Since it’s the Christmas season, I’ve spent a lot of time shopping and decorating for others. My last assignment was with Kenneth Sutton, one of the big shots in the financial world. I bought his wife a mink coat for Christmas. I know mink isn’t politically correct anymore, but either Sutton doesn’t know or doesn’t care because that’s what he’d told me to buy. I guess that’s a little more personal than having him give me a check and tell me to find something.
You’d think people would enjoy decorating their homes and buying gifts for loved ones, wouldn’t you? Peace on earth, good will to men, etc. Oh well. It puts money in my pocket. Who am I to complain?
Now, what was I saying… Oh, yes. I was explaining why people think I have such a great life. I have more going for me than just a nice business. Without false modesty I must admit I’m beautiful. I got my name, Sinead, and my coppery hair from my grandmother who came from county Cork in the old country back in 1946. I also inherited her smooth, milky skin and pretty green eyes.
Besides that, I have a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, not the least of whom is my assistant, Morgan Parker. She and I have been friends since kindergarten. Not that I’m proud of it or anything, but the two of us ran away from kindergarten on our first day and got into a lot of trouble. My dad thought it was funny, but my mother didn’t. And she didn’t scruple to make her displeasure known on my backside.
So, why has my Christmas Eve been so depressing? Because Jeremy Bolt broke up with me three days ago, that’s why. Jeremy’s gorgeous! He has penetrating, sapphire blue eyes, dark hair, and enough muscles for two guys. He works in the building across from Your Girl Friday, and after much maneuvering I managed to attract his notice.
He formed the habit of stopping in on his way home every evening which, dare I admit it, made my day. Eventually, he asked me to have a drink with him, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Want to guess what went wrong? He told me he thought we were taking things too fast and needed some space. That hurt my feelings, but imagine how I felt when Morgan and I stopped by Starbucks this morning and saw him having coffee with a pretty woman and a little boy.
It made me so angry I stopped at their table and said hello to him. To my total shock he introduced me to his wife and son!
I suppose I’m lucky at that. At least we’d never taken things to the “next level.” Of course, I haven’t known Jeremy long enough to get all bent out of shape over his treachery, but I did anyway. I’m tired of being single in a world of couples. I’ve been looking for my own prince charming for a long time, but so far he hasn’t seen fit to show himself. And get this; Morgan’s getting married on Valentine’s Day. She asked me to be her maid of honor, so I have one more wedding where I have to smile and act like everything is wonderful when it isn’t.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad for Morgan, but I want it to be my turn. I want someone to love me and cuddle me and tell me I’m the greatest thing in his world. I want someone to laugh and cry with, someone who’ll watch the sunset with me, a man who’ll argue with me, love me, and raise a few kids with me. I don’t want much, do I?
I checked my watch. I didn’t have anything to do, but I was going home anyway. Nobody was likely to need anything this late in the day. Just as I grabbed my coat the phone rang. I thought of not answering, but it might be my mother. She’d already called several times today. She was in crisis mode because her fruit cake hadn’t turned out. I tried to tell her nobody cared, but that only made things worse.
“Your Girl Friday. How may I help you?”
A smooth, rich, masculine voice answered, “Is it too late to let you buy a gift for me?”
“Uh, no probably not.” I could always use the money.
“Good. I need a gift for a little girl. She’s about five.”
“Do you have any idea what she’s into? I mean, does she like Barney or Thomas the Tank Engine?”
“No idea. Sorry.”
No problem. I had several standard gifts for occasions like this. I’d go to Mason’s and pick one, depending on how much money he wanted to spend. We made our arrangements, and I promised to drop the gift off at the address he gave me.
I put on my coat and hurried to buy the gift. Brrr. It was cold today. The air felt sharp enough to cut you and burned your lungs when you breathed in. I felt my spirits rise anyway. Store windows glittered and gleamed with tinsel and treasure. Salvation Army workers rang their bells and cried Merry Christmas to all who went by. The lights on the Christmas tree across the square looked colorful and bright on this gray, drizzly day.
Mason’s was crowded with last minute shoppers. I had to wait in line about thirty minutes to pay for the gift, a white polo shirt from Ralph Lauren that the little girl could personalize with markers. Mason’s closed in two hours, so I understood the near hysteria of those in the line near me. I bet some of them had a lot more shopping to do.
I finally made it to the front of the line and paid for the gift. Then I had to go to the gift wrapping department to get the shirt wrapped. After another thirty minute wait, I finally left the store.
I decided to take a cab to the guy’s home. According to the address he’d given me, it was located a good twenty blocks away, and the weather had gotten a lot worse since I’d been in the store. The air smelled like snow, so I guessed we’d have a white Christmas after all. I decided to add the cab fare to his bill and maybe a little more because of the lateness of the hour.
My client, a Mr. Reid Sheppard, lived in the historic district in a very nice, renovated Victorian charmer which had two stories. An elaborate iron fence surrounded the yard which looked pretty in spite of the weather, mostly because of the holly bushes scattered across the front of the house. Those glossy, green leaves and red berries brought a touch of color to the drab day.
The draperies were all open which gave a great view of the living room. I saw a Christmas tree sanding in the window. It had lights on it, but nothing else as far as I could see.
I rang the bell, noting the nice wicker furniture on the porch. Somebody had paid a pretty penny for it. When the door opened, I was so surprised I almost dropped the gift and ruined the nice snowman-strewn wrapping paper. The man who stood in the doorway was Jeremy Bolt! “You! You told me your name was Reid Sheppard!”
He gave me such a quizzical look that for a moment I wondered if I’d imagined the whole thing, including the fact that he was married. “My name is Reid Sheppard,” he said, his silky, smooth voice giving me goose bumps. I have no idea why I’d never noticed what a nice voice Jeremy had.
“Jeremy, this has gone far enough. After I saw you with your wife and son I understood why you broke up with me. If I’d known you were married I’d never have gone out with you to start with. Not that we went out exactly. I mean, coffee or drinks after work isn’t exactly going out, but still you knew I expected it to lead to something more.”
Jeremy sighed as if the weight of the world sat on his shoulders. “Come in. I have some explaining to do.
Well”¦Okay, why not. He owed me an explanation, the rat. He also owed me for the gift which had suddenly gone up ten bucks in price.
He stood aside, and I entered a wide foyer with silk wallpaper in golden tones. The hardwood floors had been finished in a dark stain that looked great with the wallpaper. A small table that looked as if it was made of mahogany stood in the center of the foyer. A beautiful Christmas arrangement made of poinsettias, holly, and fragile, glass balls sat in the center of the table.
To my left I caught a peek of the dining room. Wow! It was gorgeous. The furniture was done in the Queen Anne style and looked antique. And oh, look at that wonderful rug on the floor! I loved those muted corals, greens, and golds.
The minute we entered the living room I liked it too, especially the magnificent fireplace and mantel. I believe I could have stood straight up in it-it was that big. The elaborate carving around it only made it more beautiful.
The tree grazed the ceiling and shed its delicious fragrance over the room.
Jeremy sat down on a fragile looking sofa and said, “Please sit down, Ms. “¦ I’m sorry. I didn’t get your name.”
“My name is Sinead Morgan, as you know very well,” I stiffly replied as I joined him on the sofa. “Where’s you wife and son?”
He stood up and pulled a driver’s license from his wallet and handed it to me. “˜Reid Sheppard’ I read. “No way. You can’t look that much like another guy.”
“I can if the guy is my half brother,” he said.
He looked so miserable I almost felt sorry for him. His brother’s behavior obviously didn’t sit well with him. He took his driver’s license back and sat down beside me. “I’m sorry for Jeremy’s behavior. He needs to grow up.”
“You got that right! What kind of man cheats on his wife and betrays his son?”
Sheppard cocked his head and thought. “Did he betray them?”
His voice was so beautiful I almost forgot to answer him. “Yes! Just having coffee with another woman while posing as an unmarried man is a betrayal.”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
He looked at me, and for the first time I detected a gleam of interest in his eyes. “The gift is for my goddaughter.”
I had forgotten the gift. I found the bill in my purse and handed it to him, but first I erased that last ten dollars I’d added on while I was in the cab.
“Why did you do that, Sinead?”
“Consider it my Christmas gift to you.” I looked at the bare tree in the window. “Why did you wait until so late to decorate? It’s almost not worth putting up a tree now.”
“I was out of town on business. I only got back today.” He grimaced. “My entire family is coming to dinner tomorrow, and I don’t have a thing ready.”
“Oh, so you’re married?”
“No. I meant my mother and her husband and Jeremy’s family. Oh, and my best friend Tom. His daughter is the one you bought the present for.”
I wondered how I could ever have mistaken him for poor, weak Jeremy. True, he looked like his brother, but he had an air of command and strength about him that I’d never felt around Jeremy.
“Sinead, are you busy tonight?” he asked, his velvety voice sending shivers up and down my spine.
“No. My family isn’t getting together until tomorrow night.”
“Then why not spend the evening with me? We can run down the street to West Oak and have some dinner. I promise you they’re one of the best restaurants in the city.”
The warm light in his gorgeous eyes almost sent me into cardiac arrest. Well. Luck was certainly on my side today. “I have a better idea. Why don’t I help you finish your decorating? We can order a pizza and be done with the tree in no time.”
Oh, glory be! He was smiling at me, a sizzling, wonderful, smile that made my bones melt.
“Are you sure?” he asked. “I don’t want to take advantage of your good nature.”
Take advantage of me, I mentally screamed. Fate had handed me a wonderful opportunity which I didn’t intend to waste. “You aren’t taking advantage of me. I’d love to help you.”
He gave in far more quickly than I’d expected him to. “Okay, if you’re sure. Say, what time do you have to be at your mother’s house tomorrow?”
“Not until five.”
“Then maybe I could interest you in dinner with my family. We dine at one.” Those beautiful sapphire eyes twinkled at me. “Wouldn’t that be a nice gift for Jeremy?”
I laughed and quickly agreed. Wasn’t the man adorable? He had a great sense of humor. It suddenly occurred to me that Santa had sent my Christmas present early this year. I had no reason for thinking so, but something told me Reid and I had the prospect of a long and beautiful future together.
Ho, ho, ho, Santa. Merry Christmas right back at you.