When the foursome returned to the Stanton farm, Cher's relatives packed the house to the rafters. Everyone was bundling into winter coats, hats and scarves, preparing to head out for the annual Stanton family night of spreading holiday cheer. Every year, for as long as Cher could remember, her extended brood had gathered on the Saturday night after Thanksgiving to sing Christmas carols through the countryside and in town. They capped off the evening with a stop at Dottie’s Diner for pie and cocoa, spiked with a little smuggled-in Peppermint Schnapps for the adults.
Cher’s grandmother strode up on sensible tan orthopedic shoes and plunked a songbook into her hands. “Great timing, Cheryl Lynn. You’re the perfect one to lead the family’s Christmas caroling. Save us from having to put up with your brother’s caterwauling.”
Feeling trapped, she glanced from her grandmother to Derrick. “Grammy, I’m awfully tired.”
“Nonsense.” Her grandmother frowned. “You’ve been sleeping all week. I’ve hardly seen you since you got home.”
“Really, Grammy. I think I should turn in.” She searched the crowded living room for her mother, who ought to be able to deflect her grandmother’s attention to some other target. Unfortunately, she was busy stuffing Cousin Tommy’s chubby twins into their snowsuits.
“You just want to spend time with this strapping hunk.” This time, her grandmother’s frown was directed at Derrick. “Can’t say I blame you.”
Oh God. Cher’s cheeks warmed. First relegated to short-term fling status by the man she’d loved forever and now embarrassed by Grandma Edna. Could this night get any worse? “Derrick’s going home.”
“I am?” He looked surprised by the news.
She nodded, hoping he had the sense to play along. “And I’m going to bed early.”
“You are not,” her increasingly belligerent grandmother insisted, the silver knot of hair atop her head quivering. “You’re coming caroling with us.”
“Grammy, I can’t.”
“Why not? You too good to sing with the family now that you’re a big star?”
Her mother must have finally overheard her grandmother’s demands, because she rushed over. “Edna, Cher needs her rest.”
“Poppycock,” her grandmother grumbled, unappeased.
Cher’s mother put her arm around Grammy’s shoulders and redirected her attention. As she started shuffling away, silver head bent, Derrick pulled Cher aside.
“Your poor grandma’s crushed.” He jerked his chin toward her grandmother’s dejected form, so different from the bossy woman who’d raced up to her moments ago. “Would it hurt to indulge her, your highness?”
“You can; you just don’t want to—for reasons I can’t fathom.” He crossed his arms over his massive chest. “Maybe fame has turned you into a spoiled diva.”
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