Claiming Christmas

Page 13

One week slips past and then another. My feet barely touch the ground. When I’m not working, I’m with Connor at my tiny apartment above the bakery in town or at his place. He lives in a converted barn on the edge of town that still needs some work, but I adore it. I wander through the rooms, adding feminine touches in my head and getting dreamy-eyed as I picture a nursery filled with baby stuff.
Every day we grow closer, to the point where I can’t remember a time when we weren’t together. It’s hell keeping our hands off each other during our working day while we try to remain professional. Once we get home, we often don’t make it to the bedroom before he’s inside me, wringing me out with orgasm after orgasm. He constantly tells me how much he loves my body, my curves, how much I turn him on, and how I’m the sexiest woman he’s ever known.
But I should’ve known that life would throw us a shitty curveball in the shape of a phone call late one night when Connor is staying at my apartment. I wake, groggy-eyed, to hear him answer the call.
“What? When? Is she…will she be okay?”
The urgency and fear in his voice suddenly have me wide awake.
“Fuck! I’ll get the next flight. Be there as soon as I can.” He ends the call and turns to look at me, his expression tortured. “That was my mom. There was a fire at Rosie’s apartment block. Rosie was inside. She’s been taken to the hospital.”
My hand flies to my mouth in shock. “Oh, my God! I’m so sorry, Connor!”
“I have to go,” he says, standing and quickly pulling on his clothes.
“I’ll come with you,” I say immediately, reaching for my clothes.
Connor sits on the edge of the bed and hauls me into his arms. “No, baby. It’s better if you stay here. Apart from anything else, Drayton won’t cope with both of us gone.”
I nod, knowing he’s right. “Okay. I’ll take care of everything here. You just get to Rosie. She’s your priority, right now.”
Connor drops his forehead to mine. “You’re amazing, you know that?”
“I’m beginning to because of you,” I reply, summoning a smile. “Now go. And call me.”
He kisses me, quick and hard. I watch as he walks out the door, taking a piece of my heart with him.
Connor calls me as soon as he gets to the hospital in Houston to fill me in on Rosie’s condition. She’s suffered burns to her neck and back and is being treated for smoke inhalation. She may be left with some permanent scarring from the burns, but the doctors are optimistic that there will be no lasting damage to her lungs from the smoke inhalation. My heart breaks for her, even though we’ve never met, and I can only imagine what Connor and the rest of his family are going through.
Connor finishes the call by telling me he plans to stay in Houston, for now, to be close by if needed. Much as I hate the idea of being separated from him, I wouldn't expect anything less.
I bury myself in work, and one week becomes two. I miss Connor like crazy. He calls every day to update me, but not seeing him, touching him, is agony. I’m desperate to join him in Houston, but work is hectic, and my conscience won’t allow me to leave Drayton in the lurch while his deputy is also on compassionate leave. Anyway, I’m being selfish. It’s a few weeks out of the rest of our lives together—because I know that’s what I want—to live out the rest of my days with the man I love more than anything else in the whole world. He’s my everything—loving, generous, strong, and sexy as hell.
Christmas is fast approaching, so I dig out my small tree and decorations one evening after work. I string up some fairy lights and put out my favorite sparkly Christmas candles—the ones I never light because they’re too pretty. When I’m done, I stand back to admire my handiwork.
“What do you think, Dave?” I ask the tabby curled up on the sofa. He opens one eye, totally unimpressed, and immediately goes back to sleep.
“Well, I think it looks cozy and festive. In fact, I think I’ll bake some Christmas cookies, even though the big day is still a week away,” I tell my uninterested companion.
Thirty minutes later, the smell of gingerbread and cinnamon fills my tiny apartment and lifts my spirits. I’ve always loved Christmas and was hoping to share it with Connor this year, but he’ll still be in Houston the way things are looking.
Once the cookies are done, I spend the evening watching re-runs of ‘Friends’ before heading to bed. I miss the warmth of Connor’s body next to me. I miss his touch, his kiss, and the sense of belonging he invokes within me.
A few more days slip past, and before I know it, it’s the day before Christmas Eve. I’m sitting at my desk just after lunch with my head buried in a report about a break-in at the local library when Drayton calls me into his office.
“Hey, boss. What do you need?” I ask, looking at the sheriff as he sits behind his desk.
He’s a big guy and intimidating if you don’t know him. Thank God he’s one of the good guys.
“Take a seat, Jess,” he says somberly, indicating the chair opposite him.
“What’s up?” I ask, my heart thumping hard in my chest at his serious expression.
Drayton leans back in his chair. “I appreciate that you and Connor have tried to keep things professional at work, but—”
“You’re not going to fire me, are you? Or Connor?” I cut across him. “I mean, I know it kind of muddies the waters, what with us being in a relationship and working together and all, but I don’t think there’s anything written anywhere that says we can’t be together, and you know I’d never let our relationship distract me from doing my job properly, so—”
I grind to a halt as Drayton holds up a big hand, his mouth twitching with a smile behind his beard.