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Authors: Mimi Barbour

Christmas Runaway (3 page)

BOOK: Christmas Runaway
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Just in time, Sara grabbed the collar to keep her pet in the front seat and watched as the man scooped his daughter onto his lap and hugged her with a moan breaking his restraint. “You scared me, kiddo. This time you really had me worried. Don’t ever take off like that again.”

The crying teen buried her face, and her arms clung to his neck as she sobbed brokenheartedly. “I was just so lonely. And it’s Christmas. And my friends are all together without me. A-and you didn’t care.”

“What can I say? I’m an unthinking jerk. There were so many loose ends at the office, and I’d decided if I could finish them all early, we could have the rest of today and tomorrow to celebrate. But then everything fell apart…” He stopped when he heard her loud sigh. “You’re right. Same old excuses. I’m really sorry, baby. No more work. I promise.”

“I’m sorry to have worried you." The youngster’s voice wobbled, but her sincerity rang true. “I guess I understand how important your job is right now while you’re setting everything up. You explained it to me—ad nauseam—a-and I know I promised to cut you some slack. It’s just that the new house isn’t home to me. And not having anyone around was driving me crazy. I hate spending all day alone. Hold it!” Her voice rose shrilly. “Before you remind me that I have all the toys other kids would love to have, it’s—”

“No, I’ll never say that again. While I drove around looking for you, I realized something radically awesome.” Sara watched in the rear-view mirror as the teen smacked her father’s arm in the way young girls do when they’re being teased. “It dawned on me that I would hate to be treated like I was nothing but a hindrance. Especially since it isn’t true. You alone colour my world, little girl. You always have. Without you everything would be—hmmm—yucky grey!”

“Awww, Dad.” Sniffs and hugs followed. Soon, in a little girl voice, Amy continued. “And now, because of me, we’re all stuck in a snowstorm, huddled in a cold car on Christmas Eve.”

Feeling she’d given the father and daughter sufficient time to make up, Sara butted in. “Couldn’t help but overhear, and I just want you to know that we don’t have to remain in the car. If your dad feels up to carrying you, my house is within walking distance. Wanna go for it?”

“Can we? Cool!” Instinctively, Amy flung her hand toward Sara and smiled when it was taken and held for a moment.

Without thought, before letting it go, Sara kissed the back gently. Jack’s startled gaze caught hers. Why she blushed, she’d never know. Something in his look made her lower her eyes and pretend an interest in her furry pet.

"Did Sara tell you I hurt my ankle, Dad? I can’t put any weight on it.”

“Right, I brought my bag with me. Let’s take a look.”

Sarah added without turning around. “We didn’t take her boot off because I thought the tightness of the leather would give the same support as a tensor bandage.” Hoping she hadn’t made a mistake, she glanced back to see if his face showed any distain or anger.

His answer made her relax. “You’re probably right. Can you wait until we get to Sara’s house, Amy? Then I’ll take it off and look at the damage.”

“Sure. No problem. Except I can’t put any weight on it at all. Sara had to piggyback me to the car." Amy grinned with affection, and without hesitation Sara grinned back.

“You’re lucky I didn’t put us both in the snowbank with these silly boots I’m wearing.”

“For some women, it’s all about being modern and looking good rather than practicality.” Jack’s stiff voice caught both her and Amy’s stare.

“You’re kidding, right?” Sara couldn’t stop from challenging his remark. “I’m wearing these silly boots because it was a sad day for me, and I wanted to dress frivolously for once to help cheer myself. I took my son to the airport and thought I’d be spending the night alone, so… Hold it! What time is it??” Her voice broke, the worry coming through loud and clear.

Without hesitation, Jack answered. “Close to seven. Is there a problem?”

“Yes. Kai, my son, promised to Skype me at seven-thirty my time, and he’ll be frantic if I’m not there to answer. He knows nothing would keep me from hearing how his trip went. We must leave now.”

“Yes, okay. Is it very far?”

“About a quarter of a mile. I knew I couldn’t carry Amy myself, but I’m sure for you it won’t be too difficult. There are heavy trees along the sides of the road, might block some of the snow. Make it easier to traverse, but it’ll still be quite a trek.”

“Then let’s get started.” Jack helped Amy to get ready. He took his scarf off his own neck and solicitously wrapped it around her head, tucking it into her jacket as if she were a child. He was unaware that Sara watched until she sighed.

“What?”

“Nothing. Are we ready? I’ll leave the car lights on. As weak as they are, they’ll help somewhat. The turn-off is the second on the right, and the lane goes all the way to the beach. I just had the road repaired and made ready for the winter. Should help some.”

The next while was something Sara would never forget. Between her windmilling falls, Jack’s muttering each time he stopped to assist, and him dropping Amy when Sara would unwittingly upend him—their sombre plodding turned into hilarious antics. At least for her and Amy. Jack—not so much. But the occasional grin did break through, and all in all, he went along with their foolishness good-naturedly.

By the time they reached her front door, not only were they exhausted frozen snow-people, but they needed to get out of their wet clothes and put something hot into their cold bodies.

While Jack used his cell phone to inform the local police that there were two vehicles in the ditch but the occupants were safe, Sara had the furnace turned up, the fireplace on and the overly decorated living room glowing like the cover of an old-fashioned Christmas card.

Angels and reindeer, her favourite decorations, were placed haphazardly around the room, and the huge blue spruce decorated in a traditional way gave off the most wonderful smell of the season. An overabundance of fanciful ornaments, sparkling glitter and tinsel saved from years gone by caught one’s eye, but it did represent Christmas. Or so Sara imagined.

“I’ll get Amy something to change into,” Sara played hostess. “Jack, Kai’s room is the first up the stairs on your right. Check his closet and see if there’s anything that’ll fit you. You’re a big man, but then he’s a big boy and wears a lot of his clothes baggy so you might luck out.”

“Yes ma’am.” Jack stomped the snow from caked boots and shrugged off his coat. Amy saw his well-groomed suit, soaked from the knees down, and loved the fact that his once perfect tie was wrinkled and hung loosened around his neck.

In no time, everyone spiffed up in sweats, met in the kitchen where Sara began setting out the remains of the huge Christmas dinner she’d shared with Kai the day before. Over the large, wooden, country-styled table, she spread platters of turkey, ham, cabbage rolls, salad and on and on, then plunked three plates with cutlery down and waved her hands for them to dig in. Before sitting down, she filled an extra plate for Pegi who strangely ignored the food.

Sara, thinking it odd since her dog normally wolfed down her dinner, didn’t force her but instead wiped her down and then busied herself with other chores.

“Fill your plates and I’ll heat them up in the microwave,” she said, with a friendly slap on Amy’s hand for picking at the meat without a fork.

As soon as they were all loaded with food and drinks, wine for her and Jack, and a wine goblet filled with ginger-ale for Amy, they began their meal. Sara grabbed the fancy candles that she and Kai had used and relit them to give a festive air to their holiday feast.

Pegi hovered close to Sara, not her usual habit, until Sara with a glare and a finger pointing at the mat near the back door where the dog’s supper waited, forced the dog to obey without a word spoken. The large white fur-ball crept to the corner and whined.

“Sara, I love your Pegi. She’s wonderful.” Amy sighed and then glared at her dad.

“Noted and filed, dear daughter. When we’re settled, we’ll look into getting a pet. I was thinking a turtle might be fun.” Jack winked at Sara, but Amy didn’t notice.

“Da-d! Give me a break!” The whine was well practised. So was the pout.

Sara winked back at Jack and added. “I have a really small collar you can use to take it for a walk, Amy. Think of all the attention you’ll get at the beach in the summer.”

Amy’s glance swivelled between her father and Sara and then she smiled. “You’re kidding, right?”

Jack answered before Sara. “You think so?” Then he motioned for Amy to turn towards him. “Here, give me your foot. I see you got the boot off between the two of you. Was it very painful?”

Amy lifted her leg onto his knee. “Sara wiggled it and worked it off. It didn’t hurt too much. I can even put a bit of weight on it now.”

After he prodded and poked, he nodded. “Good. Keep it up as much as possible to keep the swelling down. Maybe an ice pack would help also.”

Sara jerked and dropped the knife she held while cutting into a loaf of homemade bread, and quickly turned towards the large refrigerator behind her. “I meant to give her one and forgot.”

Feeling inadequate, Sara organized the pack and handed it over without looking at Jack. As he took the ice, he grasped her hand and used this to force her to look at him. The softness in his eyes surprised and pleased her at first.
T
ingles started from where their hands linked, ran up her arm straight to her heart, and exploded into sensations that had her catching her breath.

Reflexes kicked in, and she snatched her hand back. What in the world? From under her eyelashes, she noticed him shake his own hand before clenching and hiding it under the table.

Just then the computer let her know that Kai had made his promised call. She moved to where it sat at a workstation on the side of the kitchen and opened the page. At first glance, she noted his annoyance. Before she could speak, he blurted out in his forthright manner.

“Where were you Mom? This is the third time I’ve tried to get through. I was worried.”

“Now you know how it fee—”

“Not funny Mom. I was really worried.”

“No, you’re right. I’m sorry, Kai. There was a snowstorm on the way home, and I ran into a slight problem.”

“Oh man! You mean you hit someone?”

“Don’t take me so literally. No I didn’t hit someone, I sort of ran off the road when I stopped to help a young—” Busted!

“Don’t tell me you picked up a hitchhiker. Mom, that’s crazy dangerous.”

Sara felt the other two people in her kitchen trying not to listen as they helped themselves to the food she’d put out for their benefit, but it’s impossible to shut off your ears. Time to change the subject.

“Well it all turned out fine. Tell me how your trip went and about Hawaii? Is it really beautiful?” She smiled at the screen and saw Kai swallow and look uncomfortable. What’s up with that?

“I missed you, Ma. You should be here with me. It’s not right I left you alone and over Christmas. It ate away at me all the way here. I’m a spoiled brat and a rotten son.”

“You want me to make you feel better, dontcha?” She giggled and watched his expression lighten.

“Yeah.” He half grinned, his endearing dimple creasing his cheek, but only on the one side. Blonde waves framed his face, and his father’s blue eyes beamed at her with affection.

The expression he wore reminded her of when he was little, had done something naughty and needed her forgiveness before he could let it go. His guilt tolerance level was non-existent.

All of a sudden, he stiffened and his gaze became guarded. “Who’s the chick there with you?”

She turned to see that Amy had stood, intending to go over to Pegi who seemed to be choking on something.

“It’s a long story. Let’s just say Pegi found her lost in a snowstorm, and she’s visiting with me for a while.”

“Lost in a snowstorm? Harsh!”

Just then Jack stood, watching to see if the dog would accept Amy’s ministrations.

Kai’s tone changed, hardened. “Who’s the Dude?” Sitting alert now, he looked to be the man he would one day become; ready to take on the world for those he loved.

“I’m the chick’s dad.” Sara hadn’t realized that Jack had moved to stand behind her.

She glared a warning at Jack and said. “Kai, this is Jack Watson. He’s the Director for the new medical clinic in Parksville. He and his daughter are my guests tonight because of the storm.”

Her son’s eyes narrowed. His attitude cool, but not over the line. “Hi, Mr. Watson.”

Sara, proud of her son’s manners, nodded her approval. Suddenly, strange noises from the corner alerted Sara that her pet seemed to be in difficulties, and so she quickly added.

“Would you like to meet Amy? Since she’s new to the area, I’m sure she’d be pleased to meet someone her own age.” Sara turned and waved at Amy, then smiled as she shyly nodded and then hobbled over.

“Kai this is Amy Watson. She hurt her ankle earlier, and Pegi and I helped her.” Sara had to get to her dog, who she knew was in extreme difficulties in the corner." Be nice, both of you.” She helped Amy to sit and quickly went over to where Jack spoke soothingly to her distressed pet.

Seeing her coming, Pegi tried to stand, but the animal’s heaving and gagging made it difficult. With Sara’s help, the frightened dog finally staggered to her feet and instantly became violently sick.

BOOK: Christmas Runaway
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