Read Holiday Affair Online

Authors: Lisa Plumley

Tags: #American Light Romantic Fiction, #Romance: Modern, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance, #Single mothers, #Suspense, #Single fathers, #Hotelkeepers, #Espionage

Holiday Affair (24 page)

BOOK: Holiday Affair
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No. She had to do this. She had to tell him the truth. Her sister wouldn’t blame her for it, Karina told herself. Stephanie had practically come out and ordered her to put her personal life over the B&B’s assessment. She would understand.

Inhaling deeply, Karina looked at Reid. She was ready. She was ready to tell Reid she was the undercover Edgware evaluator.

At the same instant, he lifted his gaze to hers. “I’m starving!” Reid announced. Jovially, he rubbed his flat belly. “You want to sneak downstairs and find something to eat?”

It was a moment of decision—a moment Karina chickened out of. “Sure! I think Rodrigo has been teaching Amanda how to make fruitcake—good fruitcake, with lots of nuts and whiskey.”

“Mmm. Sounds tasty.” Reid kissed her. He rolled over, grabbed his jeans, then tossed a few clothes on the bed for her.

When Karina didn’t instantly grab them, Reid raised an eyebrow. “You might cause a furor if you go downstairs naked.” He shrugged, grinning. “But I’m up for it if you are.”

“No! I’m coming.” Hastily, Karina snatched up the first layer of her borrowed cold-weather gear, then slid out of bed. She missed its warmth almost immediately. Within seconds, she was suitably dressed. “You can’t keep me away from a good fruitcake. We might need it to keep up our strength for later.”

“We’ll
definitely
need to keep up our strength for later.”

Pulling her close—this time beside the bed—Reid brought his mouth to hers. He smiled, then tickled beneath her chin with his fingers. At her laughter, he smiled. Then he gave her a long, serious look. “I’m glad you came to get me this afternoon. I’ve been wanting this—wanting you—even more than I realized.”

His sincerity brought a lump to her throat. Feeling utterly uncourageous, Karina swallowed hard. “I’m glad too,” she said.

For now, she decided, this would have to be enough. This closeness, this sharing, this being united with Reid. It would
have
to be enough. At least until she found a little bravery.

And as for all the rest? The secrets, the evaluation, the fact that they lived on separate continents most of the time?

Well…they’d deal with those problems when they had to. Or maybe, if she was lucky, a Christmas miracle really would occur, Karina told herself as she linked hands with Reid and headed downstairs with him. Maybe she and Reid would awaken on Christmas morning to find the family of their dreams already waiting for them. Maybe they would magically keep that newfound family together…on Christmas day and all year long.

And maybe those butt-shrinking jeans really
did
exist, Karina told herself with a cynical shake of her head.

This was a B&B, not a miracle factory. No matter how much she hoped otherwise, the only one performing any miracles around here would be her, when she finally found the courage to come clean to Reid and admit her true mission at The Christmas House.

Someday. Someday soon. Maybe right after the fruitcake…

 

The day before Christmas Eve, Reid stood in the snow outside the B&B, fully equipped in a coat, boots, and hat. Beside him, Olivia stood outfitted in much the same fashion—except her boots were pink and featured Hello Kitty, her hat boasted a pompom on top, and her coat was a lot smaller.

Patiently, the little girl held a fistful of heavy-duty plastic twist ties in her mittened hand, waiting for his instructions. Reid motioned to her, as he’d done several times already. Olivia handed over a twist tie, then watched as he used it to expertly affix a part of The Christmas House’s nearly life-size handcrafted crèche to its supporting post.

Olivia wrinkled her nose. “Why wasn’t this up already?”

“The nativity scene?” Reid stepped back, surveying his work. He steadied the figure of Joseph, then glanced sideways to catch Olivia’s nod. “We try not to leave it exposed to the elements too long. It’s too delicate to handle much weather.”

“It looks pretty sturdy to me.”

“Appearances can be deceiving.” Reid motioned for another twist tie, then studied the placement of the manger. “This crèche is more fragile than it looks. It’s pretty special, too. A local artisan made this for my grandparents almost thirty years ago. It was one of the first decorations we used here.”

“It’s an heirloom, then?”

“Exactly. It’s an heirloom.”

“So you probably don’t want it to catch fire,” Olivia observed. “Or rot. Or get moldy. Or be chewed on by gophers.”

Reid raised his eyebrow. “Gophers?”

“They’re
very
damaging to property. Maybe even people.”

“Do you have some kind of supergophers in California?”

The little girl bit her lip. “I don’t think so.”

“Then we’re probably safe from gophers gone berserk.” Reminded of something by Olivia’s litany of possible hazards, Reid motioned for another twist tie. “How’s your list coming?”

“Great! It’s
super
long now!” Eagerly, Olivia scrabbled to take off her mittens. She reached inside her coat pocket. “You won’t hardly believe it. Do you want to see it?”

“Well…I’ve got my hands full here.” Matter-of-factly, Reid gestured to the crèche. “Maybe you could read it to me?”

Olivia did. While a light snow drifted down on them and Reid continued to set up the nativity scene, little Olivia recited her list of worries and potential (sometimes comically far-fetched) solutions. It turned out that her fears ranged from failing grades, to falling anvils, to…well, attack gophers.

When she’d finished, Olivia glanced excitedly up at him.

Reid felt frozen in place. Partly because of his inherent empathy for all the unnecessary trepidation Olivia had been experiencing. Partly because it was damn cold in Michigan in December. He didn’t know how he’d ever survived the Arctic.

Just at that moment, he didn’t want to go back to the frozen north anytime soon, either. Maybe adventure travel was losing a little of its luster for him. Temporarily.

“Well?” Olivia prompted. “What do you think? Do you think this list will help the people you work with who are afraid?”

At her hopeful expression, Reid felt his heart soften. He set the nativity scene’s manger in place, then remained in a hunkered-down position where he’d be on eye level with Olivia.

“Maybe,” he said. “Let’s break it down.”

“Break it down?” Olivia glanced at the B&B’s front porch, where Karina and Stephanie stood talking. “What’s that mean?”

“Well, there’s a lot of information on your list. You did an excellent job with it!” Reid told her. “What we need to do now is verify what’s there. Scientifically.”

Olivia rolled her eyes. “Now you sound like Michael!”

“I don’t mind that. Michael’s pretty smart.” Reid had never met a brighter or more inquisitive first-grader. “And so are you, to have put together such a comprehensive list.”

Olivia preened beneath his praise, her cheeks pinkening.

“So the next step is: How many of the things you were worried about actually happened?” Reid affixed the manger more securely, then glanced at Olivia. “How many of your solutions did you use? Did you ever use more than one solution? Two?”

Uncomfortably, Olivia stood on one foot, then the other. She adjusted the figure of Mary. She gazed at her mother and aunt again, clearly reluctant to answer his questions.

“A rough percentage estimate would be fine,” Reid assured her in his most relaxed tone. He wanted to avoid spooking her. He wanted to help her. “Or if you don’t like math—”

“Hey! Girls can be
great
at math! Don’t stereotype me!”

“—you can just give me a letter grade. How useful do
you
think this strategy would be for my clients? A? B? Or C?” Reid gazed at her in all seriousness. “And I wasn’t stereotyping you. I’m sorry. I know girls can be great at math. Alexis sure is.”

“I like Alexis,” Olivia nattered. “Nicole too. She’s nice.”

Reid didn’t take the bait. “Is misdirection on your list?”

“I don’t know. I don’t even know what misdirection means.” Keenly, Olivia eyed him. “My mom would know. She’s smart too. Except about my dad. I mean, she
still
thinks he would have stayed with us if only she’d been a little nicer to him.”

All at once, something Karina had said to Reid flooded into his mind.
But I have to do more for you first,
Karina had told him desperately.
Otherwise, you won’t stay. You won’t stay!

Now, that statement finally made sense. Karina believed her ex-husband wouldn’t have absconded to the Bahamas with his “Pop-Tart” girlfriend if only she’d been “nicer” to him somehow.

“I can’t imagine your mom being anything less than nice.”

“Nobody can. Not even my dad.” At the very idea, Olivia shook her head. As though sensing she’d struck on a winning diversionary tactic, she blathered on. “My dad told me and Josh and Michael that he just fell in love with Chelsea, and that was that. He said it had nothing to do with my mom
or
with us.”

Well, at least the man had
some
sense, Reid thought. He may have been foolish enough to let Karina go, but he’d also been responsible enough to reassure his children about his divorce.

That was something. But it wasn’t enough. Otherwise, Olivia wouldn’t have come here toting a worry list as long as her arm.

Refocusing, Reid motioned for another twist tie. Olivia obliged. He set the handcrafted figure of a crook-toting shepherd in place next. Beside him, Olivia went on fidgeting.

“All right!
Fine!
” she blurted. “It was zero, okay?
Zero!

Finally, Reid’s patience was rewarded. “What was zero?”

“The number of times anything on my list actually happened,” Olivia admitted. Grumbling, she toed the snow. “Zero is also the number of times I had to use one of my solutions.”

“Oh. I see.” Mulling that over, Reid steadied an angel.

“I didn’t want you to know about that part. I wanted you to think I had a really good list—a list that would help the people you work with! I didn’t think you’d ask me if I
tried
any of the solutions on it.” Olivia glared at her multiple pages of notepaper. “I was proud of this list. But now I see it’s just a stupid bunch of useless worries. That’s no good to anybody!”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Reid said gently. “It’s been useful to me, to help me understand”—
you
—“a few things.”

“But none of that stuff ever happened,” Olivia groused, her shoulders slumped. “It was just like you said—a waste of time.”

“Was it really wasted, if you learned something?”

“It
was
wasted, if you can’t use my dumb list!”

Compassionately, Reid gazed at her. “I think I’ll get by. I don’t mind changing tactics. It’s part of my work. When you’re faced with a blizzard or a hurricane shows up, sometimes you have to change course. There’s no point arguing with reality.”

“But what about the people you work with?”

“Hmmm.” Reid glanced up at the steel-gray sky, pondering that question. “I guess it’s possible my clients need to learn the same thing you did: that worrying doesn’t help much.”

With a dour frown, Olivia said, “I don’t think they’ll want to learn that. I know
I
didn’t. What am I supposed to do now?”

“Now that you don’t need mental fire drills every day?”

Her gaze looked tentative. She nodded. “Uh-huh.”

“I dunno.” Reid shrugged. “You could think about Christmas instead. Or horses or math problems or pink glittery scarves.”

“Or the next
Twilight
movie!” Suddenly, Olivia seemed fully cheered. She grinned at him, her eyes sparkling. “Without worrying, I’ll have
tons
of room in my head for other things. Like Jacob.” She sighed. “He’s dreamy. I have all the
Twilight
action figures, you know. They’re classic collectibles.”

Aha. “So
that’s
why Alexis and Nicole have abandoned Barbie and Ken in favor of Bella and Edward,” Reid said.

“Probably.” Olivia nodded, seeming reassured—and completely worry free—for the first time since he’d known her. “Bella and Edward are good investments. All properly licensed and authorized
Twilight
merch is a good investment, in my opinion.”

Reid grinned. “‘Merch,’ huh? You sound like an expert.”

“Well…maybe I am! I
will
need something to take the place of my expert worrying—I mean,
planning
—right?”

“Right.”

“But if you get any merch, don’t open the boxes.”

“That’s what Nicole told me,” Reid said. “She said it affects the collectible resale value.” He shook his head. “I have the feeling being stateside is changing my daughters in more ways than one.”

They hadn’t quit dropping hints about staying in the states (maybe) forever, either.

“Well, I wouldn’t worry about it too much,” Olivia said with a cocky grin. “I hear worrying doesn’t get you anywhere. And sometimes surprises are nice, anyway.” Impulsively, she moved closer and hugged him. “I feel better about things now. Thanks, Reid.”

Startled but pleased, Reid hugged her back. “No problem, kiddo.” He smiled at her. “Hey, if I wind up staying here in the states, can I hire you to be my personal tween pop culture consultant and licensed memorabilia advisor?”

“Sure!” Olivia laughed. “But you’ll have to move to San Diego for that. I think you’d like it okay, though. It’s nice.”

All at once, the idea had a definite appeal. Reid nodded. “I do like the beach. And you never know what might happen. Christmas
is
a time for miracles, you know.”

“Hey.” Olivia gave him a chary look. “I recognize that line. You stole it from The Christmas House brochure!”

“Guilty. I only borrow from the best source material.” Still grinning, Reid heard his cell phone ring. He took it out, then glanced at the display.
Robert Sullivan.
Uh-oh. What could his grandparents be calling about? “Sorry, Olivia. I’ve got to answer this.”

She nodded, leaving him to accept the call.

On the other end of the line, his grandfather cut right to the chase, barely taking time for a hello. “Reid, I have bad news. The Christmas House sale is off. Edgware just cancelled.”

BOOK: Holiday Affair
13.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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