“Then I will wait. I’ll wait until your soul comes out of lockdown. Hopefully, that’s not years and years because I’d like for us to talk about a couple of rugrats before I’m too old to teach them to fish and cross-country ski and all the things we like to do together.”
She pushed her hand uncertainly through her hair. “Knox, don’t do this to me.”
“Honey, the only thing I’m doing is giving you time...and asking you not to burn it all up before we’re too old. Now, for the second order of business, are you going to help me take down this tree or what?”
She latched on to the subject change like a drowning man to a life raft. “I’ll help with the tree.”
An hour later the tree had been packed away, the cabin tidied and their luggage was in their respective vehicles. He walked her to her car. “Drive safe. And hey, do you mind if I still show up for Christmas dinner tomorrow?”
She wrapped her arms around him and leaned her head against his shoulder for a moment. “Of course not.”
“I love you, Trudie.”
She hesitated and then with a nod got in her SUV and was gone.
* * *
TRUDIE WALKED the last part of the trail with hope swirling through her. Christmas Day. She’d texted Knox, asking him to meet her at the park. She hadn’t planned to head over to her parents’ place until early afternoon so here she was. Snow crunched in the distance and she looked up.
Jessup and Knox crested the horizon. Love the man, love his dog. And she did. Both of them.
Silently they walked toward one another until they met halfway.
“Merry Christmas,” she said.
“Merry Christmas,” Knox said.
She handed Jessup a dental chew, which he promptly took and curled up with. He hated the snow, but he loved the green bones. She figured she owed her favorite pooch that much for dragging him out in the cold.
She shrugged. “I figured I owed him...ya know...the snow.” She put her gloved hands in her coat pockets. It was a darn cold Christmas Day but she’d needed privacy and a neutral place to say what needed to be said and she’d rather foolishly and romantically always considered this to be their place. She fisted her hands in her pockets, fingering the ring through her gloves.
“I...uh...did a lot of thinking on the way home...”
“For goodness sake, Trudie, it’s freezing...well, it’s even more freezing than it usually is and you always just spit things out so just spit it out.”
“I changed my mind. Well, my mind was convinced. I changed my heart. Well, I guess my heart was—”
“Trudie,” he interrupted her. “Are you saying you will marry me?”
“Yes. Exactly. It’s just you were rushing me.”
He swept her up and pressed a hard kiss of promise on her lips and then released her. “I am one happy man, but let’s walk and talk at the same time and carry this to the truck.”
Her teeth were beginning to chatter in her head. She’d just wanted, needed, to tell him on this spot and she kind of sort of had.
Hand in hand they jogged lightly down the path back to where he’d parked his truck next to her SUV. They climbed into his cab and he started the engine.
“Say it,” he demanded.
She thought about teasing him by saying how cold it was out there, but hearts on the line weren’t teasing matters. “I love you, Knox. I think I’ve always loved you. I’m sure I always will.”
“Body and soul?”
“Body and soul.”
The dog between them, they kissed until they kissed the cold right out of their lips.
Jessup bumped them apart.
“I’m going to have to work with that dog,” Knox said with a happy grin. “I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth, but what happened on that drive home yesterday that brought you around to my way of thinking?”
“I was just outside of Anchorage when the car ahead of me skidded out of control and hit a telephone pole. Luckily they weren’t going too fast, and no one was hurt, but I thought it could’ve been me. Then I thought about the way I get in the car and drive almost every day but the odds are that I’m not going to skid out of control. Then I thought what if that driver never drove again because he was afraid he might get in an accident because it did happen to him once. You know what I mean?”
“I think I do. I hurt you but it would be pretty dumb to miss out on something that was wonderful because you were worrying about something that might, but probably won’t, happen in the future.”
He knew her, understood her in a way she didn’t think anyone else ever would.
“I love you so much, it frightens me, Knox.”
“I know, Trudie. I feel the same way.”
She sighed and leaned in for a kiss. “On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me...”
He cupped her face. “Everything that’s mine to give. All of me.”
Joy, peace and goodwill flowed through her. So did desire. “We’ve got a little bit of time before we have to head to my folks’. If I trade places with Jessup, we could fog up your windows.”
* * * * *
Keep reading for an excerpt of Just One Night by Nancy Warren.
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“SICK LEAVE?” Rob Klassen yelled, unable to believe what he was hearing from the editor of World Week, the international current affairs magazine he’d worked for as a photojournalist for twelve years. “I’m not sick!”
Gary Wallanger pulled off his glasses and tossed them onto his desktop cluttered with Rob’s proof sheets documenting a skirmish in a small town near the Ras Ajdir border between Tunisia and Libya. “What do you suggest I call it? Shot-in-the-ass leave? You damned near got yourself killed. Again.”
Gary didn’t like his people getting too close to the action they were reporting on and his glare was fierce.
Rob put all his weight on his good leg, but even so, the throbbing in his left thigh was hard to ignore. “I was running away as fast as I could.”
“I saw the hospital report. You were running toward the shooter. Bad luck for you. They can tell those things from the entry and exit wounds.” In the uncomfortable silence that followed Rob heard the roar of traffic, honking cabs and sirens on the Manhattan streets far below. He hadn’t counted on Gary finding out the details he’d have rather kept to himself.
“You want to be a war hero,” his editor snapped, “join the forces. We report news. We don’t make it.”
Another beat ticked by.
“There were bullets flying everywhere. I got disoriented.”
“Bull. You were playing hero again, weren’t you?”
Rob could still picture the toddler cowering behind an oil drum. Yeah, his boss would have been happier if he’d left her scared and crying in the line of gunfire. But he was the one who had to wake up every morning and look himself in the mirror. Truth was he hadn’t thought at all. He’d merely dashed over to the girl and hauled her to safety. Getting shot hadn’t been in his plan.