5-minute ro­mance

When Cap­tain Jake Casey re­turns to his home­town for the hol­i­days, he searches for the woman he loved, and had left be­hind. And un­der mistle­toe, he finds a Christ­mas mir­a­cle

Woman's World - - Contents - — Clare Connelly

“She stopped danc­ing, and stood ut­terly still as his heart swelled”

fter five de­ploy­ments in the Army, any­where state­side would have Casey. street a was since snowy Not heaven he’d of But a looked Cin­na­mon Christ­mas lot been walk­ing on had good Earth. gone. changed Eve down Val­ley to A Cap­tain night new main on Jake sign sta­tion, ex­tra hung park­ing and out­side the bay. diner the But had gas the an hol­i­day lights were still strung from one the way side he of the re­mem­bered street to the them, other criss­cross­ing just over­head like shim­mer­ing stars. He was home, he re­al­ized with a grow­ing sense of re­lief. There had been times when he’d found it im­pos­si­ble to be­lieve he would ever make it back, yet here he was: solid earth be­neath his feet and snow on his face. He was tak­ing a po­si­tion at a lo­cal base, and there was just one thing left to do. He swept his eyes shut for a mo­ment, sum­moned his courage and pulled open the door to the lo­cal bar. Christ­mas car­ols hit him square in the chest, and the mer­ri­ment al­most robbed him of breath. It was like a scene out of a movie: Col­or­ful lights were hung across the ceil­ing, a pine tree was stand­ing in the cor­ner, its fairy lights twin­kling and il­lu­mi­nat­ing dec­o­ra­tions on ev­ery branch. Prac­ti­cally the whole town was packed in­side, danc­ing and laugh­ing. His eyes scanned the crowd, search­ing for the one per­son he needed to see: Stella. Ev­ery sec­ond that passed, his heart seemed to slow down un­til it al­most thud­ded to a stop in his chest. What if she’d left the Val­ley? Moved on with her life like he’d told her to? But, no. There she was. All he could do was stare. She was a Christ­mas an­gel, with her long dark hair pinned onto her head in a bun, to make way for a halo of tin­sel. She spun around, smil­ing, as her eyes landed on Jake. She stopped danc­ing, and stood ut­terly still as his heart swelled. This was it. The mo­ment he’d been wait­ing four years for. Would she be an­gry? They’d loved each other so much, and he’d walked away from it, un­will­ing to risk hurt­ing her when he’d found out how dan­ger­ous his post was go­ing to be. Stand­ing here alive was more than he’d ever hoped. And stand­ing in front of her…was a dream. A

he jeans. And She hope He wiped now, for couldn’t his did her own he hands move. dare Christ­mas on hope His the feet for backs mir­a­cle? more? were of locked her Did to the floor. She moved, though, weav­ing through the crowd to­ward him. As she walked, her beau­ti­ful lips curved into a smile as tears sparkled on her lashes. “You’re home?” she breathed, gaz­ing at him. As if she couldn’t help her­self, she lifted a hand to his chest. “You’re re­ally home?” He nod­ded. His voice de­sert­ing him. “For how long?” Her eyes locked on his and for an in­stant, he saw her as she’d been when they first met when they were both 5 years old. Then as a 15-year-old, danc­ing with him un­der the stars, when she’d said she’d loved him for the first tim. The 18-yearold who’d cried and slapped him when he’d en­listed with­out telling her. He cleared his throat. “For good.” “For good?” Her smile widened as his pulse ratch­eted up a notch. “You mean it?” “Yes. Stella, I should’ve ex­plained. I should have called more or told you how I felt. I wish I’d ex­plained…serv­ing in the Army…” She lifted a fin­ger to his lips. “Don’t you dare go think­ing I’m any­thing other than proud of you, Cap­tain.” It was too much. More than he’d ever dreamed. Her eyes drifted up­ward and his gaze fol­lowed. “Mistle­toe,” she whis­pered, her cheeks flushed. He grinned and leaned for­ward. “May I?” She smiled, clos­ing the dis­tance be­tween them. “I’m so glad you’re home.” As Jake pressed his lips to hers, their past, present and fu­ture spun to­gether in a bliss­ful mo­ment. Stella, his own Christ­mas star, had guided him right back to where he al­ways needed to be. He was fi­nally home. And this time, he wasn’t go­ing any­where.

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