Christmas brings family together…
Jordyn Bailey kissed Tom Fontaine last Christmas.
But their parents are engaged…
For Jordyn keeping secrets in a family determined to mesh their lives is all kinds of crazy.
Secretly sleeping with Tom could get messy because she’s on the baby track while he’s on the party track.
If they’re careful and keep their attraction under wraps maybe it will burn out and they can be friends.
Now…It’s Christmas again and Tom wants to unwrap everything, including Jordyn.
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Christmas Day, Vancouver Island, Canada
Tom Fontaine wanted his father back at work, plain and simple. He had big plans to expand Fontaine Homes and he needed his father there to do it with him. He grabbed his first coffee of the morning and heard his grandmother call from upstairs. “Did I miss them?” she asked.
“Yes, they just left.” His dad and his new girlfriend were on their way to serve up Christmas breakfast at a shelter.
New girlfriend. Shit. His mom had only been dead six months. What was up with finding a new woman already? And in Nanaimo of all places. It was pretty, but still, it was a backwater tourist town perched on the edge of Vancouver Island. In Canada!
“Shoot. I wanted to ask Miranda if she minded my getting started on dinner.”
“It’s six a.m. There’s lots of time. And they’ll be back before noon.” He poured her a mug of coffee, added her dose of sugar and cream and then held it out for her as she rounded the bottom of the stairs toward the living area.
“Christmas dinner cannot be left to the last minute.” She accepted the mug, took a sip and sighed in appreciation. “Thanks.”
“You look happier than I’ve seen you in months.”
“I slept all night through. Meeting Miranda and seeing the effect she’s had on your dad eased my mind. I haven’t felt this good since your mom got sick.”
He’d tossed all night trying to come up with an argument against his dad seeing Miranda. There wasn’t one he could think of that didn’t make him sound like a whiny kid. “It seems too soon. Too fast.”
Gran patted his arm. “When it’s right, it’s right. And I miss your mom too, but your dad’s suffered long enough. If Miranda can bring him back to life, back to us, then I already love her.”
“But I need him back home. I want to expand and I can’t do it alone. It’s his business so there’s only so much I can cover.” He’d learned a lot about leading crews and managing projects in the past six months, but he could only stretch so far.
“It’s Christmas morning, we’ve just met your dad’s lovely new lady and she’s opened her home to us. We showed up on her doorstep, worried about Kirk and now—well—she’s a wonderful, caring woman your dad is very taken with. We need to respect that.”
In the face of her warmhearted acceptance, he caved. “You’re right. About everything.”
“I try to see the bright side. And your dad did say he’d be home for New Year’s so give him Christmas without pushing him to return for good.”
He nodded. “You’re right again. I’ll try.” But it grated.
Gran wore a new red Christmas sweater, like always. This year’s version had snowflakes and glitter. “You look very Christmassy. Aunt Joan again?”
“My sister knows what I like. Remind me to get a photo later so I can send it to her. She’ll like knowing I wore it today.”
“We’re on our own for breakfast.” When his mom was alive, Christmas breakfast was a big deal. She made everything from pancakes to eggs with thick-sliced ham.
“That’s fine. We’ll manage.” She looked through the cupboards and found oats. “Great. I’ll make porridge.” She looked at the label. “From scratch.” She smiled. “No instant stuff,” she said happily.
What a strange six months they’d all had. His mom had passed away and his dad had gone darker than anyone could have foreseen. He took to the water in his boat and finally drifted ashore in Nanaimo. They’d only had sporadic contact until Miranda had woken him from the grief that had gripped him.
Once Gran had learned about Miranda, there was no keeping her home for Christmas. She insisted on coming here and there was no way Tom could let her travel from Washington State to Canada alone.
Gran patted his shoulder, bringing him out of his thoughts. “Kirk’s still figuring out how he’s going to live without your mother. Miranda may be the answer.” Her voice went softer than usual. “You may have to accept her permanently.”
He shook his head. “That’s not the problem. I don’t want him hurt if this doesn’t work out. Not after the way he reacted to Mom’s death. He couldn’t take it.” And he wanted to get moving with his plans for Fontaine Homes. To his grandmother, he said, “I’ll get the milk. The porridge looks ready.”
Like every bowl of porridge she’d ever made him, she sprinkled a little cinnamon on top. Maybe things weren’t as messed up as he thought.
When they finished eating and clearing their dishes, Gran showed him how to peel vegetables. “You need to know how to do more than empty a salad bag into a bowl.”
“I take and bake pizza.”
She dug into a drawer, pulled out a vegetable peeler and passed it to him. “Get started on the carrots.”
“Don’t ma’am me.” She bit her lip. “Am I that old?”
She was only seventy. “Of course not.” He kissed the top of her forehead. Until him, most generations of Fontaines started families young. Early twenties, tops. He was twenty-seven and not looking for anything more than a good time. Yet.
He’d settle down when the right woman came along and not a day before. There was no way he’d fall as fast as his father did. Kirk had been a quick start with his mom and again with Miranda. Tom preferred to take his time.
He set a bunch of carrots on the counter and started hacking at them.
“Not like that,” she said, “like this.” Gran took the peeler and showed him how to peel correctly and handed it back.
~ ~ ~ ~
Jordyn Bailey was one minute late for the ferry. At the ticket booth, she gripped her backpack like a life ring. “You have to let me on. Please.”
“Rules are rules.” The cashier pointed at the sign that said foot passengers had to be there ten minutes before sailing.
“It’s Christmas, and my mom doesn’t know I’m coming,” Jordyn said and shoved money at the cashier through the hole in the glass. “Please help me get home for Christmas.”
The woman relented with a smile and slid a boarding pass through. “Merry Christmas,” she said.
“It will be now. Thanks.”
If only she’d decided to end things with Evan last night. But no, it took waking up on Christmas morning without her mother before she realized what a colossal mistake she’d made. Over the last few weeks Evan had managed to convince her that spending Christmas with his parents and not including her mother was the right thing to do for their relationship. To her shame, she’d gone along, afraid that demanding both sets of parents meet over the holidays would rub Evan and his parents the wrong way.
Bah, humbug. Evan had been miserly with his kindness, his affection, his time and most especially his encouragement when it came to her dreams. She dashed along the walkway that led to the ferry waiting rooms. If she’d come to her senses yesterday she’d have been in Nanaimo last night.
Jordyn took a seat by a window and settled in to check the texts that had been coming in to her phone exactly twenty minutes apart. A sure sign they were from Evan.
“We can talk about this. Call me.”
“The silent treatment? Really?”
“You’re ruining everything with my parents. They’ll never forget this.”
“Don’t bother calling. We’re done.”
“Yes, that’s what I said this morning,” she muttered. “We’re done. Clearly you weren’t listening, like always.” Apparently she was still supposed to be as concerned with Evan’s parents as he was. Never going to happen. Not when he’d manipulated her and denigrated her dream.
Evan had talked her out of joining her best friend, Krista, in a business Jordyn was certain they could make successful. When Krista Johnson had approached her with a partnership offer Jordyn had been excited and wanted to jump in with both feet. Evan had convinced her not to, saying she didn’t have the right skillset or experience or head for business. Hah!
Never mind, she thought. It was Christmas and she was going home.
But first, she had a call to make. “Merry Christmas!” she said when Krista answered.
“Merry Christmas! You’re calling early.” Krista sounded happy and Jordyn could tell she was walking. The background Christmas music was suddenly cut off so they could talk. “What’s up? Did Evan and his parents give you a moment to breathe? Or are you hiding in the bathroom?”
“Very funny. There’s a story there, but I’m not calling about my ex and his family.” She paused to let the full effect hit her friend.
“Your ex? Are you okay? What happened? You dumped him, right?”
She heard the happiness in Krista’s voice and let it roll over her. Had no one in her life liked Evan? Apparently not. Amid the pile of questions that poured out of her friend, she targeted one to answer. “Yes, I dumped him, but I’ll fill you in after the holiday. I’m calling to know if you’re still open to that partnership you mentioned. I’m ready now, if you’ll still have me.”
After that it was a blur of excited comments and quickly drawn plans for a painting company run by women for female clients to start. She’d majored in marketing with a business minor. Jordyn’s heart raced with the possibilities.
All the doubts that Evan had nurtured drifted away in the face of Krista’s rampant enthusiasm. They decided to work out the details of their plan after the holidays. The New Year would be fantastic for both of them.
“You’re going to your mom’s for Christmas after all.” Again, Jordyn heard a note of approval. Krista hadn’t had a mother since she was seven and got exasperated with Jordyn whenever she detected Jordyn’s impatience with her mom. Krista just didn’t get the mother/daughter thing and sometimes Krista was right. Jordyn should appreciate her mom more.
“Yes, I want to check out this man, Kirk Fontaine. He showed up out of nowhere, lives aboard his boat and doesn’t appear to want to leave. He claims to be a custom home builder, but if that’s true, how can he take weeks off? He’s been in Nanaimo for over a month, doing nothing.”
“Maybe it’s a slow period and he’s taking a break.”
“Mom says his wife passed away a few months ago.”
“That would explain his need to get away and have time to himself. My dad’s only option was to find the bottom of a bottle to hide in. He waited for me to go to bed at night and then he’d drink himself into oblivion. I’d find him in his lounger in the morning.”
“Oh, Krista.” There were no words to convey her sympathy.
“It’s okay. I learned to make coffee and breakfast and have it ready for him when I shook him awake. He loved it and after a few months the bottle disappeared and he’d sleep in his bed. I still made breakfast every day because I realized that he took care of everything else.”
“He loves you.”
“Since my mom died, there have been lots of women. Some were really great, others not so much, but he always put me first.” She cleared her throat. “Go easy on your mom about this man. She’s a smart lady and if he’s no good, she’ll see it soon enough.”
Her mom was a vibrant, vivacious widow and financially comfortable. “She’s only forty-seven, and a great catch. But what if she gets hurt?” Kirk had latched on to her wonderful mom and had begun to cling like a barnacle to Miranda’s good heart. “What if he’s using her to get over his wife?”
“Deliberately? I don’t think grief works that way. And neither does love. If he loved his wife, your mom cannot replace her. It would have to be a different kind of love, wouldn’t it?”
“I guess.” But the idea that her mom could replace her dad was ridiculous. Krista was right. This would have to be different.
“Maybe it’s convenient for both of them or maybe, just maybe, it’s important to them. Either way, girlfriend, it’s not your business. Just take it easy and see how things go.”
Jordyn nodded but she still had reservations about her mom seeing this guy. “I’ll keep my eye on things, but first I need to apologize for being so dense about Evan. I think my mom had him figured out weeks ago, but she never butted in, not even when I let him talk me into uninviting her for the holidays.”
“Wow. Your mom’s really smart. She respected you enough to let you figure it all out on your own and she gave you the time to do it.”
“Yes, she did.”
“Way better than badgering you.”
“Yes. Better than badgering me.”
“I’ll give her the same respect.” It was the least she could do. “Happy now that you’ve made your point?”
“Go home and enjoy your Christmas.”
“Thanks, Krista. I love you, you know.”
“Of course.” With that Krista hooted with laughter and disconnected.
Obviously, if there was something really fishy with this Kirk, Jordyn would speak up, but otherwise, she wouldn’t interfere in her mother’s relationship.
Jordyn smiled at a mop-haired little girl who giggled at her over the back of the seat ahead.
“Pfft,” she blew a raspberry and the little girl blew one back, which started a contest that got louder and gigglier until every child nearby joined in. One day, she’d have a little girl just like this one.