A Madrona Island Christmas

By: Jami Davenport


He was happy to see her. That wide smile welcomed her and warmed her heart.

“Do you mind if Cyrus comes in? It’s too cold to leave him in the truck.”

Blake stared at the dog and gave her one of those who-are-you-kidding looks. “Isn’t he a St. Bernard? Don’t they rescue people in the Alps?”

“Oh. Uh, yeah. But he’s spoiled. He doesn’t like cold.”

Shaking his head and chuckling, her soon-to-be host stood back and waved them inside.

Cyrus made a beeline for the rug in front of the fireplace and plopped down. Blake took Sarah’s coat and hung it up while she pulled off her boots.

“About that drink?” she asked.

“One Daniels special hot buttered rum coming right up.”

Blake headed for the kitchen, smiling as if she and her dog were the best thing to happen to him in a while. Maybe they were, Sarah allowed.

She looked around the festive great room with its two-story windows and rustic décor. Artificial cedar boughs hung from the staircase. A large artificial tree sat in one corner, lights twinkling and decorated with a combination of vintage ornaments and newer ones.

“Wow,” she said. “I feel like I just walked into a holiday magazine.”

The house indeed looked like something out of the Better Homes and Gardens Christmas edition. The place smelled exactly like one of those magazine spreads should smell, too. Sarah inhaled tantalizing smells of home-cooking mixed with the scent of nutmeg and cinnamon, and her stomach growled in response. Christmas music played softly in the background.

Hadn’t he said he was alone? No one went to this much trouble for themselves. In fact, Sarah hadn’t even put up a tree this year, though her assistant decorated an artificial one for the clinic. His guests must be coming later or on Christmas morning.

Blake glanced around the two-story living room with its expansive wall of windows as if seeing it for the first time. He almost seemed embarrassed, as if she’d discovered some revealing little secret. “I didn’t do this. Someone else did.”

Oh, Lord, the man was married. The decorations spoke of a woman’s touch, not a man’s. She shot a quick glance at his left hand.

No ring.

“I’m not married. My family decorated this house.”

“Oh.” She couldn’t come up with a response. He’d read her mind, but his family wasn’t here; not that she could see. He’d said he was alone this Christmas, too. Confusion warred with caution.

Blake walked over and handed her a large, steaming mug topped with whipped cream and nutmeg.

“Thank you,” Sarah said. Still not sure how to continue the conversation, she turned and approached the collection of nutcrackers on the mantel and examined each. “They’re incredible.”

“My mother collected nutcrackers.”

His use of the past tense wasn’t lost on her. She chose to mind her own business and instead took a sip of the drink. It was warm and to die for. “This is the best hot buttered rum I’ve ever had.”

“Old family recipe,” he replied.

Sarah resisted the urge to gaze around the room. Where the heck was the family who went with the recipe? “It’s fantastic. I could get drunk on a few of these.”

“Yeah.” He took a sip and watched her over the rim of his glass.

Sarah moved to a group of pictures on a bookcase of an attractive, smiling family, pictures documenting all ages of development. But the most recent pictures seemed somewhat dated.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Blake tense and look away. Did he think she was being too nosey? Well, maybe she was, but nosiness happened to be one of her best traits. She couldn’t help her innate curiosity. It served her well in her job, because she loved to research odd diseases and disorders to find solutions. And he hadn’t tried to draw her away from the bookcase yet. Besides, a good doctor always checked on her patients.

Sarah picked up one of the pictures, a slightly younger version of Blake in full hockey gear and holding…the Stanley Cup? It looked like the Stanley Cup. She wasn’t a huge hockey fan, but her grandfather had been Canadian, so she knew something of the sport and watched occasionally. “You’re a hockey player.”

“Was.” That one simple word spoken in a grim tone said a lot.

“Oh.”

She waited for him to say more. He didn’t. Then it dawned on her. Blake Daniels. Of course. He wasn’t a huge star, but she’d heard of him. “You’re Blake Daniels?”

He nodded, watching her warily.

“That’s not a bad thing.” For some reason she felt the need to reassure him. She wanted to put another smile on his face, because something told her he didn’t smile often anymore. She wanted to know why, but not before he was ready to tell her.

“I’m not sure it’s a good thing to be me, either.”

That wry smile tugged at her heart. Sarah wanted to wrap her arms around him and make all the hurts go away. So typical of her, though. She couldn’t fix everything, as much as she tried.

“You were with LA?”

“Not anymore.” He stared at his hands and shuffled his feet, as if uncomfortable talking about himself.