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 (31 page)

BOOK: Holiday Affair
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“Quit it with the intimidation face, Dad!” Nicole gave him a ferocious poke. “You’re going to scare away Karina!”

“Yeah, Dad,” Alexis urged. “Try to look nice!”

“I
do
look nice!” Reid argued, frustrated with the floats and clowns and marchers that were keeping him from Karina. He scowled at them, fervently wishing they’d vanish. Still holding the reins, he worked at controlling Holly and Ivy while simultaneously keeping his eye on the Riverfront Hotel.

If he could only get there in time.
Come on, parade!

“I don’t know. You probably shouldn’t have entered the Christmas parade by force, Reid,” his grandmother admonished from the backseat. “The city fathers are going to be very unhappy about this. You’re supposed to have a permit.”

Parade events and snow swirled crazily around them.

“He’s going to get his girl!” his grandfather piped up, giving Betty a reproachful look. “Don’t you have any romance in your soul, woman?” Impatiently, Robert slid across the front seat. He gestured at Reid. “Here. Give me the reins.”

“I’m almost there.” Reid kept driving. “Just a few blocks farther.”

“Dad!” Alexis eyed her GPS device, then waved her arm urgently. “Hurry up! Karina is on the move again.”

At that, Reid did surrender the reins. He didn’t have time to follow the prescribed parade route. He had to get to—

Karina.
All at once, Reid saw her, wearing a pompom hat and a coat and a scarf and probably six sweaters, weaving her way through the crowd. At the sight of the woman he’d been looking for, Reid felt himself go still all over. As though time slowed, he glimpsed Karina’s insistent expression, her hasty movements, her curly blond hair. She turned her head, searching the crowd.

Then she turned away, headed in the wrong direction.

She was leaving, he knew then. She wanted to get away from Kismet so much that—apparently—she was willing to walk out of town in the middle of a parade…walk away from Christmas and walk away from him.

No. He couldn’t let that happen. Not now.

With a yell, Reid leaped from the sleigh.
“Karina!”

His earsplitting bellow caught the attention of…all the people around him. But not the woman he wanted. Landing upright on the icy packed snow, Reid gestured to his grandfather.

“Keep driving!” he called. “I’m going to get Karina!”

“Just
go!
” all the sleigh inhabitants yelled in unison.

So Reid just went. He careened through the crowd, even as the parade went on and the marching band continued to play Christmas carols and everyone who already had someone to love held that person close and laughed at all the holiday antics.

“Karina!”
Reid yelled again…and then he saw her again.

She turned around. Her eyes widened. A smile broke on her face, making her appear even more beautiful than he remembered.

Her gaze shifted to his beard. Her mouth turned into an O of surprise. Karina stopped in place, her attention fixed.

Within seconds—far too long to wait—Reid reached her. He stopped with his hands fisted at his sides, forcing himself not to touch her. Not yet. He couldn’t risk scaring her away.

Quit it with the intimidation face, Dad! You’re going to scare away Karina!
He’d already done that once. Never again.

“Please don’t go!” Reid said, his voice a husky plea he could neither stop nor deny. “Not yet. Not until you know—”

“Your beard.” Karina pointed. “You kept it.”

“—that I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry, Karina!” Reid went on. Heedless of the nearby crowd, not caring who heard, he moved a little closer. “I never meant to doubt you. I
do
know who you are. I do.” Finally trusting himself, he raised his hand to her cheek. He gazed into her eyes. “You’re the woman I love, Karina. I love you with everything inside me—with everything I am right now, and everything I’ll ever be. You make the sun rise! You make me feel
…everything.
” Feeling his breath hitch, Reid made himself keep going. “I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve traveled a lot of miles, and I’ve experienced a whole world of adventures. But all of them pale beside you. None of them matters as much as
you
do, right now. Please,
please
say you’ll give us another try. Because I swear to you, if it takes me the rest of my life, I’ll make you the happiest person in the world.”

Appearing awestruck, Karina shook her head. At the gesture, Reid’s heart plummeted. She didn’t want him? He was too late?

But then she smiled, and he saw there were tears shimmering in her eyes, and even as he held his breath, Karina took a brave step closer to him. If he was fearsome, Reid realized with pure thankfulness, then Karina was at least equally courageous.

She stroked his jaw…his beard. “You didn’t shave,” she said in a voice choked with emotion. Then, stroking him again, she laughed with evident relief. “I’m glad you didn’t shave.”

“It would have been a lie,” Reid told her, covering her hands with his. “Because I never gave up hope. Not on us.”

No wonder he’d had so much trouble shaving today, he realized. The problem hadn’t been the Christmassy atmosphere, the interruptions, or the implements. The problem had been a lack of will. Reid simply hadn’t had the will, deep inside, to rid himself of his good-luck nookie beard and admit defeat.

“I’m glad,” Karina said, “because I love you, too, Reid. I’m so sorry I didn’t say so before! I’m sorry I hurt you—sorry I lied to you. I never meant to.” Fervently, she shook her head. “I swear, I never will again. Never! And if you say you can’t believe me…well, I guess I’ll have to live with that.” Her gaze met his, nakedly hopeful but willfully strong. Tearfully, she gulped back a sob. “But please don’t say that! You don’t know how much you mean to me, Reid. I’d given up on finding someone. I’d given up on myself! I was so scared…of not being needed. Of not being wanted. Of not being
loved.

“I love you.” Reid squeezed her hands. “I do.”

“But what I should have been scared of is not taking a chance.” Karina shook her head, her chin quivering. “I should have been scared of losing you. I almost did lose you! And now—” She broke off, her gaze searching his. “Now, I can’t believe you’re here. Here in time to know that I love you, and I need you, and I missed you—so much!—and I love you—”

“You already said that one,” Reid told her, “but I’ll never get tired of hearing it.” Unable to resist, he kissed her.

At the first touch of their lips, Karina melted into his arms. Making a thankful sound, she kissed him back. As one, their bodies slammed together, equally ardent and equally bundled up…all except for one crucial area. Wearing a beaming smile, Karina leaned back. Even as Reid went on holding her, she aimed her gaze lower…all the way to the flannel pajama pants he’d inadvertently forgotten to change out of, after all.

Then she nodded at her own PJ pants, also made of flannel but printed with girly-looking bows and Christmas ornaments.

“Hmmm. Something tells me,” Karina said as her smile widened, “that we’re perfect for each other.”

Reid kissed her again. “You’re only just realizing that?”

“Well…sometimes I’m a slow learner. For instance, it took me a while to come around to the real magic of Christmas.”

“Me too,” Reid admitted. “But now I’m a Scrooge no longer. Thanks to you,” he said, “I feel Christmas here”—he touched his fist to his heart—“in a way that’s never going to leave.”

With a heartfelt sigh, Karina hugged him closer. “You feel so good! Even with all this cold-weather gear on. I can’t wait to find out what you feel like with nothing but beachwear on.”

At her saucy eyebrow waggle, Reid grinned. “Beachwear?”

“Preferably tiny board shorts,” Karina specified with a lascivious, loving gleam in her eye. “That’s what men wear on the California beaches these days.
You’d
make them look good.”

“I’d make them—” Newly elated, Reid raised his eyebrows. “You’re damn right, I’d make them look good.” He couldn’t wait to see Karina in a bikini, either. “Does this mean…?”

A nod. “I want you to come to San Diego with us. You can check out the ocean, experience the sunshine, find out if—”

“I’m in,” Reid promised hastily. “I’m in all the way.”

Karina laughed. “You didn’t even let me finish inviting you! You must really mean it.”

“I do,” Reid swore, kissing her again as another holiday float passed by, blaring Christmas music. “I really mean it.”

“There are practical considerations, you know,” Karina demurred. “For instance, there’s probably not a lot of hard-core adventure travel guiding going on in the suburbs these days.”

“Probably not.” Unconcerned, Reid smiled at her. He squeezed her hand. “But I have more skills than you know about. Photojournalism, diving, rock climbing, orienteering—I could probably make a living at one or two of those things.”

“Or at teaching them to other people,” Karina agreed. Appearing dazed but content, she smiled back at him. “We’re really doing this! We’re really going to be together.”

“For Christmas and for always.” Reid motioned to his own flannel pajama pants. “The PJs decree it. We’re a team now.”

“Oh no!” someone groaned from nearby. “This is awful! They’re going to be the pajama pants–wearing team!”

Olivia.
Reid turned to see Karina’s daughter shaking her head. Beside her, his daughters did the same. So did Josh.

“We’ll
never
get them out of their pajama pants now!”

“What have we
done?
” Michael asked with a hilariously dramatic waggle of his hands. “We’re doomed!”

Vanessa looked on with clear satisfaction, arms crossed over her chest. “Quiet, kids,” she shushed. “In the matchmaking game, you have to take the wins where you find them.”

“I think the PJ pants are cute,” Betty volunteered.


I
think the girl is cute!” Robert stepped forward, holding out his hand. “I’m Robert Sullivan. You must be Karina.”

Blushing, Karina took his hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

As though Reid’s grandfather had issued a signal, everyone else surged forward too. Reid’s B&B guests. His staff. All the chattering kids. Suzanne, Neil, and Rocky. Amanda and Rodrigo. Even a few good-natured Kismet residents, who’d apparently been following along with the action, having decided that Karina’s and Reid’s declaration of love beat a Christmas parade any day.

Close by, one of the Clydesdales whinnied. Reid looked in the direction of the sound and glimpsed The Christmas House’s horse-drawn sleigh, parked just off the parade route in front of the Riverside Hotel, where his grandfather had apparently left it.

It seemed he’d left it in capable hands. Because his hulking, always cheerful neighbor Nate Kelly stood beside it with his wife, Angela, and stepdaughter, Kayla. Catching Reid looking, Nate gave him a thumbs-up sign.

“All’s well that ends well, eh?” Nate nodded toward the sleigh. “Want me to take this back to the B&B for you?”

Hugging Karina to his side, Reid shook his head. “I’ll take it. I think we’re all going that way soon. But you’re welcome to come too, Nate! You and your family.” He smiled at them.

“We’re here with our friends, Rachel and Reno.” Nate’s nod indicated a hand-holding couple nearby. The woman stood dressed in conspicuously fashionable clothes, and the man—well, Reid recognized former NFL kicker Reno Wright. Everyone knew Kismet’s very own BMOC. “Is it okay if they come along too?”

“Sure!” Karina called. “The more the merrier, right?”

“That’s exactly what I was thinking,” Reid agreed.

“No wonder we’re perfect for each other,” Karina told him.

They beamed at each other, relieved and confident and more than ready to get their future started. Then Vanessa elbowed her way forward, put her hands on her hips, and shook her head.

“Okay, okay. That’s enough,” his cousin said as the parade began to break up behind her. “No need to rub it in, you two.”

Surprised, Reid gazed at Vanessa’s disgruntled face.

So did Karina. “Why, Vanessa…You sound a little peevish about something.” Karina traded a knowing glance with Reid. “Could it be that
you
need a matchmaker of your own?”

Reid’s cousin blinked, seeming on the verge of…denying the very idea. She scoffed, adopting her trademark stance. “No way. I’m all about the fix-up, not
being
fixed up. Besides, it’s Christmas Eve. Let’s get this party started already!”

Reid didn’t need to be told twice. Grabbing Karina, he herded together all their children, then conferred with his grandparents and cousin. Together, they made plans to get everyone safely and promptly back to The Christmas House.

They had a damn holiday to celebrate, Reid knew. A holiday full of laughter and good cheer and Christmas merriment. There was no way he meant to delay any of that any longer.

He’d already spent nearly twenty years missing out on Christmas. This year, with Karina by his side and all their children gathered around, Reid intended to savor every moment. Because now that he’d given in to the sentimentality of the season, he didn’t want to go back to anything less. This year, Reid wanted carols and gifts, tinsel and gingerbread, eggnog and blinking lights and even that ridiculous dancing Santa figurine.

He wanted all of Christmas, all the time. He wanted it all.

Glancing up at Karina as he helped her into the B&B’s horse-drawn sleigh, Reid realized that he already had it all. He had everything he could have asked for and more. He had a new love, a new family, and a whole new future with his daughters to look forward to. If that wasn’t some kind of Christmas miracle, Reid didn’t know what was. He couldn’t believe he’d doubted it.

“This year, I hardly need Christmas and stockings and gifts to unwrap,” Karina said as Reid settled beside her and took up the reins. “I already have everything I ever wanted. Because now I have you.” She smiled at him. “I love you so much, Reid.”

“I love you, too.” Reid smiled back, then set the sleigh in motion, charting a course around Kismet’s scenic frozen lake. “But I wouldn’t be too sure about that ‘already have everything you want’ idea,” he told Karina. “There might be a few more surprises in store for you yet. Just wait and see….”

BOOK: Holiday Affair
3.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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