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UNDENIABLY YOURS
by Shannon Stacey

Genre: E-book, Contemporary Romance

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If there was one thing about his parents, Kevin thought as he helped Beth and then Paulie out of the Jeep, they seriously knew how to deck the halls. And they didn’t go for boughs of holly, either. His parents’ house was ablaze in flashing, multicolored lights that illuminated every inflatable reindeer and snowman known to man.

“Wow.”

He looked down at Beth, her awestruck expression bathed in twinkling lights. “My mom’s favorite holiday.”

“I can see that.”

As they walked up a path lined with gigantic plastic candy canes, Kevin hummed a merry holiday tune under his breath. It had been a while since he felt so jolly about spending Christmas Eve at his parents’ house. Vicky had never really warmed up to his family and they’d usually argued about it on the drive up from Boston.

After the divorce, he’d usually spent the evening in the corner trading barbs with Joe—the other single guy in the crowd—watching the family make merry. But this year Joe had Keri and he kind of had Beth and they had a baby on the way. A few trips to the enormous buffet table and it just might be the best Christmas ever.

Once the hugs and kisses were over, Kevin made the multiple trips to the Jeep to carry in the gifts. The kids hovered as he added them to the mound already surrounding the nine-foot Fraser fir, trying to spot their names on the gift tags, and they protested loudly when Kevin placed them all upside down.

He found Beth in the corner of the dining room, where she stood with a heaping plate of food. She laughed when she saw him, showing him the assortment of goodies.

“Your mother made it pretty clear eating isn’t optional.”

“I think it’s how she keeps us all under control. You don’t move fast when you’re in a food stupor.”

“Paulie wasn’t kidding about the nutcrackers.”

Kevin laughed, looking around the room and trying to see it from Beth’s point of view. His mother collected those wooden nutcracker soldiers and they covered pretty much every flat surface downstairs. If something didn’t have food set on it, there was a soldier there.

“When we were kids, Terry got it in her head they should all be lined up in order of height. Ma likes them random. The battle went on forever until Terry superglued them down. That was an interesting Christmas.”

Beth was laughing at his story when Bobby ran up to her. She lifted her plate out of harm’s way and smiled at Kevin over his nephew’s head as the boy put a hand on either side of her waist.

“Hey, cuz!” Bobby yelled at her stomach. “What does a snowman eat for breakfast? Snowflakes!”

Then he laughed like a loon and ran off in another direction. Kevin chuckled as he reached for a plate. “Sorry about that.”

“Don’t be. It’s sweet and I like being here with your family, knowing that the baby’s going to be a part of all this.”

As if the constant aching need for her wasn’t enough, Kevin lost another chunk of his heart. While he wouldn’t call himself a mama’s boy, his family was everything to him and he’d struggled with being torn in two before. He wouldn’t do it again.

Even before his captain started banging Kevin’s wife, putting the final nail in the coffins of his relationship and his career, his marriage had been shaky. Vicky had never really warmed up to the Kowalskis. Not that she strongly disliked them, but she was always trying to maneuver Kevin in a different direction. She wanted to go to Cancun over Thanksgiving or stay in Boston for the Fourth of July.

He’d tried to compromise. She was his wife, after all, and that meant something to him. But rather than appreciating his meeting her halfway, she’d pushed for a skiing trip to Colorado over Christmas. His flat-out refusal had caused drama that would have put Shakespeare to shame.

“Presents!” The joyous shout from the living room echoed through the house.

“Brace yourself,” he warned Beth. “Picture a tornado tearing through a wrapping-paper factory.”

The chaos lasted nearly an hour, even with the men passing out the gifts while the women shoved paper into garbage bags as fast as the kids could strip it. He noted the thoughtful gifts she’d brought for the kids and the hand-carved nutcracker she gave his parents, as well as the fact his family had respected his request they not make Beth uncomfortable by spoiling her with presents. A gift card to the bookstore, a stuffed bear for the baby. A few things like that, and she was glowing with happiness.

The chaos came to an abrupt halt as everybody held their breath when Brian pulled the trigger on one of the Nerf guns Paulie had brought and accidentally shot Beth in the forehead.

“Brian,” Lisa shouted at her third son.

Beth blinked in surprise, then carefully set her gifts to one side and rose from her chair. Kevin stood, too, in case she was going to try to lock herself in the bathroom or make a break for the front door.

She did neither. Grabbing a gun from under the tree, she very calmly started loading darts into the clip and then she smiled at Brian and cocked it. “You are so gonna get it.”