Unexpected Gifts, page 1
Copyright © Bronwyn Green
All Rights Reserved.
Cover Art by Kris Norris
To Mama – no matter how much or how little we had, you always made sure each Christmas was one we’d remember.
To all the readers out there – Happy Holidays, and thanks so much for making it possible for writers everywhere to continue to do what they love.
To Jess and Kris. Thank you for always being amazing.
“You lied! On Christmas Eve.”
Cassie Williams stood there with her heart in her throat as she stared at the snowflakes clinging to the eyelashes of her visitor. Bright blue eyes had captured her gaze, and it was all she could do to break contact. She shoved the front door, letting it slam shut in the face of her guest.
She should have known her mother would send someone over to check on her. Why did it have to be Sam of all people? Sam MacLane had been a pain in her ass since the summer she’d turned thirteen. Her brother’s best friend for life, it seemed, and part of the family. Hell, her mother had even knitted him his own stocking and still hung it up every year with the rest of the family’s.
The door shook as he pounded on it. “C’mon, Cass. Open up. I’m freezing my balls off out here.”
She pressed her forehead against the cool wood. She’d wanted to just be left alone to lick her wounds. She sighed, the sooner she let him in to drop off whatever her mother had insisted on sending, the sooner he’d leave her be. Twisting the doorknob, she tugged open the door.
A thick dusting of snow covered his hair and shoulders, and he shook his head, spraying snowflakes everywhere. She scowled at him, brushing the dampness off her arms. His brilliant blue eyes met hers, and he grinned, accenting his dimples in the dark stubble covering his face. The sight of that killer smile aimed at her punched her in the stomach. He’d always been too gorgeous for her own good.
She’d developed a monster crush on him the moment he and his family had moved in next door. Fifteen years later, and she still hadn’t been able to shake the damn thing. Of course, now, it was less girlish crush and more straight up lust. It didn’t matter, though. Nothing would ever come of it.
“So, can I come in, or are you planning to let me freeze to death on your doorstep?”
Ignoring the blush that heated her cheeks, she opened the door wider and gestured for him to step inside. Glancing beyond him, she noticed how much snow had piled up in the last couple of hours. Good thing she’d gone grocery shopping the day before. It was getting ugly out there.
Turning her attention to Sam, she followed him into the kitchen where he’d begun unpacking the huge box her mother had sent.
She crossed her arms over her chest. “So, what gave me away?”
“No glassy eyes, red, swollen nose or blotchy skin.” He handed her a Tupperware bowl. “You’ve got homemade chicken soup here,” he said, slowly scanning the length of her body before meeting her gaze, again. “Though you clearly don’t need it.”
She shoved the container into the fridge. “You can stop being a jerk any time, now.”
“I could.” He winked at her. “But, I think we both know I probably won’t.”
Her lips quirked, but she tried to hide the smile.
He was right. He wouldn’t stop being a jerk. He was the same guy he’d always been. When they were kids, he was the guy who’d teased her mercilessly. But, he was also the same guy who’d made sure no one else ever picked on her. Just like another big brother. He was also the same guy who’d convinced his parents to let her entire family move in with them while their house was being repaired from the fire damage that had taken out their garage and damaged her bedroom. Not just her bedroom—pretty much every last thing that had been in it, including her book collection. And he was the same guy who’d offered her his collection of comic books to read while the house was being repaired. She’d ended up being incredibly well-versed in Marvel and DC comics. To this day, the X-Men were still her favorite. She smiled at the memory.
“So, what’s the real reason you bailed?” he asked, bringing her back to the present and holding her motionless with his gaze.
The faints traces of her smile faded as soon as his question hit the air. She swallowed hard and cleared her throat. She wasn’t about to admit to Sam that she’d been feeling too sorry for herself to go have fun with her family. “It’s not up for discussion.”
He studied her for a moment then pulled out a tinfoil covered plate from the box and peeled back the covering. “Cookie? Fudge?”
He snagged a piece of fudge from the plate and bit into it, closing his eyes and groaning. The ragged sound settled deep in her womb, filling her with impotent longing. She forced herself to take a step away from him. Rounding the counter, she reached into the box to unpack the rest of whatever her mother had sent. Under a loaf of what could only be cinnamon bread was a pile of presents in brightly colored wrapping paper.
Sam gently knocked her hand away. “Uh-uh. Those are for Christmas morning.” Taking the box, he wandered into the living room then the dining room and back to the kitchen. “Where’s your tree?”
“I didn’t put one up this year.”
He laid his carpentry-rough hand across her forehead. “Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you are sick.”
“Funny.” She shook off his touch. “I just didn’t feel like it this year.”
“In high school, you put up a Christmas tree in your bedroom every year right after Thanksgiving dinner, because you insisted that the family tree wasn’t up long enough for you to enjoy.”
She shrugged. “Things change.”
He frowned, set the box back onto the counter and stared at her, looking as though he was weighing his words very carefully. He finally shook his head and said, “Not really.”
“What do you mean?”
He tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear, and she tried not to shiver at his touch. “They don’t really change. For instance, Tyler is still the asshole he always was. Just because you know about it now doesn’t make it a new development.”
She supposed he was right. Just because she’d been blind to the fact that Tyler was a jerk for the bulk of their relationship didn’t mean that he’d suddenly turned into a lying, cheating man-whore. He’d always been one; she’d just been stupid.
“And you’re still the person who wants to see the best in everyone. Except maybe me.”
Cassie couldn’t have kept her gaze from straying to his face if she’d wanted to. He looked completely sincere… Until he chuckled.
“And I’m still the guy that’s wanted you for years.”
Her heart clutched as his words registered, but she shook off the sensation.
“Whatever,” she muttered. He wasn’t serious. He was never serious. That was another thing that didn’t change.
He frowned at her and took a step closer. “What do you mean, ‘whatever’?”
It was hard to breathe when he was this close. Even though she knew he didn’t mean what he’d just said, she wanted to pretend he did. Instead, she straightened and busied herself with resealing the foil over the fudge and trying to put words to what she was feeling.
“I mean, you’ve made your point about Tyler,” she finally managed. “And you’re right. I admit it. But you don’t need to joke around about the rest of it.” She glanced up at him.
His eyes narrowed, and his lips pressed briefly together. “Maybe I was wrong about you wanting to see the best in people. You certainly don’t seem inclined to even attempt to see it in me.”
If she didn’t know better, she’d say he was hurt. But, this was Sam. He’d always been impervious to her verbal jabs.
Sam slid a hand around the back of her neck and urged her closer, his mouth opening against hers as he deepened the kiss. Her lips parted, welcoming him inside. He tasted of coffee and dark chocolate. Her head spun as his lips caressed hers, the sensation stealing her breath. She couldn’t believe Sam was kissing her. She’d fantasized about this moment more often than she cared to admit. Actually, her fantasies never ended with a kiss. They didn’t end until he’d fucked her so hard she could barely remember her own name, and she came imagining that her fingers were his.
His free hand settled at her waist, and he dragged her closer. Her hands lifted and clutched the front of his jacket, damp with melting snow. The chilly wetness against her skin brought everything rushing back—skipping out on family Christmas, Sam showing up on her doorstep… This wasn’t one of her fantasies. This was Sam. Actually kissing her. Trying to prove a point.
Turning her head to the side, she broke the kiss and pushed at his chest.
He tried to lift her chin. “What’s the matter, Cassie-girl?”
Positive she didn’t want to take this even one step further, she backed away from him and glanced at the clock. “Thank you for bringing everything by. You should probably get going. The way the snow’s coming down, you’re going to have a long drive back home.”
He continued to stare at her, his expression concerned. “Cass? What is it?”
“Nothing,” she lied, crossing her arms over her chest and fixing her gaze on a spot over his left shoulder. “I’ve got a bunch of paperwork to go through for work. I’ll see you around.” Doing paperwork on Christmas Eve for a school library that would remain closed until January was probably the lamest lie she could have come up with. Without waiting for him to respond, she walked to the front door and opened it. “Merry Christmas,” she choked out.
Sam looked as confused as she felt. “Wait. We need to talk.”
She shook her head. “There’s nothing to talk about.”
“Yeah, there is.”
She finally met his gaze. “No. There isn’t. Now, get going. It’s snowing like crazy.” A sharp stab of guilt pierced her. “Text me when you get home so I know you made it okay.”
He nodded but said, “This isn’t over.”
She pushed him into the swirling snow and quickly shut the door behind him. Through the window, she watched as he ducked his head while making his way into the blowing wind. He trudged through the drifts that covered her driveway. Shaking the snow from his dark brown hair, he got in the cab and started the engine. The headlights illuminated the thickly falling flakes as he backed toward the road.
The farther away he got, the greater the urge to call him back. Which was stupid. He’d been placating her. Trying to make her feel better. Pity was the last thing she needed.
She peered through the wildly blowing storm, nervous worry building in her middle. Maybe she should have insisted he stay. It looked treacherous out there, and blizzards blowing in off Lake Michigan were nothing to mess around with.
Without warning, the bed of the truck fishtailed and slid partway down the embankment that bordered the driveway. The tires spun wildly, kicking up dirt and snow as he tried to regain purchase. She sighed. There was no way he was getting out of there without a tow truck. She knew—she’d slid down that same hill more than once.
Cassie pulled on her boots and stepped out into the biting cold. The frigid air took her away breath as she slipped and skidded her way to Sam’s truck.
He rolled down the window. “Get back inside. It’s freezing out here, and you don’t have a damn coat on.”
“You might as well give it up,” she called out through chattering teeth. “You’re not getting out of here without help.”
He pushed on the gas again, and the tires continued to impotently spin. Finally, he thunked his head on the steering wheel. “Fantastic.”
“I’d just tell you to take my car, but I don’t think we can get it out around the truck.” The other side of the driveway dropped off just as steeply.
Sam looked at her and growled. “Get inside before you really do get sick!”
Ignoring his directive, she said, “Do you want me to call a wrecker?”
Sam dropped his head against the back of the seat. “It’s Christmas Eve. I can’t imagine anyone coming out in this.”
She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. She couldn’t, either. Even if they did get a driver to venture out, it would cost an arm and a leg.
“I can make up the couch for you, unless you have someplace you need to be.” Or someone you need to be with. And why did that thought make her stupid heart clench? Despite what he’d claimed a short while ago, she’d never be more to him than his best friend’s annoying little sister.
With a guarded expression in his eyes, he rolled up the window and turned off the ignition. Hopping down from the cab, he pocketed the keys and followed her through the snow drifts to the house.
Dread settled in the pit of her stomach. Sam MacLane would be spending the night.
Sam sat at the kitchen table and watched as Cassie busied herself putting the kettle on for tea. She kept her back to him as she fussed with mugs and teabags. He willed her to turn around. He wanted to stare into her eyes. They were the deepest, darkest brown he’d ever seen, but their usual warmth was replaced by wariness. All thanks to his ill-timed, ill-conceived kiss.
He was torn between punching her ex-husband into unconsciousness and thanking the guy for finally letting Cass see what an asshole he was.
Sam had realized his feelings for Cass far too late, but he wasn’t the type to try to bust up a marriage. However, since her ex had done a fine job of that on his own, Sam also wasn’t the type to sit around and wait, hoping she’d notice his unrequited love for her. But, he supposed, he probably should have found another way to break it to her. He also probably should have found out how she felt about Tyler. For all Sam knew, she was still in love with the douche bag.
“I’m sorry you’re stuck with me when you obviously wanted to be alone.”
She turned to face him again, her lips curved in a faint smile as she pulled on her slippers. “The pity party was getting old, anyway.” She leaned on the counter. “I feel bad about skipping out on the gathering tonight, but I just couldn’t take the pitying looks or the attempts to set me up with someone else. It’s only been five months.”
He turned in his chair and faced her fully. “Are you still in love with him?”
She didn’t meet his gaze. Instead, she looked down at her hands, at her bare fingers. “No. To be honest, the last couple years sucked. Right now, I just feel stupid. And a little sorry for myself.”
He raised his eyebrows at her. “A little?”
Color rose on her cheeks. “Okay, fine. A lot.” She pulled the foil from the loaf of bread and began slicing it. “Some days are easier than others. Today, his engagement announcement was in the morning paper.”
“Yeah. You want some tea?” She turned toward the stove, clearly changing the subject.
“Sure. But we need to talk about what happened earlier,” he said.
Her shoulders tensed, and she paused with her hand on the handle of the cupboard. “No, we don’t. What kind would you like?” she asked, her voice almost shrill in the wake of his words.
“Whatever you’re making is fine, and, yes, we do.”
Her hands fluttered from cupboard to stovetop and back again—never really pausing long enough to do anything. Standing, he pushed back his chair, the legs scraping loudly on the floor. She froze at the sound, her hands falling still on the counter.
Sam moved to stan
“Look,” she said quietly. “I appreciate that you’re trying to help me feel better about the whole breakup with Tyler, but you don’t need to pretend to be interested in me to do it.”
His fingers tightened slightly on her shoulders while his body shook with silent laughter. “Pretend?” he managed to choke out. “You think I’m pretending to be interested in you?” He stepped closer, pressing his front to her back, his groin grazing the upper swell of her ass. Just that tiny bit of contact was enough to make his cock start to swell.
Leaning forward, he brushed his lips against the outer shell of her ear, loving the shiver that ran through her at the contact. “Trust me when I tell you I’m not pretending. Granted, I was stupid and didn’t figure out how much I wanted you before it was too late. But, now…” He let the words hover in the suddenly heavy air.
Cassie said nothing. Finally, her head dropped forward, and she took a deep breath. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate what you’re trying to do, Sam.” Her voice broke on his name, but she pushed on. “But, it’s not necessary.”
Gripping her shoulders, he spun her to face him. “You really think that’s all this is?” he snapped.
“We’ve known each other for fifteen years. What else would it be?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Let me think. How about that I’m finally admitting to both of us how much I want you?”
“I. Don’t. Need. Your. Pity.” She finally met his gaze, her eyes shimmering.
He stifled a growl of frustration. Grabbing her hand, he pressed it against the growing bulge behind his fly. His cock jerked against her palm. Her breath caught in her throat, and he felt the sound in his gut.
“Does this feel remotely like pity to you?”
Her tongue darted out and moistened her lips, and he almost groaned at the sight. He cupped the back of her neck and tugged her forward, claiming her lips.
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