Cover of the new story "Blue Moon Harbor Christmas" by Susan Lyons in  <em>Winter Wishes</em>

"Blue Moon Harbor Christmas" in Winter Wishes

 

Excerpt from Blue Moon Harbor Christmas

Chapter 1

Then I guess we should get married. That was almost the last thing he’d said to Jilly, eight and a half years ago.

Rain slashed the windows of Michael Dhillon’s rental Kia Rio, and there were no streetlights to ease the late afternoon darkness of this shortest day of the year. He could barely make out the house he’d pulled up in front of. The house on Blue Moon Harbor Drive where Jilly had made a home for their seven-year-old child.

From the shoulder of the narrow country road, Michael squinted at blurry dots of color. The Christmas lights outlining the door, windows, and eaves revealed the general size and shape of the house. A split level with a single-story wing on one side, it was larger than he’d expected. A family home.

Had Jilly married? Did the baby they hadn’t meant to create have a real father? When Michael had Googled her, he’d found no indication she was married, but then she didn’t have much of an Internet presence. On Instagram, she posted excellent photos of the Pacific Northwest, some of them aerial, which seemed appropriate since she was a pilot. He’d also found her on the Web site of Blue Moon Air, the local seaplane business here on Destiny Island.

In the Web site photo, she stood on a wharf, slender in jeans and a Blue Moon Air T-shirt, beside a small seaplane painted in white and blue. Her smile was engaging, her blue eyes sparkled, and she wore little or no makeup. Her honey-blond hair tumbled in loose curls around her face and glinted in the sun. The natural look—clothes, hair, lack of makeup—was different from when he’d known her and different from the Toronto women he dated, but it suited her.

She was a stranger now, but then they never had known each other well. Their relationship had been purely casual: maybe a dozen nights together during the spring of their last year of university. He’d never have guessed she’d choose such a challenging career, but nor had he figured she’d want to raise a kid.

He hadn’t found her on Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other place except Facebook, where her page was private. He hadn’t sent a Friend request.

The only thing he’d sent Jilly since they said good-bye was the monthly payments for child support.

In return, she sent him nothing. Which was the way they’d agreed it would be, back when she decided against having an abortion and then rejected his marriage proposal. A clean and total break, but for the financial support, had sounded right to both of them. Honoring that pact had meant that Michael didn’t even know the gender of the child he’d come to see. Aside from an occasional vague curiosity, he hadn’t even cared, not until recently.

He stepped out of the car and rain slapped his face. When he’d left snowy Toronto that morning, he hadn’t thought to bring an umbrella. He hunched his shoulders in his heavy overcoat, it and his wool scarf at least keeping him warm. An older model minivan was parked in the driveway in front of a closed garage door. The porch light of the house wasn’t lit, but the Christmas lights revealed a paved path winding in an S curve to the door, through what looked to be a native plant garden. He could see the house more clearly now and, architect that he was, he thought of a dozen things that would improve on its conventional rancher design.

No light came from the front windows. Ignoring the branch of the walkway that led around the one-story side of the house, presumably to the backyard, he stepped onto the porch. Sheltered from the rain, he stared at the holly wreath decorating the front door. Faint strains of “Jingle Bells” reached his ears.

Yes, the “up for anything” girl he’d hooked up with that spring at the University of Toronto had changed. Probably she had married, had found someone she liked and loved.

He remembered her exact words: “You’re proposing because you think it’s the decent thing to do. That’s sweet, but think about it. You and me, we’ve never been about decency and sweetness. For us, it’s been lust and fun. Party, party, party.” So much partying, it seemed, that even though they’d used protection, something had somehow gone wrong.

“That’s no foundation for building a family,” she’d gone on. “We don’t love each other and I’m not sure we even like each other. Take out the booze, the partying, the lust, and what have we got? Nothing. So, thank you for the thought, but no.”

He got what she was saying about foundations and, at twenty-two, he’d never felt the slightest bit drawn to the kind of relationship that would create one. So, to be honest, her answer came as a relief.

They had both graduated with bachelor’s degrees and Jilly was returning home to Blue Moon Harbor. “We’ll be living totally different lives,” she’d said. “So let’s make a clean break.”

Eight and a half years later, would she be furious when he turned up at her door? He’d thought of contacting her first, but guessed she’d have told him not to come.

And he needed to do this. Jilly wasn’t the only one who’d changed. Michael was proving himself as an architect and he loved the job, from the challenges and creativity to the flexibility offered by being his own boss. Though he still dated actively and had never felt a desire to settle down, he was no longer an irresponsible kid. He was, in fact, a man. And that man had a child he’d never seen. Michael didn’t feel guilty, because he still believed the decision he and Jilly’d made was the sensible one. But that was then and this was now, and now he needed to know if he could be part of his child’s life.

Could—by which he meant so many things. For one, would he still want to after meeting the child? What if he felt nothing, no sense of connection much less a paternal bond? Or, if he did, what if Jilly said no? If she had married, how would her husband feel about it? And would it be a good or a bad thing for the child? Because, after all, the kid’s interests counted more than those of any adult.

Under the holly wreath was a wrought iron knocker. Michael took a deep breath.

He’d always been an easygoing guy, reacting against his lawyer and surgeon parents’ type A personalities. He’d never felt his heart race so fast that he could hardly breathe. Not until now, as he reached for the door knocker.

He thumped it a couple of times, loudly enough to carry over the music.

What would he say if a man answered the door?

What would he say if it was Jilly who opened the door? Or a boy or girl?

[continued at top of right column]

 

 

 

 

[con't from bottom left column]

Chapter 2

Jillian Summers’s son Cole and her mother sat at her parents’ kitchen table. Her dad had just started to slice the maple-glazed baked ham, and Jillian set down the baking dish full of her mom’s bubbly, cheesy scalloped potatoes. This family dinner was an early one because tonight—the winter solstice—was special. Each year on that night they trimmed the big Christmas tree that took pride of place in her parents’ living room.

Jillian pulled out the chair across from Cole. And of course, wouldn’t that be the exact moment the door knocker sounded?

Freckles barked and made a mad dash for the door, tail wagging. Her and Cole’s Dalmatian-Labrador cross was definitely not a guard dog.

“Back in a sec,” she said. “You get started.” They wouldn’t, though, because her mother insisted on saying grace before dinner.

Jillian’s sheepskin slippers slapped the hardwood floor as she hurried after the dog. Who would come to call at this time on such a nasty, cold day? Some generous soul soliciting donations for a charity? She flung open the door and was hit with a draft of chilly air and a shock that sucked the breath from her lungs. “Michael?”

Oh God, he looked like Cole. She’d pretty much banished Michael from her thoughts before Cole was born, grateful for the money he sent but not dwelling on where it came from. And so, as her little boy grew up month by month, all she saw was her son. She hadn’t realized how he was coming to resemble his biological father.

Michael himself had changed. His face was more mature and—damn it—even more attractive than that of the student she’d hooked up with. He looked . . . warm was the word that came to mind. So warm, standing under the porch light against a backdrop of sleety rain. So warm, with his lovely brown skin and the red scarf wound around his neck, trailing its fringed ends down the front of a black overcoat. His hair was longer, more casual; tonight, the glint on its raven black came from raindrops, not hair product. A five o’clock shadow framed lips that were still utterly sensual—but, unlike in the past, not smiling.

“Hey, Jilly,” he said solemnly.

From down the hall, her mom’s voice called, “Who is it?”

“Uh . . .” Jillian’s brain froze, then she managed to reply, “An old friend from university.” Freckles, who hadn’t ventured outside, butted against her legs and then, probably remembering the ham, dashed back to the kitchen.

“Well, for heaven’s sakes ask her in.” Her mother’s voice was getting closer. “Dinner’s getting cold.” Her mom joined her at the door and side by side they gaped at Michael.

For what seemed like ages, no one spoke. Incongruously, the strains of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” came from the front room.

Then her mother said, “Old school friend? You’re Cole’s father, aren’t you?” Amanda Summers was no doubt comparing Michael’s beautiful Indo-Canadian coloring to Cole’s black hair, dark eyes, and always tanned skin.

“Cole?” he said. “I didn’t—”

Her mom cut him off. “Why are you here?”

Jillian snapped out of her trance. “Mom, that’s my question to ask.” Battling the butterflies that swarmed in her tummy, heart, and throat, she lifted her chin. “Michael, why are you here?”

“I wanted to see you. To see, uh, Cole.”

Now? After eight years of sending monthly payments and not showing the slightest interest? Whatever this visit was about, it couldn’t be good.

“It’s freezing with the door open,” her mom said briskly. “And dinner’s getting colder by the moment. Get in here, take off your coat, and sit down with us.” She scowled at him. “But if you hurt my daughter or my grandson, you’ll answer to me.”

When Michael gazed questioningly at Jillian, she shrugged. Her brain was too stunned to function effectively. This was her parents’ house and her mother was a force to be reckoned with. Besides, her own curiosity clamored for answers.

“Come in,” Jillian agreed. “But be careful what you say, both of you. I don’t want Cole knowing who you are, Michael.” Her son wouldn’t connect the dots the way her mom had. His social circle was full of adults and kids of various skin colors.

Her mother started down the hall and Jillian followed, hearing behind her a clack-clack as Michael’s hard-soled shoes joined the pile of boots and shoes by the door, and then the soft thud of his heavy coat as he tossed it on a chair in the front room.

As the three of them filed into the kitchen, her father looked up. His eyes widened, he glanced from Michael to Cole, and then, with raised eyebrows, to Jillian. She nodded once and said pointedly, “This is Michael, someone I knew at U of T.” She narrowed her eyes in warning.

Her dad’s eyebrows remained up for a long moment, but then he said, “Fine. Better get another place setting, Jillian.”

Before doing so, she turned to Michael, wishing she’d been able to witness his first reaction on seeing Cole. But maybe she was in time anyhow, because he stood frozen in place, staring at her beautiful boy.

Cole gazed back, looking mildly interested. “Hi,” he said.

“Uh, hi,” Michael got out.

Michael was still lean, but had filled out through the shoulders and chest. Not with chub but with muscle that gently stressed the seams of the black Henley he wore over dark blue jeans. To her dismay, the heat of desire pulsed through her and her fingers twitched with the urge to explore that new musculature. Just as people said you never forgot how to ride a bike, it seemed her body very much remembered how to lust after Michael. Damn it.

Her dad had risen and was walking over to Michael, extending his hand. She regained her senses and made the formal introduction. “Dad, this is Michael Dhillon. Michael, meet my father, John Summers.”

The two men shook, taking longer than necessary and no doubt exchanging male messages that Jillian failed to interpret.

“My mom,” she went on, “whom you just met, is Amanda.”

Her mother moved past her to slap a placemat, a dinner plate, cutlery, and a glass of water down on the table beside where Cole sat. “Jillian, you sit beside your son. Michael, you’re across from them.”

“I want him to sit beside me,” Cole said, getting up to bring the spare chair that sat in a corner of the kitchen. He shoved the chair up to the table and smiled at Michael. “You sit here.”

Jillian’s mom huffed. “For heaven’s sakes, everyone, sit. Dinner will be ruined.”

Freckles promptly plunked his butt on the floor near Dad’s chair. After a questioning glance at Jillian, Michael took the seat beside Cole, and then the rest of them sat down.

“Michael, this is my son, Cole,” she said, forcing herself not to glance from one face to the other and catalogue the similarities and differences. “Cole, as I told Gramps, Michael and I went to university together.”

“That was a long time ago,” the boy said. “Before I was born.”

“That’s true,” she said. “Now hush, Granny wants to say grace.” When she and her son ate by themselves in their in-law suite adjoining her parents’ house, they didn’t follow this ritual. But this was her mom’s kitchen and her mom’s rules. Jillian extended a hand on either side to clasp her mom’s and her dad’s. A mix of poignancy and anxiety stabbed her heart when, across the table, Cole blithely extended his small hand and Michael hesitantly met it with his.

As her mom spoke, Jillian tuned out the familiar words. She wasn’t feeling the least bit thankful. Her stomach churned so badly she wasn’t sure she’d be able to eat a bite of even those yummy scalloped potatoes.

What the hell was Michael doing here? She and Cole were happy. Was he going to mess things up?