A Husband for the Holidays

By: Ami Weaver

Chapter One

“She’s back.”

The grim tone of his brother’s voice told Mack Lawless all he needed to know, and his heart gave an unwelcome thump. Still, since he hadn’t heard from the she in question in almost a decade, he deliberately uncoiled more of the pine garland he was hanging on the front of his veterinary practice and kept his voice level. “Who’s back?”

Chase moved so he was at the periphery of Mack’s vision. Even out of the corner of his eye, Mack could see the tight set of his brother’s mouth. Damn. He willed his hands not to shake. He refused to let on that the mention of her—even indirectly—could still affect him. He came down the ladder, leaving the boughs hanging and ignoring the sting of the snow that pelted his face. “Chase?”

Chase met his gaze. “Darcy.”

Darcy. Her name was a hard punch to his gut. Still. After seven freaking years. He’d gotten over her, and yet...

And yet hearing her name tore the lid off the memories he’d worked so hard to bury.

He forced himself to hold Chase’s gaze and not show anything but indifference. “Are you sure?”

Chase nodded. “Saw her at the gas station a bit ago. Thought I’d—thought I should be the one to tell you.”

The wind kicked up and the tail of the abandoned garland lashed Mack in the face. He winced, caught it and turned back to the ladder. Mack and Chase were planning to buy her family’s tree farm after Christmas. He hadn’t thought it would matter to Darcy. She hadn’t been back since their divorce, even to visit her aunt and uncle.

His brother angled so the wind was at his back. “You okay, man?”

Irritation flared, but Mack tamped it down. Chase meant well. They all would mean well. As if he was still the heartbroken mess Darcy’d left in her dust all those years ago. “Yeah. It was a long time ago.” He fitted the garland over the next hook and pretended the acid in his stomach was because he’d had a burrito for lunch and not because the only woman he’d ever really loved had returned to Holden’s Crossing. The woman who’d broken him into shards when she left.

But his damn heart had never fully let her go.

“All right, then. Let me know if you need anything.”

In spite of the tension coiling through him, Mack laughed. “Like what?”

Chase shrugged. “Whatever you need. We can talk to her...”

“Oh, no. No talking.” He could just imagine how that particular conversation would go. He could almost pity Darcy. Almost. “Leave her alone, Chase. I’ll deal with her when I have to.”

“If you say so.” Chase jingled his keys, then walked away. Mack heard his brother’s truck start up and forced himself to focus on his task. Now he felt exposed. Anyone who’d seen Darcy, anyone who knew the story—or thought they did—could be driving by right now, staring at him, whispering.

He hated the whispers.

He looped the last of the decoration over the final hook and secured it so the winter winds wouldn’t rip it free. Since the weather was steadily getting worse, he opted to leave the Christmas lights for another day. He hoped the wind wouldn’t rip them down—the way Darcy had ripped his heart.

He closed the ladder and tried damn hard to ignore the mental picture of his ex-wife, with her long coppery locks and golden brown eyes. Damn it. Now he’d have Darcy on the brain after he’d been so successful at getting her out of it. He forced himself to turn away and haul the ladder back inside, banging it hard on the door. He swallowed a curse as pain radiated up his arm.

“All done?” Sherry’s voice was cheery and he relaxed for a moment. His office manager didn’t know anything too personal about him, thank God. At least not yet.

“Weather’s getting worse,” he said as he lugged the ladder down to the hall closet. “Wind is picking up, so I’ll finish tomorrow.”

She gave a quick nod. “You’ve had a bunch of calls in the past half hour,” she said. “Your family, mostly.” She held the messages out, her attention back on the computer screen.

“Ah. Thanks.” He took them and beat it back to his office. He skimmed through them quickly, then dumped them in the trash. Mom. Chase. His sister, Katie. How sad was it to be a thirty-two-year-old man and have your entire family band together over an ex-wife? Had the whole thing really been that bad?

He closed his eyes, then opened them.

Well, yeah, actually it had. Worse, probably.

He stared out his office window at the snow, which had changed from pellets to flakes. The radio station playing in the waiting area announced, between Christmas tunes, that three to six inches of the white stuff was expected by morning. It’d be a white Thanksgiving. Not uncommon in northern Michigan.

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