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Kate and The Christmas Detour

“ What do you mean I’m not going to see you until January? Evan! You told me we could be together for part of the holidays. We talked about going away for New Year’s Eve!”

Evan cringed as Kathleen’s voice grew shrill. “I’m sorry if I misled you. My family always goes to our home in Telluride for the holidays.”

“ Misled? Misled? You call telling me that something special would happen when we were together at the stroke of midnight misleading? How could you do this to me?”

“ Kathleen, I’m sorry, really I am. Maybe I was caught up in the moment,” Evan said, desperately trying to climb out of the hole he had dug. Kathleen was a nice girl, in a middle-America sort of way, and a real good piece of ass, but she really wasn’t his kind. Mother and Father had pointed that fact out to him over Thanksgiving. “Come on, baby – say you’ll forgive me. I’ll make it up to you when we get back to campus next year. It’ll be worth the wait, I promise.”

Kathleen refused to let him know she was crying, and covered the telephone with her hand. Now she was stuck. She had told all her friends how great Evan was, the little things he was always doing for her, how he made her feel like a princess, and how he was making big plans for the holidays. Now – nothing. She couldn’t even imagine what they would say when they found out. It was a good thing most of them had already left the university for their homes. Christ, what a miserable drive she was going to have back to “Hicks-ville” for Christmas. Big fucking deal. Could anything else go wrong?

Dark gray clouds began to cover the sky, turning the early afternoon into the look of evening. She didn’t relish the six hour drive out to the country, and would have gotten on the road sooner, if Evan hadn’t called with the bad news. Damn him! She had put up with his pompous attitude, even giving up seeing some of her old friends, because they weren’t the type of people he wanted her to associate with. He kept telling her she was worth so much more, and had to start acting it. Now, he blew her off.

“ Come on, sweetie, come on. Don’t die on me now,” she begged, hoping her words would coax her fifteen year old Corolla into turning over. “Come on, we just need to make it to spring. Then you can rest.” A couple more minutes and finally the engine started. By the time Kathleen had her car all warmed up and loaded, the clouds had begun to release their burden. Huge, wet snowflakes began to fall, mixed with icy rain. She prayed that she would be driving out of the weather, as she maneuvered her car through the village streets of the college town.

The snow and rain mixture fell faster than Kathleen had expected. An hour into her trip, she was wishing she had stayed in town. But the dorms closed for Christmas vacation at three o’clock, and she would have had to stay in a hotel. She certainly didn’t have the money for that. Her nursing text books had used up any additional funds she assumed she would have. Because of the ever-changing field she had chosen, used text books were not an option.

Kathleen turned the radio off so she could drive in silence. Her eyes strained, trying to look through the wall of white. The accumulation on the road was starting to affect the traction. Heavy, wet snow caused her car to slide every so often. She couldn’t remember how long it had been since she saw a snowplow truck.

She dropped her speed and glanced at her clock. She was three hours into her trip and knew full well it was going to take a lot longer than six hours to get home. She tried switching to her high-beam lights, but it made matters worse. It was as if the snow was coming right at her.

It was instinct that caused her to slam on her brakes. She had been navigating a curve, woods on either side of the road, when the veil of white opened a bit and she saw him – a ten-point buck standing proudly in the middle of her lane.

So many thoughts were racing through her head, her white-knuckled hands gripping the steering wheel. Her mind screamed at her – foot off the brake and down shift! It was all she could do to lift her foot, downshift to second and then first gear, on her little automatic car, but it was too little, too late. Her car careened off the road, into the snow covered trees, finally stopping with a huge thud.

Kathleen sat stunned for a minute, before taking a physical inventory. She had not hit her head, her shoulder was a little sore from the seatbelt, but she felt fine. She carefully moved her legs and arms, turned the key to the off position, and finally opened the door. She had to push against a sapling right next to her door to get out. She almost lost it when she saw the front of her car. The front end was now curved and hugging a large tree. There was no way she would be driving away from this.

She quickly surveyed the area and realized there was nothing around. Making her way to the back of the car, she popped the trunk and started to rifle through her bags. She took off her coat and layered on a sweater and a hooded sweatshirt, before putting her coat back on. She dumped all non-essentials out of her school backpack and filled it with a pair of dry sweatpants and jeans, socks, sneakers, shirt, panties, a couple of toiletries and her wallet. She remembered her cell phone was in her pocket, and quickly opened it to call 911, but there were no bars, no reception, whatsoever. Okay Kathleen, start walking, she thought, and start walking fast.

Her eyes adjusted to the darkness. She knew it had been almost forty-five minutes since she saw any signs of life, so when she reached the road, she walked towards her destination. There was no sign of the fucking deer, but she did look up and say a silent thank-you that she hadn’t injured it.

Kathleen began to slide her way down the road. Stupid, cute boots, she thought. You have to have them, he said. It’s what all the girls are wearing in Chicago, he said. She scraped, saved, and went without meals in order to pay for these god-damned boots with their fucking three-inch heels and pointy toes. Yeah, she was a real fashion-statement trying to walk in them, through the slush on the road. She walked for a good thirty minutes before the heel broke on her cute boots, and she came crashing down in the road. She was immediately soaked from above her waist to her feet.

“ Son of a fucking bitch!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. If she hadn’t been so pissed at that point, she would have cried. It wasn’t fair – none of it. Out in fucking the middle of nowhere, soaked to the bone. She scrambled to her feet.

Kathleen scanned her surroundings – nothing but fields with patches of wooded areas. There was no place to take shelter, nowhere to change her pants, assuming any of the clothes in her backpack stayed dry when it hit the wet road.

She limped along with her broken heel. The rain had stopped and now it was just constant snow. Kathleen knew she had to get warm and dry soon, or she would risk getting hypothermia. She could hear a noise far off in the distance that sounded like a chainsaw. There were no other roads so she had no idea which direction the sound was coming from. She started shivering a lot more and feeling a little nauseous.

In her mind, Kathleen knew she was getting into trouble. It was so hard to walk with her body shivering violently. She stumbled, not quite sure of what was happening. Her face was very pale and her lips had turned a blue tone. Her pace had slowed so much there were times that she wasn’t sure she had actually taken a step.

The noise of the chainsaw was louder, but she couldn’t see anyone. A cloud appeared in front of her, as she stood swaying. She dropped her pack, but couldn’t move to pick it up. The noise and cloud got closer – along with a single shining beacon. That was the last thing she saw before darkness overtook her.

She tried to wake, but was drowsy and confused. It was quiet and warm, and more than anything, she wanted to sleep.

“ Hey, can you wake up?” she heard him ask.

“ No,” she whispered and fluttered her eyes.

“ Come on, you can open your eyes for me, can’t you?”

“ No,” and then she slept.

She looked like an angel, he thought. Strawberry blonde curls circled her head like a halo. Her eyes looked blue/green when she barely opened them, and they reminded him of the sea. She was tall, athletic, and she was all woman.

Everything was warm and soft; Kathleen thought as she turned over on her side and stretched. What a bizarre dream. She curled up under the warm blankets and listened. She heard soft music and the clanging of pots and pans in the background. This is nice, she decided.

“ Shit!” Kathleen half shouted as she sat straight up. “What the hell?”

The blankets slid down her bare breasts and the chilly air immediately caused her nipples to stiffen.

Oh God, oh God, where the hell am I? She looked around the log paneled room searching for anything she might recognize. Her backpack was lying on a wooden trunk. Glancing around, she crept out of bed to get it. Empty, nothing at all. Oh God was all she could think.

Kathleen snatched the blue patchwork quilt off the bed and wrapped it around herself, when she heard heavy shoes coming up the stairs. The first thing she could lay her hands on was an iron candlestick. She took a position in the far corner of the room and waited.

If he hadn’t stopped to steady the tray, she probably would have killed him as she let the candlestick fly across the room, crashing against the door.

“ Help,” she screamed. “Help!”

Alec just stood still, watching the young woman scream for help. His eyes were laughing at her, infuriating her even more. When she finally stopped screaming, panting to catch her breath, he asked in a quiet voice, “You done?”

“ Stay away from me you sick, son-of-a-bitch! I’ll kill you! I swear to God, I’ll kill you!”

“ Now are you done?”

Kathleen’s eyes looked around the room, and she was filled with a feeling of frustration and desperation. Tears started to form in her large eyes, and she tried to be brave, but her trembling lip gave her away.

“ Look, please don’t hurt me. Just let me go, please? I won’t say anything, just please let me go.”

The man standing before her set his tray down on the trunk and backed out of the room. With a quick turn, he bent, picked up an armful of clothes, brought them in and set them on the bed.

“ Look, Kate…”

“ What did you call me?”

“ I looked in your wallet to see who you were. I found you on the road when I was out on my snowmobile last night. I came upon you and you just keeled over. You were soaking wet and blue, so I brought you here to help you. You know, hypothermia is no laughing matter,” Alec said calmly. “I had to get your clothes off and get warm, moist cloths onto your neck and groin – your pulse points. I just kept the warm cloths coming while I dried your clothes. When your color came back and your temp felt close to normal, I covered you up and let you sleep. I tried talking to you but you weren’t quite ready to wake up.”

Kathleen looked at the man before her. He was about her height, muscular with red curly hair and a beard that was starting to show a little gray in the mustache. His eyes were sapphire blue, and they were kind. As much as he looked like a tough woodsman, everything about him was kind. She exhaled slowly, feeling just a little relieved.

“ My name’s Alec and this is my home. It’s not much but you have the run of it. I brought you some chicken broth and your dry clothes. If the broth stays down, maybe in a little while, we can get you something a little more substantial,” Alec said as he turned to leave.

“ Alec, my name is Kathleen. Thank you. I’m sorry I screamed at you, but I was really scared.”

“ Yeah, I kind of caught that, Kate. Look, you get dressed. The bathroom is around the corner here to the left. Take a shower if you like. I’ll be downstairs when you’re ready.”

Alec left Kathleen to herself. What time is it, she wondered. The drapes were still drawn, and she knew it had been about five o’clock the last she had checked. The clock next to the bed showed ten thirty. She opened the drapes and was greeted to a blinding white glare. It was still snowing and as far as she could see there was only white.

After a hot shower and the chicken broth, Kathleen felt a little more like herself, and only a little shaky. She pulled on her jeans and sweater, and swore at the curls in her hair. She would have given anything for her flat iron and makeup, but those had been nonessentials. She slid her feet into a pair of socks and made her way downstairs.

Alec’s home was a log cabin A-frame structure. His bath and bedroom were in the loft. Ahead of her, as she walked down the stairs, was a two-story wall of windows. The snow was pressed up against the glass a good three feet. The way the snow was blowing around in front of her, it looked like ghosts dancing.

The downstairs appeared to be one open expanse of room. There was a fire going in the stone fireplace and a potted evergreen tree stood nearby. It was draped with little white lights and strings of popcorn and cranberries. The simple sofa and chair looked soft and comfortable. The decor was sparse and decidedly masculine; no sign of a woman, at all.

Alec was stirring something cooking in a large pot, on the stove. He jumped a little when Kathleen joined him, not hearing her approach in her stocking feet.

“ You feeling better, Kate?”

“ I am thank you. By the way, my name is Kathleen.”

“ Yeah? It doesn’t really suit you. You look like a Kate to me. How’s the appetite? Do you think you could eat something? I’ve got some stew here and some brown bread in the box.”

Kathleen looked a little miffed at his insistence at calling her Kate – but let it go. Pick your battles wisely, she thought. “I’ll try a little something. I’m not really all that hungry, but I haven’t eaten since yesterday, so I’d better try.”

Alec put bowls of hot, steaming stew on the old oak table. The carrots and potatoes seemed to swim in brown gravy. He brought out the bread, cut off a few slices and put them on a plate. He poured a couple glasses of water, set them down, and joined Kathleen at the table.

“ It’s simple, Kate, but I promise you it won’t make you sick,” he said as he handed her a cloth napkin.

Kathleen tentatively tasted the stew and was pleasantly surprised. She began to shovel the tasty fare into her mouth. The bread had a nutty and oat-y taste to it and was the perfect complement.

Alec smiled and sat watching her down the hot food. She looked up to see him grinning at her. Her cheeks took on a distinct pink glow.

“ God, I’m acting like a pig, aren’t I? But geez, this is so good. And the bread tastes homemade. It’s all so amazing.”

Alec chuckled, “I bake my own bread and I caught the rabbits myself”

“ Rabbit?” Kathleen gulped. “I would never have tried this if I had known it was a bunny, but…,” taking another spoonful, “it’s so damn good.”

Within minutes her bowl was empty. Kathleen sat back and just stared at her empty bowl. “I feel so good right now.”

“ I’m glad,” Alec smiled, “and you look a whole lot better than when I found you. I’ll be honest; you had me scared last night. I wasn’t sure if I’d remember what to do. Now that you’re feeling better, maybe I can give you the bad news.” Alec got up, reached to the top of the refrigerator, and set a small object down in front of her. “I’m afraid this didn’t make it.”

Kathleen looked at her badly cracked cell phone. “Oh no – can I use your phone?” she looked at him with pleading eyes.

“ I don’t own a cell phone. It makes no sense out here, and I’m afraid the phone lines are down. It’s been snowing since yesterday afternoon with no end in sight. What I do have is a CB radio, so I can stay in touch with my neighbors. We could maybe get a message out, and see if they can keep passing it on to someone with a working phone. We’ll be able to get a message to your family that way.”

“ Well, can’t you just take me into town so I can get a tow and maybe rent a car?”

“ Oh Kate, there’s no way. I can’t get my truck down the driveway to the road, let alone even guess that a snowplow’s been through. I’m afraid you’re going to be stuck here for a while. The only thing I’ve got is my snowmobile, but I know I don’t have enough gas to get us into town. I’m sorry, Kate.”

She looked so sad right then. “I really need to talk to my mom.”

Alec went, knelt in front of her and took her hands in his. Tears had welled up in her big eyes. He wasn’t sure what he would do if she cried. “I promise you, Kate, you’ll be okay with me, and we’ll find a way to get a hold of your mom. Come on, let’s try the radio.”

Alec held out his hand to lead her over to his paper covered desk, surrounded by filled bookshelves. It was a while before he could raise anyone on the radio. He explained Kate’s problem and passed along her mother’s telephone number. The man’s voice on the other end promised he would pass the message along until someone with a phone could make the call. It was a minor accomplishment, but Kathleen felt a little better.

She walked around the room and wondered what the hell she was going to do to pass the time. Alec had turned off the CB, after chatting with his neighbor, and started to put on his coat.

“ Where are you going?” Kathleen asked.

“ Out to get some more wood and check on my horses. I heat this place by oil, but I like a fire going too. I’ll be back, Kate. Don’t worry.”

“ Can’t I go with you? Can’t I help?”

“ Now that’s real nice of you to offer, but I’m afraid your boots are in need of some major repair. Just stay inside and keep warm. I can’t risk you being exposed to the cold so soon after your little adventure. Help yourself to anything you like, I’ll be back in a while.”

The back door slammed open as a huge gust of wind blew through the house. The cold seemed to cut right through to Kathleen’s bones. Alec was right; it was too soon for her to be outside. She watched him fight his way through the snow, towards a red barn. Soon the blowing snow made it impossible to see anything.

She turned and looked back into the house. She decided to busy herself by washing dishes, putting the leftover stew in the refrigerator. She wiped down the counters and stove and then turned her attentions elsewhere. She found a rag and decided to dust the living room, picking up magazines and straightening things.

When she got to his desk, Kathleen decided a little organization was in order. She was just going to straighten the papers into a neat pile, when a couple fell on the floor. On the pages she saw, was some of the most beautiful verse she had ever read. A poet? This backwoods bearded man was a poet? She decided she didn’t want to pry further, so she did her best to put things back.

When Alec came back into the house, he sensed something was different. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was definitely a different feeling to his place. Kate was nowhere in sight, so he went upstairs to see if she was okay. She was curled up, under a knitted throw, sound asleep in the middle of his bed. She looks good there, he thought. Maybe that’s why the place feels so different.

Kathleen woke to savory smells coming up from the kitchen. She ran her fingers through her dreaded curls and went down to see if she could help. Trans Siberian Orchestra’s “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo” played in the background and she laughed out loud as Alec danced around the kitchen. Now it was time for him to turn red. He tossed a kitchen towel in her direction and told it was all hands on deck.

They feasted on roast chicken and baby potatoes. “Don’t even tell me you chopped off the poor chicken’s head and plucked out its feathers,” she warned Alec.

“ Now Kate, I’m offended. Do I look like the type to kill an innocent chicken?”

They laughed and kidded back and forth. Dishes were done, the tea was steeped and they settled in the living room. The time seemed right to get to know one another. Kathleen told Alec about her trip home from college, the promise of a nursing position at City Hospital, after graduation, her brother and his Goth girlfriend, and her mom’s famous whipped eggnog that only came out on Christmas Eve, that her father heartily added brandy to, to cut the taste.

Alec got very quiet when she was finished speaking. “Alec? Come on, it’s your turn, “she said, chiding him.

He began his tale, telling her of the atrocities of war, and losing his best friend. Alec was a medic in Iraq. He gave up the idea of going to college, although veteran benefits were available to him. “I spent some time at the VA Hospital, trying to get my head on straight. It’s taken awhile, but the ghosts have finally settled in the past. I decided I would be better living alone, so I took my savings and built this place on the land my family owned. I’ve got some neighbors, but they’re a few miles away. I think that’s what makes us such good neighbors. If we need each other, we’re there. Other than that, we let each other be.”

“ Aren’t you ever lonely?”

“ There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely, Kate. I have my books, my horses, and taking care of this place. I hunt and fish when I need to, make a lot of my own food, and this year I’m making my garden bigger. I’ve got my music for noise and my radio if I really need someone. Besides, I’m not a hermit. I go into town to the library every couple of weeks.”

“ So you don’t work?” Kate asked the question, kicking herself as the words came out of her mouth. It wasn’t any of her business. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pried.”

Kate noticed his eyes crinkled when he smiled at her. “Now come on, I don’t think we have any secrets between us, do you?”

The memory of her waking up naked in his bed raced through her mind. Oh shit, she thought, there really aren’t any secrets between them.

They both blushed at his statement. “Honestly, Kate, I didn’t mean anything. And I didn’t look, I mean, I looked, but I didn’t look, I mean....”

His embarrassment made her laugh. “If I can’t trust an army medic, who can I trust?”

They sat listening to his music, by the lights of the fire and the tree. They could hear the wind howling its spooky tune. The snowdrifts at the large window continued to get deeper.

“ Well, I guess I’d better grab some sheets and blankets and bed down on the couch,” said Alec.

“ Oh no, my friend, I’m not having you give up your bed to me another night. I’ll sleep down here.”

“ Kate, you’ll have a lot more privacy upstairs. Besides, I’m used to living alone. Sometimes I get up in the middle of the night and wander around down here. I would probably wake you, and then we’d both be miserable in the morning. I insist, really.”

Kate agreed and went with him to gather bedding for him. She looked through her couple of pieces of clothing, trying to choose something to wear, when he handed her a large flannel shirt.

“ Here, it’ll keep you plenty warm. Tomorrow, I’ll see what clothes of mine might come close to fitting you, so that you’ll be comfortable. I probably have some boots that if we have enough pairs of socks, will be good enough for you to wear out to the barn.”

As he turned to leave, she called his name. “Alec?”

She came to him, put her arms around him and hugged him. “Thank you,” she whispered. “You really are a lifesaver.”

Kathleen tiptoed down the stairs the next morning, rising early because of all the sleep she had the day before. Alec was sound asleep on the sofa, his muscular legs dangling out from under the blankets.

Kathleen was standing on a chair, reaching into the cupboard for a can of coffee, when Alec woke. The view of her long shapely legs, the flannel shirt just riding up high enough to be tantalizing, was probably the best sight he had ever woken to – better than the deer family a couple months ago. He got up, slipped on his robe and went to join her. The sound of cracking wood was an indication of disaster; coffee and girl began to fall.

He caught her, and lowered her to the floor unharmed. “I don’t know, Kate, this is the second time I’ve saved your life. Are you going to make this a habit?”

Kathleen laughed, “I hardly call this saving my life, but if you insist I’ll play the damsel in distress. But trust me; I don’t think it’ll be a pretty sight.”

“ No, somehow I don’t think you’re the type.”

Embarrassment took over when he realized his arms were still around her waist. Her face was turned upward, looking at him. Her tousled curls, wide, trusting eyes, and full lips were so appealing. He wanted to pull her closer and see if she tasted as good as she looked, but common sense took over. He released his hold on her.

“ Do you want to tell me what you were looking for when you crushed my chair?”

“ Crushed your chair!” Kathleen hands went to her hips, trying to act indignant. “Maybe if you had fixed the decrepit piece, people who are trying to be nice and start your coffee wouldn’t have to put their lives in danger.”

Those damn eyes twinkled mischievously and he came close to grabbing her and silencing her with his mouth, but again good common sense took over. Alec laughed, and showed her the canister of coffee sitting on the counter, near his coffee maker. It was that kind of day – teasing, laughing, and working together in the kitchen.

Alec brought out an old pair of Carhartt coveralls, three pairs of wool socks, and a pair of old boots. Kathleen felt like the Michelin man, almost unable to move with all the layers he had insisted she wear. The wind had calmed and the snow had slowed to soft, lazy flakes. He took her hand and helped her out to the barn.

Alec owned two of the biggest horses Kathleen had ever seen. They whinnied at his arrival, knowing full well he had treats hidden in his pockets. He and Kathleen fed them apples and carrots, filled their buckets with grain and tossed in some hay. Their water was kept liquid by the heaters he had installed. While he mucked out the stalls, Kate walked to the rear of the barn to explore.

She tripped over something hard protruding out from under a canvas tarp, covered with bird droppings. It was large and wide.

“ Alec? Can I look under this cover?”

“ Huh? Sure, go ahead. I’ll be with you in a minute.”

She slid back the canvas and uncovered an old leather and wood sleigh.

“ You found my secret,” he grinned. “I had a weak moment when I found this at an antique show. I had to have it. Never done a damn thing with it, but I knew I had to bring it here.”

“ It’s beautiful,” said Kathleen as she climbed on board.

Alec climbed up next to her. “Well, if this snow ever stops and the horses can get out, maybe we’ll give it a go. That was one reason I got this pair of horses. I can ride them, but they’ll also pull the sleigh.”

“ Really? I’d love that, “she said excitedly.

He wasn’t sure why, at that moment she looked so appealing, but it was more than he could take. He put his arms around her, pulled her to him and kissed her. She didn’t fight him. In fact, she kissed him back, before pulling away in protest.

“ Alec, I’m sorry. You see, I’ve got a boyfriend, and he’s really great. I just can’t.”

“ No, I’m the one who’s sorry, Kate. That was uncalled for and I won’t let it happen again. Please don’t worry, or be nervous around me.”

“ Nervous,” she giggled. “I’d be nervous if you weren’t around. After all, I’m a damsel in distress.”

He looked at her seriously. “No, you’re not. Maybe Kathleen is a damsel in distress, but not my Kate.”

He climbed off the sleigh, but not before the words hit Kathleen - his Kate.

“ Come on, slowpoke. We’ve got to get back. I don’t want you out here too long.”

When she joined him, he handed her a couple of hard peppermint candies. “Here, give these to the boys and they’ll do anything for you.”

The horses whinnied and rubbed their heads against her. That moment left her with such joy.

When they walked in the door, they could hear a voice coming over the radio. Alec’s neighbor Grant was reporting that the message had gotten through to Kate’s family. Their message back was to just be safe and that they loved her. The storm had covered hundreds of miles, and airports and roads were closed.

“ Thanks man, I appreciate that. How’s Michelle doing?”

“ She says she feels like a whale. This baby can’t come too soon for her. I’m trying to help, but it seems like I can’t do anything right. She’s just irritable all the time.”

“ Just do everything she asks,” Alec advised. “The next few weeks will fly by if you do exactly what she says. You guys okay with food and stuff?”

“ Hell, with all the deer meat I’ve got, yeah. We froze a lot of vegetables this summer, and I’ve got a lot of dried fruit here. How about you?”

“ Kate and I will be fine. Get back to me if you need anything, or hear any more from Kate’s family.”

He turned to her. “Okay?”

“ I am now.”

They spent the rest of the day cooking and playing cards. He gave her full run of his books, but never once mentioned his own writing. It feels so comfortable here, Kate thought. Kate. I am Kate, she thought. In his home, in his world, I am Kate.

The next few days were much of the same. The snow had eased, but there was nothing moving. They walked down the drive to the road, and saw nothing.

“ I’m just so surprised your roads aren’t clear,” she said to him.

“ This isn’t a main road, so usually it’s one of the last to be taken care of. Besides, if the storm is as crippling as Grant said, there are a lot more important areas to attend to. What made you choose this road anyway?”

“ I was looking for a shorter route home. Sometimes expressways take you out of your way. I’m sorry I didn’t drive my old way home.” She immediately apologized. “No, I’m not sorry, Alec. As difficult as some of this has been, I’ve made who I think will be a friend, for life.”

“ Yeah, even though you’ve been a bit of a pain in the ass, I guess it’s been okay,” he joked. Deep down, he knew it was more than okay.

After dinner that night, Alec brought a guitar into the room. “I hope you don’t mind,” he said. “I’ve been working on something and was stuck. All of a sudden I feel like I can finish the project.”

He sat on the arm of the sofa and began to play. The music was soft and gentle. The words were the ones Kate had read on the piece of paper. It was a song of love, about a girl with strawberry blonde hair, and ocean-colored eyes. When he finished, Kate applauded.

“ That was beautiful! I didn’t know you could write, play, and sing! Alec, what other talents have you kept hidden?”

He was blushing now, not used to the admiration she bestowed. “You might as well know, I finished this when.…”

A man’s voice interrupted the night. “Alec! Alec! Are you there? God, man, are you there?”

Alec rushed to the radio. “Yeah, Grant, I’m here. What’s wrong?”

“ It’s too soon Alec, it’s too soon. Michelle’s water broke and the pains have started. Alec, the water’s green. I don’t know what to do. I can’t get out of here.”

“ Okay look, calm down. You guys have already taken a couple weeks of childbirth classes. This is the first stage of labor. Calm down, get her comfortable, and remember what you were taught. Let me grab my bag and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“ How? The roads...,” Grant sounded desperate.

“ I’ve got the snowmobile. What you have to remember is that this is just starting. How far apart are her pains?”

“ Um, about fifteen minutes.”

“ Okay, you’ve got time. I’ll get there, don’t worry. I’ll be coming through the back – it’s shorter that way. Just stay calm. Don’t let her see you upset, man. You need to get her to stay relaxed.”

“ Got it. Thanks, man. I’ll see ya.”

Kate had overheard the conversation and started laying out their winter clothes. She went up to his room, got some extra layers of clothing for the both of them. Alec was taking a backpack out of the hall closet when she came down the stairs.

“ What are you doing?” he asked.

“ What does it look like? I’m coming with you.”

“ No Kate. It’s a long, bumpy trip through the fields. I don’t want you out in this.”

“ Look, you may have been a medic, but I’m going to be a nurse. I just finished my rotation on Obstetrics. I can help you, Alec. If her water broke and it's green, that means there's meconium in it. The baby’s been stressed. You don't know what you're going to be walking into. And if everything goes without a hitch, fine. But I'm going. If for no other reason, she’s going to want another woman around.”

He could see by the look in her eyes, there was no fighting her. They dressed and went out to the barn and got on the snowmobile. There was a full moon that night, so visibility was far better than Alec expected. He drove expertly through the fields, around the wooded areas, dodging as many rough spots as possible.

Kate had strapped Alec's bag to her and had her arms around him, holding on for dear life. She trusted him completely, but had never ridden on anything like this before. She buried her face in his back, to avoid the biting cold.

After about twenty minutes, Alec drove through the backyard of a single story home, coming to a stop near the back door. A large man stood in the open doorway, beckoning them inside.

"God, I'm glad you're here. She said her back is killing her and it hurts to lie down. I can't keep her still and relaxed. And she keeps yelling at me."

Kate took over, "Where is she? There's no reason she has to lie down if she wants to be up. I'll go talk with her." She turned to Alec. "Baby sounds posterior. Will you be able to check her? I can do it if you need me to."

"You go see if she's okay, I'll talk to Grant for a minute, and then I'll come in."

Grant looked confused as he asked Alec, "Posterior? What's posterior? Alec, what does she know about babies?"

"Look Grant, posterior just means the baby is facing the wrong way. Unless it turns, the baby will be born looking up instead of looking at the floor. Its okay, nothing's wrong. It happens all the time. That's why Michelle is having pains in her back. Now let's get some things ready and join the girls."

Kate found Michelle sitting in her bed, looking like she was in the middle of a contraction. She rolled the expectant mother on to her side and started massaging her lower back, pushing against the baby.

"Come on, Michelle, breathe for me. Relax and breathe for me."

After the contraction subsided, Kate walked around to face Michelle.

"Hi, I'm Kate, and I'm a senior nursing student. I just finished working in the birthing center at City Hospital. Between Alec and me, you're going to be in good hands. Now, do you want to get up?"

Michelle nodded and let Kate help her up. "I'm so glad you guys are here. If it had to be just Grant and me, I don't know what I would have done. He's trying so hard, but he doesn't know what to do either."

"Let me tell you what I think is going on, so that you understand a little more. The more you understand, the less you have to fear, the more relaxed you can get your body. Remember, every time you tense up, your discomfort is going to be worse.

“ I think you're having back labor because the baby is posterior. It's pressing against your back. There's nothing wrong, and the baby can come out just fine. The best thing we can do is keep the baby off your back. No lying on your back, only your side. For as long as you can, we'll keep you up, leaning forward, keeping the baby away from your back as much as possible. Now, how far apart are your contractions?"

When Grant and Alec joined the girls a couple minutes later, Michelle was standing, bent over with her hands on the footboard of the bed. Kate was massaging her back, and coaching her with breathing. They got through the contraction together, while the men stood back and let them be.

Alec and Kate worked well together, each having some experience dealing with emergencies like this. They determined that Michelle was only fifty percent dilated and Alec’s stethoscope told of a strong, fast heartbeat. Right now, the baby was doing just fine.

Michelle preferred to stand as long as she could, switching to a position on her hands and knees as labor became more intense. Grant rolled cold cans of soda on her back to help ease the discomfort, and Kate coached Michelle in breathing through the contractions. The four performed like a finely tuned machine, for several hours.

Michelle rolled onto her side, “I have to push!”

Quickly, Kate ordered, “No pushing. Not until you’re checked. Alec, be quick about it. Now Michelle, watch me. Breathe like this.…”

The two women panted while Alec performed another internal exam. “Ten centimeters,” he said.

“ Okay, kiddo, this is it. Grant and I are going to hold your legs. You grab our hands to pull for leverage. You’re going to take a deep breath, exhale, another deep breath, and push. Exhale real slowly as you do, keep bearing down, take another breath as quickly as you can, and keep your face relaxed. Only push when you feel the contraction. Ready, you two?” Kate asked.

“ But I don’t know how to push. What do I do? How do I know if I’m doing it right?” Michelle asked, sounding scared.

“ Use the same muscles you would to have a bowel movement. That’s what the mothers I took care of told me. Just let us know when you’re ready. Alec is going to be monitoring the baby and he’ll catch it when you push it out,” Kate said, sounding fully confident, but completely nervous inside.

When Michelle's contraction started, she did exactly as Kate had explained. Alec put his stethoscope to her belly and listened to the baby. On her third contraction pushing, Alec firmly said, “Stop pushing, pant now! No pushing!”

When the contraction was over, Alec very calmly but firmly explained, “When you pushed that time, there was a drop in the baby’s heart rate. The moment you eased up on the pushing, it went up a little. I have a feeling the cord is being compressed by your pushing. Unfortunately, that’s going to happen naturally as the baby comes down the birth canal. I have to be able to check the baby when you push, and see if I can feel the cord. I’m going to snip a bit of your perineum, so that you don’t tear when the baby comes out. Trust me; you won’t feel it and I’ll stitch you up later.”

Kate caught the look in his eyes – he was worried. But he and Kate were also the only help this couple had. She did something she hadn’t done in a while. She said a silent prayer for the mother and child.

Alec worked diligently, and Kate was right by his side, handing him what ever he asked for. He was right, Michelle didn’t feel the snip, and at the next contraction he asked her to bear down lightly so he could feel if the cord was ahead of the baby’s head, but it wasn’t. He now assumed it was wrapped around the baby’s neck.

The baby was progressing nicely down the birth canal, thanks to Michelle’s effective pushes. The heart rate would drop and rise with her pushes. He could see the dark hair of the baby present, and then slide back up. Grant was able to see the baby’s head crown, and report to his wife that their child was a brunette. Alec knew he had to pay very close attention to the baby, so that he could check and hopefully unwrap the cord.

Kate stood by Alec’s side as Grant helped leverage Michelle for her pushing. The baby was making its way out, and once more Alec ordered Michelle to stop pushing. His fingers were nimble, and gently but firmly, he pulled the umbilical cord from around the infant’s neck.

“ Okay Michelle, push!”

The baby’s face came forward, looking up, with its mouth open. Kate had taken the bulb syringe Michelle had on the baby’s changing table, and began to suction out its nose and mouth, making sure to clear the passageways to help prevent the baby from breathing in the fluid.

Alec spoke to Michelle, “At the next contraction, I need you to push very slowly. I want to ease the shoulders out, and after that, your baby will slide right out.”

Just as he had said, he helped the baby one shoulder at a time, and with one final push, their baby girl came into the world. Kate and Alec huddled together, checking and rechecking the baby for any signs of distress. She let out a healthy cry, letting the adults know she wasn’t happy. Alec laid her on Michelle’s stomach, and mother swept her into her arms and offered her breast.

As the new parents bonded with their new addition, Alec and Kate waited for the placenta to deliver. Kate stood behind Alec and put her arms around him.

“ You did good Alec,” she whispered. “They were so lucky that you could be here to help.”

He leaned his head back and rested against her. “We make a good team, Kate. You were right, I needed you here.”

With the placenta delivered, Alec stitched Michelle’s wound while Kate had Grant help bathe his daughter. They placed the sweet, sleeping infant in her mother’s arms, and then Grant crawled into bed with his new family. Alec and Kate left the room, so the family could be alone.

The pair went into the living room, where Alec collapsed on the sofa. Kate took a Christmas quilt off the chair and went to cover him. He grabbed her hand and pulled her down next to him.

Alec looked deep into her eyes. “You were wonderful tonight. You have to be exhausted, too.”

“ I’m almost too wound up to be tired, but sitting down right now feels good. Do you have any idea what time it is?” she asked sleepily.

“ It’s almost three thirty in the morning. It’s Christmas Eve. What a nice gift for those two.”

Alec looked over and realized Kate never heard him. Her head was leaned back against the sofa, and she was sound asleep. He leaned his own head back and before long, was asleep next to her.

The smell of coffee and the wonderful sound of a crying baby, forced the day upon Alec and Kate. They had moved on the sofa, and slept in each other’s arms. Kate couldn’t think of a nicer way to start the day.

While they drank their steaming cups of coffee, the crying ceased, and Michelle joined them in the kitchen. She looked great, for having had a baby a few hours earlier.

“ I’m just here for a moment, and then I’m going back to sleep. Grant, you should, too. You were up with me all night,” she said and then turned to Alec and Kate. “Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Alec, you’re a true friend. If you don’t mind, we’d like you to be Lexie’s godfather. We want to name her Alexandria Eve, after you and the day.”

Alec beamed, shook Grant’s hand, and kissed Michelle on the cheek. “I’d be honored.”

Alec and Kate left the new family, and got back to the barn at about eight o’clock. The horses called to them as they entered. They fed their hungry friends and made their way into the house.

“ Alec, can I make you some breakfast?” Kate asked.

“ To be honest with you, I’m still whipped. I’m going to go up and grab my bedding and try to get a few more hours of sleep. Let me take something out of the freezer for dinner, and then I’ll bed down on the sofa.”

Kate followed him upstairs to his bedroom, and when he pulled the blankets out of the cupboard she said, “Alec, it’s stupid for you to sleep on the sofa. You’re half dead on your feet. Please, lie down here.”

“ Kate, I won’t put you out of your bed.”

“ Oh, I’m not going anywhere my friend. I can barely keep my eyes open. It’ll be fine. I’ll change in the bathroom and be back in a minute.”

When Kate returned to the bedroom, the curtains were drawn and Alec was snoring. She smiled, thinking back to the events of last night, and crawled into the bed, next to him. The last thing she remembered was him muttering good night.

When she felt his arm go around her waist, she moved back against him. This felt so good, she thought; so right. Their legs bent in a perfect spoon and her hand covered his. They continued to sleep.

Kate rolled in his arms and stretched, trying to wake herself. Alec pulled her closer, breathing her in. She curled up against him, resting her head on his shoulder.

“ Kate?”

“ Yeah?”

“ You okay with this?” Alec was almost afraid of what her answer would be.

Kate tipped her head up to look at his face. In the low light of the darkened room, she saw worry in his eyes. “I’m more than okay with this,” she said before she pressed her soft lips to his.

Their kiss was unrushed and gentle. Tongues sneaked out to discover the joys of each other. It was not a sexual kiss, but a loving kiss. When they broke apart, Alec pulled her closer and held on very tightly.

“ What about your boyfriend, Kate?”

Once more she looked into his eyes. “I don’t have a boyfriend.”

Alec showered while Kate started coffee and made some grilled cheese sandwiches. As she stood at the broiler, she looked out upon the winter wonderland and thought she had never been happier. She thought about school and her relationship with Evan. Finally, she could see past the smoke and look at him for who he was, and how he had changed her life. If she were honest with herself, he really wasn’t as nice as she wanted to believe. And if she were even more honest with herself, she would have fast become someone that she wouldn’t have liked that well.

Alec came into the kitchen as Kate was bent over, taking the sandwiches out of the broiler. When she had safely placed the hot pan on top of the stove, he came up behind her and encircled her waist with his arms. He kissed her just behind her right ear and breathed, “I could get real used to seeing you here.”

Kate turned in his arms, “Would that be such a bad thing?”

“ No, not at all, but you’re still in school and I live in the middle of nowhere. You’re very young, Kate, and I’m older than my age indicates. That’s no life for you.”

“ Well, I think it’s a little soon for us to be discussing any lifestyle changes,” she said, snaking her arms up around his neck and running her hands through his still damp hair. “Right now, this is where I want to be.”

She leaned in and kissed him once more. Kate felt her nipples grow hard against his chest. She felt Alec begin to harden against her belly. She wanted him, but not right now and not here in the kitchen. She broke away and turned back to cut the sandwiches.

“ I thought we ought to have a little something. We haven’t eaten since last night.”

“ That’s a good idea. I’ll prepare the roast and then after we eat I’ll see if I can raise Grant on the CB. I just want to be sure they’re all okay.” He leaned over to kiss her cheek and whispered, “You make me crazy, in a good way.”

They had slept a good portion of the day, and apparently so had the new family. Grant reported that Lexie had taken to Michelle’s breast just fine, and Michelle acted as if she had been through this a dozen times before. She was a little sore, but insisted on getting up and tried to do some things in the kitchen to help with Christmas Eve dinner.

Alec and Kate busied themselves with their normal duties. As they walked to the barn, the silence of the night was cut by a noise off in the distance.

“ Sounds like the equipment. My guess is that they’re finally working on the road. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was clear by morning.”

“ Oh my God,” Kate said. “Tomorrow’s Christmas! I had almost forgotten.”

“ We’ll see if we can get you home for dinner, okay?”

Kate walked to him and put her arms around his waist. “Only if you take me home. I want you to meet my family.”

Alec smiled and kissed her forehead. “Lady, you’re making it very hard for me to let you go.”

“ Good.”

After dinner, they sat on the sofa, listening to Mannheim Steamroller’s instrumental Christmas music. They didn’t talk. They didn’t have to. Alec put his arm around Kate’s shoulder and hummed along. Kate didn’t think there could be a more perfect moment, but she was willing to take a chance on one.

“ Alec? Will you come up to bed tonight?”

He lowered his head to cover her mouth with his. “Are you sure, Kate?”

“ This is the way it’s supposed to be, Alec. Now please, come up with me.”

Kate stood and held out her hand. Alec took it and followed her up the stairs. They kept the light on, outside the bedroom, but kept the bedroom itself, dark. Together, they walked into each other’s arms. It wasn’t urgent or desperate; it was two people coming together as they were meant to; with love.

Alec took the waistband of Kate’s soft sweater and pulled it up over her head. Her skin glowed through her lace bra and he could see the outline of her nipples. Kate reached out and began to unbutton his flannel shirt, one agonizing button at a time. When she eased the shirt off his shoulders, she kissed Alec’s Adam’s apple, and then dropped her hands to his belt. As her hands pulled the worn leather away from the cold metal buckle, Kate kissed her way up his neck to his lips.

Alec encircled Kate’s waist and he held her as if she might break. Their kisses were soft, gentle, and light as angel’s wings. When Kate had Alec’s pants undone, and they dropped to the floor, she moved against him, to get as close as possible. She pulled at him, showing him her strength, her want, her need.

He broke the kiss and backed up a bit. Tenderly, he unzipped her jeans and moved them down her hips, helping her to step out of them. He stood, gazing at her quiet beauty, this womanly girl, with her ocean eyes, and her golden curls.

Alec moved to the bed and pulled back the blankets. As Kate watched him, she noticed a long scar on his back.

“ Alec?” she said, gently tracing the scar with her finger.

“ It’s okay. It happened at the end of my tour in Iraq. I’m afraid it’s not the only scar you’re going to find on this battered body.”

“ Then I will kiss every one of them. I will kiss each part of your body until you beg me to stop.”

Alec swept Kate up into his arms and carefully laid her on the bed. She held her arms out to him, silently asking him to come to her. Alec lay to her side and drew her to him, kissing her deeply. He moved to kiss her eyes, her nose, and her lips again, and then trailed kisses along her jaw from one ear to another. When he started down her throat he heard her exhale very slowly.

He kissed along the swell of one breast, down her cleavage, then over to the other breast. Kate arched up, pushing her chest towards him, wanting to give to him. He reached underneath her and easily unclasped her bra, then pulled it from her luscious body. Her rose-pink nipples went hard, in front of his eyes. He bent to lick one and then sucked it into his mouth. As he suckled, his hand went to her other breast, massaging the flesh, tracing around the nipple, and gently flicking it.

“ Ohhhh God, Alec,” she said breathlessly.

He played with her, sucking on one breast, then the other. He could have spent hours worshiping her, but continued on with his journey. When he moved up to kiss her lips again, his rough hand slid down the flat of her belly and over her silk panties. He went to push his hand between her legs, and found that she opened them willingly. He could smell her musk. He could feel the dampness that had formed between her legs. Alec had never wanted a woman as badly as he wanted Kate.

He moved his mouth down her belly to follow his hand. He pressed his tongue into her belly button, causing her to gasp. Down, down he kissed her, over her panties and between her legs, inhaling the sweetest scent of all. He buried his face between her legs, pushing against her panties. He reached for the lace waistband and pulled at them. Kate raised her hips so he could take them off and toss them aside. He opened her legs and saw the moisture glistening on her lips. Her excitement was evident. He leaned in and ran his tongue over the outside of her lips, moving to the crease were her thighs met her valley.

Kate’s hands clawed at the sheet and she raised her hips expectantly. Alec put his hands on her hips and lowered them back to the bed. He snaked his tongue between her pussy lips and found her clit. She inhaled sharply and moved under him, as if trying to escape. He held her and ran his tongue in circles around her hard nub. He pushed one finger deep inside her, at the same time as he attached his lips to her clit.

“ Oh…oh…oh…,” she panted, before a high pitched squeal escaped her lips. She half sat up in the bed, “Oh…oh…oh!” She rode the waves of her orgasm before collapsing back on the bed.

Alec smiled at the woman trying to slow her breathing. He wanted to keep her on this high. He pulled off his briefs and threw them aside. Kneeling between her legs, he ran his hard cock up and down her slit. Her heat called to him, and he answered. Very slowly, he pushed his way in to claim his prize. Her pussy felt like a warm glove, welcoming him home.

He moved in further and then pulled almost all the way out. Kate needed him to stay with her and wrapped her legs around him, drawing him back inside her. Her hands went to his ass, holding on tightly. Her hips thrust upward as he drove in, meeting him with a building passion. She gave herself to him completely.

They moved together, stirring the fire they had ignited until the flames were roaring. Alec gripped Kate’s shoulders, lowered his head and devoured her mouth with his. He felt his cum beginning to boil in his balls, and pushed into her deeper and harder. She matched his pace, and demanded more. They were insatiable in their need for one another.

Their explosions were seconds apart. His seed burst forth to fill her and Kate’s pussy muscles begin to squeeze his cock, milking him of every last drop. Kate moaned into his mouth as their kiss continued. Her legs stiffened and held him tighter as she jumped off the cliff of her orgasm.

Their bodies continued to move, but slower, gentler, still rubbing against each other. Their kisses became less demanding, and more loving. Kate’s hands left his backside and came up around this face. She cupped him and covered his faces with tiny kisses, before holding him close again and burying her face in his neck.

Alec carefully came off her and dropped to her side once more, scooping her up and holding her close. There were no words spoken, only more kisses exchanged, until they fell into a blissful sleep.

He woke the next morning, her head resting on his shoulder, her breasts against his bare chest and her long, silken legs intertwined with his. This is the way it’s supposed to be, he thought. From the first night, he knew; she was his destiny. He exhaled a soft sigh and held her a little tighter.

“ You’re awake,” she said.

“ Hmmm, yeah,” Alec responded by putting his hand under her chin and tilting her head up to his.

Their mouths met in a sweet, tender kiss that quickly turned hot. Their passion reignited the fire from the night before, and the lovers lost themselves in each other. They proved themselves to be equal partners, each giving, each taking, and each being rewarded. Their spent bodies slept once more, until the sound of a truck in the driveway below woke them. Alec stumbled out of bed and peered out the window.

“ It’s the town snowplow cleaning out the driveway. Looks like the roads will be passable. We’ll be able to get you out of here and home for dinner.”

Kate sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Her face lit up at the news of seeing her family.

“ Really? We can get home for dinner? Oh Alec,” she said as she jumped out of bed and came to his side. “I want you to come to Christmas dinner. I want my family to meet you.”

She put her hands around his waist and brought her body up against his. Alec held her close, running his hands down her back and holding her tighter.

“ Let me grab a quick shower, then you can get ready. We’ll go down the road and look for your car. If we can get to it, we’ll get your things, load up the truck and get you home. Meet me outside when you’re ready.”

Alec turned from her and headed to the bathroom. He stopped and looked back one more time. “Kate? Merry Christmas.”

Kate ran downstairs to start coffee. When she came back to the bedroom, she threw her clothes into her backpack and changed the sheets on Alec’s bed. When Alec finally finished his shower, he called to her as he went down the stairs, “Bathroom’s all yours. And don’t take all day, okay?”

Kate put on the Carhartt’s, wool socks and his too large boots, for probably the last time. She opened the back door to join Alec, but what she saw shocked the hell out of her. Alec’s jet black horses were hitched to the old sleigh that she had discovered in the barn. Alec stood grinning at her, trying to gauge her surprise. But it wasn’t the sleigh, as much as the man that surprised her. Her rugged woodsman stood before her, completely clean shaven. Gone was his scratchy beard and moustache.

Kate couldn’t help but giggle as she approached him. She removed her glove and put her hand against his cold cheek. “Is it really you?”

He bent and kissed her lips. “It’s me, Kate. Now come on, I told you we would take a sleigh ride. Let’s see if we can find your car.”

Down the driveway and onto the road, Alec drove the sleigh like it was something he did everyday. Everything had a frosty, white covering, and the lane looked like a Christmas card. The branches on the trees looked like strings of rock candy. The snow on the road muffled the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves. Kate strained, searching for her car.

“ It was about here that I picked you up. Do you know how long you had been walking?” Alec asked.

“ Less than an hour, but towards the end, I wasn’t sure I was even moving. I remember there were trees on both sides of the road and a curve. I didn’t see any field at the time,” Kate said.

Alec nodded and thought for a minute. “I think I know just about where to look.”

Kate loved being huddled under the blankets in the sleigh, with Alec. She couldn’t imagine her life without him in it. She moved closer and hooked her hand around his arm. No, she thought, I’m not giving this up. This is the way it’s supposed to be.

“ Kate, look! Is that a car?”

The pair could just barely make out the tail end of Kate’s Toyota. Alec brought the sleigh to a stop and loosely tied the horses to a small tree near the road. He and Kate made their way through the snow, to her car, opened the trunk, put everything that was lying loose, into her suitcase. When they got back to the sleigh, Alec tied her suitcase on the back, then took his red scarf from around his neck, and went back to tie it to the sapling near her driver’s door. It would make it much easier to find when the tow truck could make it out here.

After the horses were back in their stalls, Kate treated them to peppermints and told them she loved them. She also whispered that she would see them soon. Alec had his truck all warmed up by the time she had changed out of his outer clothes and was ready to leave for home.

The small town was empty, with everyone at their homes enjoying Christmas day. They found a payphone in the next town over, and Kate was delighted to discover she could call her family.

“ Mom? Hi! I’m on my way home.… Yeah.… The roads are good, and we should be there by dinner time. And mom? Make sure you set an extra plate. I’m bringing home somebody special.… Yeah, very special. You’ll see what I mean. I think he’s going to be with us for a whole lot of Christmases,” Kate said, barely masking her excitement.

When she got off the phone, she walked back to Alec, who was standing next to the door on the passenger side of the truck. She couldn’t resist and broke into a run, throwing herself into his arms. He lifted her off the ground and crushed her to him.

When he lowered her to the ground, he kissed her with a kiss that could no longer deny the feelings he felt for her.

“ Oh Kate,” he whispered.

“ I know,” she said. “I love you, too.”

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