Monday, November 25, 2013

Exclusive: Chapter One of A Home for Christams by Ann Vaughn

A Home for Christmas

Publication: November 28, 2013

Chapter One

Stupid, stupid, stupid. That’s how Jenna felt. She knew she shouldn’t have gone shopping on Black Friday, trying to get one of those video game systems for her son. She hadn’t counted on all the people who camped out all night long, snatching them all up before she had a chance to even make it back to the electronics section. And what did she have to show for it? No game system and as she was walking out of the store, some punk kid snatched her purse.
A gang of kids rushed her and two elderly ladies as they’d all emerged from the store, snatching all of their purses. So now, she sat in the manager’s office with the two very shaken up grandmothers', both of whom were quietly crying. They’d been offered food and drinks while they waited for the police to take their statements. Jenna just wanted to be able to use the phone, since her phone was in her purse. She needed to call her mother so she could bring her spare car key to her because, of course, her keys were in her purse as well.
My wedding rings were in my purse,” the lady next to her lamented, “I was taking them to have a stone reset.”
My favorite pictures of my grandbabies are in mine,” the other lady said.
Jenna pinched the bridge of her nose. There really wasn’t anything irreplaceable in her purse. She just hated to have to go through the hassle of cancelling credit cards, getting a new license and all that fun stuff.
The door opened and Jenna looked up to see the store manager come in, a huge smile on his face.
Good news, ladies!” he announced. “A very Good Samaritan chased down all three of the boys who grabbed your purses and I’m happy to report he recovered all three.”
Oh, thank God!” the lady next to her exclaimed.
One guy ran down three teenagers?” Jenna asked, surprised.
From what I understand, this guy is a former Navy SEAL…and he’s recently out, so he’s still in prime shape. I’m thinking those kids never stood a chance.”
So, we will get our purses back?” one of the ladies asked.
Yes, ma’am, as soon as the medics finish with him. He got a little banged up in the takedowns. Nothing serious, but they wanted to check him out. Then he'll come in with the police and give you your purses. Bonus is that he got them in the next parking lot before they had a chance to go through them so everything should still be in them.”
Jenna breathed a sigh of relief. Well, the day wasn’t a total loss, then. Not having to make all those calls to cancel her cards or to her mother to bring her keys to her was a huge bonus.
Ten minutes later, the office door opened again and a uniformed officer came in, followed by a man that quite frankly sucked all the air from the room. He was tall, around six-two or six-three. He wore black jogging pants, a blue hoodie and a Texas Rangers baseball cap, turned backward. There was a butterfly bandage above his right eye and on his right cheekbone, indicating someone put up a fight. His eyes were a bright, vivid green that were so beautiful they took Jenna’s breath away.
Ladies, this is Riley Stanton
Thank you so much!” the lady next to Jenna said, standing and embracing him.
You’re welcome, ma’am,” he said. His voice was rich and smooth as he embraced her, dimples showing in his cheeks.
Yes, thank you,” Jenna said, offering her hand to him after the second lady had also thanked him, “I’m sorry you got hurt, but I really appreciate you getting our things back. You saved us all a ton of hassle.”
Riley took her hand, his grip firm and warm. Jenna was immediately aware of how big his hand was, and that his palm was calloused, not smooth like someone who sat at a desk for a living.
It was my pleasure. No one should have to deal with cancelling credit cards on Black Friday.”
Can I offer you a reward?” one of the other ladies asked.
Oh, no, ma’am. I don’t want anything. I’m just glad I was there when it happened.”
Well, at least give us your address,” the first lady insisted, “I’d like to bring you a casserole for your troubles.”
Oh, that’s all right, really, I…” he began but the two older ladies were very insistent, and much to Jenna’s amusement at watching him squirm, he soon gave in and recited his address for them.
Jenna wasn’t surprised to hear he lived in some of the newer loft condos downtown. Springfield, Texas was a suburb of Dallas and was one of the new, up and coming cities in the Metroplex. She ran her own cleaning service and had several clients in his building so she knew how nice it was. While Riley was still assuring the older ladies that he really didn’t require a reward, Jenna thanked the store manager and with a smile to Riley, headed out of the office. She hadn’t made it too far before she heard her name being called. Stopping, she saw Riley jogging toward her.
Did you need something?” she asked.
Just wondering if you wouldn’t mind having breakfast with me,” he said, surprising her.
Oh, um…”
Come on, say yes. I hate eating alone, and the store manager told me they are already sold out of what I came here for.”
Jenna let out a little half laugh. “Yeah, they were already sold out of what I was here for, too. First and last time I try to buy something on Black Friday, I assure you.”
So? What do you say? Come to breakfast with me?”
Jenna looked up into his green eyes and decided, even though it was crazy and made absolutely no sense, to go ahead and take a chance.
OK, sure. I suppose it’s the least I can do after you got my purse back for me.”
His smile was huge then, causing her heart to skip a beat or two. He was handsome it was hard for her to concentrate. She didn’t get a conceited vibe off of him, thankfully. Confident, but not conceited.
Want to leave your car here and ride with me? I’ll bring you back here when we’re done.”
She studied him a moment, not sure if she should really get into a vehicle with him, but then decided it would probably be all right.
"I suppose you’re safe, being a former SEAL and all,” she said with a wink.
That store manager has a big mouth,” he chuckled, leading her through the parking lot. When they approached the back row of the parking lot and she saw his truck, she couldn’t help the laugh that escaped.
Riley looked down at her and actually managed to look slightly embarrassed.
I’ll just say…it’s my brother’s truck, not mine.”
That made Jenna laugh even harder. The truck was a black Ford and it was what her son, Cam, would call a Monster Truck. The wheels were huge, the tops of them even with her waist.
Your brother’s truck?”
He clicked the unlock button and opened the door for her, then pulled down a small stepladder for her.
Yeah, he’s in Iraq right now so I promised I’d take this out occasionally so it didn’t just sit in a garage the whole time he was gone.”
Your brother is in the Service?”
All three of my brothers are.”
Jenna looked down at him with raised brows once she was settled in the passenger seat.
You have three brothers?”
Three younger brothers,” he told her, then shut her door and crossed over to the driver’s side. “This truck is my youngest brother, Aaron’s. He’s a JAG lawyer. We’re all still in shock over that. The one closest to my age, Jack, is a fighter pilot. And Trevor just passed his BUDS training to be a SEAL.”
Wow. That’s impressive. Your parents must be really proud…and really strong to withstand all their sons being in the military.”
Well, not me any more,” he said, “and yeah, they are strong and very proud.”
Why aren’t you still in?” she asked.
On our last mission, things went…wrong. We lost a really good man. Our team leader was captured and tortured for nearly twelve hours before we were able to rescue him. He allowed himself to be taken so we could recover Zig’s body. After that, our whole unit decided to walk away when our time was up. We opened our own private securities company so that we can be in charge of what missions we take, as well as when and how it will go down.”
Jenna was quiet a moment, letting his words sink in. She couldn’t imagine the horrors that he had likely seen in the course of his service.
Do you miss it?”
He shrugged. “At times. But the money is much better on the civilian side.”
He drove them to a local coffee shop that was in the heart of the old part of downtown Springfield. As he parked, she realized that she knew two of his brothers; it just hadn't hit her until then.
You said your last name is Stanton, right?”
Trevor Stanton was in my class. And Aaron was in my Spanish class my senior year.”
You grew up here?”
She nodded. “Born and raised.”
Small world, huh?” he said, then got out and came around to open her door. He held his hand out to her to help her down from the enormous truck, then kept hold of it, much to her consternation, as he led her inside.
Riley Stanton, what in the world are you doing in that monstrosity out there on my curb?” the owner, Mrs. Sheffield called out.
Hey, Mrs. S. I told Aaron I’d take her out once a week so she wouldn’t get rusty.”
I could hear you coming a mile away.”
Can we sit where we want?” he asked, grabbing two menus from the hostess station.
Why do you even ask? Your table is open. Go park it.”
Yes, ma’am. Thank you.”
And take that hat off in my place!” she yelled at him.
He shook his head as he led Jenna to a table at the back near the window. Jenna slid into her side of the booth, eyes wide as Riley took his seat and actually did remove his baseball cap, running his fingers through his…wow, blonde hair. It was so short she hadn’t really been able to see the color. She’d been thinking it was brown like hers, and in the back it kind of was, but the top was blonde.
The owner bosses you around?” she asked, surprised.
Mrs. S was our next door neighbor when we were growing up. Babysat us a lot.”
She may deserve a medal for putting up with four rambunctious boys, huh?”
He chuckled. “We weren’t that bad.”
Trevor was,” Jenna countered.
Well, yeah, I’ll give you that. He and Aaron were spoiled.”
Were they, now?”
Mama’s boys, both of them. Got away with murder because they were her babies. Jack and I couldn’t get away with half the stunts Trevor and Aaron did.”
Don’t you let him be telling you any lies,” Mrs. Sheffield said, placing two glasses of water on the table for them. “He and Jack got away with plenty, too. What is this?” she asked Riley, cupping his chin in her hand to turn his face toward the light so she could see the bandaged cuts on his face.
He ran down three thugs who snatched my purse along with two other ladies’ purses,” Jenna told her.
Did you really?” the older lady asked.
Yes, ma’am.”
She leaned down and kissed his cheek. “Such a good boy. And who are you, young lady? You look familiar to me.”
Jenna Blackwell,” Jenna told her.
She watched as recognition dawned on the older lady’s face. “You run Maids to Go. That’s where I know you from. Your TV commercials.”
Yes, ma’am, that’s me.”
I love your ads, they’re so cute. What can I get you, sweetie?”
They gave her their orders and both watched her walk into the kitchen, both holding back laughs. Jenna hadn’t come there for years; not since before she was married. Sheffield’s was pretty much a local's only place and she knew that her mother and her friends liked to come there, so to avoid any uncomfortable situations, Jenna generally avoided it.
So, you run a maids service?” Riley asked after Mrs. Sheffield was gone.
I’ve always been good at cleaning.”
What made you decide to go into that?”
Jenna took a deep breath. This was the part she hated; having to talk about herself. Normally, she didn’t, but there was something about Riley that made her want to open up to him. Didn’t hurt that he really was easy on the eyes, but more, she felt like he was someone who would actually listen and care about what she had to say.
When I found out that my husband was cheating on me, I needed a way to support myself and my son so that I wouldn’t have to rely on Wade any longer. Like I said, I’d always been a meticulous cleaner, so I decided to start cleaning houses.”
Wade Blackwell?” Riley asked, having picked up on her ex’s name.
The Motocross rider? That Wade Blackwell?”
That would be him.”
Riley shook his head. “I remember Trevor talking about him from school…and about Wade’s girlfriend. Always said she was way too hot for the likes of Wade. I’m assuming you dated him in high school?”
I did.”
And you have a son with him?”
Jenna nodded. “Cameron, named for my maiden name.”
You women like to do that a lot, don’t you?” Riley said, shaking his head.
Do what?” Jenna asked, confused.
My mother’s maiden name was Riley,” he answered.
Jenna laughed. “Oh, that. Yeah, I guess we do. We have to give up our birth names when we marry. Gotta have some way to keep our name going.”
So, you started Maids to Go when you left him for cheating on you. He doesn’t send child support?”
He does, but not because I took him to court for it, and not even because he knows he should support his son. His agent set up payments to me because it would be bad PR for Wade if the press were to find out that he doesn’t support his own son.”
Riley nodded. “I can see that, since they have that whole ad campaign about Let’s Go Ride with Wade riding with a bunch of kids. And with Wade being the face of the Motocross video game for the last five years, they wouldn't want news to get out that he's a Deadbeat Dad.”
Exactly. Only, I didn’t want any of Wade’s money, so I’ve been putting it into a savings account for Cam.”
That’s pretty cool. So, was Cam who you were shopping for this morning?”
Yes. I was trying to get him one of the new PlayStations, but I hadn’t counted on all the people who were camped out for the last few days. I didn’t really think I would get one, but I thought I’d try.”
I can help you out with that,” he said, pulling his phone from his pocket.
I think so…hey, need a favor. New PlayStation. I need to get my hands on one. Can you track one down for me?” he said into his phone. He paused while listening, then took his phone from his ear and looked at Jenna. “I can have it here by Wednesday,” he told her.
What?! Seriously?”
He winked at her. “I got connections, sweetheart. You want it?”
Yeah, that’s a go. Just have it come to the office. Thanks! I owe you. I’ll explain later. Yeah. See ya.”
He put his phone down, a huge grin on his face.
OK, how’d you do that?”
Melissa, who runs the offices at Orion Securities, is a computer genius with a ton of connections. She also got it for fifteen percent less than the store’s advertised Black Friday price.”
Oh, my gosh!! That is awesome! Thank you so much! Is a check OK or do you want…”
Check’s fine,” he told her, cutting her off.
Wow. I’m just…floored. Cam will be so excited! Thank you.”
My pleasure…seeing you smile like that, it’s worth it.”
Jenna blushed and was thankful when their food arrived. Throughout their meal, they talked about anything and everything that came to mind. Jenna was stunned at how easy conversation flowed with him. He was funny and intelligent, and she found herself more often that not, staring into his shining eyes, totally enraptured by his vivaciousness.
I’m glad you agreed to come with me this morning, Jenna,” he told her when they’d driven back to the store parking lot.
Thanks for inviting me. And for getting my purse back…and for the PlayStation.”
You’re welcome. And just so you know, I had an ulterior motive for getting that PlayStation for you.”
Oh yeah? And what would that be?”
Get the PlayStation delivered to my office, now I got an excuse to see you again, Ms. Blackwell. And I really would, like to see you again, that is.”
Jenna laughed. “You did maneuver that quite well.”
Yes, I did,” he agreed with a wink, “but I need your phone number and address.”
She shook her head and pulled her checkbook from her purse. “Both are right there on my check, Mr. Stanton.”
Home phone or cell?” he asked, taking the check she handed him.
Both,” she replied.
She found herself laughing yet again. “Well, I’d better get back home so Cam doesn’t start to worry. Thanks again, Riley. For everything.”
You’re welcome, Jenna,” he said and she couldn’t stop the shiver that ran down her spine at hearing him say her name. With a parting smile to him, she hopped down from the huge monster truck and got into her SUV, waving to him as he drove away.
Well, at least I know what my dreams will be like tonight,” she said to herself with a shake of her head, then put the truck in gear to head home to her son.

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