Grant rang the doorbell on the charming house with the huge verandah, and there was a long silence before the sound of feet shuffling, and what he assumed was people getting dressed after a romp on the couch, because the scuffle behind the front door was loud. His typical male mind was venturing to places it shouldn’t be at midday, but it had been a helluva drag trying to get around town in this weather, primarily the 90 cm of snow from the storm's aftermath. If he had a spy hole, he would see that Kate in her bout of self pity over her dad's death was trying to hide her pajamas under a fuzzy blue robe she borrowed from Miranda's closet when she heard the door bell. She'd spent the entire day crying on the sofa, in between sleep and the occasional Christmas cookie she forced herself to eat.
Frantic, she peeked through a sliver of the open door. "Grant." Her eyes were wide and her heart quickened with a fluttery motion. "Come in."
"Have I come at the wrong time?" His arms were full with several mid-size parcels, and he placed them in the hall, looking around for a boyfriend who could be hiding somewhere.
"What?" She peered at him, seeing the curiosity in his eyes, and then she laughed.
"No, I'm alone...did you think?"
Grant found her perceptive to fill in the blanks in his mind. "Umm, no. Just wondered what all the racket was about."
Awkwardly, Kate studied his face. He had eyes so blue, they cut right through you. How did he do that? she wondered. Peer at her with such conviction, as if he was stealing her soul, or worse, stripping it naked so he could get inside. Kate felt naked in his presence. Or perhaps it was because she hadn't bothered to shower, put on makeup or get dressed, and that made her feel unbearably vulnerable. Whatever it was, the man had a gift of getting under skin. Kate felt unsettled and oh, so delighted, all at the same time.
"Would you like to come in for a tea or a snack? Looks like you could use a break from all that snow."
"Sure." He took off his boots and followed her to the kitchen. She put on the electric kettle and got two Christmas mugs from the cupboard. When the hot water was ready, she poured it into the mugs and let him choose between a delicious array of flavoured teas in a decorative box she had brought Miranda for Christmas entertaining. Her cousin adored tea, and it was shocking she hadn't already morphed into a human teapot by now.
The image made her smile, and Grant called her on it.
"What's so funny?" He lifted a brow, and Kate's eyes met his. Today, he wore a baby blue sweater under his black winter coat, and it brought out his eyes like a dream. Butterflies were back, and they were going insane in her tummy.
"Nothing....just a thought."
"Care to share? Just so I don’t feel like I'm the brunt end of a joke."
Kate popped a tea bag of peach jasmine in her cup. "No, it's definitely not about you."
"Thanks," he quipped, choosing a blueberry white tea. "I'd rather not be the laughingstock of this town for once."
Sensing he was hurt, Kate grew sober. "Are you referring to our scalding mishap at the bakery?"
"Actually, I'm not." Grant traced a manly finger along the rim of the cup. "This has to do with something more recent. From the summer, actually."
Kate studied him, admiring the fine lines in the corners of his sexy blue eyes. He was a fine-looking specimen, that was for sure. Fine, suave, and well-dressed. Damn fine, she mused, sipping her tea. What in the world was coming over her all of a sudden? Hadn't she just been flying the banner of the anti-men club recently? Weren't they all scoundrels, tramps, thieves and weasels?
She leaned forward at the table, deep into the conversation. "Why do I get the feeling this is going to be a juicy story?"
He grinned. "Oh yeah...get cozy." Helping himself to a shortbread, he took a bite.
Kate lifted a brow. "Mmm hmm?"
"This past summer, I was soft of...jilted...at the altar." His countenance grew dim.
"No..." Kate gasped.
"Yes. Isn't that pathetic and embarrassing?" He shook his head, gulping the tea now, as though it were a flask of Scotch. He wished.
"Not you...I cant imagine any woman leaving you at the altar."
And just like that, she'd hung herself. Whoops.
Grant stared...and smiled. "Gee, thanks, Kate." He eyed her disheveled hair and frumpy robe.
"I have an explanation for this," she said coyly. "I spent all night on the couch and eventually cried myself to sleep."
"Got jilted too?"
"I wish...no, my dad just died last night."
You could hear a pin drop just then. Kate finished her tea while Grant watched her, completely sympathetic.
"Kate, I'm sorry."
"It's okay. Well, it's not. But you know..." She fidgeted with her robe. "I'll be all right, in time."
"Yes, you will." He didn’t know what else to say.
"He had a heart attack. There was nothing they could do. It was the second one of the night."
Grant nodded. "When is the funeral?"
"My brothers are working out all the particulars. I'm too much a mess to delegate that stuff."
She poured more hot water into their cups for a second round. The baked goods were vanishing fast on the plate, and it amused her that he liked it so much.
"Thanks to you, I have my appetite back. Or so it seems."
Grant smiled. "Why is that?"
"Because I have been forcing myself to eat all day."
"Ah." He stirred sugar and milk into his tea. "So I'm good luck to women sometimes." A smug grin decorated his lips, sending shivers up Kate's arm.
"Sometimes." The gold flecks in her hazel eyes seemed to light up.
Glancing at the huge clock on the wall, Grant noted his break was over. "Well, thank you for the company and the cookies. I have a shipment to get to the rest of the valley before four-thirty, so I'd better hustle, or my boss is going to grill my hide."
Kate chuckled, following him to the hallway and he put on his boots, lingering there for a moment.
"I'm very sorry for your loss, Kate."
"Thanks." She forced a smile, but the sadness was lingering under her skin, and she knew as soon as he left the door, she would break down again.
Leaning forward, he planted a kiss on her cheek, and Kate felt the colour come rushing into her face.
"Well, have a good day." He briskly hurried down the steps and to his white van with the huge purple letters on the side, partly shocked at what he had just done, and to avoid the intimacy of the moment.
Kate was shivering in the cold, watching him drive off, and pulling her thoughts together. What the hell just happened?
Watching from the window, Kate felt laughter bubble up inside her. Did that really just happen, that kiss on the cheek from Grant?
Like a bird set free from her cage, Kate floated and fluttered in the kitchen, picking at the remains of the shortbread. That man had to have drank some weird love potion, because suddenly he was acting out of character; the day they’d met, he looked as though he were going to behead her for scalding him with the hot coffee. Now, though, his amorous ways were causing Kate to think he’d had a change of mind...or heart.
All right all right, Kate reasoned. He had only kissed her on the cheek…just an innocent peck. But it was still physical contact, was it not?
Clearing the empty mugs and placing them in the sink, she grabbed her cell phone, dialing the bakery.
“Hope Valley Bake Shoppe,” Miranda said cheerily.
“Cousin…you will never believe what just happened.”
“You got the naked, dancing-singing telegram I sent you.”
Kate grinned. “No, you fool. Grant Michaels…”
“He showed up naked with a rose in his teeth.” Miranda was taunting on purpose, and she loved every minute of it.
“Dammit, Panda, will you just let me finish?”
“I surrender. What’s up?”
“He showed up to deliver some parcels, so I invited him in for tea.”
“Did he behave himself? Please, no stains on the couch…”
“You are the most exasperating person I have ever known!” Kate wailed. “Now I have the worst possible visual in my head of him. Yuck.”
“Okay, I admit I’m bad sometimes.”
“Sometimes? How bout all the time? Miranda Shannon, I’m ashamed I’m related.”
“Fine, then, shoot me. Take away all my presents. You still haven’t told me what happened.”
A heavy sigh exhaled from Kate, and she put on a fresh pot of tea. “There’s not much to tell, actually. We had a nice visit, he told me he was jilted at the altar this summer, I told him about my father, and then as he turned to leave, he kissed my cheek.”
“Wow,” Miranda gasped. “That’s huge for Grant. He usually doesn’t go around kissing random women like that.”
“Random?” Kate bristled.
“You know what I mean. Grant isn’t a player. It took him a long time to get over his first love, and when Cassie left him this summer, he sort of went into hermit mode.”
“How do you know such personal details about his life? I thought he was just the delivery man.”
“Grant went to college with me.”
The admission slammed Kate. “What? You never told me that.”
“It was only for a summer, when I took some business courses before opening the bakery. Yeah, I thought you knew.”
“He really is a sweet guy, if you give him a chance, Kate. I’m sorry if I seemed I was pushing him on you.”
“Nah, its fine.”
“I hope you two get better acquainted over the holidays, because New Year’s Eve is coming fast.”
“Tell me about it.” Kate sipped the fragrant peach tea.
“At least you sound more ‘alive’ now. I swore you were going to the morgue, by the looks of you this morning. Poor girl...”
“Please don’t remind me.” Kate sniffled.
“It’s going to be tough for a while, Kitten, but you’ve got myself, Grant and your brothers to keep you busy.”
“I know, and I’m grateful for you letting me stay here.”
“Are my cats behaving themselves? You can give them some cat treats in the little silver foil packet in the pantry. They love those things.”
“Hang in there, girl. I will be home early this afternoon because the orders are slim to none and I have had two customers all morning. I swear it’s the snowfall keeping them away.”
“I don’t know about them, but a good, heavy snowfall puts me in snacking mode. It makes me want to run to a bakery and eat everything in sight.”
“Ha! That’s the spirit. Keep the promotional spot going for me, alright?” Miranda’s playful tone made Kate forget she was in grieving mode, for a moment.
“See you when you get home.”
Kate hung up, tidying the kitchen and peering out the huge bay window at the yard with its postcard winter wonderland. A chickadee was on the bird feeder, enjoying some seeds, and a black squirrel was climbing the pole to see what it could steal. Cradling her mug of tea, kept Kate thinking about dad and all the warm memories they’d made growing up. On the big book shelf in the den, she knew Miranda kept family photos in a heavy-bound album. Perusing the shelf, she spied one marked Shannon Vacation, Ireland, 2004. It was crazy to think of how many years had passed since the two families, hers and Miranda’s, had flown to Banbridge, and spent all of Christmas there. She recalled the country walks and the cozy pubs, the townspeople with their lovely brogue and rich culture, the memories so completely different but amazing that Christmas.
Kate had made friends in Northern Ireland and kept in contact with them for a number of years, but thousands of miles across the Atlantic, it was next to impossible to stay close. People’s lives were constantly changing and evolving, there was no telling who was coming or going.
She smiled, looking at snapshots of dad at the pub in County Down, with a cigar and glass of Scotch. The man sure did love his Scotch, she mused. It was probably not good that he drank and smoked heavily when mom passed from cancer four years prior. The loss of his lifelong marriage partner definitely took its toll on his morale, and his heart weakened more from being broken than any wear and tear from disease.
Tears rolled down her cheeks, and she could feel the tidal wave of emotions engulfing her, and her heart ached irrevocably. It was just not fair, to lose two parents in one lifetime, at such a young age. Christmas was not going to be the same. Kate was angry, hurt, scared and so very heartbroken.
She made a silent wish in that den, all alone, that God would make the heartache go away, for just one night, so she could live in peace.
She wished that she could see her dad one more time before he crossed over to his final resting place, but she realized that was probably a delusional wish. Nothing good ever happened to her, so why did she think she deserved it now?
“I miss you, Dad.” Kate cried for ten minutes straight, passing out on the sofa and drifting into a deep sleep of restless dreams.