Welcome to Chapter Three of my Christmas novella! I’ll be sharing the whole novella – one chapter a day – for the first couple of weeks of December (my Christmas gift to you, my wonderful readers!), so make sure you come back each day to read the next instalment of Emily and Matt’s story.
If you’ve just found this, I’d recommend starting back at the beginning of the story (here).
Sunday, November 24
A knock at her front door had Emily scrambling for cover. Of all the times for a charity collector to come to the door, it had to be when she was already late. Or as close to it as she ever hoped to be. Traffic was never worth the risk when driving to the airport. She just hoped whoever was at the door would give up quickly. She’d never been very good at sending them away empty-handed. Especially around Christmas time.
Another knock sounded. They were determined, she’d give them that. Maybe she could find a dollar or two at the bottom of her purse, though most door-to-door collectors didn’t take cash these days anyway.
“Emily? Are you ready?”
Oh dear. That wasn’t the voice of a charity collector. Grabbing her purse, Emily opened the front door. “Matt? What are you doing here? I’m about to leave for the airport to see off Luke and the team.”
“I know. I’m here to pick you up, remember? I told Luke I’d drive you around for two weeks?”
“Oh. I thought that was just to keep Luke happy.” The drive home yesterday had been awkward enough, Emily having already used up all her usual small talk on their earlier drives. That, and the way Matt had kept glancing over at her, as if to check whether she was okay, as if she was bleeding out rather than slowly dying of embarrassment. What self-respecting adult slammed their own hand in a door and were so incapacitated by it that they had to be rescued by their brother’s housemate? By the time they’d arrived at her house, she’d been all too eager to run and never see him again. Apparently, he hadn’t thought the same.
“No, I meant it. Unless you don’t want me here?”
“No. I mean, I do, but—” Her hand ached, a constant reminder that she really shouldn’t have painted Christmas decorations for three hours this morning. That probably wasn’t what the doctor had had in mind when he’d told her to rest her hand. It would be nice not to have to drive with it. Even with an automatic car, it wasn’t all that easy driving one-handed. Nor safe. But really? A personal chauffeur for two weeks? “You really want to drive me around? For two weeks?”
Matt shrugged and ran a hand through his dark hair. “I might not be able to make every trip—I do still have to work—but I can try. I promised Luke. Now, are you ready? Because we need to go now if we’re going to make it there on time.”
He was right. She could argue later. If she even wanted to, which she wasn’t so sure about right now. Locking the door behind her, she walked down the path to his car.
Matt focused on the road and not the woman beside him. It was probably a good thing the ride to the airport had been short and free of the usual traffic which slowed it down. He might have accidentally asked Emily out on an actual date if they’d been stuck together for much longer. The way she hummed along to the music playing on the radio and giggled at the announcers’ quips was intoxicating. As was the way she smiled into the wind coming through her wound-down window, without the slightest care for the mess it was making of her hair.
He purposely left a couple of feet distance between them as they walked inside—which was why it took him a couple of seconds to realize Emily wasn’t beside him anymore.
“What are they doing here?”
“Who?” He followed Emily’s nod toward the group of men gathered alongside her brothers in the departure lounge. He wasn’t sure whether to be impressed with their enthusiasm and commitment to the scheme or annoyed at them. They certainly hadn’t slid their way into Emily’s good graces yet. “Oh. Your new fan club.”
“Don’t call them that,” she hissed, before frowning. “Wait. You really think they’re here for me?”
Matt held back a laugh. Of course, they were. Emily’s brothers were setting her up by serving them as options on a platter. Hadn’t she figured that out yet? Although, he supposed it had only been the one time that she’d seen the men so far. Give it a few weeks.
“I’m not the one they flirted with for a whole day.”
“Ugh. You heard that? How embarrassing.” He didn’t even bother to hide his grin. She was so grumpy with them. It was adorable. Did Emily know that when she got grumpy her eyes changed color? He hadn’t even realized such a thing was possible. Maybe it was just that her cheeks got so flushed, her eyes looked different. Not that he noticed. Or liked it. She frowned again. “Maybe I should just wait in the car.”
He grabbed her hand, stopping her retreat. “Nope. You have to go in. You can’t come this far and not say bye to Luke. He’s counting on you being there.”
“Like I was counting on my brothers helping with the stable?”
“Luke was there.”
He had her there and she knew it. She shook off his hand. “Fine. I’ll go in. But I’m not talking to them. And they’d better have a good excuse.”
“Your brothers? Or your fan club?”
“All of them.”
Yep. Definitely grumpy, and fast turning into disgruntled. Who knew what emotion came next. He wouldn’t need to run the men off for Luke. Emily was doing a pretty good job at it herself.
The four men’s excuses were passable, but barely.
Jason had to pick up a key from Gabe, and the airport was a central meeting point for them both.
Tag and Jon were meeting friends for dinner after seeing Luke and the team off and had therefore carpooled.
Neil just happened to be the one Chris called when Luke desperately needed to find someone with a suit carry bag at late notice.
Emily hadn’t heard Josh’s excuse yet but had no doubt it would be as logical—and ridiculous—as the others’.
There was no way Neil was the only person Chris knew with a suit carry bag. And even if he was, Chris could have picked it up from Neil’s house. Neil didn’t need to come all the way to the airport. Luke was going to be staying in a village with no electricity and barely even plumbing for goodness’ sake. How important could a pressed suit be? It wasn’t like he was going to a wedding or anything. For that matter, was he even taking a suit? The whole thing seemed dubious to Emily. She knew her brothers, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was going on which she wasn’t privy to.
First chance she got, she was demanding answers. She just had to wait until her fan club, as Matt so eloquently named them, weren’t around. Something that was proving far more difficult than Emily would have ever expected.
She tried to focus on Luke and the team of over-excited teens posing for photos with their enormous backpacks, but it was difficult when Tag kept looking at her like that. And how had it happened that Jason was on one side of her and Neil on the other as they prayed as a group for the team?
“That’s our flight,” Luke announced suddenly, setting into motion a flurry of final hugs, goodbyes and “did-you-remember-to-pack” questions. As if between the boarding gate and the plane’s door they’d have time to get what they’d forgotten. Fortunately, most of the teens were nodding.
“Look after that hand of yours, okay Emily?” Luke said when it was her turn. “And let Matt drive you around. Humor me.”
“I already said I would.”
“Just checking. You’re too stubborn for your own good sometimes.”
Emily raised her eyebrows. “And who do you think I learned that from, Luke Mitchell?”
Luke grinned. “So I pushed you a bit growing up.”
“Fine. A lot. But it worked. You’re one amazing girl, Emily. Even if you are totally stubborn.”
“You’re sweet. And you’re also going to miss your plane if you don’t hurry up and leave. The rest of the team has already gone, and I don’t think any of these parents are going to be happy if the head leader doesn’t make it on the plane. Even if there are three other adults on the team. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine. Have fun.”
With a final smile and wave to the assembled group, Luke grabbed his backpack and jogged down the concourse toward the gate. She waited only until he’d walked through it before excusing herself to go find a bathroom. She didn’t need to use it, but it was the only place she could guarantee the men wouldn’t follow her.
Hopefully, by the time she came out, they’d be gone.
Matt might have been worried Emily was unwell taking so long in the bathroom if he hadn’t seen her poke her head out twice before ducking back inside. As it was, he was doing his best not to laugh. The poor girl, chased by so many unwanted suitors that she had to hide in a bathroom for twenty minutes. Her brothers were going to be in so much trouble when she figured out what they’d done.
“Coast is clear.” Matt messaged Emily when Josh finally left, glad Luke had passed on Emily’s number. The sheepish expression on her face when she walked out of the bathroom a few seconds later had him grinning. Had she thought he wouldn’t guess why she was hiding?
“You really don’t want to speak to those guys, do you.”
She made a face. “Is it that obvious?”
“Twenty minutes in the bathroom?” He should feel honored. She’d grumbled about it, but Emily had let him drive her to the airport today. Clearly, she wasn’t avoiding him like she was her fan club. Was it because he was Luke’s friend?
“I’m just not interested in a relationship right now, but they don’t seem to realize that, or take no for an answer.”
“I could talk to them for you, if you want.” After all, discouraging wannabe suitors was the real reason he was following her around for two weeks. The fact that she’d hurt her hand just made the whole task a thousand times easier. And less creepy.
“No. That would be—Just no. Can you drop me home, please?”
Not interested. Was that just those particular men she wasn’t interested in or had she sworn off all men for some reason? Interesting.
“Sure. Let’s go.”
They were five minutes from Emily’s house when Matt’s stomach reminded them both loudly that he hadn’t eaten since lunch. Emily was polite enough not to mention it despite the half grin on her face, but Matt had no such qualms.
“You, uh, didn’t want to go to dinner, did you?”
“Um, yeah. Before I drop you home. Nothing fancy or anything just, well, clearly my stomach is protesting its lack of food and you’re probably hungry too, right?”
Emily was silent for far too long for her answer to be yes. She was trying to figure out how to say no without offending him. He should have kept his mouth shut. The last thing he wanted was for her to lump him in with the other suitors and start hiding in the bathroom when he showed up.
“Thanks, but—” She paused again, clearly still looking for the words. He had enough compassion to go easy on her.
“But you need to get home and it would be weird anyway, going to dinner with your brother’s friend when said brother isn’t there, making it seem like a date, which it definitely wouldn’t be.”
He glanced Emily’s way just long enough to catch her half-smile before focusing back on the road. “Yeah, something like that. Thanks though. And thanks again for the lift. I really appreciate it.”
Matt was surprised to realize he hadn’t minded driving Emily tonight. It had been nice to have some company for a change. He was actually looking forward to seeing her again, something he definitely wouldn’t be admitting to anyone but himself. Certainly not Luke.
“No worries. It’s been fun.” He pulled into her driveway. “Let’s do it again. Monday? I’ll be here around seven-thirty in the morning to drop you at work.”
“Really, Matt, you don’t have to—”
“And yet I am. I promised Luke. Come on, Emily. Don’t make me look bad for breaking a promise, please.” That earned him a smile. She shook her head before taking a deep breath and shrugging as she let it out. It seemed Emily was resigned to the fact that she had a personal chauffeur for the next few weeks.
“Far be it from me to make you break a promise. Very well then. Seven-thirty, Monday.”
Matt waited until Emily was inside her house before driving away. He told himself that the silly grin dancing its way across his face was because of the crazy Christmas song playing on the radio but it might have been partly due to the fact that he was very much looking forward to seven-thirty, Monday morning.
Or almost entirely.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this chapter of Deck the Halls (and bring a hammer). Read on for Chapter Four!