Just a few short hours until Home For Christmas goes on sale! To fill those hours, here's another excerpt to enjoy. It's from a bit earlier in the book.
Home For Christmas
c 2007 Kate Davies
Ethan hefted the evergreen wreath out of the back of the SUV, grimacing a little at the unexpected weight. The guy at the tree lot had tossed it in there like it was made of tissue paper. How in the heck was this monstrosity supposed to stay put? He’d lay even money that it would fall right off the door hanger from the sheer bulk of it.
Oh, well. It still looked nice, and Sophia would be able to figure out what to do with it. She was a genius at those things.
A smile softened the line of his mouth. He could just see her, soft wavy brown hair bundled up on the top of her head, little bits of it curling down around her face like she’d completely forgotten it was up there. Her hazel eyes would light up with surprise when she saw the wreath, and she’d say—
“What are you doing here?”
Ethan looked up. He wasn’t even to the porch yet, still wrestling the decoration up her walkway, but she’d already opened the door.
“Merry Christmas.” He heaved the wreath another foot or two. “Brought you an early present.”
“Uh, thank you.” Her eyes darted from side to side. “You really shouldn’t have.”
Concentrating on the wreath, Ethan almost missed the tone of her voice. She sounded—upset. Distracted. Not at all like the sweet, positive Sophia he knew.
“You okay?” Finally at the porch, he leaned the wreath against the railing and climbed the steps. He brushed a curl away from her face. “You don’t seem like yourself.”
A thud resounded from inside the door, and Sophia’s daughter poked her head out. “That’s the last of them—hey!” She rushed over to give him a hug. “I’m so glad you’re here!”
“Thanks,” he said. “What are you doing here? I thought you were on your way across state with lover boy.”
She smacked him on the shoulder, just as she did every time he called Robert that. “We’re heading out in a few minutes. In fact, I have to get going. Maybe you can talk some sense into Mom.”
“What?” His head swiveled from daughter to mother. “What are you talking about?”
Samantha glared at her mother. “You haven’t told him yet?”
“Samantha,” Sophia said, shooting her a look that was full of warning.
Sam let out a huge gust of a sigh, then gave her mom a hug. “Can’t say I didn’t try.”
“I love you. Be safe,” Sophia said.
“You too,” Samantha said, which made no sense. How much trouble could Sophia get into here at home?
Especially when he’d be keeping an eye on things, like always?
Sam gave him another hug, pausing long enough to whisper “call my cell” in his ear when Sophia wasn’t looking. Then she was off the porch and in her car before he could ask her why the hell she was acting like a double agent.
Shaking his head, he turned back to Sophia. “Tell me what?”
“Hmm?” She was fussing with the red velvet bow at the top of the wreath.
“Sophia.” He waited until she looked up. “Samantha asked if you’d told me yet. Told me what?”
“Oh, nothing.” She bit her lip. Then, squaring her shoulders, she said, “No, that’s not true. Samantha is mad at me for making some plans for the holidays.”
“She’s going to be gone, anyway. Why would she have any say in it?”
“Exactly what I said!” Sophia smiled at him. “I knew you’d understand.”
She’d been smiling at him for over a decade now, since he and Dan started their property management business together. It was only in the last six months or so that it had started knocking him on his ass.
Even now, his breath hitched when she turned the full wattage of her smile on him.
He cleared his throat. “So what kind of plans?”
“Oh, you know.” She waved one hand, as if that explained everything. “Just wanted to do something…different this year.”
Ethan nodded. Last Christmas had been hellish for all concerned.
A honking horn interrupted whatever she was going to say. A flash of—was it relief?—washed across Sophia’s face.
“There’s my ride!”
Ethan turned, confused, to see the airport courtesy van idling in the driveway behind his SUV. “Your ride?”
By the time he looked back, Sophia was already locking the front door, several suitcases piled around her feet. “With the new check-in procedures, I want to be sure to get there in plenty of time.”
“Check in? Get where? Where are you going?”
She hesitated. “On an adventure,” she said finally.
“And adven— Sophia, have you lost your mind?”
“Probably,” she said, a dimple appearing in her left cheek. “Don’t worry. I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.”
“Get back from where?” He couldn’t seem to do much more than repeat what she’d just said, but damned if she hadn’t completely pulled the rug out from under him. “What about Christmas?”
Her gaze softened and she placed one gloved hand on his cheek. “I’m sorry to do this in this way,” she said. “I know it’s not very fair of me.”
The driver beeped his horn again. Didn’t the jerk understand this was important?
Sophia was busy gathering her suitcases, though it was obvious she wouldn’t be able to carry all of them in one trip. With a mounting sense of dread, Ethan picked up the last two and followed her to the van.
The driver got out to stow the bags. Sophia started to climb into the van, but Ethan stopped her with a hand on her arm.
“Can’t you at least tell me where you’re going?”
She shook her head, tears shining in her eyes. “I’m sorry, I can’t. This is something I have to do on my own.”
Ethan just stared at her. It was as if she’d turned into a stranger overnight. Who was this woman, and what had she done with his Sophia?
She leaned down and kissed him on the cheek. “I’ll explain everything when I get back.” Then she vanished into the van.
He watched in disbelief as the van pulled out of the driveway and trundled down the road. His Sophia. Who was he kidding? She was as much a mystery to him now as she’d ever been.
Eyes narrowed, he grabbed his cell phone and dialed Samantha.
She answered in one ring.
“Okay, kiddo, I think it’s time someone told me what the hell is going on.”