Authors: Peggy Ann Craig
Copyright 2014 Peggy Ann Craig
Published by Peggy Ann Craig
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This book is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places and incidents either are the product of the
author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance
to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events,
or locales is entirely coincidental.
Dexter O’Reilly is a cold and ruthless
businessman who meets, Laura Witherow, a loving and compassionate
individual on Christmas Eve. Recently orphaned, Laura faces her
first Christmas alone. Taking a wrong turn down a deserted snowy
road, she finds herself stranded deep in the Muskoka woodlands.
Then, as miracles would have it, she is sent someone to share the
holiday with that cold fateful Christmas Eve. True, he might not be
old Saint Nick, but he was her very own Scrooge. After their brief
and unusual encounter, Dexter hopes never to lay eyes on the woman
again. However, eight months later she unexpectedly shows up on his
business doorstep seeking financial aid for a homeless shelter she
operates after a series of unfortunate events leads her to
financial ruin. Dexter scoffs at any charitable organization, as
well as his growing affection for the obstinate woman who refused
to give up. Laura is determined to conquer the past, the present
and even the future to show Dexter that there was more to life than
money, and that she was the way to true happiness.
“Dexter O’Reilly is a man only a mother could
Laura unconsciously lifted her chin. She had
been listening half-heartedly to the conversation around the table.
The group was not the sort she herself would have associated with
but, nevertheless, she made best of the situation. Not for the
first time that evening she wondered why on earth she agreed to
Because she didn’t want to be alone at
The thought of spending the holiday by
herself, was absolutely dreadful. She was certain she would have
spent most of it crying into her solitary eggnog, which was why
when David asked her to accompany him to his employer’s Christmas
Eve party, she eagerly accepted.
They had not dated long. As a matter-of-fact,
she was thinking it was high time to call it quits. She had no idea
what she saw in David to begin with. But then he went and invited
her to this staff Christmas party, and she decided, a little
selfishly perhaps, to put off ending their brief courtship until
after Christmas. Besides, it kind of felt the moral thing to do.
Who wants to be dumped over Christmas?
However, at the moment, she almost wished she
declined David's invitation. His so-called group of friends had
begun a barrage of complaints, bashing the party and their generous
hosts. Laura had been successfully ignoring them up to that point,
however at the moment their words had curiously piqued her
interest. “Dexter O’Reilly?”
“O’Reilly?” David had returned from the bar
for the umpteenth time that evening and caught her question. “The
Almighty One who thinks himself too superior to show himself at
“Who is he?” Laura’s brow dipped a
“I thought Harris O’Reilly was her son?”
Laura inquired, referring to the store manager and owner.
“Dex is the older brother.” David explained
as he dropped into the seat next to her. “His father Wallace
O’Reilly, Adell Cameron’s first husband, was the original owner of
the Sunny Meadows food chain. After his death, O’Reilly inherited
the business but went into partnership with Harris. Mainly, I
think, because he didn’t want anything to do with the
“So he’s a co-owner?” Laura found her
“You'd never know it, though. He hardly ever
lowers himself to mingle with the common employee. The guy is a
The woman sitting across from Laura added,
“He’s got zero manners. Zilch. Nobody likes him.”
“I heard he tried to fire his own brother but
his mother stepped in. Supposedly, they have a real hatred for each
other,” someone added.
“Rumor is, he wants to sell the grocery
chain. Wants nothin’ to do with it. Which means we could all be out
of a job.”
“Unless Harris O’Reilly buys him out.”
“That’s unlikely to happen. Harris can’t
afford to buy him out.” One of the men at the table supplied. “So
he works extra hard to prove to his brother that he is capable of
running the business on his own. That way Dexter doesn’t have to
help operate the business and won’t threaten to sell his
She was on the verge of asking more about
this Dexter O’Reilly character, when it dawned on her she was
meddling into a family affair, which was of no concern to her. As a
matter-of-fact, she felt all at once ashamed for participating in
the usual workplace gossip. She had no connection to these people
and scolded herself on her own lack of character. From what she had
witnessed of Adell Cameron and her family, they certainly weren’t
deserving of such condescending behavior from their employees.
Whatever family skeletons they had, were entirely their own
She turned her head toward the group near the
entrance of the hall. Adell Cameron stood with her small family
talking and smiling happily amongst their employees. When she had
been introduced earlier, Laura was immediately struck by how
friendly the woman appeared. She was probably the sweetest person
Laura had ever met. Her sparkling eyes and cheerful manner
instantly warmed her to the motherly woman. She was an elegant lady
whose appearance spoke immeasurably of her class. Her formal crêpe
pantsuit and the stylish salt and pepper blunt cut of her hair were
almost deceitful, until one looked into her penetrating hazel eyes
and saw the gentle warmth of a kind-hearted woman.
Harris O’Reilly stood beside her grinning
cheerfully down at his wife, Lydia O’Reilly. In height and nature
along with a set of deep hazel eyes he resembled his mother.
Though, his dark head complimented his wife’s raven locks as she
smiled in return and laughed at something her father-in-law, Norton
Cameron was saying. For a brief second, Laura felt a pang of
jealousy. The wish to be part of a family was so great, it startled
Which was completely foolish. A sudden tide
of loneliness explained this unfounded emotion. Without realizing
it, Laura sighed out loud as she looked upon Adell's quaint little
Wistfully, she wondered what it would have
been like growing up with Adell Cameron as her mother. It had
always been just her father and herself, her own mother passing
away when Laura was a toddler.
Not that she would have traded her father for
anyone. She loved him dearly and their relationship had been close.
Closer than any daughter and father could possibly get. They only
had themselves in the world. Now, however, there was only
Unconsciously, her mind traveled back over
the months to the hospital where she sat at his bedside. She held
his hand, tears flowing down her cheeks as she looked on in fear,
praying desperately for a miracle.
Please Dad, don't go. Hold on.”
It's time, Laura,” he said through short
His eyelids slowly opened to take in the
beautiful young woman at his side. “You're the image of your
Fight it, Daddy, please. Don't leave
me—don't leave me all alone.”
I'll always be with you, Laura. Don't
ever doubt it.” His breath caught in his throat as he fought for
one last look at his daughter. “I promise, you won't be
Those had been his last words. Now, ten
months later, sitting in the hall of the Sprucewood Lodge with
numerous people buzzing around her, Laura felt completely and
utterly alone. Her father had let her down.
With a dispirited sigh, she knew her father
wouldn't be pleased to see her so unhappy at Christmas, their
favorite time of year. Still, she couldn't shake the lonely
feeling, even with all the people surrounding her. In an odd sense,
she felt betrayed by her father. How could he leave her? He knew he
was all she had. And yet he left, he had abandoned her.
“Can you believe this place? You’d think with
all their money they could have afforded better.” The conversation
around the table drew her out of her gloomy reflections.
“I think the place looks very festive.” Laura
defended Adell Cameron's decorating.
“Yeah, but I bet they have another party for
executives. Held by Dexter O'Reilly himself in some plush banquet
They all agreeably sneered at this last
remark, except Laura who sat back quietly in her seat, digesting
this new information she was learning about David’s employers. She
hadn't realized there were two O’Reilly brothers at the helm of the
huge and successful food chain. It was disconcerting to realize
Adell Cameron had a son who wasn’t as kindly as the rest of her
Without ever having met him, Laura took a
sudden dislike to this Dexter O'Reilly character. The image of the
perfect little family, now had an unmistakable flaw. A black sheep
It dawned on Laura only then that she would
never meet this man, and quite possibly Adell Cameron and her
family outside of this occasion. She chided herself for allowing
her thoughts to get so caught up in the O'Reilly’s.
Glancing around the table, listening to the
continual degrading of a man she did not even know from people he
funded the very livelihood they depended upon, caused her to
realize she was no better. Though she held no associations to
Dexter O’Reilly, was of no importance. Attacking and condemning a
man behind his back before even getting to know him, was simply
Deciding then and there to block out any more
conversation regarding the O'Reilly family, Laura turned her
attention away from the group.
That was when the woman sitting across from
her, paused in mid-sentence to utter, “Well speak of the
Laura turned her attention unwillingly back.
The woman stared disbelieving somewhere over Laura's right
shoulder. As though a puppet, she found herself turning in her seat
to follow the woman's gaze.
A tall, lithe man stood in the entrance to
the hall. Dressed in office attire, his aloof stance gave off an
aroma of power in a brash egotistic manner. He stood as if he were
the center of attention, drawing all eyes upon him. Indeed he was a
magnificent sight to behold. At over six feet tall and with a set
of thick brown locks brushed to perfection over a set of
penetrating but mesmerizing dark eyes, he was the epitome of male
However, it was in the face that this image
of eminence had a startling contrast. It wasn’t hardly unpleasant
to look at, Laura acknowledged with a womanly appreciation, however
it bore a brooding darkness that originated from those dark eyes
and had an effect on the rest of his features. His face was long
and cut sharply along the cheekbones and jaw where it came together
to form a distinctive square and powerful chin that concealed the
trace of a dimple. The intense details of his face helped to form
the hard and stern countenance he bore, and Laura knew instantly it
had been a long time since it cracked a smile.
The agreeable nature and sunny disposition of
his kin was nowhere to be found in the piercing set of hazel eyes
inherited from his mother and shared with his brother. Dexter
O'Reilly was not anything like his relations. There was a family
resemblance, yes, but that was where it stopped. He certainly did
not have the glowing personality his family possessed.
He had been surveying the room when suddenly
his dark eyes stopped in her direction. He caught and held her
attention. A cold blank stare, which said absolutely nothing at
all, held her spellbound. An unexpected jolt ricocheted along her
pulse until it found its way to the vicinity of her chest. She took
a silent gasp of air and blinked in astonishment. Finding herself
incapable of looking away, she tilted her chin slightly and stared