Christmas Scene by Claudia Connor

They meet on a beach. . . . Abby Davis isn’t wearing a skimpy bikini or sipping umbrella drinks, not when she’s busy chasing around four little ones. And Matt McKinney isn’t looking for fun—he’s a Navy SEAL, a grown man with a long list of missions . . . and fallen brothers.

They only have a week. . . . Abby has brought her children to this beach to start over, to give them the enjoyable memories they deserve. Matt’s been sidelined by a combat injury, and haunted by the best friend he lost and the promise he made: to remain a SEAL—focused and dedicated. This leaves no time for what he’s always wanted: a family.

But a week is all it takes. . . . Matt opens her heart while Abby soothes his soul. And though they plan to say good-bye when the week is over, something magical happens on that beach, something neither can forget. Something utterly, completely worth falling for.

A McKinney Family Christmas
“T’was she night before Christmas and all thought the house,” Matt read to three wide eyed faces. The entire family sat on Gracie’s bed in the room she shared with her older sister.
Charlie had knocked off on the ride home from his parents’ after an evening church service and now lay sprawled across Matt’s lap. Mary slept peacefully in his wife’s arms beside him. But Annie, Jack and Gracie were intent on the story, knowing this was the last step before they laid down their heads and waited for Santa.
“Like a bowl full of jelly,” he went on.
“How does jelly laugh?” Gracie asked.
“It didn’t laugh, it shook,” Annie corrected.
Matt continued, wondering if Gracie’s questions about the clatter and the sash and the thistle were all legit inquiries or stalling tactics.
“But I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of sight, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.” He closed the book and handed it to Abby to place on the girls’ bedside table. “I love you, my sugar plums,” he said kissing them each goodnight. “Remember, don’t come downstairs in the morning without us.”
They all promised. He pulled the covers up to Gracie’s chin, kissed her forehead, then moved to Annie. His oldest peered up at him, something on her mind, he thought. And though he was always game to answer her myriad of questions, with tonight’s mystery and secrets things could get dicey.
“Daddy,” she said, as he tucked the covers tight down her sides.
“Yes, baby girl.”
“Do Santa’s reindeer really fly in the sky?”
He kept his face carefully blank. “Well, princess, I’ve never seen it, but…” Damn. He did not want to lie to her. Not ever. Was this a free lie zone? Exemption status? He wanted to call for Abby who’d taken Jack down the hall to the boys’ room.
“They have to fly,” Gracie said, sitting up. “How would they get across the ocean?”
He nodded at Gracie and pulled her covers up again. “Good point.”
“How do you get across the ocean?” Annie asked him.
“Well, there are a lot of ways.”
“So they could get around the world without flying?”
“Sure. Yes.” He latched onto that. “There’s the Mark V and the smaller inflatable. Aircraft carrier, would probably give the best take off and landing surface. Or they could swim. I’ve definitely seen reindeer swim.”
Annie thought about that and he inched back from the bed.
“But could they get to every single house? Could they go that fast? Could you go that fast?”
He swallowed, then sighed with relief when he heard Abby in the doorway behind him.
She passed him, then kissed both girls. “Go to sleep,” she said.
And just like that Annie turned over.
He started to say goodnight again but was afraid to open up any more dialogue.
As they pulled the door closed and started down the hall he breathed a sigh of relief. “Damn. I was drowning in there. Nearly choked.”
“But you didn’t.” Abby smiled at him and linked her arm through his. “Ready for your elf work?”
“I’ve been ready since Halloween,” he said and kissed her before heading to the garage.
It was close to midnight before the Christmas morning prep was finished. Sausage balls were rolled and ready. The strawberries dipped in chocolate. The vegetables sautéed and the cheese grated for the quiche. The sausage cooked and crumbled over croutons for breakfast casserole. All they’d need to add in the morning was a bag of cheese and eight beaten eggs.
While Abby had worked in the kitchen and kept a look out, he’d put the finishing touches on two bikes, a scooter, and a mini soccer goal. Everything else that wasn’t wrapped was battery ready and set out among the wrapped gifts so that their family room now resembled Santa’s workshop.
He’d tried, really tried, not to go overboard, but damn it was hard. Jack was getting a remote control car, so when Matt had come across one especially made for little fingers, he couldn’t resist getting it for Charlie.
And the remote control fairy— Gracie was going to flip when she saw it. And then there was that one big surprise that not even Abby knew about.
He’d brushed his teeth, checked on the kids, and was just thinking he was still too hyped to fall asleep. Then he walked into their bedroom and stopped short.
Abby stood in front of the window, facing him. His wife, his heart, in a short white something, her dark hair rolling over her shoulders. Long legs bare beneath. The faint light from the street created a golden edged silhouette and he was struck as he often was by this love he had for her. Sometimes it overwhelmed him to the point of pain, but not now. Now he just wanted to touch her, taste her.
“An early Christmas present,” she said, running her hand over the white satin.
He moved to her, linked his fingers with hers as his other hand ran slowly up her arm. “I love it.” But he wasn’t looking at what she wore. He dipped his head until his lips just barely touched hers. “I love you.” And before she could answer he was kissing her. Taking them both deep, using just his mouth to love her. Tongues stroked and tasted before he moved to her neck.
Her fingers found their way into his hair and she sighed, loving, he knew, his lips on her throat, that spot where neck met shoulder. He took his time, noting the way her breath changed, the way she whispered his name.
His hands found their way under the silk to warm skin and he cupped her bare bottom. Nerve cells fired as he dragged her up against his erection. He held her there, took one nipple through the thin fabric and had her crying out his name.
Needing more, he walked her back to the bed and laid her down before covering her. He ran his hand lightly over her shoulder and down until his palm covered her heart. He let it rest there a few beats, wanting to feel.
Mine, he thought. Just mine. Almost one year they’d been together and he couldn’t remember what life was like before. Didn’t really want to. He slid the satiny straps down. “I really do love it,” he said, dropping his Christmas gift beside the bed. “I just need it gone.”
She smiled up at him in the dark. “And now what?”
“And now I have a Christmas gift for you.”
Abby opened her eyes to see Matt’s handsome face just inches away. He knelt beside the bed in the very early morning light. Already dressed in jeans and a red V–neck sweater. His face was freshly shaven, his hair still damp. He would have been up for hours yet his eyes held not even a hint of sleep. She could have used at least three more hours.
“Merry Christmas,” he said, resting his forearms on the bed.
She smiled, reached out and touched his face when his lips met hers. “Merry Christmas.”
“Everyone’s still sleep.”
She glanced at the bedside clock. “I should hope so. It’s not even seven.”
“But it’s Christmas. How could they still be asleep?”
There was a stirring on the monitor. Mary. Normally, she’d let the one year old come awake on her own. She could be happy in there for a good thirty minutes when she first woke up, looking out the window, talking to herself.
“I’ll get her,” Matt said and he was off. And would no doubt make as much noise as possible while he did it.
She smiled. A man through and through. Strong, honorable, brave. But on Christmas morning he was as anxious and excited as an eight year old.
She got up, dragged on Christmas pajama pants and a sweatshirt over the tank she’d slept in and headed to the kitchen.
She set the oven to pre-heat and was just getting coffee when Matt came in with Mary.
“All changed and ready to rip into some loot,” he said, kissing the baby’s neck. “She and I decided last year didn’t really count as a first Christmas.”
“Is that why she has so many presents under the tree?”
“Could be. But you’d have to ask Santa.”
Abby got Matt a coffee and handed it to him. “Good morning, my Christmas, baby.” She kissed Mary. “The quiche and the breakfast casserole need an hour. The monkey bread and the sausage balls about thirty, so she’s going to need her cereal Or maybe oatmeal.”
“You need cereal?” he asked Mary, toting her to the cabinet, getting a babbling response. “I was thinking more along the lines of chocolate strawberries myself, but don’t tell Mommy that.”
“Mommy heard that,” Abby said. “But if you’re getting one, I’ll have one, too.”
“Ooh, hear that? It really is Christmas.”
After oatmeal for Mary, coffee and toast for she and Matt, and one strawberry each, Abby rolled up the biscuit dough for the monkey bread. Matt sat at the table, playing peek-a-boo with Mary and looking longingly at the stairs every other minute.
“When are they going to come down?”
Abby grinned. “Ever heard let sleeping dogs lie?”
Matt looked back at Mary with something like a pout.
“They went to bed late.”
“I guess. At least you know it’s Christmas, don’t you, my girl?” He lifted Mary from her highchair and over his head. “Did you hear that?” He whipped around to the stairs. “I think they’re up.”
Then it was like manning battle stations and she laughed as he handed Mary off. He practically ran to the new video camera she’d gotten him for his birthday, already set up on a tripod. Then he grabbed the 35mm and moved to the bottom of the stairs, ready to capture the moment.
Abby put Mary in her sit and stand activity center and hoped it would keep her occupied at least for the first wave of frenzy. Having your baby sister rip into your presents before you got a chance wouldn’t do.
And then she heard the calls.
“Mommy? Daddy?”
“Yes. Come down,” she and Matt said at the same time.
Four sleepy faces appeared at the top of the stairs, peeking through the banister in wonder.
“Santa came,” Gracie said, her voice holding just the right amount of awe and relief.
They came down quickly then, one behind the other, in their matching Christmas pajamas. Red with brown reindeer and white snowflakes. Charlie and Jack had bottoms and tops. The girls had long sleeved gowns that matched Mary’s.
Matt backed up the video camera to an angle that would capture the entire show—he’d practiced last night—then after capturing them at the top of the stairs, he set the camera down and swung each child off the bottom step with a kiss.
“Merry Christmas,” he said, setting each one down.
Abby did the same then followed them to the hearth where they took it all in.
“A bike!” Jack yelled, running to a black bike with bright yellow trim.
A little big for him but Matt was confident he’d grow into it. Annie and Gracie crouched beside a white baby doll crib and changing table set. Not touching anything yet, not even Gracie, just looking with a light in her eyes that made everyone wish they had little ones on Christmas morning.
Mary wasn’t happy so Abby freed her, thinking to let her start pulling things out of her stocking. Instead she went right to Santa’s plate of cookies and scavenged for leftovers. Matt knelt, bending until he was at her level and snapped a picture.
Matt helped Jack ride his bike to the kitchen and back, just to give him the thrill of sitting on it, testing out the seat height. The girls ran upstairs for their dolls and came back with their arms full. Charlie, with Mary’s help, pulled every present from under the tree. Something they’d both wanted to do for weeks.
Wrapping paper, ribbon, and joy filled the room and when the timer went off they took a break for breakfast. There were presents and then there was monkey bread with all it’s caramelized sticky goodness. And something they only had once a year. One of their traditions. They’d made a lot of those this first year. Traditions and memories.
After breakfast, they opened the rest of the presents, then with coats and boots over pajamas, went outside. Charlie had a new ball to kick around and Matt helped the girls drag the soccer goal out.
But there was something else in the backyard. Something that had been obscured by the trees, but now she saw it clearly. Abby stopped and stared. “What?”
A pale blue playhouse with a white railing along the front porch stood in a corner of the yard. Close enough to the maple that it would give it shade in the spring and summer. Real black shingles covered the roof and white shutters flanked windows on either side of the little front door.
“I thought the kids would like it,” Matt said evenly, as they ran for it, but she could feel his gaze on her as she stared at the little house.
She’d mentioned it once, just once, a playhouse just exactly like this one. She’d never had one, but had seen one from afar in the back yard of one of her foster family’s neighbors. She’d never been invited over to play in it. That particular foster family were not the type to be invited over by neighbors.
Matt took her cold hand in his warm one. “I thought you’d like it, too.”
She couldn’t even remember now why she’d told Matt about it, had figured she’d built it up in her mind. But this was real. This was the perfect dream of a little girl.
“I love it,” she said, wiping at the tears sliding down her cheeks.
“Mom! Come see!”
She gave a watery laugh, then smiled at Matt, her heart. Her love. She squeezed his hand. “I really love it. And I really love you.”
Want more of Matt, Abby, and the kids? Please check out their full story WORTH THE FALL here…
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About Claudia Connor 

Claudia Connor is an award winning New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Contemporary Romance, including the beloved McKinney Brothers series. Claudia writes, warm, heartfelt romances with a bit of steam, a lot of family and always a happily ever after. Claudia attended Auburn University, where she received her undergraduate and masters degrees in early childhood education, and completed her studies in Sawbridgeworth, England. When she’s not writing, she enjoys movies, reading, and travel, with a heavy dose of daydreaming during all three. Claudia lives near Memphis, Tennessee, with her husband and three daughters.

You can find out more about Claudia’s books at News on upcoming releases, promotional sales, fan club swag, and chances for advanced reader copies can be found in her monthly Newsletter.

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