[INTRO: I am a die hard, card carrying Elvis fan and have been for as long as I can remember. There is so much about Elvis to love; his incredible singing voice, his generous spirit, his looks (the most gorgeous man ever), his movies (yes, his movies. They make me happy, so critics can just shush), his service in the army, his magical presence on stage, his transcendent charisma, and…I could go on and on. As a matter of fact, on my 50th post, I believe it was, I DID go on and on. I listed 50 things I love about Elvis. It wasn’t difficult. I am an author and I mention Elvis in almost every story I write. I named my son Presley. I was fortunate to see Elvis in concert three times. I have been to Graceland five times… See? I love Elvis. I have been blogging weekly for more than a year, but going forward, I will blog every 1st and 3rd Friday of the month. My life is insanely busy and I found myself missing weeks from time to time. This way, I’m more likely to be consistent. Hopefully, even if you are not an Elvis fan, you appreciate something about him and will find my posts interesting. Feel free to comment. Thank you so much for stopping by!]
First of all, I’d like to say Happy Birthday to my sister and Elvis buddy, Ruth Zimmerman. I can’t think of Elvis without thinking of growing up with her and the many memories we share of Elvis. We still have that connection, and it means the world to me. She now lives 200 miles away, but the other day, she texted me and said she heard “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and started missing me. 🙁 She will be here the weekend after Christmas, and I can’t wait to see her. There’s no other bond like the bond of a sister, and ours is that much stronger because of our love for Elvis. (Just to clarify, I have 4 sisters, and I love each of them dearly, and we all love Elvis, but Ruth and I were the closest growing up)
Elvis was known for his generosity and the time of year that was most obvious was at Christmas. He loved the holiday; loved decorating Graceland and loved giving gifts. He was also a bit of a prankster. His long-time friend, George Klein, loves telling the story of a particular Christmas prank Elvis pulled. Elvis always lavished expensive gifts on his friends and family, and at Christmas, he was known for giving large cash bonuses, cars, etc. One year, Elvis gathered his ‘Memphis Mafia’ to hand out their gifts and gave each of them an envelope. They opened them to find a certificate for a free burger and fries at McDonald’s. Can you imagine the looks on their faces? 🙂 After Elvis had a big laugh, he presented them with their ‘real’ gifts, a sizable bonus.
Did you know that Graceland still uses the Christmas decorations that were used by Elvis? They’ve added to it, of course, but I think it’s awesome that they are still using his decorations. Here are some gorgeous pics of Graceland at Christmas:
And, it wouldn’t be the Christmas season without sharing my favorite Christmas song. Here on the ’68 Special, Elvis sings it and says it’s his favorite Christmas song, of the ones he recorded. That’s part of his being humble; he wouldn’t say that one of his songs was his ‘favorite’ of all.
Hope everyone has a beautiful, wonderful blessed holiday season. Merry Christmas!
Elvis was known for his giving heart and charitable work during his lifetime. Lisa Marie and Elvis Presley Enterprises have continued that tradition with their involvement in various charities. In 1984, The Elvis Charitable Foundation was formed. The EPCF created a scholarship fund for students majoring in the arts. The charity also contributes to one of Elvis’ favorite charities, Goodwill Homes, a Memphis facility that provides counseling and services for abused children and their families. The EPCF also assists numerous other charities, especially focusing on arts, education and children’s programs.
On Elvis’ birthday this year, I released a Vintage Romance short story set in 1957, and of course, my heroine is an Elvis fan. 🙂 As a tribute to Elvis’ generosity, and in order to assist with this worthy cause, 10% of my proceeds for End of Lonely Street will go to the EPCF.
All Toby Lawson wants is to go to college to become a teacher and to be free of her alcoholic mother and some painful memories. But when her mother nearly burns the house down, Toby must put her dreams on hold and return home to care for her. The only time she isn’t lonely and miserable is when she’s listening to her heartthrob, Elvis Presley. His music takes her away and helps her escape from everything wrong in her life.
Noah Rivers has always loved Toby, but no matter what he says, she can‘t get past the fact that her drunken mother once kissed him. He soon realizes the true problem lies in Toby’s belief she’s not good enough for him and in her fear she will be just like her mother.
What will it take to prove to her that she deserves to be happy, and that he would give anything to be the man to make her dreams come true?
Christmas was Elvis’ favorite time of year. He was very much a homebody, and he loved Graceland, loved his family and friends. So, gathering at Graceland for the holidays was a special time for him. He was also extremely generous, and Christmas was an opportunity to share his good fortune on a grand scale, although he was generous all year round.
Here are a few photos of his home during the holidays. Graceland still uses the same decorations that Elvis had when he was alive. I have yet to visit his home during the Christmas holiday, but I would love to.
I love Christmas as well, and when I was younger, we used to listen to Elvis Christmas music while we decorated. I carried that tradition into adulthood and my children and I would do the same. It was a sweet, magical time and I cherish the memories.
My favorite performance of my all-time favorite Christmas song, Blue Christmas:
A few years ago, I wrote a very short (only three chapters) Christmas story as part of an anthology with other authors. I’ve inserted my entire story below. Guess what it’s titled? Give up? Blue Christmas! 🙂
I hope you enjoy…Merry Christmas!
*** Warning – Rated PG-13
by Alicia Dean
Someone was in the house.
Sophie Winston halted in the doorway, her hand frozen on the knob. A swallow clicked in her dry throat.
She’d turned the lights off before leaving for work that morning. She always did. But the lights were on now, and a man’s jacket was thrown across the back of her easy chair. Why would an intruder leave his jacket lying around? Not a smart move. But dumb or not, the guy could be dangerous.
Her heartbeat pounded through her eardrums. She fumbled her phone from her purse. Before she could dial 911, a man emerged from her kitchen. She screamed and dropped the phone.
“I-I have a gun,” she blurted.
He grinned. “Yeah? So do I.”
Oh God. She was lying, but he probably wasn’t.
She lifted her chin. “I called the police. They’ll be here any second.”
He frowned as if perplexed. “That’s odd since I didn’t hear you speak to anyone and I saw you drop your phone.” He inched closer and crossed his arms over his chest. “I assume Nathaniel didn’t tell you I was coming.”
She clenched her teeth. “I know who Nathaniel is. Why would he invite you here?”
He ran a hand through short dark hair. “I’m part of his security team. He sent me here to look out for you.” He reached into his jeans pocket, and she tensed, but when he pulled his hand out, a ring with a lone key dangled from his fingers. “See? He gave me a key. He didn’t tell you about the threats?”
Although she and Nathaniel didn’t live together, they each had a key to the other’s house. The man’s story was starting to sound plausible. But she wasn’t entirely convinced. “What threats?”
As a candidate for State Senate, Nathaniel was often in the public eye, but she’d never known of anyone wanting to harm him. If he’d sent someone all the way to Oklahoma City from Los Angeles to keep an eye on her, he must be concerned.
“It’s just a precaution. These things happen all the time. Some nut bag sent him a threatening email. He thought I should keep an eye on you. Just in case.”
Now that her fear had lessened, she took a moment to study him. He wore jeans and a button down black chambray shirt. The gun resting in a holster on his hip and the steel in his grey eyes made for an odd mixture of danger and sex appeal. Chill bumps raced over her skin, and she rubbed her hands over her arms, trying to suppress a shiver.
“I’m sure you won’t object to my calling to confirm your story.” She bent her knees and lowered to retrieve her phone, careful to keep her skirt from hiking up while her gaze remained locked on the intruder.
He inclined his head. “Be my guest.”
She snatched up the phone and rose, then dialed Nathaniel.
“Nathaniel,” she said breathlessly when he answered. “Did you send Mr….” She lifted her brows questioningly at the stranger.
“Cooper,” the man provided. “Chase Cooper.”
Into the phone, she said, “Did you send Mr. Cooper to guard me?”
“Oh God, sweetheart. I’m sorry. I forgot to mention it, didn’t I?” He let out a frustrated sigh. “This campaign has got me going in a thousand different directions. I’m sure it’s nothing, but I received a threatening email, so I sent one of my security guys to stay with you until I get back.”
She closed her eyes, only semi-relieved. Chase Cooper was who he claimed to be, but how the hell was she supposed to live with a complete stranger for an entire week?
“Is it really necessary? I have an alarm system.”
“I’d feel better. Do it for me, please? Give me one less thing to worry about?”
Her heart warmed at the affection in his voice. She missed him. Why couldn’t he be the one here to look out for her? Because, he had a campaign to win. One that had taken up a majority of his time for several months. If she planned to be the wife of a politician, she had to make certain sacrifices. “Sure, yeah. He can stay.”
“Thank you, darling. Love you.”
“Love you.” She hung up and slid the phone back in her purse.
Chase lifted his hands, palms up. “All settled?”
She gave a reluctant nod. “You can put your things in the spare room. It’s down the hall on the left.”
She didn’t ask how he knew which the spare room was. The man exuded a keen awareness of his surroundings. He likely didn’t miss much. Then, there was the fact that all her things were in her own bedroom. Not many people would miss that piece of evidence.
Moving further into the room, she said. “I’ll go change. I’d planned to make a light dinner for myself. I’ll cook enough for us both.”
“Don’t bother about me. Just pretend I’m not here.”
Easier said than done. His very presence dominated her small living room. She couldn’t pretend he wasn’t here if she lived in a twenty room mansion.
Sophie cooked spaghetti and tossed a salad. At her insistence, Chase joined her, and they ate in an uncomfortable silence.
When dinner was over, she said, “I’m going to watch Home Alone. Would you like to watch with me?”
“The movie about the kid whose parents leave him alone at Christmas?”
She nodded. “I usually end up seeing it half a dozen times during the Christmas season.”
“No thanks. I’m not much of a movie watcher. Especially Christmas movies.”
“You don’t like Christmas or just movies about it?”
He pushed away from the table and rose. “I’m not a fan of the holiday.”
His dark brows drew together in a frown. “Can’t a guy hate a holiday without having a reason?”
She gave him an overly sweet smile. “I suppose so.” Grinch.
Standing, she began stacking plates, but he reached out and took hold of her wrist. His touch elicited a disturbing tingle, and she tugged loose from his hold.
He met her gaze, a small grin playing over his lips, as if he sensed the effect his touch had on her. “I’ll get this. You cooked. I wouldn’t want to keep you from your sappy movie.”
She swallowed, releasing the plates to him. “Thanks.”
An hour later, she was settled in front of the television. Chase wandered around the room, checking locks, studying the alarm pad, periodically moving from one window to the other, peering outside.
She lost track of his movements as the story drew her attention. When it showed the part where Kevin talked to the old man in church, tears clogged her throat, then spilled down her cheeks.
“Are you okay?”
Chase’s deep voice came from over her shoulder where he stood behind the sofa.
She wiped at the tears, embarrassment heating her face. “I always cry at this part.”
“Why do you watch something that makes you cry?”
She twisted to look at him and shrugged. “Because I love the movie. The ending makes it worthwhile.”
“All’s well that ends well, huh? Gotta love those happily ever afters.”
His sarcastic attitude took away her enjoyment of the movie. Pointing the remote at the tv, she clicked the power off and stood.
“I think I’ll turn in now.”
“What time do you go to work in the morning? I’ll take you.”
“Actually, we’re closed until after Christmas.” Thank God. She couldn’t imagine having him show up at work with her, shadowing her every move.
“Oh? What do you do?”
“I work for a printing company. It’s a small operation, family owned. They’re all about the holidays and family time.”
“Works for me. Makes my job easier. I’ll be across the hall. Let me know if you need me.”
The next morning after a shower, Sophie wrapped a towel around her body and opened the bathroom door. She glanced up and down the hallway for signs her guest. Seeing none, she headed toward her room.
She’d taken no more than three or four steps when Chase opened his bedroom door. He saw her, then halted, his brows lifting. She tightened her hands around the top of the towel to keep it from slipping.
God. How humiliating. She should have brought a robe, but she was accustomed to being the only one in the house and wasn’t in the habit.
“Sorry.” His voice held no hint of sincerity. “I didn’t know you’d be…less than clothed.”
“I didn’t think you were up yet.”
He nodded. “Apology accepted.”
She wanted to stamp her foot in frustration, but fear of dislodging the towel kept her from it. “I didn’t apologize.”
A slow smile curved his mouth. “Does that mean you’re not sorry?”
She didn’t miss the amusement in his tone. He was toying with her.
His gaze roamed over her body, leaving shivery warmth in its wake. Although she knew she should leave, escape to her bedroom, some unseen force held her rooted in place. Her eyes met his, and an almost tangible burst of electricity passed between them. The sensation was disconcertingly close to desire. Did he feel it too or was her near-nakedness contributing to her wanton thoughts?
Guilt squeezed her heart. How could she react that way to another man? She loved Nathaniel.
But Nathaniel had never looked at her like…like she was a steak he wanted to sink his teeth into. Uninvited, thoughts rose of Chase’s mouth doing other things to her. Irritation sharpened her voice. “Nathaniel hired you to protect me. Not ogle me.”
He chuckled. “Ogle? Did we travel back to 1950 when I wasn’t looking?”
“Excuse me,” she bit out. Stalking past him, she hurried to her bedroom, her skin prickling with the certainty he still stood where he was. Watching her.
She avoided him for most of the day—as much as she could, considering they shared the same too-small house. She busied herself cleaning, catching up on emails, anything to avoid conversation, or a repeat of their uncomfortable encounter that morning.
To prevent being blatantly rude, she invited him to join her for dinner that evening. She cooked chicken and rice, making a mental note to go to the grocery store tomorrow—no doubt accompanied by Chase. She didn’t have enough food in the house for two. She hadn’t planned on entertaining for a week.
He seemed not to share her discomfiture. He tucked into his dinner like he didn’t have a care in the world.
After finishing off a second helping, he leaned back in his chair. “Dinner was great. You’re a good cook.”
“Thank you.” She inwardly glowed at the praise. Nathaniel was seldom in town, and when he was, they usually went out to dinner. It was nice having a man to cook for. Especially one who appreciated it.
“Let me ask you.” He glanced around. “Seeing as you’re such a fan of Christmas, why didn’t you decorate? Put a tree up?”
“I’m waiting for Nathaniel to get home. I don’t want to celebrate until he’s with me.” She smiled. “I can’t wait. It’s one of my favorite parts of the holiday. When we were young, my mother would play Elvis Presley Christmas music while my sister and I helped decorate the tree. There was something so special, so magical about it.”
“Magical? Decorating a symbol of the commercialism of a stressful, hectic holiday is magical?”
She refused to allow his cynicism to get to her. “Surely you have childhood memories about Christmas that warm your heart.”
He pushed back from the table and stood scowling down at her. “What part of I hate Christmas did you not understand?”
She flinched. “Sorry. You brought it up.”
He scraped his hand through his hair. “True. My mistake. Look. I’m here to do a job. Nothing more. If you’re in danger, I’ll protect you, but we don’t have to get all chummy and swap stories, okay?”
“Sure.” Annoyance tightened her jaw. Screw him. She refused to allow this cynical stranger to bother her. Even a little bit.
His head jerked in a nod before he strode from the room.
What an ass. He damn sure didn’t have to worry about her initiating any conversations. She was done with attempts at civility.
She gathered the dishes, trying to focus on thoughts of Nathaniel’s return to sooth her. But the hateful Chase Cooper kept intruding. At least with Nathaniel’s arrival, she’d see the last of him.
Just as she was finishing the dishes, her cell rang.
She smiled when she saw her older sister’s number on the caller ID. “Hey, Kate. How are things in Detroit?”
“Not great.” Her sister’s usual gaiety was absent.
“Has something happened? Are you all right?”
Kate’s sigh came over the line. “I wish I could tell you in person, but I think you need to know now, and I won’t be home for another week.”
“Tell me what?”
“Go to your computer. I’m sending you a link.”
Sophie booted up her laptop and signed onto her email, then clicked on the link Kate sent. It took her to a newspaper article that included a photo of Nathaniel.
Nathaniel kissing another woman.
The headline read, Senator Nathaniel Bingham Rings in the Holiday with a Ho-Ho-Ho. Where is his Fiancée and is this the Gift she Expected?
Sophie’s mouth opened, but no words came out. She squeezed her eyes shut briefly, but when she looked at the screen again, the damning photo was still there. Tears strangled her voice. “Oh my God. He’s cheating.”
“I’m sorry, sis.”
“There has to be some explanation. He loves me.”
“What other explanation?”
She wanted to hang up, to cut off her sister’s voice of reason.
But Kate’s reality became her own as she stared at the photo of her fiancé playing tonsil hockey with a tall, curvy blonde. There was only one explanation.
“That son of a bitch.”
“What are you going to do?”
Sophie laughed, but it caught on a sob. “Dump his ass.”
“Good for you. That slime ball. Stay strong. Don’t change your mind before he gets home.”
“I’m not waiting until he gets home. I’m calling him right now.”
“Seriously? Atta girl. Call me if you need to talk. See you soon.”
Sophie jabbed the buttons on her cell so hard, the tip of her finger hurt. As soon as Nathaniel answered, she said, “I saw the photo.”
For several moments, there was only silence. Then, “I don’t have to ask which one.”
An icy chill surrounded her heart. For a second, she hoped he’d offer a plausible explanation, even though there was none. His response made it all too real. “Did you think I wouldn’t see it?”
“I knew there was a chance you would. I hoped you wouldn’t. I didn’t mean for it to happen.”
“Didn’t mean for me to see it, or didn’t mean to be a cheating bastard?”
He released a sigh. “Both. I met Trudy and…and it just happened. I fell for her. If it makes any difference, I’m sorry.”
“It doesn’t.” She was annoyed that pain tightened her voice.
He sounded weary and resigned when he spoke again. “I was hoping I could wait and do this when I got back, but that’s obviously not an option now.”
“Do what?” She let out a humorless laugh. “Wait. You’re ending things with me? No way. You don’t get to do that. I was calling you to tell you it’s over. I’m the one ending things with you.”
“Does it even matter who does it?”
It shouldn’t, but it did. She’d been dumped three times in her twenty-five years. Never had she been the one to call things off. She’d examine later what the hell was wrong with her that she couldn’t hold a man’s interest more than a few months. But this time, she would do the dumping.
“It matters, asshole. We’re through.” The words were at the same time liberating and unbearable. “Just out of curiosity, why did you bother to send Chase Cooper to protect me if you care so little for me?”
“I care a great deal for you. No matter what, I don’t want you hurt by some crazed person with a vendetta against me.”
Her mouth twisted with bitterness. “What happens to me from here on out is none of your concern. I’ll send your bodyguard back to you.” She punched the end button, proud that she waited until she disconnected the call to cry.
She tossed her cell phone aside and stared in rapt, masochistic fascination at the computer screen. She couldn’t tear her gaze away from her fiancé—make that ex-fiancé—and the gorgeous bimbo in his arms. But then, she shouldn’t be all that surprised. There was no way she could compete with someone like Trudy. Unremarkable women such as herself—average-looking, auburn hair, blue eyes set a bit too far apart and a frame that often carried a few extra pounds—would always come in second to stunning blondes who looked like they’d stepped off the cover of Vogue.
“You’re crying again. Another movie?”
She jumped, whirling to see Chase standing behind her. Had he heard her phone call with Nathaniel? There was nothing in his expression, or his words, to indicate he had.
She turned her back to him and shook her head. “Please just go. I want to be alone.”
“Must be a doozy. Let me guess. It’s a Wonderful Life?”
With rage bubbling just beneath the surface and no one else to expend it on, she vaulted from her chair and advanced on him. “I’m not watching a movie. You were right, okay? Christmas sucks. The movies, the stupid trees, the music, it all sucks. And, by the way, you’re fired.”
His eyes widened, and he lifted his hands in surrender. “Chill out, okay? You didn’t hire me, so you can’t fire me. I stay on until Nathaniel tells me the job is over.”
She stood directly in front of him, hands on hips. Her chest rose and fell with the intensity of her anger, although why she was angry at him, she had no idea. “Well, Nathaniel’s a two-timing piece of shit, and I’m no longer in danger since I’m no longer his fiancée, so trust me, your job is over.”
His expression softened. “I’m sorry. How did you find out?”
Her eyes flew to his. “You’re not surprised. You knew?”
He rubbed a hand over his jaw. “I worked on his security detail before he sent me here. I knew.”
“And you didn’t bother to tell me? To save me the humiliation?”
He smiled with sympathy. How dare he smile at her with sympathy.
“Would it have been less humiliating if a total stranger had told you your fiancé was cheating?”
No, it wouldn’t have been, but that was beside the point. “I expect you to be gone as soon as you can make arrangements. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bottle of wine that needs my attention.” She went to brush past him, and he took hold of her arm, stopping her.
“Drowning your sorrows?”
She looked down at his hand, then back up at him, shaking off his touch. “No, celebrating. After all, it’s the holiday season, right?”
The wine bottle wasn’t quite full, so it disappeared quickly. The only other alcohol in the house was half a bottle of vodka.
Note to self, buy more liquor.
Not bothering with a glass—or a jacket—Sophie took the vodka out on the patio and plopped into a chair. Snow drifted down, and she lifted her face, letting the cold drops melt on her skin. She loved snow. When she and Kate were little, they’d build snowmen and her mom would make snow ice cream. She looked at the bottle in her hand. Could one make vodka- flavored snow ice cream? Surely there was some kind of recipe involving vodka and snow. Vodka came from Russia, right? It snowed in Russia all the time.
She giggled and tipped the bottle to her lips, taking a long pull. The liquor burned, and she coughed, then shuddered.
The patio door slid open. She didn’t bother to turn around. She knew who it was.
“What the hell are you doing out here? It’s freezing. You’re not even wearing a coat.”
“I’m coating my insides,” she slurred. “With this.” She lifted the bottle over her head.
Chase came around to stand in front of her. “You switched to vodka. Is that a good idea?”
She stood, intending to explain why it was a perfect idea, but the quick movement made her head spin. She took a deep breath and pressed her hand to her forehead until the dizziness passed.
“Sticking with wine would be a better idea if I hadn’t run out.” She was pleased to note her words were slow, deliberate. Barely slurred at all. “That unfortunate circumstance made switching to vodka an excellent idea.”
“You’re already drunk. And you’re shivering. Here.” He took off his jacket and dropped it over her shoulders, then pulled the edges together under her chin. “Let’s get you inside.”
“Your jacket makes me feel warmer than the vodka did. Wearing it is kind of like when you touch me. I get this hot, tingly feeling.” She shoved her hair out of her face and looked up at him. “Weird, huh?”
He didn’t respond. Half his face was illuminated by the glow through the patio door, the other half in shadows. The rhythm of his breathing changed. She could hear the shift in the quiet of the drifting snow.
“Yeah, weird,” he finally said, his voice a raspy whisper. “Come on. Come inside.”
She let him lead her into the house where she dropped onto the sofa and took another swig of vodka. This one made her shudder, but it didn’t cause her to cough like the last time.
Chase took the bottle from her hand. “You’ve had enough. Maybe you should go to bed. Sleep it off.”
She peered up at him through a blur of tears. “Can you sleep off a broken heart?”
He smiled and reached down to cup her face in his palm. “Time will take care of the pain.”
She resisted the urge to close her eyes and stroke his hand with her cheek like a satisfied cat. “Promise?”
Pushing unsteadily to her feet, she slid his jacket off and let him lead her to her bedroom. As soon as she reached the doorway, her stomach clenched and nausea hiccupped in her throat. “Oh God,” she whispered.
Chase took hold of her shoulders and turned her toward the bathroom. She barely made it to the toilet in time. He squatted next to her and pulled her hair back from her face while she heaved her guts out. In between bouts of vomiting, her cheeks burned with humiliation. She wanted to tell him to go away, but each time she opened her mouth to speak, she got sick again.
When the episodes finally passed, she dropped onto her butt, looking down at the floor so she didn’t have to face him. From the corner of her eyes, she saw him stand. Good. He was going away. Leaving her alone to wallow in her mortification.
She heard water running from the faucet. In moments, he returned and placed a cool, wet wash cloth on her forehead. He took her arm and helped her to her feet. “Let’s get you to bed.”
“I need to brush my teeth. You’ll have to step out.”
He laughed. “I just watched you puke for half an hour, but you don’t want me in here while you brush your teeth?”
It didn’t make sense, even to her. But for some reason, the action seemed a little too…familiar. “Please.”
He stepped outside the door. When she was done, she came out of the bathroom and let him guide her to her room. She took off her shoes, but remained fully clothed and climbed into bed.
Chase pulled the blankets up to her chin. “Goodnight. Get some rest.”
“Thanks, Chase. I’m glad you’re here.”
He chuckled and brushed the hair back from her face. “Drinking makes you a lot nicer.”
She might have said something in return, but she couldn’t be sure because, in moments, she was asleep.
Oh God, just let me die. Sophie winked her eyes open and quickly closed them. The room spun, so she opened them again, groaning in misery.
Was she still drunk? Her stomach roiled, and shards of pain pierced her skull. She’d had hangovers before, but this was the mother of all hangovers.
The door eased back. Chase stepped inside, holding a glass.
The memories of last night came rushing back, and her cheeks heated. He must be disgusted. Annoyed, appalled, and ready to get the hell away from her. Yet here he was.
He sauntered over and eased down on the edge of her bed. “Here, this should make you feel better.”
Warily, she eyed the reddish orange milky concoction he thrust toward her.
“It’s a makeshift hangover cure. You didn’t have everything I needed, so I had to improvise.”
“What’s in it?”
“A lot of stuff that’s good for you. Just drink it.”
She took the glass and brought it to her lips. The first sip made her gag. “Ugh. I can’t drink that. It tastes like fruity vitaminy milk.”
“Something like that. Quit being a baby and drink it. Trust me. It’ll help.”
Because she would have drunk pure gasoline if she thought it would help, she obeyed.
She emptied the glass and, surprisingly, felt marginally better almost immediately.
“Where did you learn to make that?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Picked it up somewhere. I also heard that taking a shower and alternating between cold and hot water helps.” A wicked grin curved his mouth. “I’ll volunteer to man the faucets.”
She managed a smile. “I think I can handle that one my own, but thanks for the offer.”
“Any time. I’ve made you breakfast. It’s a good idea to get something solid in your stomach. You feel up to going to the kitchen, or you want me to serve you breakfast in bed?”
She frowned in confusion. “Why are you being nice to me?”
He grinned. “I figure after what you’ve been through, you need someone to be nice to you. Even if it comes from an ogling, Christmas hating Grinch.”
His words coaxed another smile from her. “Look, I’ll make sure Nathaniel gives you your full pay, but I really don’t need a bodyguard—babysitter—any longer. I just want to be alone.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t be. Not just yet. Is there someone I can call for you? I get why you don’t want me hanging around. A stranger isn’t much comfort at a time like this.”
She thought of his tenderness, the way he’d taken care of her last night. Crazy as it sounded, being with him didn’t feel like being with a stranger. But it was time for him to go. Before she did something stupid, like mistook his caring for real feelings, and made even more of a fool of herself.
“I can call my friend, Rayna. She’ll keep me company.”
He stood and took the glass from her. “Good. I’ll pack. Eat your breakfast, then call her. I’ll wait until she gets here to leave.”
She ignored the pang in her heart at the thought of never seeing him again. Totally irrational. In spite of his not feeling like a stranger, that’s exactly what he was. “You’ve got a good heart, Grinch.”
“You think so? I’ve been told it’s two sizes too small.”
Beneath the nonchalant smile and flip words, she detected pain. He’d been hurt too.
When he opened the door to leave, the aroma of bacon wafted in, making her stomach grumble. She hadn’t noticed before. Probably because she was too focused on her hangover…and Chase. But now she was starving. She quickly showered, then dressed in sweat pants and a tee shirt.
In the kitchen, she found scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast on the stove. She smiled. Who’d have thought Chase had a domestic side. She ate as much of the breakfast as she could force down, then dialed Rayna. Chase obviously wouldn’t be satisfied that his duties were over until she had company.
“Hey,” she said when Rayna answered. “If you’re not doing anything, can you come over? I could use a friend.”
“I’m sorry, sweets. I’m in Tulsa. I can come over tomorrow when I’m back in town. What’s wrong?”
“I’ll tell you when you get here. Too much to go into over the phone.”
“Okay, see you soon. Merry Christmas.”
Bah freakin’ humbug.
“Merry Christmas to you.”
Chase insisted on staying until Rayna arrived. Sophie felt bad about imposing, but in spite of her telling Nathaniel she’d send his bodyguard back, he hadn’t called to officially release Chase from his duties. At least he would be paid for his time.
Later that evening, Sophie pulled back the patio curtains so she could enjoy the snow that had been falling steadily all day. A few inches had already accumulated, and the weather reports indicated a few more were expected by morning. The perfect setting for a perfect Christmas…or would have been if her jackass ex hadn’t totally ruined it for her.
She missed Kate. Missed her mother. She’d never known her father. He died when she was an infant. Her mom had moved to Florida so they only saw her every couple of years. Kate wouldn’t be home until the day after Christmas. Like this holiday didn’t already suck enough.
Sophie felt rather than heard Chase walk up behind her. That special tingly warmth she’d come to associate with him trickled over her skin.
“Sorry your friend can’t make it until tomorrow.”
She looked at his reflection in the frosted glass. “I’m sorry too.”
He settled his hands on her shoulders, and she tensed against the yearning that slithered through her.
“Is it so terrible that I’ll be here one more night?”
His husky voice vibrated through her system. She was tempted to lean into his touch. Only a few short inches separated her from his warm, strong body.
She shook her head. “No,” she whispered. “Maybe it should be. But for some reason, it’s not.”
His breath caught. She wasn’t sure if he’d applied pressure to turn her around, or if she’d done so on her own, but suddenly she was looking up into eyes that were now a stormy grey.
He tilted his head forward, and she raised her face to accept his kiss. His mouth was gentle as he coaxed her lips apart and slipped his tongue inside. She moaned and linked her hands behind his neck.
He moved his hands down to her hips, tugged her tightly against his body, pressing forward until she was against the cool glass of the patio door. Breaking the kiss, he trailed his lips down the sensitive flesh of her neck. A shiver of delight skittered over her flesh.
“Wow,” she murmured. “How did this happen?”
“I’m not sure,” he growled against her skin. “Maybe I’m the rebound guy.”
She cupped his face in her hands and lifted until he was looking at her. “Are you okay with that?”
He quirked a grin. “It wouldn’t be the first time.” Some emotion came and went in his eyes so quickly she couldn’t identify it. Then his lips were back on hers and she no longer cared…no longer thought about anything except the delicious sensation of his mouth moving over hers, then down to her throat, her breasts…his hands shoving her tee shirt up, his fingers scorching heat along the skin of her lower back.
He pulled her with him, and they stumbled through the living room, not releasing contact, but still managing to shed their clothes.
In her bedroom, he pushed her gently onto the mattress. A brief flash of Nathaniel’s face popped into her mind, but Chase’s touch soon erased it. All coherent thought fled until there was only this moment, only the two of them locked together as snow fell against the darkened windows in a world gone silent, other than the sounds of harsh breathing and moans of pleasure as she gave herself completely to a man she’d only met a few days ago, but seemed to have known a lifetime.
Sophie thought she’d wake up filled with regret, but when she opened her eyes to find Chase’s handsome face on the pillow next to hers, relaxed in sleep, the only thing she felt was contentment.
Easing out of bed, she threw a robe on and went into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. While it brewed, she picked up their scattered clothing, a grin curving her lips as she recalled the haste in which they’d shed them. When she picked up Chase’s pants, his wallet fell out, the contents spilling to the floor.
A yellowed square of paper caught her attention. She unfolded it to reveal a newspaper article. The headline read, Christmas Eve Murder-Suicide Leaves Ten-Year-Old Boy Parentless. Sickness coiled in her stomach. The article didn’t mention the boy’s name, but that wasn’t hard to figure out. The parents’ last name was Cooper. The father shot his wife before taking his own life next to the Christmas tree. The boy had found them on Christmas morning.
“Oh, God,” she choked out.
“What the hell are you doing?”
She jumped at the sound of Chase’s voice, dropping the newspaper clipping. He stood scowling at her, wearing black sweatpants he must have grabbed from his room. His bare chest heaved with angry breaths.
“I—I’m sorry. It fell out of your wallet.” She was horrified, sickened, broken-hearted just from reading the article. She couldn’t imagine how Chase must have felt. He’d lived it.
“You had no right.” His voice was deadly quiet. He glared at her, his steely gaze filled with venom.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—“
A snarl twisted his lips. “Now you know. Poor, tragic Chase Cooper. I guess that little romp was a way to erase both our holiday blues for a few minutes. Thanks for that.” He bent and snatched his clothing from the floor. “I’ll stay out of your way until your friend gets here.”
“Save it. The Grinch and Mary Poppins make a bad match anyway.”
The ache that filled her heart now was different from when she learned Nathaniel cheated. It was deeper. And didn’t feel like it would go away any time soon.
How had she come to care so much for someone she barely knew? Maybe it was because, in spite of his gruff, tough guy exterior, he’d shown her a gentleness that Nathaniel seemed incapable of. Was it possible she hadn’t truly loved Nathaniel?
A thought occurred that she quickly shoved away. A small snort escaped. No way in hell had she fallen in love with Chase. It wasn’t possible. And it damn sure wasn’t smart.
No words were exchanged between them for the next few hours as they waited for Rayna. When she arrived, Chase politely introduced himself, then left without saying goodbye. The sound of the door closing echoed through Sophie’s aching heart. That was it. No more Chase. She’d never see him again. Why did the thought hurt so much?
“Who was that?” Rayna asked. “What’s going on?”
Sophie filled her in over coffee and poured out her misery.
“God.” Rayna shook her head. “You’ve had a rough week.”
Sophie let out a shaky laugh. “You might say that. Listen, you don’t have to stay with me. Chase didn’t want me to be alone, but I’m fine. I’m sure you have holiday plans.”
“Nothing until Christmas day. I’ll hang here until then. We haven’t had a slumber party in years.”
Sophie nodded, secretly grateful for her friend’s company. The only thing that could make the days leading up to Christmas more miserable would be if she spent them alone.
Over the next few days, they ordered in pizza and Chinese food, watched movies, and talked about old times. Rayna thought decorating would lift Sophie’s spirits, and she offered to help, but Sophie declined. Her heart just wasn’t in it.
By Christmas Eve morning, Sophie was going stir crazy. “How about we get out of the house?”
“Sure. What do you have in mind?”
“I don’t know. Shopping. Driving around looking at Christmas decorations. Anything. I’ve been cooped up inside for days.”
Rayna’s eyes twinkled with mischief. “Cooped up with Cooper doesn’t sound all that bad.”
Sophie groaned. “How about if we don’t talk about him? About either him?”
“Deal. Let’s go shop away your blues.”
The idea was a horrible one. Rather than cheering her up, the symbols of what had once been her favorite holiday only made her sink deeper into sadness.
On the car ride home, Sophie said, “Sorry I’m so pathetic. I promise I’m not going to turn into some maudlin creature pining for my lost love.”
Rayna glanced at her and lifted her brows. “Which love would you be pining for?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve seen the way your face changes when you talk about Chase. I’ve never seen that look when you talked about Nathaniel, not even when you were with Nathaniel.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I hardly even know him.” But it certainly didn’t feel that way. It felt as though she’d lost something vital to the very air she breathed. She inhaled deeply and released a heavy sigh. She’d better get used to it. Chase was gone. For good. She forced a smile for her friend. “I promise I’ll be good as new for the new year. I just need to get through what’s suddenly become a depressing holiday.”
“The asshole who stole Christmas.”
Sophie laughed, a rusty sound that hurt her heart.
They pulled into Sophie’s driveway at six o’clock on Christmas Eve. The houses in the neighborhood were lit with colorful lights, save one. Hers stood dark and dismal. A fitting companion for her state of mind.
“Want me to come in?” Rayna offered.
“No, thanks. Your family is waiting for you.”
“You could come stay with me and join us for Christmas dinner.”
“I don’t think so. I appreciate the offer, though.”
“Are you sure you’ll be okay alone?”
“I haven’t been alone in weeks. I think maybe I need to be.” She grimaced. “If only to exorcise the demons.”
Rayna leaned over the console and hugged her tightly. “I’m here if you need me.”
“I know. Thanks.”
When Sophie stepped onto the porch, the sound of music reached her ears. Her gaze swept the adjoining yards. Nothing. Was it coming from inside her house? How could that be?
She turned her key in the lock and pushed the door open. She halted, sucking in a breath.
A brightly decorated tree stood in front of the patio door. Red ribbons and gold bells were strung across her living room, and a Poinsettia sat on each of her end tables. “Blue Christmas” by Elvis played on the stereo. Chase rose from where he sat on the sofa.
A knot lodged in her throat when he walked slowly toward her, stopping just inches away. His expression held a hint of hope and uncertainty.
“Too much?” he asked. “It’s the poinsettias, right? I knew that was too much.”
She shook her head. “Oh my God. What have you done?”
His eyes searched hers, the intensity in his gaze stealing her breath. He lifted his hand and stroked her cheek. “I’m sorry for being such an ass. Nathaniel took Christmas away from you. I’m giving it back.”
She swallowed and shook her head again, unable to believe this was real. That he was here. “But…you hate Christmas.”
“I always did.” His voice was low, husky. “But that was before I met you. After I left, I went to a hotel. I didn’t have the energy or desire to book a flight back to L.A. There was no way I would work for Nathaniel again. Speaking of which. He called. The guy who sent the email was his mistresses’ ex. They have him in custody.”
“That’s a relief,” she said, although a small part of her wished the ex had at least had the opportunity to punch Nathaniel’s cheating face in.
Chase took her hand, circling his thumb on the skin along her inner wrist. Heat moved through her veins.
“I tried to stay away, but everywhere I looked, the world seemed to be spewing Christmas. It occurred to me that now it made me think of you. And that just felt…right.”
“You did all this. For me?” She shook her head and looked around. “And you did it really fast.”
He grinned. “I was a man on a mission. I didn’t know your favorite Elvis Christmas song, but I figured I couldn’t go wrong with “Blue Christmas,” right?”
“Never.” She was barely able to breathe out the word. Her head swam. Chase…the decorations…his words, all felt like a dream…a crazy, wonderful, impossible dream.
“Say you’ll give us a chance and my Christmases will never be blue again.”
She choked out a tearful laugh. “That might be one of the cheesiest lines of all time.”
“Yeah, but did it work?”
“Oh, it worked, Mr. Grinch. It worked just fine.”
His cupped her face between his palms. “Merry Christmas,” he whispered, then lowered his head to claim her mouth in a kiss that melted her bones and wiped away the last remnants of her holiday gloom.