Happy September! Since I published the first chapter of CHRISTMAS IN JULY last month I thought I’d add the cover and the second chapter this month. I hope this gets you ready for my contribution to the 2017 Christmas box – all of the entries look fantastic.
“Come on, General. How about I lead today, and you walk beside me for a change?” Madelyn stopped.
General kept on walking, stretching his leash taut. It was a bungie leash and he knew exactly how far he could stretch it before it tugged him back. This had become habit too—the General leading until Madelyn wore the little guy out. “Just thought we’d try it the normal way for once, buddy. Silly me.”
“You were many things, Maddy, including silly when the occasion called for it. I doubt you’re silly now.”
Madelyn whirled around, bringing the little General with her. Her free hand moved to her chest reflexively, right over her heart. Her quick inhalation of breath drew a smile from Drew.
“Good to know I can still take your breath away, Maddy.”
“Don’t call me that,” Madelyn said more sharply than she intended. Drew had that effect on her. She saw those bright-blue eyes and her mind filled with images of skinny-dipping in Old Man Johnson’s pond. It was those memories and what came after that had gotten her trouble in the first place. Self-preservation made Madelyn drop her hand, straighten her spine, and repeat yesterday’s mantra: You are a strong independent woman. Your life is your own. You do not need a man to complete you. You are a strong independent woman …
By the third time, Madelyn almost convinced herself she believed it. She was strong. She was independent. She didn’t need a man, but sure as the sun rises in the east, she still wanted Drew. Apparently, time and distance hadn’t muted that ache. The problem was Drew wouldn’t want her when he found out the truth. Then she’d watch that kind, gentle teasing leave his eye.
Oh, why had I risked coming home?
Because Julie’s here, she scolded herself, and you crave a relationship with your adult daughter. So, suck it up, buttercup, and don’t get distracted by an older set of blue eyes with engaging crinkles at the corners. Who cares if he’s even more handsome than he’d been at eighteen?
It took Drew asking, “What would you like me to call you?” to get Madelyn to follow their first conversation in over twenty-five years. She wasn’t seventeen and so in love she couldn’t think of anything or anyone but Drew anymore. She was a grown professional woman with a grown-up professional name. “Madelyn. It’s been Madelyn for two decades now,” she said.
General chose that moment to approach Drew and lay down at his feet. Drew bent to scratch behind the Westie’s ears. As soon as Drew hit a full crouch, Madelyn’s little traitor rolled over for a belly rub. Her best friend who was generally indifferent with strangers bonded with the one man Madelyn needed to be estranged from.
She wasn’t sure why she did it. Especially seeing the joy that man and dog were sharing. But Drew wanted to pretend there was no distance between them that couldn’t be bridged with a smile and polite conversation. All she could think of was the need to get away before she said something intimate.
“Madeline Nelson was my married name,” she said, although why she said it she didn’t know, since she’d been using Madelyn Grace professionally for years.
Drew stopped petting General. He stood slowly, no longer smiling. Madelyn could read his expression, and she sensed his anger and his sympathy. The anger she expected. The sympathy she did not. But that was Drew, honest with his emotions and not afraid to share them.
“I knew you married. Ruby told me.”
Count on Aunt Ruby to share the news. At that moment, Madelyn wanted to strangle her well-meaning aunt.
Drew took a step closer as General came back to her side, cocking his head at each one of them in turn, sensing his newfound friend’s tension, as well as hers. “I was sorry to hear of your husband’s death.”
The sincerity in Drew’s eyes made Madelyn feel small for having used her dead husband to put distance between herself and the first man who owned her heart. “Thank you,” is all she could manage to say.
“Don’t thank me, Maddy,” Drew said harshly. “And don’t expect me to call you by another man’s name. Even a dead one. You are Maddy Grace to me. Then and now. Forever.”
His words shook her to her core. Drew as a boy would never have spoken to her like that. In fact, the only time she could remember him being serious with her was the first time he told her he loved her.
Drew looked at her for seconds that lasted far longer than they should have.
Then he tipped his hat and turned to walk away.
Madelyn stopped him. “Drew, I—”
“Don’t say anything you don’t mean, Maddy.” He laughed harshly, and the sound hurt her ears. “In fact, don’t say anything at all.” He looked at her over his shoulder and said so quietly that she almost missed it, “I won’t let you disappear on me again. I’ll see you every day until you finally admit you don’t want to let me go again.”
This time when he walked away, Madelyn let him go. Drew Selleck had rendered her speechless, embarrassed by her behavior, and eager to see him again. It was the last one that frightened her most.
Drew had managed to speak with Maddy, call me Madelyn, without arresting her. A monumental feat after she threw her dead husband’s name at him. He’d call her by that name only after he was dead. Not even then, he silently amended. He planned to be holding Maddy close throughout eternity, after she took his name. Maddy Selleck. It had a nice ring to it.
The memory of her face when he told her he’d be seeing her every day brought a smile back to his face. She’d been afraid, appalled, and just for a moment after her eyes flared, excited. That flash of the old Maddy had him whistling all the way back to the office.