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Authors: Richard Paul Evans

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BOOK: The Mistletoe Promise
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“What happened?”

“Just things,” he said. “My dark ages. It took me a few years, but I pulled myself out. From then on it was all school and work. I finished college and took the LSAT. I got accepted to Stanford Law School on a scholarship, graduated at the top of my class, then came back to Utah to practice law.”

“You started working at the firm you’re at now?”

He hesitated before answering. “No, I worked at the prosecutor’s office. I kept beating them in court, so they made me an offer.”

“That must be nice,” I said.

“What must be nice?”

“To be wanted like that.”

He suddenly went quiet. Then he said, “I’m sorry. That whole conversation got pretty heavy. I just wanted to get to know you better.”

“Well, you know it all now.”

“Do I?”

I didn’t answer. After a moment of silence he picked up the check. “Let’s get you home.”

It was cold in the restaurant’s parking lot, and our breath froze in front of us. The cars were all covered with a thin veneer of freshly fallen snow. He started his car, turned on the heater and window defroster, then got out and scraped the windows. When he got back in, his hands were wet and red with the cold. He rubbed them together.

“Let me see them,” I said.

He looked at me curiously, then held them out. I cupped them in my hands and breathed on them.

He smiled. “Thank you.”

We didn’t say much on the way home. I suppose I felt talked out. But the silence wasn’t uncomfortable. When we pulled up in front of my apartment he said, “Thanks again for going with me.”

“It was fun,” I replied. “I’m sorry I talked so much.”

“I enjoyed learning about you.”

“Well, I kind of threw up on you. I guess it’s been a while since I’ve had anyone ask me about myself.”

“I’m glad it was me,” he said.

I smiled at him, then said, “Me too. Have a good weekend.”

“You too. I’ll see you Monday.”

I got out of the car and walked up the snow-covered sidewalk to my apartment stairs, leaving footprints as I went. Nicholas waited until I reached the door. I turned back and waved. He waved back then drove away.

Not surprisingly, my apartment smelled like roses. I went into my bedroom and undressed, turned out the light, then lay back on my bed.

“Who are you, Nicholas?” I said into the darkness. “And what are you doing with me?”

CHAPTER

Eight

People talk of life’s storms as if they are universal experiences. But they’re not. Some people hear thunder while others touch lightning.

Elise Dutton’s Diary

THREE YEARS EARLIER

I couldn’t sleep because of the pain. At first I thought it was an upset stomach. Then, as the pain increased, an ulcer. An ulcer made sense. I was a worrier. I’d worried my whole life.

While my husband, Dan, slept, I downed a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, which did nothing to relieve my agony. Finally, at four in the morning, I woke Dan, and he reluctantly drove me to St. Mark’s Hospital emergency room. It wasn’t an ulcer, it was appendicitis. And my appendix had burst. I was rushed into surgery and spent the next two days in intensive care being fed massive doses of antibiotics to attack the infection that had set in. On the third day I had shown enough progress that they moved me out of the ICU.

Dan came to see me that afternoon bearing a bouquet of spring flowers. It was only the second time I had seen him since I was admitted, and, in spite of his absence, I was glad to see him. We had talked for only about a half hour when he said he had to get back to work. Dan was working as a telemarketer and managed a phone solicitation office. After
he left I was just lying there looking at the flowers when one of my nurses walked in. Keti was a Tongan woman as wide as she was tall.

“Oh, aren’t you lucky,” she said. “Somebody loves you.”

I smiled. “Aren’t they beautiful? They’re from my husband.”

“You hang on to him, honey. I can’t tell you the last time my husband brought me flowers.” She looked up at me. “Oh wait, I don’t have a husband.” She walked to my side. “How are you feeling?”

“It hurts where they made the incision.”

“That’s usual. An appendectomy is like a cesarean, except you don’t get a baby for it.”

“I feel a little warm.”

“Warm? Like a fever?”

“Yes.”

She sidled up to my bed. “I was just about to check your temperature.” She rubbed an electronic thermometer across my forehead and frowned. “You have a temperature. A hundred and two point four. I don’t like that.”

“What does that mean?”

“Maybe a little infection.” She checked my chart. “You’re already on a pretty high dosage of antibiotics, but let me see if the doctor wants to up your dose a little.”

“Thank you.”

As she scribbled on her clipboard, I heard the vibration of a cell phone. We both looked around to see where it was coming from, then Keti discovered an iPhone lying next to the flowers. “Is this yours?”

“No. It’s probably my husband’s. He must have left it.” I reached out my hand for it. “I’ll text his office and let them know I have it.”

“How sweet,” Keti said looking at the screen. “Amore. Is that what he calls you?”

“Amore?” I looked at her blankly. “No . . .”

She handed me the phone. “It’s right here.”

Amore Mia

Text Message

Amore? My love?
Who’s calling my husband Amore? No, that’s not how it works. Who is my husband calling Amore Mia? I pressed the notification.

Amore Mia

Are you on your way?

October 11, 2009 1:04 PM

I started reading backward through the thread of messages.

Amore Mia

Your so good

October 11, 2009 12:55 PM

Dan the Man

Not now. After she is back home. Feeling better

October 11, 2009 12:54 PM

Amore Mia

:( When are you going to tell her?

October 11, 2009 12:52 PM

Dan the Man

She’s doing okay. Made it through the hard time

October 11, 2009 12:51 PM

Amore Mia

After. Pretty please? You’ll be glad! ;-) How is Elise?

October 11, 2009 12:49 PM

Dan the Man

:) On way to hospital see Elise. I love you

October 11, 2009 12:45 PM

Amore Mia

Just had the sweetest dream of you. I miss you. Can you come over?

October 11, 2009 12:42 PM

Amore Mia

Ditto. Ditto. Ditto. Please. Please. Please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

October 11, 2009 10:07 AM

Dan the Man

Floating. Last night was unbelievable. We need a rerun ASAP!!!!!!!!!!!!!

October 11, 2009 9:42 AM

Amore Mia

How is my dreamboy today?

October 11, 2009 9:39 AM

There were more. Many more. I couldn’t read them because my eyes were filled with tears.

“Honey?” Keti said.

I looked up at her. “My husband is cheating on me.”

“I’m sorry.”

Just then Dan walked back into the room. “Hi, babe, I forgot my phone.”

I looked at him, shaking, unable to speak.

“Why are you crying?” He looked at Keti. “Is she in pain?”

“I would think so,” Keti said, her eyes narrow with anger.

“Can you get her something for it?”

“Not for this pain.”

He looked at her quizzically, then back over at me. “Honey . . .”

“Who is she?” I said.

“I’ll check on your antibiotic,” Keti said, making her way toward the door. It sounded ridiculous, like telling someone in a hurricane that you would be back to wash their windows. She brushed by Dan on the way out.

“Who?” he asked, his eyes stupidly wide.

“Who is Amore Mia?”

He stepped toward me. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I held up his phone. “Who is Amore Mia?”

“Elise . . .”

“If you have something to tell me, tell me now.”

“It’s nothing. She’s nothing.”

“I read the texts. Don’t lie to me.”

For a moment we looked at each other, then he breathed out slowly, as if he’d resigned himself. “Okay, so you caught me. I’m having an affair.”

“Who is she?”

He looked even more uncomfortable.

“Do I know her?”

“Kayla,” he said.

The only Kayla I knew was my best, and only, friend and the thought that she would cheat with my husband was so far beyond possibility that I couldn’t process it. “Kayla who?”

“Kayla,” he said again but with more emphasis.

“My Kayla?”

“Yeah.”

My pain doubled. When I could speak I asked, “How long has this been going on?”

“I don’t know.”

“How long?”

“A while.”

I broke down crying again. He stepped forward and put his hand on my arm. “Elise.”

I pulled away. “Don’t touch me.”

“Elise,” he said in the condescending register he used when he thought I was being overly dramatic.

“Go away,” I said. “Go to your . . .
amore
.”

“I’m not leaving,” he said.

“Get out of here!” I shouted.

Just then Keti walked back into the room. She must have heard our conversation because she looked angry. “You need to leave,” she said, pointing a sausage finger at Dan.

“She’s my wife,” Dan said. “I don’t need to go anywhere.”

Her voice rose. “She’s
my
patient and this is
my
house, and if she wants you to leave, you leave.” She walked to a button on the wall. “Or should I call security?”

He glared at her, then looked back at me. “It’s your fault, Elise. You’re the one who ruined our lives. You have no one to blame but yourself.” He turned and walked away. Two days later I was still in the hospital when Dan filed for divorce.

CHAPTER

Nine

Today I overheard Zoey and Cathy talking about Nicholas. It’s not what they said about him that hurts. It’s what they were implying about me.

Elise Dutton’s Diary

Mondays were always the hardest days at ICE. Invariably there would be some crisis that had occurred over the weekend: lost luggage, a canceled flight, a broken-down bus, or any of the thousand things that can go wrong when traveling with groups. That doesn’t even include the things our students did. Like the time three of the boys were arrested in New York for dumping soda on people on the sidewalk below the hotel.

This Monday was no different. It began with our usual staff meeting and Mark ranting about a phone call he’d received over the weekend from a parent whose daughter claimed she had gotten pregnant on one of our trips. The mother had concluded that it was all our fault. I had to contact the teacher who had chaperoned the excursion and tell her what had happened. She already knew. The mother had already gone after her as well, threatening her with a lawsuit and assorted calumny.

I had just hung up the phone with the teacher when Zoey brought in a package and set it on my desk. All she said was “Here.”

Happy for the distraction, I unwrapped the paper, then
opened the box. Inside was a beautiful, ornate hand mirror. It was oval-shaped with a twisted handle. The frame was tarnished silver that looked almost pewter. I opened the note.

Elise, Happy Day 7

Thank you for an enlightening weekend. I’ve sent you a new mirror. Hopefully it works better than the one you’ve been using.

—Nick

P.S. This is an 1807 antique. The metal is silver. The woman at the antique shop said the best way to clean it is with a cup of white vinegar, a Tbsp of baking soda, and a pinch of salt.

“So what did you get today?” Zoey asked.

I held up the mirror. “A hand mirror. It’s an antique.”

“It’s pretty,” she said simply, then left my office.

About a half hour later I went out to use the bathroom and was in one of the stalls when Zoey and Cathy came in together. It was soon obvious that they didn’t know I was there.

“So what do you think of all this?” Zoey asked.

“All what?” Cathy replied.

“Elise’s sugar daddy.”

“Good for her,” Cathy said. “She needed something. Have you met the guy?”

“No. But I’m not looking forward to it. You know what
they say, the amount of money a guy spends on a woman is in inverse ratio to his looks. He’s probably some fat, bald guy with ear hair.”

“At least he’s rich,” Cathy said.

“Rich doesn’t make a man hot,” Zoey said.

“No, but it can hide a lot of ugly,” Cathy said, laughing.

I was furious. I was about to say something I would no doubt regret, but I calmed myself down. I waited until they left before going back to the office. When I got to my desk I looked up Nicholas’s law firm’s number and dialed. A professional voice answered. “Derr, Nelson and McKay.”

“Hi. I’m calling for Nicholas Derr.”

“Just a moment please.”

The music on hold was Rachmaninoff, which I knew only because I was an Eric Carmen fan. A half minute later a young female voice answered, “Nicholas Derr’s office. This is Sabrina speaking. How may I help you?”

“Hi, Sabrina. I’m calling for Nicholas.”

“Mr. Derr is in a meeting right now, may I tell him who’s calling?”

“It’s not important. This is Elise.”

There was hardly a pause. “Elise Dutton?”

I was surprised that she knew who I was. “Yes.”

“Just a moment, please.”

I was on hold for less than ten seconds before Nicholas answered. “Elise.”

“Nicholas, I’m sorry to bother you.”

“I’m pleased you called, unless you called to cancel lunch,
in which case, I’m pleased to hear your voice, but not that you called.”

I smiled. “No, I’m not calling to cancel. I just wanted to see if you would do something for me.”

“Name it.”

“Would you mind coming to my office today to get me for lunch?”

“I would love to.”

“I’m in office 322.”

“I know.”

Of course he did.

“Thank you for the mirror,” I said. “It’s pretty.”

“Like you,” he replied. “I’ll see you at twelve-thirty. Bye.”

I hung up the phone. “Fat and bald with ear hair,” I said.

Then I realized what I had done. He was going to meet perfect Zoey.

Nicholas was punctual. I heard Zoey greeting him with her come-hither voice. “Hi. May I help you?”

I waited inside my office, listening to the exchange. “I’m here for Elise,” he said.

“May I tell her who’s calling?”

“Nicholas,” he said.

Long pause. “You’re Nicholas?”

“You must be Zoey.”

“Yes. I am.” I had never heard her sound so awkward.

“It’s a pleasure meeting you,” he said.

“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Zoey said.

“I’m glad to hear that,” he said. “I assumed that I was just one of Elise’s many men.”

Zoey said nothing as I walked out. Nicholas looked over at me and smiled. He couldn’t have dressed better for his appearance. He looked gorgeous in an Armani suit with a crisp white silk shirt and crimson tie. “And there she is,” he said. He walked up to me and kissed me on the cheek. “I hope it’s okay I came by early.”

“It’s fine,” I said.

“Great. I was hoping you’d have time for me to take you to lunch. The owner of the New Yorker is a friend of mine, and he has a special table waiting for us. If you have time, that is.”

Just then Cathy walked out of her office. She stopped when she saw Nicholas. She didn’t have to say what she was thinking. “Hi.”

Nicholas stepped forward, offering his hand. “Hi, I’m Nicholas.”

“Cathy,” she said, sounding unsure of herself. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” he said. He turned back to me. “So the New Yorker is okay?”

“Of course,” I said, doing my best to sound magnanimous. “Let me get my coat.”

As I returned to my office I heard Nicholas say, “The table I can get with a phone call, but Elise, I have to pray she can fit me in.”

I walked back into the room, and he reached out his hand to me. “Come on, gorgeous.”

“Bye,” I said to Zoey. “I might be a few minutes late.”

“Take your time,” she said meekly.

As we walked out into the hallway, I just looked at him. He was smiling.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Is that what you wanted?”

“That was perfect. Are we really going to the New Yorker for lunch?”

“Of course. I told you I’d broaden your culinary horizons.”

The New Yorker was just a few blocks from the mall. The restaurant didn’t have a formal dress code, but everyone inside was professionally attired. It was the kind of place where movers and shakers met and business deals were made. Needless to say, I had never been there before.

After the hostess had seated us at a table for two, Nicholas leaned forward. “So tell me what that was all about.”

“The girls in the office have been intrigued by the gifts you’ve been sending. I overheard them talking this morning. Zoey said, and I quote, ‘the amount of money a guy spends on a woman is in inverse ratio to his looks. He’s probably some fat, bald guy with ear hair.’ ”

“Did I dispel any of that?”

“I think you left them speechless.”

“Good,” he said. “Fortunately I plucked my ear hairs this morning.”

“That’s just wrong.” I laughed. “Can I tell you something honest?”

“Of course.”

“I didn’t want you to meet Zoey.”

“Why is that?”

“I was afraid you might want to trade up.”

“No disrespect, but that would be like trading champagne for Kool-Aid.”

I grinned. “That’s
totally
disrespectful.”

“Not to you,” he said.

“And thank you again for the mirror. It’s beautiful. As is the thought behind it.”

“Did I impress you with the cleaning tips?”

“I was
very
impressed.”

He smiled. “I thought you would be. So are you ready to order?”

“No.” I looked through the menu. “What do you recommend?”

“The tomato soup is always good,” he said.

“Why don’t you just order for me?”

“I’d be happy to. Something to drink?”

“I’d like a glass of wine.”

“Okay,” he said. He ordered a glass of Chianti for me, a cranberry juice for himself, and our meal. That was the first time I realized that I had never seen him drink. I wondered if he did.

As the waiter walked away I asked, “So what’s next on our agenda?”

“It’s your call. You were going to come up with something for our weekend.”

“I have an idea,” I said. “There’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”

“Name it,” he said.

“Do you sing?”

“In the shower.”

I nodded slowly. “That will do.”

BOOK: The Mistletoe Promise
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