Carly Schuyler dreaded another Thanksgiving at her grandmother’s. The entire family would converge to gorge themselves, watch football, and goad her about being an old maid. Not necessarily in that order.
She considered pleading a migraine or hiring a boyfriend. Later, however, there’d be a million questions.
After she put the finishing touches on her pies she threw on a festive top and jingle bell earrings. She shouldered into her faux fur jacket and boots then stepped outside into the cold. At least it was white and snowy. She loved snow.
After slipping and sliding on ice all the way across town, she changed her mind. “Rotten snow,” she mumbled as she stomped it off her boots.
“Carly’s here!” her aunt told the others. She hugged Carly. “Happy Thanksgiving, Honey.”
Her grandmother muttered, “She don’t have no kids or husband to slow her down. Why’s she always so late?”
As all gazes turned on her, heated flooded her cheeks. She ducked into the kitchen where she collided into her least favorite cousin, Leesa. Feeling greener, she tried to bolt.
But Leesa drawled, “What a cute little girl top.”
“Thanks,” she muttered as a real headache started.
“Your old boyfriend’s here.”
Carly’s heart slammed into the floor and she gulped. Which old boyfriend? Who would Leesa know?
“Of course you might not remember since it’s been so long since you’ve had one…”
Carly’s breath hissed in and she counted to ten. Deciding Leesa had a right to be pissy with four children under five at home, she let it go. Stepping around her she peeked into the living room.
When she spied Keifer Johnson her heart fluttered. They’d been so in love in high school, then she’d gone into the Army and he’d gone to college. Time and distance had been too much. He’d simply stopped writing.
Why hadn’t she gone ROTC? So she could go to college with him?
Because she’d been young and stupid and hadn’t thought of it until too late.
As if she’d screamed his name, Keif’s gaze locked on hers. He crossed the room and enveloped her in a suffocating hug. “Carly! I was so scared you wouldn’t make it home.”
There was so much she longed to ask but her throat froze. God, but he looked terrific. He was built. His shoulders had broadened and he was all man.
“I forgot how pretty you are. Of course now you’re a woman.” He held her at arm’s length while his gaze roamed her length. “Fully grown. Funny, you don’t look like a soldier.”
The pulse at the base of her neck ricocheted. Her heart pounded against her ribs. There was so much she yearned to say, but not within ear shot of her relatives.
Finally, she found her voice. “You, too. You look terrific.”
“Speak up, child.” Grandma Pam scowled. “I can’t hear you all the way over there.”
Carly cringed and broke free of Keif’s hold. Before she could chicken out, she gave him a gentle shove. “Let’s go to the basement.”
A stream of screaming children beat them to the door and stampeded down the stairs. The house shook and reverberated with their ruckus.
Keif shook his head and cracked a rueful grin. “Where else can we go?”
Family crowded the den as well as the living room. All she could think of was, “The bedroom.” But every door was locked.
He looked at her. “I know. Grab your coat.”
She quirked her brow and peeked out at the darkness. Snow glistened on the window panes. Icicles clung to the awning and reflected the blinking Christmas lights already strung on the house.
They tried to slink out the door but the jingle of her earrings sounded loud in her ears. Cursing, she yanked them off and stashed them in her pocket.
Keif captured her hand and led her to the side of the house. Moonlight cast a silvery sheen on the snow as they trudged through it.
“I have a confession. When Spence told me you’d be here, I hounded him to bring me.”
Her jaw slacked and her heart stopped. She didn’t know whether to hug or slug her cousin Spencer. She searched Keif’s eyes. “Why?” Was he going to be alone for the holiday? Had he grown a conscience and after all these years he wanted to apologize for dumping her without a word?
He slid his finger under her chin and tilted up her head. “I want to know why you ignored my proposal and then stopped writing.”
The word “proposal” rang in her head. In shock she asked, “What proposal? You stopped writing to me.”
His brow furrowed and he ran his fingers through his hair. “I thought it odd so I called. A guy named Dwayne answered and said he was your boyfriend. He told me to stop pestering you. I was pretty torn up.”
Her buddy, Dwayne?
Her head spun. The earth quaked and she clutched her throat. “There was never anything romantic between me and Dwayne. He was just a friend. I loved you. Even if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t end things so callously.”
"Loved? Past tense?” Keif moved closer and tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear.
He was the one. But she was scared to bare her soul and get shot down. Then the years of loneliness stole over her. The north wind seemed to whisper in her ear, “Take a chance.”
She licked her lips and shored up her courage. “It’s been a long time, but I’ve never forgotten you, never stopped loving you. It’s not too late for us? Can we have a second chance?”
“We can if we say so. I say so.” He kissed her softly. When she melted into him, he plundered her lips.
Only when snow melted on her face did she pull back. She trembled but not from the cold and she traced his lips with her thumb. “So do I.”
About the Author: Ashley Ladd has more than 40 published romances. Her most recently released story is "Sorry Charlie" in the "Friction" anthology, published by Total-E-Bound at www.total-e-bound.com She's originally from Cincinnati but now lives in sunny South Florida. Her next release, an erotic romance, will be on October 5, 2009 at www.total-e-bound.com and is entitled "Recipe for Disaster".
She loves to read and write about comedy romance, time-travel, and as a big Trekkie, Air Force vet, and cat lover, you'll often find military heroes and heroines, space, and talking cats in her novels. She invites you to visit her at her blog at http://www.ashleyladd.blogspot.com and also on Twitter and Facebook as "Ashleyladd" (all one word, no quotes).