Chapter One

“I blame the shops!” I stated looking at Riley, my arms crossed over my chest. He looked back at me and sighed. “If they didn’t put up their decorations in September then I wouldn’t be quite so impatient to put up my own! And this is my first Christmas in this house so really, how can you expect me to wait?”

I’d bought this house about six months ago and had inherited many problems with it—the least of which was dry rot. But I did get Riley because of it.

“Lizzie, it’s not even December yet. Your mum said it’s bad luck to put decorations up before December the first,” replied Riley, running his hands through his short blonde hair. His patience was wearing thin. Riley was usually a very patient man, so I must be really pushing him here.

“Oh,” I replied, waiving my hand around dismissively. “Take no notice of her. She has a superstition for everything. Explain to me how putting up our Christmas tree exactly three days early can change our luck.” I looked at Riley and felt victory sweep over me. He had nothing. “Come on give me a hand. It’ll be fun!”

He looked at me doubtfully. “No, fishing with my brother is fun. Fooling around with you is fun. Putting up a Christmas tree is definitely not something I consider to be fun.”

“That’s because you’ve never put a tree up with me,” I explained. This was also the first Christmas that Riley and I have been together so he has no previous experience with just how excited I get.

It’s my favorite holiday and has been for as long as I can remember. The only other people in the world who feel the same level of excitement for it are children and my siblings, Molly and Danny. Actually, I can probably put us all under the children banner when it comes to Christmas. We all love it.

I pulled over one of the boxes that I’d stored under the stairs and ripped back the tape holding it closed. Inside, peeking out at me, were the white branches of my tree. Excitement coursed through me as I pulled out the first branch and lay it on the floor, ready to place others in piles around it. Approximately one minute later, the box was empty and I had five neat piles of foliage. I straightened up and moved the box to the side, out of my way. I smiled at Riley as he sat on the couch watching me. “Just wait. It’s a really beautiful tree.”

“It’s plastic,” he stated, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

“Yes. What’s wrong with that?”

He shrugged. “Nothing I guess, but in my family we have real trees.”

“Oh, well…we like plastic. We’ve never had much luck making real trees last long enough. They always die and look really horrible by the time January comes around,” I explained, disappointed that Riley wasn’t feeling my excitement.

“That’s probably because you put them up too early,” he commented. “I’m sure you’re right though. This one will be awesome,” he said, once again smiling, and making me forget about the tree altogether as I felt the world move on its axis. Riley’s smile is so amazing that it can actually make the world stop turning. Well, my world at least. We’ve only been together for six months now, but it still takes my breath away.

Shaking myself to clear my head, I knelt on the floor and put the base of the tree together. Carefully, I fitted the trunk then pushed the branches into place, fluffing them as I did so. This process took about five minutes.

Standing back up, I felt the anticipation as I looked down on it standing approximately one meter tall. Humph.

“Wow. It’s awesome!” stated Riley, giving his best attempt at hiding his smile. He stood up and moved to stand in front of it. The tree didn’t even make his waistband. “Being the tallest, you’ll want me to put the angel on top, right?”

Smart-ass. “I remember it being bigger than that,” I mumbled, feeling the disappointment sit heavily in my chest. Riley seemed to sense my mood and pulled me in close. He kissed the top of my head.

“That’s because you shared a very small apartment with your friend Aimee and it wasn’t in a living room with twelve foot ceilings,” he said, kindly. “But I’m sure you’re right. It would have been beautiful. And the upside is, it won’t take long to decorate.” There’s that bloody smile again.

I leaned into him, feeling his heat seep into me, and contemplated how I could make the tree look bigger. I could put it on a box but then that would probably look stupid. Or maybe I could put it on the window seat but then Cat would probably knock it over. He was very protective of his spot on that seat. I folded my arms over my chest and sighed. Maybe I should just replace it.

“I know,” I cried. “We’ll buy a new one. And because I love you we’ll make it a real one,” I stated, excitement starting all over again. I felt Riley’s sigh as I pulled away to look at him.

“You’ll pay for this later.” He smiled.

“I’m counting on it,” I replied breathlessly. Making me ‘pay for things’ was one of Riley’s favorite pastimes, if you get my drift. And I will admit that I spent a lot of my day thinking up things that I needed him to do just so that I would have to ‘pay for it later’.

I reached for the back of the chair to steady myself as Riley’s smile turned up to full wattage and his gorgeous blue eyes twinkled. His eyes are his most stunning feature and let me tell you, that’s saying something because all his features are incredible. But his eyes are the color of a beautiful blue sky and framed with the most beautiful dark lashes I have ever seen on a man. Sometimes I find myself staring at him, totally hypnotized by them. Of course he always catches me, as next to Christmas, embarrassing myself seems to be top of the list of things that I enjoy the most. Actually, scratch that. Christmas is the third thing on that list.

I cleared my throat attempting to dispel the lust that crept through me.

“We need to start our own tradition,” I said, trying to steer my mind down a different path. “So from this year on, we’ll pick out our tree together,” I croaked.

Noticing Riley’s pupils dilate, I quickly realized his thoughts were somewhere other than on our Christmas tree.


* * * *


It took us an hour to get from the lounge room to the car but, let’s just say, we used that hour well. And no matter how hard I tried, I still couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I turned to look at Riley walking beside me. At six foot three, he towers over my five foot two. He has the body of a god and is sex walking. I still can’t believe he’s mine. Admittedly, it had taken a while for him to tell me how he felt, but in fairness to him, that had a bit to do with me having another boyfriend at the time.

He recently told me it was my dimples that sucked him in. I know it wasn’t my unruly, long, brown curly hair. That even gives me the shits. Nor was it my totally average IQ. Personally, I think it was my D cup cleavage that did it. But whatever it was, I’m grateful that fate finally put us together.

Reaching my car, I beeped the doors open, my mind still gooey and unfocused. Jumping into the driver’s seat, I started the motor and waited for Riley to get in next to me. After an eternity of wasting fuel, I looked around and found Riley missing. I patiently cut the engine and got back out, wondering what had happened to him. Under normal circumstances this may have irritated me slightly, but right now, bathed in post-sex glow, there’s nothing he could do to irritate me.

“Riley?” I called. “Where are you?” I saw the window of his truck roll down.

“I’m waiting for you.” He smiled at me, apparently bathed in the same glow.

“Aren’t we taking my car?” I asked.

“Lizzie, how are we going to fit a Christmas tree in your Mini?” he asked, laughing. I felt my cheeks heat up.

“Oh. Well. I wasn’t thinking properly,” I mumbled, locking my doors and walking around to the passenger side of his truck. Getting in, I noted his self-satisfied smile. “Don’t look at me like that. It’s your fault anyway. You make my brain turn to mush.”

“Ha! Anytime, babe. Anytime.”

I felt the blood rush to my nether regions and my heart palpitate, and considered keeping the Christmas tree I already had. Stop it, Lizzie and get your mind out of the gutter!

We rode in companionable silence to the farm that supplied the trees, just on the outskirts of town. All we had to do was pick one we liked and they would net it and get it ready for us to bring home. How easy’s that?

Parking, however, was not so easy. I looked at my watch and realized it was four o’clock. School got out an hour ago and it appeared that every parent in Westport had decided today was the day to pick the perfect tree.

Riley eventually found a parking spot amongst the cars and trailers filling the parking area. It appeared ‘Happy Christmas Trees’ was pretty popular. Hopefully, they hadn’t sold out of all the nice ones.

I slid down off my seat in the truck and closed the door behind me, waiting as Riley walked around the back and joined me. Looking around I thought this business was pretty accurately named as we could see nothing but Christmas trees everywhere we looked. Big ones, short ones, fat ones and skinny ones. I smiled contentedly as the smell of Christmas floated by on the wind.

“How do we pick a good tree?” I asked Riley as he reached out and took my hand.

“Well, how tall do you want it to be, and do you want a thinner one or a fatter one?”

“Well, I’d like the one I saw in the Home Beautiful magazine last week. It was huge with big fat branches.”

“Okay. Let’s have a look around and see what we can find.”

We worked our way through the crowds, the sounds of children’s laughter meeting us with every turn. Now, in my Christmas fantasy this was all very fairytale-ish, but the reality of it was much more annoying. Ten minutes into our search, I had a headache, and the heat wasn’t helping my irritability.

Thankfully, we were approached by a man who seemed to know what he was doing. He was about my age and wearing a uniform that said his name was Jerry.

“Good afternoon,” he sang. “How are you both today?”

“Hi,” replied Riley. “We’re just looking for the perfect tree.”

“Ah, yes. Same as everyone else, but what’s perfect for you, lovely lady?” he asked, turning his attention to me.

I saw him discreetly look me up and down, his eyes lingering on my chest slightly longer than necessary. Riley tensed next to me. He’d noticed it too.

“Well, I’d like a taller tree with full branches,” I said.

“Well, luckily for you I have a lot of those to choose from. Follow me,” smiled Jerry. Riley and I both followed him silently. Well, we were silent.  Jerry sang Santa Claus is Coming to Town over and over. Unfortunately, he seemed to only know that one line, so by the time we reached the row of Monterey pines we were looking at, I was wishing he would shut up.

“Now this here’s a nice one,” he said, stopping in front of a pine about ten feet tall that looked almost as round.

“Oh, that’s perfect.” I smiled, looking at Riley.

“It won’t fit in your lounge room,” said Riley, shaking his head.

“Really? Why?”

“It’s too tall.”

“No it’s not. It’ll fit.” I smiled optimistically.

“Lizzie, I’m six foot three and that’s almost half my height again. You’ll never fit it through the door. Sorry, but you’ll have to pick another one.”

I sighed and followed Jerry a bit further down the row. Finally we stopped next to one only just taller than Riley and seemed to have a nice fat belly.

Riley walked around and inspected it. He nodded his head. “It’s a nice tree. It’s not too tall and has full branches. Perfect,” he smiled.

“I love it!” I said, excitedly. I looked at Jerry.

“Now we do deliver if you need us too,” he explained.

“No that’s fine, thanks. I’ll load it on to the back of my truck,” said Riley.

“Okay then. Just drive it up this path and I’ll give you a hand.”

“I can pay for it while Riley’s doing that it, if you like,” I said, looking at Jerry and wanting something else to do other than standing there staring at each other. Since Riley had walked away, the air seemed filled with an awkward silence. Jerry didn’t seem to mind too much though. He seemed lost in the world of my cleavage. “Jerry! Do you want me to pay for it?” I asked again, irritated. He reluctantly lifted his eyes to look at me.

“That one’ s $65, thanks.”

I opened my wallet and pulled out my credit card. “You do take Visa don’t you?”

“Sure do. Just give me a minute and I’ll get the machine,” replied Jerry, turning away from me and walking off.

“You know what?” said a gravelly voice from behind me. “I’ve got a better tree for you than this one.” I turned to see an elderly gentleman with really friendly eyes and a crinkly smile. His uniform was different to Jerry’s but his name badge told me his name was Earl. I like him already.

“Oh, thank you but this one is lovely.” I smiled.

“Nope. You seem like a lovely young lady and you deserve a lovely tree.”

“Well, thank you, but really…this one is fine,” I insisted.

“It’s just up the back here. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.” Earl seemed pretty intent on getting me a better tree and as I watched him limp away, I just felt plain rude.

“Well, are you coming?” he yelled, sticking his head back through a gap in the pines.

“Oh sorry.” I quickly moved to follow him and after a few minutes of walking between rows and rows of pines, I felt a bit panicky. From where we were now, I couldn’t even hear the people who’d been milling around, chatting amongst each other. I knew Riley had no chance of finding me.

I really hoped Earl hadn’t decided to murder me back here. For all I knew, he could do this all the time, luring stupid women into a more private area and then doing goodness knows what to them.

Okay, after my run in with bald-headed sedan man earlier this year, my imagination tended to get a bit carried away on the fear front. I reached into my bag and pulled out my phone, cradling it like a lifeline and wondering how the hell I got myself into these situations.

Lost in my memories, I almost ran into the back of Earl as he abruptly came to a stop.

“Now this here looks like it belongs to you,” he said. I took a step backwards and looked at the tree he was staring at, and admitted it was perfect. It looked like it belonged in the pages of Home Beautiful.

“That really is a lovely tree.” I smiled. “But why is it all the way back here. There’s not even another tree around us.” We appeared to have stopped behind a farm building large enough to hold several tractors.

“This is where we keep the special trees,” smiled Earl, his false teeth shiny in the afternoon sun. “The public don’t generally come back here, but you seem special and a special person should have a special tree,” he said, once again giving me a kind smile.

“Oh well, thank you,” I replied. “I’ll call Riley and tell him to bring the truck up here then, shall I?”

“No need. I’ve got a trailer I can take it on.” With this, Earl limped away towards the front of the shed.

I looked at my phone, ready to dial Riley and tell him what was happening, when I noticed I had no signal. I sighed, thinking how annoyed he was going to be by the time we got back.

Oh well, I’ll just have to ‘pay for that one’ later this afternoon. Hearing the sound of a motor, I turned and saw Earl zooming towards me on what looked like a miniature tractor complete with trailer. For a man of his age, he moved with ease as he pulled the tractor to a stop and rolled the tree over and on to the trailer.

“Hop on,” he smiled, indicating to the tractor seat, as he climbed back into it. Now, I’m no expert on farm machinery, but I know enough to know that it only had one seat. Earl patted his knee. “Come on. I haven’t got all day and now I’ve taken it out of the bucket, you’ll need to be getting this into water as quickly as possible.”

“Umm…you know what? I think I can find my way back, so how about I meet you there?” I said, hopefully.

“You’ll never find your way. Come on, I don’t bite.”

I inwardly groaned and climbed up onto the tractor, trying to find a place to sit that wasn’t Earl’s lap. I didn’t have much luck. I finally perched my butt on the very end of his knee and held onto the metal. I thought of the Christmas tree I had at home and how much it looked like the better option right about now.

I will admit though, that even though Earl’s driving was pretty slow, the tractor got us back to Riley a lot faster than my feet would have, and that in itself was a blessing.

Hopping down from Earl’s knee, I smiled as Riley’s truck drove came into view.

I turned, ready thank Earl for his help, but he was gone.