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Ruby ripped November off her desk calendar with a flourish. She pressed her lips against december 25th and left behind a Cider Berry–colored kiss.
“Someone’s excited for Christmas,” said Zandra. She set her gourmet hot chocolate next to her keyboard before taking off her coat. “I’m guessing it’s not Santa Claus you’re hoping to find under your tree.”
Ruby picked up the framed picture of her and Justin at his birth- day party. even in that stupid cardboard hat, he looked devastatingly handsome. His deep green eyes and dark, curly hair were enough to make heads turn every place he went. She turned it around so Zandra could see the picture. “All I want for Christmas is right here.”
“He’s worth wrapping up.” Zandra winked. “That boy is on the fast track to a successful life, and the way he spoils you. . . . I wish I could find me a man like that.”
“He is pretty amazing.” Ruby turned the picture back around. Justin’s résumé for business law was outstanding: the best schools, top grades, and all the right connections. Ruby wasn’t in love with his employability, though—it was his résumé for romance that had her swooning. He was full of compliments, quiet dinners by candlelight, and chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream on her worst days. As of late, he’d missed a couple ice cream opportunities due to his new, and extremely demanding, client. That was sure to change once the con- tracts to license and patent his client’s new video game system were complete.
Zandra slid her chair closer and looked around to make sure no one was listening. Their office had an open floor plan—no cubicle walls to hide behind or provide an ounce of privacy when a girl needed to adjust her tights or have a private conversation.
“do you think he’ll offer to change your last name for Christmas?” Ruby buried her doubts and squealed, “yes!”
from two desks away, Sherri shushed them. The woman hated
noise, be it squeals of joy, tapping a pencil on the desk, or even Christmas music.
Zandra glanced toward Rob, their supervisor, and leaned closer. “your momma may own the company, but my momma still works at the
school cafeteria, so keep it down.”
Ruby grinned. “you know Rob loves you.”
Zandra flushed. “He respects my skills. That’s all.”
Ruby threw a meaningful look up and down Zandra. “If that’s
what you want to call them.”
“you!” Zandra threw her cold, slightly damp scarf at Ruby. “leave
my skills out of this.”
laughing, Ruby swiveled around to finish writing her to-do list.
“How are you feeling this morning?” she asked over her shoulder. “Much better. The soup you brought over last night must have been
chock-full of vitamins because I woke up peppy again. Thanks.” “No problem.”
Ruby’s desk phone gave a short but obnoxious beep, and her mom’s secretary, Michelle, announced, loud enough for everyone within a five-desk radius to hear, “Miss Jeavon, your presence is requested in the president’s office.”
Ruby snatched up the phone and hit the button to take it off speaker. “Thank you,” she said. “I’ll be there shortly.”
Sherri raised an eyebrow.
Ruby tried not to let her embarrassment show. At least she’d been able to get Michelle to stop announcing that her mom wanted to see her. That had stopped most of the condescending looks and Sherri’s opportunities to bring up the fact that Ruby was hired by her mother.
Technically it’s true, but I’ll earn my way to the top.
Ruby straightened her jacket, squared her shoulders, and walked to the elevator. She fidgeted with her belt as she tried to calm her nerves. for the first time in her life, Ruby had asked her mother for something big.
Kathleen had never been one to spoil her daughter. Ruby wasn’t sure how much money her mother made, but she knew it was more than many people in the business world. Still, Ruby had spent many teenage weekends with only her textbooks for company in order to qualify for scholarships. once in college, she’d eaten cold cereal three meals a day so she wouldn’t have to ask her tight-fisted mother to help pay for college.
The fact that she had asked for this favor should have told her mother how important this was to Ruby. She hoped her mom would understand.
It didn’t take long for the mirrored doors to slide open and deposit Ruby on the executive level.
Ruby was no stranger to the claw-foot couch or mahogany coffee table in the waiting room. She’d practically grown up in this building, spending many an afternoon at that very table hunched over her math book. She breezed past the main desk and took a left toward her mother’s office.
“Hello, Ruby,” said Michelle. Her workspace was to the right of the president’s office. It was meticulously clean, not a speck of dust or a pen out of place.
“Hi, Michelle. How’s your grandbaby doing?” asked Ruby as she approached.
“Wonderful. He looks adorable in the outfit you sent.”
“He’d look cute in anything—those chubby cheeks melt my heart.” “Mine too.” Michelle smiled. “She’s ready for you. you can go right in.”
Since the door was partially open, Ruby didn’t bother to knock. Her mother, Kathleen Marie Jeavon, stood with her back to the door. Her strawberry-blonde hair—more strawberry than blonde since her last salon appointment—was cut to her chin in what Ruby identified as an onion bulb bob. No matter how strange the comparison, it looked stunning when matched with her mother’s apple cheeks and winning smile.
“you asked to see me?” Ruby sat in her mother’s chair. It was an old habit. As a child, she would roll the seat up to the desk, pretending to be the president of Pearl Marketing Inc. and send memos until what- ever meeting her mom had to attend was over.
Kathleen turned, her mouth set in a thin line and her shoulders back as though she were setting herself up to face a necessary but unpleasant task—like taking out the smelly garbage.
Ruby’s stomach clenched.
What she’d said to Zandra was true. Justin hinted at a future between them, and they’d reached a point in their relationship where it was time to move forward. Spending Christmas with Justin and his family would bring them closer together and hopefully closer to a suburban house and several beautiful children.
This year, after three years of dating, Justin’s family had invited her to Christmas with them in Selva, Italy, at a small resort, which thrilled her to no end. It meant his parents accepted her and wanted to include her in the family. However, they hadn’t offered to pay her way, nor would she expect them to. She would insist on separate accommodations, much to Justin’s frustration, and she couldn’t expect his family to take on the added expense. If she and Justin were married, there wouldn’t be a question. But they weren’t—not yet anyway.
Ruby needed to be in Italy this year. Her salary was mainstream and didn’t leave much for holidays in europe. She’d hoped her mother, a stickler for sticking to a budget, would fund the trip as an early Christmas present.
Kathleen opened a file on her desk revealing the brochure Ruby had given her and several pages of spreadsheets. “I had Michelle gather the information on a flight from California to Italy, the hotel, and ski passes. I’m sorry, dear, but it costs too much. I have other obligations this time of year.”
Ruby’s heart sank.
So much for getting engaged at the bottom of the Alps. Her disappointment must have untied the tight bow around her doubts, because they slipped past her lips before she could stop them. “Justin leaves the week before Christmas and will be gone until after New year’s. If I miss this trip, I’m not sure what that will do to us.”
Kathleen leaned against the desk and put her hand on Ruby’s back. “If your relationship can’t handle a couple weeks apart, then it’s better
that you find out now.”
Mortified that she’d opened herself up to the woman who taught
her how to hold it all in, Ruby responded defensively. “It’s not like that. We both work hard and need a break. That’s all.”
Maybe if I used my Christmas bonus and drained my savings . . .
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
Ruby ran her fingers over the image of a charming Italian ski village
on the front of the brochure. The resort, located at the bottom of the Italian Alps, was like a winter fairy-tale cottage. dark, stained wood outlined the windows and doors of the cream-colored building. The roof had a steep pitch; nevertheless, the snow piled up and hung over the eaves like whipped cream on pie. Small square windows dotted the first and second story, framed with bright red, blue, and green shutters. The windows on the third level were rounded on the top with a single stained glass, circular window in the middle. It was magical and—without her mother’s help—as out of reach as fairy dust.
Why would her mother deny her this, her one Christmas wish since she begged for the Susie Sleeps-a-lot doll? Kathleen had the money. There was no reason to hold back.
Michelle poked her head in the door. “The gentlemen from foxwell & Nash are waiting in the board room.”
“Thank you.” Kathleen took a folder from the upright organizer on the corner of her desk and a Bic pen from the drawer. “Are you coming?”
“Coming?” Ruby asked.
“yes, to the charity review meeting.” When Ruby didn’t look up from the picture, her mother tapped her foot. “We discussed this at your review last month.”
“oh, right.” even though Ruby had insisted on working her way up the company, Kathleen wanted her to sit in on certain meetings to get a feel for how the company ran at the executive level. one of those meetings was the annual charity review with the esteemed accounting firm foxwell & Nash.
Ruby took a moment to peek at the price list behind the picture of the resort. Her shoulders dropped. even with her bonus and her savings, she was short. There had to be a way to get the money. She needed to be with Justin this Christmas.