A Colorado Christmas
A bonus scene from Debra Hines
Cora reached for Murphy’s hand as the jet engines roared and the Boeing 767 accelerated down the runway. “I’m looking forward to spending Christmas in Spencer with our family and friends, but I’m a little nervous about surprising them. Especially Shannan. You know she’s a planner.”
Murphy patted her hand and grinned. “She’ll be so happy to see us she won’t care. Especially now that Trinity is a foreign exchange student and living in Italy until June.”
The plane lifted off the ground and Cora experienced the weightless exhilaration of flight. She peered out the window as Heathrow receded and London’s landscape spread out beneath them. She glanced at Murphy. “I know. Shannan really misses her. I’m glad Trinity is coming home for the holidays.”
Murphy frowned and shifted in his seat. “What’s the name of the boy she’s bringing with her?”
“Paolo. I don’t think Trinity mentioned his last name. Hold on.” Cora slipped her phone out of her travel purse and swiped her screen. “I was right. Just Paolo. He’s very attractive and clean-cut. Look.”
Murphy sighed and rubbed the back of his neck as he stared at the young man’s photo. “I know what he looks like. You’ve shown me his picture before. That girl is too young to get serious about any boy, especially one who lives in Italy.”
Cora planted an encouraging kiss on his smooth-shaven cheek. “I’ll read her message again, so you don’t have to put on your glasses. ‘Please tell Gramps Paolo is just a friend, and I want him to experience a Colorado Christmas.’”
Squeezing his hand, she briefly rested her head on his shoulder. “Sweetheart, I know how much you love Trinity, and how close the two of you are. It’s hard to realize your little pookie is growing up.”
Murphy snorted, but his gray eyes softened. He raised Cora’s hand to his lips. “What did I ever do to deserve such a wise, beautiful woman?”
Her heart expanded with love for this man who had walked back into her predictable life, swept away her loneliness and rekindled keen passions she’d thought were dead. She cupped his jaw and gave him a fervent kiss. “I love you, Murphy Webster.”
“Excuse me, would either of you like something to drink?” The young flight attendant’s British accent was courteous, but his flushed cheeks gave him away.
“I’d like a glass of red wine please.” Cora tucked her phone back inside her purse and readied her tray table.
Murphy cleared his throat. “I’ll have a bourbon and seven.”
The attractive woman serving from the other end of the cart beamed as she poured Cora’s wine. “You two make such a lovely couple.”
“Thank you.” Cora smiled as she accepted her beverage.
The flight attendant handed Murphy his glass filled with ice, along with his alcohol and soda. She glanced behind her before moving the cart farther down the aisle.
Murphy sipped his cocktail and arched a brow. “These cramped cabin seats are good for something.” With his free hand he threaded his fingers through her bobbed hair, grazing her ear, his tone low and intimate. “I love you, too, Cora Rose.”
Her eyes briefly fluttered closed, and her stomach dipped. “Don’t start something you can’t finish. Here comes the dinner cart.”
Thirteen hours later, the hired limo pulled up in front of the brightly lit Victorian that Cora had called home, before she’d sold the house and business to sail around the world with the man she loved.
Unexpected tears pricked her eyes. “Oh,” she breathed. “The house is beautiful. Shannan sent photos, but tonight, draped in snow, it looks like a perfect Christmas card.” Hands clasped beneath her chin, she turned to Murphy. “I didn’t realize until now how much I missed this place.”
Murphy’s solemn gaze momentarily searched her face before he grasped her hand and helped her out of the car. He slipped an arm around her waist. “Let’s go surprise our girls. And the Italian boy.”
A lush evergreen wreath hung on the yellow door. Heart pounding with anticipation, Cora glanced at Murphy before twisting the old-fashioned bell. The antique fixture was one of the few changes her daughter had consulted her about before applying a fresh coat of paint to the grand old house’s exterior.
Shannan opened the door. She blinked as though stunned, then her large brown eyes widened. “I thought you were spending Christmas in Sicily with Stuart?”
Murphy stepped forward and clasped Shannan in a fatherly hug. “Cora and Stu came up with that story. We wanted to surprise you. Stu’s flying in tomorrow and staying at the Blue Spruce Bed and Breakfast with us.” He kissed Shannan on both cheeks. “It’s good to see you.”
“It’s good to see you, too.” Shannan’s smile still bordered on bewildered, but she stepped out of her father’s embrace to stand aside in the open doorway. “Come in, please, before we all freeze to death.”
Cora gazed about the hall. Although Shannan had changed out a couple of the artfully arranged pictures hanging on the walls, the new prints blended harmoniously with the others.
“Gramps and Grandma. You’re here.” Trinity embraced Cora and Murphy with outstretched arms enveloping them in a fragrant cloud of sugar and cinnamon.
Kisses and more hugs were exchanged. Cora closed her eyes and basked in the moment, surrounded by the people she loved most, particularly the precious girl who’d brought all of them together.
“Trinity Grace, please help your grandparents with their coats.” Shannan glanced over Cora’s shoulder with a warm smile. “Then you can introduce our guest.”
Cora turned around. A slim young man with expressive dark eyes stood in the entry to the parlor. He wore a festive apron as though he sported an elegant tuxedo. Hands clasped at his waist, his expression was politely curious.
“Scusi.” Trinity’s exuberance sobered, although her cheeks remained flushed, and her hazel eyes sparkled. “Your coats please.”
Wistful at returning to her former home, yet her heart bursting with happiness, Cora tracked her granddaughter as she took their coats and hung them on the antique rack. “I see you’re wearing one of my Christmas aprons. What are you baking?”
Trinity smoothed her ringed hand over the printed fabric depicting colorful gingerbread figures and candy canes. “I told Paolo your aprons would keep our clothes clean, and it would be our way of having you with us while we baked the Webster family’s traditional Christmas Eve sticky buns.”
Cora’s throat tightened and tears pricked her eyes. “That sounds like a wonderful tradition.” She turned to Shannan. “I thought I put the aprons in the giveaway batch?”
Her daughter gifted her with a radiant smile. “You did, but Trinity and I couldn’t bear to part with them. They reminded us of you bustling around in your kitchen.”
Unable to speak, Cora steepled her hands over the bridge of her nose.
Murphy slipped an arm around her waist and drew her closer. “The girls make the buns and I make the chili. Right, girls?”
“Right,” Shannan and Trinity replied in unison, followed by laughter.
Murphy’s lips brushed her temple. “Wait until you taste my chili, Cora Rose.”
She drew a steadying breath and returned his reassuring smile. “I’m looking forward to celebrating my first official Webster Christmas.”
“There’s a traditional Spencer Christmas celebration as well,” Shannan said, “but we’ll talk about that later. Trinity would you please make the introductions?”
Trinity led Murphy and Cora to the young man still waiting in the doorway. “Gramps and Grandma this is my friend, Paolo Amari.”
Paolo greeted Cora with a friendly smile and took her hand briefly in his. “I’m pleased to meet you,” he said in charmingly accented English. He turned to Murphy. “And you too, sir.”
After shaking hands, Murphy clapped the young man on the shoulder. “Ever cook chili before?”
Paolo trailed Murphy into the parlor. “Actually, no, sir.”
Murphy folded his arms. “How would you like to help me?”
“Si. I mean yes, sir.” Paolo replied eagerly.
Murphy’s serious expression dissolved into a broad grin. “Good. You can tell your family you learned to cook chili as part of your Colorado Christmas.”
“I knew Gramps would like Paolo once he met him,” Trinity whispered, accompanying Cora into the room dimly lit with tiny white lights and flickering candles. A majestic Fraser fir, topped with a Victorian angel, nearly brushed the parlor’s high ceiling. Vintage decorations and wide gold ribbon adorned the tree’s illuminated branches. “Isn’t the tree awesome, Grandma? I want to show you the beautiful ornaments Paolo gave us.”
Cora inhaled the woodsy pine fragrance that evoked so many memories of years past and listened attentively as her charming granddaughter pointed out the hand-painted Italian ornaments.
Shannan joined them. “I’m so glad we’ll all be together this Christmas.”
“Me too.” Trinity edged closer.
Cora tenderly stroked her granddaughter’s silky black curls. “I’ve missed both of you so much.” She met her daughter’s affectionate gaze. “Sailing around the world has been an incredible experience. I don’t regret it one bit, but…”
“But what?” Shannan asked softly.
Cora glimpsed an avid interest in her daughter’s expression, but now was not the time to bring up the subject. She and Murphy had agreed to discuss their future plans while they wintered in Sicily.
Beyond the parlor, the grandfather clock chimed the hour. Nestled between her girls, Cora smiled and slipped her arms around her daughter and granddaughter in a loving embrace. “What matters most is spending cherished holidays like Christmas with our family and friends.”