Twins Under the Tree

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(In this scene Hadley Smith and Jenna Moran are decorating the Christmas tree at Clara McMann’s ranch.)


Dutifully, Jenna switched off the room lights, plugged the tree in, and all at once the McMann living room became a fairyland. “Oh, how beautiful.”

Hadley’s electric-blue gaze skimmed Jenna, making her flush as if she’d stuck a finger in the socket instead of the lights. Surely, he wasn’t thinking about her that way. Or could he have seen her own awareness of him in her eyes?

Hadley shifted an ornament from a low branch to a higher one. “I haven’t seen Clara this happy since I got back,” he said.

“You don’t think there’s a connection? I can tell she loves having you and the twins living here.” Hadley didn’t say anything more, so Jenna decided to go for it and tease out his plans. “Not bad, is it, doing work you love right here?”

He paused. “I’m happy wherever the road takes me.”

Jenna swallowed. “Don’t you want a permanent place? A home?”

“Never had one. Don’t…miss it.”

In spite of his foster care experience as a boy, Jenna thought that must be a lie. Who didn’t want a home? A family? Or did he mean he wouldn’t want a home with her? “For the twins, then, and you do miss your brother. I could see that in your eyes.”

He plucked another ornament off the tree, then put it back in the same spot. The lights made Hadley’s face appear softer, but his words sounded hard. “Roots can ground you, like Clara, or they can tie you down.”

Jenna turned from the tree. Was he trying to tell her he didn’t intend to remain much longer? I won’t stay in Barren forever, he’d once said. Better to know before her feelings for him got even stronger. Yet she couldn’t help saying, “The babies are your roots now, Hadley.”

He made a sound she couldn’t interpret. “You know where I stand. Jenna, I’m not the guy you should pick.”

She tensed, tempted to back off. “You mean a guy who leaves every place he’s ever been? Because that’s what you do, Hadley. You always leave. Why would I take on a man who probably keeps his bag packed in a closet? I hope this eases your mind, but I’d rather live the rest of my life alone.”

He said, “No, you wouldn’t. I know that much about you. Even after your ex, you’re still the marrying type.”

Jenna wished she hadn’t started this after all, exposed herself. “Did you really just say ‘the marrying type’?”