Hello Readers!  It's Tuesday, and it's time for more teasers!  We're still with Amanda and Josh from All I Want for Christmas...Is Big Blue Eyes, and I hope you're enjoying it.  So with much ado, let's jump right into chapter three!

All I Want for Christmas...Is Big Blue Eyes
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Some dreams were never meant to be... 

Renowned architect, Josh McDaniels, spent ten years avoiding his hometown and the unforgettable memories of his youth. But when a former classmate phones him before Christmas with a proposal he can’t refuse, he finds himself back in small-town, Lexington, Missouri, surrounded by holiday festivities and engulfed in memories of a blue-eyed girl. 

Amanda Masterson knows three things about Josh. She loves him, he loves her, and he’ll walk out when those feelings terrify him, as he always does. Ten years ago, he abandoned their dreams. Eight years ago, he returned to break her heart again. Now, he’s back once more, and this time, he’s jeopardizing not only her heart but her daughter’s as well. 

Can the spirit of Christmas overcome a past riddled with mistakes? Or will fears and doubts destroy the greatest gift of all?



Josh slowly navigated his Mustang down South Street. The town hadn’t changed a hell of a lot. A few new buildings rose up in the middle of the square, a handful of other shops changed hands, but for the most part, Lexington looked exactly as he remembered.

House after house sported colorful Christmas lights that glistened against the deep, white snow. December wasn’t usually a month that saw a lot of snow in Missouri, but this year Mother Nature had been kind to the kids. Snowmen stood in front yards, broomsticks in their hands, old hats set on their heads. Other frosty creations dotted the sprawling lawns, adding to the charm of the historic district.

He blinked. Charm? Since when had he ever considered anything about Lexington remotely charming? It had to be the architect in him. The trained eye that appreciated angles and lines and masterful craftsmanship of an era long gone. Things he’d never noticed before his formal training.

Each house had a personality. A feeling all its own that the common market lacked today. Houses built in a month, sometimes more quickly, didn’t have heart. Houses that took years to build, like these sweeping brick monstrosities, were made by people who cared about their work. Men who put a little of their soul into each assignment. The way Josh did with each hand-drawn blueprint he produced.

He could relate to these old buildings. Or at least the folks that built them.

Nosing his car down the narrow drive to The Victorianne, he eased around the towering mansion that embodied his thoughts. Talk about heart. Its two-story magnificence, complete with tall towers, breathtaking gables, a covered porch, and a second-story balcony, epitomized the beauty of Victorian architecture. His favorite period.

Rolling to a stop, he set the brake and turned off the ignition. He sat a few minutes longer in the silence, admiring the bed and breakfast. Now long after dark, twinkling lights decorated the covered porch, nestled between greenery interwoven around the banister. Very Christmassy. Olivia and he had never made a fuss over the holiday. Not like they had as kids. It felt strange knowing he’d be spending the next two weeks buried in the heart of holiday celebration. He’d have to pick up something for Lucas. If he could figure out where his former best friend’s interests were theses days. His hobbies. Hell, Josh didn’t even know where Lucas was working.

He opened his car door, grabbed his luggage, and wandered to the front door. It opened instantly, Susannah Anderson greeting him with a wide smile.

“Josh McDaniels. How good to see you.” She opened the glass door with the friendly welcome. “Come in. How are you? How is Olivia?”

“I’m doing fine, Mrs. Anderson. Olivia’s well too. I’ll be sure to tell her you asked.”

He wouldn’t. Olivia didn’t care.

Taking care to stomp his feet on the rug, he stepped into the front foyer and glanced around. Striped paper lined the walls, offsetting the rich, dark wood of the opposite stairwell and an elaborate wooden mantel that glowed with a cozy gas fire.

“What brings you back to Lexington? How long’s it been now since your daddy died? Don’t think I’ve seen you, or Olivia, since.”

There it was. He’d wondered who would be the first to mention it. Susannah Anderson hadn’t even crossed his mind.

“Eight years, ma’am.”

“Such a shame that was. He was such a good man. Just couldn’t hold himself together when your mother had to leave to take care of her sister. His whole world revolved around Ramona.”

Josh ground his teeth together, managing a polite, “Yes, ma’am.” Nothing in the world could make him revisit that portion of his past. He hadn’t spoken to his mother since he was fifteen. The excuse she gave for walking out disgusted him. With his dad’s subsequent suicide, he lost all the family he had. Except Olivia.

As if sensing his deliberate silence, Susannah beckoned to him with a wag of her fingers. “I reckon you’re wanting to settle in for the night. Let me take you up to your room. I saved the green bedroom for you. You should have enough room to work in there.”

With a heavy step, she twisted a bad hip onto the stairwell, stopped, and shook her head. “Can’t do it, Josh. My legs aren’t up to it tonight. I have a young gal come by and clean for me during the days, but I haven’t been up these stairs all year. You’ll forgive me, won’t you?”

“Of course,” he replied with a smile. Truth to tell, he’d rather be free of her polite, yet invasive, chatter.

“Go on up. Door’s open. If you need anything, I’ll be down here in the back rooms till around ten. Just holler.”

He nodded politely and made his way up the stairs, listening to the groan and creak of old wood. The kind of noises that added to the charm, gave these historic landmarks even more personality.

He let himself into the green room and gently set his bag in the chair near the gas fireplace. His suit bag, he hung in the wardrobe. Still needing to eat, he left his jacket on, his scarf hanging off his shoulders. Riley’s Pub and Grill called to him, their thick hamburgers a long-ago favorite. Maybe Lucas would go with him.

Only one way to find out—ask. He’d stop by on his way.

Bouncing his keys in his hand, he returned to his car and backed out of the parking spot. He turned north on 15th Street, went one block, and turned east on Franklin. Three blocks down, Lucas’ smaller, A-frame home sat in the middle of the block. Multicolored lights adorned the covered front porch and the short evergreen bushes in front of it. A pair of lighted white reindeer with red bows touched their noses to the snow near a gigantic snowman with stick arms.

Josh chortled. Some things never changed. Every winter, he and Lucas had tried to outdo the other with what they could make out of the snow. Josh’s snow penis finally won—although his dad had taken away the car for an entire month for that stunt. Amanda had been furious too. That was almost worse than not having the car.

Evidently, Lucas still honored tradition.

He pulled into the drive and looked up at the house. A bright yellow porch light illuminated the red door, and in the front window, another lamp burned bright. But the rest of the house was dark. No cars sat in the driveway, and the residence didn’t have a garage.

Damn. Josh wasn’t particularly in the mood to eat alone and risk running into someone else he knew. He had too many unfamiliar, uncomfortable feelings rumbling around inside him tonight to socialize. To pretend he wanted to be back here. To reminisce.

His stomach grumbled.

He’d order something to go. Take it back to The Victorianne and eat in his room. Afterward he’d phone Lucas and set up something for tomorrow evening, figure out where he should be, and when, for Mae’s Christmas party. The extra sleep would be good for him after the long hours of work this month.

The snow crunched under his tires as Josh backed down Lucas’ drive. He resisted the pull to go around the block past Amanda’s mother’s house, and turned around the way he’d come from. Nine blocks west and another north to Main, he pulled up in front of Riley’s Pub and got out. Loud music and raucous laughter hit him hard, shoving him back into the past, to the last time he’d been here. Eight years ago, the night of his father’s funeral, he’d gotten shit-faced with Amanda and Lucas in a desperate attempt to hide how much the suicide affected him. That night, Amanda…

He stopped, closing his eyes. This was exactly why he didn’t want to come back. Memories crept in, unbidden. Visions of Amanda’s dark blue eyes, how her blond hair tickled his cheek as she leaned over to give him a kiss. Her laughter. The husky catch in her voice when she whispered that she loved him.

With a grimace, Josh forced the image out of his head. Amanda was probably married now. Someone smarter than he, braver than he, would have snatched her up in a heartbeat. Maybe even taken her out of this godforsaken place as she’d longed for. He should have; he’d punished himself for the last ten years for not doing so. But he just…hadn’t.

Shouldering his way through the crowd, he wandered to the bar. Josh winced inwardly as he watched the bartender. A year younger than he, James Gillium looked like he hadn’t changed a day since high school. The kid played left-center on the football team and saved Josh from more sacks than anyone else. They’d been close once. Now, he was just one more person Josh wasn’t ready to see.

Behind the long row of colorful taps, James angled his lumberjack size around, fixing Josh with a hearty grin. “What can I get ya, stranger?”

Josh lowered his eyes, hoping to escape unnoticed. “Need a burger. Can you put it in a box for me?”

James cocked his head. His eyebrows scrunched together as he studied Josh. Slow dawning slipped into his features as his smile turned from bartender-polite to genuine welcome. “I’ll be damned. That really you, McDaniels? Didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”

Plastering a polite smile on his face, Josh nodded. Couldn’t anyone think of anything more original to say? Or hell, for that matter, just pretend it hadn’t been eight years since he’d been here? There really wasn’t reason to make a production out of his impromptu visit.

“Want a beer? I’ll give you one on the house.”

Josh shook his head. “Not tonight. I’ll be here for a few days. I’ll come back in and visit, catch up a bit. I just want to hit the hay tonight.”

“You’re up in KC aren’t you now?”


“Well, let me get you something while you wait on your order. You sure you don’t want a beer?”

What harm could one beer do? James had a point. Josh was going to sit at the bar for a while anyway—might as well make good use of his time. “Sure. Coors Light.”

As he reached for the tap, James smirked. “Never did get you to stop drinking that horse piss, eh? One of these days, you’re gonna realize Bud’s the way to go, McDaniels.”

“Shit,” Josh replied with a chuckle. “Last I knew, James, you couldn’t hold down even that.”

James’ loud laughter rumbled over the noisy din. “You come back here before you go. I’ll be happy to go one-for-one with you. We’ll see who stumbles down the street after. With a little luck, it’ll be your ass the cops pick up for public intoxication this time.”

He passed Josh his beer and lumbered around the bar into the kitchen.

Still chuckling, Josh stared down into the amber brew. Everything about Lexington wasn’t all bad. In between all the stuff that hurt like hell, he’d had some real good times as a kid. He’d forgotten most of those things. Not deliberately as he tried to do with the rest, just a result of the passing of time.

He looked up as James leaned his elbows on the bar in front of him. “So whatcha been up to? Heard you were some fancy architect in the city.”

“I don’t know about the fancy, but I work my ass off,” Josh answered with a grin.

“Ya married? Got kids?”

“Hell no.” Josh laughed as he lifted his chilled mug to his lips. He took a long drink, set it back down, and stared at the wavy pattern in the glass. “Don’t think I’ll ever settle down like that. Ain’t worth the trouble.” No one makes me feel like she did. “Everyone I know’s had a marriage fall apart ‘cause someone cheated.” He shrugged. “I don’t see the use in it. Less hassle to just enjoy what comes along, when it comes along, and when it gets old, let it go. Cheaper too.”

James bellowed with laughter again. “Ain’t that the truth? My ex has my boy in Columbia. I spend half my salary paying for him and only get to see him on holidays.”

Exactly why Josh never wanted children. He knew all too well the way it felt to be caught in the middle of divorce and custody issues. He’d rather die than force a child to go through that kind of confusing pain.
“Food’s up” a masculine voice hollered through a small window behind the bar.

“That’s your burger. Be right back.”

“What do I owe you?”

James shook his head as he reached for the Styrofoam box. “You come back before you leave. Spend an evening here. We’ll call it even.”

With a short nod, Josh pushed off his stool, waved goodbye, and escaped into the crisp night.

Thank God, that was over. He’d come back, but tonight wasn’t the night for cutting loose. Over the weekend, maybe, when the bar wasn’t so full of people. When he could relax a little and stop feeling like the instant he turned around, he’d confront someone from the past.

He set his burger on the seat next to him and started the engine. Driving down South Street, the city quieted the farther he went into the residential area near The Victorianne. Behind front windows, silhouettes moved around, the flash of televisions blinked against glass panes. Families retired early, a good portion of them likely to be at Mae’s, at least at some point, tomorrow night. For as long as he could remember, Mae had the Christmas party of the year. She invited practically the whole town.

Nosing into his parking space, he turned off the key. The engine rumbled to a stop, and he listened to the mechanical clicks beneath the hood as parts cooled off. Restlessness seeped into his bones, made his nerves twitch, urging him to do something. Telltale signs sleep would evade him tonight. Not what he needed.

He opened his burger box and took a bite. Maybe food would curb insomnia before it had the chance to set in. It better. He didn’t have a damn thing to occupy himself with through the night. He hadn’t even brought a book along.

Burger finished, he picked at his now-cold fries and muttered. So much for food helping him unwind. He still felt the pull to do something. Anything. Just move. Occupy his mind. That, partnered with the lingering discomfort in his gut, brought about from too many confrontations with memories, and he could kiss sleep goodnight completely at this point.

Perhaps a walk would tire him out. If nothing else, strolling past the decorated houses might help him get in touch with the holiday spirit. Amanda’s mother’s house was just down the street. He’d walk there and back. Two summers after his father passed, Lucas sent him a card telling him Mrs. Henders had passed away. Cancer had finally gotten the best of her. It would be interesting to see who lived in Amanda’s old house now.

Bullshit, Josh. You want to see her.

Had they repainted it? Did they ever cut down the old oak that got hit by lightning and split in half? Maybe another teenage girl now lived in the window near the elm’s thick branch, and he’d catch her sneaking out to meet the boy she was presently grounded from seeing. Or, maybe he’d find another boy like himself sneaking out the window, off to convince said girl out of her house because without her, Friday night was boring. Particularly when he didn’t have football games and couldn’t see her cheering on the sidelines in that dangerously short skirt that revealed a little too much for his eighteen-year-old hormones when she kicked her foot to her ear.

He chortled.

Damn, they’d all had some good times here.

Lost in thought, he wandered down the sidewalk, walking through the few fond memories Lexington held. He saw grade school games of tag behind the thick-trunked, old trees; days of riding bikes up and down South Street, terrorizing Mr. Johnson by finding every rock they could and dumping them into his Koi pond; summer evenings staring up at the stars with her.

The rumble of a car’s engine brought his head up, and he slowed his pace as a silver Honda Accord touched its brakes thirty or so feet in front of him. With a crunch, it rolled over the banked snow on the curb and pulled into Amanda’s mother’s driveway.

Josh gave in to a fond smile. He’d get a first-hand glimpse of who lived here now. Maybe a young couple, just starting out life, still caught up in newlywed bliss, not yet exposed to the reality of how faithless love was. They’d learn. But for a while, they’d feel like they had everything, that the whole world lay in their naive hands. Like he’d believed until his mother shattered that innocence.

He kept walking, approaching the driveway casually, his curiosity piqued.

The driver’s door opened. A woman climbed out, toting a plastic grocery sack in one hand. Her honey-blond hair brushed the top of her shoulders, and as she walked in front of the car, the automatic headlights gave it a soft sheen.

Josh’s heart skidded to a stop at the same time his feet did. It couldn’t be.

“Amanda?” he called out, quietly.

She stopped, turning around with a puzzled expression. “Yes?” She started back toward the car’s rear end.
He hurried forward, meeting her halfway. As those blue eyes focused on him, and recognition settled into their dark depths, Josh couldn’t breathe.

Oh, God. Amanda.

Everything inside him screamed to reach out, touch her, hold her in his arms, and go back. Go back where everything was normal. Where she was so in love with him she made him believe dreams were possible.

“Josh,” she whispered.

Nodding, he swallowed and searched for a smile. He found it, but it faltered with his nerves. Though he’d hoped, he hadn’t expected to find her here. Lucas hadn’t said anything. “Hi,” he managed.

“Hi.” She worried her free hand through her short hair, and in the streetlight, a diamond glittered on her left ring finger.

His gut turned over, clamping down tight. Someone had, indeed, been smarter and braver than he.
“I didn’t know you took over Mom’s house.”

Holding his gaze, she nodded. “It was all I had.”

Fighting down the urge to wince, he ignored the flash of hurt that passed behind her eyes. When she blinked, it was gone. But lurking there instead was something that took his breath away again. Emotion. The same kind that haunted his memories when he dared to think back on her. The kind that went hand in hand with the words, Josh, you’re everything to me.

He shifted his weight. “You look good, Amanda.”

She did too. She was still as slender as she’d always been, but the last eight years added a little softness to her youthful form. A woman’s fullness a man couldn’t hope to ignore. Age had yet to mark her face, aside from a few small smile crinkles in the corners of her eyes.

“Thanks. The years haven’t been too hard on you either.”

Her smile sent his heart careening into his ribs. For the love of God, he couldn’t stand here and not touch her. “Could I…” He swallowed again, his throat tightening. “Can I hug you?”

Without a word, her arms wound around his neck, and she stepped in close.

He slipped his around her waist and held her tight, inhaling the faint scent of some sort of perfume that made him think of summertime and the lake’s sandy beach. Her body melded into his as it had a hundred times before, snug and perfect. Soft. She felt so good.

He tightened his arms, as if he might be able to erase everything and somehow transcend time. She nuzzled her nose into his shoulder, and he caught the back of her head in his hand, her silken hair sliding through his fingers. Tipping his chin, he leaned his cheek against the top of her head.


Like she could hear the silent plea in his heart, she edged away, freeing herself from his embrace. She didn’t look at him. Instead, she stared at his chest. “I better go in. It’s good to see you.”

He couldn’t speak. Could only stare at the large diamond on her hand.

She offered him a tiny smile, and he could have sworn, before she turned around, her eyes glimmered with unshed tears.

As she made her way inside the house, he gazed after her. Behind the lightweight curtains in her front window, her silhouette moved across the room toward the blinking lights on a Christmas tree. A tall, broad-shouldered, masculine figure rose to join her. They embraced, and Josh’s heart twisted.

She could have been his. Should have been. And now, when he hadn’t realized just how much Amanda Henders meant to him until he watched another man hold her, he was too late.


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"Victorians used the term 'limbs' as a euphenism for legs, which were thought to be so sexually exciting to a man, even a glimpse of a table leg could incite him to sexual frenzy. Table skirts were invented to prevent any unnatural unions between men and furniture."
(History Channel International)



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