Read Home for the Holidays Online

Authors: Ros Baxter

Home for the Holidays

BOOK: Home for the Holidays
5.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

 

 

 

Home for the Holidays

 

Home for the Holiday
s

Ros Baxter

 

Four brothers.  Three mistakes. This time, Beth’s det
ermined to stay out of trouble.

 

Beth Gibson has a bad history with the Canning boys. And no-one’s ever believed that none of it was her fault.

So when the hottest of
all of them gets snowed in at her place on Christmas Eve, somehow she knows it’s going to end badly. After all, Jimmy Canning knows all her sins. And he still remembers her as reckless Lizzie.

Can Beth show him that she’s not that kind of girl anymore?  And does she even want to?

 

 

 

 

 

About the author

Ros writes fresh, funny, genre-busting fiction. She digs feisty heroines, quirky families, heroes to make you sigh and tingle, and a dash of fantasy from time to time.

Ros has published Sister Pact,
a romantic comedy co-written with her sister Ali, with Harper Collins; and Fish Out of Water and White Christmas with Escape Publishing.  2014 is set to be a big year, with a new single title romantic comedy launch on 1 March (Lingerie for Felons); the sequel to Fish Out of Water (Beached) launching on 1 April; Second Chances (a The Bold and the Beautiful endorsed book) coming out in April also; the full-length follow-up to the sexy sci-fi taster White Christmas launching in July (title TBC); and the sequel to Sister Pact, Sisternapped, hitting the shelves in the second half of 2014.

Ros lives in Brisbane, Australia, with her husband Blair, four small but very opinionated children, a neurotic dog and nine billion germs.

Ros loves to hear from readers and connect with them on her facebook and twitter pages. You can email Ros at [email protected] or find her at www.facebook.com/RosBaxterInk, on twitter @RosBaxter, or www.rosbaxterink.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For everyone still nursing a teenage crush.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home for the Holidays

             
“Lizzie?”

Dark green eyes peered through the mean crack she’d opened in the doorway.

“Beth,” she corrected them.

Low, grumbly laughter filtered through the crack. “You changed your name?”

She grimaced and shut the door.  “I changed a lot of things,” she muttered to herself.  “Firstly and most importantly, never, ever trust a Canning boy.”

And Beth should know.  She’d kissed, dated, or married three of them. But that was back when she’d been Lizzie, and did stupid things like that.  Now she was Beth, and Beths were the kind of women who learned from their mistakes.

Beths worked hard.  They paid their credit cards on time just like their fathers had taught them.  Beths dated sensible men, when they dated at all, which was not very often (at least for this Beth).

A Beth would never open the door to the last remaining Canning boy.  Especially not when he was the baddest and hottest of all of them.  And when a snowstorm was settling in.

He knocked again.

This time she didn’t
bother with the pretence of the crack.  “What?”  She barked the word through the solid maple door and didn’t even try to inject a little small town hospitality into it.  She didn’t live in this particular small town anymore.  She lived in a place where people liked it if you were rude to them.  It cut down on their obligations.  Kept things nice and clean.

“I’d sure appreciate it if you’d let me in.”  Clearly, Jim Canning still felt obliged to use his neighbourly manners, even if Beth didn’t.

“I’m sure you would,” Beth said.  But Beth knew too well, that’s where it all starts.  A simple request. Lizzie can I borrow your ruler? (Matt, Canning Boy Number One).  Lizzie will you come to the Spring Dance with me? (Luke, Canning Boy Number Two). Lizzie, no-one’ll ever know. (Mark, Canning Boy Number Three).

She almost groaned aloud at the realisation that number four was standing on her stoop.  And she was still wearing her dressing gown even though it was gone three o’clock in the afternoon.

What would her mother have said about that?

“I’m busy.” Beth slid back into the warmth of the sitting room, where she’d built an impressive fire earlier in the day, before the snow really started coming down.  She sat cross-legged in front of it and looked up at the portrait of Mack Gibson
above the mantelpiece, glowering with good health and bad humor. 

“You would have been real proud of this fire, Dad,” she said.

God alone knew he’d never been proud of much else she’d done.

She imagined him, peering down from on high, watching Jim Canning banging on her door.

“Don’t worry,” she assured his portrait.  “That door you hung could withstand a nuclear blast.” Her father had always liked reliable things. “He’s not getting in.”

As the knocking stopped, she settled back down with her papers, sorting them on the little coffee table in front of the fire. She would not think about why that boy was knocking on her door.  She would not think about green eyes and that sweet, dark, Southern accent.

She would think about this.

Three piles. Personal correspondence.  Business matters.  Estate matters.

She sighed and rubbed her neck where it joined her shoulders.  She’d been at this for hours.  Why did people always talk about getting affairs in order like it was some cakewalk?  Sifting through the loose ends of her father’s life was going to take some time, even with his meticulous filing system.  He just hadn’t expected to die, that was the problem.

And he wasn’t the only one. 

Men like Mack always seemed invincible.  Til they weren’t. 

She stared into the fire, enjoying the voluptuous dance of the flames, and the soft yowling of the snowstorm outside.

“Lizzie.”

Her heart exploded in her chest as the soft voice behind her interrupted her thoughts.  She shot to her feet.

Freed from the narrow frame of a slightly-open door, Jim Canning was an even more intimidating presence. “I hollered as I came in,” he said.

“But how the hell did you
get
in?” Beth thought again about the magnificent girth of that door.

“Back door,” Jim grinned. “S’open.  Just walked right in.  You should be more careful, y’know, Lizzie.”

Just like a Canning boy to take advantage of an opening.  Of all the cheek.

“My name’s Beth,” she
spat.  “And you can just walk right out again, Jim Canning.  I already said you can’t come in.”

Jim
shrugged lazily, rolling broad shoulders. “Ever heard of ‘howdy neighbor’?”

“Howdy, James Canning
,” she said, folding her arms across her chest and pressing her lips together, hard.  “What do you want that was so important you had to stroll right on in?”

Jim shrugged again. 
He looked like some kind of creature down from the mountains, standing in the fussy little sitting room. His hair was long, and he wore his beard shaggy. He was too tall – they were all too damned tall, that band of wayward brothers – and too broad of shoulder and long of leg and just too damned Canning to be standing in her mother's sitting room at all. He was wearing boots that belonged on a giant and a coat the size of Texas. Snow was melting in his dark chocolate hair.

Oh no. She was
already comparing him to food.

Jim Canning had featured in her fantasies for way too long for her to be mixing him up with any of her appetites.

Her stomach rumbled as she looked at him, and she fought the urge to run.

Somehow, she already knew this was going to end badly.

She wondered if she should just get out, quit while she was ahead.  She was back in Glory for three short days.  Didn’t matter that it was Christmas.  Her father had been terse and inconvenient in life and he was just as inconvenient in death.

“Well now you see, Lizzie, I don’t have a lotta choice.”  Jim shook his head, shaking snow all over her mother’s antique rug.  Only a boy who’d grown up without a mother would wear his boots inside.

Beth faced up to him, drawing herself as tall and intimidating as her five feet two would allow.  “Why the hell not?”

“My plough’s stuck,” Jim said, smiling with a little downward slant which was more appealing than it should have been as he stood there dripping on her mother’s rug. Somewhere, Marlene Gibson was rolling in a well-upholstered grave.

“Your plough?” Beth shook her head quickly, trying to grab hold of all the pieces of this.  “I thought you’d gone and become the local Donald Trump.  You know, now they let you out of reform school.”  She couldn’t help the nasty smile that slipped onto her face.

Jim laughed, and
the sound was even lower and sweeter than she remembered.  That laugh that used to make her mother cross herself and mutter
lock up your daughters
.  “Yeah well, one of those businesses is machinery,” he said.

It was her turn to laugh.  “Doesn’t seem like a great business model,” she said.  “Drivin’ a plough.”

Jim finally started to look satisfyingly annoyed.  His full, pretty mouth went kind of tense and he cracked his knuckles noisily.  “I don’t,” he said. “Normally.  All the boys are on break and I’m doing it as a favor.”

The words settled like acid in her stomach.  “I don’t need any favors,” she said.

“It’s not a favor for you, darl’n,” Jim said, lifting his hands and opening his palms like a man who hadn’t been given a lot of choice.  “It’s for Pa.  He didn’t want you to get snowed in on Christmas Eve.”

“Your grandfather?” Beth felt giddy, and she drew her dressing gown tighter around herself.

“He always had a soft spot for you,” Jim shrugged.  “And when he heard about your…” Jim’s eyes narrowed like he was remembering something. “Beg my pardon, Lizzie.  I should have said something earlier.  I’m real sorry for your loss.”

“It’s Beth,” Beth said automatically. But this time her heart wasn’t in it.  “And I thought Pa hated me?”

Jim laughed. “I know what you mean,” he said.  “I always thought your Dad hated all us Cannings too.”

Beth blinked at him. “He did,” she said.

Jim laughed and started to shrug out of his jacket.  “Same old Lizzie,” he said. “Oops, sorry.  Beth.” He frowned at her.  “You know I’m not sure that’s gonna work for me. You just don’t seem like a Beth.”  He looked her up and down like he was mentally weighing options. “Can we settle on Elizabeth?”  He moved his lush mouth like he was testing it out on his tongue.  “Yep, that’s better.  Same old Elizabeth Gibson.  Tells it like it is.”

Beth wanted to scream.  Same old Elizabeth Gibson alright. Always getting into fixes, no matter how hard she tried to do the right thing.

“Anyway,” Jim went on like he was totally oblivious to the murderous look Beth was working really hard to nail him with.  “Like I said, Pa always had a soft spot for you.  That’s why he made Mark marry you.  You know, after the…” Jim made a noise in his throat like he wasn’t having the best day.  He went a little pink and flapped a hand.  “The thing at the Halloween parade.”

Beth dragged in deep breath.  “How many times do I have to tell everyone that nothing ever happened on that damn float?”

Jim laughed.  “Well, whether it did or it didn’t, the town still saw it, Mark still got his ass wooped and you two still got hitched.”

“For a day,” Beth sniffed.

“True,” Jim agreed.  “For a day.”

“Where is he now?” While Beth hadn’t exactly gone to the altar willingly, she still figured (and almost everyone she told the story to agreed) that it was the reluctant bride’s prerogative to do a runner after the ceremony and before the big night.  Not the groom’s. 

That was just plain unmanly.

“Florida,” Jim sniffed.  He managed to say it like he was saying Mark had run off and joined the circus. “Last we heard.”  He shuffled on the rug like an awkward giant. 

Beth’s limited grip on her not-terribly-good-at-the-best-of-times patience slid away, slippery and unreliable.  She stalked up to the interloper, feeling big with irritation, and held a hand up to his face.  Well, near his face.  He was, after all, very tall.  And she was, well, kinda short.

“One,” she said, holding up her index finger. “I did not invite you in.  In fact, I believe I specifically said you could not come in.”   She poked him in the chest with her finger and went on.  “Two.”  She held up a second finger, like he might just need prompts to stay with the program. “A gentleman takes his goddamned shoes off inside a house.” She poked him again, but she had to admit it was mostly to see if he really could be that impossibly well-muscled under all those cold-weather clothes. He was.  “Three.  My name is not Lizzie, Elizabeth or any other thing you decide to dream up.  It’s Beth.”

“Well beg my pardon, Beth,” Jim Canning said, piercing her up close with that trademark whiter-than-white Canning grin. “I have really gone and forgotten my manners.”  He put a hand to his heart and bowed his head.  “May I please use your phone to ask someone to come get me?”

And this is what they did.  Those damn Canning boys. They did all the wrong things, took every liberty in the world, trampled all over your wishes, and then went and did the whole apple-pie-boy-next-door thing.

She held out a hand to the hallstand where the old-fashioned phone sat, looking as darkly judgemental as Old Man Gibson himself. “Be my guest.”

***

When he came back into the room, Beth was standing by the big picture window in the living room watching the snowstorm beat at the trees and the lopsided plough.

“Phone’s dead.”

He’d removed his boots and jacket, and was now clad in only close-fitting blue jeans and a long-sleeved, very fitted white tee.  He looked like a Nashville star – long hair, shaggy beard, tanned skin, bare feet.

And she wanted him gone.  He reminded her far too much of Lizzie, and all her mistakes.

“I’ll drive you.”  She padded over to find her keys.

“Erh, Beth.” Jim had crossed to the window where she’d been standing, and he was looking out at the storm.  “I don’t think we’re going anywhere.  I’ll check your radio, but I’m pretty sure the roads are gonna be down.”

She narrowed her eyes and motioned at the white blanket of snow through the window.  “Did you plan this?”

He blinked.  “The storm?  You know,
honey, some girls have yelled
Oh God
at me over the years but I don’t think any of them ever really thought I was divine.”  He cracked that lazy grin at her and she felt like picking up the mantel clock and throwing it at him.

Of course they had.  Jimmy Canning, the original Glory heartthrob.  Her very first crush, and the only Canning boy she never dared go near.

She growled at him, and he held up his hands.  “Okay, okay, I get your drift.  No, I did not plan this.  I’m not sure exactly what you think of me, but I’m not so hard up for a date that I need to plough some sweet snow to get one.”  He sighed and ran his hands through his long hair.  “I planned to do a good deed.  Make sure you didn’t get snowed in.  Get home and get into some egg nog. ‘Stead I got myself snowed in.”

BOOK: Home for the Holidays
5.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Wolf Prince by Karen Kelley
When Love Breaks by Kate Squires
Night Fury: First Act by Belle Aurora
Climbing the Stairs by Margaret Powell
A Curtain Falls by Stefanie Pintoff
In a Moon Smile by Coner, Sherri
Seed by Lisa Heathfield
Sunday Brunch by Betty Rosbottom