Pulling out his phone, Rafferty looked at the time. It was just after six in the evening, and he was starving. He’d missed lunch. But he didn’t move. No way was he moving. Mia was sleeping in his arms. Not really expecting her to even let him into her apartment, he was surprised when she fell asleep within minutes of sitting down.
In reality, he had no reason to be here. He was bluffing when he said he had something he needed to talk to her about. He had just wanted to see her. It was a holiday, and he wanted to see his wife. Her hair was still brown, but when he was this close, he could see her real brown was showing at the roots, and it was a richer color than the brown she had now. So far, she hadn’t dyed it since they got married.
The only thing he could’ve told her was that he bought her a house, but that wasn’t final, and he was waiting to surprise her with it. Once he got the key, he was going to show her around. And he was going to tell her he bought it for her, for them. Her choice of movies indicated that she would fall in love with him in that moment.
She had slept through the entire first movie as well as the credits, and he watched her sleep. Rafferty enjoyed sleeping with this woman, even if he wasn’t sleeping. The little sounds she had in her sleep made him want to carry her to her bedroom and make her make those sounds for him. But he stayed right there, just watching her sleep.
Since their wedding, he hadn’t seen her much, mostly just talked to her a few times. Never about anything, and mostly about the weather and what he was going to eat. Waitress stuff. But she had stopped ignoring him completely during the last two weeks. One day, he saw her and her cousin Mandy walking together from the grocery store as he drove through town. If one hadn’t been blonde and the other a brunette, they could’ve been twins since they were shaped the same way. But only one made his mouth water just looking at her.
Shifting a little since his arm was asleep, she mumbled something but didn’t wake up. So he shifted again, and again, and again until she was lying between his legs with her head on his chest. His arm wasn’t tingly anymore, but other parts of him were well aware she was there.
Glancing at the TV, he realized the movie was a cartoon, not the romantic comedy he knew she preferred. Not seeing the remote, he had no way of turning to another channel. So instead of focusing on the TV, he watched her sleep.
“Did they get together?” came a groggy voice from his chest.
“Yes, at the tree lighting at the end,” he told her, hating that she was waking up.
“We should do that?” she said dreamily.
“Get together in the end?” he asked hopefully.
He felt her laugh as she said, “No, have a tree in the middle of town. Really get into the season. Make a celebration of it.”
“You can organize that,” he suggested. His hands were on her back, half holding her in place with him.
“Maybe I will.” She had started organizing things around town a few years ago. This year, she had taken on the auction in the spring and a lot of the Fourth of July parade stuff. He wouldn’t be surprised to see a tree in the empty lot down the block by morning.
“I think you should make it big. Something for the whole town. Raise money for something.”
“Oh, it’s going to be big. I don’t go small.” So far, she hadn’t lifted her head or moved her body, she just laid in his arms, her eyes on the TV.
“That’s what makes you perfect for this town. Landstad needs something big once in a while. Without you here, who would make the big stuff happen?”
He felt her laughing on his chest again. Not hearing her, but feeling her. “Did you really not get any turkey?”
“Nope. Mom’s in Fargo now and didn’t want to do anything.” He ran a hand tentatively down her back, not quite to her butt, then back up.
“What about Ruth?” she asked. She was now using her given name and not the nickname they always used for her. Just like the woman asked them to.
“She and Anderson went to his parents. I wouldn’t be invited if they had something alone anyway. We’re not holidays-close.” He remembered his conversation with her about buying the house. Not exactly warm and fuzzy family moments.
Lifting her head she met his eyes. “Do you want turkey, Raff?”
His heart stopped. She had never, ever called him a nickname. Quickly, he said, “Yes.”
Sadly, she climbed off his body, throwing off the blanket, and walked to the kitchen. Instantly missing her body on his, he got up to follow her. In the kitchen, she had dug out some containers from the fridge and grabbed two plates.
“Anything you don’t like?” she asked, then continued. “It is going to be dry. My mom hasn’t mastered turkey yet, and at this point, I don’t think it will happen. So I’m just going to enjoy eating dry turkey.”
“You could make the turkey,” he suggested, leaning against the counter next to her.
“No way. For one thing, I have this little apartment. For another, I would have to invite all my sisters and their families. And then I would miss my favorite part of Thanksgiving.” She had the plates nearly loaded with food.
“What’s that?” he asked when she wasn’t going to answer.
“Leaving,” With a grin as she took one plate and put it in the microwave.
“Leaving is the best part?” he asked in confusion.
“Oh, yeah. They all have to stay because they’re staying with Mom and Dad, but I get to leave. They can spend the entire time bragging about their husbands, jobs, kids, and big-town living, but I get to walk out the door after a few hours,” The microwave went off, and Mia took out the hot plate and put the cold one in.
“But when you move, you’ll have to stay, too,” His stomach growled at the smell of the holiday, dry or not he was eating everything on the plate.
It was down to nearly a month now before her self-imposed deadline. And he had no idea how close she was to making her dream come true.
“No, that’s the beauty of living not in Landstad. Mom doesn’t know whether you’re really busy or not. I can say I’m busy, and she won’t be able to question it. I don’t have to go to holidays at all unless I wanted to.” Mia put the hot plate on the table, indicating him to sit down.
Sitting, he said, “Holidays without family aren’t as much fun as you think.”
He should know, he had spent most holidays without family. To tell the truth, his parents hadn’t even tried to keep those types of traditions going. This wasn’t his first year alone, and it wouldn’t be his last.
“Having to put up with your sisters rubbing your nose in the fact that you live here and have no boyfriend or life is not fun.” Her plate complete, she carried it to the table.
“But your life is fun. You’re busy all the time, and you have book club, and everybody goes to the café to see you,”
“But I don’t belong to a gym And according to Darcy, I should join a gym. And there are no coffee shops.”
“First off, you don’t need a gym. But if you do want to join one, there is one here in town.” He had been there today after all, because what else do you do when you are alone.
“I’m not going to stand in line for the treadmill.”
“There are two, smarty p*nts. And Ruth has that fancy coffee machine, so you can go see her anytime for a fancy coffee. Or you could even get one of those machines for the café.” Anderson sometimes went over to see Ruth and brought back coffees. They were amazing, but Rafferty knew how much that machine had cost. It wasn’t that amazing.
“Ha, her coffee machine cost a fortune,” Mia told him with a pout.
“Everything of Ruth’s costs a fortune. But as for a boyfriend, you don’t need one. You have a husband,” he said, pointing at himself.
“That doesn’t count. We’re not really married.”
“Just say the word, Mrs. Brooks, and we’ll make this thing real.”
Laughing, she asked, “What’s the word?”
He looked at her closely. Was she joking, or was she serious? He couldn’t tell. “Make it real. Just say, ‘make it real.’”
Her head jerked up and she caught his eye, but didn’t say the word. Instead, she shook her head before setting down her fork, “You bought the Baker house. At least, that’s what Mom says. Is it true?”
So much for the surprise and the happy ending he had planned. When will he realize he can’t hide anything in this town? Especially from the biggest gossip in it. “Yes, I really liked it after seeing it.”
“Why couldn’t you just let Ruth and Anderson buy it?” She picked at her food now. He was sure she was either still full from lunch, or she wasn’t in the mood for the same meal again.
He shrugged. “Ruth didn’t want it.”
“Anderson might have talked her into it.”
“You do know that Ruth wears the p*nts in that relationship, right? Maybe they’ll move when the baby comes, but right now, she wants to stay downtown.” Rafferty finished his plate, the turkey not as dry as Mia indicated, or maybe it was the conversation that made the meal so delicious.
“What are you going to do with it?” she asked with interest.
“Live there,” He stole a small piece of turkey from her plate, if she wasn’t going to eat it he didn’t want it to go to waste.
She slapped at his fork but missed. “You don’t even like it. You couldn’t even say which one it was this last summer,” she argued, as if she hadn’t just indicated she remembered the conversation.
“I walked through it and loved it. It was exactly what I was looking for.” He didn’t say that he had almost bought it sight unseen. All because Mia wanted it.
“When do you move in?” she asked, pushing her plate away from her and towards him.
Pulling it to him he tucked into the potatoes, “In two weeks. Are you going to help me move in?”
“I’m busy that day,” she stated quickly with a grin.
“I can change it to when you’re not busy.”
“I’m busy that day, too. My days are pretty packed.”
“If I have a party, will you come?” He would do just about anything to get her there. Actually, he would do anything.
She shook her head. “Nope. I think you’re going to trap me into helping you move.”
“I might’ve been planning that.” He stabbed the last piece of uneaten turkey from her plate and ate it.
Getting up, she took their empty plates into the kitchen. “I’m on to your traps, Brooks. I won’t help you move.”
“I would help you move.” He followed her into the kitchen with the glasses. Just like the married couple that they were.
“Okay.” She turned quickly and was almost in his arms, but then she took a step back and bumped into the cabinets. “How about this? I’ll help you move, but you have to help me move to Grand Forks when I finally blow this town.”
Putting his hands on the counter on either side of her, trapping her, he said, “You have a deal. But what if you don’t move?”
“I’m moving,” she stated firmly, looking into his eyes, but she didn’t move to get out of his trap. “No way am I not moving.”
Slowly, his hand moved along the counter until they touched each other, then he dropped one to her back and then the other until they were both touching her. Slowly, because he didn’t want to spook her. He wanted his wife in his arms, sober and willing.
Just as slowly, he lowered his l!ps to her upturned face.
At the first touch, her hands went around his waist and pulled him to her. Instantly, the hesitation was over, and he deepened the k!ss. Her response was just as instant, and she met his tongue as it plunged into her mouth. In that moment, he couldn’t remember k!ssing her in months, wanting to and dreaming of it, but not actually doing it.
Continuing to k!ss her, he felt her hands slide under his shirt and skitter across his stomach, moving up his chest. His instantly went up her back, under her shirt, and up her smooth, warm skin, pulling her closer to him as he went. He needed her as close to him as he could get her.
Far off in the distance, a phone was ringing, but he could care less. Mia was finally in his arms. Until she pushed out of them, ending the k!ss. Watching her take a step away from him, then grab her phone from the counter. She looked at the display and answered it.
From less than a foot from her, he listened to her make plans with Natalie to make a quick run to Grand Forks for some Black Friday shopping. Right now—she was leaving right now. As if they weren’t in the middle of something.
Ending the call, she said, “Natalie wants me to go Black Friday shopping.”
“Could you have said no?” he asked, touching her cheek.
“Um, no. We needed to stop anyway. We can’t just sleep together every time the mood hits us.” Not meeting his eyes, she walked away from him.
“Except we can. Legally,” he followed her through the apartment.
“We’re getting a divorce as soon as possible, Rafferty,” she reminded him as she went into her bedroom.
Stopping just outside the open door, he stated, “We could just give it a try, Mia.”
She turned and glared at him. “No, Rafferty. I’m getting out of this town. You’re willing to be trapped here, but I’m not.”
“Come on Mia, you’re as much a Tiger as I am.” He pointed at his shirt and her shirt. Once a Landstad Tiger, always a Tiger. It had been a joke around town forever.
She shook her head. “No way. I’m not a Tiger. I’m getting out of here.”
“You own and run the café in town. You’re just going to leave that?” She was already a part of the town; she couldn’t leave that.
“I’m hiring a manager,”
“People like the place because you’re there. No manager can be you.” He wouldn’t go in there four times a week if she wasn’t there.
“Yes, the right one can.” She walked away from him in a huff, and opened her closet.
“Dream on, Mia.”
Still angry, she turned on him, “No, Rafferty, you don’t get it. You got to spent years out of this town. I’ve been here the entire time. I want out before it kills me.”
“Quit being overdramatic. The rest of the world is nothing special.”
“I want to find that out for myself. I want—”
Her words stopped when there was a loud knock on the front door.
Rafferty almost laughed at the panic that spread across her face. Rushing past him, she slammed the door shut as she left it, leaving him alone in her bedroom as she let her friend into the apartment. He should have been offended that she didn’t want her friend to even know he was there, but he didn’t want her any more upset with him so he let it slide.
Sitting on the bed, he waited for her. No way was she going to town in that outfit, and he knew for sure she had no br*a on. She was coming back in here. He could wait.
Which was why he was still on the bed when she came rushing in, closing the door behind her. Turning to him, she stated in a whisper, “I have to change.”
“Okay, I’ll watch.” He leaned back on the headboard, grinning.
“No, you won’t.” Turning from him, she pulled out a shirt from the closet.
“I’ll go out and keep Natalie company then,” he quietly suggested as she picked up a pair of jeans from the chair in the corner.
Her dark eyes went wide at the idea, and she looked at the closed door in panic. “No.”
“Then I guess I’ll watch.” Sitting down on the bed he nodded at her indicating she should be changing. Rolling her eyes, she pushed off her sweatp*nts and shimmied on the jeans. He was happy he was forced to be there.
“You will shut your eyes, Rafferty Brooks,” she hissed as she grabbed a br*a from the same chair the p*nts were on.
“Nope.” He barely said the word loud enough to be heard as he turned to see her better.
“I hate you.” Shooting him an angry look, she pulled her shirt off.
“A husband can enjoy his wife’s strip tease if he wants.” Forcing himself to stay put with her bre*sts on full display for him. All he wanted to do was jump up and take them in his hands, taste them.
“No, you’re a pervert.” Hooking her br*a, she covered the beauties from his view.
“Just because I enjoy your body?” he asked.
She pulled her shirt on and said, “No, because a gentleman would haven’t watched.”
“Then I’m a p*rvert, because I like to watch you,” he admitted as she grabbed a pair of socks form a drawer.
“At least you admit it.” Slamming the drawer closed she turned to him as she headed toward the door. “You don’t have to lock up on your way out. It’s Landstad.”
“Love you,” he said quietly to the already closed door since she was gone.
He sat there for another few minutes until he heard her front door close. Knowing she was gone, he got up and picked up the outfit she had left on the floor and tossed them into the dirty clothes hamper, then he went out to the main room of the apartment. Quickly, he washed the dishes from supper and left them in the sink to dry.
She had turned off the TV on her way out, but he folded the blanket they had laid under. As he did, he wished they were back under that blanket, watching some Christmas show. Or better yet, in her bedroom not watching some Christmas show.
When the apartment looked clean, he found his shoes and coat. They were stuffed between the couch and the wall. Must have been the first place she thought of when she had to open the door. Chuckling, he wondered how much fast talking she had to do with her friend.
So maybe he didn’t end up sleeping with her, but he got to spend a few hours on a holiday with his wife. It was a start. And he had a month to get her to stay in town and with him.