Ayden's Christmas - The 12 Indies of Christmas Blog Hop & #Giveaway

I'm thrilled to participate in another fun group giveaway.

When considering what to share as part of the hop, I considered a story about one of my favorite-ever Christmas gifts--a 3 foot tall, stuffed Snoopy I received when I was four years old. I thought about sharing the story of my husband's and my engagement (during the Christmas holiday.) However, I decided the most fun for both me and you--the reader--would be for me to provide a BONUS WORTH THE EFFORT story. How would Ayden surprise Ella at Christmas? Now you'll know. If  you haven't read my WORTH THE EFFORT series, treat yourself this holiday season by starting with ELLA'S STORY. Can't beat it at less than a dollar! Then be sure to enter to win AYDEN'S STORY as part of the hop - entry below the story. Or just pick it up too from Amazon. Enjoy Ayden's Christmas!


     “Did the blindfold slip? Are you peeking?”
     A small smile tipped the ends of Ella’s mouth upward. “For the tenth time, Ayden, I’m not peeking. But I’m wondering if you should have clothes-pinned my nose too. I smell chocolate.”
            I chuckled. “Stand here and don’t move. What else do you smell?”
            I loved watching her nose twitch like a bunny’s as she sniffed the air. Tearing my attention away from her adorable, sightless exploration of our surroundings, I quickly unpacked the rest of the meal from the basket. Setting a dinner roll on each small plate. Uncovering the bowl of butter. Pouring cream soda—a favorite of hers—into the glasses.
            “Peppermint, maybe.” Ella tipped her nose toward the ceiling, the strands of the ice blue, silk blindfold hanging long on her back. “Bread. Fire.” She giggled. “Or maybe heat. Does that even make sense?”
            I smiled, but remained silent. She’d know soon enough. I pulled the plastic cover off a bowl and a groan rumbled in Ella’s throat. I eyed the pulse of skin over her coratid artery, suddenly hungry for something beside dinner. Can a boy live off the taste of a girl’s skin?
            “Whatever that is,” she said in a rumbling, wistful voice, “it smells amazing. Oh my god, I’m drooling. Are you almost finished?”
            I stepped in front of her and slid my hands onto her hips. She startled and her grin grew wider. How could I read both confusion and wonder in her smile?
            “Oh, hello,” she said.
            I couldn’t resist, I leaned forward and soaked the smile from her lips to my own. Though the action was tender and light, my desire was greedy and soon my lips, my grip on her arms, even my guarded internal thoughts demanded more of her than her sunny smile. I cooled the pressure when I felt her sway unsteadily. “Is the lack of sight making you off balance?”
            “No,” she said, dreamily. “You’re making me swoon.”
            I laughed. She always knew what to say to fortify me. I reached behind her, careful not to pull her hair as I untied her blindfold. “Okay, keep your eyes closed until I tell you.”
            Her voice and her smile were filled with anticipation. God, she was fun. Despite wanting to postpone her anticipation, I stepped to the side to clear her view of the room, but continued to face her. I wanted to see her reaction. “Okay. Open.”
            Ella’s lids fluttered like she was trying to savor the moment. Then her eyes widened and her mouth fell open. She sucked in a breath as if she was going to speak, but nothing came out. She spun a slow circle. The reflection of more than thirty licks of candlelight defined her delicate features and flickered in her tear filled eyes. “It’s beautiful, Ayden.”
            Suddenly I felt shy and awkward, even though she’d already expressed her approval. “Maria said beef stew is one of your favorites.”
            “Maria?” Clearly surprised by the mention of her family's housekeeper, Ella’s eyes swept across the table in the middle of the room, laid with fine china, crystal stemware, and silver flatware.
            I guided her toward her seat, pulled it out for her, and gestured for her to sit. It took her a beat longer than expected to fold into her chair, because she was busy taking in the atmosphere of the room.
“Who do you think helped me with all of this?” I smiled at the sudden arch of her eyebrows as I took my seat across from her. “I got all the candles and stuff, but she came in to light them all and set the table. Of course she made the meal. As soon as I asked what your favorite meal was, she offered her assistance.”
            Tears glimmered in Ella’s eyes. “No one’s ever done anything like this for me before.” Her voice choked on emotion. “And now my two favorite people…”
I grasped her hand across the table and squeezed. “Ella, I know this isn’t a grand gesture by any means, but…”
“But it is!” Ella interrupted. “The candles, my favorite meal, the private setting. Where are we anyway?” Even as her eyes scanned the rustic paneling of my dad’s “hunting” cabin, she didn’t wait for an answer. “Ayden, my parents have never surprised me with so much as a peck on the cheek. I’ve always been the one to plan things among my friends. I know how much thought went into this and I’m…” Her voice broke off and tears flooded her eyes again.
“I’d like to say we’re even then.” I gave her what I hoped was a snarky grin, but what probably looked desperate and needy. “You’ve saved me from myself, and I’ve shown you—I don’t know, a small measure of my…something—but truth is, I’ll never be able to repay what you’ve done for me.”
Ella laughed her tears away. “My motivations are strictly selfish. Who wouldn’t want to be your girlfriend? You’re handsome, rich, and very attentive.”
The spark in her eye made me want to wrap my arms around her and attend to her lips. Instead, I raised my glass and waited for her to do the same. “Merry Christmas, Ella.”
She clinked her glass against mine. “Merry Christmas, Ayden. Thank you for making me feel very, very special.”
     I took a sip and grasped her hand one more time, though I knew I should allow her free access to her stew. “This meal doesn’t quite show how special you are. I hope to have many more opportunities to show you exactly what you mean to me.”
I leaned forward and feathered my lips across the back of her knuckles. The mischief in her eyes was a promise of opportunities to come.
I hope that whets your appetite for more WORTH THE EFFORT. We have all sorts of fun posts and giveaways in celebration of the season. Visit these blogs to learn more:
The Schedule
Dec 12th - Zane Sachs
Dec 14th - Chess Desalls
Dec 15th - Kai Strand
Dec 16th - Zoe Dawson
Dec 17th - Amanda Porter
Dec 18th - Joy Penny
Dec 19th - Mary Waibel
Dec 20th - Cynthia Witherspoon
Dec 21st - K.K. Allen
Dec 22nd - Ann Everett
Dec 23rd - Erin Rhew and Deek Rhew

and enter to win here:


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