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

Welcome to Chapter Fourteen 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 FOURTEEN

Friday, December 13

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la la la la la la. ’Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la la la la la . . .”

Matt reached over and flicked off the radio, silencing the overly cheerful song. He didn’t feel jolly. He felt well and truly disgruntled. And not the tiniest bit angry with himself. And maybe just a little bit regretful too. But he was glad of one thing—that Emily had gotten a lift to the airport with her parents and wasn’t sitting in what he’d come to think of as “her seat” in the car beside him.

Why, why, why had he given into temptation and kissed Emily? He should have known better. He did know better. But she’d looked at him with those eyes and touched his shoulder and—

He’d kissed her. Luke’s little sister. Luke’s very beautiful—gorgeous, as he’d called her—little sister. And he’d loved every millisecond of it.

Until halfway to the airport, when he’d realized that he’d have to tell Luke. And Luke would not be impressed. The regrets were heavier than the traffic he was now stuck in. It seemed only fitting.

He checked the clock again. Still half an hour before Luke’s plane was scheduled to land. Half an hour before Matt had to face his friend and try to keep the guilt off his face.

Luke, I kissed your sister.

Oh yeah, that would go down brilliantly. Not.

Luke. How was the trip? Great? Wonderful. How’s Emily? Oh, she’s great too. I did what you said—ran interference. How? Well, I kind of kissed her.

No.   

Luke, Emily and I were talking and—

And what? She asked me to kiss her? And I did it? Because, of course, what gentleman wouldn’t help out a lady in distress? Matt rolled his eyes. Some gentleman. He’d best leave the bit about her asking out altogether. Luke didn’t need to know. Emily was a mature adult. She could make her own decisions.

And mistakes.

The question was, was kissing her one of those mistakes? And if not, why did Matt still feel so guilty?

Maybe Luke would be fine with it. Maybe he’d approve.

Only Matt wouldn’t have. Matt would be packing Luke in a suitcase and sending him off to another country had their situations been reversed. Given the law tended to frown on that kind of thing, it was probably good Matt was an only child.

***

Matt walked into the airport waiting lounge a whole three minutes before Luke’s plane was due to arrive. Emily knew. She was watching. As much as she told herself a relationship between the two of them wouldn’t work, her heart still skidded at the sight of him. She’d been more anxious waiting for Matt to arrive than Luke. And it must have shown since her mom had asked her three times already if she was okay.

Yes, Mom. I’m just in love with a man I can’t have because any relationship between us will only end in heartache because I’m leaving and—Oh, I didn’t tell you that yet? Well, I am.

Maybe not.

She’d tried to focus on her brothers instead and the conversation she needed to have with them. If one could call a one-sided blasting a conversation. The four of them were all there, looking innocent, as if they hadn’t tried to completely ruin her life. Not even their interference could distract her from the angst she currently felt.

How could she have asked Matt to kiss her? And not just asked but well and truly begged. What must he think of her, brazen as such an action was? She’d never even flirted with a man, and here she’d all but thrown herself at her brother’s best friend. No, not “all but.” She had. She’d thrown herself at Matt. True, he’d admitted he liked kissing her and she’d been fool enough to tell him she liked it too but—

Emily sighed. That only made it worse. Who were they kidding? There was no way they could be together.

Maybe she should go and blast her brothers after all. They were the ones who’d gotten her into this mess. Luke would never have had to ask Matt to watch over her if they hadn’t given him reason to. Yes, it was definitely their fault.

“Are you sure you’re fine?” her mom asked again.

“Yeah, just—” She had to say something. “—End of year stress. You know how it is.”

“You have had a lot going on.”

Emily nodded. Her mother had no idea. The letter had arrived just before she left for the airport. She’d been staring at it in her hand, trying to find the courage to open it when her parents’ car had pulled up in her driveway. Her dream—or the crushing of it—sat in an envelope on the kitchen counter.

Something else to add to her long list of things to deal with.

“You don’t have to come to dinner tonight, if you just wanted to go home and sleep or read a book or something. The rest of the family would understand. And we’ll see you at your Christmas play tomorrow night.”

Tempting as the thought was, Emily shook her head. The more noise around her, the less space her brain had to think. And not thinking was a good thing right now. “It’s okay. I’ll be there. Didn’t you say you made your layered mousse cake?”

“Sure did. Choc mint this time.”

“Then I am definitely coming. I love that cake.”

“Cake? What cake?”

“Luke.”

While Emily had been staring out the window, trying to avoid letting her mom see her heart, or Matt the yearning in her eyes, Luke and the team had walked off the plane and into the waiting lounge. Conflicted as her emotions were, she didn’t have to fake the joy she felt at seeing Luke home. She ran over to hug him, just beating out Casey to be first.

“How was it? What was it like? Did you eat anything weird? Oh, and the night markets. Were they as impressive as they looked in photos? Did you do any haggling?”

“Hello to you too, Emily.”

“Sorry.” That probably was a few too many questions at once. “I just can’t wait to hear about your trip.”

“And I can’t wait to tell you, but we’re kind of holding up traffic here. Probably better if I tell you about it somewhere else.” He rolled his backpack a few steps forward. Cries of delight and welcome sounded around them as the rest of the team came out of the doors. “Family dinner still on tonight to welcome me home? That was the plan, wasn’t it? Is that where the cake you mentioned will be?”

“Yep. Mom made her layered mousse cake.”

“Come on, Emily. Stop hogging him. The rest of us want to say hi too.”

Emily stepped back, letting Casey and Felicity claim their hugs, watching other families do the same with the rest of the team. Her heart still felt giddily off kilter like a kid who’d been spinning around for too long before they stopped. Luke was home. Somehow, in her mind, that meant everything was about to go back to normal. It made no sense, given he was the only one of her brothers who hadn’t been involved in the “Get Emily a Husband” scheme, but the craziness had started when Luke left, so why couldn’t it be back to normal again now he was home?

“Hey, Matt,” Luke said, spotting his longtime friend as the crowd of family in front of him cleared. “Nice to see you. You’ll have to catch me up on all that’s been happening.” The quick but pointed look Luke sent Emily’s way wasn’t lost on her, though she hoped it was subtle enough that no one else caught it. Yes, Emily knew about her brothers’ plot and Luke and Matt’s role in it. “You’re coming to dinner tonight, right?”

Matt took too long trying to come up with an answer. Or was it just that Emily was so eager to hear it that the few seconds of silence sounded too long. Either way, she could tell Matt was looking for a way out.

“I shouldn’t,” he finally said.

“Why not? It’s just dinner, and I have no doubt it’ll be a thousand times better than whatever takeaway meal you’re planning on getting on the way home and eating alone. Or did you already have plans for tonight? You didn’t get a girlfriend in the couple of weeks I was gone, did you?”

And again, that moment too long of hesitation before Matt’s grin kicked in. “No, no girlfriend.”

“Then you’ll be there?”

“If it’s okay with—” He looked directly at Emily before sliding his gaze to the woman beside her, “—your mom.”

“Oh sure, anytime, Matt,” Emily’s mom said, as if she’d been following the entire conversation. “You know that.”

Emily turned her attention back to the giant window she’d been staring out before Luke arrived. Anyone watching her would think she was watching planes land and take off, but her mind was far from them.

Matt was coming to a family dinner.

The second one in a row.

He was coming with Luke this time, not her, but that wouldn’t stop Jadyn and Felicity from asking questions. This time, Emily wouldn’t be able to claim there was nothing between her and Matt. Because there was.

She put a hand to her lips, running the backs of her fingers across them as she remembered the feel of Matt’s kiss.

Oh yes. There definitely was.

***

“Okay, what’s going on?”

Matt tried his best to not look as suspicious as he felt. Sure he had a reason for standing beside this post, outside the Mitchell house while everyone else was inside. A reason that had nothing to do with the fact that he had a perfectly good view of the kitchen from here, and no one to pester him as to why he wanted it. Except Luke, apparently. “What do you mean?”

“You and Emily. You’ve been acting weird all night. Both of you. It’s like you can’t stand to be around each other, and yet you can’t keep your eyes off each other. I take it you drove her around while I was gone like you promised?”

“Yes.” Matt still got a waft of gingerbread every time he opened his car door, thanks to the giant container of cookies Emily gave him. He’d always associate that scent with Emily now. Christmas and Emily. The perfect combination. 

“And the suitors my brothers sent her way?”

Those fops? They’d never had a chance. “I can pretty safely say Emily disposed of them. They won’t be coming back to date Emily any time soon.” Or ever, if Matt had any say in the matter. “Your brothers’ little matchmaking plan failed.”

“Good. So, we’re back to my first question then. What’s going on between you and Emily? And don’t tell me it’s nothing. I know you both better than to believe that.”

Oh, it was definitely not nothing. Not the way he was feeling.

Matt had always thought men saying they wanted to proclaim their love from the mountaintops somewhat fanciful and strange. He totally understood it now. Just the thought of Emily had his heart beating double-time and him feeling as mature as one of her little students. He’d shout, he’d dance, he’d even don an art smock and paint her a picture at one of her classroom’s tiny easels if she asked it of him.

But facing up to her brothers with the truth? To Luke? It was almost more than he could bear. But he also had no choice. If Matt wanted any chance at a relationship with Emily, he had to tell them sooner or later.

“I kissed her.”

There. He’d admitted it. But whoever said honesty is the best policy hadn’t told a girl’s older brother that he’d kissed her. Nothing about the admission made him feel better. A thousand times more nervous? Absolutely. But better? Not even close.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. I mean, I did. It wasn’t an accident—” No, definitely not an accident. “—but, well, I didn’t mean to fall in love with her or— Why are you laughing?”

“You love Emily.”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

“Why?”

“Why did I kiss her? Um . . .” Could this conversation get any more awkward? Luke was a man. Emily’s brother or not, he had to know she was attractive. Did Matt really have to explain? And did Luke really want to know exactly what Matt had been thinking about Luke’s little sister?

“Not why did you kiss her. Why are you sorry?”

“I was supposed to be looking out for Emily, protecting her from those other suitors. Falling in love wasn’t exactly part of the agreement.”

Luke raised his eyebrows, barely holding back a smile. “Maybe not yours.”

Caught up in the memory of that kiss—again—it took Matt a few moments to realize what Luke had said.

“You set us up?” After he’d been so angry about his brothers doing that to Emily, too. “How could you do that to her? To me?”

“You’re complaining?”

“Yes.” Wait. Was he? “No, I suppose not, but still.” It was the principle of it.

“Okay, okay. Calm down. I didn’t know you’d fall in love. I might have hoped it, but I didn’t actually expect you to, especially not so fast. But if you think I’m angry, you’re wrong. I think it’s awesome.”

Awesome. He’d said awesome. Luke wasn’t mad. He was thrilled. Matt had prepared himself for convincing, arguing, physically defending himself, and outright running away, but approval? It hadn’t even crossed his mind. Was Luke serious? Did he really think Matt and Emily together was awesome? There was only one way to find out.

“Then you wouldn’t mind if I asked her on a date?”

Luke grinned. “I wouldn’t mind if you married her.”

*****

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

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