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“I really appreciate you doing this for me, Talia. I know it’s Christmas Eve.”
Raleigh’s tenant, Talia Cowan only grinned as she popped the back hatch of her SUV. “Anything to help maintain the surprise.”
She tugged a box forward, and they both looked inside to the little ball of black and white fluff curled on a blanket. At the movement, the puppy cracked its eyes, gave a huge yawn, and staggered to its feet like a drunk frat boy.
Grinning, Raleigh scooped him up. “Hey there, pal.”
The puppy immediately tried to climb his chest and nibble at the beard on his chin.
“Not for eating, dude.”
“Speaking of eating, he’s had his dinner and done his business, so he should be good for a while. If you take the time to play and wear him out, he ought to sleep most of the night. Where are you going to put him until morning?”
“I have no idea.” Under other circumstances, he’d have sweet-talked Charlotte into puppy sitting for the night, but she was back in the States spending the holidays with her family. “I’ll sort it out. I already got the bed and the crate and all the things.”
“Well, good luck with it. And merry Christmas.”
“Thanks! You, too.”
As she pulled away, he tucked the puppy under one arm and wandered toward the barn, trying to decide what to do with him. He hated the idea of leaving the poor guy in a stall overnight by himself. He was just a baby, after all. He didn’t want to put him in with one of the bigger animals for company either because he didn’t want the puppy to be accidentally trampled. The house was huge. Surely, there was some room where he could hide the little guy without Kyla being able to hear.
Because they rarely used it, he snuck in the front door. Holiday music was blasting from the kitchen and lounge. He wasn’t sure exactly where she was, so he hustled the puppy back to the room next to his study, where he’d been hiding Christmas packages as they came in until he could wrap them. It was one of the rooms they never used, so he trusted she wouldn’t go nosing around trying to find her presents early. He stashed the puppy in a big, empty box while he raced back out to the barn for the crate and dog bed he’d originally hidden out there. By the time he made it back, the little scamp had knocked over his box and was cheerfully gnawing on the corner of one of the brightly wrapped packages.
“Shit. No! Not for you!” Dropping the bed, he scooped the puppy up.
It took some wrangling to get the crate set up with a wriggling furball occupying one hand, but finally, he nudged the little guy inside with his new bed and a plethora of non-squeaking toys.
“Those are for you. I’ll be back to check on you, little man. Behave yourself.”
When he stepped out into the hall and shut the door, Raleigh breathed a sigh of relief that Kyla hadn’t come looking for him yet. He was going to pull this off.
That delusion stuck with him halfway down the hall, until heard the unmistakable sound of puppy cries.
There was no help for it. He was going to have to give Kyla her present early.
It was fine. She’d still be surprised, and no doubt, she’d enjoy playing with and spoiling their new addition tonight.
Squaring his shoulders, he went in search of his wife.
The whole house had been decked out in grand style for Christmas. Garland, lights, and ribbon wrapped around all the railings of the stairs. A beautifully appointed Christmas tree soared to the top of the ceiling in the foyer. Another had been set up in the lounge, which had officially become their space. Over the past few months, they’d made some changes, swapping furniture around, incorporating some of the pieces he’d brought from Texas, moving the rest of Kyla’s things to Lochmara.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes was the new gallery of Kyla’s photos that took up one wall. Interspersed between gorgeous landscapes of their two estates, were lots of pictures of them. There was the shot she’d taken of him drowsing after their picnic. Another someone else had taken from their wedding reception. Zeke had sent along the photos from their actual wedding, and one of their first kiss took center stage in the grouping. The latest addition was the one they’d taken for the holidays. He wasn’t a Christmas card kind of guy, but if he was, this shot would’ve been perfect. They’d put a huge Christmas bow around Mabel’s neck and had taken a family photo, with both their arms around the no longer small cow. Mabel herself had preened for the camera, as if to say, “Aren’t I pretty?” The sight of it made them both smile every time.
When Raleigh didn’t find Kyla there, he headed for the kitchen. She was just closing the fridge when he stepped in.
“There you are. Everything is ready for tomorrow morning’s Christmas breakfast.” The official Christmas dinner would be held at Ardinmuir with a bigger, broader group of people, but they’d elected to have Christmas breakfast here, with just the immediate family. They wanted to keep it small this year for their first Christmas together.
“Shall I start the hot chocolate for the last night of our Christmas movie fest?”
“Maybe a little later. The thing is, I was going to wait until tomorrow to give you your present, but there are reasons I need to give it to you early. So I thought we could do that before movie night.”
Her lips curved. “That’s fine. I wanted to give you your Christmas present, just us, too.”
Raleigh’s brain immediately went down a rabbit hole for what kind of confection of satin and lace that might involve. He was absolutely on board with that. But they had a puppy to wear out first. “Awesome. I’ll be back. Wait for me in the lounge with your eyes closed?”
She feigned reluctance and suspicion. “Sure.”
Snagging her around the waist, he planted a smacking kiss on her mouth. “It’ll be worth it. Promise.”
Quickly, he retrieved the puppy. It took a few minutes to calm him down. “Okay, look, we’re gonna go meet your mama. Can you chill out for a few minutes and stay quiet? Just long enough for me to introduce you, okay?”
A puppy biscuit went a long way toward convincing him. They took a brief detour outside for a potty break. The last thing he needed was for the little guy to happy piddle all over Kyla. That was not the appropriate first impression. Satisfied they were as good as they were gonna get, Raleigh headed back inside.
Just outside the lounge, he called out, “Eyes closed?”
Kyla was perched on the sofa, hands folded neatly in her lap.
“Turn your hands up.”
She did as instructed, and Raleigh carefully set the puppy in her lap.
Kyla’s eyes flew open, and she gasped. “A puppy!” The instant joy on her face as she brought the puppy up to cuddle was worth every moment of machination to pull off the surprise.
“I know you’ve been sad because Mabel’s too big to come in the anymore. I thought maybe we could do with a dog.”
She rubbed her cheek against the puppy’s soft fur. “Dogs are good. Dogs are great. We had the sweetest lab growing up. Connor and I were positively heartbroken when she died while we were in high school, and we just never got another. But I think it’s time. This is great.”
“He’s half border collie, half we don’t have a clue. Just a good old mutt. Right at eight weeks old.”
Kyla held the puppy up and rubbed her nose against his. The puppy instantly tried to nibble on her nose, and she giggled.
“I understand if this might put a slight hold on whatever you were planning to give me.”
Her eyes lifted to his, twinkling. “The two aren’t incompatible.” She rose to her feet and crossed to him, still cuddling the dog. “Actually, the timing is good for a dog. He’ll be house trained and hopefully obedience trained by the time your arrives.”
“That’s a hell of a shipping delay.”
“That’s not exactly what I meant.”
“So it’s not here yet and won’t be for a while. Does that mean you’re gonna tell me what I’m getting?”
Puppy tucked against her chest, she grinned. “An heir.”
Raleigh blinked. “An air of what?”
Fully laughing now, she shook her head. “No. Not an air. An heir.” Grabbing his hand, she pressed it to her belly.
Then it sunk in. An heir.
“A baby? You’re pregnant?”
She nodded. “Confirmed yesterday morning.”
“Holy shit!” On a whoop, he picked up her and the puppy and spun them around. “This is amazing!”
The puppy, not appreciating the acrobatics, began to howl.
Raleigh set them both down and rubbed a hand over the puppy’s head as he pulled his wife in for a long, lingering kiss. “There is absolutely nothing you could’ve given me that’s better than this.”
She looped her free arm around his neck and smiled. “Merry Christmas, Raleigh.”
I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse of Kyla and Raleigh’s happily ever after! Keep reading the Kilted Hearts series for more little cameos of your favorite couple. Malcolm and Charlotte are next in Grump in a Kilt.