on December 24, 2013
A little Christmas gift from me to you. May you receive your heart’s desire this holiday season.
The sound of jingle bells filled the bar seconds before a booming voice drowned them out. “What’s a man have to do to get some coffee around here?”
Derek filled a mug as he answered. “It’s Christmas, old man, the bar is closed.”
“Door was open,” Jack Ferguson said, climbing onto a creaking bar stool. “Don’t you have someplace else to be?” he asked.
The man knew good and well Derek had no family, which if he guessed right, was the reason for this unexpected visit. “I appreciate the thought, Jack, but I’m good. Go back home to Maggie.”
“And get a smack upside the head for not bringing you with me? Nope. Pack it up and lets go.”
“You’d rather wait until Maggie shows up and drags you out by your ear, that’s fine with me.” Jack sipped the hot brew while Derek contemplated his odds. The woman would do it. Maggie Ferguson owned the moniker pint-sized power house for a reason.
“Let me get my coat,” Derek said, snagging his keys as he passed the register. “I’ll grab a bottle of her favorite Merlot.”
“Wise man.” Jack took another sip of his coffee then pushed off the stool. “You butter her up and I’ll reap the reward.”
Derek followed his friend to the door thinking, as he had before, that Jack was a lucky man. Maggie may be tough as nails, but she was also one of the sweetest women he knew, and she adored Jack.
A very lucky man.
Ten minutes later, Derek parked his Blazer behind Jack’s truck in the narrow drive. After growing up in Texas, the Colorado snow held a fascination for him. Derek wondered if he’d ever get used to how the powder glistened in the moonlight, but hoped not.
He flashed back to his first snowfall. Kate making angels in the snow, then the two of them working together on that snowman. The best part had come after, when she’d brought him hot chocolate and joined him under the blanket beside the fire.
Derek shook off the memory. Kate was gone and thinking about her wasn’t going to bring her back.
“It’s about time you two got here,” Maggie said as the men stomped off in the mud room. When Derek held up the wine bottle, Maggie’s eyes lit up. “A boy after my own heart.”
“How else am I going to steal you away from Jack?”
“Darling, you couldn’t keep up with me.” Maggie gave Jack a swat on the bottom. “Isn’t that right, Sugarplum?”
“A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell,” Jack said, with a wink in Derek’s direction.
Derek hung up his coat then stopped short when he spotted the woman standing in the kitchen. The woman he’d been trying to forget for six months.
Seconds clicked by as he fought the fog clouding his brain. Maggie clipped him on the back of the head, scolding, “Say ‘Hello, Kate’.”
“Uh yeah, hello, Kate.”
Questions rolled one after the other making it difficult to think or even breathe.
When did she get back? How long was she staying? Did she know he still loved her?
“You look good,” Kate said.
“You too.” She looked even better than he remembered. “So you’re back?”
Kate’s eyes dropped. “LA wasn’t for me. I belong here.”
Palms suddenly sweaty, Derek rubbed his hands on the front of his jeans, then slid them into his pockets.
“When did you get in?” he asked. The distance was killing him, but he couldn’t chance getting close enough to reach her.
“My plane landed late last night. Maggie was sweet enough to come pick me up.” Brown eyes the color of whiskey danced across his face then darted away. “With mom and dad in Florida, I wasn’t sure who else to call.”
His brain told him not to say the words, but they came out anyway. “You could have called me.”
Her eyes shot back to his. Derek’s offer was clearly not what she expected. How could she not know?
He took one step. “Nothing has changed for me.”
The hint of a smile teased her soft pink lips. “Nothing has changed for me either. I was so stupid. I never should have gone.”
Derek didn’t remember crossing the room, but he found Kate in his arms and the world felt right again. “Don’t ever leave me again, okay?” he said, unashamed of the pleading in his voice.
Kate shook her head. “Never. It nearly killed me the last time.” Eyes dancing, she asked, “So this is a good surprise?”
Derek grinned. “Best Christmas surprise ever.”
They stood for what seemed an eternity, smiling like fools, until Maggie’s voice echoed from the next room. “Kiss her already.”
Derek pulled Kate closer. “Yes, ma’am.”