The Christmas Present
Part of the Brava Brothers Series
The Christmas Present is featured in the anthology Yule Be Mine and is not available on its own.
Reviews of The Christmas Present
The Christmas Present
is Part of the Brava Brothers Series
The full series reading order is as follows:
Read An Excerpt
The Christmas Present
Why oh why couldn’t this be a normal storm? Instead of soft, pretty snowflakes dotting her windshield, wet snow clumps froze as soon as they hit, rending the wipers inadequate to keep the windshield clear. Even with the defroster on high, blasting hot air that threatened to choke her, the snow accumulated.
Refusing to stop and refusing to acknowledge the headlights behind her, Beth Monroe kept her hands tight on the wheel. Let him freeze to death. Let him follow her all the way to Gillespe, Kentucky.
She’d still ignore him.
She’d ignore everything that had happened between them, and everything she felt, everything he’d made her feel.
Oh God, she was so embarrassed. If only she could have a do-over, an opportunity to change the past, to correct mistakes and undo bad plans. That’d be the most perfect Christmas present ever.
A simple do-over.
But of course, there was no such thing, not even with the magic of Christmas. And there was nothing simple about the current mess of her life, or the complicated way that Levi Masterson made her feel.
Finally, after hours that seemed an eternity, her stepbrother’s hotel came into view. Beth breathed a sigh of relief. Now if she could just park and get inside before Levi shanghaied her. Ben knew of her imminent arrival. She could count on him to send Levi packing.
Not that she wanted Levi hurt… or Ben for that matter.
Fool, fool, fool.
Tires sliding on the frozen parking lot, Beth maneuvered her Ford into an empty spot. After shutting off the engine, she grabbed up her purse, a tote bag loaded with presents, and her overnight bag. Arms laden, she charged from the vehicle.
Three steps in, her feet slipped out from under her. The stuffed overnight bag threw her off balance and she went flying in the air to land flat on her back. Her bag spilled. Wind rushed from her lungs. Icy cold seeped in to her spine and tush.
For only a moment, Beth lay there, aching from head to toe, stunned and bemused. Then she heard Levi’s hasty approach.
“Beth, damn it –”
Determination got her back on her feet. She gathered her belongings with haste and then, slipping and sliding, wincing with each step, she shouted into the wind, “Go away, Levi.”
Harsh with determination, he yelled back, “You know I won’t.”
Daring a quick glance over her shoulder, Beth saw him ten feet behind her. He hadn’t even parked! His truck sat crossways in the middle of the lot to block hers in, idling, the exhaust sending plumes of heated air to mingle in the frozen wind.
Good God, he looked furious!
Beth lunged forward and reached the door of the diner attached to Ben’s hotel. She yanked it open and sped into the warm interior. The tote bag of presents fell out of her hands, scattering small gifts across the floor. Her overnight bag dropped from her numb fingers.
Several people looked up – all of them family.
Why couldn’t there have been crowds of non-filial faces? An unbiased crowd, that’s what she sought. Instead she found Noah and Ben have in close conversation at a table. Their wives, Grace and Sierra, sat at a booth wrapping gifts. And her father and stepmother paused in their efforts to festoon a large fir tree situated in the corner.
Upon seeing her, her father’s face lit up. He started to greet her – and then Levi shoved through the door, radiating fury, crowding in behind Beth so that she jolted forward with a startled yelp to keep from touching him.
In a voice deep and resolute, vibrating with command, he ordered, “Not another step, Beth. I mean it.”
She winced, and peeked open one eye to view her audience.
Levi obviously had no idea of the challenge he’d just issued, or the uproar he’d cause by using that tone with her in front of her family.
And now it was too late.
She hadn’t wanted this. She wanted only time to think, to hide from her mortifying and aberrant behavior, to… She didn’t know what she wanted, damn it, and it wasn’t fair that Levi refused to give her a chance to figure it out.
Muttering to herself, she dropped to her knees to gather the now damp and disheveled gifts one more time. As she did so, she said, “Hello Dad. Hello… everyone else.” She tried to sound jovial rather than frustrated and anxious and at the end of her rope.
She failed miserably.
With a protectiveness that still amazed Beth, her stepbrothers moved as one. Noah’s expression didn’t bode well, and Ben appeared equally ready to declare war. Even her calm, reasonable father stalked forward with blood in his eyes.
Plopping her belongings on a nearby booth, Beth held up both hands. “Wait!”
No one did. From one second to the next, Levi had her behind him… as if to protect her? From her family?
Unfortunately, even that simple touch from him, in no way affectionate or seductive, had Beth’s tummy fluttering and her skin warming.
She quickly shrugged off her coat.
Levi took it from her, then asked, “Did you hurt yourself when you fell?”
“No. You can leave with a clear conscience. I’m fine.” She reached for her coat.
He held it out of her reach. “I’m not going anywhere, so you can quit trying to get rid of me.”
The men drew up short. Her father barked, “Who the hell are you?”
Levi turned to face their audience. Positive that she didn’t want him to answer that himself, Beth yelled from behind him, “He’s a friend.” And she tried to ease backward away from him.
“A whole lot more than a friend,” Levi corrected, and he stepped back to close the distance she’d just gained.
“Where’s her fiancé,” Noah asked.
“Busy,” Beth said.
“Gone,” Levi answered in a bark. He reached back and caught Beth’s wrist. His thumb moved over her skin, a gentle contrast to the iron in his tone. “For good.”
Confused, Ben asked, “You mean dead?”
“Far as Beth is concerned, yes.”
Oh for crying out loud. Knowing she couldn’t let this continue, Beth yanked her wrist free and, without quite touching any part of Levi’s big, hard body, went on tiptoe to see beyond him.
The masculine expressions facing her didn’t bode well.
She summoned a smile that felt sickly. “Hello Dad. Brandon is fine, but we’re not engaged any more.”
Kent Monroe brought his brows down. “Since when?”
“Since she’s with me now instead,” Levi told them.
“No,” Beth corrected sweetly, “I’m not.”
Levi half turned to face her. “Wanna bet?”
His challenge got everyone moving again.
Oh God, she had to do something. “Dad,” Beth begged, “I don’t want him hurt.”
Her father stopped in his tracks. Noah and Ben did not.
But her lovely sisters-in-law took control.
“Noah,” Grace called from across the room. “You heard her.”
Frowning, Noah paused about three feet from Levi. “I also heard him.”
Sierra, a little more outgoing than Grace, raced up to Ben’s side and thumped his shoulder. “Knock off the King Kong impersonation, Ben. You’re embarrassing me.”
“You’ll survive.” Keeping his eyes on Levi, Ben crossed his arms over his chest and waited.
For reasons that Beth couldn’t begin to fathom, Levi stood there as if he’d take them all three on at once. Idiot.
Determined to gain control, she chanced touching him long enough to give him a good pinch.
“They’re my family, Levi.”
He nodded – but didn’t relax.
Fed up, Beth moved around him. “I’m sorry for the dramatic entrance everyone. Levi is a friend –”
“Damn it, Beth, we left friendship behind days ago.”
Beth let her eyes sink shut. She’d kill him. She’d never speak to him again. She’d –
His hand caught her shoulder and he turned her to face him. As if they stood alone, as if he had no concept of privacy or manners, Levi lowered his nose to almost touch hers.
In a voice that carried to every ear in the room, he ground out, “I’ve had enough, Beth. I mean it. We’re both adults, both healthy, and finally we’re both single. It’s ridiculous for you to be embarrassed just because –”
But her warning came too late, and Levi had already said too much. Silence reigned as everyone absorbed his meaning.
Then she felt it, the smiles, the amusement, the awful comprehension.
It took three breaths before Beth could speak.
Eyes narrowed, she nodded at Levi, turned to face her family, and announced, “I’ve changed my mind. Hurt him all you want.”
And with that, she literally ran away.
Noah and Ben kept Levi from following.
End of Excerpt
The Christmas Present
is available in the following editions:
Out of Print Editions
October 1, 2010
October 1, 2009
October 1, 2008
October 7, 2008