“I’ve got to get out of here,” Chet whispered against her neck. He drew in a deep breath as if that would give him the necessary fortitude to ease her out of his arms.
“Not yet,” she pleaded.
The sound of voices in the yard outside was all the incentive they needed. They broke apart as if they’d been burned.
“That’s my father,” Monica said, her gaze flying to Chet.
Chet jerked his head both ways. “I’ll go out the window.”
By the time she reached him in her father’s office, he’d hoisted the window open and had one leg draped over the sill. “Meet me tonight,” he said.
“When?” she pleaded, glancing over her shoulder. “Where?”
“No,” she whispered frantically. “Tell me when and where.”
He smiled, and the look in his eyes was enough to cause spirals of heat to coil in her belly. He reached for her, kissed her once hard and fast and whispered, “I’ll let you know.” With that he vanished.
The door opened and her father casually strolled inside, humming softly to himself. He looked surprised to find her standing there.
“Yes, Dad?” she said, still trapped in a sensual daze.
“You might want to close the window. It’s downright chilly in here.”
“Oh, sorry,” she said, lowering it as if it were nothing out of the ordinary to have it open in the middle of December.
“I’ll open the door for you,” Timmy cried, running toward the front porch, leaving Glen to untie the Christmas tree from the top of his car.
“Timmy has his own key,” Jody explained, catching the rope that Glen tossed down to her as he untied the tree.
Glen looked toward the front of the house. “He enjoyed himself this afternoon, didn’t he?”
Jody smiled and nodded. “I swear he was like a jackrabbit, leaping from one tree to the next, certain each time he’d found the perfect Christmas tree. It’s a miracle we were able to convince him to choose just one.”
“What about you, Jody?” Glen asked thoughtfully. “Did you have a good time too?”
It shouldn’t be so difficult to admit to the truth, but it was.
“I had a very nice time,” she said, keeping her eyes averted.
His laugh came unexpectedly. “Good girl,” he praised. “I knew you could do it.”
Jody laughed then too, because it was rather silly of her to hold out against the obvious.
Timmy returned breathless and excited. “The door’s open,” he announced, eager to help in any way he could.
Her son was a marvel, Jody mused. Rarely had she seen him more animated. He’d laughed and chatted incessantly, until she was convinced he was going to drive Glen nuts. For a man who wasn’t accustomed to being around children, the attorney had been marvelous.
“Mom got the tree stand and all the decorations out last night,” Timmy told Glen, for about the fifth time. Actually Jody had lost count of the number of times Timmy had felt it was necessary to clue Glen in to this information.
Together, the three of them carried the Christmas tree around to the backyard.
“We’re going to need to cut off a couple of inches from the bottom,” Glen said, once they’d got the tree to the patio and recovered. The trunk was too wide for the stand. “Think you might be able to help me saw it off?” he asked Timmy.
It was like asking the boy if he liked popcorn. Timmy beamed with pride as he solemnly nodded his head. “Sure, I can do it.”
“I know you can,” Glen said, affectionately patting his shoulder.
“While you’re busy with that, I’ll put on some hot chocolate,” Jody said, pushing open the sliding glass door. The tears that stung her eyes were unexpected. She wasn’t entirely sure what prompted them, nor was she sure she wanted to know.
The changes in Timmy had been revealing. Yes, it was Christmastime and yes, he was excited, but it made her realize how rare those times were. Generally Timmy involved himself in his video games and didn’t show much enthusiasm for anything else—with the one exception being baseball, which he dearly loved.
Between sniffles, she brought the milk out of the refrigerator and set a pan on the stove, furious with herself for the weakness of tears.
Glen appeared unexpectedly and she twisted her head away, praying he wouldn’t notice. “That’s quite a boy you’ve got there,” Glen said. “I swear he’s another Paul Bunyan.”
“He’s certainly had the time of his life.” She was grateful that the hot chocolate gave her an excuse to keep her back to him.
Glen moved behind her and gently placed his hands on her shoulders. Jody froze, unaccustomed to a man’s touch.
He bent forward and kissed the side of her neck.
“Where’s Timmy?” she asked, her voice trembling.
“Putting the saw away.” Glen turned her so that they faced each other. He frowned when he saw her tear-bright eyes and slid his thumb across the high arch of her cheek. “Bad thoughts?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“Let me help.” Then, before she could protest, he lowered his mouth to hers. It was hardly enough pressure to call it a real kiss. Gradually he increased the intensity, deepening the contact. Jody felt like a rag doll, limp and unresponsive. The kiss was sweet and undemanding, but Glen was the first man to touch her since Jeff. Doubts blew against her with hurricane-force winds until she pressed her hands against his chest and broke the contact. Later she’d analyze her feelings toward Glen, but for now it was too new.
Glen sighed softly. “It would be very easy to fall in love with you.” He continued to hold her until he heard Timmy’s approach.
Once her son was back, Glen carried the tree into the house, and with a good deal of ceremony, set it in the living room. When it was in place in front of the large picture window, they sat back and sipped hot chocolate.
Unwilling to rest, Timmy sorted through the boxes of decorations. It seemed with every one, he found something he needed to show Glen. Each discovery involved a lengthy explanation.
Glen’s patience surprised her, and she told him so.
“He’s a great kid,” Glen said. “Who wouldn’t like him?”
“Can we decorate the tree now?” Timmy asked, standing in the middle of three strings of lights. Wires were wrapped around his feet and another strand was draped over his shoulder as he grinned broadly in their direction. “You aren’t going to make me wait until Christmas morning to see my presents, are you? I’m much too old to pretend I believe in Santa Claus.”
“It’s tradition,” Jody said, as means of an argument.
“Oh, phooey. I still have to pretend I believe in that silly kid stuff for my grandma, but it’s downright embarrassing. I just hope none of my friends find out about it.”
“Sometimes there are things a man has to do,” Glen said, and Jody marveled that he kept a straight face.
“Can we decorate the tree now?”
“Sure,” Glen agreed, setting aside his empty mug.
“It’ll be our best tree yet, won’t it, Mom?”
Jody was saved from answering by the phone. She left the pair to untangle the strings of lights and took the call in the kitchen.
“Jody, dear, it’s so good to hear your voice.”
“Hello, Gloria.” It had been a year or longer since she’d last spoken to her former mother-in-law. “Did you get my letter?” Jody asked, glancing guiltily into the living room. There wasn’t any reason for her to feel the least bit contrite for dating Glen or for kissing him, but she did, as if she’d been unfaithful to Jeff’s memory.
“I have some very important news,” Gloria said, ignoring the question.
“Who is it?” Timmy wanted to know.
“Just a minute, Gloria,” Jody said, and placed her hand over the mouthpiece. “It’s your Grandma Potter,” she explained. “I’ll let you talk to her when I’m finished. I’ll call you in just a minute.” When Timmy was gone, she replaced the receiver at her ear. “I’m sorry to interrupt you. You were telling me you had something important to tell me?”
“My dear, it’s the most wonderful news. Brace yourself because what I’m about to tell you will come as a shock. Jeff’s alive.”
Monica paced her bedroom, wondering what, if anything, she should do now that she was home. Her evening with Michael had been miserable. Michael couldn’t be blamed for that; he’d been sweet and considerate, wanting to please her.
When he’d arrived for dinner, he’d presented her with a potted pink poinsettia, which riddled her with guilt. Throughout the meal he’d praised her efforts while her father looked on approvingly. Monica was a fair cook, but the pot roast and mashed potatoes and gravy were nothing to brag about.
The cantata, while inspirational, had seemed to drag. Every note was torture and Monica knew why.
She was looking for Chet, half expecting him to slip into the pew next to her at the Methodist church. It was just like something he’d do. Monica had sat through the entire program with her stomach in knots wondering when and where Chet would show up.
After she returned home, she wondered if he’d come for her, as he’d said he would, but as the night ripened, she was further burdened with uncertainty.
Fortunately, her father had gone to bed early. She hadn’t been fooled. Lloyd Fischer was hoping she’d invite Michael in for a cup of coffee and had afforded them the necessary privacy to talk. Monica, however, had made her excuses, thanked Michael for a lovely evening, and then quickly slipped inside the house.
Waiting for Chet was intolerable. The not knowing. Twice now she’d ventured through the house, turning lights on and off as she tiptoed from one room to the next, fearing she’d wake her father.
At ten, she sat on the end of her bed, depressed and miserable. She picked at her fingernails, which she kept square and neatly trimmed. Although she’d often admired women with beautifully manicured nails, she personally thought of them as vain. The Bible has a good deal to say about vanity and a good many other things, including . . .
Her thoughts were interrupted by a soft knocking sound against her bedroom window. Monica flew off the bed and was breathless by the time she boosted open her window and stuck out her head.
“Chet?” she whispered as loud as she dared, leaning out. “Is that you?” She was eternally grateful that her father’s room was at the front of the house, opposite her own.
“Are you expecting anyone else?”
She heard Chet, but couldn’t see him. “Where are you?” she demanded, squinting into the inky black night. Shadows flickered here and there in what little light the moon offered. Still she couldn’t locate him, and yet he sounded incredibly close.
He appeared then, like an apparition, and stood directly in front of her. For a moment they did nothing but stare at each other. Monica’s heart was positioned somewhere between her chest and her throat and felt like a concrete ball.