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
The Christmas House
“Mom! Mom! Wake up!” Michael yelled, bursting into Karina’s peaceful, gingerbread-scented dreams with his usual Christmas morning holler. “It’s Christmas. Right now! Wake up!”
Her younger son bounded onto the bed in Karina’s snug attic room at The Christmas House. Tousle haired and full of energy, Michael clambered nearer, making the mattress dip and sway.
“Wake up, Mom! We’re going to miss
Blearily, Karina yawned. “What time is it?”
“The sun came up five minutes ago,” Josh said. “Let’s go!”
their traditional agreement, Karina remembered. No Christmas-morning wake-ups until at least dawn.
“Hurry up, Mom,” Olivia said. “Michael is ready to chew through the gift wrap with his teeth to get to his presents.”
“Well, paper isn’t very nutritious.” Karina yawned again, feeling—despite her tiredness—an undeniable tingle of anticipation too. “I guess I’d better get moving then.”
” Michael urged. “We’re missing Christmas!”
“Honey, we can’t miss Christmas.” Groggily, Karina sat up. Her hair stood out in crazy ringlets, her pajamas were wrinkly, and her breath…Well, it could knock out Rudolph. But there was no refuting the truth: This year, she was doubly excited about the holiday festivities. She and Reid had stayed up till all hours though, talking and planning, and she was beat. “We can’t miss Christmas, because
Christmas,” Karina explained to her anxiously waiting children. “It only happens if we’re there to make it happen, with love and togetherness.”
Serenely, she smiled at them, pleased with herself for having come up with that original bit of parental wisdom. It was downright poetic. It ranked right up there with her combined philosophies that cheaters never prospered, that love conquered all, and that the child who divided a piece of cake could never be the first to choose his or her portion of said cake.
Feeling very Solomon-like, Karina nudged at her hair.
“Hmmm. What’s that about love and togetherness?” someone asked from the other side of the room.
At the sound of that deep, masculine, irrefutably jolly voice, Karina started. She looked in that direction.
Reid stood there, tall and broad shouldered and smiling. “That sounds promising. I’d like to explore that idea in a little more detail,” he said. “Right after you open this.”
Reid came closer, then handed her a gift-wrapped package. Taken aback, Karina gazed at the paper and crookedly tied bow.
“We let him sneak in earlier, while you were asleep,” Michael explained with his usual ebullience. He cast Reid a chary look. “But he didn’t say he was bringing a gift. I didn’t even have a chance to guess what it was first!”
“Maybe next time, buddy.” Reid ruffled his hair.
That’s when Karina realized that, although she hadn’t noticed it in her muzzy, newly awakened state, Alexis and Nicole were there too. They sat together on Olivia’s bed, wearing identical glitter-covered, felt reindeer-antler headbands. On the floor beside them, Josh sat cross-legged with an oversize sweater pulled over his pajamas. Michael skipped into the picture and then plunked down too, making their merger complete.
becoming a new blended family, Karina thought as she looked at them. She and Reid and their combined children were starting their futures together, now, on Christmas morning, with the scent of perking coffee floating into the air from the B&B’s kitchen downstairs and the first faint stirrings of joyful Christmas carols drifting over the sound system.
Feeling her heart swell with happiness, Karina glanced at the frosty window, hoping to catch her emotions before they ran away with her completely. Instead, she glimpsed an idyllic wintery snowfall floating past her room’s window and knew she didn’t have a chance at keeping her equanimity intact.
the perfect holiday for her children. She’d finally given it to them, Karina realized, just the way she’d dreamed. All because she’d dared to reach out for a love that should have been impossible…and was all the more precious because of it. She was so lucky to have found Reid.
So lucky to have found the Christmas inside both of them.
“Go ahead.” Wearing a warm smile—and another pair of flannel PJ pants, thereby sealing their bond forever—Reid sat on the bed near her. He nodded at his gift. “Open it.”
Holding her breath, Karina did. She undid the bow, took off the ribbon, lifted off the box lid, and revealed…
“A compass?” Perplexed, she gazed at the small metal instrument, nestled carefully on a bed of ethereal tissue paper. She wasn’t sure what to make of it. Nevertheless, she prepared her finest smile. She didn’t want to hurt Reid’s feelings.
“It’s so you never get lost again!” he told her.
Aww. He’d tried to turn a last-minute sporting-goods-store gift into a romantic gesture. That was sweet. All men couldn’t be expert gift givers, Karina knew. She broadened her smile.
“I could rig it with a GPS device,” Alexis offered, “if you want me to. Then you’d
never get lost again.”
“Well…Thank you!” Karina boomed. “It’s
With her smile wobbling, she glanced up…all the way into Reid’s sparkling eyes. He laughed. “Nice try.
“What do you mean?” Rats. Desperately, she tried to feel thrilled about her new compass. Karina grabbed it. “It’s great!”
“It’s only part of your gift.” Reid raised his cupped hand. “This is the other part.” He spread his fingers, revealing the modest gold and sapphire ring nestled in his palm. “If you want it. It’s not fancy, but it’s a family heirloom. I want you to have it.”
Karina gasped. She gazed into his face. “Is this…?”
Patiently, he waited for her to finish. Of all the times when Reid might have agreeably interrupted, this was one of them.
Excitedly and nervously, Karina tried again. “Is this”—another tentative glance—“an engagement ring?”
“Only if you take it.” Reid held it closer. “But I have it on good authority that when it’s right, it’s right. And that sometimes you just have to follow your heart.”
Belatedly, Karina recognized Amanda’s impassioned arguments in favor of her and Rodrigo’s whirlwind romance.
“I love you, Karina,” Reid said. “Will you marry me?”
She didn’t waste an instant. “Of course I will!”
Laughing, Karina flung herself across the bed and into his arms. Reid collapsed beneath her onslaught, holding her to him, laughing too. When Karina finally looked down at him, then framed his face in her hands and kissed him, she knew exactly how right she’d been to come to Kismet for Christmas this year.
The Christmas House had definitely made all
holiday dreams come true. That was why she could honestly say, “We can’t let Amanda and Rodrigo have all the fun, can we?”
With her Rudolph-knockout breath and all, she kissed him. It was only a small kiss—a sensibly closed-mouth kiss, the only kind even remotely suitable for a postdawn lip smack—but it was a celebratory kiss, all the same. Joyfully, Karina smiled.
“I love you, too, Reid. Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas!” Looking dazzled, Reid shook his head. “You know what? I’ve never been happier to say those two words. I thought they were lost to me forever.” He brought his forehead close to hers, then smiled at her. “But you brought Christmas back to me, Karina. If not for our holiday affair—”
” she corrected.
“—then I wouldn’t have found any of this.”
Reid spread his arms, indicating their togetherness, their cozy B&B room, their close-knit, laughter-filled Christmas morning…and their children, all of whom sat waiting, with palpable impatience, for them to be finished canoodling.
Olivia crossed her arms. “Are you guys
“Yeah.” Josh made a face. “We’re
“Don’t mind us.” Michael waved them off. “I can wait after all. I’m pretty sure I already guessed all my gifts, anyway.”
At his cocksure tone, Karina laughed. So did Reid.
“Oh yeah?” Reid asked, getting to his feet. He extended a hand to Karina, helping her get up too. “We’ll see about that.”
“Does that mean we’re going downstairs?” Nicole asked.
“You’ve been telling us that Christmas Day at The Christmas House is
ever since we got on the plane to come here,” Alexis added. “It’s about time we found out if you were right.”
Wearing a heartfelt smile, Reid examined them all. He nodded. “Oh, I’m right. No doubt about it. Christmas Day at The Christmas House really
At his wave of permission, all the children raced for the door. Alexis took the lead, followed by Olivia and Nicole. They were pursued by Josh, then by a barking, sweater-wearing Digby the dachshund, and then (laggardly) by a nonchalant Michael.
“I’m pretty sure I’m getting that Transformers toy I asked Santa for,” he informed Karina and Reid as he passed them. “It weighs two-point-one pounds, and so did one of the packages I found.”
“One of the packages you—” On the verge of offhandedly dismissing her son’s boast, Karina realized what he’d said.
she repeated. “You
the gifts I hid?”
“Mom.” Wearily, Michael shook his head. “I
me, you know. Of course I found them.” In the doorway, he tossed her a grin. Then something else seemed to occur to him. “Next time, though, you should let
have some of the glory, okay?” Michael shook his head. “You don’t have to steal Santa’s thunder
year by getting the best gift for me yourself.”
Duly chastened, Karina nodded. “I’m sorry. I’ll try.”
“If it’s not you doing it,” Michael elaborated with a trace of chagrin, “it’s Dad. You guys have got to stop. Poor Santa!”
Beside her, Reid agreed. “We don’t want to upset Santa.”
“Okay. Good.” Michael nodded, then left.
As her younger son followed the others downstairs, Reid smiled at Karina. She smiled at him. In mutual accord, they linked hands, then headed downstairs too, ready to embark on the first of many Christmases they’d spend together—trying not to upstage Santa, taking sleigh rides, baking pfeffernüsse, singing Christmas carols…and figuring out where all the best gifts were hidden.
Sometimes finding the true gifts in life wasn’t easy, Karina thought as she trundled to the upstairs landing with Reid. Finding and keeping love wasn’t always easy either; she and Reid both knew that. But with a little diligence—and a lot of love—she expected the effort of doing so to keep them happily engaged for years to come…and a lifetime of Christmases too.
Gazing down as their children ran pell-mell to the piles of gifts under the sparkling, fully lit, popcorn-and-cranberry-garland-embellished trees, Karina drew in a deep breath.
“Here we go,” she told Reid. “Are you ready for this?”
“Absolutely,” he said. “As long as you’re by my side.”
“Forever,” she promised. Then, with Christmas carols and gleeful children’s shouts ringing in their ears, Karina and Reid went to start their lives together—for this Christmas, for next Christmas, and for every day in between…now and forever after.
Thank you for reading
As you might have guessed already, I truly love this time of year. The Christmas carols, the sparkling lights, the gingerbread, the togetherness, the traditions, the surprises—they all mean so much to me…as do
for allowing me to be a part of your holiday season! I hope you enjoyed Karina’s and Reid’s story. I was delighted to return to Kismet, and I did my very best to bring you another fun read. If this was your first visit to Kismet, you can find out more about the “merriest town in Michigan,” Nate and Angela, and Reno and Rachel, in my previous book,
Home for the Holidays.
I hope you’ll check it out soon.
In the meantime, please drop by my Web site at www.lisaplumley.com, where you can read free first-chapter excerpts from all my books, sign up for my reader newsletter or new-book reminder service, catch sneak previews of my upcoming books, request special reader freebies, and more. Or visit me on Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace, and “friend” me on the service of your choice! The links are available on lisaplumley.com.
As always, I’d love to hear from you! You can send e-mail to [email protected] or write to me c/o P.O. Box 7105, Chandler, AZ 85246-7105.
By the time you read this, I’ll be hard at work on my next Zebra Books contemporary romance. I hope you’ll be on the lookout for it. Until we meet again…Merry Christmas!
ZEBRA BOOKS are published by
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Copyright © 2010 by Lisa Plumley
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
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