Read Home for the Holidays Online

Authors: Ros Baxter

Home for the Holidays (2 page)

BOOK: Home for the Holidays
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They stood staring at each other for a long moment.

Finally she relented, feeling a little churlish.  “Well,” she said.  “I suppose you can sit down.  Stay here ‘til the storm passes.”

He laughed.  “How long since you left town, Beth?”

She frowned. “Right after the annulment.”

“Twelve years,” he whistled.  “Well, I’m thinking you forgot some stuff.”  He sauntered over to the big window and motioned at the storm.  “No-one’s getting in or out til that baby stops.  And then maybe another day or two til we get enough melt to move some snow.  I’m officially stranded, honey.”

He grinned at Beth, oblivious to the fact that the bottom had just dropped out of her stomach, and a hot flush was working its way from her chest to her face.  Why?  Why did her parents insist on living at the ass end of town?

“Don’t call me honey,” Beth growled.

He saluted neatly, then rubbed his hands together in a parody of efficiency. “Now, you got enough firewood?  We might lose the power.”


Beth stepped out of the bath and onto the mat, wrapping her hair in a towel and drying her body vigorously with another one.

She stood in front of the full-length mirror, assessing herself from all angles. 

Death sure did make you look at things differently. 

Last week she’d be
en standing in front of her mirror, back in the city, wondering if she was starting to look thirty now that she’d officially made the leap.  But now her skin seemed to just glow with health, outlined by her shoulder-length red hair.  Maybe it was the memory of the way her father’s skin had looked, two days before at Green Pastures, old and yellow and wrinkled.

She decided she looked good.  At the very least, definitely not dead.  Which was just about the only good thing to come out of this day. 

She turned slightly to look at her bottom. 

Yep, still a good size larger than her top half.  At least. But the blood was flowing through it and it did what it was supposed to do.

She swayed a little and watched her breasts jiggle.  Okay, so she’d never liked them.  Too small, she figured.  But right now they looked young and fine.  She shivered again, thinking about that dark, cold funeral home. 

A loud knock on the door startled her out of her musings.

But not as much as the sight of the open door.

She screamed as Jim Canning stood in front of her, open-mouthed.  “Jesus H Christ, Lizzie, I’m so sorry, I just knocked on the door and the damn thing swung open.”

“What the hell do you want?”  Beth leapt for the discarded towel.

“I was going to ask if you wanted a cup of tea.” Jim was trying to suppress a lazy smile, even though this was the moment for him to shut the door quickly and look appropriately horrified. And shut it he did, but not before he took a good long look at Beth’s body, scrambling for the towel.

Beth saw him.  She saw him do it. And she could have sworn he didn’t have the good grace to look horrified at all.

“Tea’s on the kitchen table,” he called over his shoulder as he shut the door quietly.


It was twenty minutes before Beth could bring herself to go downstairs. And when she did, she was dressed in the most conservative of her Beth clothes.  And Beth was a pretty conservative
woman.  She was wearing a high-necked green sweater and some sensible black jeans.  For good measure, she shoved some fluffy slippers on her feet.

She sat down at the kitchen table but there was no sign of Jim.  She looked at the cup of tea he’d made and placed carefully on a little crocheted mat. It had been a long time since anyone had made her a cup of tea. Let alone put it on a lacy mat. She reached out for it, but it was cold.

The kitchen door complained loudly as it was wrenched open.  Jim stood on the mat, his arms full of firewood, stamping his boots.  He hadn’t bothered with the jacket, and the white tee clung to him.

She closed her eyes briefly against the whole manly-man-ness of him, then stood up and made herself busy.  “Tea’s cold,” she said, pointing to the woodbox so he knew where to drop the kindling.  “I’m making another pot.  Want one?”

He looked at her with narrowed eyes as he stalked over to the woodbox.

“I promise not to poison you,” she said.  Then she remembered his appreciative face as he watched her in the bathroom, and she wondered idly where her father kept his ratsak.

He grunted, and returned to the back porch. Presumably to chop more firewood.


“I’m sure that’s more than enough wood, now,” she called, feeling unaccountably irritated.

But when he came back through he was holding a small pine tree he’d cut off at the base.  “I notice you didn’t have one,” he grinned, looking like a little boy who’d captured a lizard to show his mother.

“I didn’t have a small pine tree?”  Why did just being near this man make her brain hurt?

“A Christmas tree, silly,” he said, a huge grin spreading across his face. “I figured you hadn’t had the time to get one, y’know, with all the...stuff with the funeral.”

“I don’t do Christmas,” Beth said firmly, pointing back outside.

Jim stood rooted to the spot, his eyes wide. “Okay then,” he said, heading back out before returning with an old black pot he’d filled with earth.  “Let’s just call it a holiday tree.”

Beth thought about her options.  He already thought she was being difficult.  They were going to be stuck here, together, for God knows how long.  This boy she’d had a crush on since she first understood that boys and girls were different.

And look how well that worked out, she reminded herself.

He rammed the tree into the pot of earth and stood it in the corner, standing up and flicking a glance over at her.  “Nice sweater,” he said, looking slowly at her clothes and somehow making her feel that the high-necked, close-fitting thing was less conservative than she’d thought.

“Tea?” she asked again, feeling her hand shake as she carried the pot to the sink.

He took a deep breath, and glanced at the worn leather watch on his wrist.   “It’s cocktail hour somewhere in the world,” he observed. “Got anything stronger?”


Beth opened the fridge and waved an arm at an array of pots. “Name your poison,” she said.  “There’s enough casserole in here to feed an army for a week.”

Jim laughed, and moved over to stand beside her at the fridge door. She felt her circuitry light up at his proximity and shifted a little.

“Pa always said I had a knack for landing on my feet.”  He rubbed his hands together as he inspected the bounty.  “Oh, dear Lord.  Is that Mrs Beattie’s rabbit stew?”

Beth wrinkled her nose at a stout brown casserole dish.  She tried to remember which member of the choir had dropped it off.

“Don’t answer that,” Jim said, shoving her aside with his hip and reaching in for the dish.  “I’d recognise that pot anywhere.  Turn the oven on Beth, you’re gonna want to pour yourself another glass of red for this one. You’re in for a real treat.”

Jim moved around the kitchen efficiently, and as he did she remembered that they could all cook, all those four boys.  No other choice really, she supposed.  Pa Canning wasn’t much of a chef.  Beth let him fuss with the oven and
set the table as her elbows sagged against the solid timber, realising how exhausting the last few days had been.  Like the thing with the little lace mat under the tea, it felt nice.  Watching him potter around her.

She became aware that Jim had fallen silent and
she glanced up from the swirly wood grain of the tabletop.  He looked at her quizzically and she realised she must have missed something.

He smiled at her gently. “I said who’s looking out for you, Li-”  He stopped himself quickly.  “Beth, I mean.  Who’s looking after you, since your Dad passed?”

Beth squared her shoulders.  “Back in the city, I... share a house with a guy.  Nick.” Beth sniffed. “But I don’t need-”

But Jim’s mouth had formed a hard line at the mention of her domestic arrangements and he turned back to the oven so Beth let her sentence taper off.  “Well, whoever Nick is,” he said, banging the cupboard door as he liberated the half-empty bottle of red wine and advanced on her again. “He should be here with you.”

“It’s not like that,” Beth insisted, putting her hand over the top of her glass so he couldn’t pour more wine in.  This was too easy, sitting here talking to him like this, feeling the glass of wine she’d already had insinuate itself into her bloodstream.  The faint smell of rabbit stew tickled her nose and it was too seductive.  The last thing she needed was to get all cosy with Jimmy Canning, playing house.

He opened his mouth, a hard look in his eyes and she knew what he was going to ask. 
What is it like then?

But she didn’t want to answer that.  She didn’t need Jimmy Canning to know her housemate Nick was just that. 
Not when he was here with her, big and bad and all snowed in. Let him think Nick was a delinquent lover.

So she jumped in before he could ask the question.  “We need a tablecloth,” she said, finally rousing herself from her place at the table.

“Really?”  Jim’s eyebrows knitted together.  “Why?”

“Because,” Beth said.  “This is my mother’s kitchen, and somewhere, that woman is looking down on us and” –
if it’s not bad enough that I’m snowed in with Jimmy Canning
– “eating off the table would be a bridge too far.”

Jim considered Beth carefully, then saluted sharply.  “Yes, ma’am,” he said.  “But I should warn you.  I am notorious for spilling rabbit stew if I get excited.”

It was an innocent enough comment, but there was something about the way he said it, that word
, leaning down over the big table and holding Beth’s eyes with those sexy green ones of his.  It licked delicious shivers right down Beth’s spine, all the way to her toes.

God help her, would she ever survive this?

She held up her glass.  “Maybe I will have another one after all,” she said.


Beth woke to a world of white and the smell of bacon frying.  She rolled luxuriously in the big old bed she’d slept in since she was five. 

With the toes of her right foot, she reached out for the rough patch on the sheet, the patch that she knew to be her mother’s embroidery.  Once she found it, she relaxed.  She was home.  She was safe.

Then she remembered the dreams.  Two helpings of rabbit stew and two glasses of red wine with Jim Canning had obviously affected her brain, because she was dreaming things she hadn’t dreamt since she’d been seventeen.

She stuffed the big fluffy pillow over her head as she admitted to herself that the dreams she’d had at seventeen had been a lot more chaste than the ones she’d just woken from.

Oh my Lord.  And in her parents’ house.

A loud knock at her bedroom door made her jump.

“Don’t worry, I’m not coming in, Beth,” Jim bellowed.  “I’m not even touching the damn door this time. Just thought I’d let you know breakfast is ready if you’d like some.”

Beth sprang out of bed, needing to put some distance between herself and the bed she’d had that dream in.  She yanked the door open.  To her irritation, Jim looked as though he’d slept like a baby.  He was wearing the stripy pyjamas of her father’s she’d given him last night, hoping they might dull the razor-sharp edge of his ridiculous sex appeal.

No such luck.

He looked like a catalogue model for daggy Daddy sleepwear.  A brown v of skin at his neck was juxtaposed against the green pin-stripes, which made his eyes look a darker, clearer shade of green than she’d even seen.

“Merry Christmas, sleepyhead,” he said.

Sleepyhead?  She’d hardly slept.  She glanced back at the clock, blinking as she realised it said ten fifteen. 

“This place is the freakin’ twilight zone,” she snarled, pushing past him into the hallway to get to the bathroom.  The way her skin sizzled as she brushed him on the way past made her feel extra bitchy.  “Nice jarmies, by the way,” she snapped as she hustled down the corridor.

“You too,” he whistled from behind her.

And as he said it, the pieces of memory slotted into place like a child’s jigsaw.  She stopped in the hall and looked down at herself, remembering how she’d thrown her own pyjama bottoms off during the night, tossing and turning with the mad dreams.

Oh no.  Oh no oh no oh no.

She took in her brown legs, barely covered by the oversized pajama top, and hastily gathered together the neckline, where she was missing a button.  She turned slowly to him.  “Perhaps,” she hissed.  “If you are going to stay in my house, you might like to consider stopping with the voyeur routine.”

He raised an eyebrow at her, leaning against the doorframe.

“The bathroom yesterday,” she reminded him.  “And now this.”

He shrugged.  “I was just coming to see if you wanted breakfast.  I kept the door closed.  You’re the one who flounced out looking like an ad for Victoria’s Secret.”

BOOK: Home for the Holidays
6.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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