There was firm knock on the front door. Beth stood up and opened it to find Mike Hartnett smiling at her. It was such a sweet smile, along with that firm bold chin and the doggone dimple. Had he looked this handsome in the store?
“Hi,” said he, subdued, no sex appeal showing at the moment. He was wearing a blue windbreaker; open at the neck to reveal a red shirt, conservative oxford, beneath it. Gray slacks and black shoes completed the ensemble.
“Hi,” she said and realized he was studying her face. He knew she knew about his call. It was in his eyes. He fidgeted, looking uneasy.
“Your mom said not to come, but I did anyway.”
“I see that. So, what’s going on?”
“I want to see you.”
“Seeing me. You’re looking at me.”
His smile turned sheepish. “I meant go out with you.”
“No thanks. I’m sorry, but please don’t come here like this anymore.” She started to close the door.
“Beth, wait.” He stared at her. “Are you okay?”
She was on the verge of tears, but surely he couldn’t tell, could he? Why was she acting this way? Hadn’t she just decided to sleep with him for fun? No, that wouldn’t work with him; not when she turned to butter at the sight of him. “I’m fine. Please go away, all right?”
“Why won’t you let me see you?”
“I have a child! My son, Ben! By another man. All right? Just go away. Please.”
He blinked, then gave her the sweetest smile and nodded and waved a tiny wave goodbye.
She swung the door shut.
There, she’d done it. And why? She really wanted to go out with the man, at least a few times. Was she losing her mind?She reached for the doorknob, thinking to open it and apologize, then stopped. The man had no business coming to her house uninvited. Her knees were shaking? That couldn’t be, but they were. This was so silly, the whole thing; he was just another jerk. But, she waited at the door. If he knocked again she’d open it and talk to him. After all, he wasn’t Jim. There was no reason to be mad at him. Not yet at least.
The door stayed silent. She pulled aside the curtain and peeked out the window. He was gone. She turned to see her mother standing by the kitchen door, coffee cup in hand, watching.
“He’s a determined man,” Liz said and sipped her coffee.
Beth plopped down on the couch and frowned at the front door. Why did she tell him about Ben like that? She could have dated him a few times first. The sight of him made wild things happen to her body, and he seemed so sweet, and she could do whatever she wanted with him. And she had turned him down. Talk about weird. Oh crap. Next time, maybe next time she’d say yes.
Beth looked up to see Liz still standing there, a troubled expression on her face… “It’s silly mom, just silly. It never would have worked.”
“He’d think I want to get married someday even if I said I don’t.”
“Why would he think that?”
“Because- I don’t know. They all think that,” Beth cried, and put her head in her hands. “Why am I so dumb?”
Liz gave her a warm hug and stroked her hair. “You’re just afraid to be hurt again.”
Ben wandered into the living room. “Can I have a cookie?”
“It’s almost time for dinner,” Liz said.
“When are we going to decorate the tree?”
“We’ll do it now, or after dinner if you’re hungry.”
“I don’t want to decorate the tree tonight,” Beth mumbled.
“It’ll do you good. You set up the tree while Ben and I get the decorations out,” Liz said.
“Can’t I have a cookie?”
“Oh, all right, but only one,” Beth said, and dragged the tree box from the hall closet. Tree decorating was the last thing she needed just then. A nice cry behind her bedroom door would have felt much better, but she dumped the tree on the floor.
“Billy’s Dad put a train around his Christmas tree. It goes fast,” Ben said, as he returned with a box of ornaments.
“That sounds good,” Beth said, and stood the tree upright.
“Billy wouldn’t let me run it though.”
“That wasn’t nice.”
“Can I have a train?”
“Maybe someday,” Beth said. What she knew about toy trains and electricity amounted to zip. That was a Dad’s job. Well, maybe there were books about them she could read.
“Would you like that cookie, Ben?” Liz asked.
“Can I have two?”
“Mom, please. You can have one before dinner, young man.”
“Mother’s right dear,” Liz said, as someone knocked on the front door. She glanced out the window and smiled. “Open the door, Ben.”
“I’ll get it,” Beth said.
Liz stepped in front of her. “Let Ben do it.”
“What?” said Beth, as Liz pushed her against the living room wall.
Ben swung the door open, then stopped and stood there grinning, saying not a word.
A child’s voice, a girl’s, said, “Hi.”
“Are you Ben?”
“We have a present for you. Here.”
Small hands thrust a large bag at Ben and he grabbed it awkwardly. Beth took a step toward him, but her mother squeezed her arm.
Ben turned the bag upside down. A canister of Lincoln Logs crashed to the floor. The top flew off and small brown logs went rolling everywhere.
“I told you Daddy. You should have let his mommy take the top off.”
“You’re right, Erin. Daddy goofed.”
That voice! It couldn’t be. Her heart pounding, Beth stared at her smiling mother, who promptly stepped aside.
“Hi,” said a grinning Mike Hartnett.
Beth stared. This couldn’t be, but it was. Her knees wobbled and she grabbed the door.
He drew one hand from behind his back and produced a bouquet of white roses. “A present for the lady of the house.”
She took them from him, but Liz was at her side and claimed them. Beth let them go without a second thought as Mike reached out to take her hand. “I like kids. I thought I’d introduce you to mine.”
“You are a devil,” she said, her breath suddenly caught in her throat…
He reached a hand out to the little girl. A blonde haired freckle faced girl about Ben’s age; the child who had called him Daddy a few seconds ago. Giggling, the little one smiled up at Mike and then at Beth.
Beth threw a look of utter confusion at her mother, who was grinning like the Cheshire Cat. “You knew?” she hissed.
“Just now, when they came to the door.”
“This is Erin. My daughter. Say hello, Erin,” Mike said softly, his eyes on Beth.
“Are you going to be my new mommy?”
That drew Ben’s attention and he stared up at his mother.
“I don’t know Erin.” Beth smiled at Mike. “Your daddy seems to have ideas.”
“I need a new mommy. He says Ben needs a daddy too.”
Mike wrapped both arms around Beth and looked down at Ben. “What do you think?”
Ben nodded and then turned back to Erin. “You want to play?”
“Okay. I have Lincoln Logs at my house.”
“A big set like this?”
“Erin!” said Mike.
“They’re the same,” said Erin with a giggle.
“Precocious,” Mike whispered.
“She must take after her father,” Beth said, and she gave him a hug, which he returned with great enthusiasm and a very potent kiss.
“Don’t forget you have an audience,” Liz said, still doing her Cheshire Cat impersonation.
Mike eased Beth away, just a smidgeon, and turned to her mother with dancing eyes. “How would you like to do some baby-sitting?”
“I could be persuaded,” Liz said with a grin.
He turned back to Beth. “Might I take you out to dinner tonight?”
Beth smiled and touched his cheek, her heart soaring. “I’ll get my coat.”
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Thank you for reading my little story. If you liked CHRISTMAS SECRETS, you’ll like A LITTLE BIT OF BLACKMAIL
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