Tis the Season for Moving On
"Vange, I have to go into this one last store, and then we can go," said Layla, heading toward Markhamís Jewelry. "I have to get a pair of earrings for my new outfit."
One last store.
Evangeline rolled her eyes. Her sister had been saying that same tired line for the past hour, and as a result, she now carried the bags from these one last stores on her weighed-down arms. Dropping the bags to the floor, Evangeline grabbed Layla by the shoulder before she got too far inside.
"This is the very last store, Layla. Iím tired and my feet are starting to hurt. Weíve been in this mall for five hours. Now, I enjoy shopping like everyone else, but my Christmas spirit started dwindling about two hours ago. So, if you donít want to end up walking back to my apartment with all your goodies, youíll be out of here in ten minutes. Iíll be over there waiting," she said, motioning to the empty bench across the way.
"Fine, Scrooge, Iíll be out in ten minutes."
A snarky response rested on the tip of Evangelineís tongue, but Layla disappeared inside Markhamís before she could share it. Picking up the packages, Evangeline trudged over to the bench and plopped down, dropping the packages to her boot-covered feet. Scrooge. Humph!
Her gaze wandered about the vast mall. Happy couples and small families shuffled around her. Bright smiles and cheerful laugher mingled with the twinkling Christmas tree lights and the merry songs of Yuletide floating from surrounding speakers. Such a happy time of year, yet she could barely manage a forced smile. Why was she feeling so sorry for herself? She grunted. She knew why.
Evangeline slouched in the bench. Her jeans squeaked against the polished wood. It was Christmastime and she would be spending it alone. Layla was flying out to California for a screen test and to hang out with friends, and Nora had plans to visit her family in Chicago.
This time last year she had a man in her life. She had no regrets about breaking up with John. It took a while, but she finally realized that relationship was going nowhere. Still, she missed male companionship, and someone to talk to about anything or nothing at all.
What do the lonely do at Christmas? Evangeline sighed. She was about to find out.
"Cookie, didnít Mama Lisa tell you it was bad form to slouch?"
Evangeline sat up, laughing at the friendly male voice. "I think youíre having too much fun with that Cookie thing, Kevin."
"Hey, weíre friends, call me Cupcake." Kevin chuckled as he took the empty space next to her. "What are you doing alone in this mall ruining your great posture?"
"My posture is fine and Iím not alone."
"Really?" Kevin looked around. "Did John McBain come to his senses now that Natalie is back with her husband and living in New York? Is he somewhere buying you a fantastic Christmas present to try and make up for being a bozo?"
"No, actually, I have no idea whatís going on with John or his senses. Iím here with Layla. She went into Markhamís. So, whereís Kelly?"
Kevin shrugged. "My guess would be wherever Duke is. I think thatís Arizona."
"Duke? Your son, Duke?"
"Why do you sound so nonchalant?"
"What else is there for me to be? Iím not an idiot, and Kelly and Duke have always been close."
"I thought you and Kelly were getting back together."
"We tried, but it didnít work out. She and Duke came to me the day after Thanksgiving. Honestly, I donít have any hard feelings. Duke is my son, and I want him to be happy. I want the same for Kelly."
Evangeline touched his denim-clad leg. "Thatís a very grown-up attitude to take. If itís sincere," she said, eyeing him curiously.
"Itís sincere, Evangeline." His hand covered hers. "To be honest, before Kelly and I started trying to work things out, I was having an enjoyable time with another incredible lady."
Kevin trailed his forefinger against her cheek. Her body tingled from the tenderness of his touch. How long had it been since a man made her feel like that? Way too long, thatís for sure.
"She was in a bad place emotionally back then," Kevin continued, "but I suspect sheís a little stronger now." He pushed her hair off her shoulder. "What do you think?"
"I think youíre being very sweet, Kevin, and youíre going through a hard time, but you donít have to ó"
He pressed his finger to her lips, silencing her words. "Iím not trying to be sweet, and Iím not going through any hard time. Iím just being honest. Youíre a very beautiful woman, Evangeline, and Iím extremely attracted to you. Iíve always been. Now, I respected your relationship with McBain, but I never thought he deserved you. Heís a great cop, but he sucks at being a man. Natalie is my sister, but sheís pool and beer. Youíre the opera and champagneóa class act. John canít begin to understand what a woman like you needs."
A smile tickled the corners of her lips. "Thatís an interesting analogy, Mr. Buchanan. So, you think you know what I need."
"I know I know what you need." He draped his arm around the bench. "Iím just asking for a chance to show you."
Kevinís eyes were full of hope, and the way he looked at her. Evangelineís heart raced. He had the look of a man who only had one woman on his mind, and it was thrilling to know she was that woman. Sheíd be kidding herself if she didnít admit she liked it. Kevin had flaws, but he was a good man, and a very good-looking man, too. Hmm, she did always have fun with him.
"Okay, Cupcake, say I give you this chance. How would you show me what I need?"
Kevin smiled. "How?" He slid closer to her side of the bench. "Well, Christmas is the day after tomorrow, and I happen to be very close to Santa."
She laughed. "Is that so?"
"Yes, thatís so. I actually ran into him a little big ago."
"Uh-huh. He said you had a bit of a rough time this year, being kidnapped and all, but you were a very good girl. So, he wanted me to give you this." Kevin reached into the pocket of his short leather coat and pulled out a small, brightly wrapped box. "To Evangeline," he said, reading the tag on the box. "I think thatís you."
She gasped, surprised by his kind gesture. "Kevin, what is this?"
"I donít know, it came from Santa," he said with a wide grin. "Youíd better open it up and see."
Evangeline unloosened the bow and opened the box to find a silver charm bracelet with three small charms. "A cookie, a cupcake, and a gavel." She sighed. "This is so sweet, but I canít accept this," she said, handing him the box.
"It came from Santa, of course you have to accept it." Kevin reached into the box. "May I?" he said, motioning for her wrist.
She pulled up the sleeve of her pink sweater. "Sure, Santa."
"There," he said, clasping the bracelet in place. "It looks perfect. I guess Santa is as charmed by you as I am."
"Thank you." She pressed a kiss to his cheek. "Thatís for Santa for the lovely present."
Kevin touched the space where her lips lingered moments before. His eyes brightened. "If that was for Santa, what does Kevin get? He did help Santa by delivering the present."
"And thatís quite a big job, too, right?" she teased.
"It is," he answered, going along with her. "Very important."
"So, what does Kevin want?"
"What does Kevin want?" he repeated, stroking his chin. A hint of mischief danced in his eyes. "Hmm."
"Oh, brother," she murmured in good humor.
He snapped his fingers. "I know. Kevin wants to have dinner with you tonight, tomorrow night, and Christmas night. Oh, and he wants one more thing."
"I shudder to think," she said. "Pray tell, what is this other thing?"
Kevin reached into his pocket and pulled out a small piece of mistletoe. Evangeline chuckled. Why wasnít she surprised he had that?
"He wants you to help him with this," Kevin said, raising the mistletoe above her head and capturing her lips in soft kiss. His tongue slid in between her parted lips, engaging hers in a quick game of tag before making a quick retreat. The kiss ended far too soon for her liking, but considering they were in the middle of a crowded mall, it would have to doÖfor now. He smoothed his thumb against her lips. "Merry Christmas, Evangeline."
She smiled. "You know what, Kevin, I have a feeling itís going to be just that."