Christmas in the Billionaire's Bed(3)By: Janice Maynard
“That’s wonderful, Emma dear. My invitation is selfish actually. Everything you say in that delightful British accent makes me want to listen to you for hours, but I have to fly.”
“I’d say you’re the one who has the accent,” Emma teased. “You, and the rest of Silver Glen. I’ve practiced my drawl, but it never seems to come out right.”
Heading out the door, Maeve shook her head, laughing. “Let’s face it, Emma. You’re the quintessential blue-blooded Englishwoman. Fit to marry a prince if Kate hadn’t snatched him up first. If you had a slow-as-molasses speech pattern, no one would ever believe you were an aristocrat.”
In the sudden silence created by the departure of her vivacious guest, Emma felt her stomach curl. She had known this day would come eventually. It was a major reason she had chosen to roost in Silver Glen. That, and the fact that the town reminded her of the cheery Cotswolds village where she had grown up.
Sooner or later, Aidan would appear. If not at Christmas, then in the spring. The thought of seeing him face-to-face both elated and terrified her. She knew they were far beyond second chances. Too much time had passed. His life experiences had no doubt changed him, especially the tragedy to which Maeve alluded. Too many turns in the road. But Emma wanted to speak her piece. And she would make him listen.
He deserved to know that she had loved him beyond reason and sanity. That his leaving had nearly destroyed her.
Perhaps she was kidding herself. Aidan might not even remember her. Maybe she had magnified the importance of their university romance. Aidan had come to Oxford the fall semester of his senior year for a term-abroad experience. He had literally bumped into Emma on the street in front of a pub frequented by students.
They had both laughed and picked up their books and papers. Aidan offered to buy her dinner, and that was that.
Her heart actually clenched in her chest, the pain of the memories still fresh after all this time. Would he look the same? Would he think she had changed?
And what was she going to say to Aidan Kavanagh when she saw him again?
Aidan braked carefully and rolled to a stop in front of the courthouse that reigned over the town square. Darkness had fallen swiftly, proof that they were nearing the shortest day of the year. All around him, buildings were decorated in lights...some twinkling white, some a rainbow of colors.
New York City loved to deck itself out for Christmas. But nothing about Christmas in the city was as disturbing as this. As if it were yesterday, he remembered Danielle’s delight when he first brought her home to spend the holidays with his family. She had loved the decorations, the town itself and the fresh snow that had fallen.
At least this year the roads were dry. Even so, the image of a long-ago snowball fight brought a small smile to his lips. Danielle had approached everything about her life with the enthusiasm of a puppy.
He was surprised and grateful to find that at least a few memories of their last days together were good ones.
Glancing at his watch, he knew he had lingered long enough. Though Dylan and Mia had invited him to stay with them, Aidan preferred the privacy of a hotel room up at the lodge. Then, it was nobody’s business if he couldn’t sleep.
His mother had a nice condo in town, though his oldest sibling, Liam, still had a suite with his wife, Zoe, at the Silver Beeches Lodge. They were in the process of designing and building their dream home, but it wouldn’t be finished until the following summer.
Liam would be sleeping with one eye open, waiting to make sure that Aidan showed up safely, even if it was almost 3:00 a.m. Why can’t you fly down here like a normal person? he had complained.
Aidan wondered that himself. The grueling hours on the road were supposed to have prepared him for his upcoming ordeal. Well, hell, that was a little too melodramatic. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t been back to Silver Glen time and again after Danielle was gone. But only once at Christmas. And then only to see his brother in the hospital and make sure he was okay. A little fruitcake, a few packages and as quickly as he could manage, he had returned to his home in New York.
This trip, however, there would be no reprieve. Maeve had already warned him that she expected his presence at an assortment of events and activities. Her third son had strayed beyond her reach, and since she had wrangled his presence via the unexpected wedding invitation, she planned to make the most of it.
Aidan put the car in gear again and cruised around town slowly, expecting at any moment for a cop to pull him over and demand an explanation for his nocturnal prowl. Things looked much the same as they had during his last visit. Except that his brother Dylan’s pride and joy, the Silver Dollar Saloon, was once again open for business.
When Aidan had come home for the long 4th of July weekend, the Silver Dollar was still being repaired and renovated after a fire in June. Fortunately, no one had been injured, but he’d heard more than one person bemoaning the fact that the town’s most popular watering hole was closed indefinitely.
He looped back toward the square, passing Silver Screen, the community’s one and only movie theater. Way back in the forties and fifties, someone had decided all the stores in Silver Glen should be named with the theme of silver. As a marketing ploy, it was brilliant.
The town had grown and prospered, drawing visitors and business from all over the country. Despite his unease, Aidan found himself feeling distinctly nostalgic for this charming valley that had been his home for twenty-plus years.
As he turned the car one last time and headed for the narrow road that would take him up the mountain to the lodge, his headlights flashed across a darkened storefront that didn’t look familiar. Silver Memories. From what he could see of the window display, the merchandise appeared to be antiques.
He frowned, almost positive that the last time he’d visited, this particular spot had been a leather shop. Operated by an ornery old guy who made saddles and guitar straps to order.
Odd. But then again, at Thanksgiving, he’d been in town barely twenty-four hours.
When he made it up the mountain, he pulled onto the flagstone apron in front of the Silver Beeches Lodge. After grabbing his bag and handing off his keys to a sleepy parking attendant, he sent a text to his brother. I’m here. Go to bed, old man. See you tomorrow.
A neatly uniformed employee checked him in. After that, it was a matter of minutes to make it onto the elevator, up to the top floor, down the hall and into his quiet, dark, pleasantly scented room.
He kicked off his shoes, plugged in his phone and fell facedown across the bed, prepared to sleep until someone forced him to get up.
* * *
Emma kept one eye on her customer and the other on her laptop. The elderly woman came in a couple of times a month, mostly to window-shop. She actually sold Emma a few items from time to time, clearly in need of cash to supplement her social security check.
Since the white-haired lady seemed content to browse, Emma refocused her attention on the website she’d been perusing. Catriona’s Closet was a designer boutique in London that had been Emma’s go-to spot for special occasion clothes when she still lived in England. Fortunately for Emma, the shop now boasted a strong online retail presence.