Since Joint Venture, Matt & Laura’s story, is now available (e-book only), I thought I’d share a quick little story from their first Christmas together. After the story, be sure you leave a comment answering the question to be entered in a drawing for a free copy of Joint Venture. (If you don’t win, you can find it here for Kindle or here for Nook.) Then be sure to click through on the Rafflecopter Giveaway and enter to win a Kindle!
Be sure to check back on Friday for the next Advent giveaway (I’ll have a link for you.)
Christmas with Matt & Laura
Laura frowned as she looked around the townhouse. You’d never know it was only a week until Christmas. Even still, she couldn’t work up the energy to do anything about it. She and Matt had gone all out decorating the salon—mini-trees at every station, huge ornaments hanging from the ceiling, twinkle lights and tinsel hanging everywhere possible—and by the time they were satisfied that it was festive but not overdone, neither of them wanted to do anything at home. They ought to at least get a tree. It was their first married Christmas, they needed to celebrate at least a little. She added it to her mental to-do list as she tugged open the fridge. It was her turn to fix dinner and she was particularly uninspired.
“Hi Honey, I’m home.”
Laura laughed as Matt poked his head into the kitchen. “Never gets old, does it?”
He grinned. “Of course not. Neither does this.” He crossed the room in two long strides and pulled her into his arms.
She breathed a happy sigh. Her life was about as close to perfect as she’d ever imagined. To think that almost a year ago she’d been knee deep in plans to marry Ryan. What had she been thinking?
“Where’d you go?”
“Sorry. Just thinking about how much things can change in a year.”
Matt cocked his head to the side. “Change for the better, I hope.”
She chuckled. “No question.”
He kissed the tip of her nose. “Come see what I brought home.”
Maybe he picked up some dinner? Her spirits lifted at the possibility. She just wasn’t in the mood to deal with dinner. Laura followed him into the living room. Her eyes widened. A seven-foot-if-it-was-an-inch tree was propped against the front window.
“I know, right?” Matt bounced on his toes. “Got it for a steal, too. That lot out in front of the grocery store by the salon? Someone bought it but never picked it up. They called the contact number and the guy said they’d changed their mind, found something nicer.”
“Didn’t they give a refund?”
Matt shrugged. “Guy said they tried, but the customer didn’t want to bother coming back to swipe their card again.”
“Must be nice.” Would she ever get back to being able to spend money without fretting over every cent? The salon was doing well, particularly given that they’d only been in business eight months, but thing were definitely still in the paycheck-to-paycheck realm.
“That was my thought. Go ahead and ask.”
Laura shook her head. “I don’t want to know. If you think we can afford it, we’ll make it work.”
She groaned. “Fine. How much?”
“Two haircuts. Him and his wife. They’ll be in tomorrow, first thing.”
When Matt nodded, Laura couldn’t stop the giggle. She threw her arms around him and squeezed. He really was the best.
“Thought you’d like it.”
“I love it. See if you can figure out a way to make it stand up and I’ll go make some popcorn for us to string.”
“Thank you again. That tree…it’s so lovely.” Laura gave the woman’s neck one last swipe with her towel before carefully unsnapping the cape.
“You’re welcome. Your young man is a sweetheart. Reminds me of my own husband, when we were young and new to love.” As she stood, the older woman pressed a folded bill into Laura’s hand. She spoke again before Laura could get her mouth open. “I insist. You did a lovely job. I’ll be back when it starts to grow out. I’ve always just gone to the chain down the road, but you never know what you’re going to get.”
Laura smiled and curled her fingers around the bill. She wasn’t going to argue about a tip. She should, most likely. But she wasn’t going to. She still needed to get Matt something for Christmas and hadn’t been able to come up with a way to do that. If she got a few extra tips, that would do the trick. “Thank you. I’ll look forward to seeing you. And thank you again for the tree.”
She watched as the woman joined her husband at the front of the salon to bundle back into their coats and scarves. Tucking the tip into her pocket, she grinned over at Matt and headed to the closet for the broom. She had a busy day of clients ahead of her. It was always better to at least start out with a clean floor.
With just two days ‘til Christmas, Laura was beginning to panic. She had almost one hundred dollars from tips saved up—thank goodness people were feeling generous this close to the holiday—but she still had no idea what to get Matt. Anytime she hinted around, or even outright asked, he’d pull her in for a hug and say she was all he wanted. And while it sent shivers through her, it didn’t help with the actual shopping. He’d already put something under the tree for her. She’d barely kept herself from picking it up to examine more closely every time she walked by. But it meant she absolutely couldn’t go without finding him something. Barely stifling a groan, she collected her purse and keys. She was going to have to go to the mall.
Tyson’s Corner was a zoo, just as she’d expected it would be. Whatever holiday spirit had been turning into extra tips from her clients had completely evaporated from the people circling through the parking deck with her. Why couldn’t everyone just go up as high as they could and walk? That was her plan. If people would get out of the way. Instead, she had to sit behind a line of cars all trailing a couple with a stroller on the way back to their car. She blew out a breath. Didn’t they know only one of them was going to get the spot?
Giving in to her frustration, she eased into the oncoming lane and hurried past the line of cars, squeezing around the front of the line and narrowly avoiding someone turning down the aisle. With a cheery wave, she zipped up the ramp to the top of the structure and aimed for the far back corner, not even bothering to look for a spot closer. With any luck, she’d be in and out before half those people made it up this far. Assuming, of course, she could figure out what to buy.
An hour later, she dropped onto a bench with a steaming cup of coffee and sighed. She’d come close to buying some lingerie, figuring that went along with his statement that he just wanted her. But…it hadn’t really seemed fair to get something for herself as a gift for him. Though the convoluted logic of men might make it okay. She just hadn’t been able to reconcile it in her mind and so had ended up putting it back on the rack. Why was there so much stuff available? And while she could make a semi-convincing case for a few things, none of them felt right. Christmas shopping was for the birds.
Laura dragged herself to her feet and trudged back to her car. She’d think of something. Probably. But being at the mall with classicalized Christmas carols buzzing in her ears wasn’t going to make it happen any faster.
Christmas dawned clear and bright. No chance of snow anywhere in the forecast. In some ways, Laura was glad. The people around DC had no concept of how to drive when there was anything falling from the sky. Cold and dry at least meant the likelihood of being stuck in crazy traffic was somewhat lower. She rolled to her side and frowned. Matt’s side of the bed was empty. When had he gotten up? Maybe he had coffee ready.
Propelled by the thought of steaming hot caffeine, Laura slid her feet into the slippers her parents had gotten her and padded downstairs. The tree was lit and a Christmas CD was on low. The distinctive sounds of breakfast in the making clanged from the kitchen, punctuating Matt’s humming.
“Morning. Merry Christmas.”
Matt looked up from the pan he was watching and grinned. “Merry Christmas to you. I was trying to let you sleep in a little.”
“Appreciate it.” Laura sniffed. “Pancakes?”
“Yep. Blueberry ones. Coffee’s ready, too.”
“You’re the…” Laura’s eyes widened. “You’re actually wearing that?”
Matt looked down at the frilly 1950’s era apron with laughter dancing in his eyes and shrugged. “Figured it would keep my nice new pajamas clean as well as anything else. Besides, your mom went to all that trouble to find it for me.”
Laura snickered and crossed the room. She leaned up to press her lips to his. “You’re a good sport. I was planning to burn that.”
“Burn it?” Matt crossed his arms over the apron. “No way. This is my first Christmas gift from my in-laws. I’m going to treasure it. And if I can figure out how to wear it around your mom, don’t think I won’t. Go get your coffee. Pancakes’ll be ready soon and then,” he rubbed his hands together, “I want to open presents.”
Shaking her head, Laura grabbed a mug from the cupboard. After she sat, Matt slid a stack of pancakes in front of her and sat with his own. They made quick work of the slightly-gooey circles and moved into the living room.
Matt gathered the two gifts from under the tree before settling on the sofa next to Laura. He handed her a small box and kept the brightly colored envelope for himself.
Laura picked at the edge of the wrapping paper, her stomach suddenly in knots. “It’s not much…and I’ve realized I’m no good at coming up with Christmas gifts. You’re going to have to start giving me a list…but we can always return it and you can just…”
“Laura.” Matt cut her off, placing a finger over her lips. “I told you before, you didn’t have to get me anything.”
“But…” She held up the box and shrugged. “Yes I did.”
Matt shook his head. “Open it.”
Laura gave him a long look before sliding her finger under the tape and carefully undoing the wrapping paper to reveal a red and white Hallmark box. She opened it and tugged out an ornament with a snapshot of her and Matt in the driver’s seat of a small red car, a banner underneath proclaiming Our First Christmas.
Tears pricked her eyes. “I love it. Thank you.” She stood and hung it in the center of their tree, the only ornament amidst some popcorn strings and colored lights.
“My turn.” Matt grinned and tore open the envelope. He pulled out the card and frowned as money dropped into his lap.
Laura smiled at his quizzical expression. “Read the card.”
Matt cleared his throat. “Baseballs are round, and basketballs too. Footballs are oval, so what can you do? Hockey’s on ice, though I’m not sure you care, but this TV package is one you can share.” He glanced down at the bills in his lap and then back at the card. Understanding slowly crept over his face. “You got me the sports package?”
She nodded, laughing as he pulled her into a hard hug, the ruffle on the top of his apron tickling her chin.
“You’re sure we can afford it?”
Laura nodded again. “I figured out my average tips each month, this shouldn’t eat up more than half. And this way, I get to keep you home on game days. You can have Kevin over, and whoever else. Who knows, maybe I’ll even learn to appreciate the game.”
“You’re the best wife ever, you know that?”
“Don’t you forget it.”
Now for the giveaways! What was the first Christmas gift you bought for a significant other? It can be the first thing you bought your spouse, or the first gift you got for a serious boy/girlfriend. Did they like it? Do you wish you’d done something different? Leave a comment and let me know! I’ll announce (and notify) the winner on 12/9 (next Monday.)
Finally, be sure to enter our Rafflecopter giveaway for a Kindle!
And check back here on Friday for a link to our next Advent giveaway.