When firefighter Matthew Johnson returns a Christmas sock monkey to its rightful owner, he finds a sweet woman with a zest for life. Tired of being alone, he wants an everlasting relationship.
Laura Carlson, is grieving over the tragic death of her friends. While staying with her sister for support, she discovers Matthew is her neighbor. Impulsively, she opens her bedroom window, calls out to him, initiating a friendship that quickly escalates.
Matt and Laura’s relationship becomes strong until Matt’s drug addict friend brings out his frustration. Laura mistakenly perceives Matt as having anger issues, causing her to run, leaving him with a broken heart. When Matt is hurt on the job, she returns hoping for a second chance.
Will a misunderstanding drive them apart? Or with Christmas around the corner, will a kiss under the Mistletoe lead to a future for them?
Matthew Johnson grinned when he noticed a gray sock monkey in an abandoned shopping cart smile up at him. “Are you lost, little buddy?” He picked up the toy and touched the button eyes and big red smiling mouth. The monkey’s Christmas outfit and red necktie brought back memories of a monkey he’d loved when he was little. He’d fallen asleep every night for years snuggled up to it.
He glanced around the area to see if there was a young child looking for a lost toy. The tag at the end of the tail told him it had been purchased at the New Elves Craft Shop next door. He pulled out his cell phone. “I’ll help you.”
“Hello, Miss. I was here about fifteen minutes ago and I’ve lost my sock monkey. Oh, please… help me find it. I believe it was here in this store. I… I was showing the whole monkey family to a friend and… I must have forgotten to put the daddy monkey back into the bag with the others. I need to find it. Would you please help me?”READ MORE
Matthew looked toward the cashier’s counter where a lady appeared distressed. On hearing her request, he smiled at the monkey. “I think I just found your owner.” He slipped his phone into his pocket, then tucked the stuffy under his arm and headed toward the ladies.
“The sock monkey is very precious and it’s going to be a Christmas present for…”
“Excuse me, Ma’am. I believe I’ve found your monkey,” Matthew interrupted her and smiled at the dark-honey-blonde haired woman with striking emerald green eyes that pooled with moisture. He noticed her eyes sparkled with delight as she practically tore it from his arms and hugged it to her chest.
“Oh… my goodness. Thank you… so much, Sir. It’s kind of you to return it.”
His heart rate accelerated and skipped a beat as he watched her lovely lips move. Cherry-colored lipstick emphasized her lovely mouth to perfection. “That monkey must be important.”
“Oh, it is. I have just come from the New Elves Craft Shop. This is from the last monkey family and I want them for my niece. She’s five years old and has been wanting a sock monkey family for some time now. This one is the daddy.” She lifted the monkey up high so he could get a good view.
Matthew nodded and looked at the monkey in the face for the third time and stifled a grin at her rambling.
“I have the mommy and the two baby monkeys in the car. I can’t believe that the Craft Store is already out of stock on monkeys and it’s only…uhh… November twenty-fifth. A month before Christmas. I can’t believe where the time has gone. That’s why I’m so pleased you’ve found it.”
The funny thing about this, was Matt actually understood her need to please her niece. He didn’t have nieces or nephews himself, but he had a younger brother who appreciated presents and a younger sister who he enjoyed spoiling.
“Oh, I apologize for rambling on.” She brought the stuffy down to her own eye level.
“No apology needed. I completely understand.” Matthew watched the woman glance around. He wondered where she’d come from. Living in a small town he figured he knew practically everyone. Then again, he hadn’t lived here long. On second thought, with her beauty and outgoing nature, he was sure he would have seen her in the bank or grocery store. Somewhere in town, but for the life of him, he couldn’t recall seeing her anywhere. Yet there was something familiar about this lady. Her eyes. Her mouth. Had they met before? He watched her gaze return to him.
“For your kindness, can I offer you a coffee or a hot cocoa?” She raised her eyebrows.
“No, thank you. I’m just happy the sock monkey has been reunited with you.” He chuckled. Her radiant smile continued to cause his heart to beat rapidly and heat up his body more than usual. The glow in her cheeks, the sparkle in her eyes and her feminine movements was going to make him late for work.
“Well, I must get going. Again, thank you for finding daddy sock monkey.” She hugged the toy closer to her chest.
“Before you go, please tell me your name.”
Matt felt his eyes widen as his mouth turned into a big smile. “You wouldn’t happen to be related to Jack Carlson, would you?”
“Why yes. He’s my brother. Do you know my family?”
“I… uh… yes. Well… sort of. Jack and I work at the same fire station.” Now he knew why she was familiar. Her smile and eyes were the same as Jack’s. However, she was much lovelier to look at than his buddy.
“Oh! You’re a firefighter?”
“I am. Followed in my father’s footsteps.” He grinned. “So did my brother, but he’s in Calgary.”
“Do you know my sister, Hannah, and her hubby, Chris?”
Matt shook his head. “No. I’ve only been at this station for… oh… a year and a half. I’m the newest member, therefore I haven’t had the chance to meet any of Jack’s family. Or any of the other families for that matter. I’m originally from South Winnipeg.” Hey man… now you’re rattling on. “Anyway, I’d better get a move on. I start work in a couple hours.”
“Yes, and I must get back to my sister’s place.” She held up the monkey once more. “And I’ll make sure he goes into the same bag as the rest of the family.” She chuckled. “Again, thank you.”
Matthew stepped back, nodded and headed out the door. He needed to distance himself from the pretty woman with the sparkling green eyes and lovely mouth. Why? He didn’t know. He had no reason not to ask her out. Especially someone that instantly sparked his interest. All he could think of was heading home and getting ready for work. Meeting someone was all in the timing. If it was to be then he’d meet up with her again. Hopefully.
Back at his truck, he shook his head. “Crap, I forgot to pick up… oh… whatever.” He shook his head a second time as he shoved his hands through his thick hair, trying to remember why he had come to the store in the first place. “Oh, yeah. I was to pick up something for my friend, Frank,” he muttered.
It was all Laura Carlson’s fault. She had his mind in a spin and his heart racing.
* * *
Laura entered her sister’s house in the new district of Parkview, in North Selkirk, where she was staying for the holiday season.
“Hey, Hannah. I’m home.”
“In the kitchen,” Hannah replied, sounding preoccupied.
Laura smiled. As if Hannah was going to be anywhere else just before Christmas! She’d be busy whipping up baking goods for the season, turning her kitchen into a paradise of aromas. She removed her boots, hung up her jacket and scarf then headed straight for the kitchen with her big parcel of sock monkeys.
Laura gasped then burst out laughing while Hannah stood beside the shelves, covered head to toe in flour dust. “Oh my goodness, you’re a mess.” She tossed the big parcel onto one of the kitchen chairs and stepped closer to her sister. “How on earth did this happen?”
Hannah groaned. “The lid to the flour tub was open. I reached for it on the top shelf and it tipped.”
Laura couldn’t help but laugh harder as she stared at her sister’s big green eyes. If eyes were the mirror of one’s soul, Hannah’s eyes indeed reflected her warm, caring nature and her uncomplicated heart. A pang of regret made Laura stiffen. When would her life become as happy as her sister’s?
“I was making apple pies for our church Christmas bake sale. Now look at this mess.” Hannah harrumphed, then chuckled. “Oh well… I still have time to get organized.”
“Let me change and wash up and I’ll help you clean up.” Laura turned to leave then turned again. “Oh, yeah… I found a sock monkey family for Jodi.” She ripped open the package and set the monkeys on the clean counter across from her sister’s floured chaos. “Here. Mommy, Daddy, little girl and baby boy.” She smiled. “I think these baby monkeys are so darn cute.” She picked up the little girl one. “I love the tuft of pink wool hair on top of her head and her little pink sock body. She’s just so adorable and her little brother with that silly hat with long ears.” She giggled as she gazed at the two little monkeys. “Do you think Jodi will like them?”
“She’ll absolutely love them. Those sock monkeys will be the highlight of her Christmas. And coming from you, she will love them even more.”
Laura laughed. “Thanks, big sister. I’ll put these away before Jodi gets home from shopping with Chris.”
“Chris is at the office and the kids are with his parents. His mom and dad knew I had baking to do, so they offered to babysit. Chris will pick them up after work then visit for a while to give me extra time. Thank goodness, because I still have plenty to do.”
“Then let’s have some sisterly baking time.” Laura smiled. “More like sister clean up time.” She laughed, grabbed the monkeys and raced to her room to change and wash up.
Peeking out the large bedroom window from her guest room on the second floor, she took in the beauty of the backyard. Several mature evergreen trees with fluffy white snow graced their boughs. The wishing well in the corner garden was topped with more snow and surrounded with junipers. Her sister’s picture-perfect yard, was made even more so by a blue sky with cottony white clouds. The low evening sun made the snow sparkle like it was covered in tiny diamonds.
Laura smiled and leaned on the window frame. Although she lived less than an hour away in Lorette, a town east of Winnipeg, she was glad she’d taken her holidays and had come to stay with Hannah and her family for a while. At this time of the year and with Christmas only a month away, she needed them right now.
The stress she had been under since a car accident had killed her friends five months ago was wearing her down. The faces of Debbie and Candy swam before her eyes. How happy they had been that day… Why hadn’t she stopped Debbie from getting behind the wheel after that evening at the bar? Or stopped them from climbing into the vehicle? Why was she drinking with them in the first place when she wasn’t much of a drinker to begin with? Maybe she could have prevented the horrible accident if she had been more vocal with the bartender, or better yet, the bouncer.
Laura sighed. Dusk was lengthening the shadows of the trees giving her a heavy sense of melancholy that settled on her shoulders. A mix of separation, loss, anxiety, and guilt surrounded her. At fourteen, a horrific head-on collision on the highway had taken both her parents. Jack and Hannah, her older siblings, were all she had now. She was afraid to make more friends. Afraid to let anyone close. What if she ended up losing them too? This fear had given her hermit-type tendencies. Yet Laura loved company and wanted to be in the thick of things and be around family and friends. She didn’t need a vast amount of attention. All she wanted was her quiet space. A place where she could be on her own, yet also hear loved ones in another room.
Laura closed her eyes for a moment and leaned against the windowpane. She took in a deep breath, trying to push away these troublesome thoughts that returned more often than she wanted.
If only she could find stability like her sister had. Chris was the perfect man for Hannah. A man who kept things simple and stayed away from problems. And problems seemed to stay away from him, just like they always stayed away from Hannah. A definite blessing, because Laura felt safe staying here from time to time.
So often, she wished she was similarly shielded from problems. Her luck seemed to plague even the boyfriends she was attracted to. Struggles, troubles, and problems seemed to follow them as well. Was she a problem magnet? Laura looked at the silhouettes of the trees in the backyard that looked peaceful even in the fading light. Maybe while she was here, she’d soak up whatever it was that kept Chris and Hannah’s life serene.
For now, she’d keep to herself and learn to relax and stay away from trouble. Focus on her career. For some odd reason, trouble never followed her in her job. Thank the good Lord for that.
Her landscaping career was moving forward. She was already the manager of Davis Nurseries, not far from either her own home or Hannah’s. The owners, Paul and Carla Davis, respected and admired her work ethics. They wanted her to buy into a franchise and had offered her a deal of a lifetime. She was definitely going to think seriously about it.
Something moved in the next yard. Laura opened her eyes wider, then squinted to get a better look through the dusk of the evening. A tall, broad-shouldered man was walking along the fence line.
“Oh my gosh. What a hunk.” Laura pressed her forehead on the windowpane and stared at the tall broad-shouldered, good-looking man. His thick dark hair gleamed under the yard light. His dark uniform emphasized his physique. She blew out a breath as her heart started to flutter. What was she thinking? She didn’t want a relationship with the problems she had to deal with.
She realized he had on a firefighter’s uniform. She blinked in surprise. “It’s him.”
“Him who?” Hannah asked as she entered the open bedroom door then came to stand beside her to look out the window. “Oh, that’s our neighbor, Matthew Johnson. He must be heading to work. He’s one of our local heroes.”
“Oh, that’s nice. But you know, I’m not interested in getting to know anyone. No relationship at this point in my life.” Laura grimaced at her sister. “Jeez, Hannah, let’s get this baking done for your church bake sale.”
“Oh, no, you’re not getting away that easily,” Hannah said with a mischievous smile, pointing toward the window. “Let’s take another peek at our good-looking hero, Matthew. He’s pretty yummy. Of course, second only to my hubby. You need to remember, my dear sister, you’ve just happened to run into some bad luck. Trust me, think about the wonderful life Chris and I have, and even Jack and Fran. Hey, bad luck happens in threes. You’ve had three, so now it’s clear sailing for you.” Hannah stepped forward and hugged Laura, then released her. “Speaking of Jack, I’ll ask him if he knows our neighbor.” She grinned.
Laura held up her hand. “Enough already. I told you a hundred times I’m not interested in any man. Hero or not.” She took her sister’s arm and led her out of the room.
For a quick second, she glanced at her bed and noticed the daddy sock monkey that Matthew had found staring at her. She could have sworn his smile was wider and one of the button eyes had winked at her. Oh, good Lord, I’m losing it.
“No worries, little sister. God will help you through the loneliness you’re feeling. Believe me.”
“Yes, Hannah, I know.”COLLAPSE