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Page 26

“Always. Maggie, love…” He entered her, a hot pressure that filled her in an inexorable slide. He was so strong, inside her, over her. She felt the waves of pleasure rising higher, tipping back slightly, then forward again, higher, until she cried out in wonder. Her hands groped over his back, the sweat-slicked muscles bunching hard beneath her palms. He followed her, finding his own release in the sweet, strong harbor of her embrace.

Afterward they lay together in transcendent silence, their bodies pressed intimately close.

There were more questions that would be asked, answers that would have to be found. But for now all that could wait, while she lay steeped in a sense of newness and possibility. And hope.


Christmas Eve

Some of the wrapped presents had to be moved while Alex and Sam set up the electric train to circle around the Christmas tree. Holly crowed in delight, running around in her red flannel pajamas to follow the train’s progress. Renfield crept forward and watched suspiciously.

It had been agreed that Holly could open one present on Christmas Eve, and the rest would wait until the morning. Naturally she had chosen the largest box, which had turned out to be the train set. Another box, still neatly wrapped, contained a fairy house that Maggie had started for her, along with paint, bags of dried moss and flowers, a jar of glitter glue, and other materials for Holly to decorate it with.

Mark sat on the sofa next to Maggie, who was straightening a pile of Christmas books they had read aloud.

“It’s getting late,” Maggie murmured. “I should be going soon.” Her nerves prickled pleasantly as he leaned over to speak quietly into her ear.

“Spend the night here with me.”

Maggie smiled. “I thought there was a no-sleepover rule,” she whispered.

“Yes, but there’s an exception: A guest can sleep over if you’re going to marry her.”

She gave him an admonishing glance. “You’re being pushy again, Nolan.”

“Do you think so? Then you’re probably not going to like one of the presents I’m giving you tomorrow morning.”

Her heart skipped a beat. “Oh, God.” She put her head in her hands. “Don’t let it be what I think it is.” She looked at him through her fingers.

Mark smiled at her. “I have reason to hope. You’ve had a hard time saying no to me lately.”

Which was more or less true. Maggie lowered her hands and stared at him, this handsome, impossibly sexy man who had changed her entire life in such a short time. She felt a rush of happiness, so strong that she could hardly breathe. “That’s only because I love you,” she said.

He reached for her, his head bending over hers, his mouth firm and sweet.

“Euw,” she heard Holly exclaim, giggling. “They’re kissing again!”

“We have only one choice,” Sam told her. “We’ll go upstairs so we don’t have to see them.”

“Is it my bedtime?”

“It’s a half hour past your bedtime.”

Holly’s eyes widened. “Santa’s coming soon. We have to set out the cookies and milk.”

“And don’t forget the carrots for the reindeer,” Maggie said, disentangling herself from Mark and heading into the kitchen with Holly.

“Do you think Renfield might scare Santa?” Holly asked, her voice drifting back to the living room.

“With all the dogs Santa’s seen? No way…”

Standing and stretching, Alex said, “I’m outta here. It’s my bedtime, too.”

“You’re coming back tomorrow morning, right?” Sam asked.

“Is Maggie cooking breakfast?”

“At least in a supervisory capacity.”

“I’ll be here, then.” Alex went to the doorway and paused to look back at them. “I like this,” he surprised them by saying reflectively. “It feels sort of…family-ish.”

He went to say good-bye to Holly and Maggie, and left.

“I think he’ll be okay,” Sam remarked. “Especially when the divorce is final.”

Mark smiled slightly. “I think we’ll all be okay.”

Holly came back into the room and set a plate of cookies and a glass of milk on the coffee table. “Renfield,” she said, “do not eat any of that.”

The bulldog wagged his back end agreeably.

“Come on, gingersnap,” Sam said. “I’ll tuck you in upstairs.”

Holly looked at Mark and Maggie. “Will you come kiss me good night?”

“In just a few minutes,” Maggie promised. “We’re just going to pick up a little and get things ready for tomorrow.” She watched fondly as Holly scampered up the stairs.

As Mark went to turn the train off, Maggie went to the plate of cookies and took out from her pocket a slip of paper.

“What’s that?” he asked, coming back to her.

“A note that Holly wanted to put next to the plate.” She showed it to him. “Do you know what she meant by this?”

Dear Santa

thank you for making my wish come true.



Mark set the note on the coffee table, and put his arms around her. “Yes,” he said, looking into her soft brown eyes. “I know what she meant.”

And as he bent his head and kissed her, Mark Nolan finally believed in magic.

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