But I love my Christmas tree, and I love the lights and the special decorations collected or given to me over the years. Most of them hold special memories; of my children growing up, of my mother, and of good friends from whom we received the gift of a decoration each year. I love the rag doll angels made by my daughter when she was young, the doll my mother dressed as an angel, the golden rocking horse and special decorations given to me by my husband one year, the wooden decorations my children chose when they were young and glass ornaments were too fragile for little fingers to manage.
The decorations on our tree are a history of my family; of wonderful times together and of love and joy.
To me, Christmas is all about family, and the joy and wonder of the youngest member (she’ll be twenty months at Christmas!) as we begin to weave the magic of Christmas for her. And yes, in time I hope Layla will add to my special Christmas decorations, and I hope she will carry on some of our Christmas traditions one day.
What’s your favourite Christmas decoration and what makes it special to you? Leave a comment on my post to be in the running to win a copy of my Christmas story below. The hero, Marco, is family-focused--when he's not fantasising about Verity's lips--and sets out to make her lonely Christmas a special one in this novella.
Monique McConnell's post from yesterday is here andBronwen Evans' post follows mine. Click here to view.
One Night in Tuscany
One Christmas Eve Verity Peters will never forget begins badly when, after working late, she is trapped in a lift with her boss as they head to the staff Christmas party. Here’s a taster:
Verity Peters sat back from her computer and stretched the kinks out of her neck. Why did people who wanted their documents finished before Christmas leave their requests till the last minute? People like her stern boss who appeared to have not one happy bone in his body. Why wasn’t he at the Christmas party downstairs with the rest of the staff?
Where I would like to be right now.
Verity looked around the empty office. If she was lucky, she might make a late arrival at the office party in the ristorante two doors along from their office block. Gritting her teeth she resumed typing. Ingratitude for her job must not cloud Christmas Eve. Peace on Earth, goodwill to men and all that. Including her boss? Grudgingly, she included him in her list.
If Marco Philippi is a man and not a machine like his cars.
Good-looking, too, if you liked the stern, granite-jaw, steely-eyed type.
Verity didn’t. Blue eyes were her downfall. Jackson’s blue eyes were the reason she’d run all the way across the world. Blue, lying eyes. Why hadn’t she changed her preference to brown or green by now? Even Marco Philippi’s silver-grey eyes would be preferable.
She checked the last sentence she’d typed and groaned. Silver-grey eyes like stars in the sky.
Now her subconscious was sending her inappropriate messages.
Yes, her boss was handsome and yes, in the car when she accompanied him to his factory, she’d experienced more than a flutter in parts of her that had been untouched for far too long. Not that he’d made any move on her, then or later.
I don’t want any man making moves on me ever again.
She tapped her nails on her desk. And yet, when Marco had politely requested she finish this particular document before the office closed for ten days, she’d been sure he’d been about to ask a different question.
Signorina, per favore, I would like to ask you--
What do you need, signore?
His gaze had touched her mouth.
The bustle of departing co-workers flowed around the island of her desk and he’d paused. Had he just realized everyone else was heading to the ristorante party, or had he been going to ask her something else? Fleetingly she’d wondered if maybe, just maybe, he’d been going to ask her out for a drink.
But he’d wished the party-goers a Buon Natale then requested this favour. “An urgent document, you understand. I regret asking so late but—”
Of course she’d agreed, relieved that she was wrong, relieved he hadn’t complicated a work relationship by bringing the personal into it.
So why was she feeling disappointed and frustrated now? Telling herself to get a grip, she forced her attention back to the document on the screen and checked a technical term before adding it to the current paragraph.
Working as an English translator for the Italian car manufacturer was oceans removed from her cheating work ex—and came with the bonus of improving her Italian conversation skills.
She added the final sentence to her work and checked the time on her screen.
“Signorina, have you finished that document yet?” Carpet had muffled the approach of her boss and she startled in her chair. His timing was uncanny.
“About to email it now, Signor Philippi. Do you wish to check it first?” She glanced up when he leaned over her shoulder and looked at her screen. Cocooned together within an island of light beyond which the rest of the office lay in darkness, the sharp, fresh scent of his cologne added an intimacy to the moment that caught Verity unaware.
Whoa. Not appropriate. There would not be another work place relationship like Jackson’s under any circumstances.
Grey eyes scanned her translation before he nodded. “Bene. Very good. Your work is impeccable, Signorina Peters. I appreciate that you stayed to finish it when your colleagues are already enjoying their celebrations. I realize it is an imposition.”
“Not at all. Happy to help.” Now she had finished, her smile was more sincere than it would have been five minutes ago. In five minutes more she’d have her hand around a glass of red wine. “Are you coming down to the party, signore?”
He frowned. Surely he hadn’t forgotten the staff function? “I—have another call on my time. Perhaps later, if it is still underway.”
What a Scrooge. At least she was going to enjoy herself. Her mouth watered, imagining the slide of that first mouthful of vino and the smoked olives for which Angelo’s was famous. If she wasn’t careful, the memory of his antipasti would make her drool over Signor Philippi’s Armani-clad sleeve.
“If you’re happy with the document, I’ll email it now.”
“Grazie. I’d be grateful also if you would assist me to carry several bags into the elevator before you leave. I am running a little late already.”
You’re not the only one.
“Certainly.” She hit the keyboard a little too hard and missed the onscreen send button. Damn the man, did he not understand this was Christmas Eve? Everyone—every normal person—was celebrating or preparing to attend Midnight Mass at one of the gazillion churches in Florence. Even she intended to see how the Florentines heralded in Christmas Day at the pink and green marble Duomo. Verity drew in a deep breath and carefully pressed the return key. Her document whooshed off through the darkness to the computer of some lucky clerk who probably wouldn’t be back at work to read it for a couple of days anyway. “All done. Now, where are these bags?”
Briskly, she gathered her handbag, coat and a parcel of Christmas goodies she’d purchased for her lovely landlady. It would be her contribution to the feast in the courtyard of her accommodation tomorrow.
“In my office.” He strode down the hallway and pushed open one half of the carved wooden pair of doors that led into his minimalist office.
Verity thrust her arms into her coat sleeves and cinched the belt around her waist as she walked into her boss’s office. All she had to do was help him carry a few parcels into the elevator and she’d be free for the night.
She stopped beside his desk, eying the clear expanse and wondered how he got through the masses of work generated by managing his company alone. Late nights, early mornings were the norm from what she’d seen. It was no way to live. A single, framed photograph graced one corner. It was a close-up of a brunette cuddling a baby to her cheek. Beside them, hand on her shoulder, a man stood in profile. A younger, more gentle Marco?
“If you please, signorina, can you carry this?”
Verity turned, took two steps and then stopped. Her boss held out a large, stuffed giraffe that towered over his six-foot frame. She blinked. Was she really seeing that? “Good grief. I mean—”
“Is it too much, do you think?” Signor Philippi frowned. Was that doubt in his eyes?
“No. Um, is it for the baby in your photo?”
“Baby? Ah, si. But she is no longer a bambina but a four-year-old with a mind of her own and a love of animals.”
Verity picked up the stuffed toy. Heavier than it looked, she wondered what a four-year-old child would do with it.
Her boss picked up several bags and parcels. “Can you turn out the lights, per favore? I seem to have my hands full.”
Was that a joke? Her boss never made jokes. He was an unemotional workaholic who wouldn’t know humour if it jumped up and bit him. But just for a moment, a flash of humour seemed to spark in his eyes before he headed out the door.
Bemused by the rare insight into her boss’s private world, Verity trailed behind him, the giant giraffe filling her arms and obstructing her view. “So, your daughter, is she—oof!” She and the giraffe bounced off Signor Philippi’s chest. Why had he stopped just then?
“Are you okay, signorina?”
She nodded, embarrassed and cross at her clumsiness. God, she needed that glass of wine.
“Chiara is my niece. Her mother is my sister. What made you think I was married?”
“The photo on your desk. My apologies, signore.” Heat rose in her cheeks and she manoeuvred the giraffe’s neck between her and her boss’s amused gaze. Definitely amused. She peeped around the toy. He pressed the call button with his elbow and adjusted his grip on his parcels. Where had this human version of her boss appeared from?
Unexpectedly, she found herself wondering about the man who had been little more than a dispatcher of orders to her since her arrival. No social interactions, just her boss stopping by her desk with requests for this or that. Every day, she spoke to him yet not once before had they touched on anything personal.
Odd, she’d never thought about that until now. Why didn’t he send her emails like the department heads all did?
“My brother-in-law, Carlo, flies in tomorrow morning but I promised to make up for his absence tonight to Chiara and her mother, Lucia. We will dine and then go to Midnight Mass together.”
Mirrored elevator doors opened and they stepped inside. Like many elevators in older buildings, the carriage was small. They wrestled the giraffe into the back corner, stowed the various parcels opposite the toy and occupied the front half, standing shoulder to shoulder.
Tantalising hints of citrus cologne wafted from his warm skin as the doors closed and the car began its descent.
What happens next on this special Christmas Eve will change their lives.
And don’t forget to enter the Rafflecopter for your chance at the grand prize of $150 gift card, or second prize of 30 ebooks!