Don't forget that all comments here get entered to win your very own ugly sweater kit! You can also comment over on our Sweater Season event page for a chance to win, or hey, post an ugly sweater pic there for a chance to win a $50 gift card! This story features characters from Kate Davies' "Home For Christmas".
Sam woke in an unfamiliar bed.
She blinked the sleep from her eyes, looking around at the room.
Athletic pennants hung on the walls, and a poster of some female movie star who’d been popular almost a decade ago. The comforter on the bed was blue and red plaid, with…was this a race car pillow under her head?
Shifting on the mattress, she almost sighed in relief at the sight of the man sleeping next to her. They were at Robert’s parents’ house for the holidays, and this was his childhood bedroom.
Emphasis on child.
My God, they hadn’t changed a thing since he’d moved out, apparently. Was that a teddy bear on the desk under the window?
She fought a losing battle against the tug at her heartstrings. Okay, yeah, that was kind of adorable.
Much like the man himself.
She turned her head on the pillow and watched as he slowly came awake. “Morning,” he said with a raspy voice, leaning forward to kiss her.
“Merry Christmas,” she replied, snuggling closer.
“Oh, is that what today is?” Robert stretched and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Never would have known.”
“It better be. Otherwise I’d have to be giving you so much crap about this room.”
“Why would you give me crap about this room?” He almost looked hurt, but she could see the smile lurking underneath the puppy dog facial expression. “It’s a part of me. It’s my history.”
“Seriously?” She waved a hand at the décor. “It looks like your childhood threw up in here. Haven’t your parents ever heard of redecorating?”
“Don’t diss the room.” He loomed over her in a failed attempt to look threatening. “These are my most special possessions.”
She glanced over his shoulder dubiously. “I worry about your priorities, Rob. I mean, really. A Natalie Portman poster?”
“I had a crush on Amidala. Sue me.”
She shook her head and rested it against his shoulder. “You are such a geek.”
“And you love me anyway.”
It was true. She did. Enough to ditch the family holiday tradition and join his.
Not that there had been much of a family holiday to ditch, this year.
It was the second Christmas after her dad had passed away, and for some reason her mom had gone completely around the bend and booked a cruise to the Caribbean for Christmas.
Without telling her.
Samantha sighed and snuggled in closer to Rob, who wrapped his arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze. Who knew what was going on with her mom. Midlife crisis or something. At least Ethan was there to keep an eye on her.
In some ways, it was a little easier, she had to admit. Finding out the house wasn’t even decorated, and that her mom wasn’t going to be sitting around home moping about Sam’s absence, took away a little of the guilt she felt about not being home for Christmas. She could spend the holiday with Robert’s family with a clear conscience.
But not if they didn’t get out of this bed soon.
"You seriously need to give this bedroom an overhaul," she said quietly, bit wanting to wake up the rest of the family. "I feel like a total perv right now."
"My very own cougar," Robert teased. "Just what I asked Santa to bring me."
“I’m one month older than you.”
“Emphasis on older.”
She rolled her eyes. “We should get up," Samantha said, flinging
back the covers.
"I have a better idea," he murmured, slipping one hand up her side and curving around to cup her breast.
Sam stared at him in disbelief. "In your parents' house? Are you insane?"
"Live dangerously," he teased. Both with his words, and his very talented fingertips.
"Oh, no," she said, scrambling out of bed and backing away from him. "I am a guest in this house. Your family barely knows me. I am not debauching their baby boy under their roof. Let alone on Christmas morning!"
He got out of bed, too, stretching his arms over his head. "You're no fun."
"I'm plenty of fun." She grabbed her robe out of her open suitcase.
"Just not with a potential audience just a door away."
"Guess I have to steal you away for a driving tour of the town later," he said. "We can make out in the car before dinner."
"Excellent plan." She gave him a smacking kiss on the lips and headed towed the door. "Now what do you say we head downstairs and wish everyone a merry Christmas?"
“Merry Christmas!” Robert’s mom pressed a mug of coffee into one of Samantha’s hands and tugged her into the family room with the other. “Come on, you two, it’s time to open presents.”
Samantha looked over her shoulder at Robert and mouthed, before breakfast?
He rolled his eyes at her.
She pasted on a smile and allowed herself to be towed over to the couch by the tree. She just had to remember that other families had different traditions. Just because she grew up with stockings-first before breakfast and presents only once the dishes were done didn’t mean everyone did things the same way.
And if she was going to be with Robert long-term, she’d better start getting used to compromising on traditions.
He sat down next to her and wrapped his arm around her shoulder, sipping from his own mug. Her pulse sped up a little, just like it always did when he was around.
Even after a year together, she still got butterflies.
And she had a feeling that twenty years from now, it would still be the same.
She looked around the room at the rest of Robert’s family. His dad, in the easy chair by the fireplace. His younger sister, home from college, sitting on the floor next to the coffee table. His grandmother was on the love seat, Ginger the golden retriever resting her head in the older woman’s lap. And his mom, a Santa hat perched on her curls, sorting through presents under the tree.
The stockings were still on the mantel, unwrapped items peeking out the tops.
Unwrapped? Who doesn’t wrap their stocking gifts?
Samantha glanced at Robert. He crossed his eyes at her, startling a snort of laughter out of her.
Okay. She was being ridiculous. And even without saying anything to him, he could tell.
Thank God he loved her, anyway.
Mounds of wrapping paper littered the floor in front of the tree, boxes stacked next to their owners around the room. Sam leaned into Robert, sipping at her coffee, thankful that she’d managed to navigate their first Christmas together without any mishaps. His parents liked the presents she’d brought, and the electric kettle they’d given her was exactly the model she’d been coveting for months. Robert seemed thrilled with the e-reader she’d bought for him, and had already downloaded half a dozen books. And she loved the necklace he’d given her.
All in all, a successful Christmas morning.
She leaned over and started gathering up the wrapping paper and bows. If the heavenly scents coming from the kitchen were any indication, the coffee cake in the oven was almost done. Her mouth watered at the scent of cinnamon.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Robert’s mother said suddenly, popping up from her seat by the fireplace. “One last present.”
She dug through the mess and pulled out a wrapped box, which had been half-hidden by the lower branches of the Christmas tree.
Handing it to Samantha, she said, “For you, dear.”
Sam looked at her, puzzled. “I don’t…”
“Go on, open it,” the woman urged.
Confused, Sam peeled back the wrapping paper and lifted the top of the box.
“Grandma knitted it just for you,” Robert’s mother said with a beaming smile.
“Uh, thanks,” Samantha said, slowly lifting the monstrosity out of the box. It was huge, easily twice as big as what she normally wore. Stripes of varying widths circled the sweater, in just about every shade of red and green possible. And smack dab on the front was a lopsided, tilted gingerbread man, one leg missing, with the phrase “EAT ME” emblazoned above his head.
It was possibly the most hideous – and hideously inappropriate – garment she had ever seen.
Sam looked around. Everyone was gazing at her expectantly, leaning forward in their seats to see what her reaction would be. Even Robert was looking at her like this was perfectly normal.
“It’s – wonderful,” she said haltingly, clutching the sweater in both hands. “I can tell so much work went into it.”
“Months of knitting,” Robert’s grandmother said helpfully. “Had to start early, thanks to my arthritis.”
“Well!” Sam nodded and got to her feet. “Work like that should be celebrated. Which is why I’m going to go change into it right now.”
She turned to go, sweater held tight to her chest, when peals of laughter made her turn around again.
Everyone was laughing. Even Robert, the bastard, was wiping tears of mirth away.
“I don’t understand,” she said.
Then Robert’s mom came forward and gave her a hug.
“I – what?”
Robert stood up and took her hand, shoulders still shaking with laughter. “This is our family white elephant gift, Sam. Every year it’s passed along to someone else, who’s stuck with it until the following Christmas. So, congrats, honey. You get to give it a good home until next December.”
“Next December, huh?” She smiled at him. “Think I’m going to be around that long, do you?”
“I’m counting on it.”
She tugged him down to sit next to her again. “And I can give this sweater to anyone I want, right?”
“As long as they’re family.”
Family. She looked around the room, warmed by the sight of all those smiles directed at the two of them. “Lots of choices, then.”
“In the meantime, what am I supposed to do with this?”
Robert’s grandmother leaned forward. “Put it in a closet, probably. Just don’t forget where you left it.”
“So I don’t have to wear it?”
“No, you don’t have to wear it.”
"Oh, thank God,” she said with a sigh of relief. “That thing is seriously ugly.”
Her heart flipped over, like it did every time he smiled at her.
“Then how about something beautiful to take its place?”
She tilted her head, confused, as he leaned over the side of the couch and picked up one more package.
It was small. And velvet. And she felt tears welling up as he opened the lid.
“Samantha Jane, will you marry me?”
She was in his arms before he could finish the sentence. Nodding fiercely, she tucked her head into the curve between his shoulder and neck and let the tears flow. Around them, she could hear exclamations and cheers.
He put his lips next to her ear and whispered, “Let’s give your mom a call.”
Yes. He knew her so well – knew that she’d want to share this with her family as well as his. With a grin, she pulled back and kissed him firmly on the lips. “And maybe next year, we can all spend the holidays together.”
To find out about Samantha's mom Sophia, and her adventures with Ethan on their Christmas cruise, check out Home For Christmas, available from Samhain Publishing.