Authors: Mariah Stewart
Tags: #Retail Industry, #Smitten, #Racing, #Sports Industry, #TV Industry
“Do we want a puppy?” she paused to ask.
“Why, yeah. We do. Definitely.” He nodded.
“Oh, well, then, I guess maybe
” She looked down at the soft bundle of fur that squirmed in her arms and the rollicking mass that rolled at her feet. How did one decide such a thing with so many to choose from?
have been sold,” the woman told them, and she proceeded to point out five that had already been spoken for.
“How can you tell them apart?” Zoey asked. “They all look alike to me.”
“They all have their little differences,” the breeder said. “Now, that one there, that you’re holding”—she pointed to the pup in Zoey’s arms—“she’s going to be a real pistol. She’s the one who starts the others into
scratching at the door to go outside. She likes the fresh air. But she’s the runt. She’ll always be small, smallboned and small at the shoulder. Now that one”—she pointed to the pup Ben picked up—“he’s the biggest male in the litter. He’ll be a real bruiser when he’s full grown.”
Ah, yes, Ben sighed. His Big Dog. He could see them now, taking off through the fields this time next year. Maybe even do a little duck hunting
“I think I like this one, Ben.”
Ben frowned. The pup Zoey was holding up was not his Big Dog.
“Zoey, she’s the runt,” he said out of the co
er of his mouth.
“So, she’s not going to grow to be that big.
Now, this little guy here…
“Why does she have to be big?” Zoey frowned.
“Because that’s what a big dog is, Zoe,” he explained as if speaking to a c
hild. “It’s supposed to be…
Zoey stared at him as if she hadn’t understood one word. The pup in her arms licked at her chin, then nipped it. Zoey laughed. “I really like her, Ben.”
” Ben looked down at the puppy that had settled down to chew on his shoelaces. The pup’s paws were enormous, a sure sign that he’d be a
“Ben, you asked me which puppy I wanted”—she smiled at him—“and I’d like this one.”
Ben glanced reluctantly at the big pup, the visions of autumnal boy-bonding-with-dog slipping away. He glanced at Zoey’s face. Clearly, she was smitten with the smaller female. And she
a cutie, he had to concede, with those black button eyes and that dark brown nose. She was still buff colored, not yet golden, but she would darken up, he knew. For a minute, he all but regretted having brought Zoey along. Maybe he should have just picked out his puppy and brought it home. But that would have defeated the purpose of picking out a pup
together, of making the commitment together. And that was at the heart of this trip. Judging by the way Zoey was looking at him, he suspected she already knew that.
“She’ll be a great little dog,” the breeder told them.
At the sound of the words—little dog—Ben’s heart sank even further, but Zoey held the puppy out to him and he took it. Little Dog wagged her tail excitedly and tried to nip his ear.
“Does she already have a name?” Zoey asked.
“She’s Wagonwheel’s Lucky Diva,” the breeder told her.
said, sighing. He just couldn’t get away from it. Lucky Diva. Little Dog. It was all the same.
“Ben, why can’t you buy both?” Zoey asked.
“Both?” His eyebrows rose as he contemplated the thought, then nodded happily and smiled at the breeder. “We’ll take both.”
He lifted his Big Dog pup, who proceeded to wash Ben’s face.
Ah, the fields we’ll walk through, the days we will share
“When can we come back for them?”
“They need two more weeks with momma, but after that”—the woman began to herd the puppies back through the small gate to their mother—“they’re
the words repeated in Ben’s head as they got back into the car.
He stole a glance at Zoey
he turned the BMW around and pulled back onto the road. She was all his, too. He wondered if she knew.
“I can’t believe you just bought me a puppy.” She grinned at him.
“Bought us puppies.” He corrected her. “We’ll be sharing them.”
“Definitely.” He nodded. “It’s part of the plan.”
“The plan?” she asked curiously.
“Sure. You know, I thought maybe we’d stay in your house, since you just fixed it up and everything, and besides, we both love that house, and it’s big enough for
us and a dog or two. Now, we might have to think about an addition, whe
n we start having children…
“Children?” She leaned back in her seat, terribly amused. “Are children part of the plan, too?”
“Why, sure.” He grinned. “Don’t you remember that old kids’ rhyme, ‘First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes—’ ”
“ ‘Ben with the baby carriage.’ ” She was laughing out loud now.
“Well, yeah,” he nodded. “Someday.”
“Someday.” She repeated the word softly, rolling its meaning around in her mind like a lone marble.
Ben reached across to take her hand, driving a few more miles down the road before he pulled over at a pond that stood like a large puddle at the side of a large field. The crops—soybeans maybe—had been harvested, and a large flock of Canadian geese picked enthusiastically at the smorgasbord of plant debris left behind by the farmer. Tall cattails, already gone to seed, waved wheatlike arms from the edge of the pond. Ben rolled down the window and let the cool late-afte
oon air drift in.
“Yup. Nothing like a Pennsylvania autumn.” There was true satisfaction in his voice.
“Does Delaney know that you’re back to stay?”
He nodded. “I went to see him in New York yesterday, right from the airport. He’s delighted that I made the decision to come back to work for him. He didn’t seem quite as surprised as I thought he’d be, but he’s very happy.”
“Are you happy?”
“Happier than I’ve ever been in my life.”
“Happier than you were when you were driving race cars?”
He hesitated for just a moment. “It isn’t the same, Zoey. That was a part of my life that’s over. It was great while it lasted, but it’s over.” He stroked the side of her face with his fingers. “But you and me, we’ll never be
over. No matter what happens, Zoe, it’ll never be over between us.”
“And you’re willing to stay here? No more Silverstone? Monte Carlo? Monza? Wherever?”
“We can always go just to watch, if we wanted. That’s all
d have done if I’d stayed with Tony anyway.”
“Aren’t you afraid you’ll miss the lifestyle?”
“Not for a minute. And anyway”—he kissed the tip of her chi
n, before settling in on the corn
ers of her mouth—“who needs Monte Carlo when I get to spend the rest of my life with someone as wonderful as you?”
“I just don’t want you to feel that you’re givin
g up something that you love…
“I love you, Zoey. I love you and the life we’ll have together, the home we’ll make and the children we’ll raise together, the life we’ll build.” He leaned back and smiled. “Besides, before I left, I was starting to get used to the routine.”
“Which routine was that?”
“You know, Mexican on
Monday, Thai on Tuesday…
“Wanda on Wednesday.” She laughed.
“Wanda?” He frowned. “Who’s Wanda?”
“Mrs. Colson. I’ve been making it a point to have dinner with my mother one night each week. It’s been falling on Wednesdays lately, so
has been moved to Thursday.”
“We should go see your mother.” Ben thought of Delia, and all she had done to make his homecoming a real one over the past few months. “There are things I need to thank her for.”
“Can it wait till tomorrow?” Zoey leaned across the console and scraped her teeth lightly along his botto
m lip. “Today’s only Tuesday…
“Hmmm. That would give us a full twenty-four hours to spend together.”
“Let’s go home, Ben. I have an idea or two on how to spend some of those hours. Maybe all of them.”
“Home it is.” He kissed her full on the mouth and started the ignition, taking the shortest, most direct route back to the house in Brady’s Mill. He pulled into the driveway and looked around at the little house with its trees and its garden, its welcoming front porch, and was overcome with the feeling that he had finally, once and for all time, come home.
Home. It had such a beautiful sound. He’d been trying to come home for years, and hadn’t even known it. Now that he was here, he was going to take pleasure in every minute of it.
elia Enright stood at the top of the first-floor landing overlooking the gaily bedecked entry hall of the Bishop’s Inn and smiled as the front door swung open yet again and another of her children entered into the crowd that had begun to gather earlier that morning. Nick and India, along with August and Corri, had been the first to arrive, followed by Zoey and Ben. Now that Georgia was there, the circle was finally complete. Delia sighed a sigh of wonder, that she would, at long last, celebrate a holiday with all of her children gathered around her. That Laura had closed the inn to paying guests to permit the family to share this Christmas Eve had been a gift without measure, the most welcome gift Delia had ever received.
The joy of the moment filled her and she leaned over the railing just enough to see Ally hand Corri a tray of hors d’oeuvres and to instruct her on who to serve first. Budding little hostesses, both of them, Delia smiled to herself. Ah, and it’s such fun to be a grandmother, such fun to have two little girls to spoil again.
There should always be children in the family on
Christmas Eve. They help us to keep the joy of the season alive in us all.
She turned on the landing, an old worn red felt stocking with an angel on the front in her hands, and thought back to so many other Christmases, when this stocking had hung with three others on the mantel at the old house in Chester County. The angel’s halo of glittery gold trim had lost some of its sparkle, and the wings, once proud puffy mounds of white feathers, looked as if a moth or two had come to call. But the love that it had held for all these years was just as bright as it had been when Delia had bought it, so many Christmases ago, to keep the memory of her own Christmas angel close to her heart.
What a joy it would be to see it hang there, with the others, on the mantel at the Bishop’s Inn. From her place on the landing she could see the stockings hung across the long wooden mantel in the front hallway below. One for each of them. There was Nick’s old stocking, a tall affair in the shape of a tin soldier, thick blue felt trimmed with gold epaulets and a tall hat. Then Zoey’s, shaped like a Christmas tree, with its garlands of glitter and fancy buttons and shiny silver and gold balls, and a fat, broad bottom that held lots of presents. Delia smiled, recalling a time when Zoey had thought the carol “Oh, Christmas Tree” had been written about her stocking. And there was Georgia’s dancing girl, her arms reaching high above her head, her stiff pink tutu flared around her hips. De
a had had them made when her children were just small, and had carefully preserved each one over the years. Delia’s own had been made in the shape of a book,
A Christmas Carol
stitched across the front and bits of felt holly sewn here and there. Tonight there would be no thoughts of Christmas Past. Christmas Present and Christmas Future, however, were blissfully welcome.
There were so many stockings this year, she noted, that they would not all fit across the front of the mantel, and so she had hung some down each side of the
ireplace. With much love and a great deal of satisfaction, she had had each one specially made for the newest members of her growing family. There was India’s, with its
elves standing in front of a lighthouse, and August’s, with cross-stitched shells decorating a hand-embroidered tree. And Corri’s, with its little girl peering out a window onto a starry sky, awaiting, no doubt, the arrival of a sleigh filled with goodies. Ben’s was next; deciding to cut his in the shape of a car had been easy. Ally’s stocking was decorated with little felt animals,
raccoons and bunnies, foxes and a squirrel, all around a holly bush. Delia had even had a stocking made for Matt, Laura’s brother, hoping that he would accept his sister’s invitation to share the holiday with the entire clan. He had apparently declined, and none too gracefully, Delia had surmised, having watched Matt leave the inn by the back door, which he had closed behind him with a resounding smack, before any of Laura’s Enright siblings had arrived.
—Delia had pursed her lips as Matt had backed his pickup down the driveway—
perhaps next year
The last stocking to be hung would be Laura’s. It seemed that Delia had waited forever for this moment, and she wanted nothing more than to savor it.
All in all, it had been a very good year.
Zoey’s laughter floated above the crowd. Ah, there she was, with her Ben, at long last and for always by her side. The fates had been kind, Delia smiled, in bringing them together. Ben, so like a son to her, had taken her aside earlier and shown her the emerald-cut diamond he would be giving an unsuspecting Zoey before the night ended.
Delia’s eyes narrowed as she watched her youngest child move gracefully from one side of the room to the other.
Delia recalled the old pop tune.
Maybe a little too tiny. Zoey’s right, Georgia is working much too hard and enjoying life far too little. And
life was, after all, so very
Delia tapped her foot impatiently at the thought of her
little girl working her life away for a career that seemed to be giving her less joy than it had promised, and that she, Delia, was powerless to do anything about it. She sighed. Georgia would bear watching over the coming year.
Her eyes searched the
gathering for her daughter-in-
law. Was it her imagination, or was India’s tummy just a tad rounder than it had been even a month ago when they had all made the trip to Devlin’s Light for Thanksgiving at August’s? Hmmm. Might there be yet another reason to give thanks come next year?
That would be lovely.
She sighed, thinking how wonderful a father her Nicky would be, how lucky the child born into a family so filled with love.
And then there
was the miracle of Laura…
Oh, yes—Delia grinned, her heart all but singing as she started down the steps—it had been a