Christmas on 4th Street (Fool's Gold Romance) (5 page)

BOOK: Christmas on 4th Street (Fool's Gold Romance)
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It wasn’t easy to grow up with a drill sergeant for a father. There were expectations for behavior in the community that other kids didn’t have. Norman Boylan had always been more bogeyman than parent, at least when Gabriel had been young. Now, looking at the man, he realized that he was at least two inches taller. His father wasn’t a threat anymore—he was little more than a man close to sixty who had once been the center of his sons’ small world.

Gabriel’s mother, Karen, was still pretty. There’d always been a softness to her and he saw that now as she took in the sight of both her boys. Then her gaze shifted to Carter and tears filled her blue eyes.

She’d been the one who comforted, the one who tried to explain why their father had made the rules he had and enforced them with an iron fist. Gideon had accepted her hugs and kisses, then run off, healed. But Gabriel had resisted, asking why instead of apologizing for their father, she didn’t try to change him. He remembered she’d said changing a man wasn’t so easy and when he got older he would understand.

Felicia and Carter were the first ones down the stairs. Karen hugged her future daughter-in-law, then put her hands on Carter’s shoulders. Webster joined them, racing to Norman’s side. Gabriel half expected his father to ignore the bounding puppy. Instead, he crouched down and petted him, then ordered him to sit. Webster, like any young recruit, did what he was told.

“We’ll go into town and get drunk,” Gideon said as he and Gabriel started down the stairs.

“How about we get drunk in Morocco?”

Gideon flashed him a smile, then stepped onto the path and held out his hand to his father. Gabriel did the same. What they said was “Dad” but the tone was “sir.”

Norman didn’t try to hug them. He studied each of them in turn, stepping back when their mother rushed toward them.

“My boys,” she cried, holding out her arms to them and pulling them close.

She hung on for a long time. Gabriel gently patted her back, waiting for all the emotion to pass. Finally she stepped away and wiped her tears.

“I can’t believe how long it’s been since we were all together,” she said, her voice trembling. “This is so wonderful.” She turned to Felicia. “Thank you for inviting us.”

“We’re happy to have you,” Felicia murmured.

Gabriel waited. From what he’d seen, Felicia usually said more. A statement or two on the importance of the family unit or an unexpected observation about connection. But there was nothing else.

Gideon leaned close. “She’s trying to tone things down for the folks.”

“They’re going to find out you’re marrying a genius sooner or later.”

“She wants it later so she doesn’t scare them off.”

“She’s great. They’ll like her.”

“That’s what I said,” Gideon told him. “But she won’t listen.”

Gabriel wanted to take her aside and point out that Gideon wasn’t looking for their approval, but doubted that would make her feel better. She would have to figure it out for herself.

They moved into the house. Norman fell back to keep pace with Gabriel.

“Still slacking off at the cushy hospital job?” his father asked, slapping him on the back.

Gabriel thought about the horrors he saw, the hours he worked and how there was never an easy day. He remembered the countless times he’d been forced to tell a brave, young solder that yes, his leg, arm, eye or more was gone. He thought of the screams and the blood and knew there was no point in talking about any of it.

“Still slacking off,” he said, shutting the door behind him.

* * *

 

Noelle hurried toward Brew-haha. Her friends had invited her for coffee before she opened her store. While she was busy, she’d never thought to say no. Since moving to Fool’s Gold, she’d met wonderful women who were very much a part of her life. They had sustained her in ways they didn’t even know about.

She walked in the coffee house right on time and saw that Patience, Felicia and Isabel were already at a table together. There was a plate of muffins, a latte at each place and a slightly guilty expression on each of their faces. Noelle had no idea what was up but she knew the guilt didn’t come from eating an extra muffin that morning.

“Hi,” she said as she took her seat. “What’s up?”

Patience slumped in her seat. “I’m so bad at this. I just can’t keep a secret. Not from anyone I care about. I’m a blabber. It doesn’t matter if I don’t say anything—it shows on my face.”

Felicia studied her. “In the gambling world, it’s called a tell. The twitch of a muscle or a nostril flare. I could show you what you’re doing and teach you how to control your involuntary reaction.”

“Or she could simply accept the fault and move on,” Isabel said cheerfully. She picked up her latte. “I’m just saying.”

“I don’t think I’m very trainable,” Patience admitted.

Noelle relaxed and reached for a muffin. Obviously whatever was up with her friends wasn’t a crisis.

“If you want to try, I’m here for you,” Felicia said, then she cleared her throat. “Gideon’s parents arrived last night.”

“They weren’t due for a couple of days,” Isabel said. “Or did I get that wrong?”

“They were early,” Felicia admitted.

Noelle thought about Gabriel and how tired he’d been yesterday. She didn’t know the man very well, but from the little she’d seen, he wasn’t exactly a family kind of guy.

“Did everything go okay?” she asked.

“It was awkward,” Felicia admitted. “Norman and Karen seem very nice, but there hasn’t been much contact between all of them in a while, so that makes a difficult situation worse. Carter is thrilled and Webster offers an excellent distraction. We talked for a couple of hours, then we all went to bed.”

She held on to her mug. “This morning Norman was up and fixing breakfast at six. I found him easy to talk to but then I don’t have any kind of past with him. It’s going to be more difficult for Gideon and his brother.”

“Can we help?” Patience asked. “Host a dinner or something?”

Isabel nodded. “Ford is a master at dealing with a big family and we can all be buffers. Just say the word.”

Noelle nodded, not wanting to say anything in case she sounded too eager. Because where there were Felicia’s soon-to-be in-laws, there was also likely to be a certain handsome doctor. Maybe he would like her to rub his back or gaze adoringly into his eyes. She was up for either. Or something more adult.

Which only went to show she had been manless for far too long.

“Thank you,” Felicia said. “I appreciate the show of friendship.” She pressed her lips together. “Enough about me. We wanted to talk to Noelle for a reason and she has to be at her store soon.”

The three women turned to her. Noelle had a sudden need to worry about having something stuck in her teeth. “What? Don’t freak me out. This is my busy period. I couldn’t take the pressure.”

Patience reached for her hand. “We have something to tell you.”

“It’s a good thing,” Isabel added quickly, then sighed. “The best.”

“We’re getting married,” Felicia added.

Noelle exhaled a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. She squeezed Patience’s fingers, then picked up her latte. “Duh. You’re all wearing engagement rings. I’m blinded on a regular basis.”

It was true. Each of them sported a diamond ring of impressive size. Noelle resisted the urge to cover her face and moan, “My eyes, my eyes.” But she wasn’t sure her friends would get the humor.

“You know I’m happy for each of you, right?” She sipped. “Do you worry I’m upset?”

“No,” Isabel told her. “It’s not that at all.”

“Then?”

“We’re getting married at Christmas,” Patience said in a rush. “Christmas Eve. After the Dance of the Winter King.”

“Oh, wow. That’s great.”

Noelle had never seen the Dance of the Winter King, but she’d heard all about it. Fool’s Gold did Christmas in style. Christmas Eve day began with a live nativity and ended with the production, put on by the local ballet school. Afterward those attending went to midnight services at the various churches around town.

“We haven’t told anyone,” Felicia added. “Our fiancés know, of course, and Dellina. She’s assisting us in planning the weddings. We thought with having everyone already at the convention center, it would be convenient.”

Isabel rolled her eyes. “And romantic. It will be a surprise.”

“But we wanted you to know,” Patience added.

“Thanks for telling me. This is a great idea. I can’t wait.” Noelle felt a slight twinge and knew that was about wanting to be in love herself. While she was totally happy for her friends, she wanted a little of that love magic, too.

It would happen, she told herself firmly. She only had to believe. She knew that life was a precious gift. She was going to enjoy all of it, including her friends’ triple wedding.

“We want you to be our attendant,” Felicia told her.

Isabel grinned. “Look at it this way. You only have to buy one hideous dress.” She held up her hands. “And it won’t be hideous, I promise. I’ve already pulled three different dresses that are great.”

“I’m honored,” Noelle said sincerely. “For all of you thinking of me. This is going to be such a surprise for everyone. Let me know if you need any help with anything.”

“You’re extremely busy with your store,” Felicia pointed out. “But your offer of assistance is very supportive. Thank you.” She smiled. “Consuelo also offered to help, but I knew she didn’t mean it. She was backing out of the door as she said it.” The smile broadened. “Maybe I’ll invite her to be a bridesmaid.”

Patience’s eyes widened. “Are they to that point?”

Isabel shook her head. “I’m sure Kent would propose in a heartbeat, but Consuelo needs a little more time to settle into what she calls the hell of being normal.”

Noelle chuckled. “That sounds like her.” She glanced at the time on her cell phone and groaned. “I have to get the store open. Thanks for telling me your secret. I’ll keep it to myself. And thank you for making my first ever Fool’s Gold Christmas even more special.”

Noelle waved as she dashed out and headed for her store.

She was pleased to find she really
was
genuinely happy for her friends. They were all in love with terrific men. Men she had absolutely no interest in. She told herself that what she would take from the upcoming wedding was that love was in the air and if she was lucky, she would catch a little for herself.

She turned on 4th Street and raced toward her store. She still had to restock the stack of throws she kept by the stuffed animals. They had been a last-minute addition to her inventory and were huge sellers. Apparently, Christmas was when everyone wanted an extra blanket or two to toss on the sofa.

She was reaching for her keys when she saw someone standing outside of her store. A tall, handsome someone with piercing blue eyes and a smile that made her stomach start the Macarena.

“What are you doing here?” she asked Gabriel as she approached. “Did you decide you really need a nativity made out of local gourds?”

Gabriel stared at her. “You have one of those?”

“Of course. I pride myself on stocking the unusual.”

“Or the extremely strange.”

“It’s Christmas,” she pointed out. “Or it will be in six weeks. When else would someone want a gourd-based nativity?”

As she spoke, she opened the front door and flipped on the lights. He followed her inside. She turned on the trains, then started the music. She was unwinding her scarf when she shifted back to find him standing in the middle of the store.

He looked better than he had. More rested, less gray. Although he still seemed tired. The shadows remained in residence beneath his eyes.

“What’s up?” she asked, shrugging out of her coat.

“I want to talk to you about a job.”

She laughed. “Right. If you’re looking for a present for your mom, I can give you some suggestions. We have some really pretty ornaments she might like.”

She disappeared into the back room to put her coat away and tuck her handbag into her desk’s bottom drawer. When she straightened, Gabriel was standing close enough that she could see the various colors of blue that made up his irises. She could inhale the clean scent of him and catch a hint of the heat the man generated.

“I want to come work for you,” he said.

“That’s insane. You’re a doctor. This is retail. I sell Christmas stuff.”

“I know what you do. You need help and I need...”

She waited, confident this had to be a joke. When he didn’t speak, she shook her head. “I’m sure they would be thrilled to have you volunteer your services at the local hospital.”

“I need a break from that. You’re looking for someone to stock shelves and work the cash register. I can do that.”

“You’re injured.”

“Just my left hand. I’m right-handed.”

She put her hands on her hips. “What’s going on? Are you filming this for a YouTube video? Famous doctor punks innocent store owner? I’m not eating a live bug for you.”

“No live bugs.”

BOOK: Christmas on 4th Street (Fool's Gold Romance)
12.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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