In spite of having slept only a few hours, Persephone woke at six a.m., her adrenaline spiking with excitement. She and Tripp had gotten home late and spent what remained of the night working. She was exhausted, but it was going to be worth it.
Slipping into Brielle’s room, she gently jiggled her shoulder.
Brielle blinked sleepily. “Whatsa matter?”
“I have something to show you. Let’s go.”
Brielle climbed from bed, the ruffled hem of her flannel nightgown bunching around her legs. “You’re here early.” Brielle slipped her small hand into Persephone’s and a warm rush of belonging, of right, swept through Persephone. Leaving them, whether to return to the statue or not, would be torment.
At the top of the staircase, the flash of multi-colored lights reflected off the wall. Brielle rubbed her eyes. “What’s that?” Pleasure sparked on her face, quickly replaced by anger. “No, no!” Her panicked gaze flew to Persephone, and she jerked her hand away. “Did you do this? You have to get rid of it before Daddy sees!”
“I’ve already seen.” Tripp stepped into the hallway at the bottom of the stairs, his white teeth flashing in a brilliant smile. “And, we both did this.”
“Come on,” Persephone whispered, once more claiming Brielle’s hand.
When they descended, Brielle looked into the living room, and her face lit more brightly than the seven-foot tree. She stared up at Tripp. “Why?”
He touched her head in a gentle caress. “Because I miss Christmas, and I miss seeing you enjoy it.”
“But won’t it make you sad, Daddy?”
He picked her up and settled on the sofa with her in his lap. Persephone remained in the doorway, watching.
“I’ll always be sad your momma is gone, but she loved you, loved Christmas. I think this will make her happy, don’t you?”
“Yes.” Brielle nodded vigorously and pointed to the presents. “How did Santa know we were doing Christmas?”
Persephone joined them, smiling. “Santa knows everything.”
Brielle studied her for a moment, her mouth twisted, as if unsure whether to believe her or not. Then, she shrugged and grinned. “I guess he does.”
Tripp put her on her feet. “What are you waiting for? Dig in.”
Brielle had just opened her last gift when Minerva arrived. Her presence dampened Persephone’s happiness, but at least she’d accomplished her goal. And now, she could do whatever she wanted. She was free. Maybe, even though it was originally a ruse, she could stay on as Brielle’s nanny. The thought of leaving them was agony. She and Tripp may never become romantically involved, but she couldn’t imagine her life without him or Brielle.
“Wonderful!” Minerva gushed as Brielle proudly displayed her gifts. “How about Percy and I go whip up some breakfast?”
“Pancakes?” Brielle lisped through the gap in her teeth.
“Absolutely.” Minerva kissed Brielle’s cheek, then looked at Persephone. “Shall we?”
Once the kitchen door closed, Minerva took Persephone’s hands. Persephone’s instinct was to withdraw, but the woman was Tripp’s mother, Brielle’s grandmother, and she really had seemed to change.
“Thank you so much, my dear. This is more than I could have hoped for. You need never fear me again. You are free.”
“I was thinking…maybe I could stick around.”
Minerva’s dark brows drew together. “Why?”
Percy tried to keep her face neutral, but she could feel a smile stretch her cheeks. “To stay on as Brielle’s nanny.”
Minerva studied her with narrowed eyes. “I know what that expression means. You’re in love with Tripp.”
Persephone’s cheeks heated. “I don’t know him well enough to be in love. But, I’m crazy about him. And, I think he likes me too. I want to stay, get to know him better. And I can’t bear the thought of leaving Brielle.”
Minerva began shaking her head before Persephone stopped speaking. “No, oh no, that’s not happening. You can’t. Not only might he find out who you really are, who I am, but he doesn’t need to be hurt again.”
“I would never hurt him, never tell him the truth. I’m not saying we’ll become involved. But, Brielle has gotten attached to me. I don’t think another loss right now is good for her.”
Minerva’s mouth contorted into a snarl. “Don’t pretend you’re doing this for her. You want my son for yourself.” Her dark eyes ignited with flames of rage. “He doesn’t need someone like you. He needs a real woman he can have a real relationship with.”
The words stabbed like icicles in her heart. As much as she hated Minerva for saying it, she couldn’t deny the truth.
Minerva gripped her arms and glared into her face. “If you don’t go, I’ll cast you back into the statue. And you will never be free again.”
Persephone jerked away. Tears welled in her throat, and she tried to speak, but failed. Her heart was shattered, her limbs weighted with agony. Either way she lost Tripp and Brielle. All she could manage was a nod.
Minerva’s expression was cold, unsympathetic. “I’ll tell them goodbye for you. It’s best if you just go.”
Persephone wanted to argue that she should say goodbye, but that would just be more difficult, for all of them. And, she might break down and tell Tripp the truth. Which would be disastrous. She’d go back to her cheap motel and figure out what to do for the rest of her life. She had her freedom, but if she could go back into the statue and not feel this ripping, searing pain, she’d gladly reside there for eternity.
Minerva went into the living room to call Brielle and Tripp in for breakfast. Their laughter thrilled her soul, and she smiled. All was well.
Tripp looked up then glanced past her, his lovely green eyes dancing with merriment. “Where’s Percy?”
“She had to go,”
The merriment faded from his face. “Oh, I thought she’d spend the day with us. Will she be back later?”
“I’m afraid not. She asked me to tell you that she had another offer. She wished she could give you notice, but she had to take the job now. It’s a great opportunity.”
His shoulders slumped. “What? You’re not serious?” His voice was ragged, sounding unsettlingly close to the way it had after Shana died. “She couldn’t even say goodbye?”
“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of Brielle until you find a replacement.” Minerva tried to sound reassuring, but from the pain on his face, she knew he wasn’t bothered about losing a nanny.
He nodded, but his mouth settled into grimness, and his eyes glittered with a damp sheen. Were those tears? Could he possibly have feelings for Persephone? Surely not. He was much too good for that girl. Even if he did care for her, it didn’t matter. He’d get over her soon enough. He’d only known her a few weeks.
Tripp turned his attention to Brielle and watched her play with her toys, a forced smile fixed on his face.
Minerva touched his shoulder. “Son, are you okay?”
He drew in a shuddering breath and let it out slowly. “I know it’s crazy, but I was starting to…feel something for her. For the first time, I felt like I might…I don’t know, fall in love again.”
A vice squeezed Minerva’s chest. So, it was true. She tried to infuse her voice with just the right amount of encouragement and nonchalance. “Well, dear, of course you will. But that doesn’t mean with Percy. There are a lot of women out there. You’ll meet the right one.”
He gave his head a quick shake. “None of them will make me feel the way Percy did.”
His words punched a hole in Minerva’s heart. Her only goal had been to make her son and granddaughter happy, and now he was crushed. She’d finally ensured they had joy, then immediately stole it from them.
Percy sat on the park bench near the angel statue where she’d resided for a century. She wasn’t sure why she’d come. Maybe she was a masochist.
An enormous sparkling Christmas fir towered over the frozen pond, but the stars in the velvety night sky were brighter and more beautiful than the lights of the tree. She wished she could appreciate the wonder, the winter scents in the crisp evening air. But not even knowing she was free could lift her spirits. Freedom meant little when you’d lost everything else.
“You’ll freeze to death.”
She jumped to her feet and whirled, her heart climbing to her throat. “Tripp? What are you doing here?”
The winter wind tousled his blond hair, and snowflakes dotted his dark coat like diamonds. “Looking for you.”
“Because,” he paused while her heartbeat boomed loudly in her ears, “I don’t want to lose you.”
She squelched the urge to break out in song, to fling herself into his arms and never let go. Instead, she looked down, studying a snow-dusted acorn at her feet, then drew in a breath and lifted her head. “You’ll find another nanny. I’m sorry, but I have to go.”
He grinned and shot a gaze around the park. “Apparently, you didn’t have to go far.”
Her cheeks warmed. “I do. I was just, taking a breather before I head to the motel to pack.”
He pursed his lips and nodded. “I see. What if I told you I knew the whole truth?”
“About why you left. About why you came here in the first place.”
Fear trickled through her. How had he learned? “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I really need to go.” She turned to hurry away, but his voice stopped her.
“My mother told me everything, Persephone.”
She halted and slowly faced him. “What did you call me?”
He rounded the bench and caught up to her. “Isn’t that your real name? Persephone? The name you used as a Joy Fairy?” He looked up at the statue. “And isn’t that where you’ve spent the last hundred years” He barked out an incredulous laugh. “At first, I didn’t believe her, but she…demonstrated her powers. As crazy as it sounds—fairies, magic, curses—I had to believe.” He shook his head. “To think, I was here so many times, and you were right there…in captivity. And I couldn’t help.”
Her legs weakened. “She really told you. Why?”
“Because, her love for me was stronger than her fear of the consequences. She saw I was miserable and wanted me to know the truth about the woman I’m falling in love with.”
Persephone shook her head. “This is unbelievable. She—“ His words sank in, and she jerked her gaze to his face. “Did you say…falling in love?”
“I did.” He took her hands, tugging her close to his warm body. “I think you feel something for me too. Maybe you could stick around, and we could see where this goes?” A grin lifted the corner of his mouth. “If, that is, the other job can do without you.”
A laugh caught in her throat. Her heart was so full, she couldn’t speak. But she didn’t need to, because his lips touched hers, sparking so much heat she feared it would melt the snow around them, and she kissed him back, finding her Christmas joy in the miracle of his touch.
Please keep reading for Diane Burton's Christmas story - I'm sure it will be fantastic! Thank you for joining us. These Christmas stories are always so much fun, and we love sharing them with you and hopefully bringing you some extra holiday cheer. A very Merry Christmas to you and yours and blessings for 2018.