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Blame It On The Mistletoe

Blame It On The Mistletoe


    When Macy Carter’s parents order her to bring her live-in boyfriend Sean home with her for Christmas she has no idea that her little white lie is just about to snowball into a fabrication of monstrous proportions. Sean isn’t her boyfriend, he’s her boss. Now she has to reveal the lie she’s been telling her family for the past two years or hastily concoct an elaborate ruse to fool them instead.
    When Macy tells Sean Mathis of her predicament he does what any gentleman would – he laughs and then agrees to help her out. Little does he know that one misplaced word in their little scheme will backfire and land them both in the hot-seat.
    Secluded in the mountains, surrounded by snow and good will, Sean and Macy can’t help looking like the perfect couple. So perfect that the family decides a Christmas wedding will make it a holiday none of them would ever forget!

Lily Graison Blame It On The Mistletoe

Chapter 1

    "Tell him while you're naked. He'd agree to anything then."
    "Mom!” Macy gripped the phone tighter to her ear. She knew no one could hear her mother on the other end, but felt paranoid nonetheless. She glanced out across the reception area and turned in her chair before lowering her voice. “I'm not telling him while I'm naked."
    "Don't act so scandalized,” her mother said. “I'm just trying to be helpful, you know."
    "I know that,” Macy said. “And regardless of how I tell him the situation is still the same. He's still busy. I'm not sure he can make it this year."
    "How busy can he be? He's a veterinarian for cripes sake."
    "I know but this practice is his whole life. He can't just drop it."
    "You've said that for the last two years, Macy. I want that young man here for Christmas. No excuses."
    Macy Carter grimaced at her mother's tone of voice. She glanced across the room at Sean, watching him smile at Mr. Peterson and sighed heavily. Her mother was still talking, her voice a constant echo in her head while she tried to think of a way to dissuade her from forcing this issue. They'd been over it every holiday for the past two years. Every time she went back home, the first question anyone asked was, “Where's Sean? Why is he always too busy for you?"
    She finally cut her mother off. “Okay. I'll let him know how you feel about this. I'll do what I can."
    "You do that, honey. Your father is starting to get worried. If you're boyfriend can't even manage a weekend to meet us, he isn't good enough for you. You can tell him we said so."
    Macy hung up the phone and let her head fall to the desk. She thumped it several times; cursing her stupidity before someone cleared their throat and caught her attention. She rolled her head to the side, looking up at them through her hair and felt her stomach coil into a knot. “Hey Sean."
    "As much as I find this self mutilation amusing, you're scaring the patients,” he said with a smile, turning his head to look out over the reception area.
    Macy followed his gaze, noticing everyone staring at her and the patients, all their furred faces, looking anxious and nervous. The clinic was full today. Almost every species of pet you could name was inside the small veterinary clinic waiting for a shot or just a general check-up. She clearly didn't have time for a breakdown at the moment. It would have to wait.
    She sat up when Sean handed her the folder he'd been holding and walked around the desk, picking up the next file. He stopped beside her, leaned down toward her and quietly said, “Whatever it is, it can't be that bad."
    "That's what you think,” Macy mumbled when Sean called out to the next patient and walked the short hall to the last exam room. She sighed again, pushing her hair out of her face and let her shoulders slump.
    Macy picked up the discarded file and tapped it lightly on the desk while trying to think of a solution to her Mother's demands. There was no way her family would believe Sean was again too busy for a visit. Just like her mom said, how busy could a veterinarian be? They were allowed time off of work too, right? And why would he not want to visit them?
    She moaned out loud, turned in her seat and stood, making her way to the end of the hall and stepping into the tiny room that was used as their makeshift lounge. A brown, rather ratty sofa, sat along one wall. A refrigerator and microwave sat on the other and a round table took up the space in-between.
    Walking to the fridge, Macy opened it, taking out her juice carton and gulped a huge amount right out of the jug. It did nothing to calm her nerves. Not that she thought it would. She needed something a lot stronger than orange juice for this.
    Hearing the door across the hall open, she shoved the juice back into the fridge and turned just as Sean walked into the lounge.
    "Why she brings that dog in here week after week when nothing is wrong with him truly boggles the mind."
    Macy grinned. “It isn't the dog she wants you to see, Sean."
    He lifted a curious brow and grinned. “Really?"
    "Yes, really,” Macy said. “Haven't you ever noticed how she's dressed for a night out on the town?"
    "No. Of course, I don't make it a habit of checking out sixty year old women either."
    He crossed the room, falling onto the sofa before looking over at her and smiling.
    "What?” she said when he continued to stare at her.
    "Go ahead and tell me what the problem is so you won't be bruising your head by thumping it on your desk for the remainder of the day."
    Macy rolled her eyes, pulled a chair from the table out, and sat down. “It's nothing you should worry about. Just family stuff."
    "Like… family stuff,” she said, grumpily. She glanced at him, regretting the way that had come out. She sometimes forgot Sean didn't have to deal with family. He had none. She shook her head and smiled to try and soften her earlier tone. “Just my mom and Christmas. She wants me to come home for the week."
    "Most mom's would,” he said. “What's the problem, then?"
    Macy blushed. She felt heat crawling up her neck and settle on her cheeks. She looked away from him. Lord, how did she get herself in to these messes?
    "I'm waiting."
    "It's nothing,” she said.
    "Nothing doesn't cause you to bang your head on a desk and it certainly doesn't cause your cheeks to get all rosy."
    When he chuckled, Macy turned her head and rolled her eyes at him. “This isn't funny."
    "And I'm supposed to know that how? You still haven't told me what the problem is."
    "Why do you even care?"
    He shrugged one shoulder. “Does it matter? Come on, Macy. If something's wrong, maybe I can help."
    She snorted a laugh. “Yeah, you can help all right,” she mumbled.
    "It can't be that bad."
    "Fine. You want to help me?” she said, challenging. “Then come home with me for Christmas."
    "Come home with you? To your parents house?"
    She blushed again and ducked her head to try and hide it. “The truth?"
    "Of course."
    "Okay then.” She took a deep, cleansing breath and stared down at the scared tabletop. “My mother said if I didn't bring you with me this time, not to bother coming at all."
    He didn't say anything for long minutes, just stared at her with a confused look on his face. He sat up straight and raised one dark brow. “Me? She wants you to bring me with you at Christmas?"
    Macy glanced at him and nodded her head. “Yeah. They want to meet you."
    "They want to meet me?"
    "Stop repeating everything I say. I feel like you should be sitting on my shoulder asking for a cracker."
    "Parrot?” she said with a chuckle. He clearly didn't get it. “Never mind."
    He waved a hand, dismissing her last comment and jumped right back in the conversation. “Your parents want me to tag along for Christmas? Why?"
    The knot in her stomach grew until she felt nauseous. There was no way to avoid this. Either he went with her or she spent Christmas alone. Her shoulders slumped seconds before she buried her face in her hands and bravely mumbled out why.
    He laughed. “Sorry, darling, but I didn't catch a word of that."
    "Oh for Pete's sake,” Macy growled, lifting her head and pushing her hair out of her face. “They actually want to meet the man I've been living with for the past two years. The man who will some day marry me and give them a house full of grandbabies. The same man who has always been too busy to meet them."
    "Okay,” Sean said. “So, they want to meet your boyfriend.” He narrowed his eyes at her and leaned his head to one side. “You've been living with someone for two years? How did I not know this?” he shook his head, a funny look falling over his face before he leaned back. “It doesn't matter. What does this have to do with me though?"
    Macy felt sick. Her stomach clenched the same instant her throat grew tight. She swallowed and weakly said, “I may have told them it was you."
    Sean stared at her for long minutes, watching the pink tint on her cheeks deepen to a rosy red. When she glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, what she'd said finally dawned on him. She told her parents he was her boyfriend? As much as he tried, he couldn't help it. He laughed. He laughed until his eyes watered and his stomach ached. When she stood and started for the door, he jumped to his feet and grabbed her before she left. “Not so fast,” he said, grinning. “I want to hear this. Every sordid detail."
    "Don't look so pleased about it,” she said. “You're in just as much trouble here as I am."
    "How so?"
    She grinned. “You're the insensitive jerk who doesn't have the common decency to meet his girlfriends family."
    "Ouch. Is that what they think?"
    "Of course. Why else would a man who supposedly loves me refuse to meet my family?"
    She had him there. “Okay. So you've been lying to them for years and I'm the bad guy.” He grinned. “You're too devious to be working for me, Macy Carter."
    Macy snorted a laugh. “I learned it by watching you."
    She shoved past him and walked back down the hall. She called the next patient and shoved the folder at him before he could say another word. When she showed Katie Burns and her Pomeranian, Peaches, to the exam room, she shot Sean a glare and walked back to her desk. “You have patients to see. Don't leave them waiting."
    Sean continued to smile at her, watching her for long minutes while she tried to ignore him. Her cheeks were still pink and no matter how clipped her words came out he knew she was embarrassed. That permanent shade of red staining her cheeks told him that. Of course, the added color caused her skin to glow and if possible, made her more attractive than she already was. She was like a ray of sunshine most days with her long golden hair, bright blue eyes, and a smile that softened the hardest of hearts. She was always happy and greeted every person who walked through the door as if she'd known them all her life. She was petite, sassy and had an infectious laugh.
    So why have you never asked her out? That one's easy. His “no dating employees” rule is why. Oh, that and the fact he was at least nine years older than her.
    She cleared her throat, nodding her head to the door of the exam room. He smiled and leaned close to her and whispered, “As soon as the last patient is gone, we'll have a little talk about this affair we seem to be having."
    Her gasp caused his laughter to return. He winked at her before walking to the exam room. The look on her face before he shut the door was one he'd never forget. Embarrassment still burned on her cheeks but something in her eyes told him their working relationship was about to change.

Chapter 2

    Stupid, stupid, stupid! Macy thought. There was no way this was going to work. Why did she even consider it? Why did she say yes? They were all going to know. She wasn't an actress. She flunked drama for a reason, damnit!
    "Stop biting your nails. Everything is going to be fine."
    Macy turned her head, glaring at Sean. He smiled at her before turning his attention back to the road. This was his fault. Her family was going to find out she was a lonely, miserable little liar, and it was going to be his entire fault. This whole farce was his idea. Show up for Christmas with said boyfriend-namely him-at her side and show her family the loving relationship they had. Her perfectly concocted lie would never be found out and every thing would turn out fine.
    When she finally broke down and spilled her sad little story to him about how worried her family was that she was living alone so far from home, and that she had no close personal friends, or how easy the lie about having a boyfriend came up, he just sat there smiling at her with laughter dancing in his eyes. His only question had been, “Why him?” Now he knew exactly how sad her personal life was. He was the only guy she knew at the time. Of course, she didn't tell him how much she'd actually told her family about him. They knew as much about Sean as she did. She talked to her mother every week and without fail, her mother asked about him. What was she suppose to say? “He's fine,” and change the subject. He was supposed to be her boyfriend after all. Of course she'd talk about him.
    "Take the next exit,” she said.
    Sean merged off Interstate 40 and Macy held her stomach as the butterflies she'd been dealing with all day swam in erratic patterns. When they left Charleston that morning at dawn, she'd been so sick to her stomach she wasn't sure she'd be able to keep her breakfast down. Of course, every mile they traveled threatened to do the same. The closer to Ashville they got, the queasier her stomach grew. She wasn't sure exactly what made her more nervous. The thoughts of lying to her family to their faces, trying to convince her family that she and Sean were actually a couple, or if it was the fact that Sean, the man she'd been half in love with since first laying eyes on him, was going to pretend to be in love with her. How exactly would they accomplish that? Would they cuddle by the fireplace? Hold hands? Kiss?
    Oh God! There was no way she could kiss him. Okay, so yeah, she could. Had dreamed about it for years actually, but fantasizing about someone and actually acting on it are two very different things. He wasn't interested in her. At least, he'd never let on that he was. Not that the prospect of him being interested was in anyway a burden. Far from it. Which was exactly the problem. How would she survive if he acted all lovey-dovey toward her for an entire week and then just… stopped.
    The narrow roads wound their way up the mountain and Macy pointed the way until they turned off the main road and began their final climb. When her parent's house came into view, she inhaled deeply to keep her stomachs contents in place.
    They pulled into the drive and Sean put the car in park. He turned to her and said, “You grew up in a log cabin?"
    She grinned. “We lived on the side of a mountain. What else would our house look like?"
    Macy opened her car door; climbing out and breathing in the fresh, clean mountain air, she tried to calm her nerves. She turned, watching Sean when he got out of the car and shut his door before he looked at her over the roof of the car. He smiled and shook his head. “This place looks like it should be on a damn greeting card."
    "Yeah. It does,” she said, looking at the house. It hadn't changed since she'd been gone. The two-story log house looked as warm and inviting as it always had, especially now. Wreathes hung on every window, red ribbons and bows graced the railing on the wrap-around porch and twinkling lights blinked from every available surface she could see. Her father always went all out at Christmas. It was his favorite time of year. Hers too. Something about Christmas always made her feel safe and loved. Maybe because it was the only time her entire family was together. Since they were all grown and living on their own, Christmas was the one time a year she got to be a kid again. Here, she was just Macy. The daughter of Rose and Gerald Carter and baby sister to her five older brothers. The only thing she ever had to worry about when she was here was if her clothes would still fit after her mother showered her with sweets and the best home cooking she'd ever tasted.
    The front door opened and Macy smiled her first genuine smile in days. Her mother's beaming face met her gaze and Macy laughed before running to the porch. Her mother caught her in a tight hug, squeezing her to the point she couldn't breathe before letting go.
    "Oh Macy, look at you! I swear you get prettier every time I see you."
    "You say that every time you see me, Mom,” Macy said, laughing.
    "Well, that's because it's true.” Rose cupped Macy's face in her hands, kissing her cheek before she looked to her left. Macy didn't have to look to know her mother had seen Sean. Her mother's eyes lit up instantly. “Macy Marie Carter. Why didn't you tell me this man was so gorgeous,” she said, lifting a hand and smoothing down her hair.
    Macy raised an eyebrow at her mother's action before she turned her head, looking over her shoulder at Sean. He was smiling and stopped by her side.
    "Probably the same reason she didn't tell me her mother was so beautiful,” Sean said.
    Rose blushed. “Oh, he's a charmer, isn't he?"
    "He's something, all right,” Macy muttered.
    Macy watched them talk, smiling and laughing like she didn't even exist. She'd never seen her mother look so… flushed. Of course, her mother was right. Sean was gorgeous. The day she'd walked into the clinic for her job interview and saw him she almost swallowed her tongue. A six-foot tall hunk with wide shoulders and a thick mane of dark hair was not what she had been expecting. His eyes were a deep shade of brown with small gold flecks and the body he hid under his clothes, she was sure, belonged to a seasoned swimmer. The man was simply the best looking thing she'd seen in ages and it had taken her weeks to be able to look at him while actually speaking. Every time she tried, she got tongue tied and stammered like a fool. Her interview for the receptionist job was a total disaster due to her inability to look at him and form a coherent thought. She'd babbled like an idiot but, much to her surprise, he hired her anyway.
    She looked to her mother when she heard her laugh and frowned at the look she was giving her. “What?"
    Rose laughed louder, shaking her head and glancing back at Sean. “Is she always this starry eyed when she looks at you?"
    Starry eyed?
    "Always,” Sean said, reaching out and wrapping his arm around her shoulder. He pulled her close to his side and gave her a light squeeze. “The fact she still looks at me like that after two years is the reason our relationship always feels brand new. When she stops, we'll be in trouble."
    Her mother laughed again, laying a hand on her heart and shaking her head. “Well, come inside. It's entirely too cold out here. I'll have the boys come get your luggage in a few minutes."
    Macy knew her face was blood red just from his arm over her shoulder. She felt like a schoolgirl with a crush and jabbed her elbow lightly into Sean's ribs when he started toward the house, to get him to let go. He didn't release his hold on her and a look up at his face told her he was enjoying this way too much. He knew she was uncomfortable and loved every minute of it.
    They walked in the house and the smell of fresh gingerbread hit full force. Her stomach grumbled instantly. No matter how sick she was, her mothers gingerbread cookies always made things better. Today was no exception.
    The sight of her father, her brothers and their wives sitting around the living room completely eliminated her earlier case of nerves. She was swept up in warm hugs and kisses and tears stung her eyes by the time the last family member let go of her.
    When she finally stepped back, her smile dimmed when she realized everyone was looking at Sean and they didn't all look happy.
    "So, this is the elusive boyfriend, then?” her father asked.
    "Be nice, Gerald,” Rose said.
    Macy glanced over at her shoulder at Sean and actually felt sorry for the guy. He was about to get nailed to the wall for something entirely not his fault. She swallowed before taking a step back to him and hesitantly took his hand. “Um, Dad, this is Sean Mathis. Sean, my father, Gerald."
    "Mr. Carter,” Sean said, reaching out his free hand. “It's nice to finally meet you. Macy talks about you constantly. I'm sorry it's taken so long to get up here to meet you. I apologize for that. I have no excuse other than I can be too selfish for my own good. Luckily your daughter is a forgiving woman and overlooks my faults."
    Macy watched her father expectantly, chewing on her bottom lip. He stared at Sean for long minutes before extending his hand and grabbing the one Sean still held out. When he shook it and smiled, Macy let out the breath she'd been holding.
    Introductions were made and Macy almost sagged in relief when no one railed on Sean for staying away for so long. She looked to her mother when she motioned to the other room with a nod of her head.
    She turned to Sean, grabbing his arm to get his attention. “My mom wants to talk to me. Will you be okay by yourself?” she asked.
    "Yeah. I've got to get on their good side eventually. It might as well be now."
    Macy gave him a hesitant smile and glanced around the room. She took a calming breath before nodding her head at Sean and leaving to find her mother.
    She found her in the kitchen, leaning against the counter, smiling like the Cheshire cat. She noticed instantly her mother had brushed her hair and pulled it up, pinning the pale locks to the back of her head. She smiled at the sight.
    "You are in so much trouble, missy."
    "What for?” Macy said.
    "What for, she says. You know exactly what for,” her mother said. “How dare you bring that man in here without warning me. I was a complete mess."
    Macy laughed and looked her mother over from head to toe. She'd changed her blouse too, she noticed. “Well, you're not a mess now."
    "Of course I'm not, now,” Rose said. “Do you think your father will notice I changed?"
    "Does he normally?"
    "No. I bought a black wig at Halloween and wore it for over six hours and he never said a word. The man doesn't notice anything unless I burn his supper."
    Macy laughed and walked across the room, embracing her mother and kissing her cheek. “I've missed you."
    "I've missed you too, Macy. I never could figure out why you preferred living so far south when you could be close to us.” She chuckled and said, “After seeing that man of yours, I know. I'd be anywhere he was too."
    Macy blushed and stepped away. She wasn't sure why she felt so embarrassed. It wasn't like Sean was really hers. Maybe it was because she was purposely deceiving them. It wasn't so bad when she did it over the phone. She didn't have to look them in the eye while she lied to them. Now, she did.
    The shuffle of feet and giggles caught her attention and Macy turned, looking at the kitchen door. She rolled her eyes when her sister-in-laws, Pam and Gwen grinned at her and shook their heads.
    "Bruce has already informed me that Sean is taken and he better not catch me so much as looking at the man in any way that I wouldn't look at my own children. That man is too jealous for his own good,” Pam said, laughing.
    "With good reason,” Gwen said. “Macy, it's no wonder you've kept him all to yourself. I would have too. Sean is yummy in ways I can't even describe."
    Macy grinned. “I'll be sure to tell Greg you think so."
    "Don't you dare,” Gwen screeched. “He'll have me locked in the bedroom for the remainder of our visit."
    "As he should,” Rose said. “You can't dump my son for Macy's boyfriend no matter how attractive he is. Besides, it's my daughter Sean is in love with."
    Macy blushed and looked out the window, listening to them discuss Sean. This would be more difficult than she thought. She couldn't deny anything they said. He was yummy. She'd known that from the moment she laid eyes on him. Pretending to be in love with Sean and make it convincing wouldn't be a problem. She practically was now. No, the problems would come later, after Sean spent the week pretending to be in love with her. Would she be able to convince her heart he was only acting when all was said and done? Could she spend a week with him, being all couple-like and then… nothing? Go back to the clinic, work day after day with him and pretend none of this ever happened?
    She sighed while watching her nieces and nephews out the kitchen window and tried to think of the best way to handle the situation she'd gotten herself in to. Maybe if she just concentrated on her family and interacted with Sean only when she had to, things wouldn't be so bad. Not all couples were openly affectionate. Why did they have to be?
    As she convinced herself that staying away from Sean as much as she could eased her mind, one thought struck her like lightening and caused fear to crawl up her spine. She turned to her mother quickly, her pulse racing. “Um mom? Where will we be sleeping?"
    "Oh, I cleaned your old room for you. You'd be amazed at how much dust collects in a room when no one uses it."
    "My old room?” Macy said, a wave of apprehension sweeping through her. “For… Sean and I?"
    "Of course,” Rose said. “Macy, what in the world is wrong with you. You're white as a sheet.” Her mother crossed the room, raising her hand and laying it to her forehead. “Are you all right?"
    Macy nodded dumbly. Her room. She was going to have to share a room with Sean? For a week? She swallowed audibly. “I think I need to lie down for a while. It's been a crazy weak. I'm exhausted, actually."
    "Of course,” Rose said. “I'll get the boys to bring your things up."
    Macy made her way up the stairs, rushing into her room and shutting the door behind her. She leaned against it, closing her eyes and tried to calm her breathing. “This is so not happening,” she said to herself before opening her eyes. The bed was the first thing she saw and she groaned.
    A knock on the door was quickly followed by someone pushing on it and she stepped away and turned, only to moan pitifully when Sean walked in, smiling.
    "So, I hear we're bunking together,” he grinned.
    "Apparently,” Macy mumbled.
    "Are you holding your breath or are you really that embarrassed? Your face is blood red."
    Macy bit her lip and tried to get the heat in her cheeks to calm. He loved this. She could tell by that wide smirk on his face.
    He crossed the room, looking at the things scattered on the dresser before he turned to the bed. He looked at it, turned his head to her and grinned. “Dibs on the left side."
    "You're not sleeping with me."
    "Oh, come on, sweetheart. I promise not to steal the covers."
    "It's not going to happen."
    He grinned at her, raising a leg and crawling onto the bed. He lounged across it, resting his head on his upturned hand. “Want to break it in now or wait until the sun goes down?"
    "Stop teasing me, Sean,” Macy hissed. “It's not very becoming."
    "But it's so much fun watching your face turn colors."
    "You're an ass.” She turned, jerking the bedroom door open while Sean's laughter followed her into the hall. She gasped when she ran into her mother and the blankets she'd been holding fell to the floor.
    "Macy? What in the world are you doing?” Rose asked, bending down to grab the fallen blankets.
    "Um, just coming to see if there were extra blankets,” she lied, grabbing the blankets before her mother could.
    Sean snorted behind her and she turned her head, looking over her shoulder at him. He wiggled his eyebrows and patted the bed in front of him, inviting her to join him.
    "Thank you for the blankets, Rose,” Sean said, sitting up and leaning against the headboard. “Macy steals covers like a fiend."
    Rose laughed. “She always did. It could be ninety degrees outside and she'd be balled up with the blankets over her head."
    Macy walked back into the room and avoided looking at Sean. She didn't have to look to know he was watching her. She could feel his gaze like a caress. She sighed, dumped the blankets on the chair by the window, and looked out. Her brothers were getting their luggage from the car. She smiled as she watched them, each of them trying to find the lightest bag to carry.
    "Did you hear me, Macy?"
    "What?” Macy said, turning around.
    "I said dinner will be in an hour. I know you two are tired from your long drive so we'll give you a pass on the after dinner stories."
    Her mother actually winked at her before looking to Sean and leaving the room. She can't possibly think… well, of course she could. She thinks you've been living with this man for the past two years. That you've been sharing a bed with him.
    She turned her head and looked at Sean. He was leaning against the headboard, arms folded over his chest, and a huge grin turning the corners of his mouth. “Don't even say it."
    "I wasn't going to,” he said.
    "You were thinking it, though. I could see it in your eyes."
    "Not my fault if your mother thinks you're getting lucky tonight."
    "Hard to get lucky when my boyfriend is sleeping on the floor."
    Sean glanced at the floor, then across the expanse of the bed. “If you don't want to share the bed, then you make the sacrifice. I'm too old to sleep in the floor."
    "It's my bed!” she said. “And you're not old. That's a lame excuse."
    He laughed. “Old enough to know sleeping on the floor will require recuperation time tomorrow once I get up, besides, what would your mother think if she walked in and found me in the floor?"
    "That you were being a jerk and I kicked you out?"
    He laughed. “You'd honestly kick me out of your bed?"
    Macy growled and stomped from the room. Why was he being like this? Sure, he picked on her occasionally. He even managed to piss her off more than she wished him too but why was he being so… so… grrrr!
    She made her way downstairs, entering the kitchen amongst a round of giggles. When her mother and her brother's wives saw her, their laughter rang in her ears. This can't be my life.

Chapter 3

    Macy sat on the sofa, listening to her brother Bruce tell a very animated story about how his favorite football team was made a laughing stock of the NFL. She pretended to care, nodding when everyone else did, and even grimaced when Bruce looked ready to burst into tears over the whole ordeal. She found the sport rather boring, to be honest, but since dinner had been served and cleaned away, she was looking for any excuse she could find not to go to bed. To a bed she had to share with Sean. Truth be known, she was dead tired and just stalling.
    Sean had been grinning at her since he followed her downstairs earlier and no matter what she did, she could still see him sprawled out across her bed. The fact she enjoyed seeing him there irritated her beyond reason. How many times had she imagined it in the past? Too many to count. This whole charade had disaster written all over it.
    She glanced to the doorway, wondering where he was. She escaped to the living room the minute her mother refused to let her help with the dishes, hoping Sean would go to bed. He'd yawned through his meal and his eyes were as bloodshot as hers were. They had both been up since dawn, packing the car, and spent the better part of the day driving.
    Leaning back against the side of the sofa, Macy listened to the men around her talk until their voices faded into a low hum. The crackle of logs in the fireplace was a soft murmur in the background, and she felt boneless when she felt her body finally relax.
    She never moved when she felt the cushion beside her shift but did manage to open her eyes when she felt strong arms wrap around her and she was suddenly lifted off the sofa.
    She looked up and Sean gave her a look that said, “don't argue,” before he looked to everyone in the room. “I think this one has had enough excitement for one day,” he said. “Tell them goodnight, Macy."
    Macy turned her head, smiling at her father. “Night, daddy."
    "Goodnight, baby. We'll talk more in the morning."
    A round of goodnights followed in their wake and Macy was too tired to complain that she was being carried to bed. Her well thought out plan to ignore the entire ordeal was thrown out the window the moment Sean's arms were around her. As much as he'd irritated her today, she had to admit, if only to herself, being in his arms felt nice. She relaxed, sinking into his warm embrace, sighing heavily and laying her head on his shoulder when he reached the stairs and started up.
    "You're still not sleeping in my bed,” she said, sleepily.
    He laughed and rounded the corner at the top of the stairs. “I could always lay you in the hall."
    "You won't, though."
    "No, I won't,” he admitted. He reached her room, pushing the door closed with his foot and crossed the room. “I'm beat, Macy. Why don't we just sleep tonight and fight about the sleeping arrangements tomorrow?"
    She mumbled something he didn't understand when he laid her down and he smiled when she curled into a ball, her hands tucked under her chin. He took her shoes off, tossing them to the floor before sitting down on the edge of the bed and removing his own. A nice, long shower would do wonders for his fatigue but he was too tired to even contemplate it for very long. Shaking his head, he stood, flipped off the lights, walked around the bed, and lay down with a groan of pleasure.
    He turned to his side and stretched out, looking at Macy as she slept. He smiled as he thought of the way he'd teased her, her cheeks turning rosy red every time. He hadn't done it to make her uncomfortable, though. She was already uncomfortable. He figured if he made light of the whole thing, she'd stop being so nervous. If he noticed it, surely her family did. They were supposed to be a couple. If she flinched every time he was near, they'd figure out her little lie in no time.
    He almost laughed out loud at the entire situation. Why she felt the need to lie about having a boyfriend to begin with was beyond him. Surely her parents wouldn't fault her for not having one. And why didn't she have one? She was certainly pretty enough to gain the attention of any number of men. She was cute, sassy and normally had a great sense of humor. Her laughter was contagious most days and one glance at those big baby blue eyes of hers would melt a man on the spot.
    Yeah, a man could do a lot worse than Macy Carter. She didn't give herself enough credit. She was the total package. Any man would be crazy not to fall in love with her. So why haven't you? He smiled while looking at her. Maybe this plan wasn't so crazy. He hadn't ever asked her out because of his “no dating employees” rule and the age difference but if he were supposed to act like he was in love with her, then what harm would it do to take it one step further? If he couldn't have her on normal terms, then this was perfect, right? He had an entire week to find out what those plump lips tasted like. A week to feel her in his arms and if things went further than that…
    His smile grew. Yeah, this harebrained idea of his just took a detour on the right track. A week pretending to be Macy's boyfriend? Not a problem at all.

* * * *

    "Macy! Get up! It's snowing!"
    Macy blinked open her eyes when the bed shifted, the tiny hands and feet of her nieces and nephews climbing across her drew a grunt from her when someone's elbow jammed into her stomach.
    She pried her eyes open, squinting against the light spilling in from her open curtain and smiled as the happy chatter continued.
    The kids jumped from the bed, running to the window and looked out, talking so fast she couldn't make out who was saying what. The snow was falling heavily, the large flakes brushing the window and covering the world in a blanket of white. She tried to sit up but stopped when she heard a groan behind her and the arm she hadn't noticed wrapped around her waist tightened. Turning her head, she looked over her shoulder. Sean was behind her, spooned closely to her back.
    She panicked momentarily but noticed quickly they were both still fully clothed. They weren't even under the covers. A thin blanket was draped half way across them and she glanced around the room trying to remember how she even got there. It came back to her in an instant. Sean had carried her up to bed and she hadn't protested a bit. She blushed and ducked her head.
    Lying perfectly still, she tried to get her cheeks to cool. The bedroom door was open and knowing one of her family members could walk by prompted her to reach for Sean's arm to lift it from her waist.
    He grabbed her hand, tucking it back to her stomach and tightened his hold on her. “Lay still. If you pretend not to see them, they'll go away."
    "The kids?” she asked.
    "Mmhum,” he mumbled. He pulled her closer to him, the warmth of his body seeping through her clothes and she wanted nothing more than to lay there for the remainder of the day. His scent surrounded her, the feel of his arms around her heavenly, but she couldn't let herself get comfortable.
    Struggling free, she sat up, grinning when Sean mumbled out a complaint and grabbed the blanket, pulling it to him and wrapping himself up in a make-shift cocoon.
    She pushed her hair out of her eyes and stood, walking to the window and looking out. “Wow.” There was already a good six inches of snow on the ground and it was still falling. “Do you know what this means?” she asked the kids.
    "The sleigh?” they all chimed in unison.
    "Has grandpa ever let a good snow go to waste?"
    Macy laughed when they rushed from the room, screaming for her father as they stomped down the stairs.
    "What's so special about a sleigh?"
    Macy looked over at the bed. Sean was propped up on one arm, his hair tussled in a mass of wild strands with sleep filled doe eyes and a hint of stubble darkening his chin. He'd never looked so tempting. She smiled and went to her bags. “Meet me downstairs for breakfast and you'll find out."
    She grabbed clean clothes and rushed to the bathroom.
    Sean watched her go, blinking twice before looking to the window. The trees were covered with snow. Living all of his thirty-six years of life in Charleston he'd only seen snow in sporadic patches. Sure it snowed occasionally that far south but nothing like this. He grinned and climbed from the bed, grabbing his bag to find clean clothes.

* * * *

    "It's a sleigh,” Sean said with astonishment.
    Macy laughed and turned her head to him. “Of course it's a sleigh,” she said. “What did you think we were talking about?"
    "I… well, I wasn't expecting a real sleigh,” he said, laughing. Sean shook his head as he stared at the sleigh sitting in front of the house. It looked just like every sleigh he'd ever saw on TV, complete with horses with jingling bells attached to their harnesses. It was bright red trimmed in gold with bench seats on either side, plus the driver's bench up front. Blankets were being loaded, thermoses of hot chocolate packed into the basket on the floor and a host of happy, smiling children being lifted and seated. He looked to Macy, watching her laugh and help the children up before she walked back to the porch and stopped beside them.
    "Daddy always takes them first. We'll get our turn later."
    "Is this something he does every winter?"
    "Every chance he gets."
    "We've got room for a few more,” Rose said. “Macy, you and Sean climb up. You can have the first ride, too."
    "That's okay, Momma. You go ahead and go. We'll wait."
    "Nonsense. Sean, grab her and come on."
    Sean grinned and only gave it a second's thought before he scooped Macy up in his arms. She squeaked abruptly and laughed when he walked down the steps and carried her across the yard.
    "If you don't stop carrying me, I'm going to get entirely too comfortable with it."
    "You don't hear me complaining, do you?” Sean grinned and sat her in the seat before climbing up into the sleigh. A thick blanket was thrown over his lap and a little boy, whose name he thought was Michael, launched himself across the seat and snuggled in to Macy's side.
    "Are we ready back there?” Gerald yelled over his shoulder.
    A chorus of happy children screaming “yes,” nearly deafened him before the sleigh made a sudden jolt and they were moving.
    They started down the driveway and were on the main road minutes later. The snow was still falling; large flakes hit his face and made the chill wind seep into his bones. He knew now why there were so many blankets piled into their laps.
    The surrounding forest was silent except for the sounds of the wind whistling through the trees. The gentle clip-clop of the horse's hooves and the bells caused his smile to grow to aching proportions. He'd never experienced anything like this. It was surreal.
    He glanced down at Macy. She was smiling and he didn't think he'd ever seen her look so happy. She was glowing. Her cheeks were pink and this time not from embarrassment. She shivered suddenly and pulled the blanket from his lap, spreading it over them both and looked up. The smile she gave him warmed him in ways he couldn't explain. Seeing her so happy made him happy.
    Grabbing the blanket, he helped her spread it over them and, deciding it was time to start his good boyfriend routine, wrapped one arm around her shoulder, the other around her waist and pulled her closer to his body. Her eyes widened for a moment, then the most amazing thing happened. She relaxed against him, snuggling closer to his side.
    Macy hid her smile in the blanket and watched the kids. The wind was cold on her face but that was the only thing cold. She was enveloped in warm blankets and warm man. Sean's hold on her felt wonderful. She wasn't sure if his sudden attention was for her father's sake or if it was just her. If she had to guess, she'd put her money on her father. Why else would he be all snuggly with her?
    The mile-long stretch of mountain road came to an end and the kids laughed and squealed when her father turned them around and started back up the mountain. Sean's hold on her never loosened and she was pleasantly surprised when his fingers stroked her shoulder. She felt drugged by his clean, earthy scent. She was enjoying his closeness and closed her eyes, laying her head on his shoulder, and sighing contently.
    The ride back to the house was heavenly. Wrapped in Sean's arms, she let herself believe, if only for a few minutes, that this was all real. That he was holding her not out of friendly obligation, but because he wanted to. That he wanted to be close to her. That he really did love her.
    When they started the climb back up the mountain Macy's shoulders slumped. In a few minutes she'd be surrounded by adults again and this quiet moment with Sean would be over. She wasn't ready for him to let go of her yet. Looking ahead of the horses, up the mountain, she smiled. “Daddy?” she said, “Should we check on Granny Potts?"
    Gerald turned his head to look at her and grinned. “I already have. This morning, before I readied the sleigh. She was outside, trying to shovel her steps off."
    "At least it wasn't anything more strenuous than that."
    "Who is Granny Potts?” Sean asked. His arms tightened around her and Macy turned her head to look up at him.
    "She's an elderly lady that lives at the top of the mountain. I'm not sure how old she is but I'm guessing close to eighty-five. She lives alone and her children all live out of state. We check in on her occasionally, as does everyone else living up here, especially in the winter. I don't know how many times we've seen her out trying to chop wood."
    "Chopping wood? At her age?"
    "Exactly why we keep an eye on her. She doesn't know her own limits and hates asking anyone to do anything for her."
    The house came into view and within minutes, her family surrounded the sleigh. Macy noticed her brothers off to the side of the house and the sight of the all-terrain vehicles and the guns caused her to smile.
    "Sean!” Derek yelled. “I saved room for you."
    Sean jumped down from the sleigh, helping Macy to the ground before turning to Derek. “Saved me room for what?"
    "They're going hunting,” Macy grinned.
    "Yeah. Old Christmas tradition. Don't refuse. They'll never let you live it down."
    "All right then,” Sean grinned. “What are we hunting?"
    Macy laughed. “You'll see."
    She turned and walked to the house, watching Sean walk across the yard. She was thrilled her brothers invited Sean to tag along with them. It meant they had accepted him as her boyfriend but, if she were honest, she was terrified. They would grill Sean mercilessly. She knew how devious her brothers could be. Hopefully Sean would pass their tests with flying colors. If not, they were screwed.

* * * *

    "What exactly are we hunting?” Sean asked as he walked beside of Derek through the dense forest.
    "The most elusive creature you can find."
    "And that would be?"
    Derek laughed. “Mistletoe."
    Sean stopped walking and stared at Derek with a raised brow. “Did you say mistletoe?"
    "And you hunt it with a gun?” Sean laughed, noticing the gun Matt carried.
    "How else are we going to get it out of the tree?"
    Sean glanced at the others, only now noticing they were all looking up. When they'd asked him to go hunting, he assumed they meant for deer or rabbit. Certainly not mistletoe. He almost laughed at the notion of hunting for mistletoe. Shaking his head, he started walking again, catching up to Derek. “Okay, I'll bite. How exactly do we hunt mistletoe and why are we hunting it?"
    "Mistletoe is a parasite, of sorts,” Derek said. “The seeds are dropped on tree branches by birds and the roots of the plant invade the trees bark and take nutrients from it to survive. It usually grows high in trees; oak mostly, and sometimes causes the tree branches to be deformed. Just look for ugly tree branches and you'll usually spot the clumps of mistletoe."
    "And you shoot it when you find it?” Sean asked, amused.
    "Unless you want to climb the tree and get it yourself, which I wouldn't suggest. Have you ever tried to climb a tree covered in snow and ice?"
    "Don't. One wrong move and-"
    "I get the picture,” Sean said. “So why are we hunting it?"
    Derek grinned. “You have kissed someone under a mistletoe sprig, haven't you?"
    "Actually, I can't say I ever have."
    "Matt!” Derek yelled. “Sean is a mistletoe virgin."
    The others laughed as Derek turned his head to look back at him. “You'll definitely have to remedy that before you and Macy leave. Mom will demand it."
    "Okay,” Sean said, grinning. “So, is finding the mistletoe or kissing under it the tradition Macy was talking about?"
    "Both. We hunt it every year, without fail. The kissing part is just a bonus,” he grinned. “It's supposed to be good luck to kiss under a sprig. There are a few legends surrounding it, actually. One is, if a married couple kisses under it, they'll have a happy, healthy life. An unmarried woman who doesn't get kissed under it is doomed to remain single for an entire year. So, once we find it, you are to ensure my baby sister's happiness for another year, got it?"
    Sean grinned when Derek winked at him. “Got it."
    They walked in silence for several long minutes, stopping occasionally to look up at a cluster of trees before moving forward again. Most of Macy's brothers were a few hundred feet ahead of them, only Derek chose to remain behind with him.
    He looked at the youngest of the guys, noticing he looked the most like Macy. He was taller than her, of course, but had the same fair skin and blonde hair. He was also the most friendly. Maybe it was his age. Greg looked to be the oldest. He was a few years over forty, at least, with Derek somewhere in his twenties. He wasn't sure, but he thought Macy was somewhere around twenty-three. He frowned as he thought it. Shouldn't he know her exact age? Any good boyfriend would. He hoped they didn't ask him. He'd hate to get it wrong. One wrong word in front of her brothers and their little scam would be over.
    Sean stopped when Derek did and raised an eyebrow when Derek stood grinning at him. “What?"
    "What are you thinking about?"
    "Nothing in particular. Why?"
    Derek laughed. “Because I've said your name three times and you never blinked."
    "Sorry,” Sean said. “I was thinking about Macy, actually."
    "What about her?"
    He shrugged. “Just, things."
    "Things that include maybe making an honest woman out of her?"
    Sean gasped and choked. He coughed while trying to clear his throat. When he knew he'd be able to talk, he looked up. All five guys were staring at him. Greg, the oldest brother, who Sean realized held the gun, grinned down at him.
    "Yes. What are your intentions with Macy?"
    They were looking at him expectantly and he didn't have the foggiest clue what to say. Why didn't he think of this ahead of time? He should have known they'd grill him about his and Macy's relationship eventually.
    "Are you in love with her?” Steven asked. “If you're living together, I'll assume you are."
    An onslaught of questions bombarded him immediately. Every one of Macy's brothers jumped in with both feet, each of their questions running together with the next.
    "Why have you not ever found the time to come meet us before now?… Is her family not important to you?… Are you going to marry her?… You're not just using her, are you?… Aren't you a little old for her?… I haven't seen you touch her since you got here."
    Sean stared at them wide eyed, finally holding up his hands to stop the onslaught of questions. When they did, he took a deep, calming breath and shook his head. “One at a time. My brain only works so fast."
    "All right. Answer mine first,” Matt said.
    "And that was?"
    "Are you going to marry her?"
    Sean felt his palms begin to sweat immediately. Of all the questions he'd heard, that was the one he didn't want to have to answer. “Well actually,” he cleared his throat, looking into the faces of Macy's brothers and said the first thing that popped into his head. “I do have plans to ask her."
    "Uh… soon."
    Matt grinned. “Soon? As in now? Is that why you came up with her this year? Are you going to pop the question to my baby sister for Christmas?"
    Normally, Sean considered himself a smart man but as he looked into the expectant faces of Macy's brothers he realized he was truly an idiot. How did he get out of this lie? And why in the hell did he even open his mouth? Think man and think fast. He faked a sad smile when an idea came to him. “Well, unfortunately, I left it at home. The ring, I mean. I was going to ask her here, in front of her family, but without the ring, its kind of pointless. I'll just wait and do it at New Years now.” He was pleased with himself now and immediately asked for the next question.

Chapter 4

    Macy looked up when she heard the 4-wheelers pulling in to the yard. She sighed in relief at the sound. The guys had been gone all day. Lunch had come and gone hours ago and as she helped with supper she couldn't help but get anxious. She could only imagine what her brother's put Sean through. She should have warned him but surely he saw it coming?
    When the front door opened and the guys entered the house, shaking the snow off their coats and making a general ruckus, she stood on tiptoe and looked for Sean. He dragged in the rear and to her surprise he was smiling.
    The noise level in the house magnified to deafening levels as everyone tried to speak at once. When Greg held up his hand, the room grew quiet.
    Macy watched him expectantly, as did everyone else, and when he grinned and held up a large clump of mistletoe, laughter spilled across the room. “Where's my wife at?"
    Gwen pushed her way through the crowd, leaning up on her tiptoes to accept Greg's kiss. When they broke apart at last, laughter and cheers echoed off the walls. The mistletoe was hung as it was every year and everyone rushed to make sure they all had a turn under it.
    Everyone but her.
    She left the room, walking back to the kitchen. The table was set and the food laid out, waiting for everyone to gather in the dining room. Macy grabbed the washcloth and wiped the already spotless cabinets while the commotion in the other room grew. She heard her mother squeal, her laughter contagious, and she smiled while listening. Their silly little Christmas ritual was one of the many highlights of coming home for the holidays and every year she'd sat and watched until every last person in the room was kissed.
    Everyone but her.
    She sighed and dropped the cloth, turning her head when she heard someone behind her. Sean was standing in the doorway. “Let me guess,” she said. “They sent you in here for me?"
    "For a blonde, you're rather smart."
    "Hey,” she said, laughing. “No dumb blonde jokes from you. I get enough of those as it is."
    He grinned and crossed the room, stopping once he reached her and turned, leaning back against the counter. “You should have told me your brothers were going to grill me on their little hunting expedition."
    "You're a doctor. I assumed you were smart enough to figure that one out on your own."
    "I'm a vet,” he said. “Not a brain surgeon."
    She grinned. “So, what did you tell them?"
    "That you're a wildcat in the sack and loved bondage games."
    He laughed and glanced to the door before he reached out, hooking his arm around her waist and pulling her flush against him. His free hand slid into her hair and he lowered his head. “Don't move,” he whispered in her ear. “We're being watched."
    Her back stiffened and she wondered who was spying. She'd bet money on one of her brothers but her mother wasn't out of the question either. Thoughts of who the unidentified spy might be vanished when she realized that for the first time in three years, she was exactly where she'd fantasized being on numerous occasions. She was pressed against Sean's body, his breath teasing her cheek and she closed her eyes to savor the sensation.
    His lips brushed the side of her face, lingering for long moments before skimming her jaw. His scent was drugging and she inhaled deeply to take in as much of it as she could. When he kissed the edge of her mouth, she looked up. He was staring down at her and she could feel his breath on her face. One tiny move and she would know how his lips tasted.
    "If you want your family to think we're a couple then you need to loosen up,” he said. “Your spine is stiff as a board."
    Macy let her shoulders drop and leaned against him. He was so warm and smelled so good she wasn't sure how much longer she'd be able to just stand there and not take what she wanted. When he smiled at her and raised his head, looking past her, she heard the shuffle of feet.
    "Oh, break it up you two. This is the kitchen, not your bedroom."
    Macy was loath to step away but reluctantly took a step back and turned to face her mother. “Sorry."
    "Don't apologize,” Rose said, grinning. “Just mind the prying eyes of others. You know how your brothers are."
    They were all called to supper and like the night before, the entire meal consisted of everyone trying to talk at once. General conversation centered around Sean, and Macy's brothers teased her about some of the answers they'd been given. When the table was cleared and they moved into the living room, soft whispers turned into giddy laughter and every person Macy looked at was staring at her.
    "Okay, what gives?” she asked. “Why is everyone whispering and looking at me?"
    "Were we?” Gwen asked.
    "Yes. You know you were."
    Gwen shook her head and moved over to the sofa. “It's just your imagination, Macy."
    Macy glanced at Sean who shrugged a shoulder at her. He looked as clueless as she felt but the looks on everyone else's faces caused her pulse to race. They were up to something and whatever it was spelled trouble for her. She felt it in her bones.
    She moved to the doorway, almost scared to enter the room completely. They were still watching her and now her mother was smiling, beaming actually, and fear started crawling up her spine. When Sean stepped next to her, she glanced up at him and whispered, “Something's wrong."
    "I can see that,” he said. “What do you think it is?"
    "Hard to tell with them."
    "Should we make a run for it?"
    "Good idea."
    Sean put a hand on her back, leading her to the front door and grabbed her coat, helping her put it on before grabbing his own. Someone asking, “where are you two going?” stopped them both in mid-motion.
    "Uh, just out for a walk,” Sean said. “We won't be gone long."
    The whispers grew, and the giggles, and Macy sighed before pulling the door open and stepping out into the brisk air. The sun was beginning to set and the top of the mountain glistened like diamonds as twilight crawled over the horizon.
    They walked to the edge of the forest, dunking under a low-lying branch before taking the path worn into the ground by years of little feet beating against it. They were quiet, walking side-by-side without a word said for long moments. When they reached the clearing, Macy smiled. “We used to have a clubhouse here,” she said. “The guys built it out of scrap lumber and old tree branches. Of course, I wasn't permitted to enter. All I could do was sit by the door and look in."
    Sean smiled at her and shoved his hands into his coat pockets. “Must have been nice living up here. I can imagine what it looks like in the summer."
    Macy's face lit up as she nodded. “It's great,” she said. “There's a pond just beyond that line of trees.” She pointed out the direction. “We used to picnic there everyday when it wasn't raining. I can't remember a summer day that wasn't spent in these woods. Of course, the winter is good too. The pond freezes solid so there was always ice skating."
    "Sounds like you had an ideal childhood."
    "Yeah, I guess I did.” Something crossed his face then and Macy knew whatever it was, wasn't a pleasant memory. She knew he didn't have a family but why that was, she didn't know. She knew nothing about him, really. She wasn't even sure how old he was. Older than her, but by how much, she didn't know. Not that it mattered. Age was just a number anyway. He could be forty and her feelings for him would be the same. Feelings she'd never told anyone about.
    He smiled at her and looked toward the sky. What little light was still shining through the trees left the forest in pale shades of purple. Snow still drifted from the branches and the quiet creaking of tree limbs swaying in the breeze was the only sound to be heard. Macy stared at him, wondering what he was thinking. His dark hair was covered in snow, his jacket shining as the snow melted and left the moisture behind. His face looked wistful and she had to wonder if he wasn't thinking of his family. He usually got a little moody around the holidays but she was never around the week of Christmas to know if it was her imagination or not. The thoughts of him hurting caused her heart to ache. Regardless of the reasons for him being here, she wanted to make sure this was one holiday he enjoyed, even if it was only for one year.
    Taking a step backwards, she put a little distance between them and reached to the ground, scooping a pile of snow into her hands. She rolled it, packing it enough to keep its shape. “Sean!” When he turned, she lobbed it across the distance, watching it smack him square in the chest. His eyes widened as he looked down at the decimated snowball sliding down the front of his coat before he looked back up. She reached down, scooping another handful and smiled, slowly backing away. When he grinned and reached for his own snowball, she threw the one in her hand before turning and running.
    It was an all out war by the time they reached the house. Her hands were frozen, her clothes soaked, and when Sean grabbed her coat and pulled it away from her neck, tossing a handful of snow down the back of her shirt she squealed and danced around the yard to try and dislodge it. His laughter filled her head and made her heart feel light. The front door opened moments later and the laughter of her family joined her own as they rushed off the porch and joined the fight. When they were all winded and soaked to the bone, Macy stared across the yard at Sean. He was smiling at her. His cheeks were ruddy red, his wet hair standing up in various angles and as unkempt as he seemed, he'd never looked better. He looked truly happy.
    When they all returned to the house, shedding coats and running for the fireplace to warm their hands, Macy stopped in the doorway and took in the scene. The tree was lit, the twinkling lights filling the room with a kaleidoscope of color bouncing off the walls. The sound of laughter, and the loving voices of her family, making her sigh, contented. This is what she missed most. Being surrounded by people who loved her and would do anything to see that she was happy.
    She looked up when Sean stopped beside of her. His cheeks were still red but there was a sparkle in his eyes she'd never noticed before. When he turned his head to look at her, the smile he gave her warmed her to the bone. She'd give anything to have him look at her like that every time she saw him. Like he wanted nothing more than to be in her presence. It was long minutes before she realized the noise in the room had died and she turned her head back to her family, shocked to find them all staring at her with funny smiles on their faces. “What?” she said. “Why are you looking at me like that?"
    Derek laughed before nodding his head at her. “You're standing under the mistletoe."
    Macy looked up. There, hanging above their heads by a bright red bow, was the clump of mistletoe they brought home earlier in the day. The leaves were bright and shiny, clustered around the small berries clinging to it. She saw Sean shift his weight and looked down at him. He was staring at her. Her pulse started to race instantly.
    "Well, don't just stand there,” her mother said, grinning.
    "Kiss her, Sean. She's a mistletoe virgin too!” The round of laughter that followed Derek's comment caused Macy's cheeks to heat as she blushed. She glanced away from Sean, looking at the expectant faces of her family. Their smiles were still in place and the only sound in the room was the crackling of logs in the fireplace. Looking back up at Sean, she whispered, “Just do it quick. They'll badger us to death if we don't."
    What exactly Macy had been expecting, she wasn't sure, but when Sean raised his hand and cupped her cheek, threading his fingers into her hair before lowering his head, her heart skipped a beat. She thought a quick peck on the lips, maybe, or a hard press of lips to make it appear as if they were kissing. What she got was a slow, languid slide of Sean's lips across her own. Her eyes closed an instant later as her limbs turned to jell-o. His tongue swiped her bottom lip and with a small gasp, she opened her mouth, a little moan escaping her throat when he slipped inside, taking a lazy taste of her. His free arm wound around her waist and she leaned against him, tilting her head and returning the kiss with her own exploration. Tingles raced up her spine as his hold on her tightened and she lifted her hands, bunching the material of his sweater in her fists, pulling him close to her.
    The kiss only lasted moments, but when Sean pulled back, his breath hot against her lips, she knew she'd spend the rest of her life wanting to recapture every second of it. He was staring down at her, his eyelids drooping slightly, and the look on his face, she was sure, matched her own. It was a perfect kiss. The only one she'd had in years.
    The laughs and hoots of her family caught her attention and she looked away from those intense eyes holding her in place and turned to look into the living room. She smiled, feeling her cheeks yet again heat as she blushed. “Okay,” she said. “Enough of that. It's over, all right."
    "Oh, she's blushing,” Pam said. “Is that not the cutest thing you've ever seen?"
    Pam's comment only caused the heat to intensify. Macy ducked her head, avoiding their laughing gazes. When Sean wrapped his arm around her shoulder, pulling her close to his chest and said, “She always gets like this when I kiss her in public,” she wanted to crawl under the nearest bed and not come out until New Years. She pinched him in the side, laughing when he jumped and grunted.
    Breaking his hold on her, she took a step back and said, “I'm going to take a shower,” before making a hasty retreat. She ran up the stairs and hit the bathroom running. Once locked inside the small room, she finally took a breath. Her reflection in the mirror showed her complexion to be tinged pink. Her eyes were sparkling and she grinned, pushing off the door.
    Her lips still tingled where Sean had kissed her and just thinking of the kiss caused her pulse to leap again. If his kisses were that drugging, what would it feel like to be in his arms? To have those kisses scattered across her skin as he made love to her? Her stomach clenched suddenly and she shoved the thoughts racing through her head away. They would only leave her longing for something she couldn't have.
    She showered in record time, drying off only to realize in her haste to escape her embarrassment, she hadn't thought to grab her clothes. Wrapping the towel around her, she opened the door, peeking out into the hall. She could hear her family downstairs, their squeals of joy reaching all the way to the second floor.
    Racing to her room, she slammed the door shut behind her and walked to the suitcase she hadn't bothered to unpack yet. She bent, retrieving a change of clothes and straightened. She dropped her towel seconds before the door swung wide open. Macy gasped and yelled, “Sean!” as he slammed the door behind him. Snatching her dropped towel from the floor, Macy hastily tried to cover herself as Sean paced back and forth at the foot of her bed.
    Sean shook his head and wanted to kick his own ass for being so stupid. Why did he tell them that ridiculous story? Why didn't he just lie… in a good way, and not tell them anything that would come back to bite him later on. Turning, he faced Macy where she stood near the dresser. One look at her and he gaped, his eyes widening. She was standing there trying to cover herself with a very small towel. Her hair was wet and hung in thin clumps over her shoulders. She clutched the towel to her breasts but they swelled over the material and the soft curve of her waist flirted with the edge of the towel. His gaze skimmed the gentle flair of her exposed hip, the toned, tanned thigh that was so delightfully drawing his eye. All the blood in his brain immediately traveled below his belt, pooling with heat to inflame his cock in ways no woman had managed to do in years. He swallowed heavily before raising his head and meeting her gaze. She looked as shocked as he felt. “I'm sorry,” he said. “I didn't realize you were…” His throat tightened the longer he looked at her and he remembered that tantalizing kiss she'd given him downstairs. She'd been nervous, that much he did know. She'd been shaking when he touched her but it had given away to her leaning against him, her hands clutching at him as she gave as good as she got. He'd nearly forgotten they had an audience. He could have spent the rest of the evening standing in that one spot, tasting her sweet lips while her warmth sank into his bones.
    When she shifted on her feet, he shook his head slightly to clear the haze fogging his brain. He cleared his throat and gave her an apologetic look. “I'm sorry,” he said, again. “I should have knocked."
    She took a shuddering breath before looking quickly to the floor. “It's okay. Just… turn around, would you, so I can get dressed."
    He nodded and turned, putting his back to her. He could hear her moving around and tried to distract his mind from the fact she was standing completely naked behind him. A glance to the left and he wished he'd been born with bad eyesight. A mirror on wall showed her in all her glory. All that creamy flesh just begging him to look. He closed his eyes with a groan, shifting on his feet and tugging at the waistband of his jeans. Her image was seared into his brain. Even with his eyes closed he could still see her. The slope of her breasts, the roundness of her bottom. All that glorious flesh beckoning him like a siren's song. Her gentle, “you can turn around now,” reached him moments later. He turned, looking at her flushed face before giving her a tiny smile.
    She shifted on her feet and crossed her arms over her chest. “So,” she said. “What was so important you barged in here without knocking?"

Chapter 5

    It was Sean's turn to blush now. He sighed and ran his hand over his face to try and get the image of her, naked, out of his mind before looking back over at her. “I think I made a mistake today that is going to go terribly wrong for us."
    She raised one eyebrow at him. “What sort of mistake?"
    He grimaced and looked at anything but her. “Your brothers grilled me pretty hard today and I may have said something I shouldn't have."
    "Something like what?"
    Sean could hear the fear in her voice. He walked to the bed and sat down on the edge. “They wanted to know if I had plans of making an honest woman out of you."
    Her eyes widened. “Oh no."
    "Oh yes,” Sean said, laughing. There was no mirth in the sound, only desperate whining to his ears. “I thought I did the right thing,” he said. “I told them of course I was going to marry you. Why wouldn't I?"
    "And… they assumed that's why I decided to make the trip this year. So I could propose to you in front of your family.” If possible, her eyes grew larger. She was gaping at him, her mouth forming a perfect “O” and if the red tint her face had taken on was any indication, he assumed she'd stopped breathing. “I told them I was going to but… I left the ring at home. They congratulated me and dropped the subject."
    Macy snapped out of her stunned daze and took a deep breath. “So, catastrophe diverted, right?” When he didn't say anything, just sat there staring at her, she said, “right?” again. He shook his head. “They, your brothers I mean, cornered me when you came up for your shower. They said I didn't need a ring to ask you. If the sentiment was there, they didn't care if I placed some pretty bauble on your finger or not."
    "So what? They're expecting you to propose to me now?"
    His silence was all the answer she needed. She paled and walked to the bed, sitting down beside of him. She stared at the wall for long moments before lowering her head to her knees. “I think I'm going to faint,” she said, her voice coming out as a pitiful whine. Sean smiled and raised his hand, rubbing small circles on her back.
    "I can always make another excuse,” he said. “I didn't give them an answer."
    She sat up, pushing her hair out of her eyes before sighing. “This is all my fault,” she said. “If I hadn't lied, we wouldn't have to be doing this right now.” She shook her head and groaned, pitifully. “I got us into this mess. I need to get us out."
    "What are you going to do?"
    Her shoulders drooped before she sighed again. “Tell them the truth, I guess,” she said. “I just didn't want their sympathy when they found out how pathetic I really am."
    "You're pathetic because you made up a make-believe boyfriend so they wouldn't worry about you?"
    She nodded her head, her lips pursing. She looked miserable and Sean's heart clenched. “You're going to hate me when all this is said and done, aren't you?” she said, turning her head to look at him.
    He smiled and said, “No. I couldn't ever hate you, Macy.” He pushed a lock of her hair away from her face, wanting nothing more in that moment than to take away the sadness in her eyes. To chase the frown lines away from her mouth. He knew telling her family she'd lied to them would be worse on her than them knowing the truth. It didn't take but a moment to see how close Macy was with her family and he'd be damned if he'd let a little white lie ruin her holiday. “Why don't we just do it and be done with it?” he said.
    Her eyes narrowed. “Do what?"
    He grinned. “Get hitched.” He slipped his arm around her shoulder when she laughed. “Come on, Macy. You know you want to marry me. Every woman does."
    She laughed and those tiny lines around her mouth disappeared. Her eyes filled with mirth and the smile she gave him made his ignorant mistake seem all right. “You are insane, Sean. You can't ask me to marry you."
    "Why?” he said. “No one has to know it's a show, now do they? Your family won't be any wiser to it. They'll get their Christmas wish. To see their baby girl get proposed to by the most dashing man they've ever met."
    Macy laughed, loudly, holding her stomach as her eyes watered. “Sean…"
    "What? Do you deny the fact?” he said, grinning. “I've seen the way you look at me. Say what you want, but we all know I'm a great catch.” She didn't look miserable anymore. Her face was lit with laughter. She looked happy and radiant and… beautiful. And he wanted to kiss her again. To feel her in his arms and feel the bliss he knew she could give him.
    When her laughter was under control, she looked up at him. “You can't be serious."
    "About me being dashing or proposing to you?"
    She giggled and said, “Both."
    "Oh, I'm very serious. Come on, what's it going to hurt? Come the New Year you can tell them I turned out to be a controlling, jealous jerk and you dumped me on my overbearing ass. No harm done.” She was still smiling and from the look on her face, she was contemplating it. “Come on, Macy,” he prodded, giving her a light shake. “Marry me. Be my wife… my ball and chain."
    A gentle shake of her head and a goofy grin followed. “All right,” she said. “But I want it done right."
    "Right?” he said raising a brow. “There's a wrong way to do it?"
    She rolled her eyes. “Yes. Don't you watch movies at all?"
    "Not those chick flicks you girls are so fond of."
    "Well, I have, and I want the fairy tale. I want you on bended knee, being all romantic and schmoopy."
    "Schmoopy?” He laughed. “Is that even a word?"
    "I don't know. It is now,” she said. “Oh! And propose in front of the tree. It'll just add to the setting."
    "All right. One proposal, on bended knee, in front of the tree. Anything else?"
    "No,” she said. “The mushy stuff should cover it."
    "Okay. When do you want this to go down?"
    "Surprise me. If I know when it's going to happen, I may not be able to pull it off. I'll be too nervous."
    "Fine. One surprise proposal, coming up before the end of the week."

* * * *

    Two days later and Macy was a nervous wreck. She kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sean hadn't given her any indication to when he was going to “pop the question,” and as each new day dawned, fear they'd be found out for the conniving little liars they were mounted. By the time her Grandma Avery arrived, she was ready to ask Sean instead, just to get it over with.
    Everyone was still giving her little looks. Looks that said they knew something she didn't. Hushed whispers went silent when she walked into a room; coy glances and beaming smiles were met with almost everyone she looked at. If Sean didn't do this sometime soon, she was going to bust.
    She crossed the room to him, stopping once she reached his side and grabbed his arm, angling her body close to his. “I can't wait any longer."
    "Wait any longer for what?” he asked. Macy gave him a peeved look and raised an eyebrow at him. “Oh! You mean the…"
    "Yes. Do it now,” she whispered.
    His eyes widened. “Now?"
    Macy nodded her head. “I'm tired of all the looks. I feel like a circus freak. They all know and they're just waiting. The sooner we get this over with, the better off we'll be. Things can go back to normal. Er, well, as normal as they were."
    She saw him glance around the room and when he looked back at her the look in his eyes scared her breathless. “They're all watching us,” he said. He smiled and she knew it was for their benefit. He raised his hand, pushing her hair away from her face before leaning toward her and lowering his head. She thought for a moment he was going to kiss her and was disappointed when he didn't. “Just look confused,” he whispered in her ear.
    When he straightened, Macy thought her heart would burst from her chest. The twinkling lights from the tree caught her attention and it was then she realized they were standing in front of it. She suddenly couldn't breathe. Each breath squeezed her lungs before it was wheezed out in shallow pants. Sean winked at her and grabbed her hand before turning to face the room.
    He smiled and said, “Can I have everyone's attention?” The silence that followed was damn near eerie. Not a single sound was made. Even the kids stopped what they were doing. Every eye in the room was on them and Macy remembered what he said. “Look confused.” She turned her head to look at him, scrunching her brows.
    Sean cleared his throat before saying, “I'd like to apologize for not making the time to meet you before now but there is a reason I cleared my schedule to make this trip.” He turned to glance at her and the smile he threw her way caused her heart to skip a beat. “I'm in love with your daughter,” he said, turning to look at her parents. “She's the best thing to ever walk into my life. I don't know how I ever managed before she stumbled into my clinic and I plan on seeing that she's there for a very long time to come."
    When he looked back at her, Macy didn't have to fake anything. The sincerity in his voice as he spoke to her family shocked her and she almost believed him. When he bent to one knee in front of her, the audible gasps from those in the room was drown out as the blood rushing through her veins whizzed past her ears. He smiled up at her, her left hand firmly in his.
    "I love you, Macy Carter,” he said, softly. “I wanted you the moment I laid eyes on you. The moment you smiled at me I knew. I knew you were what I had been waiting my whole life for. The one person placed on this earth for me and me alone and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. To see your beautiful face every morning when I wake up and know that when I close my eyes at night, you'll be right there by my side.” His hand tightened on hers, his voice lowering a fraction as he stared into her eyes. “Marry me, Macy. Be my wife."
    By the time he stopped talking, tears filled Macy's eyes. He looked so sincere, his words doing more to her than they should have. The room was still silent and Sean was looking up at her expectantly. She swallowed the lump in her throat, hoping her voice didn't tremble. “I'd love to marry you, Sean,” she said, the tears filling her eyes escaping when she realized she meant it.
    The room burst into roaring shouts and laughter. Sean stood, his gaze never leaving her own. When he kissed her softly on the lips, Macy knew the bittersweet taste of loss. For when Christmas came and went, her dream would be over. She'd once again be Macy Carter, secretary for a veterinarian clinic, not the fiance of Sean Mathis, a man who made her fall in love with him in an instant when he bent to one knee and made her believe for a brief moment that his words were heartfelt.
    "Oh, Macy!"
    Macy turned at the sound of her name, watching her mother cross the room with tears rolling down her face. Taking in the scene around the room, they'd been successful in their little ruse. No one was the wiser. They all seemed happy and even her grandmother was crying. Macy smiled when her mother released her and grabbed her hand, pulling her across the room to the women who had gathered to offer their congratulations. She glanced at Sean, watching the men gather around him, offering him the same treatment.
    An impromptu party ensued then. Wine glasses were dusted off, and filled, and toasts rang out in rapid succession. Two hours and three bottles of wine later and the atmosphere in the room was one Macy had never seen. Her family was giddy. She'd never seen them so happy.
    She glanced over at Sean. He was watching her while her brothers talked his ear off. The look on his face caused a shiver to race up her spine. His gaze roamed the length of her body and heated her skin from across the room. He took a drink of his wine, his eyes locking with hers over the rim of the glass. A tiny smile lifted of corner of his mouth when he lowered the goblet and if she didn't know any better she would swear he was thinking naughty things about her.
    Macy took a gulp of her own wine, trying to get her overactive imagination to take a backseat. She'd wanted Sean for longer than she could remember and having him look at her like he wanted her in return was too much. It caused things low in her belly to clench. Her breasts tingled, aching for his touch, and heat ran laps over her limbs.
    Her pulse was racing all of a sudden and she found it hard to breathe. She emptied her glass and turned, walking to the kitchen to refill it, emptying it at once before refilling it again. Her head was swimming by the time she made her way back to the living room. Her gaze immediately sought out Sean. He wasn't there.
    A slight noise behind her caused her to turn her head. Sean was walking down the hall toward her. She saw him glance up above her head and she followed his line of sight. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw the mistletoe directly overhead. Lowering her gaze, she watched him stalk the hall. By the time he reached her, her body was humming with anticipation.
    He never said a word, just lowered his head and took her lips in a hard, demanding kiss. His tongue slipped into her mouth and she wasn't sure who moaned the loudest, her or him. Long minutes with the taste of him overpowering her senses and she knew the wine was a bad idea. She just wished she could care. At the moment the only thing that mattered was Sean and his urgent kisses. The way his fingers tangled in her hair and held her to him. The noise in the room vanished, the only sound she heard was her heart beating out a frantic tattoo against her ribs.
    When Sean pulled away, his hot breath teasing her lips with the promise of more, she opened her eyes to look at him. “I've had too much to drink,” he said. His gaze skimmed her face, stopping once he reached her lips. “My thoughts keep running away with me."
    "What are you thinking?” Macy held her breath and waited for his answer.
    "I'm thinking I'm tired of pretending we're a happy couple.” Macy couldn't have been more hurt if he'd slapped her. She tensed, waiting for the next blow, and steeled her heart for the pain to follow. “I want you,” he said.
    Macy blinked. He wanted her?
    "I'm tired of pretending,” he said again. “They all think we've been living together for two years. That we've shared a bed for two years.” He nodded, staring at her lips. “I'm tired of pretending."
    She opened her mouth to say something-what, she had no clue-but she couldn't utter a word. She stared at him, feeling the heat of his body pressed against her own and took a steadying breath and forced the words to come. “What are you trying to say, Sean?"
    "I'm trying to say that I want you. Now.” His fingers skimmed her jaw, his lips sliding softly across her own. “Come to bed with me."
    Macy had to force herself to breathe. The wine she'd consumed had already fogged her mind enough to make standing without teetering to one side harder than it should be. Sean's sensual kisses hadn't helped her feelings of vertigo and now, his little confession left her weak kneed and feeling flushed.
    The rational side of her brain told her this was a bad idea, that they were drunk, but the other side, the side that had secretly wanted this man for longer than she cared to remember, was jumping with joy. He wanted her, just as she'd wanted him. But what happened in the morning? Next week when they were back at work and their little lie was no longer an issue? Would he regret it? Would she?
    She would worry about that later. Blame it on the mistletoe, or maybe the wine, but whatever the reason, Sean wanted her. And she wanted him.
    The what-ifs lasted as long as it took her to climb the stairs, Sean's hand firmly in hers. Once behind her closed bedroom door, nothing else seemed to matter. Their clothes were peeled away in haste, hands roaming flesh as they stumbled back onto the bed. Sean kissed a fiery trail over her collarbone and down to her breasts before sucking one peaked nipple into his mouth. His fingers skimmed her taunt stomach and tangled into the wiry hair covering her sex. One flick of his fingers between her folds and Macy gasped. He pulled away from her moments later and walked back across the room. Macy watched him, curiously. “What are you doing?"
    He picked up his jeans and fished out his wallet. “Condom."
    She blushed. How could she have forgotten something so important? When the little foil wrapper was in Sean's hand, he crawled back into the bed. They fumbled with a condom wrapper for nearly five minutes before getting it torn open. Macy was laughing as she looked up at him, her limbs trembling as their flesh touched from shoulders to feet.
    "Are you sure about this, Macy?” he asked.
    She nodded her head, not trusting her voice. He smiled and leaned down, his lips sliding across her own. His hands mapped out every inch of flesh he could touch and left goose bumps pimpling her skin. When he sank between her thighs and sheathed himself inside her body, Macy moaned at the feel of him. He stilled, looking down at her and she thought for a moment he'd sobered up as she had. The look on his face was one she'd never seen as he looked at her. It left her breathless and on the verge of tears. He looked at her as if… he loved her.
    Macy blinked and looked away, wrapping her arms around him and urging him to move. She closed her eyes, feeling him fill her and the look on his face stayed burned into her mind's eye. His fingers were toying with her breast, his lips gliding across her shoulder to her neck, up the curve of her jaw to her waiting lips. His kiss wasn't hurried as it had been downstairs. It was a slow, lazy slide of lips and tongue. Languid kisses that made her feel boneless and spent. Tingles raced up her spine and the tell-tale clenching in her stomach signaled her release moments before her world shattered, her hold on him tightening as she begged him to move faster. He followed her a few minutes later.
    They both lay there, breathing heavily as the noise from downstairs continued. Sean moved to her side, pulling her into his arms and wrapping her in a small cocoon of heat. She sighed contently, snuggling into his embrace. How could anything ever go wrong after a night with him? Her world was finally perfect.

Chapter 6

    Sean opened one eye when he heard Macy's mother call out her name. He lifted his head, looking toward the bedroom door and saw Rose standing there with one fist on her hip.
    "You too, Sean,” she said. “I'm not holding breakfast a minute longer. Now up with the both of you!"
    She winked at him before pulling the door shut behind her as she left. Sean looked over at Macy, grinning when he saw her. The sheet was barely covering her bottom, her long legs exposed to the hip. The night before replayed in slow motion in his mind's eye and he felt himself stir at the images. He'd taken her until their bodies were too spent to move. He lost count of the times he'd had her and knew if he never got another chance to love her, he'd have last night to sustain him. He wondered how she'd react to it this morning, though. It was easy to not think about it last night. The wine had a lot to do with it but even he wasn't naive enough to blame it completely on his inability to control himself while buzzed. Truth be known, he'd wanted her, just as he'd said he did. Wanted her and, thanks to the wine, had the guts to tell her so. She'd happily reciprocated his advances but now he worried she'd think he took advantage of her. Did he? Did he let his inebriated state of mind sway his judgment? He hadn't forced her, she said yes and clearly participated in their love play, but was she too drunk to know what she was doing?
    A wave of guilt big enough to make him queasy washed over him and settled in his stomach. Would she wake hating him? Hating what he'd done to her? Would all those brothers downstairs skin him alive when they found out what he'd done?
    "If we don't get moving soon, she'll be back,” Macy mumbled.
    Sean focused his gaze on the back of her head. “I figured as much."
    She moved then, grabbing the sheet and pulling it up her back, tucking the end under her chin before sighing. “I think we got a little drunk last night."
    "Yeah,” he said. “A little."
    She moved her head, burrowing into the pillow. “Is the morning after always this embarrassing?"
    "I wouldn't know. I've never slept with a woman I wasn't already in a relationship with."
    "Me either,” she said. “Uh, with a man, I mean. I've never…"
    Sean chuckled and reached across the bed, laying his palm to her back. “I knew what you meant,” he said. He leaned down and placed a soft kiss to her shoulder. “And you have nothing to be embarrassed about. If anything, I should be the one embarrassed for taking advantage of the situation."
    She turned over then, looking up at him. “You didn't take advantage of me, Sean."
    "No?” he said, raising one eyebrow. “Sure feels like it."
    "Well, I was here too, you know. I remember how it all went down."
    "Too much wine and cares thrown out the window?"
    She grinned and nodded. “Yeah. Something like that."
    He stared at her for long seconds before smiling. “You're not pissed at me then?"
    She shook her head, looking away from his face before she blushed a pretty shade of pink and diverted her gaze. “No."
    He grinned. “No? Then why are you blushing?"
    She jerked the sheet up over her head before mumbling, “Let's get up and go to breakfast before mom comes back."
    "Not until you tell me why you're blushing."
    She laughed and held the sheet tighter. “You're naked, Sean."
    He looked down at himself, noticing not an inch of the sheet covered him. He was bare ass naked, sprawled across the bed in all his glory. Had Rose seen him like that as well? He laughed before leaning toward her and tugging on the sheet. “Think your mom will be blushing when I look at her as well?"
    Macy laughed, her shoulders heaving. “Oh god! I can't believe this is happening. My pretend boyfriend just flashed his goods to my fifty-eight year old mother."
    "Well, chances are, she'll forgive you for being late for breakfast now."
    The sheet fell away from Macy's eyes enough for her to look at him. He could tell by the wrinkles around them that she was smiling. “Don't think she isn't going to be mad at you just because you look good naked."
    Sean raised an eyebrow at her. “You think I look good naked?"
    "Oh god!” she yelled, jerking the sheet back over her head. “Put some clothes on and go downstairs so I can get dressed."
    "What? You're not going to let me see you naked now? I want to make sure what I remember seeing is the real thing and not some alcohol induced hallucination."
    "You're not seeing me naked,” she said. “Now get dressed."
    Sean laughed and crawled from the bed and grabbed a change of clothes. He tossed them on the end of the bed before looking at Macy and grinning. She was still lying there with the sheet over her head.
    He shook his jeans out and stepped into them before pulling them up. When he grabbed the waistband to snap them, he looked into the mirror mounted on Macy's wall. She was watching him, the sheet pulled down just enough to show him those big blue eyes of hers. He bit back a smile and continued dressing, ignoring her best he could. When he sat down on the bed to pull on his socks, he said, “Okay, you can look now. I'm dressed."
    She lowered the sheet, her cheeks once again stained pink. “This is really awkward."
    "Only if you think so,” he said, grabbing his shoes. He slipped them on before bracing his hands on his knees and looking over at her. “We can either pretend it didn't happen and move on or know it did and ignore it. Which ever you prefer."
    She shrugged her shoulder and looked at him.
    "All right then.” He grinned and stood. “I'm going to go on down. Hurry and dress. I don't want to be left alone with your mom too long. Hard to tell what she'll say now that I know she's had a good look at my package.” He winked at her, watching her roll her eyes before walking to the door and leaving.

* * * *

    Macy willed herself not to blush as she entered the dining room. Everyone was there, already eating. She crossed the room, taking her seat beside of Sean and smiled at him when he poured her juice and winked at her. She filled her plate, spearing a fried potato with her fork when Derek said her name.
    "Macy, did no one ever tell you how thin these walls are in the house?"
    She scrunched her brows, not sure what he was talking about. Her mother said, “Derek!” before the others laughed.
    "There's certain things in life a man never wants to know,” Derek said. “And knowing my baby sister is having sex in the room beside me is one of them. You should have waited until your wedding night."
    "She's lived with the man for two years,” Pam said. “It's a little late for that."
    Macy stared at them, watching the grins as the others snickered and made crude comments. She glanced at Sean and noticed, for once, his face was red. Letting her gaze land on every person at the table, they were all smiling, except her daddy. His face was just as red as Sean's was.
    "Oh my God,” she whined before dropping her fork and staring at her plate. Her family heard them last night? Having sex? How loud were they?
    "Don't worry, Sis,” Matt said. “No one knows but us."
    She looked back up at him and shook her head. A dozen people knew and that was twelve too many! Being embarrassed in front of Sean seemed ridiculous now. That had been a piece of cake compared to this.
    "Stop teasing your sister,” Rose said. “Or you boys will be on dishes duty for the rest of the week."
    The guys snickered and continued eating, ignoring her. Macy's breakfast didn't look nearly as appetizing now. She looked at her mother, watching the woman wink at her before glancing at Sean. “This can't be happening,” she whispered.
    Sean moved his hand, resting it on her thigh under the table. He squeezed lightly until she looked up at him. That one look told her everything would be fine. Her family was just teasing her and she knew he was right. It's what the boys did. She smiled back at Sean and nodded her head before turning back to her food. They were nearly finished eating when her mother gasped and stood up quickly. Her eyes were wide and she was smiling at Grandma Avery. When she turned that happy gaze on her, dread settled in the pit of Macy's stomach. Whatever her mother just thought of, wasn't good. She could feel it.
    "Macy!” her mother said. “I have the best idea!"
    "Oh no,” Bruce said. “This can't be good. She's got that look in her eye."
    Greg nodded and laid his fork down. “The one that says, ‘I'm about to make your life miserable but you better play along regardless?’”
    "Yeah. That one."
    "Oh be quiet, both of you,” Rose said before turning her attention back to Macy. She grinned and that feeling of dread Macy felt multiplied. “I just had the most wonderful idea."
    Macy glanced at the others, watching them shake their heads before looking back at her mother. “What kind of idea,” she said, hesitantly.
    "Well,” Rose said, beaming. “Since Grandma Avery is with us this year and her health isn't all that great, and Sean did just ask you to marry him, why don't you get married now! It'll be a Christmas none of us will ever forget."
    The silence was deafening. Not a noise was heard other than the wind whistling past the windows. The kids had even stopped eating to look at the adults and listen to what was going on. Macy stared at her mother's smiling face before chancing a glance at the others. Shock was evident on their faces but gradually, she saw them all smile and turn to look at her. “Ma… married?” Macy said, weakly.
    "Yes,” Rose beamed. “It's not like you haven't been living together for years anyway. You're practically married now. A ceremony is just a way to make it all legal at this point. Why not do it now, surrounded by your family?"
    She had her there. Macy gulped and stared at her mother's face. Was she serious? She wanted them to get married? Now?
    The gleam in her mother's eye told her she was.
    Her pulse started racing seconds later. She snuck a glance at Sean and noticed his eyes were wide, his gaze locked on her mother. What had they done! “Um, that's a nice idea, Mom,” Macy said, hoping her voice didn't tremble as much as she thought it did. “But we just got engaged. It's a little premature to talk about wedding plans at this point."
    "Why?” Rose said. “You're engaged. Talking about the wedding is exactly what people do when that happens."
    "Oh,” Macy said, not knowing what else to say.
    "All we need is someone to perform the ceremony. What's the name of that man from the church down the road, Gerald?"
    "Yes!” Rose said. “He can do it, I'm sure, and we can do it here, in the house. Your family is already here."
    "Uh, yeah,” Macy said. Think, Macy. Think! “Uh, what about our friends?"
    "What about them?"
    "Well, uh… we'd want them to be here as well,” she said, smiling at her quick answer. She glanced at Sean, and nudged him with her elbow. “Right, honey? We'd want our friends here."
    He nodded too rapidly. “Yes. Our friends and… and a church wedding! Macy has always wanted a big wedding.” He leaned back in his chair and draped his arm around her shoulder, pulling her close to his side. “I couldn't possibly deny her that. It's been her dream."
    "Oh,” Rose said, waving a hand in the air to dismiss their response. “You can still have that. We can plan the biggest wedding Charleston has ever seen for later in the year. No one has to know you've already done it. How would they?"
    What turned out to be a slight suggestion snowballed into a full-blown arrangement within minutes. Her mother and sister-in-laws went straight to work, hashing out details like something possessed. Macy watched them while her heart raced in her chest. She was too scared to move. To blink. She saw Sean out of the corner of her eye and the shock on his face matched her own. He was just as blown away as she was.
    When he turned his head to look at her, she mouthed, “Sorry,” to him before shrugging her shoulder. She didn't know what to do now.
    He inhaled deeply and stood, grabbing her arm and pulling her to the front door. He helped her with her coat, slipping his own on before they darted out the door. Once outside, they nearly ran to the woods and to the clearing she'd shown him a few days before. Surrounded by the stillness of the forest, they stared at each other, speechless.
    Macy was the first to find the ability to talk. “What do we do now?"
    "I have no clue,” he said, rubbing a hand over his head.
    Her shoulders sagged. She was hoping he'd have an answer. “I'm sorry."
    "For what?” he asked.
    "For dragging you into this."
    The corner of his mouth twitched into what she assumed was supposed to be a smile. “It's not all your fault, Macy."
    "Yes it is."
    "No. I'm just as responsible,” he said. “I agreed to this plan to begin with. Hell, it was even my idea to ask you to marry me."
    She stared at him, watching him turn his head before sighing. He started pacing the forest floor, long laps that disturbed the pine needles and leaves. He didn't say anything for long minutes but when he stopped and turned to face her, she saw hope shining in his eyes.
    "Regardless of what they say or do, we can't get married without a marriage license, right?"
    Macy nodded her head at him. “Yes. We have to apply for one."
    "Both of us or just one?"
    "Um, I'm not sure,” Macy said, shrugging. “I've never bothered to check the laws."
    "Well, we can't get married without a license. That much I do know. As long as we don't apply for one, the marriage won't happen."
    Macy smiled for the first time in over an hour. It felt as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. They couldn't get married without a license and she sure as hell wasn't going to go get one. And neither would Sean.
    When they got back to the house and went inside, the sight of her family preparing for the wedding that wouldn't be didn't make her nervous now. It saddened her, instead. They were planning an event that wouldn't take place. She felt bad for lying to them then. For getting them excited over nothing. They were happy because her little white lie had snowballed into a glacier big enough to disrupt their world. They were giddy over the prospects of their baby girl getting married. Married to a man who volunteered to help her out of the goodness of his heart. A man she'd trapped. She turned her head and frowned up at him.
    "Don't say it,” Sean said. “Don't even think about it."
    "I can't help it,” she whispered. “I feel terrible."
    "And how terrible would you have felt telling them you'd lied to them? That we planned this behind their back? You would have ruined their Christmas.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulder, turning her to face the room before lowering his head to whisper in her ear. “Look at them, Macy. They're happy. Let them have this moment."
    She sighed and leaned into him, comforted by his presence. His grip on her shoulder tightened. When he placed a kiss to the top of her head and whispered, “Every thing will be okay. I'll make it all okay,” tears filled her eyes. This wasn't even his mess and he was willing to fix it for her. She not only pulled her parents into her deception but she was doing the same to him. Using him to make herself look less pathetic. She shook off his hold. “I can't do this,” she said, before bolting out of the room and back out the front door.
    She heard Sean yell her name moments later and she picked her legs up higher trying to run in the snow. It was still falling, snowdrifts climbing the side of the house and trying to bury their cars. The tears were cold against her cheeks and she was tired before she made it to the back of the house. Sean caught her as she reached her father's workshop, grabbing her around the waist before turning her to face him. One look at the concern etched across his features and the dam broke. She cried, burying her face into his chest when he pulled her to him, his arms wrapping her tight against his body.
    He whispered words she couldn't hear clearly into her hair and stroked the back of her head with one hand. When the last tear spilled over her lashes, she sniffled and looked up at him. “I'm being a baby about this, aren't I?"
    He smiled. “Not wanting to hurt your family doesn't make you a baby, Macy. It makes you human."
    She sighed and studied the front of his shirt, toying with the buttons running down the length of it. “I just wanted them to stop worrying about me,” she said. “That's the only reason I ever told them I had a boyfriend. When they asked who he was…” She shrugged her shoulder and lowered her head. “I didn't know many people then and you're the first person I thought of. I didn't know you very well but I knew enough about you to make it sound like we were a real couple."
    "You don't have to apologize, Macy.” She glanced up at him and looked away a moment later. “Truth be told. I'm flattered."
    She snorted a laugh. “Flattered some crazy woman has been carrying on an imaginary affair with you for two years?"
    Sean lowered his head, leaning down toward her. “Especially flattered at the affair part. What man wouldn't be flattered a beautiful woman has been fantasizing about him for two years?"
    "I never said I had been fantasizing about you!” Macy said before laughing.
    "So you didn't fantasize about me then? Hmm… how disappointing because I have to admit,” he said, “The thought is too tempting to just let go."
    "Stop trying to embarrass me, Sean."
    "I'm not. I'm just discussing this affair we've had going on,” he said. “Tell me, since you have something to do a comparison with, was the fantasy me as good as the real thing?"
    "Oh Lord,” Macy said, shaking her head. “You're impossible."
    He grunted, softly. “That doesn't sound too promising. At least tell me you enjoyed it. I'll be sadly disappointed if my fantasy self wasn't pleasing you the way he should."
    Macy looked up and grinned. “You're enjoying this way too much."
    "Maybe,” he said. “But those tears have dried up.” To prove his point, he ran the back of one finger down her cheek. “I don't like to see you cry."
    The look he was giving her was the same one he gave her in the house, when he was on one knee asking her to marry him. Her heart fluttered, a lethargic warmth stealing over her body. She sighed softly. “Why haven't you ever married?” she asked.
    "I haven't ever found the right woman. Well, until yesterday, apparently."
    His finger was still softly stroking her cheek, running over the curve of her jaw, and Macy noticed his other arm was still holding her close to him. “And what is your idea of the right woman?” He stared at her for long moments before he leaned down and kissed her. Macy was shocked by the move, even more so when he deepened the kiss, the hand on her face climbing into her hair to hold her to him.
    She leaned into him, her arms snaking inside his coat to wrap around his waist. She pulled away from him to take a breath and asked the only thing going through her mind. “What happens when all of this is over?"
    "What do you want to happen?"
    "I asked you first,” she said.
    He sighed, his fingers threading through her hair. “I dated my last secretary and it turned into a disaster, hence the mess you found when I hired you.” He looked down at her and shrugged his shoulder. “I don't know, Macy. I said I'd never date another employee but you seriously make me want to break that little rule."
    "I do?” she asked.
    He smiled. “Would I be standing in the snow kissing you while freezing my ass off if I didn't?"
    "I don't know. Would you?"
    He answered her by kissing her again. If what he felt for her could be judged by the kiss, Macy was sure to get her heart broken if he stuck to his ‘no dating employees’ rule. He kissed her breathless again, stopping only when the sound of laughter forced them apart. Macy turned, looking over her shoulder and saw her brothers Derek and Matt on the back porch looking at them.
    "Macy, Mom is looking for you,” Derek said, grinning. “I wouldn't suggest any hanky-panky out here, either. Snow in your unmentionables will put a real damper on the evening.” They laughed again and jumped off the porch, heading to the woodpile.
    Macy watched them for a few minutes before looking back at Sean. “I guess we should go and try to figure a way out of this before it's too late."
    "Well, not that I mind my current position but… I can't feel my toes."
    Macy grinned before letting him go. “Come on, city boy. Let's go get you warmed up."

Chapter 7

    "It's useless,” Macy said, flopping down on the edge of the bed. Sean shifted and turned to look at her. “Mom is determined to do this regardless of what I say. She's even called that preacher, Tim, to perform the ceremony."
    "So the whining didn't work then?” he asked, sitting up and leaning back against the headboard.
    She rolled her eyes at him and said, “No. No matter what I said, she had a quick answer for me. She's going to do this regardless of what I say."
    "What about the marriage license? Did you mention that?"
    "No. In all their careful planning they've completely forgotten about that little detail and I was scared if I mentioned it they'd hustle us into town to get one."
    "Hmm,” he said. “Good idea. Don't mention it then. If they've forgotten hopefully it'll be too late to do anything about it by the time this wedding is supposed to take place.” He crossed his arms over his chest and tilted his head to look at her. “By the way, when is our big day?"
    Macy looked at him and scowled. “Don't smile at me like that, Sean. You're in just as much trouble here as I am, you know."
    "I know,” he said. “But come on, you have to admit it's pretty funny."
    "In what bizarre world would this be funny?"
    He laughed and said, “The one where you named me as your live-in boyfriend. A make-believe boyfriend who asked you to marry him and is now going to have to do exactly that."
    She hung her head and groaned. “You're going to hate me when this is all over, aren't you?"
    "No, I'm not going to hate you,” he said, leaning forward and running his hand over her head. “Come on. We're in this together, remember?"
    She sighed and sat back up. “Yeah. I know."
    "Well, stop worrying so much. It'll end up all right. I promise. Once this farce wedding starts, I'll conveniently remember the marriage license and that'll be the end of it. We can't have a wedding without that little piece of paper and luckily for us, no one but us has even thought of it."
    Macy nodded her head and stood, walking to her closet. She opened the door and pushed the clothes stored there away, revealing an assortment of gowns.
    "What are you doing?"
    She turned and gave him a peeved look. “Mom sent me up here to go through my old formal gowns. She said, and I quote, ‘As many dresses as we've bought for you over the years, Macy, I'm sure you have something suitable to wear for your wedding day.’”
    "Formal dresses?"
    She nodded and blushed, ducking back into the closet. “I uh, used to do a lot of pageants when I was a teen."
    "Pageants? As in beauty pageants?” Another nod of her head was all he got in return. He grinned and crawled off the bed and crossed the room, stopping behind her. “You mean to tell me I'm marrying a beauty queen?"
    She laughed. “Stop teasing me, Sean."
    "I'm not teasing."
    "Yes you are,” she said, pulling a pale ivory dress from the closet. It was strapless and looked low cut. And small. Sean grinned while looking at it. “This one will have to do."
    "I like that one. What pageant did you wear it in?"
    "The Miss Ashville pageant."
    He grinned when she blushed again. “Did you win?"
    "I was first runner up."
    "Ah, so I am marrying a beauty queen. I think I like that idea."
    "You're a twisted man, Sean Mathis.” She tucked the dress under one arm and walked to the door. “Get dressed,” she said. “Derek is waiting in his room for you. It's time for you to find suitable attire for our big day."
    "Which is when?"
    She grimaced and opened the door. “Christmas Eve.” She left without another word. Sean stared at the door for long minutes before walking back to the bed and sitting down.
    He lied when he told her everything would be all right. He didn't want to worry her more than she was but he was seriously worried. They had no choice but to go ahead with the wedding idea or reveal their little lie to her family and neither of them wanted that. He wouldn't let her take the blame for it alone but he didn't want to incur her family's wrath either when they found out they'd been lied to. He wasn't sure how they'd react. Well, he could imagine how they'd react. With wicked left hooks and head jarring punches. He sighed and looked around Macy's room. It was pink with every frill a young girl could want. He smiled while looking at the things scattered on the dressers. Pictures of her and friends, a pair of cheerleading pom-poms tossed into the chair by the window and awards for this and that hung on the walls.
    He was ashamed to say he didn't know very much about her. In the three years he'd known her, he hadn't asked. Asking would mean he cared and letting her know he cared was dangerous. For him and her. Admitting he cared even to himself was dangerous but he had to face it. He did. He cared more than he should. Especially after spending the week with her, getting to know her and her family. He knew what made her laugh now. What made her sad. He also knew what made her gasp in pleasure and cling to him like she never wanted to let him go. It also made him think things he shouldn't. Things that would get his heart broken in the process. He had no idea of her feelings for him. Did she see him as just her boss or more? Was their one night together just that? One night of drunken bliss? Or was it more? Could it lead to more? Did he want it to?
    He didn't even have to think on that one. He did. Seeing her smile made him happy. Seeing her smile at him made his pulse race. She'd asked him what happened when they went home and he'd said he didn't know. He knew now. He wasn't ready to give her up. It wasn't the alcohol talking when he said he wanted her. He was sober now and he still wanted her. Wanted it all. The smiles, the laughs and the gasps. The way her hand felt in his, the way her body felt snuggled into his side. He wanted her. The question was, when all of this was over and the lies came out, would there be enough left for her to give him?

* * * *

    Macy felt sick. Her head was throbbing and her stomach was queasy. Her mother said it was just nerves and she was probably right but that didn't stop her lunch from trying to come back up.
    She was sitting at her mother's vanity getting her hair curled while her sister-in-laws reported on the goings on downstairs. Apparently the preacher had arrived. Macy inhaled deeply, willing her stomach to settle. She couldn't believe they'd come this far in their plan for it all to backfire in their faces. A wedding. Their tiny fib was now a monstrous lie that had grown two heads and was still growing. She was preparing for a wedding that shouldn't be taking place. How did everything get so out of control?
    "Sean looks amazing, Macy,” Pam said, smiling. “And he looks as nervous as you do."
    "I'm sure he is,” Macy mumbled. She glanced into the mirror, looking at Pam before forcing a smile onto her face.
    "He's pacing the living room talking to himself. I don't even think Bruce was as nervous as Sean seems to be."
    Bruce actually wanted to marry you, Macy thought, before sighing. And that piece of knowledge was the hardest of all to swallow. She'd been half in love with Sean before he even agreed to come to the mountains with her and pretend to be her boyfriend. Now, a week later, she knew she'd be miserable when he was no longer there. How was she supposed to go back to work and pretend this week didn't happen? Pretend Sean's kisses hadn't made her toes curl up and caused her heart to race uncontrollably. To pretend their one night together meant nothing when it meant everything. One night of bliss spent with a man she'd give anything to have forever. Her eyes filled with tears as she realized this was her ultimate fantasy where Sean was concerned. To be fussed over by her family while he waited at the altar for her. Only in her dream, he loved her back.
    "Oh, she's crying."
    Macy looked up at Pam when she spoke and smiled before wiping the tears from her cheeks. “I'm fine,” she lied. “Everything's just happening too fast, I guess."
    "Are you sure that's all it is, Macy?” her mother asked.
    Macy nodded and grabbed her mother's hand. “Yeah. I'm just a bit emotional, is all."
    Rose smiled before placing the last pin in her hair. “Well, that's to be expected,” she said. “A woman's wedding day is always an emotional roller coaster. All those doubts and fears come into play and give us all sorts of crazy ideas.” She laughed before shaking her head. “The day I married your father, I ran like the hounds of hell were after me minutes before the ceremony started."
    "You did?” Macy asked, shocked.
    "I sure did,” Rose said. “I got scared and ran out of the church. It took your grandfather two blocks to catch me."
    Macy laughed. “I can't imagine grandpa running after anything."
    "Well he did. He said he'd already paid for everything and I was going to marry your father or else.” Rose stepped to the bed and grabbed the veil she'd worn at her own wedding and placed it on Macy's head before smiling. “Of course, as you can see, I did marry him. The minute I reached that altar and looked into his face, the fear left me. I knew then that I'd spend the rest of my life with him."
    Macy smiled as her mother retold her the story and thought of her own wedding. Wouldn't this be something to tell her future children? How she lied to her parents and had a fake wedding. Pushing the thought away she looked into the mirror when her mother said she was finished.
    The girl looking back at her was one she barely recognized. Her hair was pulled into a loose upsweep with small curls framing her face. The veil fell past her shoulders and the string of pearls her mother gave her completed the look. She looked lovely, even if she said so herself. She just wished her mood would match how she looked. If any of them knew how awful she felt…
    She looked up at her mother and, seeing her deep frown, forced a smile onto her own face. “Thanks, momma,” she said. “It looks great."
    "That it does,” Rose said. “I don't think I've ever seen a prettier bride."
    "And Sean will think the same thing,” Pam said. “Now lets go. Everyone is ready!"
    Macy stood and smoothed down the front of her dress. Her legs started shaking the moment she started for the door. Would she be able to get through this until they dropped their big bombshell? She just hoped her family wouldn't be too disappointed when they realized they forgot the most important thing in their wedding preparations. The marriage license.

* * * *

    Her father was waiting for her at the top of the stairs. She smiled at him when he held his arm out to her and the music started moments later. She glanced down into the living room, her gaze finding Sean's. He was staring at her with a tiny smile lifting the corner of his mouth. Pam was right. He did look amazing. The dark suit her brother had loaned him made him look very distinguished.
    The butterflies started darting in erratic patterns in her stomach again. She took a cleansing breath as they started down the steps. When they reached the bottom and walked into the living room and to the fireplace where Sean and the preacher were waiting, she was amazed she hadn't fallen. Her legs were still shaking.
    "Don't look so nervous,” the preacher said. “This is the easy part."
    She smiled in spite of the fact he was wrong. This wasn't the easy part. This was the hardest part of all. This was the part where everything teetered on the brink of disaster. This was the part where two years of pathetic lying would catch up to her and set into motion a chain of events that would out her for the conniving little liar she really was.
    Her father placed her hand in Sean's and she looked up at him. He smiled before squeezing her hand. She was glad he seemed so calm. He looked happy, actually. His smile wasn't forced and to all appearances, he looked… content. She inhaled deeply and let it out in a gush of nervous jitters. His hold on her hand tightened.
    "Let's get started,” the preacher said. He straightened his shoulders. “Friends, family, we're gathered here today to join Macy and Sean on this most joyous day. In the years they've been together their love has grown and matured and they've now decided to make their commitment to one another as husband and wife.” He smiled before asking, “Who gives this woman in marriage?"
    "Her mother and I,” her father said. He smiled and kissed her cheek before turning and walking to the other side of the room where her mother stood. Macy watched them smile at her before turning back to the preacher.
    He talked for long minutes, telling them the definition of a true marriage and the seriousness of the vows they would take. His words were like a slap to the face. She glanced at Sean again and noticed he was watching her. The look on his face puzzled her. He didn't look nervous at all. He looked… well, pretty calm for a man who was about to marry a girl he wasn't in love with. What was he thinking? Was he waiting for the right moment to say something about the license? Was he waiting for her to say something instead? When should she do it? Should she wait a bit longer or stop the wedding now? How far should she let them get? The vows? The rings? She gasped lightly when she remembered the rings and felt a small burst of hope. “Rings!” she yelled and turned to look at Sean. “We don't have any rings, Sean!"
    The commotion in the room grew by the second and she turned to look at her family. They were smiling. Why were they all smiling? Her grandmother stood from her chair and cross the room, her purse clutched to her stomach. When she reached them, she opened her bag, digging around inside the black leather before producing a ring box. Macy's eyes widened when her grandmother opened the lid.
    "These belonged to your grandfather and I,” she said. “I want you to have them."
    Macy opened her mouth three times before she could get the words to come out. “I can't take those, grandma."
    "Sure you can. Your grandfather has been gone for a long time now. I'm sure he would love to know you were wearing our wedding rings."
    Macy stared at the two plain gold bands before looking back up at Sean. His gaze was darting around the room. He didn't look quite so calm now. Her panic must have finally rubbed off on him. His hand tightened around hers for a moment before his eyes widened a bit. “We forgot the marriage license, too,” he said.
    "What?” Macy gasped, playing along. Turning her head to her mother, she stared at her, gaping. “Mom! How could we have forgotten something so important as rings and a marriage license?” Her heart was going to bust out of her chest any minute now. She was dizzy as the adrenaline pumped through her veins and she hoped for this sham to be over quickly. When her mother laughed and shook her head, Macy could only stare.
    "Macy, calm down,” Rose said. “We didn't forget anything. Your grandmother offered the rings days ago. It was actually her idea for you to have them. The boys told me Sean had forgotten your engagement ring and when we decided you'd get married here, Grandma Avery offered her rings to us then. Lucky for us, she's had those rings in her purse since the day your grandfather died."
    "Oh.” Macy deflated a bit, looking at her grandmother's face. She looked excited and still held the ring box out to her. Macy took the box, closing her fingers around it before looking down at the rings. They were simple gold bands but had spent over fifty years on her grandparents’ fingers. Refusing them would hurt her grandmother more than having to take it from her dead grandfather's hand. She smiled and nodded. “Thank you, Grandma. I'll cherish them always."
    When her Grandma walked back across the room and sat down, Macy stared at her family. “We have rings but we still don't have the license."
    "Sure we do,” Bruce said. “I picked it up yesterday."
    Macy's eyes widened. “Huh?"
    Bruce grinned and wrapped his arm around Pam's shoulder. “I went to town yesterday and got it."
    "But…” Macy blinked at him and shook her head. “You couldn't have,” she said. “We didn't sign for a marriage license."
    Bruce's face reddened a bit. “Well, that was a small technicality,” he said. “Luckily for me, Faye Robinson is the clerk of court."
    "Faye Robinson?"
    "Yeah. You might have been too young to remember her but I dated her back in high school. Anyway, we're still friends and when I told her what we needed, she was more than happy to help out."
    Macy looked at Sean. He was watching Bruce with an unreadable look on his face. He must have felt as flummoxed as she did.
    "How did you get a marriage license without our signature?” Sean asked.
    "Easy,” Bruce said. “We fibbed on the paperwork."
    "You fibbed?” Macy asked, incredulous. “You mean you lied? That's illegal, Bruce!"
    "So? I have the license. It's been entered into the registry. It just needs your and Sean's signature's to make it legal."
    Macy floundered like a fish, her mouth opening and closing several times before she turned to look at Sean. He was still watching her family. “Sean,” she whispered. “What do we do now?"
    He looked down at her for long moments, his gaze boring into hers before he smiled. “Well, we tell them the truth… or, you can marry me."
    Macy stared at him, speechless. Had he really said what she thought he did? He raised his hand and cupped her face in his palm before smiling. “When you told me about your problem a week ago, I helped you because I wanted to,” he said. “I came up here knowing that I'd get to spend a week pretending to be something I couldn't ever be. Something I was too old to even dream about being."
    "You're not old, Sean."
    He smiled again. “I'm a lot older than you, Macy. You're young and beautiful and I'm… well, I'm just me. A veterinarian who is creeping closer to forty with every new year."
    "I've never thought you were too old for me,” she said.
    He shrugged a shoulder and glanced around the room. “Being here with your family has been the best holiday I've had in years,” he said, looking back down at her. “Even with all the problems, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I certainly wouldn't trade what I've been able to share with you. I didn't lie when I asked you to marry me. I did want you the first time I saw you.” He grew quiet for long moments before whispering, “I still want you, Macy.” He smiled, his palm on her cheek moving to cup her chin. “I'm in love with you. I've never been as happy as I've been this week and that's all because of you. Marry me. Be my wife."
    Macy couldn't breathe. She stared up at Sean until tears clouded her vision and he became blurry. “You really want to marry me?"
    "Yes. More than anything in the world."
    "What will people back home say?"
    He grinned. “Who cares,” he said. “If they ask, we'll just blame it on the mistletoe."
    Macy laughed and blinked the tears away. “You really want to marry me?"
    "For the second time, yes,” he said, grinning. “Do I have to get down on one knee and ask you again? I will if that's what it takes."
    He wanted to marry her? Sean was in love with her and wanted to marry her? Macy grinned before throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him. “I love you,” she said, when she pulled away.
    "Is that a yes?"
    "Yes,” she said. “I'd love to marry you, Sean."
    "The kissing is supposed to come last,” Matt yelled, earning laughs from her family. Macy glanced over at them and smiled before looking back at the preacher. “Can you make this quick,” she said. “We've wasted enough time as it is."
    "Yes, Ma'am,” he said, grinning. “One wedding ceremony, coming right up!"
    When their vows had been spoken, her grandparents’ rings in place on their fingers, and the preacher announced them as man and wife, Macy stared up at Sean, her husband, and knew that every Christmas from that day forward would remind her of this day. The day the man she loved proposed to her and married her under the magical spell of the mistletoe.

About the Author

    LILY GRAISON resides in North Carolina, a stones throw away from the Blue Ridge Mountains and a few hours from the Outer Banks. First published in 2005, her debut novel won a Reviewers Choice Award. Writing mainly in the contemporary romance genre, Lily also dabbles in erotica, paranormals and occasionally in a fantasy realm of her own making. Her love of adventure, and a very active imagination, take Lily to worlds she can only imagine.
    Visit Lily at: www.lilygraison.com