“You’ll…wait?” she softly whispered.
I shrugged. “If that’s what you need me to do.”
Her eyes widened and she stared at me for a few moments. She went to speak, but then closed her mouth.
“We’re going to be late, Tanner!” my father called out.
“You’re driving with Ty and Kaylee?” I asked.
“Um, yes. Kaylee texted they’re on their way.”
I gave her another once-over, then winked. “I’ll let you finish getting ready to meet them.”
Her eyes searched my face before she finally smiled and said, “I’ll see you there, then.”
The corner of my mouth twitched before I gave her a nod. I turned and walked away, only to stop when she called out my name.
Turning around, I watched as she took a few steps closer to me. “Do you think we can talk later? Alone.”
With a smile, I nodded again. “Sure. Tell me when and where, and I’ll be there.”
“After dinner, the barn loft? Maybe give me time to change clothes and I’ll meet you there?”
My chest felt heavy, and she must have seen the worry on my face, remembering how we’d attempted to talk a couple of days ago and it had turned out disastrously.
“I promise not to get any texts that will alter my mood. And if anyone interrupts us, I won’t flake out on you.”
“Is that your Christmas promise?” I asked, a teasing tone in my voice.
Timberlynn giggled. “Yes! That is my Christmas promise to you.”
“Then, it’s a date.”
Her face lit up as she smiled. “Great.”
“See you at the church, Timber.”
“See you there.”
Nearly an hour later, we were all sitting in church waiting for the Christmas Eve service to start. My mother glanced around nervously.
“You know how Ty is, Mama. He’ll be here,” I said as I squeezed her arm.
“He’ll be here alright, and walking in after the service starts.” She crossed her arms over her chest and turned to look forward. My father was busying himself talking to Brock and holding a sleeping Morgan in his arms.
Leaning closer to me, my mother hissed, “You know how Pastor Steve is about things like this! Not to mention, the women’s prayer group I’m in. I can hear them now, ‘Stella Shaw’s son walked into Christmas Even mass late!’ Oh, won’t Gidget love this. She’s been itching to talk smack about me.”
I attempted not to laugh. “Talk…smack…about you? Mama, where in the world did you even learn that word?”
She turned to glare at me. “I have Facebook, Tanner. I keep up with the trends on there.”
It took everything I had not to bust out laughing. My phone buzzed and I pulled it out of my pocket. I grinned even more when I read the text from Ty.
Ty: Tell our mother to stop pouting. We’re walking into the church right now.
“He’s walking in right now.”
My mother’s entire body relaxed, and she dropped her arms to her side. Not thirty seconds later, Ty, Kaylee, and Timberlynn slipped into the pews in front of us.
“Go stand next to Timberlynn, Tanner. Lori Williams, the town gossip, is here. So is her son, and he’s making eyes at Timberlynn. He’ll come and sit next to her, and then we’ll have to hear him shouting during worship songs.”
I tipped my pretend hat at her and made my way around to the pews in front of us. I leaned past Timberlynn and Kaylee and met Ty’s gaze. “You were two minutes from being cut out of the will and becoming the subject of the lady’s prayer group gossip.”
He grinned, then turned and gave our mother a kiss. I laughed and looked down at Timberlynn.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
I leaned down to talk softer now that nearly all the seats around us were taken. It wasn’t lost on me that Lori Williams’ son, Pete, did indeed sit directly in front of Timberlynn. “Nothing, my mother nearly got her panties in a twist because Ty was almost late for service.”
The music started and Timberlynn took a quick glance around. “Looks like we got here right on time.”
“Ty has it down to the second. He does it purely to agitate our mother. Every year.”
Timberlynn giggled. “That’s terrible.”
I shrugged. “That’s Ty.”
As the service began, Timberlynn relaxed next to me. Once or twice, Pete turned and flashed her a smile if she glanced his way. By the time he turned around for the fourth time, Timberlynn had reached down and took my hand in hers as we stood and sang one of the worship songs. Pete glanced around, then looked at our joined hands. He turned back around and didn’t look our way the rest of the service. Timberlynn also didn’t let go of my hand. And that left me feeling like a fucking giddy school boy.
After the service was over, my folks introduced Timberlynn to a few people. I watched as she smiled politely and spoke to folks.
As Kaylee and Lincoln introduced Timberlynn to a couple of their friends, I stood off near the entrance of the church and waited patiently. Lincoln and Brock were showing off Blayze and Morgan and answering the same questions over and over again. No, they didn’t know if it was a boy or girl yet; no, they were not finding out ahead of time; and yes, they would be happy with either a boy or a girl.
My mind drifted to Timberlynn’s father. What was he doing tonight on Christmas Eve? Had he not even thought about his own daughter at all? How could a father not want to be involved in his only daughter’s life?
Finally, everyone started to make their way over to me. Timberlynn stood by my side as we all waited for my father to finish his conversation with the pastor. I looked around at the church, which was quickly emptying out. I nearly groaned when I saw Lindsey walking my way.
I pulled my hands out of my pockets and laced my arm around Timberlynn’s waist. She didn’t so much as flinch.
“Why, Mr. Shaw, are you using me to distract a certain ex?”
“She is not an ex, and yes, I am totally using you right now. Is that okay?”
When she leaned into me more, I smiled and tried not to let her know both my heartrate and breathing had sped up. “Is that your answer?”
“Yes, plus, I’ve missed being near you.”
As Lindsey made her way through the small crowd, her eyes locked on my arm wrapped around Timberlynn. She frowned and then turned to speak to my mother. “Why, Stella, it’s so very nice to see you.”
My mother flashed Lindsey a polite smile. “You, as well, Lindsey.”
She glanced my way and then back to my mother and gave her a fake pout before she spoke. “I’m hoping you can talk Tanner into attending one of our closest friend’s weddings. I’ve asked him, and he’s turned me down.”
Mom looked at me with my arm around Timberlynn, then focused back on Lindsey. “Honey, I’m guessing he said no because he has a good reason to say no. You have a lovely holiday season. Tell your mama I said hi.”
And like that, my mother dismissed Lindsey who huffed, spun on her heels, and walked away.
Without missing a beat, my mother gave my father a knowing head bob.
“Okay, Shaw crew, let’s head on out!” my father announced as we all piled out of the church and made our way to the parking lot.
“Did you want to ride with Ty and Kaylee, or with me and my folks?” I asked Timberlynn, not letting go of her.
Her eyes lit up. “As much as I love my cousin, seeing her and Ty kiss the back of each other’s hands every two minutes does get a little old.”
I laughed. “Have you ridden with my parents anywhere yet?”
She rolled her eyes and let out a fake moan.
Blayze ran up to us and faced Timberlynn. “Miss Timberlynn! Will you sit next to me at the restaurant?”
Timberlynn dropped down some and smiled at Blayze. “Why, I would be honored to sit next to you.”
; My nephew beamed with happiness before he shot me a triumphant grin. Cocky little bastard. He was going to be upset when he found out I was sitting on the other side of her. My folks walked and stopped next to Blayze. When my mother looked my way and winked, I knew she was up to something.
“Timberlynn, sweetheart. Would you mind terribly riding over to the restaurant with Tanner in his daddy’s truck? Morgan is acting up a bit, and Lincoln has some serious morning sickness. I told her Ty Senior and I would ride in the back with the kids.”
My father’s head snapped over to look at my mother, and I almost laughed at his confused expression. “We are?” he asked, only to have my mother wave him off.
“Would you mind riding with Tanner?” Mom asked again.
Timberlynn smiled politely. “I don’t mind at all.”
“Great! We’ll see the two of you there.”
I held my arm out for Timberlynn, and she took it without a second thought.
“Save me a seat, Miss Timberlynn!” Blayze called out as he walked away, his hand in my mother’s.
She glanced back over her shoulder and replied, “I will, I promise.”