Eli carefully checked out her wrist and requested she keep her splint on for another week. “Just come in between Christmas and the first of the year. I’m sure you’ll be good to go then.”
“I suppose I’ll have to tough it out a few more days, then.” She reached into her oversize bag again and pulled out another foil-wrapped loaf. “For the holidays I opted for peppermint berry bread.”
Peppermint berry? Good heavens. Nothing about that sounded appealing…and how the hell did one make peppermint bread?
Eli took the loaf and laughed. “Cinnamon raisin.”
Maddie quirked a brow.
“My favorite bread,” he said with a grin. “It’s cinnamon raisin, same as my dad. Looks like I’m staying and you might as well know.”
Maddie slapped the paper-covered table. “Well, hot damn, it’s about time you came to your senses. Word around town has been that you’re cozied back up with the sweet vet.”
“Word would have this right. I plan on taking over Dad’s practice and getting even cozier with the beautiful vet.”
Maddie smiled, slid off the table and grabbed her rhinestone cane. “I’m glad to see she’ll finally get a happy ending. That poor woman has really been through it.”
Eli couldn’t agree more. Nora was getting her happy ending…they were getting their happy ending, one long overdue.
“Have a Merry Christmas, Maddie.”
She patted his cheek. “You, too, Doc.”
Once she was gone he quickly closed things up and sent Lulu and Sarah home for the long weekend. He wanted to get out early and stop by to see a friend who could help him with a surprise for Nora.
Eli may be rushing things, but he had to let her know just how serious he was about her, about staying and starting a new life.
He only hoped his friend could keep things on the DL. It would be the ultimate Christmas surprise.
After he made the all-important stop, Eli made his way to Nora’s. The twinkling lights across her porch called him. The tall tree in her wide window also twinkled and Eli couldn’t wait to make this their home. Couldn’t wait to start their life together the right way.
He let himself in the house and called out her name. He didn’t see her in the living room or kitchen. Maybe she’d decided to lie down. He went into the spare room she’d been resting in and found her lying on top of the cream comforter, a letter clutched to her chest. She was asleep.
Eli crept closer and nearly tripped over the box in the floor and the contents strewn around it.
His gut clenched. These were Todd’s things. Nora had spent the day going through her late husband’s belongings from overseas.
Eli’s eyes darted back up to her and now he noticed the tear tracks on her face, her red nose and the puffiness beneath her closed lashes.
The letter was turned in, so Eli had no idea what it consisted of, but if he had to guess, he’d say it was something written in Todd’s scratchy penmanship.
Before he could step back, Nora’s eyes fluttered open and fixed on his.
“Hey,” he said softly, looking down at her. “How are you feeling?”
Her gaze wasn’t warm, wasn’t loving like it was when he’d kissed her goodbye this morning. Something was wrong, something more than just her going through Todd’s old things.
“What happened, Nora?”
She sat up, thrusting the letter toward him. “You happened. You and Todd happened, Eli,” she accused, her voice husky from sleep.
His eyes skimmed over the letter to see why she was so upset, so angry. The letter was addressed to Nora, dated only days before Todd’s death…but it was the last part of the letter that Eli zeroed in on.
His knees weakened and he sat on the edge of the bed next to her.
“I don’t want to hear excuses,” she whispered. “There’s no reason for this kind of betrayal. You said you loved me. I assumed even as a friend you would’ve loved me enough to tell me my husband had cheated on me.”
Eli closed his eyes, as if he could possibly close out the hurt that threaded her voice. Opening his eyes, he looked back down to the damning letter in his hands.
Todd just had to go and hurt her one more time. Barely containing his rage, Eli reached up and raked his hand over his scar. He’d been so close to having her back in his life, so close to having her fill his heart like nothing else could…but because of his warped version of keeping her safe from the truth, his gentlemanly qualities blew up in his face.