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Snippet from Unforgettable     

     “I found it!” There was an excited squeal from upstairs just as I contemplated closing the distance between James and myself to shove him under the mistletoe and give it a test run.

     “Mo–Miss Gemma–” Nathan caught himself quickly, out of breath, his cheeks red from his slip and not from his dash down the staircase. “See? I found the box.” He held it out, the black lacquered box that made the blood rush from my head so quickly, I felt dizzy. I snatched it from his hands, trying not to look maniacal, aware my expression was probably panicked.
    “Thank you, sweetie. You were so quick! I think…” I paused, cringing a little. “I think there might be another one, though. It’s in my closet, with a big red bow stuck to the top.”

     Not the black lacquered box from under my bed. Dear, sweet baby Jesus, save us all. Please tell me he didn’t open it. Shit, shit, shit. I should have done a better job of hiding that.

     “Oh.” He looked crestfallen, contrite, like he expected a scolding.

     Quickly I set the box on the floor near the tree and moved to pull him into a hug. “Why don’t you take one more peek for me and see if you can find it? Then while you and your daddy put up the ornaments, I’ll make some hot chocolate.”

     He brightened immediately, squeezing me hard, a huge grin on his face as he spun around to dash back up the stairs.

     I turned my attention back to the box at my feet, aware James was looking at me strangely. He’d seen my reaction when his son came flying down the stairs with the lacquered box in his arms.

     “You okay, Gem?”

     “Yep.” Shit. “Just a little mix-up.”

     “How many boxes of ornaments you got up there?” he asked. “I mean, I know you love Christmas, but…” He gestured to the huge plastic tubs littering the space. “This is kinda crazy.”

     No way in hell I’m putting Ben Wa balls on the Christmas tree, ornamental or not. And Santa will not give me what I want for Christmas if he finds a vibrator hanging from the tree.

     His eyes were on the box I scooped up and held close to my chest, and his eyes narrowed a little. “What’s in that box, anyway? Looks too small for ornaments.”

     “Depends on your definition of…ornaments,” I said tightly. This was going nowhere good and I had no escape plan formulated, because this box was something that literally did not see the light of day and since I’d told him there would be no access to the Promised Land, I’d already taken a couple tours through it.

     What can I say? The man made me too damn needy.

     “What’s in there, Gemma?” His smile was playful and teasing, he was inching closer, and I knew I was about to be pounced on and tickled. I couldn’t afford to drop it and I hissed at him.

     “Don’t you dare make me drop this; Nathan will never get over it.”

     The playfulness was wiped from his expression and he looked horrified. “For God’s sake, woman. What’s in the damn box?”

     “That’s classified information,” I snapped back and his eyebrows rose slowly. He was processing the memo and I watched the penny drop. Watched his eyes go wide, two bright spots of pink start to burn in his cheeks. He blushed just like his son, something that made him look young and adorable.

     He held out one hand in a wordless request and, sighing, I handed it to him.

     Watched his eyes bug out of his head when he flipped the lid open.

     Saw his mouth drop as he took in the assortment of toys.

     He scratched his head with the other hand, his eyebrows furrowing. “How does the…oh. Oh.” His voice dropped even deeper in register, something I felt all the way down to my thighs.

     “Yeah.” I was feeling a little peeved. “The o part is guaranteed if you know what you’re doing.”

     “That why you keep me out, Gem?” His expression was suddenly stern and a little predatory. It made me nervous. “Maybe you’re afraid I don’t know what I’m doing?”

     There was a loud clomping on the staircase and Nathan burst into the room, his face absolutely ablaze with a huge smile. “I found it, Miss Gemma!”

     “You sure did, buddy.” James’s voice was dark, his meaning completely, blessedly, lost on his son.

Copyright 2023, Erin FitzGerald.

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