A Good Knight!
By Casea Major
Marianne Caldwell put the finishing touches on the tree. Not that the five-foot shrubbery needed any extra. The little thing was decked out with five hundred lights, six-dozen ornaments and twenty-five feet of the finest silver garland sold at Macy's. This tree was pimped to the high heavens. She breathed in the fresh evergreen scent as she tied on the small, red, velvet bows, praying for everything to be perfect.
Mare had never waited until Christmas Eve to put a tree up before. She'd never spent Christmas away from her family, either. Nor had she ever been wildly, madly, passionately in love with anyone. Until now. It seemed this was a year of firsts.
Her first one-night stand had turned into her first experience of "shacking up." Dad had taken a little bit of backlash from his conservative Baptist congregation over that one. But in the end, Robert had won them over. Or maybe Michael had. He was the most precious 5-year-old that had ever existed. It was hard not to love him…or his father.
She smiled, admiring her handy work. The little guy would be surprised when he came back from his grandparents. She glanced at her watch. Hopefully her big guy would be just as surprised. Her heart fluttered at the thought of his sapphire eyes and dark, wavy hair. Fifteen minutes and his shift at the station would be over. They would spend their first Christmas together. Maybe tonight would be the night she'd waited for. She hoped so.
Robert was the man of her dreams. She giggled. When he actually kept his hands to himself and let her dream. She'd never met a man with such insatiable…appetites yet so attentive and caring. But something was missing. He loved her, she was pretty sure. Everything he did made her believe it was true, but he'd never spoken the words outright. And now she was beginning to feel as if maybe she'd been kidding herself. She'd actually said the three little words twice during lovemaking. But he'd not responded in kind, and the rejection was driving a wedge in her heart.
She shook her head to rid herself of the horrid thought. This holiday was going to be perfect. That's why she'd decided on the tree last minute. Robert said he didn't want one, but it wouldn't be the same without it.
Her timer buzzed. The smell of the toasted sugar and creamy butter filled the Brooklyn apartment. She hurried to the kitchen at the same time keys jingled and the front door opened.
"Yo, babe. I'm home. Are ya decent?"
She hollered back, "Define decent. I'm in the kitchen."
Giving him a quick glance over her shoulder, she smiled as she placed the cookies on the cooling rack.
He strolled in and sidled up behind her. "Damn, that looks good." He rested his chin on her head and slipped his muscular arms around her waist. "And the cookies, too."
She laughed and leaned back against his broad chest. Even though his shifts were only twenty-four hours, being without him for a full day was like living without a limb—doable but a struggle. Her chest tightened. "I missed you." Though those weren't the words she wanted to tell him. She held her breath waiting for him to respond.
He spun her around. "I missed you, too, Dallas."
Closing her eyes, she tried not to let the disappointment show in her face. Though they'd been living together since October when she'd transferred from Dallas to New York with her company, she'd moved in with the understanding that it wouldn't be permanent. But the truth was, she didn’t want to go anywhere, and she wasn't looking very hard. However, if he didn't make a move soon she would feel forced to leave.
He brushed her nose with his and softly kissed her lips. God, when he did that her legs turned to jelly every time, and she forgot any reason she should be displeased with him. His warm mouth opened over hers, and he lazily caressed her lips. His hand slid under the elastic waistband of her yoga pants to trail electric desire across her behind. Digging his fingers into her flesh he pulled her flush against him, his arousal evident at her hip. Her body responded without thought. She laced her arms around his neck and held him tightly.
He pulled from the kiss and whispered, "Where's Michael?"
She breathlessly answered, "Still with his grandparents."
His breathing sped. He swept her up and carried her to the living room, laying her on the sectional. She shucked off her bottoms as he unbuttoned his jeans. God, he was gorgeous, and she would never get enough. The juncture between her legs throbbed, and her private placed readied to receive him. He unzipped the loose fitting denim and began to push them to his knees but stopped suddenly. His face clouded.
Mare lifted and propped her body up with her elbows. "Honey, what's wrong?"
His face was so strange—a mix of so many emotions she couldn't catalogue them all. His head turned toward the corner and snapped back to her, revealing only one emotion—anger. "What the fuck is that?" He raised his hand toward the tree.
Her heart jumped up in her throat. A shiver slithered across her shoulders and her voice squeaked out like a meek mouse. "A Christmas tree."
He glared at her. "I told you I didn't want a fucking tree, Marianne."
She sucked in a breath. He'd used her given name. Not good. She swallowed the lump in her throat and tried to keep her voice from cracking again. "I know, but I just thought it'd be nice."
"You just never fucking listen, do you? You act like this is your house, and you do anything you goddamn please." He jerked the zipper up on his pants and paced in front of her. "And I'm fucking sick of it."
She scrambled to find her clothes. Tears welled in her eyes, and chills covered her from scalp to toenails. So many emotions swirled around in her mind she couldn't lay claim to any single one. Hurt, shame, fear. Had she overstepped her boundaries? She hadn't realized his severe aversion to Douglas Fir trees. Maybe it was just an aversion to her.
Was he just being nice by letting her stay with him? He was getting lots of sex. Clearly, he didn't think this a long term thing. And now he was sick of her.
She blinked back the flood and tried to gather herself. What should she do? Afraid to meet his gaze, she watched his feet pace back and forth in front of the tree. His hands fisted and flexed.
Think, Marianne. Why is he acting like this? All the horrible self-doubt came crashing in, and the desire to run overwhelmed her. She evened her breathing, but the tears trailed down her cheeks. She'd take down the tree and go. Her heart ripped in two at the thought, but there was nothing to be done about it.
She ran to the bedroom, grabbed a box of Kleenex, and got the storage bin she'd bought. Robert sat on the couch, head in hands. He didn't look up when she came in. She slowly began to remove the bows and place them in a storage bag. With each piece she took off, her heart broke a little more. Sharp pains of what might have been stabbed through her mind.
The delicate glass ornaments felt cold and light in her hand, and the glitter left a residue on her fingers which sparkled like magic in the twinkling colored lights. This was how her mom decorated a tree – with every color. You can never have too many lights, she'd always said. Mare had never wished for home more desperately in her life.
A sharp rap on the door and voices outside startled her. Robert never looked at her but strode to the door. She continued to pull ornaments from the tree and wrap them in tissue, placing them carefully in the bin.
After a few brief words at the door, Michael came tearing into the room. Even through her tears she couldn't help but smile when the little boy gasped. "Cool, Daddy. A tree for me?"
Before Robert could answer, Michael jetted around the circumference, taking in every light and ornament. "Look a Shrek! And a Woody, Daddy."
Robert came up behind Michael. "Son—"
Mare stopped to watch, wondering how he was going to explain why they couldn't keep it, because she couldn't understand it herself.
Michael grabbed Robert's hand. "Daddy, you're helping Marmie decorate the tree for me?"
Marianne gasped. He'd never called her that before. She shot her apprehensive gaze to Robert, whose face had drained of all color.
He blinked. "What did you call her?"
The sweet angel smiled and with his other hand took her hand. "She's my Marmie." His lilting matter-of-fact tone shattered her heart, and she started to sob.
"Jesus." Robert's eyes filled with tears, and he pulled her to his chest. "Baby, stop now. Shhh. I'm so sorry…I'm so sorry." He pushed the hair out of her eyes. "Don't cry. It's gonna be okay."
They spent the next two hours putting the tree back together, decorating Christmas cookies, and watching Christmas shows until Michael fell asleep. Robert carried him to his bed while she cleaned up the kitchen. Nothing had been resolved other than the Christmas tree. And now seemed as good a time as any to make the break that appeared inevitable.
She dried her hands on a cup towel and turned off the light. The living room was dark except the twinkle of the tree. Robert sat in the corner of the sectional watching the lights flicker. She sat a distance away, careful not to touch him.
The lump formed in her throat again and began to throb. She stared down and laced her fingers, unable to look at him. "I've decided to go back to Dallas. I don't really want to look for a place here by myself. I think my company will let me transfer again. At least I know my old boss will take me back." She took a deep breath. "I wish it could've worked out. But I understand these things don't always. I mean, look at The Bachelor, for God's sake. These types of things don’t typically last, and there's no shame in that. We can go our separate ways…" You're rambling, Mare. Get to the point. She peeked up at him.
He stared at her with eyebrows knitted and a perturbed look on his face. She gulped.
He gestured vaguely with his hand. "You finished?"
"Good. Because for starters, you're not going anywhere except right here in my arms." He grabbed her and pulled her into his lap. The warmth of him engulfed her. She hadn't realized how cold and empty she'd felt. "As for you and I not working out, that's crap and you know it. We're great together. You and Michael are the best things in my life, and I'll be damned if I'm gonna let you go." He cupped her chin and gazed straight into her eyes. "I'm sorry I acted like an asshole earlier. You scare me, Marianne. This whole thing scares me. The last time I let a woman in..." His voice broke. He closed his eyes and sighed. "When Victoria died, a piece of me died with her. I haven't had a Christmas tree in my house since then. But you come in and muddle my heart and fuck with my familiar life..." He dropped his hand to his side and stared up at the ceiling. "Jesus Mariann, I love you so much it scares me shitless."
Liquid warmth poured over her. "You do?"
He captured her gaze. "Baby, I've loved you from the minute I laid eyes on you." He pulled out a little black box and handed it to her.
Her heart pounded against her ribs and her had trembled. She opened the lid and a gasp escaped her lips. A two-carat round-brilliant diamond sat in a classic six-pronged platinum setting.
"Marianne, will you marry me?"
"You bet your ass I will." She grasped his face and pressed her lips to his.
He slipped the ring on her finger and gave her a long, luscious kiss.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good Knight!
After signing up for a one-night stand through an exclusive matching agency, hopeless romantic Marianne Caldwell is swept away to a medieval land where she hopes to spend the night with a worthy man of honor.
Unsure of how she got from the Castillo Hotel in Las Vegas to a castle in the English countryside, Mare finds Robert, whose stunning physique and winning smile immediately convince her he's the Robin Hood she's been seeking. But despite his efforts in saving her from a corrupt sheriff, his Jersey Shore accent and coarse ways unravel her romantic visions.
With her fairytale fantasies coming unhinged, Mare must decide if Robert is just a crass car salesman from Brooklyn or the chivalrous knight she's looking for.
Major Love ~~~ Major Romance
Prior to becoming a writer of romantic fiction, Casea Major worked in the legal field for a non-profit dispute resolution company for ten years. She is now a full-time mom to three preschool children with whom she and her husband live happily...most of the time. When she isn't chained to her laptop, she enjoys Cary Grant movies and crocheting.