Christmas in Torey Hope is a novella. Readers who had fallen in love with the Torey Hope gang in the first two books requested a novella to hold them over until the 4th book. This novella visits with our favorite characters, tells a little bit of background on others, and introduces us to two new characters. This book is available on ALL platforms (Amazon, iBooks, ARe, Nook, Kobo.) Find it on Amazon at getbook.at/ChristmasAmzn
The day after Thanksgiving
“Ok, let’s get those pizzas ordered! Dad, can you take care of that? Three large cheese, three large loaded, and three family orders of breadsticks. The guys can go pick them up when they’re ready. Libby and I will stick the kids in the bath tub a couple at a time; Carly and the grandmas will get them all dried and dressed. Once that’s all done, we can just crash and veg out. We haven’t had time to visit much today.”
Audrey, ever the planner, issued the orders and got things moving. The entire family had braved Black Friday and survived. Well, that’s not exactly true. The dads and grandpas had let the kids sleep in, taken them to breakfast, took them all to a movie and lunch at the buffet/arcade place and then home for naps; the moms and grandmas had braved the mall and discount stores one town over from Torey Hope and gotten 99% of their Christmas shopping done. Everyone was back at Captain Robert Decker’s home to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening.
The Jordans, the Morgans, and Captain Decker spent a lot of time together. Some of them were blood related, some of them weren’t, but it didn’t matter because they were all family. They bickered like family, but they loved like family as well. Many weekends and most holidays found these families together, usually gathered around food and fun, always having great laughs and enjoying their time together.
“Hey, Sweets, we’re going to take off so we can grab some ice and drinks before we get the food, ok?” Jeremiah grabbed Audrey’s waist and led her toward the darkened hallway. Once there, he pushed her up against the wall and took control of her mouth. Her initial protest at being interrupted during her bossing people around was quieted and her arms came around his neck as his tongue sought entry at her lips.
A throat clearing from the doorway caught their attention. Jeremiah’s forehead rested against hers and his darkened eyes shared promises of what he had in mind for later.
“Uh-huh, I thought you were coming to tell her we were leaving. You didn’t say anything about feasting on her tonsils in the hallway.” Nate’s good-natured comment brought smiles to the three of them; getting caught in compromising positions wasn’t unusual for any of the married couples in a group this large.
“Sorry, man, couldn’t help it. Why don’t you run along and say goodbye to your own wife and I’ll meet you outside in five.” Before Nate could even walk away to find Libby, Jeremiah’s mouth was back on Audrey’s. His hands began to roam up her torso and he growled as she arched into him.
“Mom, do I have to take a bath? I’m ten now and I don’t think it’s appropriate to be sharing the bathtub with all those little butts.” Audrey erupted in giggles as Beckett made his request.
Apologetic eyes and a rueful smile turned toward her husband, “We’ll finish this later, ok?” Without waiting on his answer, she left him there while she joined Beckett back in the kitchen. “No, Beck, you don’t have to share the tub. Go on up to Grandpa’s bathroom upstairs and use his shower. But make it quick because I want Megan and Abby to use that tub after you.” The boy ran off, clearly delighted in his more responsible ten-year-old bathing conditions.
“Damn straight we’ll finish this later,” Jeremiah muttered to himself and headed to find Nicky. It didn’t take long; Nicky was standing behind Carly by the front door, nuzzling her neck. Carly giggled at something he said.
“Nick, my man, you ready to head out?” Jeremiah was a bit jealous that Nicky was still holding his own wife while Audrey had left already to start baths.
“I’m ready, Jeremiah, but since I know you were kissing Audrey and Nate is kissing Libby, I thought I could kiss on Carly.” Nicky placed a soft kiss on Carly’s lips, “I’ll be back. I love you.” Carly blushed at the action and sentiment in front of Jeremiah; Nicky was never one to hold his words.
As the men headed out the door, Jeremiah inquired, “So, how did you know I was kissing Audrey and Nate is kissing Libby?” Nicky’s eye roll made him laugh.
“You’re always kissing Audrey. And, Nate, well….” Nicky pointed. Following the path of his finger, Jeremiah’s eyes landed on Nate and Libby against the side of the house. Clearing his throat in the same manner that Nate had used to interrupt him earlier, Jeremiah loudly said, “Get your tongue back in your mouth, Morgan, we’ve got to go get the food.”
Libby giggled as Nate took one last kiss and swatted her on the behind as she walked back towards the house.
The three men were tired from their long day with all seven kids, but it was clear what was on their agenda with their wives later that night.
“Ok, Beckett, go grab your pjs and you can help the grandmas with the little boys once they are out of the bathtub. Abby and Megan, I’ve started the water, climb in and you can play for a bit before the pizza gets here.” Libby calmly gave orders to the three oldest cousins; at 10, 8, and 6 they could do things a little bit more on their own. All the grandparents kept two or three changes of clothes and pajamas at their homes for occasions such as this. Libby smiled at the giggles coming from the bathroom as the girls began a game of mermaids and bubbles.
Audrey was on the worst end of bath time. Four boys, four-years-old and under, in a tub together may not have been a smart move. Kendrick, Zach, Decker, and Sawyer thought bath time together was the best ever; Audrey, soaked to the skin from their splashing, had to laugh at the adorableness that filled the tub. “Ok, Four Men in a Tub, it’s time to get out and dry off so you can get some pizza.” Audrey chuckled as Kendrick’s naked little butt ran down the hall yelling for the grandmas to find his pajamas; Zach followed close behind. Sawyer and Decker wrapped up in a towel together and waited for Aunt Audrey to drain the tub and help them get into their pjs; the twins had a very close bond and they always chose to be physically close if possible.
As if on cue, just as the kids were complaining about being hungry, the door opened and the daddies came in with loads of food. Within moments a perfect chaos of cups, ice, plates, napkins, pizza slices, breadsticks, and drinks ensued. Five minutes later, all seven children were seated and all eleven adults were seated or standing around the kitchen. To an outsider the scene would perhaps look overwhelming, but to these families it was normal and complete.
Once tummies were full and the kitchen cleaned, Carly and Cindy took the kids downstairs to get a movie set up. Great plans were being made by the kids to stay up watching movies until midnight, but in reality they would all probably crash within 30 minutes of hitting play on the DVD player.
As the adults settled onto couches and chairs in the living room, a knock at the door brought curious looks; Captain Decker’s usual visitors were already in his house so the arrival of someone else was unusual.
The Captain strode to the door and looked through the peephole. “Well, now, who in the world could this be?” he muttered to himself. Ever respectful, the Captain was heard to say, “Good evening, ma’am. How can I help you?”
Those seated in the living room heard a woman’s voice, but couldn’t make out what she was saying. Audrey and Libby, fearing a problem, walked to the door to stand behind their father. Jeremiah and Nate, forever protective of their wives, followed. Upon arriving at the door, the four of them were dumbfounded to see Captain Decker reach out and hug a woman a couple years younger than his own daughters. Then, with his arm around the young woman’s shoulders, he turned and led her into the house. He stopped short when he realized the four were right behind him.
“Dad?” Audrey’s question voiced what everyone was thinking. Jeremiah and Nate instinctively put their arms around their wives, as if shielding them from the unknown. This woman didn’t look dangerous; in fact, she was slight in build standing at about 5’6”. She had porcelain skin and gorgeous auburn hair. Her blue eyes looked around nervously; whoever this woman was, it was easy to understand that she was overwhelmed walking into such a large group of strangers.
“Well, everyone, I’d like you to meet my niece, Josie Decker. Josie, this is my family. We’re a very large group; I’ll introduce everyone, but don’t even try to keep us all straight just yet.” Captain Decker began making introductions as Libby and Audrey exchanged looks of confusion and uncertainty.
“I didn’t know you had a cousin, Angel.” Jeremiah’s soft whisper against her ear had Audrey shaking her head and replying, “Neither did I.”
She watched as Libby turned to Nate and read her lips as she mouthed, “I have no clue who she is, Nate.” Nate raised an eyebrow towards Jeremiah and the two men shrugged.
“This is Jack and Judy Jordan. They are the parents of my son-in-law, Jeremiah, who is married to my youngest daughter, Audrey.” Captain Decker rotated Josie around to meet with the Jordans.
“This is John and Cindy Morgan. Their son, Nate, is married to my oldest daughter, Libby.” Again, he led her around the room doing introductions.
“This is Nate’s brother, Nicky, and his wife Carly.” Captain Decker showed Josie to a chair and had her sit. “The children are all downstairs, you can meet them later.”
Nicky, ever the open book, stated, “I didn’t know Audrey and Libby had a cousin. How do you not know you have a cousin?” The rest of the group cringed a bit at Nicky’s question, but it was something they were all thinking.
“It seems I have a story to tell. Everyone grab a drink and get comfortable.” Captain Decker settled in and the rest of the group followed suite. As the captain began his story, his deep love for his deceased wife was evident, as was the pain that he still carried with him. Lois had been gone many years, but the hurt and the missing her were as fresh in his eyes and his voice as if he lost her yesterday.
Libby and Audrey had never heard this story. They were too young to hear it or care about it before their mother died; they never felt they could ask their father to tell stories about their mother after she passed away. The sisters, sitting together with their husbands by their sides, listened raptly to this strong, tough, imperfect man tell a love story. Somehow, even though a complete stranger was in their midst, the girls understood that this girl was family and this story would explain why she was unknown to them.