Authors: Ember Casey
A Cunningham Christmas
Copyright ©2014 Ember Casey
All Rights Reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Cover Image © The Killion Group, Inc., used under license.
You can contact Ember at
Cunningham Family Reading Order:
His Wicked Games
Truth or Dare
Her Wicked Heart
Take You Away
Lost and Found
Completely (Short Story)
Their Wicked Wedding
A Cunningham Christmas
The tree is up.
The stockings hung.
The wreaths placed on every door, the garlands hung across every window.
But it’s not enough.
Over the past month, we’ve turned this estate into a holiday wonderland. This house is so huge I thought I’d never run out of things to do. But I have. The place is an explosion of tinsel and ribbons. The gardens are covered in twinkling lights. And now I don’t know what the fuck to do with myself.
Most of my initial restoration projects around the estate are done, so I’ve settled for any job I can find around here. Replacing the moldings. Resurfacing the tubs. Refinishing the hardwood floors. Anything to keep myself busy.
That’s why, two days before Christmas, I’m in a guest room at the back of the house with a can of paint. As long as I keep working, as long as I keep pushing this paint roller back and forth across the wall, I won’t go crazy. I can keep myself from worrying about what’s
on my mind.
“I think that wall is as blue as it’s going to get.”
I jump at the sound of Lily’s voice behind me. The roller slips out of my hand, and it hits the wall, then my jeans, then the wall again as it clatters toward the ground. I lunge for it—out of instinct more than anything else—but it’s probably about the stupidest thing I could have done. I slip on the plastic sheeting beneath me, and my foot hits the open paint can, sending it flying. Paint flies everywhere, spilling over the plastic and onto the carpet beyond.
I curse and grab the can, but it’s too late—there’s a giant sky blue patch on the carpet, and the paint is soaking in fast.
“Here.” Lily’s suddenly on her knees next to me, holding the old T-shirt I’ve been using as a rag. She tries to wipe up the paint, but it’s obvious that the damage is done. The shirt does nothing more than push the paint around, making the stain even bigger.
“I’ll go grab some towels,” she says.
“Don’t bother. It won’t help much at this point,” I say, sitting back in defeat.
“I’ve been wanting to tear up this carpet anyway. This just gives me an excuse.”
“Sorry,” she says, dropping the T-shirt and leaning back on her heels. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Nah. It’s my fault.” I wipe my hand across my forehead, then realize that my fingers are covered in blue paint.
“I… uh, I just wanted to let you know that dinner’s ready,” she says. “You weren’t answering your cell.”
I pat my pocket—getting sky blue fingerprints on the denim—before I remember that I left my phone charging on the nightstand.
“Yeah. Sorry about that,” I say, looking at the mess around me. As much as I’d love to leave this disaster area and dig into some grub, I know I shouldn’t. “Save me some, okay? I should probably clean this up.”
“Want some help? I’m sure Calder and Lou won’t mind waiting for us.”
I shake my head. “You go on. I still need to shower and everything. There’s no reason you guys should have to wait for dinner just because I was clumsy.” When she doesn’t get up immediately, I add, “Tell Lou I’m sorry.” I begin to roll up the plastic sheeting, hoping to contain the mess as much as possible.
Lily seems to get the hint because she doesn’t argue. But I can still feel her watching me.
“Is everything… okay?” she says. “You’ve been… I don’t know,
this week. Distracted.”
“I’m good,” I tell her without looking at her. “Just tired.”
She sits there for a moment longer, then sighs and gets to her feet. “All right. I’ll keep a plate warm for you.”
I wait until she’s halfway down the hall before I release the plastic sheeting and sit back again. She’s right. I
jumpy. And I’m not sure how to change that.
My hand goes to my other pocket—the one where I don’t normally keep my phone—and I press down on the small lump inside, reassuring myself that it’s still there. Funny how one tiny little thing could make me so damn nervous. If my fingers weren’t covered in paint, I’d pull out the ring again. Pull it out of its tiny velvet bag and hold it up so I can watch it sparkle beneath the light. Give myself another pep talk.
Lou loves me
, I remind myself.
You already live together. You have a daughter together.
And she’s the sweetest, most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, our little Ramona.
She’s got Lou’s eyes and nose, and my family’s red hair. Lou’s given her my name, too—
Ramona Grace Brannon.
But Lou is still Louisa
, and I’d do anything to change that.
The question is—would Lou?
We talked about marriage a dozen different times before the baby came. I was all for it. Lou, on the other hand, wanted to wait. She said she didn’t want to rush things between us. I’m pretty sure she was afraid I only wanted to marry her because she was pregnant. But fuck me, if that isn’t the furthest thing from the truth. I love her. I’ve always loved her. And baby or no baby, I want her to be my wife. I want to know that she and Ramona will be taken care of if anything happens to me. And I want her to be mine forever.
It’s been almost ten months since I’ve raised the issue. At first I meant to give her a little time and space to think about it, and then after Ramona came, that little squirt became our priority. But tomorrow is Christmas Eve, our first one as a family, and if that isn’t the perfect time to propose, then I don’t know what is.
My hand goes to my pocket again. This time, it’s going to be different. For one thing, this time it’s going to be an
, not just a conversation. And this time I actually have a ring to give her. It’s no wonder she never accepted me before—I treated marriage like a practical decision, not a romantic one. She had every reason to believe I was thinking with my head, not my heart, and Lou would never settle for that kind of arrangement. I won’t make that mistake again.
But as I gather up the painting supplies, I start to grow uncertain. There’s still the matter of
I’m going to do this. I’ve been thinking about this for over a year, but I don’t feel even the slightest bit prepared. I’ve picked the date. I’ve got the ring. But how the hell do I pop the question? Whenever I try to come up with some sort of plan, my mind goes blank. Is it enough to just get down on one knee after dinner? Or would she prefer something more… creative? Maybe I can wrap up the ring and place it beneath the tree and pretend it’s just a normal gift until the moment she opens it…
Nah. That doesn’t seem special enough. And as much as I enjoy the company of Lily and Calder, this is one thing I’d rather do in private.
Maybe instead I can set up a bunch of candles in the spa. Play some romantic music over the speakers. Leave a trail of rose petals across the tiles to one of the back rooms, where I’ll be waiting on bended knee…
But I brush off that idea, too. It might be romantic, but it’s also cheesy as hell. And it doesn’t sound like
And that’s my problem: if I’m being honest, I’m not sure
kind of proposal Lou would want, and that scares the crap out of me. Every idea I have seems stupid or corny. And I’m running out of time.
How the hell do other guys do this? How the hell do
It’s the question that’s been haunting me all week. The one that’s made me nervous and jumpy and yeah, a little sick to my stomach. I’ve done everything I can to keep myself busy, to keep myself from freaking out, but nothing has helped. I’ve spent two days repainting this room—and that’s about ten times longer than it should have taken me. I glance at the spot I was working on when Lily walked in on me. The paint is so thick it’s dripping down the wall. I must have gone over that same patch a hundred times before she startled me out of my thoughts.
I’ve faced worse than this before
, I tell myself.
Why am I so afraid of proposing?
I’m just asking Lou a question. An important question, but still just a question. And we’re already a family. This is just making it official.
But my eyes fall to that giant blue stain on the carpet. I’m a wreck. And I’m completely unprepared for this. I want to make this special for Lou, to give her a proposal she can’t refuse, but I’m completely clueless when it comes to this sort of thing.
But not everyone in this house is clueless
, I remind myself. Calder proposed to Lily last year, and they were married this past spring. Somehow
guy convinced someone to marry him. And I know he’s eager for me and Lou to get hitched. He’ll help me, if I ask.
I can’t believe I’ve reached the point where I’m considering asking Calder for advice. That smug bastard will probably hold it over my head for the rest of my life. But I also know that he has Lou’s best interests at heart, and—though he’d never admit it out loud to me—mine as well. And though it hurts my pride to even
asking him for help, Lou is more important to me than my ego. I know what I want. And I’ll do anything to get it. All I have to do is man up and ask him.
But the asking… that’s the hard part, isn’t it?
I might be biased, but I’m pretty sure Ramona is the most beautiful little baby to ever grace this earth.
Her eyes are huge—
—and she has the longest lashes. Her cheeks are adorably chubby, but it’s the hair that really gets me—she has so darn much of it, and it’s a gorgeous shade of reddish-gold. It’s the exact color Ward’s was when he was a baby, and even if it darkens as she gets older, just as his did, I don’t think I could have dreamed of a lovelier shade for her. I’m not even upset that Ward won the little bet we had going while I was pregnant—I was
that we were having a boy, while Ward was certain it was a girl—because I can’t imagine anything more precious than our daughter. We even named her in honor of Ward’s late mother, Mona Catherine, whose name is tattooed on his arm. Our little girl is perfect—even if, at seven months old, she’s a lot more energetic than either of us expected.
People warned me that babies sleep a lot, and I was expecting a little peanut that spent most of the day napping. Instead, I have a child who can’t seem to stop wiggling, and who hardly seems to need any sleep at all. I swear, I thought something was wrong with her at first, but the doctor assured me that she was perfectly healthy.
And honestly? I wouldn’t have her any other way. Even now, when she
be winding down for bed, she’s squirming in my lap. I’m sitting in the rocking chair next to her crib, trying to read to her, and though she’s not paying a bit of attention to the story, I can’t help but smile. I run my hand over her heavenly soft curls and close the book. It’s one of the Christmas stories I loved when I was younger, but it’ll keep for a few more years.