Recap of Chapter 15: Since Haze’s birthday fell so close to Thanksgiving, she wanted to celebrate by taking Jake along to Sydney’s annual Heathen’s Holiday. No sooner did they arrive, then Jake was jumped by his ex-girlfriend from college. Hurt and angry, Haze watched in disbelief before running for home.
Haze took herself to bed, still clothed. Crowley joined her, and they burrowed under the covers. Hugging a bottle of wine, Haze complained. “I just can’t believe it!” she wailed. “So that’s how a guy who supposedly loves me behaves—falling into the arms of the first babe who comes along?” She took a swig from the bottle. “But it’s worse than that, Crowley. It is! She’s not just some babe. He knows her. He loved her first and they share a history.” She pulled Crowley in close. “You love me, though, right? You’re sticking around, even if I’m not perfect… and sexy… and everything else she is.”
There came a knock at the door—followed by the turning of the door handle. It was no use. She’d turned the deadbolt. She frowned. “Should I answer it? Should I let him in? Nope. I’m staying right here where it’s safe and warm. I declare this an ex-girlfriend-free zone.”
The knocking became a banging and muffled calling. Crowley stood, alert and emitting a low grumble, but she pulled him back. She heard footsteps crunch through the snow at the side of the cabin and stop. She leaned far enough over to see a shadow at the living room window. It was obviously Jake, leaning forward, hands cupped against the glass to peer inside. She quickly slid back out of view. He tapped at the glass. “Come on, Haze. Let me in.” She slid down the pillows, scowling and holding Crowley. “I can explain.”
Haze rolled her eyes. “It’s a little late for that!” she mumbled. She listened to the silence, then followed the sound of his footsteps crunching in retreat. Upset, unreasonable and drunk, Haze wallowed in her misery with Crowley at her side before drifting off to sleep.
She awoke to the bell sounding on the front porch. It was Sydney’s signature ring. Haze rubbed her eyes and sighed. Then threw back the covers and swung her legs over the edge with a groan. Crowley jumped down, scrambling toward the front door. He knew his buddy Sydney’s ring too.
By the time Haze made her way to the door and opened it, Sydney was just stepping off the porch. She turned back when she heard the door. “There you are!” she said. She had a basket on her arm, covered with a cloth napkin. “I brought you this,” she said, with a look of sympathy. “I figured since you weren’t coming back, I’d pack this up. I didn’t want you to miss out, so… ” At the sight of Sydney’s face, Haze crumpled into tears.
Sydney rushed forward with open arms, drawing Haze into her warm embrace. She steered her inside and settled her on the couch, tucking the throw around her snugly. She then stirred the coals in the fireplace from the morning and added wood. “There,” she said. “Let me just say that the minute you left, Jake was a mess. I’ve never seen a man look so instantly miserable in my life!”
“Good!” Haze said petulantly.
“That Simone has nothing on you! And certainly she has no hold on Jake! Their relationship is in the past.” She patted Haze on the knee. “She is just that way—flirty with everyone. And talking nonstop. After you left, she revealed that she’s engaged and completely in love with her fiancé. She’s no threat to you—trust me on that.”
“What about how Jake behaved?” Haze complained. “He did nothing to claim me, nothing to let it be known that we were together. He just rolled with everything she did.”
“It did look like he was swept up in the moment. But that’s what I’m trying to say. She went from group to group, man to man, kissing cheeks and twisting them all around her little finger. You know her type—she’s like a tornado, touching down here and there, oblivious to the destruction left in her wake. Jake was caught up in the spin. Truthfully, I thought I’d find him here, working like hell to make it up to you. He pouted miserably in the corner for a spell. Then he left, not too long after you. Didn’t he come by?”
“Yes,” Haze admitted. “I didn’t answer the door.”
“So, he tried to make it up to you and you wouldn’t listen?”
She shrugged. “Maybe.”
“Has he called?”
Haze picked up her phone from the coffee table. There were no less than a dozen missed calls and a stack of texts, all from Jake.
“That’s what I thought,” Sydney said. She stood. “I’m going back to the embers of my party now while the animals are still restless, and you’re going to call that wonderful man of yours.” She gave Crowley a scratch behind the ear and then whisked out the door.
Haze read the texts, which grew more desperate with the thread. She listened to his phone messages, which were contrite, then urgent, then just sad.
“What do you think, Crowley? Should we give him a break?”
Crowley cocked his head to one side and whined.
“Okay. I’ll do it.” She dialed Jake’s number.
“My God!” Jake said, relief in his voice. “It’s you. Are you home? Will you let me in if I come over now?”
“You’d better! Get yourself over here right now!” she said, feeling much better about everything.
They spent the evening tucked away in the little cabin by the lake with a fire crackling, casting a warm glow into the room. The Simone matter was quickly cleared up. It was just as Sydney said, and it meant nothing to how he felt about her. Jake apologized for mishandling the situation, repeatedly, vowed to never repeat such stupidity, and then found a way to make up to her—several times.
Late into the night, they cuddled and talked. Then they raided Sydney’s basket, happily munching on the contents, which included the box of truffles she’d brought as a gift (minus one). They sipped brandy, played with Crowley, and basked, once again, in the glow of being madly in love.
The next day, they foraged in the woods for a Christmas tree, dragged it home and spent the entire afternoon decorating. The result was magical. Stepping back to have a look, a feeling of pure joy surged through her, leaving goosebumps on her arms. “Are you cold?” Jake asked, putting his arms around her.
Haze leaned against him and sighed with satisfaction. “Nope. Everything is just right.”