Gift Wrapped for Christmas: A Contemporary Romance

BOOK: Gift Wrapped for Christmas: A Contemporary Romance
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Gift Wrapped for Christmas
by
Mona Ingram

©2012 Mona Ingram

 

All rights reserved

 

This is a work of fiction.

Names, characters, places, and

incidents are either the product of

the author’s imagination or are

used fictitiously, and any resemblance

to actual persons, living or dead,

business establishments, events,

or locales is entirely coincidental.

Chapter One

Laid off. Downsized. Services no
longer required. No matter how they worded it, Maddie was out of a job. The
long walk back to her desk took her through the main office where her
co-workers couldn’t bring themselves to look at her. Amazing how many were on
the telephone, speaking urgently in what she guessed were one-sided
conversations.

She made it back to her tiny cubicle
on the outer wall. It was a small, awkward space but at least she had a slice
of window; it helped her to feel that she had contact with the outside world.
There had been times during the six months she’d worked here when it had seemed
that it was just her, her computer and the endless stream of paperwork that
flowed over her desk day after day. She really should have considered that when
she’d decided to pursue a career in accounting. She liked people, liked to
interact, but there was very little chance of that in her present job.
Correction, her former job.

She stood beside her desk and
tried not to smile. The truth was, she was glad to be leaving. If she wasn’t
careful she’d be laughing out loud, and that would never do. She was one of a
team of eight who had been assigned to a specific account, and the other team
members had been devastated by the news. It wouldn’t do to appear happy in
front of them, when their lives seemed to be crumbling. Especially now, with
Christmas only two months away. Tomorrow was Halloween. Trick or treat.

What had management said? Beside
the part about losing the account, of course? Something about cleaning up your
personal workspace and taking the rest of the day off. Paycheques would be
available tomorrow, could they come back? They’d phrased it all so politely.

She glanced around the cubicle.
There was nothing here she wanted. She hadn’t brought in personal items like
most of the rest of the staff. Maybe on some subconscious level she’d known
that it was only temporary.

She walked to the window and looked
down on Olympic Plaza. They’d started flooding the rink yesterday, much earlier
than normal. A popular gathering spot year round, it had been built for the
Olympics in 1988. The ice, fresh and pristine, reflected glints of sunlight. She
lifted her gaze to what she could see of the Rockies between the tall
buildings. First the foothills, then the jagged snow-covered peaks in the
distance. The sight never failed to thrill her and remind her that she’d made a
good decision when she moved to Calgary.

In her eagerness to get going,
she almost forgot the beautiful Cross pen that Lily had given her when she
started six months ago. At least she didn’t have to worry about her roommate’s
reaction to her sudden lack of employment. Right from the beginning, Lily had
questioned why she was pursuing her CGA degree. It was a heavy load, studying
almost every night and working full time during the day. Oddly enough, Maddie
had thought she was enjoying it. Or at least that’s what she’d been telling
herself. It wasn’t until moments ago when she’d been informed that her services
were no longer required that she realized she was happy to be free.

Free. This time she did smile. So
she’d wasted a year and a half. That wasn’t long in the great scheme of things,
and the time hadn’t really been wasted. Now she had a much better grasp of
finances than when she’d started the course. That had to count for something.
What was it her father had always said? “Knowledge is a valuable tool to have
in your toolbox.” Something like that. She sobered as she thought about her
parents. She missed them every day, even though they’d been gone for five years
now. Those oft-repeated sayings of her father’s were becoming truer every day.
She fingered the pen, slipped it into her purse and reached for her coat.

She walked through the large
outer office, smiling and nodding to anyone who would meet her gaze. She had no
idea where she was going, except that she was getting out of the office.

The elevator was on the top floor,
and she watched the numbers change as it came closer. She would miss this
building. One of the older buildings in Calgary, it had been purchased by an
oil exploration company. Not surprising, since that’s where all the money was
these days.

The new owners had done well by
the old structure. They had upgraded the services while retaining all of the
old charm. Maddie had been thrilled when she found that they’d kept the wood
and brass interior of the elevator cars. The metal required constant polishing,
but there was something solid about the inlaid wood panels, surrounded by
ornately carved brass frames. The lobby was several stories high and featured
two massive chandeliers, but in her opinion the best thing the new owners had
done was to keep the concierge desk, and the old gentleman who manned it. David
Hawthorne was seventy if he was a day, and was unfailingly cheerful and polite
to everyone who took the time to speak to him. She wondered if David had known
about the upcoming layoffs; he seemed to know everything that was happening in
the building.

A soft
ping
alerted her to
the arrival of the elevator. The doors opened to reveal two men inside. They
glanced at her and stepped aside, but continued their conversation.

“...Christmas decorations in the
stores and Halloween isn’t even over yet.” The shorter of the two men was
speaking.

“Tell me about it.” The tall one
nodded. “And I have a ten-year-old to buy for.” He sounded genuinely worried.
“I have no idea what to get her.”

“Why don’t you ask her?” The
words popped out of Maddie’s mouth. When would she learn to keep her thoughts
to herself?

He turned slowly. “I’m sorry, did
you say something?” There was a touch of frost in his voice, but he was looking
at her as though she might be his saviour.

She didn’t have anything to lose.
She braced herself and looked up into eyes that were green, flecked with gold.
“I said why don’t you ask her?”

He seemed to consider her words
for a moment, and then gave his head a quick shake. “She’s only ten.”

Maddie didn’t like the way he
dismissed her. “Haven’t you heard? Ten is the new thirty.”

The elevator came to a stop in
the lobby. The man stepped back with a courtly gesture, allowed her to exit
first, then caught up to her in a few strides. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t
mean to be rude.” He gestured helplessly with his hands. It seemed out of place
coming from him; he gave the appearance of being in control of everything in
his life. “You see... I just...” He sucked in a lungful of air. “It’s my
niece’s first year without her parents, and I’m not very experienced at this.”

The man who’d been in the
elevator with him was waiting a few steps away. Green Eyes looked up. “See you
tomorrow, Bruce.” The man gave a quick nod and walked away.

Maddie watched him make his way
through the revolving door. “I’m so glad the new owners of the building kept
that revolving door in place. It adds to the charm of the lobby, don’t you
think?”

He gave her an odd look, then got
back on topic. “Do you think that’s a good idea, asking a ten-year-old girl
what she wants? Seriously?”

Maddie thought back to all of the
gifts she’d received when she was a child. She’d been grateful to receive them,
but they were rarely what she wanted. Judy Blume books when she’d rather have
had RL Stine, tartan kilts when she’d rather have a cool pair of jeans. She
felt guilty for thinking of it now, but if she could save one little girl from
a similar fate, then she’d have accomplished something.

“Yes,” she said, noticing the way
his dark brown hair curled just above his collar. “I’d be willing to bet that
she knows exactly what she wants.”

He absorbed her words then nodded
slowly. “All right, I’ll do that.” He smiled, and his demeanor changed
radically. He really was quite handsome when he smiled. “Thanks for the help.”
He waited for her to start walking and strode along beside her. “So you like
the revolving doors, do you?”

She smiled up at him. “I do.
They’re not something you see in new buildings.” They passed the concierge desk
and she waved at David. “Goodbye, David. See you later.” She wasn’t about to
discuss her recently unemployed status in front of the tall man at her side.

Green Eyes allowed her to enter
the revolving door first, then started it moving with a push of his hand. For
some reason she always took baby steps when walking through the door and she
was slightly off balance when she popped out onto the sidewalk, but managed to
recover.

“That sun is deceiving,” she
said, pulling her coat closed at the throat. “It’s cold out here.”

He was wearing a beautifully cut
short overcoat with a soft tartan scarf draped around his neck. She wondered
idly if his wife helped him pick out his clothes. If so, she had excellent
taste.

“Well,” he said, extending his
hand, “I have a meeting, but thanks for the advice.”

“You’re welcome.” She took his
hand. “Good luck with your shopping.”

He released her hand, turned away
and then turned back. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”

“Maddie.” She smiled. “Maddie
LaRocque.”

“Pleased to meet you, Maddie. I’m
Chase Drummond.” He flipped up the collar of his overcoat. “Have a good evening.”

She stared after him for several
long moments. Chase Drummond. She backed up a few steps and looked up at the
massive piece of granite over the entrance.
Drummond Building
. And she’d
told him she approved of the door! She almost laughed aloud. What other
surprises did today have in store for her? She wasn’t sure she wanted to find
out.

* * *

Maddie found herself walking
toward the outdoor skating rink at Olympic Plaza, which suited her just fine
because she wasn’t ready to go home yet. The area was popular with nearby
office workers all year long, and Maddie was no exception. In the summer months,
she frequently walked the block and a half at lunch time. Come to think of it,
the fresh air and pleasant surroundings had probably helped her stay sane
during her incarceration at CCA Accounting.

She really had to stop thinking
like that; nobody had forced her to work for the accounting firm. She crossed
Eighth Avenue and ran lightly up a set of shallow steps leading into the Plaza.
The last slanting rays of the sun lit up the far side of the rink, the spot where
she usually sat during warmer weather. Thankfully it was deserted now; she
didn’t feel like engaging in conversation.

She sat down and stared at the
ice without really seeing it. The reality of what had happened this afternoon
was just starting to sink in, and the pressure of tears began to build behind
her eyes.

“No,” she said aloud, hunching
into her coat and rocking back and forth. “I won’t let this get me down.”

For a brief moment, she wondered
how Allan would take the news and then stilled, startled by the direction of
her thoughts. Allan wasn’t part of her life  anymore. That had ended over six
months ago.

Why had she thought about him
now? Was he so firmly associated with failure in her mind? She let out a long,
shuddering breath of air. She’d met Allan Jameson during her final year at
Simon Fraser University. He was a couple of years older, but she’d been
attracted to him instantly. They dated several times before he told her he was
a widower and had a young son.

Her thoughts drifted to Connor,
and she wondered how he was doing. He’d been a shy young boy of four when she
first met him, and it was Maddie who had suspected the child was dyslexic.
She’d learned everything she could about dyslexia, and the boy had slowly come
out of his shell after his condition had been formally diagnosed and dealt with.

Looking back now, she had to ask
herself if she’d loved the child more than the father. Or was that her way of
handling rejection?

She’d thought things were going
well. Allan could be a bit domineering, but she attributed that to the fact
that he was older. She’d been working in the accounting department at a large
lumber supplier, and when she’d been promoted for the second time, Allan had
suggested she look into studying for her CGA.

 Things changed while she was
studying for her accounting degree. She didn’t know why she hadn’t recognized
the signs at the time; it was so clear to her now. While she was at home
studying–a built-in babysitter–Allan had been going out in the evenings.

BOOK: Gift Wrapped for Christmas: A Contemporary Romance
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