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Santa's Plus-One Surprise

Written by Melissa Senate

Chapter Nine

Do you have any Christmas decorations in a box somewhere?” Felicity asked. “Don’t you think Barnaby would like a pretty wreath to look at?”

He did have some decorations. His parents hadn’t had much; they’d been on the low-income side, so when his aunt packed up their stuff, everything had fit in a few boxes. Half of one box had been Christmas-related His parents had loved Christmas. It was why he couldn’t bear to decorate the house. To remember. All those lights and garlands and wreaths and mistletoe would just remind him of his losses.

But now was about gains. Getting his son. So he had no choice.

He led the way into the house.

“Spare, but nice and very clean,” she said, looking into the kitchen and then in the living room at the sofas and rugs, the big stone fireplace.

“Someone comes every week,” he said.

“That’s good. The Cartlands will like that.”

He led the way up into the attic. There wasn’t much up there.

“How long have you lived here?” she asked.

“Five years. When I graduated from high school I joined the army, then, after two tours of duty, I decided to give an old dream a try and have my own ranch. I worked on a ranch for a few years, then bought this place and started small. The ranching life has been good to me.”

“Another point in your favor with the Cartlands,” she said.

He stopped and turned to her. “When you put it like that, the whole thing sounds so…”

Fake. Phony. Christmas lights. Fake girlfriend. He was trying to get on their good side, but everything he had to show them was real.

Except for the relationship with the kindergarten teacher of the year.

She was about to say something, but he just wanted to get the decorations and get out of the attic. The few boxes up here reminded him of happy family life, till he was nine, anyway.

“You know what’s weird?” he said. “Part of me wants to remember my parents and part of me doesn’t.”

“The part that hurts like hell.”

He looked at her and nodded, then grabbed the box with the decorations and carried it down.

“Another cousin, one who doesn’t steal boyfriends, has a small Christmas tree farm,” she said. “We can go get you a tree tomorrow—before or after we meet with the Cartlands.”

He nodded, but he wasn’t ready for any of this.

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