Stealing the Glass Slipper

by Rachel Anne Jones

Stealing the Glass Slipper by Rachel Anne Jones
Native Wisconsin Sheri Mallo is a librarian whose only adventures happen between the pages of the mystery section. When an old friend from college unexpectedly passes, Sheri’s world is shaken. She vows to make a few life changes. With a little encouragement from her best friend, Jenni, Sheri decides to move to Alaska just in time for Christmas, her favorite holiday!

Randall Graham is a full-time Alaskan fireman who enjoys serving his community from a distance in his own way. Christmas is creeping up on him. As usual he’s all out of holiday cheer. Between the sentimental music and everyone’s Christmas merriment, all it does is remind Randall he’s all alone.

When Randall discovers a sleeping Sheri tucked beneath the covers on the top floor of a falling-down firetrap excuse of a house, a little mistletoe magic threatens to take him out at the knees. Marriage is the last thing on Randall’s mind, but seasoned Sheri won’t settle for anything less than a ring. With such different ideas, will either of them find love this Christmas?

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Release Date: October 31, 2023
Genre: Contemporary Romance

A White Satin Romance


Chapter One

Sheri Mallo sits in an unforgiving chair in the basement of the church she grew up in, willing herself to focus solely on embroidering a pinpoint, chocolate-brown sunflower seed just like the twenty-two others beside it. But who’s counting?

“Are you counting, Sheri? They have to be exactly the same.”

Sheri turns toward Gladys Knight and her sharp tone. Gladys may as well be Weezer from Steel Magnolias, which is the church lady’s favorite movie despite its release date and borderline sacrilegious language. The movie’s only redemption is Dolly Parton, Sheri figures. After all, if you can’t love Dolly, who can you love?

“Yes, Gladys, I’m counting,” Sheri answers while trying to hold in a smirk at the thought of Gladys going over their quilt squares with her bifocals and counting every single stinking sunflower seed in the center of every single sunflower to ensure its conformity to uniformity.

Gladys clicks her tongue. “Well, we certainly can’t have a repeat of last year. That would be a travesty.”

“What happened last year?” Raine, the only teenager in the group, asks in an innocent, naïve tone that’s about to be destroyed.

Gladys lays down her embroidery, does an extremely dramatic eye roll, and sets her laser-beam stare on Raine, who, to her credit, does not flinch in the line of fire. “Our quilting group was disqualified for unknowingly using a semi-professional to apply their quilt backing to a quilt they worked two years on.” Her voice breaks.

Sheri ducks her face to cover her embarrassment.

“It was the first time we had ever entered the Flying Bees Quilt Competition in Kentucky,” Gladys states as solemn and sacred as the Declaration of Independence, “because some shirttail relative of Rosie’s,” she practically shouts, “who lives down South,” she mutters beneath her breath like it’s a dirty word before clearing her throat, “told Rosie we were a sure win.”

Gladys sticks her almost nonexistent nose in the air. “It was nothing short of a disgrace. I’ve never been so mortified in all my life. We are from Wisconsin, a northern state. We had no business entering a Kentucky quilting competition.” Gladys eyeballs everyone in the circle as if daring anyone to object.

Sheri follows her challenging glare as it circles the room, aiming at every ducked head, except for one smiling face.

Rosie shows no shame. “It was just a snafu, Gladys. No need to get your girdle in a twist,” Rosie pops off and giggles while the rest of the circle holds their breath.

Gladys shifts in her seat.

Rosie continues. “We have all made a pact to do our very best to enter another quilt into the same contest as soon, and as correctly, as possible. We will clear the tarnish on our good name and put the dreadful debacle behind us. It’ll all come out in the wash. You’ll see.”

“Well, I wasn’t aware this decision was officially made. After all, I’m not on the quilting committee. Was it put to a vote?” Sherlene questions as she stands up so fast that no one can answer. “Excuse me,” Sherlene announces as she walks out.

“You wash your hands when you get back,” Gladys calls.

The outside door slams in answer.

Rosie gives Gladys the stink eye over the top of her bifocals. “Must you say that every time?”

Gladys’s chin lifts even higher. Sheri didn’t think that was possible.

“I will not have our prize-winning quilt smellin’ like cigarettes and havin’ yellow stains from her tainted fingertips.”

Rosie’s gaze falls on Sheri, who doesn’t duck fast enough. “Anything new with you, Sheri? How’s your love life? Are you still as dusty as a library bookshelf?” Rosie shoots Sheri an earnest smile, the only thing that keeps Sheri from despising Rosie and her nosy ways.

Gladys clears her throat, and Sheri wishes she would have said something—anything.

“Purity is a virtue, Rosie, but I don’t expect you to understand that,” Gladys states.

“I’m fine, thank you,” Sheri manages to get out, but it’s barely above a whisper and certainly not loud enough for two old women with hearing aids to hear or acknowledge.

Sheri supposes there are things more humiliating than sitting on a metal chair in the middle of her quilting hobby and being recognized as probably the only virgin in the room, but she doesn’t know what. She opens her mouth to speak up and shut Rosie down, but Rosie’s already started on her favorite subject: a sickeningly sweet, barely appropriate trip down memory lane of her marriage to Walter, a former war veteran who apparently picked up more skills than just firing a gun as a young marine in Italy. Sheri bites her tongue to keep from giving Rosie a smart retort.

“I hear you, Rosie,” Leslie interjects in a firm, but kind, manner.

Sheri breathes a sigh of relief. Rosie’s descriptions of her and Walter’s fun times border on soft porn, something Sheri would rather not hear from an eighty-five-year-old woman in TED hose and bifocals.

“I don’t know what I’d do without my dear Frank,” Leslie croons.

Deb catches Sheri’s gaze in her crosshairs. “I agree.” Deb’s eyes light up. “Sheri, how do you not feel so terribly lonely?”

Her question is an honest one, and Sheri knows Deb thinks she’s being kind, but Sheri has had enough.

Sheri glances over at her best friend, Jenni, whose eyes scream, “Proceed with caution.” Sheri clears her throat and addresses the would-be compliment from Rosie regarding Sheri’s chastity. She didn’t know her virtue was going to be on display like a lit-up neon sign hanging over her head shouting, “No Business Here—Keep It Moving.” She could have done without Deb’s not-so-subtle pity of her being single.

“You know what they say,” Sheri mutters as she skims her phone screen and shares the latest post by the local football coach. “‘It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.’” Sheri reads these words aloud as a healthy reminder to curb her bad attitude as of late and her sense of restlessness.

Sheri wonders if it is because she is basically past the age of bearing her own children or if it is the fact that she hasn’t had a serious boyfriend in literally twelve years. Rom-coms, bags of pretzels, and hot cocoa can only do so much to fill the emptiness of her living room couch cushion. “How’s the baby?” Sheri asks Jenni with a forced Rainbow Brite tone as she begs Jenni with her eyes to save her from further awkwardness.

Jenni pats her ever-growing stomach. “Do you mean this one or my three lovelies at home?”

Sheri gives her a wry smile. “Either,” she responds.

Jenni sighs. “Well, my feet aren’t swelling quite as bad this time. I think it’s because my other three were born in the summer, but this time we managed to get that part right. I’m so relieved this baby is due in February. We may even get a Valentine’s Day baby. Wouldn’t that be adorable?”

Sheri returns a smile to her best friend and pushes away her envy, which is somewhat new and ridiculous. It’s not Jenni’s fault Sheri hasn’t met Mr. Right. Or that ever since she turned forty-two years ago, she feels like she’s standing closer and closer to a fault line attached to a pit of loneliness that’s going to open up and swallow her whole any day now. Sheri shakes her head at the thought of being forever cursed to remain the town librarian whose only date on a Saturday night is a good book.

“Yes. A Valentine’s Day baby would be the cutest thing ever,” she responds.

Jenni’s slightly swollen fingers struggle with the needle. “It’ll be nice to have my last baby right after I turn thirty. That has always been our family plan.”

Her words linger in Sheri’s covetous ears. She chokes on her bitterness as she pastes on a smile and meets her best friend’s eye. So what if Jenni is living the dream while Sheri is stuck being the imaginary, chaste twin sister of Bridget Jones who seems all too happy to let life happen? At least one of them is content. Maybe that’s my problem, Sheri thinks to herself before coming to the conclusion that she’s not much of a planner. She kind of goes with the flow, which seems to work most of the time. It’s just lately she feels as if she’s a canoe with one oar in the lake of life, turning in circles that lead to nowhere.

Lettie sits beside her. She grabs a hold of Sheri’s wrist with her gnarled hands, which are a wonder. Lettie may have the most crooked knuckles in the quilting group, but she sews the straightest stitches.

“It’s a shame you don’t have a sister or brother, dear. I never married either, but I always had my sister, Clara. She and I were both teachers. We loved to talk about our students. I miss Clara every day, but I’ve got lots of great memories to keep me company until I see her again.”

Sheri glances over at little Lettie, who grows shorter by the day, no thanks to her losing battle with osteoporosis. Sheri loves Lettie’s floral dresses, little stocking-clad legs, and tan Eccos. Lettie’s bright blue eyes sparkle and shine behind her spectacles. Lettie may be ninety-two, but her youthful spirit suggests otherwise.

“I’ve always had so much respect for teachers. It takes a special person to love each child for who they are,” Sheri tells her.

Lettie laughs a little. “Back in my day, if you had a little whippersnapper who got out of line, you just straightened them up with a good knuckle rap. You can’t do that today. That’s for darn sure. Someone’s liable to call the cops. But some kids need a little tough love.”

Sheri holds in her laughter as she catches Raine’s eyes widen, followed by a strange sound before she hunches over her embroidering even more as if to shield herself from Lettie’s barbs. Sheri has a sneaking suspicion Raine did some fast talking with the local Judge Jones and talked him into letting her serve her community service with the quilting women instead of picking up cans on the side of the highway under the supervision of the local sheriff’s department. Raine had the misfortune to be the only one in a group of kids who got caught down at the local park setting fires in the bathroom trash cans.

Sheri glances in Raine’s direction again. She thinks Raine’s just a kid who got caught up in the wrong crowd. Sheri hopes she starts heading in the right direction soon.

Lettie leans in toward Sheri and points a bent finger at Raine. “That little missy over there, she could use a good knuckle rap.”

Sheri coughs a little too loudly. She wonders if Lettie knows how loud she’s speaking. Sheri notices Raine has the good sense to duck and keep her eyes on her stitching.

Sheri sighs as she sits in her chair and looks around the room. She knows she has a lot to be thankful for: a wonderful family, a great group of friends, her dream job as a librarian in her hometown, and her most recent coveted position of backup alto in the church choir.

“It’s a shame, dear, that they took you away from singing solos. I thought maybe some man might notice you standing front and center,” Kathy, ever the hopeless romantic, shouts out from across the room at Sheri.

Sheri manages a smile. “Thank you, Kathy, but I love singing backup. It takes the pressure off. I’ve never been a fan of singing solos.”

“How are you going to catch a man, dear, if you’re too happy being a wallflower?” Rosie saucily shouts at Sheri, seconding Kathy’s unwanted advice.

Sheri tries to think of a polite way to tell Rosie she shines enough for the whole quilting group with her new fashion statement, which happens to be sparkles everywhere, a theme inspired by her favorite grandchild’s bedazzler.

Sheri clams up while wondering how the conversation that she didn’t start turned on her so fast. First, they were praising her for holding strong to her virtue, and now they’re accusing her of not putting herself out there.

Jenni clears her throat. “I’ll certainly miss your solos, Sheri, but you make a wonderful backup singer. You’re such a great encourager, and you have a wonderful listening ear.”

Sheri gives Jenni a small smile and a silent blessing. Jenni may be twelve years younger than Sheri, but she’s been a fantastic friend. At least she understands why Sheri was never so relieved when they took her off front—and center—in front of the mic after seven months of pure torture. Sheri’s anxiety over being on the main mic got so bad she felt like she was about to start popping Xanax—with the approval of the local doctor, of course.

Sheri wasn’t about to start purchasing them from her over-the-road, truck-driving neighbor, whose gutters get more in-and-out action than a coffee shop drive-through on a Monday morning. His rooftop may as well be the North Pole for all the mysterious packages that appear—and disappear—from his roof, which has as much traffic as the Panama Canal Zone at 5:30 a.m. Sheri wouldn’t have noticed this strange phenomenon if she weren’t such an early riser, but insomnia seems to be another after-forty perk she’s acquired.

“Did you hear Daniel Post passed away?” Sally, the doomsdayer of the group, calls out from her corner of the circle.

Sheri drops her quilt square on the floor. Suddenly, there’s not enough air in the room. She leans over and attempts to put her head between her knees. A half second later, she slowly sits up and tries to hold back her unexpected tears. Daniel Post was her best friend all through high school and college, not to mention her standby husband. She and Daniel once had a few too many bottles of wine together on a rare occasion in college, as Sheri’s always been a “boring girl,” and tipsy is all she’s ever been. She and Daniel agreed that if neither of them found happiness by the age of forty, they would marry each other.

“I’m sorry,” Jenni mouths at Sheri right before Sheri lays down her quilt square and heads for the bathroom.

Just before Sheri flips the lock on the single-toilet bathroom, Jenni throws the door open wide. “I’m sorry, Sheri. I was going to tell you. I just haven’t found the right words to say. It all happened so fast. He had cancer, and they didn’t find it until it was too late. They only gave him weeks.”

Sheri slides down the wall. She feels ridiculous, but she’s unable to stop her own pity party. She hasn’t heard from Daniel in years—she can’t explain the sense of loss that has come over her. Sheri didn’t exactly try to keep in touch, but knowing her default marriage choice is no longer a choice feels so hopeless.

“I didn’t know, Jenni. I had no idea. If I had known, I would have called him up. I would’ve gone to see him,” Sheri laments.

Jenni leans against the wall of the bathroom. “I know, Sheri. I know you would have. These things happen for a reason you know.”

Sheri looks up at Jenni from the floor. “Is this your way of telling me I’ll definitely never have a husband—like ever?”

Jenni rolls her eyes. “You heard me say Daniel passed, right?”

Sheri buries her head in her hands. “Yes. I wonder why he didn’t tell me he was sick.”

Jenni side-eyes her best friend. “Maybe he was afraid you would make him hold up his end of the marriage deal from his deathbed.”

Sheri ducks her head in embarrassment. “I suppose that’s fair.” She looks up at her best friend. “I’m so glad you know me so well and love me anyway.”

Jenni gives Sheri a wink. “Remember that if you ever decide to sell your beautiful monstrosity of a house that’s just begging to have my children’s handprints all over its pristine walls.”

Sheri studies Jenni a second too long. She considers her best friend’s words. She snaps her fingers. “I think you’re on to something. You need a bigger house, and I need a change of scenery.” Sheri nods her head. “I need it like yesterday.” She closes her eyes again. “I can’t take another Christmas alone.”

Jenni coughs. “You have me.”

Sheri looks up at her. “You know what I mean.” Sheri slaps the floor. “I’m forty-two years old. Forty-two! It’s time for me to start taking control of my life. If I don’t make a change now, I never will.”

Jenni closes her eyes and tilts her head to the side. “Where are you going to hypothetically go this time? Just tell me so I can start researching another place on the map. It gives me something to do while I’m awake at 2:30 a.m., wishing I could live vicariously through my unattached best friend who has the freedom to be adventurous but limits her excitement to words on a page in the action-adventure section at work.”

Sheri gives a little-kid foot stomp. “First of all, don’t knock C.J. Box and his fantastic way with words, which is the only reason I’ll ever get to be a park ranger in Montana who hunts down murderers beneath the wide-open sky or discovers inner-woman empowerment and a few hot kisses with mysterious men via Nora Roberts, the queen of romance and suspense. And secondly, I got a little lost in your tirade, but basically you’re saying I say I’ll go somewhere, but I never do because I’m too chicken to follow my dreams.”

Jenni crosses her arms on her very full stomach. “Crap or get off the pot, sister. That’s what I’m saying.”

Sheri taps her fingers on the wall. “Well, if I’m going to even think about going husband-hunting, I need to pick a place that has good odds.”

Jenni taps the side of her nose. “They say the farther South you live, the more likely you are to be married.”

Sheri sniffs. “This may be true, but I’m not moving to some backwoods hick town to marry an inbred Jed.”

Jenni waves her hands around. “Okay, okay, Wis-con-sin snob.” She claps her hands. “What about Texas? There are some pretty cute wranglers down there, I hear.”

Sheri shakes her head back and forth. “Uh-huh. Nope. Texas is on its own energy grid, and that’s just the start of its problems. I’m not about to support their views on capital punishment, not to mention their crazy gun laws.”

Jenni puts a hand to her head. “Geez. You’re not exactly making this easy on me.” She studies Sheri. “What about Maine or one of those northern states?”

Sheri frowns. “The cost of living is too high, and I hear the crime rate is not that great either.”

Jenni puts a hand on her chin. “So you’re thinking of moving to a low crime rate state that has a decent cost of living, where the men might outnumber the women, and it’s relatively quiet and low-key.”

Sheri gives an affirmative nod. “Sounds good to me.”

Jenni grins. “Then why not stay just where you are?”

Sheri side-eyes her best friend. “Because I can’t. I want to get out and see the world. I need to have a little adventure.”

Jenni raises an eyebrow. “How about Alaska?”

Sheri swallows hard. “Excuse me?”

Jenni lays a hand on her hip. “Yep. That’s my vote. It has all the characteristics you’re looking for, and it will definitely be an adventure.”

Sheri has butterflies at the thought. What does that mean? “I don’t know.”

Jenni flips the latch on the door. “You’re already used to the cold. And you’re used to the quiet. I’ll miss you, you know that, but you’re right. If you’re going to go do something, you’d better do it while you’re still relatively young and healthy. You’d better go now. Alaska may not want you otherwise. Time isn’t slowing down for any of us.” Jenni winks at her best friend. “Go get that glass slipper, girl. It’s waiting for you.”

Sheri peels herself off the floor. “You think so?” she asks, wincing at the insecurity in her voice.

Jenni gives her a big hug. “I know so. You just gotta have a little faith.”

Sheri follows Jenni back to the quilting circle, which has dispersed to the food and drink table. She picks up her square and folds up her chair to lean it against the back wall before sneaking out the door. She’s got some thinking to do.


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