the tail end of morning run hour. The coffee line stretched to the door.

         “Busy morning!” Clara caught Matt’s attention.

         “With the frosty weather outside everyone is in the mood for a winter latte.” Matt had been manning the register; his morning baristas were rushing around like mad elves as they brewed cup after cup of coffee. “Becca is in the office making paper angels.”

         “I figured we’d start decorating once the rush hour calms down a bit,” Clara accessed. “Do you need help with the register?”

         “I appreciate the offer, but you and the girls can prep the Christmas cheer.” Matt instructed in between customers. “You can check the inventory in the bakery case.”

         “You sold out of cupcakes already?” Clara’s jaw dropped.

         “We need to triple our order to keep up with the demand– your sweets are a huge hit.”

         “Fortunately, I have another dozen cupcakes in the kitchen – hopefully, that will tide you over until this afternoon.”

         Becca and Lucy suggested a polar express theme.

         “This is the coffee express,” Becca giggled as she hung a cupcake ornament on the shop’s Christmas tree. “I drew a picture of a polar bear drinking hot cocoa. Uncle Matt makes the best hot chocolate – it is so creamy.”

         “Soulful Java is the official hot cocoa station for Santa,” Clara smiled as she placed a north pole sign by the coffee counter. “Which makes you honorary elves.”

         “Really?” The girls’ eyes lit up like Rudolph’s nose.

         While the girls continued to hang the ornaments, Clara tracked down Matt for a refill on her coffee.

         “It feels like the North Pole in here…the only thing missing is snow,” Matt complimented.

         “I have an idea I’d like to run past you.”


         “Since Soulful Java’s is the official hot cocoa of the North Pole, wouldn’t it be cool to schedule a meet and greet with Santa. It could be a hot cocoa event – I know you’d get a ton of business -plus it would be fun for families.”

         “It’s a great idea – but St. Nick has a busy schedule. How do you propose get him here before Christmas?” Matt chose his words carefully with Becca and Lucy within an earshot.

         “Let’s just say I have some North Pole connections.”


         After taking Lucy and Becca to lunch at BLT’s a neighborhood deli, she taught the girls how to make Christmas confetti cupcakes.

         “We are going to mix the vanilla cake then we’ll add in the Christmas sprinkles.” Clara poured the batter into the cupcake cups. Within fifteen minutes the moist batch of cupcakes emerged from the oven.

         Lucy and Becca had fun decorating their cupcakes, while Clara worked on a reindeer red icing adorned with soft peppermint sticks.

         Becca’s mom the girls up just after two.

         “I’m Tracy, Matt’s sister.” Matt’s elder sister was tall, at least 5’10 with an athletic build. “It is a treat to meet you in person. Matt loves collaborating with you.” Tracy suspected Matt’s crush on Clara, but she did not bring it up.

         “He really saved the day,” Clara brought Tracy up to speed on her job situation.

         “God blessed both of you – your cupcakes have helped drive business to the coffee shop.” Tracy thoughtful. “Matt has given his all to this shop, but he works so many hours between Soulful Java and his architecture practice.”

         “He knows coffee and this shop is a heartbeat in the community.”

         “I can see that now, but I have to admit I worry about him. I’m glad he has a side kick to help him on the business side now.”

         “I wouldn’t go that far – I’m just helping out.”

         “Thanks Clara,” Becca and Lucy gave her a hug. “We had so much fun.”

         “You are the best elves in town. Have fun at the children’s museum.”


         “Hopefully, this is enough treats to get you through tomorrow.” Clara filled the display case.

         “Words cannot express how grateful I am for your help.  The shop looks like a winter wonderland and sales are way up.”

         “They may buy the cupcakes but remember they come for the coffee…speaking of which I would love an espresso.”

         “On the house.”

         “I’ve got to run,” Clara noticed the time.

         “What are you up to tonight?” Matt asked, hoping she did not have a date.

“I have Bible study on Thursday nights. We’re focusing on Isaiah during Advent.”

“That’s awesome – we have a men’s breakfast at my church once a month – I supply the coffee.”

“Coffee is one of God’s great graces,” Clara’s nose crinkled up as she smiled.

“See you tomorrow.”

Chapter 9

         The sweet aroma of sugar and spice filled Clara’s kitchen as she pulled out her pumpkin gingerbread muffins. She drizzled the muffins with her secret cream cheese glaze.

         “It smells like Santa’s kitchen in here.” Emily let herself in, noticing the well-organized prep and packaging center. “Your condo looks like the Keebler elves factory.”

         “I’ve been baking harder than Mrs. Claus and the Buddy the Elf combined,” Clara responded mixed her cupcake batter for her next batch of sweets. Her apron was covered in flour and sugar. “I’ve baked four dozen cookies, 56 cupcakes and a batch of muffins since six a.m.”

         “Need any help? Lucy’s shopping for gifts with her dad. I’m happy to lend a hand, just give me an apron.”

         “Would you be willing to make a few deliveries?”

         “You don’t trust me in the kitchen?” Emily teased, recognizing her lack of baking skills. “Sure, I can deliver a few orders.”

         “You are a lifesaver! I should be caught up with all my orders in an hour, giving me just enough time to change and get ready to meet Matt at the Thorne House.”

         “A date with Matt – sounds like Clara has met her nutcracker prince.”

         “Oh, shut up,” Clara rolled her eyes. “If you must know, I’m helping Matt sell coffee and cupcakes at the Thorne House Christmas Open House fundraiser tonight.  He volunteers with their foundation”

         “Don’t they host weddings there?”

         “It’s one of the oldest houses in the city and each year they host a Christmas Open House to raise money for the foundation,” Clara ignored her sister’s wedding bell comment. “You and the family should come. We’ll be serving coffee and hot cider with sweet treats. The open house features a dozen booths with fun family activities about the history of the house.”

         “That’s right up your alley – you love history and architecture.”

         “It should be fun and will provide free publicity for the coffee shop.”

         “I’m glad your passion for baking is turning into a lucrative holiday business,” Emily bit her lip. She was torn – on one side she was grateful that her sister was able to take a much-needed break from the corporate work; on the flipside, Emily was concerned about the long-term stability of a baking business.”

         “It is all thanks to Lucy – she is the brains behind the operation,” Clara averred. “She is my CIO – Chief Idea Officer.”

         “I am lucky to have two smart and beautiful gals like you and Lucy in my life,” Emily began to load the boxes in her car. “Make sure to bundle up tonight it is going to be chilly.”

         “Perfect weather for hot cocoa and gingerbread cupcakes.”

         Putting the last batch of sweets in the oven, Clara set the timer and started boxing up the next set of orders.  She felt gratification each time she tagged her logo on the box. 

         “If this is going to work past Christmas, I need to rely on repeat customers – especially for birthdays and seasonal events.” Clara recognized a lot of her success was tied to holiday demand for treats.  She wondered if she’d have a market for her business beyond the coffee shop once January rolled around.

         She had submitted several resumes with top tech companies, but admittedly her job search had been on pause with her new side business.

         With her daily orders completed, Clara showered and changed out of her baking gear.  She knew the Thorne House event with Matt was still business, but she couldn’t help but feel like a giddy schoolgirl as she picked out her outfit.  “I’m trying too hard,” she acquiesced after trying on four outfits.

         She settled on a pair of deep plum-colored cords, flannel and snowflake sweater with her burgundy winter jacket. She topped off her ensemble with a silver and gold scarf Emily had given her last Christmas.

         “Meow,” Pumpkin spice rubbed against her leg.

         “Hey sweet kitty,” she knelt to pet her cat, who rolled around begging for attention. “Love you, but I’ve got to run. I’ve still got four orders to deliver before I meet Matt.”

         “Meow,” Pumpkin spice slow-blinked – a cat kiss.

         “Dog’s may be man’s best friend, but cats are a lady’s fur-ever friend.”  

Chapter 10:

         “Have a sweet Christmas,” Clara, wearing her light up Santa hat, spread cheer as she dropped off each delivery.

         “My book club is going to devour these,” Sara Myer, a friend of Stella’s salivated over the vanilla cupcakes with glitter snow frosting.”

         “I hope they enjoy every bite.” Clara heart raced with excitement of serving another satisfied customer. “I also included a sample of Reindeer coffee from Soulful Java.”

         “I love their coffee; I wish they’d open another location closer to our neighborhood. It is hard for me to get downtown with work and the kids afterschool activities.”

         “I’ll mention the feedback to Matt.”

Mulling over Sara’s comment, a lightbulb went off in Clara’s head.  While Soulful Java’s downtown location is in a bustling neighborhood, Sara was right that it was hard to frequent unless you worked downtown or were in the area for a specific event. 

“I have an idea…”  Clara struggled to hide her excitement as she rushed downtown, her smile brighter than the north star.


         The Thorne House is in heart of downtown’s historic Oak Hollow District of Bedford Springs.  The stately Victorian mansion is one of the finest examples of Second Empire Victorian in the southeast. 

         “Hi frosty,” Matt gave Clara the nickname because she is apt to be covered in frosting and she is ‘sweeter than sugar.’ “You look radiant. I love your scarf.”

         “Emily made it for me – she is the seamstress and I’m the baker.” Clara wrinkled her nose. “I have a great idea I want to share with you, but first let’s set up our booth, the crowds will show up soon.”

         The Christmas open house included several local food and crafts vendors. The house was impeccably decorated with wreaths, lighted candles and a dozen Christmas trees.  The highlight of the event included historic holiday themed house tours.

         “We’re open for business,” Clara welcomed their first customers with a ho-ho-ho laugh. “Come try our hot cocoa – it is the official drink of the North Pole.”

         The crowds gathered quickly – hungry for cupcakes and hot holiday drinks. Clara and Matt barely had a chance to breath as they served the never-ending line for the next two hours.

         “Wow what a night, we are completely out of hot cocoa and cider…” Clara inventoried.

         “And only a few cups of coffee left in the carafe.” Matt grinned. “And even better – we sold a ton of inventory – coffee, tee-shirts and of course cupcakes.”

         “Cheers to a successful night,” Clara counted the till. “The best part is all the profits go to help the Thorne House.”

“We make a winning team,” As Matt’s eyes locked with Clara’s he noticed a sliver of blue specks in her green eyes.

“Speaking of which, I have an idea I wanted to run by you.”

“I’m all ears, frosty.”

Clara paused to collect her thoughts. “I think you should consider expanding the Soulful Java brand outside of the downtown headquarters.”

“You mean expand to multiple locations?” Matt couldn’t hide skepticism. “That is not in the plan now.  Soulful Java is about community and fostering a downtown renaissance of sorts.”

“I completely agree –you don’t need to expand brick and mortar locations right now. I love the character and charm of the shop’s downtown location – is it part of the city’s ‘soul,’” Clara grabbed the last bag of coffee beans and handed it to Matt. “I think you should consider selling your coffee roasts at other local retailers.”

Clara explained her conversation with Sara and the advantages of selling the beans in area gift shops and groceries.

“That is a good idea,” Matt thought it over. “Of course, we want to the shop to be the preferred point of sale, but not everyone can get downtown during the week.  Other local coffee shops sell their beans at local stores like Season’s Fine Foods. It would drive extra revenue.”

“And as new coffee lovers are introduced to your amazing java then they will flock downtown,” Clara predicted.

“I’m beginning to think I should hire you as my marketing director.”

“I don’t know if you can afford me,” Clara teased. “Seriously though, I am enthusiastic about helping Soulful Java thrive…I don’t want to step on your toes, but I have some other ideas if you’re interested.”

“Keep going…” Matt leaned in with interest.

“I think you should consider selling your coffee online.”

“Actually, I do sell my coffee roasts and other merchandise on the website.”

“Which is a good start, but you can build on that.” Matt could see the passion in Clara’s eyes for his business.  “Have you heard of a coffee exchange or coffee subscription service like Trade?”

“I’ve seen it advertised in Java Daily and a few other industry websites, but I haven’t had time to give it much thought,” Matt shrugged. Between his architecture firm and running Soulful Java he had not had done much with marketing.  He appreciated having her as a sidekick. Even if deep down he knew she would eventually have to cut back on her commitment once she found a new full time tech sales job.

“You should consider signing up as a vendor. I did my research, and it is painless to set-up.” Clara explained. “My friend Lindsey clued me into subscription coffee. She receives a random roast from various independent coffee shops each month directly at her doorstep.  She said is a great way to learn about different roasters and if she really likes a brand, she reorders it time and again.”

“It is an intriguing idea. I’d love to try it out, if you’ll help me.” Matt’s crooked grin left Clara speechless for a minute.  She pushed back her romantic feelings.

“Mind if I explore the grounds and check out the other vendors for fifteen minutes?”

“Of course,” Matt encouraged as he boxed up the last of their supplies. “When you get back, I’d love to give you a private tour of the Thorne.”  He offered, aware that Clara wanted to see the interior decorations.

“Sounds like a plan.”

Clara felt like a million bucks as she perused the neighboring booths.  As much as she enjoyed tech sales, working with Matt, and creating a business plan to grow her baking business alongside his coffee shop excited her more than anything she had done in her career.

“If only it could last, but I know I need to get into career path beyond sugar and frost.” Clara breathed in the crisp December air, silently praying to the Holy Spirit for direction.

As she eyed a collection of handmade pottery, Clara bumped headfirst into her old boss.

“Uggh,” her stomach tied up in knots like barbed twine.

“Miss. Keene, it is so good to see you,” Bob Fairchild, CEO of Data Dot sounded friendly on the surface, but she could sense the strained robotic undertones.

‘Years of my life to this creep!’ It took prayer to keep her from lashing out at the man who personally oversaw the company layoffs.

“Mr. Fairchild,” Clara pressed her lips so hard they started to turn purple.

“I am so sorry we had to let you go. You are a true talent, and you will land on your feet quickly. My door is always open if you need a reference.”

Clara had gone over all the revenge filled tirades she wanted to say to Fairchild since her layoff but put them on ice.

“I have the enterprise and fortitude to exceed anywhere.  In fact, this fork in the road has given me the opportunity to start my own baking business and of course I’ll land in another tech job soon enough.”

“I didn’t realize you were the ‘Clara’ behind ‘Clara’s cupcakes and sweets,’” Fairchild was genuinely perplexed, as was Clara.  How did he know about her cupcakes? “I tried one at the Landon’s Christmas Party last night.”

The Landon’s were friends of her parents, who through a big holiday fundraiser for the science museum every Christmas.  Mrs. Landon asked Clara to provide 48 cupcakes for the fundraiser.

“You and your wife endowed the new science wing earlier this year,” Clara acknowledged. While their donation was commendable it seemed shortsighted given the fact that Data Dot announced it was on the verge of bankruptcy several months later.

“Your cupcakes are excellent – I know it is late notice, but would you be willing to cater dessert for the Data Dot holiday party.”

‘Is he for real?’ Clara wanted to knock sense into him. He had just laid her and hundreds of employees off right before Christmas and was talking about catering the holiday party to said laid off employee.

“I appreciate the consideration, but I am booked up through the holiday.” Clara rushed off before the conversation could continue further. “It felt good to tell that jerk I own my own business.” Clara would not let this rotten Grinch spoil her Christmas cheer.

“Clara, wait up,” Matt spotted her by the twelve-foot Frazier fir Christmas tree. “I got you some peppermint bark from the Cacao Chocolate booth.” Cacao is a locally owned confectionery known for their homemade candies. Clara and Matt used Cacao’s peppermint sticks at Soulful Java.

“My favorite,” Clara savored the sweet chocolatey treat.

Matt enjoyed giving Clara a private tour of the expansive Thorne Manor.

“The manor was built in 1879 by Dr. Elias Thorne as a wedding gift for his bride Rebecca Samuels. It has twelve bedrooms, three bathrooms, not to mention a music and game room, sitting and formal rooms.” Matt led Clara through the winding house, with its thick stone and cedar walls with ornate carvings and detail work.

“The stained-glass windows in the music room are heavenly,” Clara eyes wide with adoration as she looked at the beautiful waterfall designed panels.

“The windows are house’s most prized treasure.  They were designed by Tiffany studios.  It’s a miracle they are in such decent shape honestly.”

“I am blown away by the society’s stunning restoration of the house,” Clara admitted.  “I remember when the Thorne house was nearly condemned when I was in high school.  I’m so grateful for the investment in restoring it to its former glory.”

“It is a work in progress, but the architectural society has a lot of great plans to continue to weave Thorne into the community with tours and serving as a venue.”

The pair narrowly avoided the mistletoe as they stood by the garland adorned grand staircase.

“Follow-me upstairs,” Matt locked hands with Clara as he led her up the winding staircase to the interior balcony. “There is a secret passage if you unlock this door.” Matt turned a stone lion head, which surprisingly led to a narrow passage to what had been the family library.

“Wow, I feel like I stepped into a fairytale or mystery.”

“I feel like I’ve been living one with you,” Matt couldn’t believe how sappy he sounded. “I mean your cupcakes have turned the business around.”

“Right,” Clara blushed.  Both wanted to tell the other they were feeling the attraction of a winter romance but were too cool to compromise their business relationship just yet. “Thank you for taking a chance on me.  After losing my job – it’s been a true Christmas miracle.”

“We can be thankful for each other,” Matt leaned in.  “I want to show you something special, if you look at the fireplace – you’ll notice remnants of hand painted tile in a folk-art design.”

“It’s gorgeous.”

“Fun fact, my great-great grandfather was the assistant architect on the Thorne House and hand-picked those tiles from Seagrove.”

“You have a deep connection to this house and the community.” Clara intrigued. “It sounds like architecture is in your genes.”

“I’ve always had a passion for design and creating spaces that people love – to me it is about community, and I want to create places that provide community experience.  That’s why I opened Soulful Java.  The city wanted to tear down the historic building and knew if we could drive local businesses to the district, it would turn things around.  Soulful Java was born.”

The pair continued to chat as they toured the remainder of the house.  Matt explained that his architecture background and what got him hooked on coffee. Clara spilled the beans on her journey into software sales and her lifelong love of baking.

“I know it’s getting late, but are you hungry?” Matt inquired.  “There is an amazing all-night diner around the corner.”

“Metro Corner Diner? I love their food!” Clara had to admit her stomach was growling, plus she didn’t mind spending extra time with Matt.

“Perfect, my treat!”

Click here for Part III

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