Surprise! A short and sweet Christmas story for you! Will post each day at some point, finishing Monday. Many thanks to Midnight Cougar for her editing. And thank you for checking it out!
With a weary sigh, I flipped the sign to Closed, turned off the outside light, and pulled down the blind. I looked around the store, shaking my head at the chaos left behind by the last-minute shoppers. They didn't buy very much, but they certainly made a mess. I would have plenty to do to keep myself busy over the next of couple days until I reopened after Christmas.
I stepped away from the door and was almost to the counter, when the sound of furious knocking on the glass startled me. I turned to see the silhouette of a man in the glass, his hand never ceasing in its rapping.
"Bella Swan? Mrs. Swan are you there? Please be there!" A deep, low, husky voice pleaded.
"Hello?" I called, not recognizing the voice.
"Oh, thank God. Please, Mrs. Swan, I need you."
I approached the door with trepidation. "How can I help?"
"My parcels, all my parcels were lost. Please!" He knocked again. "Mrs. Cope sent me!"
Frowning, I flicked on the light, pulled up the blind, and stifled a gasp at the tall man in the window. Wild, thick hair glinted bronze in the light. Wide shoulders, and a face that made my heart beat faster were framed in the glass. The man staring at me was ruggedly handsome. A sharp jaw was set off with scruff. Full lips smiled, dimples on both sides giving him a mischievous look. But it was his eyes that captivated me. Under thick brows, they glowed green. As green as the evergreens that wound around the wrought iron railing of the store. They were wide, pleading, and gazed at me with such warmth. Before I realized what I was doing, I had slipped the lock, and pulled open the door.
"Your parcels?" I asked, confused. Had he ordered something from me?
He stepped in, bringing the cold with him. Snow dusted the shoulders of his heavy wool overcoat, but his hand was warm as he captured mine within his grasp.
"Thank you for opening the door. I beg of you for help."
I moved back, allowing him into the store. Never letting go of my hand, he shut the door behind him and introduced himself.
"My name is Edward Cullen. I'm travelling to see my family over in Brightspot. Do you know it?"
Brightspot was a lovely town about two hours away. "Yes."
"It's been a day, Bella. My five-hour trip has been almost thirteen and it's not over. There's a huge storm by my sister's, so I had to stop here for the night. When I was talking to her, she told me my Christmas parcels never arrived. All my gifts for the family!"
I stared at him, mesmerized. His face was so expressive when he spoke.
"The closest mall is an hour in the other direction from my family, and they'll be closed by the time I get there. I asked at the inn, and Mrs. Cope said there was a chance you'd still be open. She said if anyone could help me it would be her 'Bella-dear'."
I had to smile at his imitation of Shelly. It was perfect.
"Your light clicked off just as I was parking my SUV. I took the chance you might take pity on me, extend the Christmas spirit, and allow me to take a few minutes of your time to shop for my family." He paused, taking a breath. "Please?"
I couldn't resist his open, honest plea. It wasn't as if I had anywhere to be, and if I could help him, then it was a good thing.
His hand tightened. "Please."
I didn't know why I was hesitating. He already had me. "Of course. Please look around."
He lifted my hand to his mouth; his breath floating over my skin and making me shiver. His eyes met mine, warm, melting pools of green. "Thank you."
When his lips touched my skin, I swore I felt an electric shock jolt through my body. His grip on my hand tightened, then he stepped back, releasing me. Oddly, I missed his touch right away.
He shrugged off his coat, laid it carefully over the bannister by the door, then locked the door, and drew the blind at my request. One late night shopper was enough. Looking around, he ran his fingers through his hair, causing the already wild strands to lift and ruffle. He offered me a wide smile. "Can you please give me some advice?"
"How many people are you looking for?"
"Six children, six adults, and a cat." His voice turned teasing. "Any of those you can help me with would be much appreciated."
I arched my eyebrow. "I think you're going to need more than a few moments."
He instantly looked chagrined. "Am I keeping you from your family and friends?" He shook his head. "What a stupid question. It's Christmas Eve—of course I am. If I could grab a few books, I'll be on my way. The adults can wait until the parcels arrive."
I reached out, placing my hand on his arm. "I was teasing, Edward. I have nowhere to be, and I am happy to help you pick some things for your family."
"Your, ah, husband won't be upset?"
"I'm not married. It's Miss Swan actually."
I shook my head, trying not to laugh at how adorable he was.
"Well, it's 2019, I felt I had to ask."
"All that is waiting is a casserole in the oven, a bottle of wine, and an old cat named Jake, who does nothing but sleep, fart, and lick his, ah, long lost mistletoe." I winked.
A wide smile made his eyes crinkle. "Well then, Miss Swan, I am at your mercy. Lead the way."
As we walked around the store, I pointed out the various sections. "That area is books, both adult and children. This section is local artists—I have some lovely leather goods, stained glass, and scarves. My own line of handmade soaps and bath essentials is over there, and at the back are toys and games for all ages. Even pets. There are handmade chocolates and goodies in the far corner. I have a line of custom-made jewelry by the cash register if you're interested."
"I'm interested in it all. May I browse for a little bit?"
"Of course. I was going to get a cup of coffee while I do some closing up items. Can I get you one?"
"That would be most welcome." He captured my hand again, squeezing it. "Thank you, Bella."
My cheeks flushed under his intense gaze. "You're welcome."
I brought him a coffee, adding the cream he said he liked. I placed a few cookies I'd had out for sampling on a napkin, and handed them to him, then left him to browse. I did a quick tally for the day, trying not to stare at him as he roamed around the store. He was intent, tilting his head, studying things as he sipped his coffee, and gobbled down the cookies. He held up the last one.
"Do these come by the dozen?"
I peeked over at the basket. "Yes, there are some left."
"I'll take them all."
I chuckled as I grabbed the last three packages and put them on the counter. Good thing I had set a few cookies aside for myself already. He drained his mug, setting it down on the counter beside mine.
"Who made the stained-glass pieces?"
"As well as the bath, ah, things?"
"I'm impressed. Did you bake the cookies too?" he teased.
I felt myself blush again. What was it about this man that made that happen?
He lifted a finger, tracing it over my cheek. "How unexpected," he murmured.
He moved past me to the books, leaving me to wonder if he meant the cookies, the stained glass…or me.
Edward Cullen had to be the most generous man ever to enter my shop. After perusing the books, he returned with a dozen children's books, then went back, adding three huge tomes to the pile. "This is amazing," he stated. "You have books my brothers and father will love. Well, one brother and one brother-in-law. And I love giving the kids some books. I love reading. What about you?"
"It's one of my favorite pastimes."
His gaze was intense. "Excellent to know." He reached behind me, snagging another cookie. "Now I need a toy for each of them—and a few games for the family."
I helped him pick something, listening as he talked about his nieces and nephews. Love dripped from his voice as he described them. Alice and Jasper's identical twin girls. Emmett and Rose's three sons and one daughter—who, Edward laughed, "might as well be a boy—she can take them all." He also added candy for each of them, insisting all gifts from Uncle Edward had to be equal.
"What about the parcels that will come? Shouldn't you just buy something small for them to open tomorrow?"
"No—I like these better. I bought what their parents had sent me from a list. They can have those as the extras later." He clapped his hands. "Now, the ladies. There I need the most help. And I think I've decided on some of those gloves for the guys along with their books."
At his request, I made up a basket for each woman of my various soaps, lotions, and bath bombs. He chose a piece of stained glass for his mother, saying how much she would like it in her sunroom, then picked a set of earrings for both his sister-in-law, Rose, and his sister, Alice. He took his time, choosing carefully with every item. Never once did he look at or ask a price. I kept a mental tally in my head, knowing he would purchase more with this transaction than I had made all month. It was mind-boggling.
Finally, he smiled. "I think I'm done."
I moved a box out of the way. "All right."
He looked down, stopping. "Wait." He tapped the glass. "What is that?"
I pulled the item his long finger pointed at out of the case with a sad smile. "This is my favorite piece in the shop."
He lifted the bracelet to the light, the petite emeralds and diamonds catching the light. It was delicate, the loops all hand cut and scattered with the tiny jewels. "It's absolutely beautiful."
"The woman who made all the jewelry did that as an experiment. She used gold and the very best gems she could, wanting to see if there was a market for it here."
"It didn't sell?"
"No. I've had it for over a year. She was retiring, so I bought out everything she had. She only sends me a few pieces now and then she does as a pastime."
"Emeralds are my mother's favorite gem."
"Because of your eyes?" I asked before I could stop myself.
He grinned, those mesmerizing eyes dancing. "I have my father's eyes, so probably, yes. She says they're what made her fall in love with him."
"Oh," I breathed out. "I could see that."
"I, myself, prefer dark eyes. Deep, chocolate eyes you can lose yourself in."
Cue my blush.
Edward chuckled and laid the bracelet on the glass. "I'll take this as well, please."
"Would you like me to put the stained glass back?"
"Edward, this bracelet is seventeen-hundred dollars."
"That's fine." His lips twitched. "Does it come with a box?"
"Yes. A very pretty one."
"Sold. Now, once we finish here, do you suppose there is a store around still open that has gift wrap and tape?"
I glanced at the clock, shocked to see he'd been in the store for well over an hour. "No. Everything will be closed."
"I thought so. I'll have to try to get it all done at Alice's."
I pointed at the sign behind me. "I gift wrap."
"All of this?"
"It's part of the service."
"Bella, it's way past seven now. I can't ask you to give up more of your Christmas Eve wrapping my gifts."
Just then, his stomach growled, and he laughed, embarrassed. "Sorry. I haven't eaten since breakfast, and the cookies barely took off the edge. Ring me up, and I'll let you get on with your evening. Hopefully, I'll find a diner still open and get something to eat. Maybe Mrs. Cope has some paper stashed somewhere at the inn. I'm sure I can charm her."
He smiled as he said it, yet it felt to me like, for the first time, his smile was forced. For some reason, I didn't want him to leave, and I had the feeling, perhaps he felt the same way. I drew in a deep breath and gathered my courage.
"You're not asking, I'm offering. And, I have an idea."
"You aren't going to find anything open around here tonight. If you don't mind a simple meal, I have one ready in my oven—I live behind the shop. We could eat, then I can wrap your gifts. It sounds as if you've had a long day, and maybe a little downtime would do you some good. And I would enjoy the company." I paused and smiled. "If you're okay with that."
"Are you serious?"
"You're offering me a meal, more of your lovely company, to wrap my purchases, and you're wondering if I'd be okay with that?"
"You'd have to help with the wrapping."
He flexed his fingers. "I'm great with corners. And a whiz with tape."
I laughed at his humor.
"I would love that, Bella Swan." He held out his credit card with a wink. "Ring it up so you know I'm good for it, then please, feed me." He licked his lips, his eyes locking with mine. "I'm starving."
I had to turn away. The low timber of his voice and the way he looked at me made me think he meant for more than food.
Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow...