Deck the Halls (and bring a hammer) // Chapter Seven

Welcome to Chapter Seven 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)

Happy reading!

*****

CHAPTER SEVEN

Saturday, November 30

Emily’s sisters-in-law didn’t need her in the kitchen. They wanted her there, to interrogate her. Big difference. She shouldn’t have asked Matt to stay. He’d been part of Luke’s life enough over the past decade for her to think his presence wouldn’t have caused much of a fuss. She’d been wrong. Very, very wrong. Matt might have been Luke’s best friend, but Luke wasn’t here, and Matt had walked in with Emily. And her sisters weren’t letting her forget it.

“You two look good together,” Felicity said, head in the fridge as she scrounged around for some salad dressing. “Both tall, dark-haired, striking. Can you just imagine what stunners your kids are going to be?”

Emily rolled her eyes. “Kids? Seriously, Flick? I told you. We’re not even together.”

“Sure, sure. But you came with him, right? And he’s still here.”

“Because he drove me here and is dropping me home later. Luke made him promise.”

“He didn’t have to agree.”

Emily didn’t have an answer to that one, primarily because Felicity was right. Friends or not, Matt didn’t have to do what Luke told him. At least some part of him must have wanted to, for whatever reason he chose not to reveal.

“You’re telling me you’re not enjoying being chauffeured around by such a handsome, single man even a little bit?”

Oh, she was enjoying it all right. Who wouldn’t? But they didn’t need to know that. “You ladies are married, remember? To my brothers.”

“We still have eyes.”

“Ears too, but that doesn’t seem to have helped you hear when I say that Matt and I are not together.”

Felicity and Jadyn shared a grin. “We heard. Doesn’t mean we believe it.”

If it hadn’t added more fuel to the fire they were already quite intent on nursing, Emily would have stalked out of the kitchen right then to go and watch cricket with the guys. She couldn’t do anything useful preparing dinner with one hand anyway and her sisters were clearly not going to let this go.

Only Matt was watching cricket, which instantly ruled out that option.

Emily leaned back on her heels to check out the window. The kids were in the backyard kicking around a ball, not one man in sight. Maybe she’d go there instead. At least they wouldn’t feel it their solemn duty to run Emily’s life. With a final useless statement that she and Matt were not together, Emily walked outside. She’d kick a ball around and tickle her tiny nieces and nephews and enjoy the summer breeze after such a hot day and—

“Hey, Auntie Emily?”

“Yes?”

“Are you going to marry Uncle Luke’s friend?”

Emily tried to find a happy smile for Casey, but it was hidden well beneath a layer of frustration. Forget not bringing Matt. She should have just stayed home altogether.

***

For the first time in as long as he could remember, Matt couldn’t focus on the cricket. He felt like he’d thrown Emily to the wolves, albeit very kind and pretty ones. It was an immense relief when Weston announced in a voice far too mature for his years that dinner was served.

He found his way to Emily’s side, happy to see she was still in one piece, even if she was looking a little weary. Given the amount of gingerbread which had been gracing Emily’s kitchen table and counters, and the “rehearsal” he’d just witnessed her run, he didn’t blame her for being tired. He did, however, blame her for attempting to pick up a full, glass salad bowl with one hand. That was just asking for trouble.

“Let me take that.” He didn’t give her the option of refusing, brushing aside her hand as he picked it up himself. She could go back to being helpful when she had two fully functioning hands. “Where’s it going?”

She pointed to a spot on the already overflowing table. He put it down beside the roast chicken, assuring his stomach it really could wait until everyone was assembled before claiming some. First gingerbread, now roast chicken. Looking after Emily for Luke was turning out to be far from the chore he’d thought it would be. 

“Don’t suppose we’re starting soon?” he asked hopefully.

Emily smirked. “Chicken smells pretty good, hey?” He grinned, not even caring that he’d been so transparent. She leaned closer, raising her eyebrows in pure, adorable impishness. “Soon as Dad says, ‘amen’, get in there. Jadyn’s chicken is always the first to go.”

Though Matt still smiled, his breathing was doing funny things. Emily was so close he could see the starburst circling the black of her pupils. Did everyone’s irises have that starburst shape? He’d never noticed it in anyone else before. And her hair. Did she know it still smelled like gingerbread? It was intoxicating.

Maybe he should ask her out on a date or— He pulled back suddenly, putting some space between them. Get a grip, McLaughlin. It’s Emily. Not some woman you’re dating.

Emily.

Luke’s little sister.

Who smells incredib—Matt.

“Emily, hi. Nice to see you again.” Matt took a miniscule step back toward Emily, angling himself between her and Jason, who’d appeared out of nowhere. Had Jason been here the whole time? He hadn’t been watching the cricket, had he? Matt was pretty sure not, but then, he had been somewhat distracted. He couldn’t even have told anyone the score. “How’s your hand?”

“It’s fine, thank you. Much improved.”

“Good to hear.”

Matt stood listening to their conversation. He should probably walk away and give them the courtesy of some privacy. But he had no desire to do so. And this was just what Luke had asked of him.

“I didn’t know you’d be here tonight.”

“Drew invited me. Said you’d be here, and I’d get that chance to invite you on a date. So, how about it, Emily? Will you go on a date with me?”

Matt watched Emily stare, wishing he could hear what was going through her mind in that moment. It was suavely done—greeting, enquiry about hand, invitation on a date, all while ignoring the man—him—who currently stood beside her. Matt didn’t want to interfere, but Emily could do way better than this guy. Like, himself, for example.

Protector, Matt. Remember? Get a grip. Luke asked you to be her protector, not her boyfriend.

“This is Matt,” Emily suddenly blurted out. “Remember him?”

Jason turned his attention to Matt. “I remember. I didn’t realize you two were together.”

“We’re not.” Emily was quick to correct the mistaken assumption.

“Good. Then, the date?”

And just like that, Matt was dismissed. Back to being Emily’s invisible friend. It shouldn’t have bothered him as much as it did. He had no claim on Emily. But the guy could have at least waited until Matt wasn’t beside Emily before trying to talk her into a date. Not that he was going to let that happen. Matt had promised Luke he’d look out for Emily, and this was definitely looking like it was one of those times he was needed. Whether or not Emily thought so.

***

Emily still hadn’t given Jason an answer when she walked back to Matt’s car an hour later, claiming a headache as her excuse to leave early. She did have a headache—from trying to avoid the unwanted attentions of four men all night.

Jason had asked her on a date. Tag already assumed she was going on one with him though, thankfully, he’d changed his mind about it being tonight. Neil, who’d arrived near the end of dinner, kept telling her how beautiful she was, which was flattering the first time and sweet the second but fast becoming irritating by the fifth. And then there was Josh, who didn’t seem to quite have the courage to come speak with her but watched her as if she were a piece of Jadyn’s roast chicken. 

She should have given Jason an answer, at least. He was a nice guy. She really had no reason to say no, except the thought of going on a date with him utterly terrified her.

The thought of going on a date with anyone, actually.

She’d never been on a date before. Not a real one.

Did he just mean dinner? Or something else? And if it was dinner, would it be somewhere cheap and comfortable? Or expensive and intimidating. And if it was a place she was comfortable at, would it still feel like that when she had a man sitting across from her—she hoped it would be across—staring at her trying to figure out whether she had any potential?

Say yes. It wasn’t that difficult. Three little letters. One of the first words a baby learnt. Of course, the first was usually “no” and she’d be more than happy for that to be her answer. Only she had no reason to decline him.

Fear didn’t count.

“You’re quiet. You okay?”

Emily sighed, staring out the window at the passing street lights. It was too late to give Jason an answer tonight now and she wouldn’t see him again until Saturday when they continued building her stable. If he even came. She didn’t have to make the decision tonight.

“Yeah. I’m fine. Sorry I made you leave before the cheesecake. I owe you.”

“If it’s as good as your gingerbread, I’ll hold you to that. But don’t stress. You get some rest, okay?”

Emily nodded, already adding making another cheesecake to her mental to-do list. It was the least she could do for him after he’d already done so much for her.

She headed for the freezer as soon as she got inside her house, relieved Matt waited only until she unlocked her front door before driving off. 

Ice cream. Ice cream fixed everything. Aching hands, disastrous days, and why on earth she was still thinking about Matt McLaughlin long after he’d dropped her home and left.

*****

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this chapter of Deck the Halls (and bring a hammer). Read on for Chapter Eight!

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