We hit a bump and the fragile paper reindeer fluttered to the floor. Robb’s hard jaw clicked shut and tension filled the cab, smothering the air inside like a blanket. Since the radio didn’t work, the only relief came from the sputter of the fan pushing heat through the vent.
He turned onto an unpaved road and rocks banged inside the wheel wells and pinged around inside my bruised head. “Can you maybe take it a little easier?”
“Hang on. We’re almost there.” He eased his foot off the gas and I cut him some slack. Because of his mother’s rogue snow globes, the man had missed his family reunion, even if his only enjoyment came from standing alone, back to the mantle, frowning past tittering lady friends. His first time home in years and the family didn’t radiate joy over his homecoming. They tiptoed around him. I’d seen them firsthand. Still, I didn’t need The Handbook for Orphans to tell me a little gratitude on my part was in order.
“Thanks for driving me to the hospital.”
“Why? Total waste of time. You should have stayed. I don’t know why I’m surprised. You were always that way.”
“What way? Poor?”
“No. Determined to do things on your own. The second things get real, you sever ties, run and hide.”
Floored, I gaped at him. Robb had been the one who’d run fast and far, not me. Unless he counted tonight. “I’m just saying that I appreciate you leaving the party on my behalf. That’s all. Thank you.”
“I should probably be the one thanking you.” His jaw clicked shut. A vein throbbed on the side of his fuzzy head and despite my irritation, I wanted to know what the hell had turned him into such a dick. Maybe he deserved standing alone all night.
Or maybe he preferred standing alone. I know I usually did. Maybe he’d become a little more like me. Maybe he was hiding too. His parents sort of acted like they wanted him hidden.
“I should have said hello. You’re right. I apologize. Glad you’re back. You look good.”
“I’m not back. I’m visiting. But sure, you, too. You look good, I mean.” His eyes never flickered in my direction. Apparently, good meant invisible as well as the same.
“Your mom’s happy to have you home.” Not that I had much firsthand experience with what made mothers happy. Mine had left me alone in a hotel room just before my sixth birthday and vanished into thin air.
But if I had a mother, a normal mother like Rob’s, unlike the host of foster mothers I’d known over the years, and I’d risked life and limb for my country, I imagined my mom would shout the news of my homecoming to anyone who’d listen. She’d have finally untied her yellow ribbon from the old oak tree and waved it around like a victory flag. She’d have grabbed onto my sleeve at that party and she’d never have let go.
She’d ease my way, reintroducing me to friends and family alike, making me the center of her attention.
Robb and Sunny’s mom hadn’t exactly done that. I knew she loved him, she seemed concerned about him, but she’d kept her distance, leaving him in the company of a couple of tipsy, chesty, ‘friends’. She’d spent her evening sampling the Merlot and focusing on the other guests, including me— a nobody.
Shit. She’d also given me that embarrassingly sentimental gift. “You didn’t see a Christmas stocking with my name on it, did you? When we left the yard? I had it earlier.”
“What?” Robb looked at me like I’d lost my marbles, and medically speaking, I probably had.
“Never mind.” I frowned. “I guess your dad’s happy you’re home, too. I mean except the part where he wanted you to spend time with his lady friends.”
Robb turned his stunned gaze in my direction. His jaw swung. “That’s what Sunny told you?”
“Yeah. She gave me a head’s up when I got there.” She probably worried I’d embarrass everyone by throwing myself at you again.
He slapped his forehead. “This is why I can’t live in Cornwall ever again. My family interferes with my life and I have zero privacy.”
“You had more privacy in the army?”
Ignoring my question, Robb squinted over the dash. “Did you know I was at the house?”
“Not until I walked through the front door. I had no clue. Sunny didn’t tell me.”
“Christ.” Robb yanked the steering wheel hard to right and the truck slid onto the shoulder in a spray of gravel and ice. I grabbed the dash as my stomach lurched and my head reeled.
“What the—?” I glimpsed through the back window. Red light reflected on the snow. “Are you out of your fucking mind?”
“Yeah. Indisputably.” Robb set the emergency brake, and bang, he exited the vehicle and vanished into the opaque forest.
Tree limbs clawed at the sky above the road and a whirling dervish of snow howled across the road. “As God is my witness, I am never going to another Christmas party as long as I live.”
Smexy Book Reviews
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