Whether you have or haven’t picked up Ann’s newest novel, The Secretary’s Bodyguard you are sure to enjoy this Christmas short with Ethan and Jazmin!
by Ann Raina © 2015
The doorbell rang, and Ethan put down the bauble he was about to hang on the Christmas tree.
“Are you expecting a guest?” he asked on the way to the door.
“Well, any more interruptions and your parents will complain it’s impossible we didn’t even get the tree finished. Not to mention the cakes and cookies and—what was on your to-do list again?”
“I bet it’s just the mailman.”
“What did you order—a new car? Home delivery?” He opened the door, smiling as his wife poked her tongue out at him. “Hello, hope the package is gonna fit through the door,” he said, then stopped, realizing it was not the mailman.
Tim Hanley, their young neighbor, stood in front of him, rubbing his small, long-fingered hands. His big brown eyes were open wide, his lips curled up in a shy, tentative smile. He was wearing a white dress shirt, green pullover, and tight red pants that emphasized his slim physique. To complete the Christmas spirit, his tie featured small laughing Santa Clauses.
“My apologies for interrupting your afternoon, Mr. Mahoney.” He cleared his throat. “I was about to decorate the tree, you know, and found out I don’t have a ladder because my—well, I don’t have it anymore, so I thought if you…well, you’re so…tall.”
Ethan read a different adjective in Tim’s eyes.
“So I thought you might—if it’s not too much to ask—help me out with doing the rest of the decoration? Meaning those items that need to be hung close to the ceiling…” He inhaled deeply.
Ethan looked back over his shoulder. “Ah, well, Tim, we’re about to—”
“I know, I understand.” Tim lifted both hands and stepped back on the porch, blushing. “I didn’t mean to interrupt your weekend, sir.” His voice was breathy. “It was just an…idea.”
“Sure he’s gonna help you out,” Jazmin said, slipping under Ethan’s arm to smile at the young man. “Hi, Tim, we’re almost done here.”
“We are?” Ethan stopped when Jazmin nudged his ribcage. He locked gazes with his obviously jubilant wife. “Didn’t we want to…”
“Yeah, but that’ll be done in a second.” She fired the whole nine yards of exuberance at their neighbor. “It goes without saying that he’ll help you out, and no, you’re not interrupting anything.”
“Are you sure?” Tim’s gaze turned from Ethan back to Jazmin. When she nodded, he returned a smile, as shy as before. “Thank you.”
“He’ll come over to your place in a minute,” Jazmin said and pushed Ethan back inside when he was about to protest again.
“See you then,” Tim said on the way down the steps.
Ethan closed the door with more force than necessary. “Are you completely—”
Jazmin just looked at him, and he knew he’d lost the argument. As an experienced, been-through-hell husband, he read the warning signs clearly.
“It’s the day before Christmas Eve. I’d like you to be a tad more giving and more…”
“Helpful, yeah, sure.” Ethan rolled his eyes. “Last time I was at his place, I came back with a boatload of recipes! After an hour!”
“Good recipes,” Jazmin teased. “My mother liked the cookies very much.”
“Fine. But we had planned to take the car over to the repair shop to have it fixed before they close for the holidays.”
“We’ll do that, too.” She pouted. “Don’t be grumpy with me. It’s an old car.”
“But the only one we have at the moment. And you could’ve checked the oil level on time.”
“I’m no mechanic.”
“Does the MI lamp mean anything to you? It’s right in front of you, showing you what’s wrong every time you start the car.”
She rolled her eyes. “The sooner you go and see Tim, the better. He might lighten your mood.”
Ethan followed her back into the living room, trying not to be grumpy. The morning had been too nice to ruin it. “You say he’s always looking at my butt when I’m in the garden!”
“Well, yes, he does.” She embraced him, slipped his hands in his jogging pants, and put her hands on his butt cheeks, giving him a playful smile. “And I admit you’ve got a backside that’s worth staring at. Especially in the buff.” She kneaded said body part fondly.
“Jazmin, you promised our neighbor—”
“Minutes can be long.” She lifted her chin, making puppy eyes. “And right now I feel neglected. You’re about to spend at least an hour with this very attractive man.”
Ethan took a deep breath when she pulled him close and rubbed her body along his. Her mood swings were one of a kind. He wanted to call it a day and take her upstairs to their bedroom. It was an effort to stay focused, and he couldn’t help smiling. “Princess, if you like him so much, you can go and help him.”
“I’m not his type.” Jazmin’s eyes promised mischief at his expense. “Do you wanna dress in one of my skirts before you climb the ladder?”
Ethan gaped at her. “You rascal!” Before he could grab her, she pulled his pants down to his ankles. When he tried to follow her he stumbled and cursed while she burst out laughing. “Wait until I get ya!”
“I’ve got some great skirts that’d fit you perfectly!” Squealing, she escaped into the kitchen. “Short ones, and I’d allow no underwear!”
Ethan shed his rumpled pants and followed her around the dining table. “Stop laughing, princess, or I’ll make you regret this!”
After a minute Jazmin stopped, gasping for air, still chortling. “Regret what? Helping a neighbor, or undressing you right before you go?” She didn’t try to escape his tight embrace but stole a kiss instead. “You’ll be nice and kind and polite.” She shrugged. “Make his day. Spread the joy of Christmas.”
“I don’t like the tone, princess. You’re making fun of me.”
“That’s why I came to the door. You would’ve sent the poor man away.” She disentangled from his arms. “So…go and do as he requests.” She bit her lips when he looked down his bare legs. “I like that outfit.”
Ethan exhaled. “That’s not how I imagined my day off.”
“Oh, my poor captain.” She caressed his cheeks. “I’ll make it up to you. Upon your return we’ll play hide and seek. If you find me within ten minutes, we’ll spend the afternoon and maybe the evening between the sheets.”
“And if I don’t find you?”
She pulled him down and whispered in his ear, “I’ll hide in the closet.”
Ethan laughed out loud. “Still, I think it’s best you accompany me. I’ll decorate the tree, and you do the talking.”
Jazmin ran her hands down his sides. “Only if you wear a skirt.”
Ethan rolled his eyes again, collected his pants from the floor and, when he was dressed again, reached out for her hand. “Come,” he urged her. “Let’s see what kind of help he needs.”
He took the keys off the hook, and they walked over the small patio to knock on Tim’s door.
Tim opened the door and invited them in, smiling as if he had won the lottery. The house smelled of fresh chipped wood and pine.
“I’m so glad you could make it,” he said as he led the way into the living room. He pointed to the right. “My family loves the spirit of the season, but my brother sometimes overdoes the pudding, so to say.” The Christmas tree rested on a square table, and the tip left only enough room for the star on top, in this case a white owl. Tim had decorated the tree with white fluffy ornaments and baubles as far as he could reach. “You can’t imagine my surprise when this…beautiful but nevertheless monstrous fir was delivered yesterday.” He clapped his hands and smiled insecurely. “I bet with just a chair you’ll be able to finish the decoration, right?”
Ethan took a deep breath, nodded, then turned from the tree to the dining table. It was laid for three. “You’re expecting guests? I should hurry, then.” He was about to take the box with the decorations when Tim plucked it out of his hands and gently put it down on the small table.
“I know…you’ve been through…” He inhaled deeply, grimacing as he apparently searched for words.
“Don’t misunderstand this now, please, Ethan and Jazmin. I’ve been your neighbor for as long as you’ve lived here, and you’ve always been kind and helpful, no matter how silly my requests have been. And I’ve seen that you’ve fought with…ghosts throughout the year.”
“How’d you know?” Ethan couldn’t help his darkening voice.
Tim flinched, but met Ethan’s stare. “My apologies, but it was hard to miss—you both sitting on the grass and hugging each other while she cried.” He shook his head. “You’ve never said a word, but I could read in your faces you had a hard time. Please, sit down, have a glass of wine with me.” He waited until they sat and poured wine in crystal glasses. “No one would ever miss how much you love each other. And just recently I realized your mood is getting better, so I decided to thank you in a way I can. And maybe lighten up your mood a little bit more.”
Ethan raised his glass as Tim and Jazmin did, but didn’t know what to say. He had questions, even accusations, but Jazmin looked at their neighbor expectantly, and he envied her open-mindedness.
“I can’t wait, Tim.” Jazmin’s eyes were wide and sparkling with joy. “What’s the big secret?”
“It’s just arriving on the street.” They clinked glasses. “Here’s hoping you like my gift.”
“It’s arriving?” Jazmin stood with the glass in her hand to look out of the window. “What do you mean?”
Ethan put down his glass, eyeing Tim cautiously. He didn’t like the idea of his neighbor knowing about Jazmin and him more than he was willing to share. This meant he preferred him to know nothing at all. He only managed to hold his tongue because of Jazmin’s good mood.
“I noticed you had some…trouble with your car.” Tim joined them at the large, holiday-decorated window. “And a friend of mine owed me a favor.”
Ethan watched as a BMW car stopped in front of their house. He turned to Tim. “You’re not saying you bought a car for us?”
“I’m not saying I bought it. I’d call it a change of owner in your favor.” For the first time Tim’s smile lost its shyness. “Ethan, there’s no fraud behind this, and I don’t have any intention of binding you to do anything. You’ve done so much for me through the years, so much without asking, so much that helped me in more ways than I can name. My friend owns a big company, and they change cars every two years. So this is in fact a 2011 model, but at least a car that’s functioning.”
While Ethan pondered possible snares and hidden agendas, Jazmin handed him her glass to embrace Tim heartily.
“Thanks so much, Tim! That’s a great idea! And I’m sure once my husband’s over the shock of receiving a gift, he’ll be grateful, too.”
Ethan pressed his lips tight. Jazmin gave him a look urging him to say something, and Tim looked afraid of having made a mistake.
Ethan cleared his throat. “Tim, that’s really a very generous gift. But I don’t think that we…”
“There’s no clash of interests,” Jazmin interrupted, glaring at him. She turned to Tim again. “Really, I love having a new car. And we can finally scrap the old thing.”
“Scrap?” Ethan repeated. “But I love the Toyota! It’s—”
Jazmin claimed back her glass, soothing him with a hand on his. “If you want to have it repaired. I’ll drive the BMW in the meantime.”
Tim laughed. “Well, now that this is settled—would you mind adding some more decorations and the light strings to my poor tree?” He winked at Jazmin. “I’ll take your wife either for a ride or to the kitchen to help prepare lunch. Which do you prefer?”
Ethan felt out-maneuvered by Tim as well as by his joyous wife. “I yield. I’ll take care of the tree, and you two go to the kitchen.” He pointed a finger at Tim. “Don’t you dare leave the house with my wife!”
“Ah!” Tim raised his glass to him. “Finally the husband’s jealousy shines through! So, Jazmin, we’ll see that Ethan will be rewarded for his bravery to come over.”
“Bravery?” Ethan echoed, only to see Jazmin and Tim crack up with laughter.
“You brought your wife.” Tim’s gaze was all innocent. “And, as you can see, I counted on it.”
Ethan let go of his breath with a sigh. Jazmin kissed him lightly on the lips.
“My brave husband,” she whispered. “And later we’ll find out how much space is in that wonderful car. Will that do?”
* * * *
Ethan and Jazmin Mahoney have appeared in three books so far – The Secretary’s Bodyguard, For the Love of Jazmin, and A Bodyguard’s Vacation. A fourth book is a work in progress.
Ann Raina is on Facebook, join her!