Christmas decorations hung from all of the lampposts on Main Street and as she walked slowly up toward the loft apartment she rented over Sweet Pea Flowers, Felicity Danvers tried to make herself feel something. There was a crisp breeze and it felt almost as if she were in a Currier and Ives print. But the magic of Christmas just wasn’t here…not this year.
Christmas had once been the highlight of her year but now she struggled to muster much more than…well exhaustion. She was busy at the elementary school celebrating all of the seasonal events with her students. And her mom kept texting her about parties that Felicity and her sister were expected to attend. There was a holiday tea with her extended family, that which was going to be held at the Graff Hotel, a Christmas Ball at the Graff, a tree-decorating party at her sister’s, a cookie party that she had to bake three dozen cookies for and of course the Marietta Stroll, the nativity play, and then shopping.
She stumbled on a patch of ice.
She felt her feet flying out from under her as she started to fall. Someone grabbed her arm and they both wobbled and then fell over. She found herself staring up into a pair of eyes that were dark as night.
She knew those eyes. Enigmatic, dark blue with a hint of gray around the irises. There were sun lines around the corners of his eyes and thick, straight brown hair that fell over his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she said, embarrassed that she might have caused the decorated retired Marine to fall. They’d been in the same high school class and she had no excuses for avoiding him since he’d returned to Marietta three years ago. Except he was a double amputee and every time she’d thought about talking to him she hadn’t been able to think of a single thing to say. Should she mention the injuries? Continue to ignore them?
“Don’t be. This is the best fall I’ve had lately,” he said, putting his arms around her and shifting them both to a seated position.
His strength surprised her. His arms bulged as he lifted her and moved her around.
“You’re really strong,” she said, then mentally smacked herself. This was precisely why she’d avoided Lane. She sounded pitiful.
Giving her a sardonic look from under his eyelashes, he said, “Thanks.”
“I’m an idiot,” she said.
“No, you’re not. Give me a second and I’ll help you up.”
She glanced over and noticed he was adjusting his left leg and then his right. Once he had his feet on the ground, he stood up and offered her his hand.
She moved around until she could stand, took his hand, and stood up next to him. He was tall—well, he always had been probably a smidge under six foot. Glancing down at his feet she saw he had on a pair of western boots. He had probably been working out at the Scott Christmas Tree Farm. All of the Scott family pitched in to help at this time of year—even though Carson owned and ran the tree farm.
“What were you thinking about?” he asked. “You were distracted.”
“Just going over all the things I need to do before December 25th. I’m sorry I fell into you.”
“It’s not the first time.” He grinned. “Want to grab some hot chocolate at Sage’s?”
Did she? She had just been saying how she had no time, but there was something about Lane Scott that had always gotten to her. The fact that he had asked her out in high school and she’d said no, the fact that he was a hero and she was afraid to talk to him. The fact that…heck, she just wanted to say yes.
Why shouldn’t she?
“Sure. But it’s my treat.”
“Done,” he said.
They walked in a sort of amiable silence…well, she thought it might be amiable on his part, but she was trying to find something to say. Her problem was that she was curious about his prosthetic limbs and his life with them. She wanted to ask him about it but didn’t know the polite way to do it.
So instead she was stuck with mundane things to talk about. Christmas. She could talk about the holiday.
“Are you going to the Christmas gala at the Graff?”
He groaned. “It’s not that I want to, but if I don’t I’m afraid my brothers will gang up on me. I have been staying out of town to avoid that kind of thing, but since it’s Christmas…”
“I know exactly what you mean. I really thought about heading somewhere tropical and not returning until January 10th.”
“Why the 10th?” Lane asked.
“Then I’d avoid the aftermath of Christmas. Mom always schedules a brunch to do a Christmas postmortem.”
Lane laughed. “Your mom sounds…”
“Crazy,” Felicity said. “Just kidding. She loves Christmas so much and wants us to have the best holiday every year. But the pressure is too much, you know?”
“I actually don’t know. Mom’s been gone for almost fifteen years now and Dad never made much of an effort. Lately, my nephews have been the focus of the holidays but really that’s homier than a lot of functions. We work, we sled and snowshoe, and then we string popcorn and sing songs. But that’s about it.”
“That sounds perfect,” she said, glancing over his shoulder and noticing her mom barreling down Main with a determined look on her face.
Felicity groaned and grabbed Lane’s shoulders, turning him to block her from view. “Sorry about this but my mom is across the street and it looks like she is on the warpath.”
“Someone probably doesn’t have enough Christmas decorations in their front room,” Felicity said. “I think I might have to take a rain check on Sage’s.”
“How about a drive out of the city? They serve Sage’s hot chocolate at the tree farm,” Lane said.
She looked up at him—those blue-gray eyes of his so sincere—and she knew that she should say no. She had broken up with her boyfriend six months earlier and she’d realized that she liked being on her own. Everyone in town said Lane needed a woman. He needed someone who would be good for him and settle him down. Welcome him back to Marietta for good.
Felicity wanted to stay clear so that one of those marriage-minded Marietta woman could do just that for Lane. But she also really wanted to get out of town and she liked him.
Lane hadn’t meant to ask her out. In fact, given his mood he should have said good-bye and headed toward Grey’s Saloon, but should have had never really been his strong suit. So instead he found himself sitting in the cab of his truck, heading toward the tree farm that was owned and run by his brother Carson.
He knew it wasn’t very nice but he was a little sick of his brothers and their well-situated lives. He wasn’t sure if he wanted what they had or not. All he knew was if he had to spend one more meal listening to stories of their domestic bliss he was going to lose it.
His brothers used to be rowdy hell-raisers who spent most of their time teasing and tormenting each other. Now they were talking about PTA events, whether his nephews were too old to believe in Santa, and what they were going to do if Emma had a girl—she and Hudson didn’t know the sex of the baby she was expecting but all of the Scotts had decided they’d have to gang up on the boys in town to keep their niece safe.
Damn him. He loved it. He loved that his brothers had found women to make their lives easier, but he also just wanted…to want something. He had been in limbo for a long time. It hadn’t helped that Marcy had broken up with him just as he’d been recovering from the explosion—to be fair she’d sent the email before he’d stepped on the IED. He just hadn’t received and read it before he’d been injured. And then recovering had taken all his energy.
Now he was back home and desperately ready to be normal—except he couldn’t connect to anyone. He was faking everything and not sure he would ever really feel anything again.
Until she’d run him down. Felicity had made him laugh and smile. So that was why he was here and not over at Grey’s.
“Do you already have a tree?” he asked. There was an aura of melancholy around her.
“I don’t. I have been debating buying a fake tree—don’t tell anyone,” Felicity said.
“The outrage,” Lane said. “Carson has some that are in large clay pots, so you can have the tree delivered every year if you are worried about cutting down a tree and then throwing it out.”
“Not really.” Felicity blushed. “I mean of course I don’t want to be wasteful.”
He had to smile. Felicity Danvers was exactly how he remembered her from high school. Sweet and shy and sometimes blunt almost to the point of being inappropriate.
“It’s okay. Why were you thinking fake tree?”
She made a face. “Just for the ease of it. I could pull it out of the box and decorate it… I mean I could even leave the lights on it from year to year.”
“That would be nice,” he said.
“Do you do that?”
“No. I put the lights on my tree every year. But I do get one in a clay pot…actually it’s one I planted when I was a boy,” Lane said. His mom had started the nursery and tree farm that Carson ran now. They provided cut trees and potted ones for many of the families in Marietta and in neighboring ranch areas.
“That’s so sweet. We have a Christmas quilt that we’ve been making since I was a girl. Andrea, my mom, and I each make a square every year and add it to the quilt. My mom started hers the year she and Dad got married so it’s pretty big now. Mine’s not quite big enough to cover the bed.”
“I love that tradition,” Lane said.
“Thanks. And thanks for helping me get out of town. It’s just been a long day. I’m usually not this wimpy.”
“I didn’t think you were wimpy,” he said. “Want to talk about it?”
Something about him seemed to make everyone want to talk to him. He didn’t know whether it was simply because most people knew a lot of crap about him due to his injuries and they wanted to level the playing field, or if it was because of “his baby face” as Hudson liked to say.
“Nothing worth talking about. Just ran into my ex and he always makes me feel icky.”
“Sorry about that,” Lane said. “Exes can be that way.”
“They can be, which is why they are exes. I guess I’ll see about getting one of those clay pot trees,” Felicity said as they turned off the main highway and found a parking space outside the Scott Christmas tree lot.
Carson had the lot set up with a tent that served Sage’s famous hot chocolate and gingerbread and other holiday goodies. There were horse-drawn sleigh rides for families and of course the opportunity to select and cut down the Christmas tree of choice.
“This is nice. Thank you again.”
“You’re very welcome,” he said. He took her to get hot chocolate and realized that people were staring at them.
“Guess you don’t date much,” Lane said.
Felicity groaned. “It’s not that. They’re probably thinking you deserve someone better than me. I broke up with my ex very publicly by throwing a drink on him and have been lying low since then. Sorry, Lane—gosh I say that a lot around you. But it’s sincere.”
“It’s all right. So I’m the first guy you’ve been seen with since the breakup?”
“Yup. Sorry about that.”
“Nothing to be sorry about; we’re friends, right?”
She looked up at him, her eyes bright and hopeful with just a hint of the lingering sadness. “We are friends.”
“Good,” he said. “Do you need help picking out your tree?”
She shook her head. “Besides I see Carson waving furiously at you. I think you’re needed.”
“Not if you need me,” Lane said.
“That’s very sweet but honestly I’m good for now. I’ll get one of the hands to take me back to town as well. Thanks for the ride.”
Lane wanted to argue but he felt like she was trying to get away and he let her go. Besides lifting and carrying a Christmas tree into her house wasn’t something he could do. As he watched her go, he realized that he wanted to be able to do that.
Was that what this ennui was about? The fact that being home made it harder to feel normal, since he remembered the man he used to be and there wasn’t a bridge between the past and the present for him?
Well this Christmas he was determined to figure it out and make the next year one where he felt alive again.
End of Excerpt