Updated: Aug 29
My friend, Susan Scott Shelley and I tried to build a gingerbread house. I’ve built gingerbread houses with my kids and figured it would be easier when two grown women did it. I was wrong. If you want to see our struggles and a lot of laughing, the video is posted on our YouTube Channel, The Introverts Corner.
We also thought it would be fun to write some bonus material with Thad, Julia, and Max from Returning To Friendship, and Susan’s characters from her books Mad Scramble, Hometown Hero, Sugar Crush, and Fighting for More. Below you’ll find Thad, Julia, and Max, and to read Susan’s bonus scenes you can click on the link at the end of this post.
“Thad. Max,” Julia called while kicking off her heels and dropping her ancient messenger bag next to the entry table of their Old City brownstone.
“Jewel.” Max thundered down the steps, nearly wiping out as he slipped on the hardwood floors in his socked feet. Julia braced herself, but when the five-year-old launched into her arms, she almost landed on her butt. His squeeze around her neck was so tight she was afraid she’d blackout, but he loosened his grip and looked at her, his dark brown eyes so much like his father’s. “I missed you.”
Setting him down, she grabbed the paper Leon had given her in one hand and took Max’s hand in the other as they set off to find Thad, who, from the smell of it, was making dinner. “You just saw me this morning.”
“I know, but I can still miss you.”
Agghh. This kid and his cuteness. He really was too much. “Well, I missed you too.”
When they entered the kitchen, Thad was bent over peering into the oven. Julia let out a happy little sigh. Her husband was just too darn sexy for his own good.
“Five more minutes until dinner’s ready.” Turning, Thad pierced her with hooded eyes and stalked her. Max dropped her hand as Thad’s arms engulfed her waist. Lips to her ear, voice low and filled with promises for later, he said, “Welcome home, Jules.”
Ugh. Melting. Like a big puddle of frosting left out in the summer sun.
Frosting! She’d almost forgot.
With a quick kiss to his cheek, Julia untangled herself from her husband and waved the flyer. “Look what Leon brought in today.”
“What?” Max said while vroom, vroom, vrooming the Batmobile and a dump truck around the table.
Julia held the paper up so her boys could see.
“A gingerbread house competition?”’ Thad quirked a brow. “And all entries are to be dropped off at Bliss Bakery by tomorrow evening?”
Julia squinted at Thad and his you’ll-never-pull-it-off tone as Max jumped up and down. “Yay!
Yay! Gingerbread house! Gingerbread house!”
“So, you want to enter, Max?” Asking the question to which she already knew the answer, Julia chuckled.
“YES!” Max clapped. “Will Uncle Leon help?”
“He’ll come over after work tomorrow to see the finished product. Since I was already taking the day off because you have off from school—” Before she can finish, Max was in her arms.
“I love it when you don’t have to go to work. What about Mommy? Will she help?”
Julia’s heart splintered for this sweet little boy who had taught all of them about love and being a family. “Unfortunately, Mommy’s working a double tonight and tomorrow. She’ll need some sleep after helping bring all those new babies into the world.”
Max’s bottom lip puffed with his dissatisfaction. To avoid any unnecessary tears Julia talked faster. “But Mommy said she’d come with us on Saturday for the judging.” Julia leaned in, fake whispering, “And she said to make sure Daddy doesn’t eat all of our building supplies.”
“But we can taste some, right?”
Julia tussled Max’s blonde hair. “Of course.”
Sarah had been disappointed she wouldn’t be able to help—and truthfully, so was Julia. But Julia promised to take lots of pictures and videos, keeping Sarah updated on their progress throughout the day.
Lifting Max from Julia’s arms, Thad gave him a kiss on the temple. “Dinner’s ready, little man. Go wash your hands. We’ll make a list of what you need from the grocery store, and I’ll run out after we eat.”
This was going to be so much fun.
In yoga pants and one of Thad’s old tees, the smell of cinnamon and sugar-filled the air as Julia surveyed their creations. She and Max had baked the gingerbread parts and were waiting for the walls, roof, and extra pieces to finish cooling on the racks.
“Looks good.” Thad patted her behind and kissed the back of her neck as he passed her on the way to the coffee maker.
“How much longer until we can decorate?” Max bounced on his toes as if his excitement was more than he could contain.
“I think about another ten minutes.” Julia poured gumdrops into a cup in the muffin tin, sneaking Max one on the sly. “Why don’t you go play, and I’ll call you when they’re ready?”
“I’m going to build a Lego gingerbread house,” Max said as he scampered to the living room.
“Make sure you pick up all the Legos when you’re done,” Thad called after Max, who may or may not have been ignoring his father. “I stepped on one of those suckers last night.” He mumbled into his coffee, “Hurt like hell.”
“Poor baby.” Julia patted his cheek while she looked over her blueprints.
Okay, so they weren’t technically blueprints, but she’d printed out a design pattern that Max selected. Of course, he chose a castle. It took some work, but she talked him into settling for a smaller castle, with only four turrets. He negotiated a moat and dragons. Still, at least she wasn’t looking at trying to put together a three-foot-high monstrosity with four levels, ten turrets, and a draw bridge.
Caging her from behind, Thad’s warm lips found her neck again, sending a tingle down her spine. “I could be persuaded into taking a ten-minute break while the gingerbread is cooling, and Max is occupied.”
Flutters vibrated in her belly, and she pressed her back into the heat of her man. “It’s never just ten minutes with you.”
Not that she was complaining.
Even though she couldn’t see it, she knew his grin against the side of her throat is filled with dirty promises and seduction. “It’s hard to be quick when I want to savor every.” Kiss. “Delicious.” Kiss. “Morsel.” Kiss. “Of you.” Bite.
A surprised laugh escaped, and she smacked her husband on the chest as she spun to plant a kiss on his delectable lips. “You’re bad.”
“And you love it.” He squeezed her ass.
“I do. But Max and I have a castle to build.” She gave him another quick peck and pushed at his chest.
Thad allowed himself to be moved, grabbed his coffee mug, and pointed one of his panty-dropping looks at her. “Tonight. You, me, naked.”
Julia pushed down her want because let’s face it, tonight could not get here soon enough. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Go tell your son it’s time to build.”
An hour later, frosting speckled Max’s nose like little snowflakes, and two gobs of the white goo had landed on the front of Julia’s shirt. Ludwig was having a ball, batting gumdrops around the kitchen floor, pretzels were strewn across the table, and Julia was helping Max squeeze more frosting onto the sides of the castle.
“I have a good feeling, this time.” Standing behind Max, she guided the frosting bag while they applied a straight-ish line of frosting along the edge of the sidewall of the castle. “We just need more frosting.”
“Do you think a glue stick would work better?” He asked as he dipped his finger in a glump of icing that landed on the table, then licked it off.
“If this doesn’t work, then I say we try the glue stick.” Or maybe a hot glue gun. She had one around here somewhere.
Once every wall was covered with more frosting than one would have imagined, Julia held them, praying they would stay together this time.
“I’ll put more frosting here.” Max took a spatula and dipped it in the bowl, smothering the outside of the structure and Julia’s fingers with the sticky, white substance.
“Reinforcements are here.” Thad strode in, holding up two bags containing more tubs of icing. When he surveyed the scene, his mouth twitched. “Good thing you printed out those plans, Jules.”
Slitting her eyes, she glared at him. Her beautiful plans were now littered with M&M’s, candy canes, and you guessed it, frosting. “We don’t need the plans, do we, Max?”
“Nope.” His tongue poked out from between his lips as he opened the package of ice cream cones they were going to use for the turrets.
“I don’t think we’re ready for the turrets yet, sweetie.” Julia didn’t dare move her hands from the castle, for fear it would collapse. Again.
“I know, but I’m going to start dipping them in the chocolate, so they’re the same color as the castle.”
Oh God, the mess. This was not turning out how she anticipated. It was supposed to be fun. They were supposed to build a simple castle, and it would turn out adorable. She had blueprints for crying out loud.
Her anxiety must have shown because, skillfully, Thad took the ice cream cones and set them on the counter. “Why don’t we make some lunch while Jules holds the walls together?” He winked at her and continued, “After lunch, we’ll melt the chocolate and dip the cones.”
“Okay.” Max slid off his chair and padded to the refrigerator from which he pulled out grapes.
Thanks, she mouthed as she inhaled the confectionary scent of two tubs worth of frosting. She’d never be able to look at another birthday cake again without getting queasy at the sight of the icing coating.
Thad held up his phone. “Smile.”
“Don’t, Thad. I’m a mess.” Removing her hand from one of the walls to brush the strands of hair that had fallen from her messy bun, out of her eyes, the roof began to slide. “Nooo!” Faster than Max diving for the last brownie, Julia thrust her hand back into position, saving the castle at the last minute.
Looking up, Julia saw Thad smiling and typing. “Sarah will love this one.”
She groaned. “Don’t send her that one. She already has enough of me failing miserably in my step-mom duties.”
Thad chuckled and rubbed small circles in between her shoulder blades. “You know she and Max love you.” He kissed the top of her head. “You’re not failing. Your making memories.”
“You’re lucky my hands are occupied, or I’d punch you,” she huffed, even though his words banished all of her insecurities about being a step-mother and being a part of a blended family.
Eight hours after they began the ill-fated gingerbread house fiasco, Leon, Thad, and Julia lifted the delicate structure from the back of Thad’s SUV.
“Be careful.” Julia slid her hands under the board, noting the curb as she walked backward. “If this thing falls apart, I’m stringing you both up by your balls.”
Leon grimaced. “Geeze, Julia. I like a little kink as much as the next guy, but that’s just weird.”
“What kind of balls are your favorite, Uncle Leon?” Max appeared next to her; his question innocence personified.