Read Christmas at Evergreen Inn Online
Authors: Donna Alward
They were both more than ready when Todd climbed off the bed and reached for his pants. Flushed with desire, Lainey watched as he retrieved a condom from his pocket and tore it open. He looked down at her and she didn't say a word. She simply opened her knees in invitation.
She'd thought she was prepared, but the moment he slid inside her something changed. He hesitated, braced above her, his dark eyes nearly black in the washed-out light of the bedroom. They were joined in two places now; their bodies, his filling hers, and, she realized with awe and a little bit of fear, their hearts. This wasn't just physical. There was a connection between them, strong, and true.
And then he started moving.
Lainey couldn't fight against the assault on her senses. He was everywhere, within and without, the scent of his cologne mingled with the smell of sweat and sex, the sight of his muscles bunching with each rhythmic thrust, the sound of his seductive moan against the softness of her ear. She offered herself up for his pleasure, finding her own in his sublime command of her body, until he fastened his mouth on the tip of her breast and she came apart beneath him with a cry of release.
As her muscles went limp, he kissed her, long and slow, and she closed her eyes, unable to think straight through the blissful fog of post-climax.
But it was his turn now, and she gathered up what energy she had left and looped her legs around his back, linking her ankles.
He swore, a curse of what sounded like rough gratitude, and all she could do was hold on and marvel at his power.
Moments later they lay on the bed, the sheen of sweat drying on their skin. Lainey's limbs were gloriously weak and she knew she should move but lacked all will to do so. Todd lay beside her, and her heart turned over a little when he reached over and found her hand, folding it inside his own. “Wow,” he said softly, and she heard his sated chuckle in the darkness.
“Really? You think?” She couldn't help it, she had to tease him right now or else she'd let her emotions take over and find herself in far too deep.
He rolled to his side and she turned her head to look at him. He wasn't smiling, though, and she wondered if she'd miscalculated by being deliberately light.
“Lainey,” he said, his gaze holding hers. “IÂ â¦ Youâ¦” He sighed. “Damn. You blew my mind.”
She might have laughed except she could tell he actually meant it. There was an awe in his voice that reached in and challenged her innermost insecurities. “It was pretty incredible,” she admitted, and she rolled to her side, too, so they were facing each other. No secrets. No hiding.
They lay that way, simply looking at each other, for long minutes until they got cold. “Climb in,” she offered, getting up and turning down the covers. Maybe she should insist that he go. But she'd spent so many nights alone and she had the opportunity to have someone beside her tonight.
She swallowed tightly. “If you don't want to stay, that's okay. But if you doÂ â¦ you can. No pressure.”
He got under the covers. “Come here,” he said firmly, and she got in between the sheets as well. The moment the blankets were pulled up, he reached out and looped his arm around her waist and pulled her close, fitting his body around hers so that they were spooning.
“You feel so good,” he said. “Warm and soft and naked.” She could feel his lips turn up in a smile as he pressed his face to her shoulder.
She closed her eyes. “You feel good, too,” she answered, focusing on how his hand felt splayed against the slightly softer skin of her belly, how warm his breath was against her hair.
Lainey had missed this. Missed the closeness, the intimacy of being with a partner, trusting him to hold you through the night. That's what tonight was, she realized. Not just sex, but intimacy.
She wasn't sure she was ready for it, but she craved it all the same.
He kissed the back of her head and she relaxed in his arms. Todd hadn't just given her back Christmas. He'd given her back herself. She wasn't sure what was next, but there was time to figure everything else out tomorrow.
Todd woke before Lainey.
The room was still dark, with just enough light from the streetlight half a block away to cast shadows and let him see the angles and curves of Lainey's face. God, she was beautiful. In the grayness of predawn her tawny skin appeared even more exotic, her hair inky black as it tumbled on the pillow. Her nose was slim and fine, even elegant, and her lips were full and soft. She looked so peaceful sleeping. So trusting and innocent. As he watched, she let out a sigh and stirred a little, then tucked her hand under her cheek and slid back into oblivion, her long dark lashes resting on the very top of her cheeks.
Todd swallowed. He was hooked and he knew it. Last night had been unlike anything he'd ever experienced. It wasn't sex for fun. He didn't just like Lainey; he'd experienced a real and honest connection. Now he was in her bed, and the biggest surprise of all was that he didn't want to leave.
It just feltÂ â¦ right.
He didn't want to wake her, so he simply watched her sleep for a long time, until his eyes grew tired. As drowsiness crept in like a harbor fog, he was thinking about how today was Christmas Eve and he'd like to spend it with her.
He was almost asleep when he heard the telltale buzz of his phone, set to vibrate.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Lainey squinted against the light as she came awake. Her first thought was that she was naked beneath the sheets. The second was that she'd been with Todd and her body responded with a rush of heat.
Only Todd wasn't beside her in the bed. The sheets were rumpled and his scent was still on his pillow, but he was gone and a quick check showed his clothes were, too. Her heart froze as she heard his truck start, the sound of it fading as he drove away. She sat up in the bed, clutching the bedspread to her chest, feeling strangely adrift. He couldn't even wait to say good-bye. Or have breakfast orÂ â¦ the ache in her chest spread outward. After yesterday, she'd thought they were starting something special, something important. Instead he was just gone.
Lainey flopped back against the pillows. She reached for her phone on the side table. No messages. Damn, she'd heard of her friends being “ghosted” beforeâleft with no explanation, no contact. But she'd never had it happen to her. Even Jason had given her the bad news face-to-face.
She wanted to give Todd the benefit of the doubt, but she couldn't think of what would have prompted him to leave without at least waking her to say good-bye. She'd been stupid and gotten her hopes up yesterday. She'd ignored the cautions in the rational part of her head and had put herself out there because she thought she could trust him.
Instead she was alone. Exactly where she was before, only now it felt even emptier because she'd gotten a taste of what it was like to let someone in again.
She slipped into a fuzzy robe and wandered out into the main part of the cottage. Maybe she was jumping to conclusions. But a quick scan of the room revealed nothing. The tree sat in a corner, the lights off, the garland dull in the faded morning light. The decorations on the mantel were lifeless without a fire crackling at the grate. Todd's coat was gone; there was no indication that he'd ever actually been there except for the poinsettia sitting in the middle of the table.
Another Christmas and another romantic disaster. She should have known better than to put up a tree. To get her hopes up. Maybe it was just time to give up. On Christmas and on love.
She couldn't stand the sight of the Christmas decorations.
Lainey fought back tears as she dug out the boxes again and started putting everything away. Damn him. And damn her, too, for allowing herself to have hope. To get sucked into the holiday, buying into the idea of Christmas spirit or miracles or whatever. She'd been right in the beginning, leaving that stuff packed away. Instead of getting her hopes up, she should have left well enough alone, not gone out to dinner with him, not slept with him for God's sake.
Tablecloth, centerpiece, boughs of holly and pinecones from the mantelâall back in the box. The angel on the top of the tree packed away, ornaments pulled off and dropped into their box, garland rolled up and stuffed in a corner, mangled and twisted. She didn't care. She just wanted it gone. She shoved it all back in the storage closet, a sheen of sweat on her forehead from both lugging the boxes and the speed with which she'd completed the task. Then she threw the duvet on the floor, stripped her bed, and put the sheets in the washer. The last thing she wanted was to smell him in her sheets tonight. Instead, the scent of his cologne plus the unique scent of him rose up from the cotton and hot water, making her eyes burn.
He'd had feelings for her. He'd made no secret of that. So why the disappearing act? Because if he'd wanted to get in touch this morning, he could have sent her a text. Or phoned. Instead there was justÂ â¦ silence. The silence said everything.
She closed the lid on the washing machine and escaped to the living room where she sat on the sofa, put her elbows on her knees, and rested her head in her hands. Nothing had hurt her the way Jason's betrayal had. She'd loved him. She'd believed in him. She'd believed in them. He'd destroyed all of that, but more than that he'd ruined her confidence and he'd made her afraid. Only a fool would put herself in a position to be hurt like that again.
Fool me once,
she thought ruefully.
Except the alternative was that she would be alone forever. She just couldn't quite see herself as a crazy cat lady living alone for the rest of her life. She wanted to find that special someone. She wanted children. For the first time in several months she stopped feeling bad about it and felt mad.
Angry at Jason for doing this to her. And angry at herself for letting him. She was a hot mess of anger and sadness and yearning. Through her tears she gave a short laugh. What sort of man would be crazy enough to take that on? Maybe Todd had been the smart one after all.
The phone rang. Lainey jumped, then looked at the display. It was her mom, and Lainey knew that if she didn't answer Mom would come over to see what was going on. She worried about Lainey, particularly now since Lainey hadn't made a secret of her anti-holiday sentiments. There'd already been several calls about Christmas plans and her mom's not-so-subtle attempts to get Lainey involved in local festivities.
Lainey gave a mighty sniff, cleared her throat, and pressed the
“Good morning, sweetheart.”
“Just checking to see if you're coming for dinner before church tonight.”
Oh God, that's right. Christmas Eve was always her mom's oyster stew and fresh rolls and Yule log for dessert. Just the thought of it right now was enough to turn Lainey's stomach. “Sorry, Mom, I've got some stuff to do at the inn today while it's empty of guests.” It was the best excuse she could come up with on a moment's notice. “But I'll meet you at the church tonight.” There was no way she'd get out of the Christmas Eve service. It was tradition, even more than the oyster stew.
“Are you okay? You sound congested.” There was worry in her mom's tone. “With the storm and everything, maybe you've been working too hard. I know you were swamped.”
She prepared to lie for the second time in five minutes. “Just a bit of a cold, I guess. Nothing major.”
Just going through an emotional hurricane,
she thought, closing her eyes and shaking her head a little. She sighed inwardly. Were men really worth all this trouble?
Then she thought of how Todd had looked at her last night, and it stole her breath, even now. She wished she could say they weren't worth itÂ â¦
“Lainey? Are you still there?”
“Yes, of course. What did you say?”
“I said you should take something and go have a nap instead. Do you want me to bring over some soup or tea or something?”
The last thing she wanted was her mom here. She'd comment on the dearth of decorationsâa move that Lainey was already regrettingâand then she'd start her well-meaning prying into what was going on. Lainey really didn't want to spill her guts today, and her mother was terrifyingly good at getting to the bottom of trouble. It was a mom thing, Lainey supposed.
“No, I'm fine, really. I've got stuff here anyway. I'll make some mint tea and take a nap, okay?”
“If you're sureâ¦”
“I'm sure. And I promise I'll see you tonight.” One good thing was that she knew Todd was on shift tonight. He'd told her he worked so other guys could spend the time with their families. She could go to church and not worry about running into him at all. Then she'd come home and wallow all she wanted.
Hell, she'd faked being okay often enough over the past year that getting through tonight was no big deal. A little makeup, a deep breath, a pasted-on smile and she'd be good to go. He'd never know how deeply he'd hurt her by his little disappearing act.
“All right, honey. I'll see you later, then. And I'll save you some stew.”
Her stomach rolled thinking about it, a by-product of her emotional distress and the fact she'd had coffee and nothing else this morning. “Thanks, Mom. I'll see you later.”
She hung up the phone and sat back against the cushions. This was what she had to look forward to, then. A quiet, terribly empty day ahead of her, followed by an hour and a half of community togetherness and holiday spirit and ending with going to bed alone again.
Merry flipping Christmas.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
In Todd's experience, working on Christmas Eve generally went one of two ways.
Either he got a lot of calls, or things were quiet. But tonight had been a mixture of both. He attended a small car accident where someone was rear-ended at a stop sign, and responded to a report of a suspicious person which turned out to be nothing more than someone waiting for a drive who was late. Calls through dispatch were few. He'd learned that the night before Christmas found most people in a peaceful, happy frame of mind. Of course there was a smaller percentage that was unhappy, stressed, and angry, and sometimes that didn't turn out so well for those families. He always dreaded responding to a domestic disturbance, but even more so at the holidays. As much as he'd like to think that sort of thing didn't happen in and around Jewell Cove, of course it did. This morning's call being a prime example. He would have avoided it altogether if Jamie Wright hadn't called in with the flu.