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Unedited segment of James and Emily’s Story
Emily is Bree’s roommate from The Fourth Christmas. She met James when Bree brought her home for her mother’s birthday and they clicked – as in cosmically, irrevocably, perfectly matched. They spend time texting each other and this is the first time they’ve seen each other in a month.
I was nervous to see James again. I put on minimal makeup because he seemed to prefer that. I wore a top that matched my eyes. Bree was just as nervous as I was. Her training had given her an amazing butt. Her core was rock solid and she looked amazing. Unfortunately all she could focus on was her weight.
She had no idea how many guys ogled her because her she only thought of Eric. I had to meet this guy.
When we arrived at Mama’s Deli I pulled her through the crowd to the dancing. The DJ’s were playing my favorite song. James had texted me that he’d meet me here.
My eyes widened as her cousin came over and put some moves on her. She shrieked and he cursed.
Then I saw him, laughing hysterically at the joke he had just played on his two cousins. James looked amazing. He was wearing jeans and a long sleeve tight fitting black V-neck sweater. His brown hair was cut shorter than last time and his brown eyes were laughing. Until Bree punched him in the gut and he doubled over.
Then I noticed a man who looked very similar to Alex pulling Bree away to dance. I turned to James and he winked at me.
“Damn, she packs a stronger punch than usual, but it was so worth it.” He stood up tall and I rubbed my hand on his stomach.
“Oh, hell.” He muttered. He pulled me toward him and kissed me. Between each kiss he whispered, “I missed you.”
I melted into his arms. We may have danced to the music, but probably not. He moved me toward a corner and the next thing I knew we were outside.
“Baby, can we go for a drive? I want to be alone with you for a while.” His voice was low and hopeful.
I nodded and quickly texted Bree that I had left with James. His pickup truck smelled like fresh wood and citrus. He lifted me up easily and put me on the seat. His arms were wrapped around my waist and he leaned forward to kiss me again. At least in the truck we were both at the same level. My senses were overwhelmed, the heat coming from his lips, the scent of James and fresh cut wood, and the cold biting at my hands and legs.
He kissed my nose before backing up, “We’ll freeze to death out here.”
He started up his truck, “I want to show you something. Are you up for a drive?”
“Absolutely.” I hoped he’d take me to see the boat he’d been working on but instead we drove away from the marina. About ten minutes later we were on a dirt road.
“I’ve been working weekends and it’s been paying really well.” He grinned over at me. He looked so happy and I grinned back. “I was talking to one of the guys, and he knows this guy who retired and moved to Florida but hasn’t been able to sell his place yet. He owns a small house on five acres with a full barn and outbuilding. The house isn’t much, but I figured with time I could build something bigger. For now it’s fine.”
“You’re thinking of buying a house?” I whispered. Excitement and panic bubbled through me. He wanted me to see a house?
“Maybe.” He looked over at me and the smile was frozen on his face.
I blinked, “James, that’s great. I mean it. It’s just a house.”
His smile faded, “Yes. A house. Right now I live with four guys in a two bedroom apartment. It’s time. This place is a twenty minute drive from the marina, probably that far to the grocery store. The barn is set up for a couple of horses and goats. The outbuilding is perfect for my carpentry.
“Are you thinking of doing carpentry instead of fishing?”
“No, baby.” He reached and grabbed my thigh, “I can’t fish every day. If we want, I mean I want a family someday. I need to make sure that if there’s a bad month we have some other kind of income.”
I grinned stupidly at his slips of the tongue. We. He wanted a family with me. I put my hand over his, “But I’ll be working too.”
He scowled, “Yeah, if you want to, but I want it to be your choice, not because you have to.”
I nodded trying to keep my face serious, “That’s very kind of you.” I couldn’t help the smirk. Seriously? Maybe we should go on a date before he planned the rest of our lives.
He rolled his eyes. “Baby, I’m ready to buy a house, but only if you like it. It’d be pretty stupid for me to buy something you hate.”
I raised an eyebrow, “I appreciate that you’re considering my opinion in your decision, James. I do. In fact, it’s freaking me out a little bit.” He inhaled quickly and I raised my hand, “First of all, I have no idea what it even means to buy a house, like the logistics and stuff. Secondly, that’s a lot of responsibility to put on me. Finally, has it escaped your attention that it’s dark out?”
He ran his hand through his hair and a smile twitched on his lips. His head made quick movements like he was actually thinking about what I had said and considering each point.
He gave a resigned sigh, “I see your point. It would probably freak me out if you asked me about which job to interview for. Believe me, though, the house really is nothing. Its seven hundred and fifty square feet, two bedrooms, a front room, kitchen and small bathroom. It’s made of cinderblock so it will withstand the weather.”
“You said it’s on five acres. Is there room to build another house?”
“Yes, there’s a pond on the property and I thought it would be nice to build a house overlooking the pond.”
I nodded but instantly my mind went to mosquitoes and stagnant water.
“What are you thinking, baby?”
“Mosquitoes.” I answered honestly.
He laughed, “See, I knew talking to you about this place was a good idea. I’ll put in an aerator and spray the pond.”
“Are there neighbors?”
“Yes, actually there are but the area is zoned as farming and ranching so there aren’t any CC&R’s.”
My brow furrowed at the acronym. “What’s a CC&R?”
He groaned, “I’ve been looking at houses for a couple of years, sort of. Not seriously, but you know it gave me a reason not to blow all my money. Anyway on our island a lot of the neighborhoods have covenants, conditions, and restrictions. So you can’t put your laundry out to dry, you can’t burn leaves in your yard, basically they tell you what to do and what you can’t do.”
“Why would anyone agree to that?” I asked mystified.
“It stops a nice neighborhood from having some guy put a trailer home on their lot or couches in the front yard. Some of the neighborhoods on the island are expensive, and I guess the others want to keep up with the Jones’.”
“That would really piss me off to have a neighbor tell me what I can and can’t do in my own yard.”
“Yeah. One neighborhood had a ban against basketball hoops.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
He shrugged, “I think they didn’t want any kids. They also had rules about play equipment in the yard. It’s one of the reasons I got excited about this place. I mean it’s a drive, but it doesn’t have CC&R’s, six other families live up there, and there’s the outbuilding that is perfect for my carpentry shop.”
“And you’re sure you can afford it, and the upkeep and stuff.”
He grinned proudly, “Baby, I can pay cash for the whole thing. I can get a loan to build the new house whenever we want. Taxes aren’t too bad because it isn’t zoned as a neighborhood.”
“Wow. It does sound perfect.” I admitted. Cash for the whole thing? Either James was totally loaded and amazingly frugal or this place was a complete dump.
He finally pulled into a gravel drive and drove up to a cute looking cottage. He twirled the keys on his finger.
“The real estate agent gave me the key so I could show you the house. She’s related to the owner somehow and he’s really hoping for a sale.”
He came around to my side of the truck and held my hand as we walked up cracked concrete stairs to the front door. The cottage was cinderblock and freshly painted yellow, the door was white and I felt like Goldilocks’ going into the bear’s cabin.
It was small, and cold. James turned on the light, which was an overhead fan too. “The electricity and heat have been left on so the pipes don’t freeze.”
The ceiling had cracked paint peeling and the walls were a funky beige color, but the worst part was the smell of old man that permeated the place. James looked at me expectantly.
I gave him a weak smile, “You know with a coat of paint and new carpet, this place would be lovely.” I looked around and started imagining what I would do. Honestly, although small, the house was laid out efficiently. The bedrooms were bigger than my dorm room, but just barely and Bree and I managed to live in there.
“Um, is there a place for the washer and dryer?” I asked hopefully.
James grinned broadly and seemed to relax, “Yeah, it’s right off the kitchen. He opened up the back door which led to an enclosed porch area that had the outlets and plumbing for a washer and dryer.
“Do you need to worry about those pipes freezing?” I pointed to the floor.
He nodded, “Probably, but the first thing I’d do is insulate this and make it into an actual laundry room instead of a three-season porch.”
I grinned, “I like that idea. It’s handy that you’re so good at building things.” I looked at the kitchen and could picture myself making him breakfast before he headed out for the day. The place was homey, or at least I could make it homey after some paint and new flooring.
His smile grew and he pulled me in for a hug. “It wouldn’t be forever, you know. I’ll build a bigger house down by the outbuilding and pond. Come on, let me show you.”
He pulled me close and locked up the house before putting me in the truck.
“Can you picture yourself living here?” He asked as he placed a kiss on my lips.
I blurted out, “I can.”
He kissed me harder, more desperate and just when I thought things were going to get out of hand he stepped back. “I’ll show you the rest.”
The lot had a lot of trees and the house was set in the front of the property. The barn, outbuilding and pond were at a sixty degree angle from the house and couldn’t be seen from the driveway. He pulled to a stop in front of two buildings. One was made of plywood and looked to be lucky to still be upright; the other was made of corrugated steel. The plywood structure was about the size of a two car garage, and the corrugated steel structure was slightly smaller.
He pointed to the plywood structure, “The barn looks in tough shape, but the beams are good.”
He walked over to the steel structure and opened the door and turned on a light. Along one side ran a wooden workbench with electrical outlets every four feet that had a shelf underneath so you could store things without it touching the floor.
He looked at me proudly, “I guess the other guy was a carpenter too. I can store wood along the side and I can work on most projects in here.” He shrugged, “I won’t lie, the barn is disgusting inside. I’m pretty sure every raccoon on the island has taken up residence in there.”
He laughed and kissed my nose, “I know, right?”
“Come on, it’s cold. I’ll take you to dinner.”
I laughed, “Hey, now there’s an idea. Our first date. Finally.” I punched his shoulder, “Kind of putting the cart before the horse, eh?”
He grinned and scooped me up, “Ok, sassy mouth.” He settled me in the truck, “Just for that, you don’t get to pick the restaurant.”
Like I would know where to go anyway…
He parked the truck and led me toward Haley’s Bait Shop and Grill.
“Mm, I love good bait.” I said dryly. He opened the door to a cute restaurant and sat down at an empty booth completely ignoring the “Please wait to be seated” sign. He motioned for me to sit down and then he slid in beside me.
“They have great burgers.”
“Mm,” I raised an eyebrow, “As a vegan I seriously doubt that.”
His face fell and I busted up laughing. He rolled his eyes and then smirked at me.
“I guess I deserved that.”
“Yup.” I looked around, “This place is cute.”
“Yeah. It’s been around forever.” He leaned closer, “So what did you think about the place, really?”
“It’s great. Not too far from the marina. I couldn’t tell but it seems like its mostly flat ground.”
He nodded, “Yeah. The house needs work though, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.”
I grinned, “The carpet smells like old man.”
He chuckled, “It’s pretty bad. I’m ripping out all the flooring and putting in red oak.” He then stretched his legs out and put his arm around me, “I’m also ripping out the kitchen cabinets and putting in maple.”
I had no idea what that would look like. “That sounds nice.”
He chuckled, “It will be.”
“Just make sure the cabinets are user friendly.” I mumbled.
I looked at him and blushed, “You know, so that short people can reach all the important things.”
He grinned and kissed my forehead. “I see. How tall are you?”
“Shut up, James.” I muttered.
He laughed and nudged me, “You’re still perfect for me. You know that, right?”
“Sure. What’s not to love?” I said lightly and then cringed inwardly at the use of the “L” word.
Thankfully the waitress came to the table. “Hello James, the usual?”
“And you?” She asked me politely.
“Um, bacon cheeseburger and water, please.”
She winked, “Sure thing.” She turned and sashayed away. She was probably in her late thirties early forties and I suspected she was quite the cougar. James seemed oblivious to her flirting and as I followed her across the room I watched her flash warm smiles at everyone. Maybe she was just really friendly.
James nudged my knee, “Ok, beautiful, tell me what you really thought about the place.”
“Well, in the dark it looked great.” I said dryly.
He raised an eyebrow and I realized he didn’t want to tease, he wanted an honest answer. I nudged his knee back with mine.
“It’s really amazing, James. I mean it. It’s big, but not too big, you know?”
He looked at me confused, “Um, no, I don’t understand.”
“Well, you can mow it in a day. It’s big enough that you can grow a big garden and still have a place for kids to play. You could even get a dog, I mean a big dog.”
He relaxed, “You want a dog?”
I shrugged, “I’ve never had a pet.”
“Never?” He asked and frowned.
I shrugged, “Yeah, it’s not a big deal.”
“But you’d like a dog?”
“Yes,” I grinned stupidly. “A really big dog, well big compared to me. Something smart that’s easy to train, good with kids. If it’s really good I can take it to work, you know like a therapy dog.”
James nodded thoughtfully. “I know a guy who raises labs.”
“Really? The golden ones?”
He laughed at me, “Yes, I think chocolate too.”
“That’s cool.” I said as nonchalantly as possible. I would love a dog. It was a few years off, but I really, really wanted a dog.
“The place is big enough you could have a couple. We can build a big dog run off the back door.” James said and then stopped when I frowned. “What?”
“I figured they’d sleep in the house. It gets so cold at night.”
He laughed, “They’re dogs, honey.”
I pouted, “Well, my dogs would sleep inside.”
He grinned and stretched his arm around my shoulders. He kissed the top of my head and mumbled, “Yes, dear.”
The burger arrived and it was indeed one of the best I’ve ever had.
James asked around a mouthful, “You could see yourself living in the country.”
I nodded, my heart skipping a beat. I could, in fact, see myself anywhere with James.
His shoulders relaxed and he nodded. “Good.” He finally said. There really wasn’t more to say. It was too soon, but I figured it would all work out.
“Will you have to take out any school loans?” He asked suddenly.
“Um, no. I’m pretty sure that I can stay ahead of tuition payments and still, you know, eat. I’m going to apply for the RA position so housing and food will be covered and I just have to pay tuition. The hospital pays well, and thankfully Bree is the best roommate ever and we find plenty of free things to do.”
“You’d let me know if you needed money, right?” He asked quietly.
I chuckled, “No.” I rolled my eyes, seriously what was he thinking?
“Why the hell not?” His voice was quiet, but serious.
I turned and looked at him, slightly amused. “Because, it’s my college education, not yours.”
He sighed and said nothing for a while. Finally he pulled some of my hair between his fingers and wrapped it around his finger. “I hate that you’re working so hard. I hate that we don’t get to see each other often.” He released my hair and tilted my chin up, “I’d rather pay for your tuition and have you visit every weekend than every few months. I’m being selfish.”
“Oh.” I pulled my knee up onto the booth seat and faced him. I leaned in and snuggled into his chest. His arms wrapped around me and he held me for a moment.
“James, I have four years left at school. I know that we have something amazing, but I need you to be patient. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not interested in dating anyone but you and if you so much as look at another woman I’ll cut you.” I said with a raised eyebrow. The corners of his lips twitched and I knew he wasn’t really taking the threat seriously.
“Ok,” he leaned down and gently kissed my lips and then looked around. “You will let me pay for your ferry.”
I rolled my eyes, “Yes, dear.” I put my leg down and dug back into my food. I was hungry. He chuckled at me.
“Do you want dessert?” He asked as I finished up my last French fry.
“Is there chocolate?”
He grinned, “I made brownies back at my place.”
He bakes! I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. I nodded, surprised that he thought that far in advance and absolutely delighted that he had.
His apartment was male, very, very male. The television screen was about the same size as the smart boards at school. In every corner and every few feet there was a speaker in various shapes and sizes. There were several sleek electronic devices sitting neatly on a bookshelf that was under the hung television. Then there were probably a hundred or more disks carefully arranged on the shelves beneath.
“Jeez, you guys have a lot of movies.”
He looked at me and laughed, “Those are games. We probably have a couple of movies.”
Oh. My. God. “Tony would want to move in here.”
He shrugged, “It’s ok.”
There was a couch that was larger than our dorm room and I realized two club chairs. The apartment was huge. The kitchen was typical and there was a breakfast bar but no dining area.
The breakfast bar had a vase of flowers and a plate full of brownies.
I laughed, “Flowers and brownies. I’m surprised your roommates left any at all.”
James raised an eyebrow, “I made two batches and if they didn’t touch this batch I promised them another batch next week.
I laughed and pulled him in for a big hug. “That’s the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me!”
He easily lifted me up and placed me on the counter. My head was finally a little higher than his and I was able to lean into him and kiss him soundly.
I loved the way he smelled – like James and always the outdoors. Fresh ocean and today fresh wood too.
His lips covered mine and he kept his hands at my waist, gripping me tighter and tighter like he was losing control.
I sat up and looked at him and was shocked at the look of heat he was giving me. He reached up and cupped my face and then closed his eyes for a minute before stepping back.
“I’ll get you a brownie.” He said hoarsely.
I nodded, still breathless. I looked around, “Where are your roommates?”
“At Mama’s Deli. They’ll be gone for a while.”
I slid off the counter and we kept it in between. The brownie was perfect. Moist and chocolate. I moaned as I chewed.
He was looking at me strangely when I finally opened my eyes.
“What?” I asked, wiping crumbs off my face.
“When do you have to get back?” James asked.
I raised an eyebrow and shrugged.
He choked, “Do you have to get back?”
I smirked and whispered, “Were you thinking that I was going to put out on our first date?”
“No,” he shook his head and looked guilty.
I grinned, “You’re wrong.”
It only took a moment for him to realize what I had said and one second later I was in his arms.
Best date ever.