Soldier's Christmas Page 13


Patience, he reminded himself. He tore through the gold foil paper and lifted open the lid. An antique brass sextant gleamed up at him. A smile spread across his face. "This is really great."


And he meant it. She'd been searching for the perfect gift for him even during the worst low point of their relationship, and that brought hope. Well, hell, hadn't he been doing the same in shopping for her?


"I thought it would look good in your office." She fidgeted with the hem of her fuzzy sweater, nerves unlike her but endearing all the same. "And when you see it, you can think about me."


"I don't need reminders to think about you." He dropped a quick kiss on her lush mouth, but pulled back before she could pull him closer or shove him away. He tucked his head into the box. "I had something for you in that stack of presents the movers packed up."


He shuffled past the snail-mail package from his grandma and lifted out the silver foil package. "Here.


Merry Christmas and happy Hanukkah to you, too."


She unsealed the tape with careful precision, taking her time as if she wanted to extend the moment. The long silk scarf slithered out in a sheath of white. Her smile rivaled the gleam of the brass sextant. Her fingers traced along the personalized stitching at the tail end of the fabric. Vogue. "Oh, my God, is this ever awesome or what?"


With Alicia flair, she draped the aviator scarf around her neck, trailing it all the way down to her knees past her red velvet miniskirt.


Unexpected.


Perfect.


Worth fighting for, and more important, worth waiting for. He'd spent his life on fast-forward. Having Alicia in his life was too important to risk losing by rushing.


She stepped into his arms. "I love you, Rose-Bud."


He wouldn't rush her, but he sure would keep up as fast as she wanted to run. "I love you, too."


He met her halfway for a kiss, the fire heating the back of his legs nothing in comparison to his hot wife heating the front of him.


She wriggled closer. "Let's make a baby."


"Right now?" Not that he was adverse to making love to her, but her quick turnaround on the topic left his head spinning.


"Well, as soon as I check in with my doc, but yes."


He could feel her tremble in his arms. She was scared? Nervous? And in that moment he realized reconciling was just as important to her. Relief kicked through him.


He sketched his hands up and down her back. "I've been thinking about the two of us."


Panic flared in her eyes.


"Whoa! Hold on. This is good stuff coming up, Vogue."


She relaxed under his hands.


"I do want children. But you were right before that I was rushing, and I think that had something to do with the fact I was afraid of losing you. That's the wrong reason for getting pregnant."


Her eyes widened again, but with surprise. "I was right? And you're admitting it?"


"Yes, you were. I knew that here." He thumped his heart. "I was just having trouble getting my head to shut up long enough to listen."


"No? Really?" Her impish smile matched those funky ankle elf boots of hers. "I've been doing some thinking myself."


"And?"


"Having a plan is good, too. How about this? We know how to be friends." She tucked her hands in his back pockets and urged him closer. "We know how to make love. We just need to work on being in love and building a relationship. Let's make this next year a twelve-month gift to each other."


"You're a wise woman."


"I'm learning. This is uncharted territory for me."


"Me, too." He'd managed alone fine for more than thirty years, but since meeting Alicia, he couldn't return to his old way.


"How about this time next year we make that baby?"


Already he could see her in crazy-colored maternity clothes, could imagine the wonder of watching his baby grow inside her. "Sounds like a perfect timetable for me."


"And then the next Christmas we could work on another. And then maybe we could work on a July


Fourth baby one year."


"Hey, how many kids are we talking about here?"


"Lots. I'm good at the bossy big sister-mom role. Got a problem with that?" "No, ma'am."


"Smart man." She traced the ridges on his forehead. "And I can already hear you thinking. I don't have a problem going off active duty and flying fighters for a reserve unit once our house starts overflowing with all of those holiday babies." She bracketed his face in her soft palms. "I do make plans, Josh. I've just never had anyone to share them with before."


"You really are incredible." His mouth found hers with a wealth of friendship and respect all wrapped up in even more love flowing between them.


Eventually, she eased back, her eyes dazed. Her hand unsteady, she reached to bat at the box behind her. "I need your help now."


"As long as you want help unpacking a box of sheets for the bed. Or pillows. For the bed. Or maybe a blanket. For the bed."


Laughing, she angled away to reach inside the box, giving him a glimpse of creamy thigh as her pleated miniskirt hitched higher. Dangerously high. His mouth watered.


She spun back to face him, her creche in hand. "I'd like you to help me set this up first in our new home."


"My pleasure." Together they placed all the mismatched figurines around the barn. He laid claim to the angel, placing her smack dab on top of the star, where she could fly among the clouds like his ladylove.


Alicia scooped out another smaller box, the one with mailing wrap on it. "And this came from Nonni."


"Nonni already sent something for me?" She always mailed him the best cookies, but they were probably moldy by now. Damn.


"Actually, she sent this to me. But I thought you might want to be the one to place it on the mantel."


She lifted the lid. A dark wood antler he recognized well peeked from the tissue wrappings. His favorite moose.


"Would you please place it on the mantel, our mantel?"


"Of course." He took the wooden moose from her hands and placed it above the fireplace, beside her creche.


The moment went still in one of those times a guy knows life is about to change—and in a moment he knew he would never forget. Still, he took a minute longer to imprint the image of his wife right now, the aurora borealis through the wall window bathing her feathery hair in a light festival all their own.


This was it, the start of their traditions. Quirky. Mismatched. And somehow perfect for the two of them.


Life with Alicia would never be boring.


Who needed a bed when they had a fire and blanket? Josh snatched an Aztec blanket off the back of the rattan sofa and spread it on the carpet. "I wonder where we'll be next year when we're making that baby,


and if we'll even get the chance to unpack the decorations then, either?"


She melted against him, his very own snow angel with whispery-blond hair. "That's one thing we never have to worry about—planning where we'll be during December."


"How so?" Tugging the ends of her scarf to draw her closer, Josh lowered his wife to the blanket while she sent one, then the other elf boot flying.


"Simple," she whispered against his mouth, northern lights streaking through the picture window and playing with the glimmer in her eyes. "I've found my life-long home for the holidays—anywhere, any day —in your arms."


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