Miranda woke on Christmas morning to her niece and nephew crawling into Ariel’s guest bed with her.
“Wake up, Auntie Mira. Uncle Adi says he’s going to drink all the grown-up drinks by himself if you don’t come down soon.” Her nephew Finlay was seven, and an alarming conversational sponge.
“Mom said she’d make him shovel the whole backyard all by hisself if he did that,” Finlay’s little sister Elodie was almost six and took everyone at face value.
“Merry Christmas, sweet beans.” Miranda hugged them close. “Let’s go downstairs and rescue Uncle Adi from mimosas and shoveling.”
“Mira, honey,” her mother hugged her hard. “Ariel told us everything.”
“Michael called just a little while ago,” her father added. “He’s bringing Elliot over here around noon.”
Miranda looked up from her mother’s shoulder. “He is?”
“Seems the boy wants to be with his mom today,” her dad said. “Rough night over there, sounds like.”
Miranda’s heart skipped. “Is he okay?”
Her father chuckled. “For Michael, not Elliot. He said the puppy was up half the night crying or peeing.”
“Adorable, furry karma,” Adrian said, placing a mimosa in Miranda’s hand. “Merry Christmas, Bossy.”
“Merry Christmas, Adi.”
“Adrian, come in here and help Greg with the table,” Ariel’s voice cut through the moment.
Miranda leaned her head on her brother’s shoulder. “Why again did I get Bossy for a nickname?”
Adrian laughed. “Where do you think Ariel learned it?”
“Me,” their mother reminded them. She swatted Adrian on the rear and put an arm around Miranda’s waist. “The kids have devastated their gifts already, but there are a few things under the tree for you, sweetie.”
“Your gifts!” Miranda’s chest tightened. “Everything is still at my house.”
“We’ll worry about that later, honey,” her mom said. “Let’s sit for a minute before Ariel marches us all in for brunch.”
Miranda couldn’t help worrying though. She’d used Justin’s key, but only to pace the floor of his downstairs den waiting for Adrian to come pick her up. She’d forgotten the gifts and the huge box of homemade Christmas cookies, but Adrian remembered to bring Marvin.
“Where’s the cat?”
Her father pointed down the hall to where the playroom was. “Ariel put him in there with a foil pan and some kitty litter Greg had around from an oil spill in the garage. She didn’t want him near the tree or the table.” Her father sighed. “He’s got some food and water. He’ll be okay.”
“Poor Marvin,” Miranda said. “It wasn’t his fault. I never should have left that candle burning when I went to get the sushi. I completely forgot about it.”
“Things happen, my girl. You’re all okay, and that’s what matters.”
The funny thing was, she actually felt okay. She had a splitting headache, her hair needed washing, and she was going to have to re-do the kitchen after the firefighters had opened a wall behind the sink to check for fire spread, but she felt okay. No panic attack, no clammy anxiety.
In fact, she hadn’t had one since the night she met Justin.
The doorbell rang before she had a chance to sit with her parents.
“Miranda, get the door. Ariel’s shackled me to the silverware,” Adrian called from the dining room.
She made her way to the front hall and opened the door. She figured she looked frightening enough to scare off anyone who was out knocking on doors on Christmas day.
“Justin.” A happy shiver ran along her arms at the sight of him.
He was holding two huge bags of wrapped gifts, most of which Miranda recognized as her own. “Merry Christmas. The rest is in the car.”
“What are you doing here?” She took a bag from him and set it inside the foyer. “How?”
“Your brother left a note with his number and an address. Said to be here at noon for brunch if I could and told me where your key probably was so I could bring all the stuff for your niece and nephew.” His lips turned up wryly. “I probably look like a wreck, but I only stopped long enough to shower and get your things.”
“Justin? Is that you?” Adrian breezed into the foyer and handed Miranda his Bloody Mary. He took the remaining bag out of Justin’s hand and put it inside. “Come in. It’s freezing. Is there more in your car? I’ll grab it.”
While Justin was shrugging out of his coat, Adrian gave Miranda a silent double thumbs up and mouthed cutie. Miranda giggled.
“What?” Justin looked around, coat in hand, at the chic splendor of Ariel and Greg’s house.
Miranda took the coat and hung it in the coat closet. “My brother. He’s too much.”
“Is it okay? That I’m here? Adrian insisted…And I was worried about you both after last night.”
“I’m glad you’re here,” she said. “And we’re going to be okay.”
“How’s Marvin?” Justin asked. “Contrite at all?”
“That cat wouldn’t know contrite if it bit him in the ass,” Adrian said, coming back inside with his arms full of gifts from Justin’s car. “He’s definitely my patronus.”
Justin laughed, obviously charmed by her brother. “Is Elliot at his dad’s?”
“He’ll be here later. I want you two to meet properly,” Miranda said, “so he has someone to talk about his new game with.”
“Come in here, you two. Ariel’s going to have a heart attack,” Adrian called.
“I’ll teach him everything I know,” Justin said.
Miranda knew he was talking about the video game, but she liked the sound of it, just the same. “Are you ready for this?”
Justin took her hand. “Almost.”
“Almost.” Justin looked up at the mistletoe ball hung from the chandelier in Ariel’s foyer. “Merry Christmas, Miranda.”
When his lips met hers, Miranda sank into the sweetest Christmas gift she’d had in years.
Elodie’s piping voice reminded them they weren’t alone. “Auntie Mira is kissing that man.”
Justin blushed, but didn’t let her go. Miranda laid her head on his shoulder to hide her smile as the dining room burst into raucous applause.
“Bossy, bring him in here. I had Adi set a place. It would be nice if I met the man before I feed him.”
Justin raised a brow. “Bossy?”
Miranda’s laughter carried them into Christmas brunch.