Read Another Snowbound Christmas Online

Authors: Veronica Tower

Tags: #Erotica/Romance

Another Snowbound Christmas (5 page)

* * * *

Kitten was in the television room nominally watching
A Christmas Story
. She did not look up when they entered and Ron seemed very patient with that. He led Kara toward the other couch and sat down beside her, still holding her hand.

On the screen, little Ralphie was tussling with Santa Claus. It was cute enough, but Kara had seen it so many times it wasn't sufficient to capture her interest. Instead she watched Kitten and Ron, waiting for one or the other of them to acknowledge the other's presence.

Ron broke first. “Is there anything we can do, Kitten?”

His sister ignored him. She wasn't even watching them with her eyes, Kara realized. Her dark pupils remained pointed toward the television screen, although whether or not she was really watching the show Kara couldn't say.

“You know you're going to hear from your birth mother sooner or later, don't you?” Ron added. “Anne just got lucky. She heard first.”

Kitten's lower lip trembled for a moment before she blew out a breath strong enough to move the brown hair hanging down over her forehead. “Anne's always been the lucky one—almost as lucky as you.”

Kara had to bite her tongue not to say anything. She literally sank her teeth into her own flesh to keep from coming to Ron's defense, but Ron didn't seem to need protection. “You've got a great husband,” he said.

“Eric doesn't make enough money,” Kitten told him. “He didn't go to college like you and Gene.”

That was because he was busy taking responsibility for you and the twins,
Kara thought.
He didn't get to go school when his friends went—neither of you did—and neither of you thought it was important enough to do later.

“The two of you have always seemed happy,” Ron pointed out. “Mom and Dad helped you buy a house. You-”

“They're not really my Mom and Dad,” Kitten interrupted.

“Of course they are,” Ron contradicted her. “They're your parents in every way that really matters.”

“Not like Mom's your parent,” Kitten objected.

Ron shrugged. He hadn't talked to Kara very much about his parents’ revelations last summer, but finding out that his mother had cheated on his father to conceive him clearly troubled him. “Then why do I feel closer to Dad than I do to Mom?” Ron asked.

“I don't know,” Kitten said, “maybe because you're really pretty stupid.”

Normally if Kitten insulted someone she'd added a teasing smile. This time she didn't do that—which suggested, as Kara had always suspected, that Kitten's teasing was based on her real opinions of people.

She decided to try and cut to what she believed to be the root of the problem. “Do you really believe Hanna and Howard have rejected you, Kitten? I know they can be difficult, but from the outside they appear to genuinely love you.”

“They love Ron,” Kitten countered.

“Yes, they do,” Kara agreed. “But that doesn't mean they don't love you, too.”

Kitten just stared at her, as if Kara had said something so obviously false that the words would whither beneath her gaze. The strength of Kitten's glare made Kara want to look away, but she held herself still.

“Hey,” Ron said, “why are we talking about all this depressing stuff on Christmas Eve? Mom and Dad have our presents out. Why don't we go see what we got this year?”

Kitten shifted her gaze to Ron. The frown on her face said everything. Before the trip to Snowline Lodge this past August, Kitten had been able to mostly disguise her unhappiness behind a veil of supposedly light-hearted teasing, but discovering she was adopted had brought all of her barely concealed concerns about her place in the Miller family to the forefront of her mind.

Ron stood up. “Are you coming?” he asked his sister, offering her his hand.

Kitten got up without accepting Ron's help and stalked off toward the living room.

Ron stared after her for a moment then shifted his attention to Kara. “I don't really understand what's wrong with her,” he said.

Kara slipped her hand into Ron's and allowed him to help her rise. “I don't think Kitten understands what's wrong with her,” she told him. “But she needs help. I don't think she can work through this on her own.”

* * * *

[Back to Table of Contents]

Chapter Seven

“Now that we're all here,” Hanna announced, “we can get on to the heart of our Christmas.” She held up the cards for her children posing as if she were a queen on her throne preparing to dispense royal favors.

Kara found the gesture unbelievably crass. For the kids, Christmas understandably centered around the presents, but for the adults the focus really ought to be on family and the birth of the Savior.

“Anne!” Hanna said as she extended a card toward her eldest child.

Anne slipped off the couch next to her father and stretched out her hand to take the card. “Thanks, Mom! Merry Christmas!” She sat back down on the couch and gave her father a peck on the cheek. “Thanks, Dad!”

She opened the envelope, didn't bother to read the card, and smiled as her eyes found the dollar amount on the check. She got up again, crossed to Hanna and gave her a hug. “Thanks, Mom!” she said again.

Hanna smiled as if this reaction pleased her. “Merry Christmas, Anne.”

“How much is it for?” Anne's son asked, but Anne ignored him and handed the check to her husband who stuck it in his wallet after taking a surreptitious glance at the dollar figure. Anne still hadn't looked at the words on the card.

Kara's mild feeling of revulsion increased perceptibly.

“Kitten!” Hanna said as she offered the second card to the daughter sitting beside her.

Ron evidently picked up on Kara's discomfort for he began to squirm uncomfortably in the chair beside her.

Kitten noticed Ron's action and misinterpreted its cause. “You can wait!” she told him. “It's my turn now.”

She took the card and ripped it open without bothering to thank anyone. Unlike Anne, she frowned when she saw the dollar figure on the check, making Kara wonder if the amounts might vary between children as if Kitten's
need
was simply that much greater than Anne's. The whole situation was incredibly uncomfortable for her. She felt more like a stranger here than ever before.

Hanna waited for Kitten to thank her, but that didn't happen. Kitten stuck the check back in the card, and the card back in the torn envelope, and settled deeper into her seat beside her mother.

Hanna and Howard both frowned, but the expressions related different messages to Kara. Hanna, in her opinion, was upset at her daughter's rudeness, but Howard—the misogynist—actually appeared concerned for his younger daughter.

Hanna turned her attention to Ron.

He got up and gave his mother a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks, Mom,” he said. “Merry Christmas!”

He turned to his father, still without opening the card and did the same thing. “Thanks, Dad. I love you!”

Hanna couldn't stay out of the lime light and let her husband have a little attention. “I know Kitten has bills to pay,” she said, “and Anne and Gene usually use this gift to fund a family vacation, but what are you going to do with yours, Ron? Are you still saving for a house?”

Ron shrugged as he returned to his seat next to Kara and began to open the card. “Don't know for sure,” he said. “As long as I'm with Kara, I don't need a house.” He offered Kara a sweet smile. “Maybe we'll save it to help put our kids through college.”

Kara's answering smile felt warm and natural on her lips until she caught sight of Hanna's grimace from the corner of her eye. The expression went brittle on her face.

Ron pulled the card out of the envelope. Either he hadn't seen his mother's expression or he was choosing to ignore it.

Unlike either of his siblings, he paused to look at the picture and read the message, holding the card in such a way that Kara could see it with him. It was a beautiful painting of the manger scene with Mary and Joseph kneeling on either side of the baby, Jesus, while shepherds with lambs in their arms looked on. In gold inlayed letters, the message read: The True Meaning of Christmas.

“That's beautiful, Mom,” Ron said.

Kara believed he really meant it. He wasn't just being polite about a gift.

He opened the card and read aloud the bible quotation that formed the interior message:

And she brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. Luke 2:7

Kara found her eyes drifting to the check, but it had been placed in the card face down so that she could not read the amount.

“That's really perfect, Mom,” Ron announced when he finished reading. “You have a gift for picking just the right card. Did it take a long time to find?”

Hanna beamed. Kara was beginning to realize why Ron was the favored child. Part of it obviously had to do with his being Hanna's biological son, but he really did give every appearance of appreciating his mother.

“I did look through a couple of hundred cards before I settled on these,” Hanna told him.

“Well, you found the perfect one,” Ron assured her.

He opened the card again and flipped over the check.

Kara's eyes bulged in surprise. It was written for ten thousand dollars. She'd known the Millers were well to do, but this amount utterly astounded her.

“And you two are way too generous,” Ron said. “I mean, we all appreciate the gifts, but why don't you go out and have some fun with this money? You've worked hard all your lives. Mom's been talking about going to Paris again, and Dad, there must be something you'd like to do besides work and sit around watching sports all day.”

“Don't worry about us,” Howard told him. “I've done well in my life. We can afford this. And it is nice to be able to help out you kids.”

For once, Hanna didn't object to something Howard said, but she did decide it was time to take control of the gathering again. “Well, I guess that wraps up the presents for this year.”

“Oh, Mom, that's a terrible pun!” Anne told her.

Hanna hesitated, then slowly smiled as she realized what she'd said. She continued speaking, however, without acknowledging her unintentional joke. “Why don't we let the kids go watch TV and play their video games while the adults move into the kitchen for coffee?”

“Actually, Hanna,” Howard said. “I have one more present to give.”

He stood up and left the room for a moment while everyone looked after him in surprise. He reappeared a few moments later holding another card. “Kara,” he said, “I don't pick my cards as carefully as Hanna does, but I didn't want you to feel left out. You and Ron aren't married yet—”

“They aren't even engaged yet!” Hanna interjected.

Howard faltered, as if Hanna had derailed his prepared speech and for a moment he couldn't get the train of his thoughts back on the tracks. “But I, but you...You're not married yet and I'm not going to embarrass you with a money gift like we give to the kids and their husbands, but I didn't want you to feel left out.”

He awkwardly handed her a red envelope. There were stains upon it, like his hands had been dirty when he sealed it.

Kara stood up to take the card from him, feeling a bit overwhelmed. Howard was not a welcoming sort of man. His intense problems with Hanna had led him to hate all women. She didn't know what to say, or even what to expect. “Thank you, Howard,” she said. “This was unexpected...and very sweet.”

Ron stood up beside her and clapped his father on the shoulder. “Thanks, Dad!” he said. “This is really great of you!”

“I love you, Ron!” his father said and Ron hugged him.

Truly touched, but also somewhat nervous, Kara carefully opened the card. On the cover was a poorly drawn picture of a reindeer with a large glowing nose. The deer sat at a bar guzzling beer. The caption read:
The real reason Rudolph has a shiny red nose

She smiled. The card seemed especially cute in comparison to Hanna's elegant choice. The dichotomy of images worked well for the dysfunctional husband and wife.

She opened the card and found something which surprised her more than a check would have. Howard had scrawled a barely legible note on the blank interior.

Kara,

You shouldn't have had to wait four months for me to thank you for helping Hanna when she broke her hip this past summer. I don't know what we would have done without you. I know this sounds strange coming from me but I'm glad you came to the lodge with Ron. You seem to be making him happy. I think all three of my kids have done better choosing their partners than Hanna and I did.

He'd started to write something else there but then heavily crossed it out so that she couldn't make out the words. Instead he closed with:

Merry Christmas!

Howard

Kara felt tears welling up in her eyes. In the year that she'd been dating Ron, not once had Howard tried to make her feel welcome. Now this!

She looked over at the older man blinking back the tears. “That may be the sweetest thing anyone's ever said to me,” she told him. Still holding the card, she put her arms around Ron's father and hugged him. “Thank you, Howard! And Merry Christmas to you, too!”

Howard awkwardly patted Kara on the back as if he didn't know how to respond to a woman hugging him.

“What's the card say?” Ron asked.

Kara couldn't see him clearly through her tears, but his voice sounded both incredibly happy and absolutely incredulous at the same time.

“Yes,” Hanna said, “what does the note say?”

Howard released his tentative hold on Kara and stepped back out of her embrace. He looked highly embarrassed. “Nothing,” he muttered. “It's just a note.”

Ron was definitely smiling now. “Come on,” he said. “Let me see it.”

Howard clearly did not look comfortable with the thought of Kara sharing the card with the rest of his family. She closed the card and stuck it back in the envelope. “I don't think so,” she said. “We'll let this stay between your father and me.”

“Are you keeping secrets from Ron now, Kara?” Anne teased. She looked over to her sister. “Come on, Kitten! I can't believe you're letting this one pass.”

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