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Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Christmas Reunion by Elinor Carson

“Mom, I’m going out,” Jared called up the stairs, pulling on a wool hat and taking his scarf off the hook.

His mother’s head poked out from the second floor. “Where are you going?”

“Just out, Mom,” he said, and immediately winced. He might be turning thirty this year, but something about being home made a man revert to being a kid again. The truth was he still didn’t have a Christmas present for his mom, and he wanted to get to the mall early before it got too crowded.

Undeterred, his mom started down the stairs. “Well if you’re headed out, do you mind running an errand? I thought I had plenty of yarn for your uncle’s sweater, but I want it to have more give in the waistline, if you know what I mean.”

“Mom, I should really--”

“Here’s what I need,” his mom barreled on, jotting something down on a piece of paper. “And from the store over on Carlston, please, not that other place. Just show it to the girls, they’ll know.”

So somehow, almost inexplicably, Jared found himself outside of Needles and Pearls, mentally groaning as he pushed open the door.

He could see why women liked this store, actually. It smelled good, like cinnamon or something, and everything was neatly tucked into baskets and pretty little displays. But he still felt like an idiot as he approached the counter.

“Hi, uh, can I ask you something?”

When the woman turned around with a bright smile, Jared did a double take. “Lainey?”

“Jared!” Lainey exclaimed, her face turning the lightest shade of pink as she registered his presence. “It’s been ages!”

It had been two years, actually, since they’d broken up and Jared left her sitting alone on a park bench just four blocks away. He could still remember the hauntingly beautiful sight of her, snow gently drifting down on her figure, which looked so small against the drift-covered lake. Jared had been leaving for a job in Barcelona, and Lainey hadn’t been ready to move away from everything she knew. Jared still thought of her as the one that got away.

“What are you doing here?” they asked simultaneously, and both echoed it with a slightly nervous laugh.

“My mom roped me in to doing some hours here, because we get so busy around Christmas,” Lainey said lightly.

“I had no idea this was your mom’s place!” But Jared had a feeling his own mother knew that fact very well. “I’m back in town for the holidays, and my mom asked me to pick something up for her.”

“Oh, well, let me help you with that.” Lainey smiled shyly at him, and Jared thought he felt his heart skip a beat.

“She wrote it down for me.” Jared handed her the slip of paper and couldn’t help but add, “You look really good, Lainey.”

She did look good. Just like he remembered, with those gentle curls of light brown hair and laughing, happy blue eyes. She was wearing a gray sweater dress that clung gently to her curves, and knee-high boots that caught his attention. And, when she noticed him eyeing her, that pretty pink on her cheeks intensified. He’d always loved to tease her and watch the blush stain her cheeks, to see her eyes grow glassy while he ran a hand along those curves and told her how beautiful she was.

“Um, we’ve got that yarn right here,” Lainey said a little too loudly as she pulled out a thick skein of dark green.

“Thanks,” Jared said, barely glancing at it. After dating Lainey for four years, he knew her every move, and he knew she could feel his eyes on her. And for some reason, he wanted her to know it. Suddenly he ached with the longing to touch her again, to hold her in his arms. He hadn’t realized how much he’d missed her until just now.

“Listen, I’m looking for a present for my mom, too,” he said quickly, wanting to prolong their interaction in any way possible. “Do you have anything nice, or maybe know something she’s been eyeing?”

“Hm,” Lainey said, biting her lip as she thought. “We do have this gorgeous cashmere blend I remember she looked at last week. It’s in the back—let me get it so you can take a look.”

Perfect, Jared thought. “I’ll come with you.”

“What—no, that’s okay, really,” Lainey said with a breathless laugh and a toss of her hair. She wants me too, Jared realized with a thrill.

“Oh, come on. You can trust me,” he said quietly, meeting her eyes.

Something in them made her pause, and then she smiled. “All right, come on back,” she said, and held out a hand to him.

He was startled by the gesture, but when he took her hand, it felt warm and comfortable and right.

Lainey led him through a small hallway and into a dimly lit room with towering stacks of boxes, neatly arranged onto industrial shelving. Jared took a closer look and said wonderingly, “Every single thing in here has a label.”

“How else would we find anything?” Lainey said drolly before turning to a shelf.

Jared stepped closer to her, a little uncertain, but knowing he couldn’t leave without at least giving it a shot. He reached out a hand and caught some of her hair, tugging gently so that she turned to him.

“Lainey,” he said, and watched those precious blue eyes looking up at him, watched her lips part wordlessly for just one second before conscious thought left him and he leaned down to capture her mouth with his.

He’d always loved the taste of her mouth. And the feeling of her lips, a little hesitant at first, then pressing against him with more intensity, more need, fueling his own desire. His hands circled her waist, and her hands found his shoulders, until they held each other close enough that he could feel her heartbeat. So he felt it speed up when he slid a hand up her back to cradle her neck, arching her closer into him.

“God, Lainey,” Jared groaned as he pulled his mouth away from hers to nip at her ear. “You feel so good.”

She breathed his name in a shuddery sigh as he shifted, wrapping one arm around her while his other hand slid up her dress to firmly cup her behind. Their lower bodies molded together gently, then more securely when she lifted a leg to wrap around him. Even as he moved to kiss her neck, he took advantage of the easier access afforded by her dress hiking up even further, his fingers gently brushing against her, teasing her.

“Jesus,” he heard her gasp as he tilted his head back to look at her face. Her eyes were fluttering between open and closed, and though she was panting, her lips were somehow forming a rapturous smile.

Then a bell jangled, and Lainey’s eyes flew open, anxiety dulling the stars in her eyes. “That’s the front door! Jared, I have to—” She moaned when he pressed his fingers against her, and he bent to kiss her collarbone. Her body involuntarily jerked towards him before she caught her breath. “Oh, God, Jared, I really need to go …”

“I’ll let you go on one condition,” Jared murmured into her neck.

Lainey’s head was tilting back now, and he thought he might be able to keep her back here if he tried, but he didn’t want her to get in trouble either. He let his lips skim the tops of her breasts before he spoke again. “Come to dinner with me tonight.”

“What?” he heard her manage faintly.

“I’ve missed you, Lainey,” Jared said softly before letting his tongue dance along the valley between her breasts. “I need to see you again. Tonight.” He eased his fingers away and used the arm around her waist to help her stand, wanting their gazes to meet again.

“I—okay,” Lainey said, her breath starting to return to normal. “Yes. Tonight. Just lay low here for a while and I’ll come get you when the shop’s empty again, okay?” She smiled at him again, looking a little flushed, but happy.

He watched her leave, the smile on his own face becoming irrepressible. Now that he’d seen Lainey, he realized she was the best thing that had ever happened to him, and he wasn’t planning to let her go again. Whatever it took—even if he had to move back from Barcelona, he was going to find a way to make it work this time.

Jared knelt to pick up a ball of yarn that Lainey had dropped on the floor. He’d even found the perfect Christmas present for his mom, without having to brave the mall crowds. So far, it really had been a fantastic day.

About the Author: Elinor Carson is passionate about writing romantic fiction, including fantasy, paranormal, and contemporary stories. Her other interests include bad reality television, baking, and running. She lives with her husband and their cat. Her first published novella, Lone Wolf, is available at Cobblestone Press.

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