I was excited to see Fiona and Angus along with my rowdy brothers-in-law, yet I grimaced when we passed the Scottish border. I felt uneasy as we left “home.”
Scotland had always been Hugh’s home, and I had grown incredibly attached to it, moody weather and all.
Scotland was one of those places you inexplicably felt connected to after spending some time there. There was something in the breathtaking beauty of the landscapes that called out to you, urged you to come home, even when it wasn’t your place of birth.
How unbelievable that this magical land and the people who inhabited were once called “barbarians” by the British. If there was anything barbaric about Scotland, it was the violent, unapologetic way it got under your skin.
Even though I would probably struggle with the climate for the rest of my life, there was no other place that had such a calming effect on my soul.
I’d realized it even more after Amira had visited us a few months before and had mentioned it herself. My sister was right; there was no other place in the world that made me feel this way, not even the city I’d called home my entire life.
Was it just because it was where my husband was from? Was I so attached to it just because of him? For some reason, I didn’t believe that was the case.
The queasy feeling in my stomach was back again as we left the Highlands, as if part of me was already homesick. I laughed to myself, thinking how just the year before, I’d been homesick for sunny LA.
How quickly things change.
“What’s funny?” Hugh asked with a curious, amused look.
I smiled, a bit embarrassed.
“This might sound strange, especially coming from me, but . . .we’ve been out of Scotland all of thirty minutes and I already feel homesick.”
His grin was small at first, and then it stretched big and bright across his face, a proud, unabashed smile. He took my hand and brought it up to his mouth, the touch of his lips on my skin making me shiver. Yes, a simple touch from him could still affect me the same way it had when we were flirting and my yearning for him was just beginning to grow.
He noticed and gave me a glance full of mischief. He held my hand in his as he put his eyes back on the road.
“I ken what ye mean. It’s the same for me. I wish my parents were still in Edinburgh. I’m ready for my father to retire so they can move back and we can spend the holidays in Scotland.”
“I’ve never felt this way about a place before. Even when I missed LA, it was my family and my routine I missed the most, but Scotland . . . it does a number on you. It’s like something that becomes part of you, and you can’t shake it.” My voice was low, and I felt like I was rambling. “I’m sorry, I’m probably not making any sense.”
Hugh shook his head and smiled. “I do understand ye, Sam. It’s the same for me, about Scotland, ye ken, and it’s the way I’ve always felt about you,” he said in a husky tone. He smiled wickedly at me, the corners of his lips curled up in the smile I loved.
I laced my fingers with his and kissed his hand.
“And you’re sure this is okay? You weren’t planning on spending time there yourself?” I nod at the response on the other end and an annoyed huff comes from behind me. For the past five minutes, Abbie has been impatiently waiting for me to get off the phone and tell her what’s going on. At first, I didn’t notice her, but now it’s just funny to pretend like she isn’t even here. The floor squeaks as she hops up from the bed and starts pacing the floor. “Thank you so much, Mr. Wilson. I really appreciate it.”
She suddenly stops and turns with her mouth wide open at the mention of Flynn’s dad’s name. We say our goodbyes and I end the call with my sister still gaping at me. Before I have the chance to say anything, she’s leaping across the room toward me. “What was that about? Why were you talking to Flynn’s dad? Does he know you talk to his dad?”
All the questioning is giving me whiplash. I halt her questioning with my hand over her mouth. “First off I don’t talk to Flynn’s dad. We’re not buddies. I had a question for him. And you’ll find out in a minute what that was all about.”
Without another word, I stand up and head out to the living room with her calling my name from behind me. Both Mom and Dad are sitting on the couch watching Die Hard, Dad’s favorite Christmas movie. Don’t even get me started on how that is not an appropriate holiday movie, but whatever. They’re spending time together and that’s all that matters. Since Abbie and Dad moved with us, Mom has been taking weekends off and working a normal work week. It was weird at first having her home all the time, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Mom?” I cringe as gun fire goes off behind me and Dad pauses the movie.
Her hair is pulled up in a messy bun and her face is completely free of makeup. She’s wearing baggy sweatpants and I’m aware yet again how different things have been since we moved from California to Oregon. Her entire presence exudes happiness and Dad feels exactly the same way. “What’s going on Ashtyn?”
I pause and carefully contemplate my words. I move my focus to the downpour in our backyard rather than the potential negative response from Mom or Dad. It’s funny but when I finally got adjusted to the idea of living in Oregon, I thought we would have snow. In California, we always went to Big Bear, but there was never a flake of snow on the ground in Santa Barbara. But right now, all I can hear is the pitter patter of rain against the windows. Life in the Pacific Northwest I guess. “Don’t be mad, okay?”
“What. In the hell. Are you doing?”
I turn around at the sound of my wife’s voice, the incredulity of her tone already bringing a smile to her face. “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m making elf foot prints.”
Nichole crosses her arms over her chest as she walks over to inspect the damage. “What it looks like you’re doing is making a damn mess.”
I wave my hand over my shoulder, turning back to the small pointy shoe I’d found in the kid’s section at Walmart. “Away with you woman. You’re distracting me.”
“You better not be thinking I’m going to clean all this up. You made the mess, so you get to clean it,” she tells me, leaning her hip against the wall near the front door. I’d wanted this to look authentic. So of course, I had to start with the door. Everyone knows elves don’t come down the chimney. That’s a privilege reserved only for Santa himself.
I push myself up off my hands and knees, wrapping my arms around Nichole’s waist and dragging her down to the couch. I silence her yelp with a kiss so she doesn’t wake the kids. That’s the only motive behind the kiss. It has nothing to do with the fact that this woman’s lips are my kryptonite, able to bring me to my knees with a single brush.
Okay, maybe it does a little.
I push my fingers into her hair, tilting her head back slightly for better access to her neck. The soft whimper that escapes her lips only deepens my desire, and I press the erection I’m currently sporting into her core.
“How did I end up with someone as perfect as you?” she murmurs, her fingers finding their own way to my hair. I love the feel of her nails on my skin. She could touch me anywhere, and I’d be putty in her hands.
“I could ask you the same question,” I say against her skin, my mouth making its way down from her neck to her breasts. I pull the fabric of her shirt to one side, nibbling gently at the milky smoothness that greets me.
Her head falls back in a moan, but she continues her thought. “I mean it, Joey. Everything you’ve been doing for Cade… Not many men would do something like that.”
This isn’t exactly the conversation I want to be having with my face buried in my wife’s cleavage, but I can tell by the chocked sound in her voice that this is something she needs to say. I raise my head and look her in the eye.
“Well, not many kids are like Cade. Believe me, anything I do for that kid is returned tenfold when I get to see the smile on his face.”
Her eyes roll back as she lets her head fall back against a throw pillow. “Gah, and then you go and say something like that? Do you have any idea how much of a turn on it is that you love my son so much?”
I run my fingers down her stomach, toying with the edge of her sleep shorts and panties. “I’m sure I could find out,” I say, breaching the barrier and sliding my hand down to cup her. “And he’s our son.”
If you would’ve told me last Christmas I’d be spending this Christmas with my ex-husband Julian, I’d have called you a liar. Then again, if you would’ve told me I’d be here with my niece Morgan and her newly acquired fiancé, I probably would’ve had you checked into the nearest mental hospital.
But here I sit, on a floral—yes, floral—couch in Julian’s Paris penthouse watching two of the people I love most in this world celebrate their engagement.
Morgan, my beautiful girl. She sure has grown up over these past few months. She may have been thrown at me like she was a piece of trash by her no-good mother, but she’s the finest piece of trash I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching rise from the ashes. A stunning emerald-eyed phoenix.
At least something good came from my devastating heartbreak.
After my sister’s deception, it was hard for me to get over what she’d done. It was harder for me to move on with Julian, the man she used as her pawn. Eventually it tore us apart.
Some would say we’ve come full circle.
Not me. I feel like I’m back at square one and starting all over again.
Which is why I’ve planned to spend as little time as possible in Julian’s company. Morgan promised we’d do things together as a group or just the two of us. So far, it’s been okay. Slightly awkward, but okay. I mean it’s painfully obvious to all I’m avoiding any alone time with Julian. But can you blame me? He was my husband when he slept with my sister.
She got pregnant.
I got divorced.
Not to mention eighteen years spent in this solitary hell of my own making.
But back to the moment. Right this second, I’m…scared.
I’m scared because Julian is looking at me with rekindled love shining in his eyes.
I’m scared because I’m weak.
I’m scared because Harrison just whisked Morgan away to have their own private celebration.
I’m scared because Julian hasn’t stopped staring at me with those damn emotions flickering in his gaze.
Shit. I’m in so much trouble.
You better run, Savannah.
Instead of running, I stay firmly seated on this damn flowery old lady couch while the lights from the Christmas tree twinkle in the room like starlight in the night sky. I should probably head over to my hotel soon, but I sink down deeper into the cushions, releasing a sigh as I do.
Promises may have been made. I told Morgan I’d spend this night here, only so it’d be easier for us all to celebrate Christmas morning together, but I think fleeing to the safety of my hotel is the right answer.
“Care for another glass of wine, Van?” Julian asks from where he stands on the other side of his grand living room, his bottle-green eyes still watching me like a hawk stalking its prey.
“We both know the safe answer to that is no. I’ll be on my way now. It’s past time I turn in for the evening.” Attempting to stand with as much grace as I can muster, I get tangled up in my pants while doing so. Stupid beautiful Louboutin high heels.
The touch of Julian’s hand on my elbow as he helps to steady me feels like a jolt of lightening straight to my heart. All I can manage to do is turn my gaze to his. His jewel-like eyes burn into mine.
I don’t move.
Neither does he.
It’s like this moment in time is what we’ve been waiting nearly half our lives for…a second chance.
Even though I’m stubborn as heck and will probably never let myself go enough to feel the kind of soul-bearing love I once knew in Julian’s arms. Before he betrayed me and stomped all over my heart.
A minute passes and neither one of us has tried to move, his hand still on my arm. I don’t even feel like I’m breathing. If it wasn’t for my chest moving, I’d swear I wasn’t.
Another minute goes by.
The grandfather clock strikes on the half hour; we still don’t so much as bat an eyelid.
Three minutes pass.
Now it’s become a staring contest neither one of our stubborn asses will break.
His tongue darts out to lick his lips.
His lips always were my downfall.
By the fourth minute I’m telling myself if I see him move one more muscle I’m declaring victory as mine and leaving. The bathtub in my hotel room is calling my name. It sounds like a delicious idea to me.
Minute five is here.
He hasn’t moved anything but his tongue.
Suddenly, he reaches his hand out toward my face, his thumb rubbing my cheek near my lower lip. My tongue nearly darts out to lick it, but if I did it’d be a game changer. One I’m not sure I’m ready for.
“You had a droplet of wine. Here, let me take better care of it.”
Before I can protest, his lips come crashing down on mine. Using both of his hands, he shoves them into my hair, threading his fingers through and holding my head in his steady hands. He’s using them to angle my head and hold me hostage. He doesn’t need them though. As soon as his lips dusted mine, I was ready and eager to kiss him back with just as much fervor.
How I’ve missed kissing Julian.
My tongue licks along his bottom lip, begging for access. I want to taste him again. I want to burn for him like I used to for days after a simple kiss. When his tongue meets mine, I hear his responding growl.
The sound is what breaks this momentary insanity.
Breaking the kiss, I push gently at his chest and take two steps back.
“W-We can’t, Julian. It’s too much.” My voice doesn’t sound like my own. The one coming from me in this moment belongs to the Savannah whose heart was shattered. Whose soul was ripped from her body. I’d recognize her voice anywhere. But it’s the Savannah I am now who needs to finish this. “I’m saying no, Julian. No means no. Never again. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a hotel room to get back to.”
And with those parting words, I grab my purse from the couch and stalk out of his haughty overpriced Paris penthouse. At least I’m wearing thousand-dollar shoes that make me look remarkable while doing it.
“What the bloody hell is all that?” Padraig asks as he stands to help me with the large storage container I’m struggling to get through the front door. My grace is not a strong asset at the moment.
“Christmas decorations,” I huff out as he takes the box from my hands. I wipe the back of my hand against my sweaty forehead. I don’t know why I haven’t learned my lesson yet about carrying heavy, awkward things through the streets of downtown Savannah. It was only two blocks, I’d told myself.
Padraig sets the box on the floor and removes the lid. He rifles through it for a second and lifts the string of my large, red, reindeer-nose lights.
“The fuck?” He looks up at me, one eyebrow sharply raised.
“Those are Christmas lights. Have you never seen them before?” I bend over the box and take the strand from his hand. I pull the rest of the strand out of the box and lift the bulbs to the archway of the hall entrance.
“I usually hang them here. Aren’t they adorable?”
Padraig moves his hand down his beard and smirks at me. “No. They are atrocious.” He walks to me, wraps his arms around me, and kisses the side of my head. “But I do think you’re adorable.”
His Irish scent infiltrates my nose, and sensations overcome my body. I drop the strand of lights onto the floor and immediately turn to face him. I run my fingers through his hair and bring his lips to mine. We’ve been together for months, and I can’t get enough of him. He possesses every piece of me.
Padraig cups the back of my head with one hand and places the other at the small of my back, pressing me into him, taking charge of the situation. I melt into him. He motions me back against the archway. His mouth engulfs mine frantically. My senses spin out of control. He moves his hand from my back and down to my ass, squeezing. I raise my legs and wrap them around his waist. My hands slide down and then up underneath his shirt, allowing my fingertips to enjoy the muscular masterpiece. Padraig kisses my jawline and down my neck. I let out a gasp and tug at the hem of his shirt. With finesse, Padraig grabs the back of his shirt and removes it. That simple motion heats up my insides almost to the point of combustion. I begin unbuttoning my top when Padraig runs his hand down the opening, causing buttons to fly everywhere.
That hotness never gets old.
“You have got to stop doing that,” I say with a chuckle.
“I’ll buy ya more shirts. They’re too damn complicated.” He kisses and nips at my breasts over the lace of my bra.
“Good God, Padraig, if you don’t fuck me right now, I’m going to explode.”
Padraig kisses my mouth hard. “Aye.”
He walks us to the bedroom, which is where we end up staying most of the afternoon.
“Oh God! Get it out!” I scream. I’m panicking.
“I can’t!” the love of my life screams back. “I don’t know how.” God, he is such a fucking little girl.
“Well, fucking figure it out!” I shout back. “You put it in there, so you figure out how to get it out because I am motherfucking done.”
“I thought you were supposed to glow and be all peaceful earth mother and shit, but pregnancy has just made you meaner,” that fucker says to me. “And I hate to tell you, but I’m a little afraid of you right now,” my husband says in his haughty tone.
“Good! You should be, you dumbass, because if you ever think you are going to put your dick anywhere near my body again, you’ve got another thing coming. I will saw that shit off with a dull butter knife if I have to,” I tell him. “I will chew that fucker right the fuck off.”
“Well, darlin’.” He says slowly. Aw, fuck, I triggered the drawl . . . I see that wicked gleam in his eye. Can’t he see that I am in pain here? That I’m suffering? “If my huge cock is in your mouth, you won’t be chewing it. As for my getting back into the end zone, we both know I will as soon as your body can handle it because we both know you can’t go more than a day without me buried so deep inside you that you don’t know where I end and you begin,” he says as he traces a fingertip down my neck and over my breast, circling my nipple before he drops our connection. I growl and slap his hand away.
“You don’t know!” I shout. Shit. This is like an out-of-body experience. It’s like I’m standing on a street corner, watching myself lose my fucking mind. “You don’t know me!” Good one, Angie.
“Oh, baby, but I do.” He smiles sweetly. “But now, I think we need to go to the hospital. It’s time, Angel.”
“No. I’m not ready,” I say, shaking my head.
“Angel, sweetheart, she’s two weeks overdue. This baby is coming. Tonight.”
“Cody, I love you dearly, but so help me God, I cannot leave that hospital without my baby!” I snap. “We have been to that fucking hospital one hundred fucking times, and they have all been fucking false alarms!” I shout. “I cannot — no — I will not take that look of pity in Mark’s eyes when he tells me I am not in labor. Again! So, nut the fuck up and get it out.”
“Angel, love, put the steak knife down,” he says calmly. “And get your sweet-as-fuck ass in the car before I paddle the shit out of it. We are going to the fucking hospital,” he says once and for all. Ugh. Fuck. Fine. I give up. I hand him the knife and march my happy ass out to the truck.
“You love it.”
“I do,” he says. Liam pulls back slightly and looks me directly in the eyes. “Just one of the things I love about you.” His lips crash down on mine for what I like to call a movie scene kiss, before he moves back, finally letting go of me.
As my eyes open to the well-lit room, I notice a cute little nutcracker on the table I’m about to set my keys on. “This is cute,” I pick the figurine up to take a closer look. Setting him back down, my eyes avert to the living room and I blink, trying to figure out if what I’m seeing is real or not.
“What do you think?”
My legs are carrying me into the living room and to the sights that I wasn’t expecting to see when I walked into the apartment tonight. “It’s…it’s beautiful. Liam,” I look back at him. “You did this?”
“With a little help.” His smile is so wide I think it must be hurting his jaw.
The dark green pine is covered in sparkling lights and glistening golden ornaments. There are a couple of elaborate character pieces hidden among the glass bulbs. I don’t know how long I’m standing in this spot trying to see each and every item on the Christmas tree, our Christmas tree, when I feel Liam’s arms wrap around my waist and pull me in close to him. His lips meet my neck and he kisses me gently right below my ear. “Did I do good?”