Authors: Nicole Green
Genesis Press, Inc.
An imprint of Genesis Press, Inc.
Genesis Press, Inc.
P.O. Box 101
Columbus, MS 39703
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, not known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying, and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without written permission of the publisher, Genesis Press, Inc. For information write Genesis Press, Inc., P.O. Box 101, Columbus, MS 39703.
All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author and all incidents are pure invention.
Copyright © 2011 Nicole Green
Manufactured in the United States of America
Visit us at www.genesis-press.com
or call at 1-888-Indigo-1-4-0
To everyone who reads this book.
Whitney didn’t know what the big deal was. All the potholders looked the same to her. But why stress out her holiday-mode mother more than necessary?
“Okay, Mom, these?” Whitney held up the red and green potholders. She was tired of digging through the giant drawer full of miscellaneous kitchen gadgets, aprons, potholders, and other such things. Especially after having been pricked by unidentified objects hidden deep within the drawer twice already.
“No, Whitney.” Jo, her mom, heaved a sigh, temporarily blowing her bangs off of her forehead with the upward puff of air. “I’ll do it. Just come stir this pot for a minute.”
Whitney switched places with her mother, going over to stir the pot of goo thickening into gravy.
“Don’t stir too fast,” Jo called across the kitchen while digging through the drawer of mish-mosh wonders.
“Mom, I think I can stir gravy.”
Jo put her hands on her hips before giving her daughter a playful smile. “This from the girl who burns water.”
They laughed. It was true. Whitney wasn’t the world’s greatest cook. Her brother and sister had inherited the cooking gene, not her. Maybe it was the sort of thing that skipped the eldest daughter.
“Are they still out in the woods?” Whitney asked. Her stepfather, brother, and some of her cousins were out hunting deer.
“I guess so,” her mom said.
“It’s a wonder they haven’t frozen to death yet,” Whitney said while staring down at the bubbling, thickening liquid she was stirring.
“Yeah, they should be back soon, though. It’s already dark out there.” Jo rushed over to the pot and peered inside. She set a pair of blue and white potholders featuring smiling snowmen on the counter next to the stove.
“I really am capable of this,” Whitney said as her mother bumped her out of the way with a small hip check and took the wooden spoon from her.
“Hmph. You ain’t gonna burn my gravy up. You know how Shorty loves this stuff,” Jo said. Shorty was Whitney’s stepfather.
“Where’d you find these?” Whitney said, picking up the potholders. “I swear I never saw them in the drawer.”
“Don’t swear, and they were right in there, plain as day, honey.”
Whitney’s BlackBerry vibrated on the counter opposite the stove and she went over to check the screen.
“I wish you would put that thing away for one night,” Jo said. “It’s Christmas Eve. They can let your family have you for one night, can’t they?” Jo poked at the gravy with a long, wooden spoon.
“How do you know it’s work?” Whitney felt too guilty to open the email from Gibson and Grey, the law firm she worked for, after her mother’s comment. She set her BlackBerry on the counter.
“When is it not work, oh daughter of mine?” Jo opened the oven door. The mouth-watering aroma of baking bread that had filled the kitchen already became even stronger. Homemade yeast rolls were one of Jo’s specialties, although Whitney and her siblings often said that everything was their mother’s specialty.
“I have friends. They call,” Whitney said with a defensive little shrug of her shoulders.
“I know that,” Jo said. “But you know what all your friends are doing right now? Helping their mothers prep Christmas dinner and get a good Christmas Eve meal on the table for their families.” She lifted the lid on a pot. “Only those bloodsuckers you work with are on their phones right now trying to make more money instead of being at home with their families.” Jo bustled around the kitchen making sure dough was rising, meats were defrosting, and spices and other dry ingredients were lined up for the baking she had to do after dinner.
“I’d help if you’d let me,” Whitney said.
“I didn’t mean it that way.” Jo laughed. “I don’t want you burning my house down or my turkey up. The others will be back any minute. Everything’s almost ready. We’ll eat soon,” she said. “You just keep me company, honey. And help me get ingredients and stuff ready for the cooking I’ll do after dinner. That’s plenty.”
Whitney grinned. Her mother was the only person who could get away with comments like that. “Okay. Well, I’ve set the table. I made the lemonade and the sweet tea. Sodas are in the fridge. And I stuck a pitcher of water in there, too. What’s next?”
“Run over to the pantry and get me a can of—” Her mother’s voice broke off at the sound of the front door slamming open, soon followed by loud male voices and boisterous laughter. “Y’all take off them boots before you make one more step or I’ll kill you!” Jo shouted toward the sound of the voices.
“Of course, dear honey pie!” Shorty shouted back.
Whitney grinned. She couldn’t imagine two people being better matched than her second stepfather and her mother. Jo said Shorty was living proof that the third time was the charm.
Jo rolled her eyes, but her face flushed and she smiled. She told Whitney she still got jittery and flutters started in her stomach when Shorty walked into a room. Whitney wondered if that would happen for her one day, but she wasn’t too worried about it. She wasn’t even thirty. Not quite yet, anyway.
Shorty and the others walked in wearing their hunting gear—camouflage coveralls in shades of pale brown and tan along with their orange hats. On their feet they wore only socks, ranging from white to gray to black depending on which man those feet belonged to.
Shorty, Whitney’s half-brother Devon, and two of her cousins stood hulking over the counter and sniffing around the kitchen, talking about how hungry they were and how good everything smelled. Devon’s father was Whitney’s first stepfather. Shorty was her second stepfather. The cousins were her crazy aunt’s children.
“Umph, I can’t wait to get into that gravy. When are we eating?” Shorty said, starting toward Jo.
Jo held up her hands to keep him where he was. “Don’t you take another step in my kitchen all nasty with the woods on you like that. You know better.” She pointed him toward the doorway. “We won’t eat ’til y’all wash up.”
Shorty laughed. “Yeah, I knew better, but my stomach led me in here anyway.” He nodded to the others. “All right, y’all, let’s wash up so we can get down to business.”
The group of hunters walked toward the half bath on the first floor. Shorty branched off toward the master bedroom, which was also on the first floor.
Whitney smiled after them, thinking of how those were the things that made her so happy to come home and visit. That was why, despite her crazy schedule, she always made it home for the holidays. She wished she could’ve been there more often, though. Gibson and Grey kept her busy working sixty- to eighty-hour work weeks, so she didn’t have time to go anywhere much besides the office.
The front door banged open again and Whitney heard Aunt Cheryl’s voice. “Umph. Jo, why you burnin’ that gravy in there for?”
Whitney’s smile faded. And then there were those things that made her visits a little less pleasant than she would have liked.
Whitney started to ease out of the kitchen.
“Don’t you dare leave me alone with her. I’m about to strangle that woman the way she’s been acting lately, and I need a buffer,” her mother called across the kitchen in a loud whisper.
Whitney groaned, but stayed put. She leaned against the counter near an empty muffin tin and a package of brown sugar.
Aunt Cheryl walked into the kitchen, put a hand on her hip, and leaned back a little. With a small upturn of her lip, she said, “What y’all been doin’ in the kitchen all day? Don’t look like much to me. But nobody wanted to come over to see Miss Margaret with me. I see how it is.” Miss Margaret was a family friend.
“How is Miss Margaret?” Jo asked, trying to diffuse the situation. She was always trying to put out the fires her sister set.
“Oh, she’s just fine. Asked about y’all.” Aunt Cheryl fussed with her wig as she spoke. That year’s Christmas wig was a black bob with burgundy highlights.
Of course Aunt Cheryl hadn’t told them she was going until the last minute. Whitney had the sneaking suspicion she’d gone to see Miss Margaret in order to keep from helping with Christmas dinner. The sisters took turns preparing Christmas dinner, and it was Jo’s turn that year.
“I’m going over to see her day after tomorrow. After we get Christmas out of the way,” said Jo.
“Where’s our dear sister at?” Aunt Cheryl said. “Shouldn’t she be helping you with this? And our brother’s no-count wife?” She sniffed around the kitchen.
“Brenda is at the store,” Jo said. “We ran out of milk and I forgot all about cranberry sauce. And Larry and his wife are on their way. She’s bringing some banana bread with her.”
“Mmph.” Aunt Cheryl scrunched her nose. “I ain’t touching that loaf of brick. That stuff could kill a water buffalo. No, sir, I don’t have a strong enough stomach.”
Whitney’s mother signaled to her. She walked over to the counter and started chopping the scallions on the cutting board that her mother had set out for her.
“Whitney, girl,” her aunt said.
Whitney pasted on a smile. She knew her aunt was about to start in on her, and she was not looking forward to it.
“It is so good to see you. We don’t see you enough,” Aunt Cheryl said. “I still want to know when we gonna see some babies from you. We need some more cousins in the family for my grandbabies and Larry’s. You gettin’ up there, ain’t you?”
“I’m still trying to get my career off the ground.” Whitney’s chops of the little green tubes on the cutting board became more staccato.
“All I’m saying is you’re almost thirty now, ain’t you? And your mama has yet to see her first grandchild.” A smirk hovered around the corners of Aunt Cheryl’s lips.
“Women have babies well into their forties,” she said.
“Don’t you and your Aunt Brenda hope so?”