He stepped into a room overwhelmed by an artificial, ornament-filled tree. It was like Christmas had swooped in and attacked the poor plastic thing, inflicting forced cheer on anyone who caught a glimpse of it. Standing there he felt himself drowning in the festive holiday season he’d been trying to fake for Polly’s sake.
Fake…That’s what the monstrosity was screaming—every mass-produced inch of it. Looking around the room he realized there wasn’t another decoration in sight. Just Mallory Phillips’s christmas, Christmas, CHRISTMAS tree.
The small home’s family room stretched the entire width of the house, and sparse would be too generous a word to describe its decor. There was a soft-looking oversize cream couch, a brass lamp with a beige shade, and a sad-looking recliner covered in a tweedy kind of plaid that for some reason made him think it was secondhand. Probably because there’d been something like it tossed into the corner of his fraternity’s front room. They’d needed furniture because visitors had to sit somewhere, but his college buddies hadn’t really cared what any of it looked like. Clearly, neither did the elusive Mallory Phillips. Even her floor was covered in a nondescript oatmeal berber.
I-give-up carpet, Emma had called it when he’d hastily picked something similar for their place in the hope of skirting her out of the store and home to work on making the baby they’d been so desperate to have.
“Hello?” he called, louder this time.
“Hey—” Across the empty dining area to his right a butler’s door pushed outward, flashing a glimpse beyond of a kitchen filled with crazy colors. A tousled-haired blonde burst into the room in plaid Disney pajamas that made her look ridiculously young, tempting him to smile for the first time since spring.
For a moment he didn’t recognize her. At school, Mallory kept her hair pulled back. She dressed in boxy scrubs covered in outlandish cartoon animals. So far no one in the community had gotten much of a look at her in anything else.
She didn’t tend to her own yard like the rest of their neighbors—she had a guy come over once a week to do the bare minimum. The entire time she’d lived in Chandlerville she’d only attended a single Mimosa Lane get-together, a Sunday-night barbecue at the beginning of the school year that she’d arrived at late and had left after less than ten minutes, hardly speaking to anyone. She’d made herself scarce each evening and weekend and most recently during the Thanksgiving holiday, though no one had seen her pack her car for a trip.
It was as if Mallory Phillips were living amongst them, only she wasn’t.
Her silky hair was down now, bouncing about her shoulders. The softness of her purple-plaid nightclothes accentuated generous curves that weren’t the least bit childlike. Basic politeness said Pete shouldn’t be staring at the swooping neckline of her pajama top, but he couldn’t help himself. She clearly didn’t realize or didn’t care how she looked just rolled out of bed, or how a man could find himself reaching for something that warm and inviting and never want to find his way out of it.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish