Carnival Lights: Chapter Two
Staring at her reflection in the oval mirror hanging above the sink in the Gordman’s downstairs powder room, Christina patted her cheeks with cold water. Her mind spun. She remembered the first time she’d met Jason. How long ago was that now? Three years ago? Yeah. Probably.
Christina had been new at work. It was been a Thursday evening—she remembered that well; despite her best intentions, she never lost that day from her week. Anyway, it had been a frantic week, which Christina had spent obtaining, organizing, and arranging sundry presentation packets for an important business meeting Mr. Gordman had that Friday morning. Christina had been on the verge of shutting down her computer and heading home when she’d seen them.
See, the thing was, this wasn’t just any business meeting. Mr. Gorman was on his way to Atlanta, Georgia for the meeting. The one he’d been planning the last two weeks around. The one which could chance the trajectory of his business forever if all went well … His flight was scheduled to take-off the following morning. But as Christina had stood up to grab her coat off the back of her chair, there they were.
The packets. Sitting on the edge of her desk. Mr. Gordman, in his rush to get home and packed and ready to go, had forgotten them. Groaning, she’d remembered holding them out to him as he’d prepared to take off that evening. He’d placed them on her desk to put on his gloves, simultaneously reminding her she didn’t need to come into the office the next day…
“You’ve more than made up the time,” he’d assured her nicely. “And I really appreciate all the hard work you’ve put into this thing.”
She’d mumbled some sort of thank you then, her face flushing darkly. Compliments had become hard to hear.
He’d patted his pockets, making sure his car keys were available. Then he’d sent her a wink. “Wish me luck,” he’d said, bending down to grab the briefcase he’d set down by his feet. “We really need this client.”
As if she hadn’t been fully aware of that fact.
“All the luck in the world,” Christina had offered, smiling softly when he’d turned to walk away.
“Shit!” she’d cried out at the memory, her eyes staring wearily at the packets. Turning to the employee list, she thumbed through the contacts until locating Mr. Gordman’s personal cell phone. Dialing quickly, she waited for three rings—
“Mat—Mr. Gordman,” she stammered. “The packets, sir. You left them here.”
“I did?” She heard the sound of frantic scrambling, no doubt as he looked through his briefcase. “Dammit—”
That one word had sent her eyebrows up to her hairline. She’d worked at the office for all of six weeks at this point, but never once had she heard him offer up so much up the mildest of cuss words.
Then, almost before she knew what she was saying, Christina offered: “I’m just about to leave. Would you like—I can bring them to you?”
There had been a long silence and then a heavy sigh. “No, Christina. I can’t ask you to do that.”
“You didn’t ask.”
“Still.” But his resolved had started to weaken. She heard it in his voice. Turning around would have set him back almost an hour. His flight left at five a.m. the following day.
“Well then I insist,” she told him. Besides, it hadn’t been like she’d had a lot going on that evening. Or any evening, for that matter. And she really needed the job. “Look, it’s no trouble and it hardly makes sense for you to come back here when I have to leave anyway…”
He sighed and then, finally, relented. “I, yes okay. Thank you Christina. That would be—are you sure you wouldn’t mind? I don’t want to keep you…”
“Not hardly,” she promised him. Grabbing a sheet of paper, she jotted down his address.
It had taken her less than fifteen minutes to find the place. Pulling her car up into his semi-circular driveway, her eyes grew wide in her face as she spied the impressive brick structure—replete with white trimming and a massively framed doorway. .
Getting out of the vehicle, the folders clutched nervously in her arms, she marched up to the front of the house and rang the doorbell without waste. She didn’t have long to wait before one of the two doors before her swung open.
But it hadn’t been Mr. Gordman at the threshold. Nor had it been Mary either (though at that time, she hadn’t known what Mary looked like yet.) It had been a strange man—tall and lean, with blonde streaked brown hair and large hazel eyes, heavily fringed with long lashes. Early thirties she surmised in that instant analysis. Fit.
And then he’d smiled at her. And there had been something so familiar about him. Something that made her want to drop the papers in her hands and step into him—
“Ah…hello?” The greeting held just as much welcome as blatant amusement.
Christina’s face seemed to blink. She strangled the folders tighter to her person. Bracing herself against this ridiculous sensation, she brought her chin up a notch defensively. “Excuse me,” she offered politely. “I’m looking for a Mr. Gordman.”
His grin lengthened. It was slightly lopsided. She resented him that show of cuteness. “You found him.”
She narrowed her eyes. “I’m afraid not.”
He laughed—a real, genuine chuckle, which for some reason that only further put Christina on edge. She had the feeling he was laughing at her expense. Turning slightly, he raised his voice to the room behind him. “Dad? Dad, there’s someone here to see you.”
Christina heard the welcoming sound of approaching footsteps. When Mr. Gordman came into view, her smile broke forth.
“Christina!” His arms raised gratefully when his eyes caught sight of the packets in her arms. “You are my savior.”
Blushing, she quickly averted her gaze from the hazel eyes which seemed to be watching this exchange with that damnable amusement again. “It was nothing,” she muttered.
“It was everything,” Mr. Gordman insisted, taking the papers from her.
“Who’s at the door Matthew?” But the caller to this question hadn’t waited for a response. Within seconds Christina had found herself looking up into a pair of warm brown eyes. She knew, from the picture that sat on the edge of Mr. Gordman’s desk, who the woman was. His beloved wife.
“Oh. Hello,” Christina rushed to say, smiling nervously. She held out a small hand. “I’m Christina. I don’t believe we’ve met….”
“But I’ve heard about you,” Mary offered kindly, taking Christina’s hand. “Matthew raves about his new receptionist. The efficient Ms. DeLuca.”
Christina felt her blush, which had finally started to recede, rise again. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the youngest Gordman looking at her again. His lips were pulled up sardonically and there was a look in his eyes—
She pretended to ignore it.
“What brings you…?” Mary’s words trailed off, her shrewd eyes zipping from Christina over to her husband, her expression mirroring the thoughts tunneling through her head; when her swift glance caught sight of the newfound folders clutched in his grip, however, a new look came over her face. “Matthew?” She nodded towards them knowingly. “What are those?”
There was a certainly quality to her question. It would was not to be dismissed.
He sighed. “Ah, paperwork for tomorrow’s meeting?” He asked her, as though he was testing out this excuse.
Mary made a sound in her throat. Her foot tapped rhythmically against the flooring. “Let me guess, you forgot them at work?”
He looked sheepish.
“And so you made her bring them out to you?
Mr. Gordman squirmed. He actually squirmed. Christina had to bite her lip to keep from smiling “Christina offered—”
She nodded quickly. “That’s true. I suggested it…”
“Matthew!” Mary swatted at his arm. “Don’t you have any consideration, at all? Do you even know what time it is?”
“Ah…” His eyes had flickered toward the large hall clock hanging overhead.
“I suppose your supper is ruined now, thanks to my thoughtless husband?” Mary asked, turning to look at Christina then.
“Ah no. No, no,” Christina assured her. “I hadn’t had anything planned anyway, so it didn’t matter…” Which, in retrospect, had been exactly what Mary had been hoping she’d say.
“Well then that settles it,” Mary informed her. “You’ll have dinner with us.”
Christina blanched. Her foot took a step backward almost before she knew it. Her gaze went shyly towards Mr. Gordman’s less-than-surprised countenance. “Thank you. But, ah, no. That’s, that’s not necessary.”
Mr. Gordman only shrugged, as though it was a lost cause to fight.
“It most certainly is,” Mary informed her staunchly. “In fact, it’s the very least we can do.” She shot her husband a dark look. “I mean, really Matthew? Asking her to come all this way?”
“I really did.”
“Then you’ll appreciate that I insist now. You’ll stay for dinner. I won’t take no for an answer. We have more than enough food.”
“You’ll be helping us out, I assure you.” This tidbit of teasing had come from Jason. Groaning at the soft elbowing his mother sent at the words he smirked, rubbing his side. “Mother has a tendency to overfeed.”
“Besides,” Mary argued. “I would feel terribly guilty if you missed a proper meal because of my louse of a husband.”
Christina could have almost been amused at this small, rather intimidating woman. Except she was too unnerved to do anything but stand there.
“I don’t want to impose…”
“Impose?” Mary smiled. Christina had learned never to trust that particular smile. “What do you call asking an employee to run business errands after work? If anyone here has been imposed upon, it’s you my dear.”
“No. Not, not at all.” Christina had shaken her head so hard her teeth had clenched together instinctively.
“Look, you can fight her on this all night,” Matthew interrupted finally with something akin to a long-suffering glance. “But in the end you’ll eat dinner here. The question is, do you want to it now while it’s still hot, or in an hour when it’s cooled considerably?”
“Jason, take her coat.”
And, with three pair of eyes on her, Christina found herself doing exactly as expected. With a glance to beat defeat, she brought her hands up to her coat buttons popping them free.
“Though it really isn’t necessary,” she continued to say—but then Jason’s hands had skimmed across the tops of her shoulders, and her breath had frozen in her throat. That strange sensation spread out over her skin again as his fingers caught hold of her jacket.
But then, it wasn’t such a strange sensation, was it? She’d felt it before. She knew the pitfalls. Gritting her teeth, she’d felt the silky inner-lining of her coat fall from her arms, hardly daring to move.
And then, at last and really far too soon, his hands had been gone.
Afraid they’d noticed her sudden stillness, Christina threw out a hasty smile. “Well,” she admitted shyly, anything to cover her unease: “I guess I am hungry.”
“Good girl,” Mary encouraged.
That had been the first night he’d called her by that name.
They’d just sat down at the table and he’d looked across the expanse separating them and remarked: “So Chrissy…”
He tilted his head. “Are you sure? Chrissy seems to suit you.”
Her smile tightened. “It’s Christina.”
He only shrugged. “If you insist.” This, somehow, managed to make her out to be the ass.
Her eyes turned to slits. “Oh, I do.’
“So Christina,” Mary continued loudly, but her face had betrayed her curiosity. “Matthew says you’re not from around here originally?”
“No. I was raised in South Carolina.”
“Long way from home.”
“What brought you to Minnesota?”
Christina took a drink of her glass of water. “I saw a picture of the city on the back of a postcard…”
Christina sent him a lowering glance. “Yes?”
He lifted innocent eyes. “Hmmm?”
“Was there something you wanted to say?” she challenged him.
Jason shook his head. “No. Not me.” But his eyes twinkled.
“Ignore him,” Mr. Gordman had said then, sending his son a speaking glance.
Christina smiled devilishly. “Only since I got here.” She’d been trying to, at least.
Jason grinned all the harder. “Not with much success I see.”
She’d felt those words all the way to the base of her spine. They made her stomach zip, tingle. He was right, of course, but she’d be damned if she’d let on.
Her eyes slipped helplessly towards his gaze. She’d had no recourse left but to glare. She only ever hoped it was enough.