“I’ll go into the living room, you sneak up the stairs and change,” Marcus told her, as they parked the car.
“You sure?” she asked, she didn’t want to have him lying to his family.
“Yes, I’ll tell them you spilled something on your jeans at lunch and wanted to change before dinner,” he answered, she leaned over and gave him a gentle kiss on his cheek.
“Anything for you.” They stepped out of the car and she noticed a new car parked off to the side.
“Who is that?” she asked, he shrugged but wouldn’t look her in the eye.
“Not sure, I’m sure we will learn who it is once we get down to dinner,” he replied, she let it go, but knew he was hiding something from her. When they walked inside, she rushed up the stairs. To her delight, Beth had left all the gift items in a bag with her name on it. Deciding to take the time now, she quickly put together a movie night basket. Wrapping it up with a large bow, she tucked it in the closet. She would give him her present tonight after everyone went to bed. She changed into a bright red sweater, a new pair of jeans and put on her new underwear she’d purchased before they went on their trip.
She stepped out of the room and ran into Kelly and Jill, kneeling down she smiled at the pair.
“Hello,” she said.
“Uncle Marcus wants us to bring you outside,” Jill informed her.
“Lead the way,” she replied, motioning for the girls to walk on. Jill took her hand and Kelly bounced around her talking about her favorite color and what foods she liked to eat that were that color.
“Pink is a wonderful color,” Eloise commented, as Kelly continued to talk about pink and unicorns.
“I like blue, Aunt Ellie,” Jill interrupted, Kelly looked at her with a glare and continued to prance down the stairs and out into the backyard. Eloise stopped at the sound of her saying Aunt Ellie, it spread a warmth through her body, one she hadn’t known she needed.
“I like blue too,” she replied, blinking back her tears.
“Uncle Marcus said to make you wait here,” Jill informed her, pointing to the deck chair set.
“Does he want me to sit?” she asked.
“Yes,” Kelly answered, she gave her a push with her tiny hands and Eloise dutifully sat down.
“Close your eyes,” Jill ordered, Eloise did and sat still waiting for when Marcus would come out and tell her what was going on.
“Thank you, ladies, you can go inside,” Marcus announced, Eloise had to fight the urge to open her eyes. She was dying with curiosity to know why Marcus wanted her outside.
“Open your eyes sweetheart,” a warm feminine voice said, she recognized the voice and popped open her eyes. Sitting across from her was her mom.
“Mom!” she yelled, jumping out of her chair and hugging her mom tight around the shoulders. Tears of joy threatened to spill from her eyes as she hugged her mother tightly. She had missed her so much and now she was in front of her, here in Texas of all places.
“Pequeno, my little one!” her mother replied, returning the hug just as tightly. Being in her embrace washed away all the tension she hadn’t known was sitting in her shoulders.
“Hello Ellie,” Joe called, he was standing off to the side next to Marcus.
“Mom, Joe, what are you doing here?” she asked, looking back and forth between her mom and Marcus.
“Marcus called me yesterday and told me you were missing being together for Christmas. I told him I hadn’t seen you in three years and he offered to fly Joe and me here for Christmas,” her mom explained, holding her hands. Eloise looked down and screamed when she caught sight of an engagement ring on her mother’s hand.
“You are engaged!”
“Joe asked me last night,” Lola replied, Eloise pulled her mom in for another hug.
“Congratulations! I knew Joe was the man for you,” she said, hugging Joe too.
“So you are okay with me marrying your mom?” Joe asked, she nodded and looked over at Marcus. He was the most amazing mate.
“Yes, you are perfect for her,” she told Joe and walked over to plant a kiss on Marcus’ cheek.
“Thank you, this has been the best present ever.”
“I’m glad, I only wanted you to be happy, when you talked about your mom yesterday, I could tell you were upset. We all need our parents when life gets too hard,” Marcus replied and kissed her softly on the lips.
“Did she like her surprise?” Beth asked, stepping outside.
“Yes,” Marcus answered, turning to face his mom.
“Lola, come in and join us for dinner. We are going to be in-laws soon anyway,” Beth called, Eloise looked up at Marcus in surprise and he shrugged.
“My mom has always loved having a large family. She was thrilled when I suggested bringing your mom and her fiancé out here,” Marcus explained.
“You are too much for me.” She laughed, tugging his face down to hers, she planted a passionate kiss on his lips. His arms wrapped around her waist, pulling her close to his body. A zing spread through her body, turning her on once again.
“If they didn’t know we were out here, my face would be buried deep between your thighs bringing you to another orgasm,” Marcus murmured, she smirked and bit his lower lip tugging gently.
“I love you, tonight you can have me for as long as you want,” she promised. He growled and kissed her again, pushing his tongue in to duel with hers. She let his kiss consume her, driving away all thoughts until a throat cleared behind them.
“I think your moms want you inside,” Clyde remarked with a chuckle. Eloise pulled away from Marcus with a blush.
“We’re coming,” Marcus grumbled, he took her hand and led her inside the house. Coming into the dining room she stopped short upon seeing her mom and future step dad sitting next to her future in-laws.
“Sit, we are going to eat and then go caroling,” Beth ordered. Eloise and Marcus took their seats and she watched as Beth and her mom began chatting about raising Marcus and her.
“Ellie, she was such an easy child. We didn’t have much while she was growing up, but she always did her best not to ask for more than I could afford,” her mother shared, Eloise remained silent, she didn’t know what to say. She wasn’t as great as her mother was making her out to be. She hated that her father never helped her mom, she hated that they were poor. Growing up in a single parent household had been hard, the kids at school mean and she had been angry. She never showed her mom, because what good would it have done? It would have just made her mom feel worse.
“Don’t feel bad we all have times we hate what we are,” Marcus whispered in her ear. She looked up surprised he knew what she was thinking.
“It is the mate bond. I can feel when your emotions change,” he answered.
“That is handy,” she commented, he laughed and kissed her temple.
“Let me tell you, Marcus was the complete opposite. Once he was chased across several farms by the local tiger Alpha. Why did he do that again?” Beth asked.
“His son Fikir was stealing gas from our vehicles. I went after him. His dad saved his butt, he thought I was a full-grown bear,” Marcus replied, Eloise had heard the story earlier, but not how it was resolved.
“Trip had to go out and rescue him.”
“What happened?” Joe asked, Eloise could see him trying to hold back laughter. Joe was a black bear shifter.
“I managed to head off Rex and explain he was going after my middle son. Rex demanded to know why he was on his farm land. Rex owns a large cattle operation and had been losing cattle to the local lion pack,” Trip answered.
“Did he ever find out what his son was up to?” Lola asked.
“Yes, and we never had issues with our gas disappearing again,” Beth replied.
“Ellie was a tame child, her true talent lies in playing the piano. She played up until she went off to college.” Eloise blushed, she hadn’t played piano for anyone other than her students in years.
“Do you still play?” Rita asked, Eloise looked down the table and realized everyone had been listening.
“Only for my students. We do a literature ‘opera’ at the end of the school year. I’ll learn popular songs to play for them in class too,” she answered, she didn’t like the gleam that came to all the women’s eyes.
“Everyone is coming for a party after we go caroling. You can keep the music going and play the piano. Beth has one in the front room, she never uses it,” Quinn announced.
“No,” Marcus answered, Eloise looked at him in surprise.
“Why?” Beth asked, she had a shrewd look on her face.
“That wouldn’t be fair to chain her to the piano for the whole party,” he argued.
“How about for an hour?” Eloise offered as a compromise.
“Perfect, now eat up, we have caroling to get ready for,” Beth replied. Eloise caught her mom’s eye and knew they would be talking more about her stalker. She could see the concern in her eyes. Her mother never truly felt William had gotten over her, and now here she was with him most likely stalking her again. This time he had escalated to killing anyone who stood in his way. She hated Jimmy, but would never wish for him to be killed for what he did to her. Marcus reached over and squeezed her thigh, offering her comfort. Leaning into his shoulder, she ate only a small amount of dinner. The worry over William following her here, the excitement over her mother’s engagement and her anticipated performance on the piano ate away at her appetite.