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A Smoky Mountain Hockey Holiday
Author: Toni Aleo


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A Smoky Mountain Hockey Holiday

 

 

By Toni Aleo

 

 

Surprise!

 

 

Elli Adler

 

As the truck door slams, I look back at my husband’s very confused face and smile brightly. I glance over at the chalet I rented for the Christmas holiday, and I am just so giddy with excitement, I’m shaking.

All my kids, all my family, and all my grandbabies under one roof. I’m squealing internally!

“Eleanor Adler. What the hell?”

I grin at him, throwing up my hands in enthusiasm. “Surprise!”

Shea glares. “Elli, you said we were getting a cabin.”

“No—a chalet,” I correct. He doesn’t appear to have the patience for my extravagance.

“This is a mansion,” he states matter-of-factly as he watches me in disbelief.

“No. It’s a chalet, and we have potentially twenty people who are going to be here for the holidays. We needed space.”

“Yes, like six rooms. This is what, twenty?”

I press my lips together as I glance back at the holiday home. “Twenty-two. But in my defense, I felt it was a lucky number. Twenty-two is Lucas’s number,” I offer since Shea and Lucas are such good friends.

Shea doesn’t miss a beat. “And six is my number. I’d rather have stayed in a six-room cabin than this monstrosity. I mean hell, Elli. Did you pay for all those lights to be put up too?”

Yes, I did. “No,” I fib, and he rolls his eyes as he lifts our suitcases out of the snow. Shea stands bigger than ever, with a little more weight around his hips than he cares for. For me, I love it. Being a hockey player for so long, he was always so trim. But that was Shea Adler, defensive powerhouse for the Nashville Assassins.

Oh, how I love that man. We’ve built one hell of a life, had five gorgeous, talented children, and somehow survived all of them, mostly unscathed. Shea Adler as a dad is a sight that can’t be unseen. He loves his kids and puts his whole self into them. Each one knows their daddy loves them and that he would honestly lay down his life for them. He taught them to be patient, to be kind, but most of all, to love. He showed our girls how to be loved by a man, and our boys how to love a woman.

All by loving me.

It all seems like time has gone so quickly, but the years show on his handsome face. The wrinkles around his eyes, the gray in his beard and on the sides of his head. My PopPop, as our eldest grandson Zac calls him. I really don’t know how I’ve been lucky enough to fall for Shea repeatedly all these years, but now that he’s a grandpa, I wish like hell that I could freeze time and just stand in awe of him. Crazy as it sounds, I think Shea as a grandpa may be my favorite. He loves our grandbabies like he loves their mommas. With his whole body and soul.

I’m not one to question if my husband loves me; I know he does. But he’s staring at me, one brow cocked and his lips pursed. “You’re lying.”

I shrug innocently. “Fibbing.”

Shea shakes his head as he walks in my direction. “This is ridiculous. So over the top. And just know, when my parents, and Lucas, Fallon, Grace, and whoever else shows up and teases you for going overboard, I won’t defend you.”

I hold back my laughter. He will. I know he will. I look up at the massively huge chalet that will hold my whole family for the holidays, a little worried I did go overboard. Yes, it’s rather large. And yes, it’s covered basement to roof with Christmas lights. And yes, maybe there is an inflatable Grinch scene. Oh, and a life-size nativity. But I couldn’t help myself. “I just love Christmas!”

“Elli,” is all he says as he comes toward me. He drops one bag in the snow and points to the door. “Tell me now. Is the inside just as bad?”

I bat my lashes at him. “Define bad.”

His eyes burn into mine, and he knows that inside could be the film set for any Hallmark movie. “How many Christmas trees?”

I press my lips together. “Like, a total? Or small trees and then floor-to-ceiling trees?”

He lets his head fall back, closing his eyes as he groans my name. “Eleanor. Am I sleeping in a Christmas sleigh?”

I smile widely at him, wrinkling my nose as he looks back down at me. “No, but there is a lot of mistletoe in our room.”

Annoyance leaves his face almost instantly as he gazes into my eyes. He reaches out, taking my jaw in his large, callused hand. I smile as he grins down at me, his dimples taking my breath away. He strokes his thumb along my lips and leans down to kiss me. Before he does, he says, “How many trees?”

“One in each room, and if they didn’t fit, then I did small trees.”

He closes his eyes, resting his nose on mine. “You drive me insane, woman. Utterly insane.”

My grin widens. “I know you love me.”

“More than you’ll ever know.”

He kisses me then, and I cuddle deep into his chest. Not only for the closeness but for the warmth. It’s cold as hell in the Smokies, but I knew it’d be the perfect place for everyone to meet up. With the boys in South Carolina, I wanted to make the trip easy for them. I knew that everyone from Nashville would have to drive, but I wanted a real white Christmas. Of course the Smokies have delivered. The mountaintops are covered with beautiful blankets of snow, and so is the chalet. It’s moody and magical as darkness approaches, but for me, it’s perfect. Most everyone will be here by morning except Evan and his girlfriend Callie since they’re doing Christmas Eve morning with Callie’s family. I extended the invite to them, but Evan didn’t seem to want to extend it further.

I was under the impression that everything was fine with Callie’s sister and her husband, but maybe something happened. I don’t know, and I honestly don’t care, because Evan is so happy. The change from being broken and lost because he retired early from the NHL into the man he is now still brings me to tears. I’m just so proud, and oh, I can’t wait to see him and Callie. She is so good for my boy, and I adore her sweet face.

When the crunching of snow disrupts our kiss, we both turn to see our billet son, Benson, pulling in beside our truck, with our youngest son in the passenger seat. My babies. When we opened our home to Benson, I wasn’t aware how much I would love him. He is such a sweet boy, and being able to be here for him as he navigates college is a blessing. He had a chance to go to the juniors, but he chose to go to school instead. The University of Bellevue is one of the top hockey colleges in the US, so he knew he would still have a chance to draft. Benson waves as he parks, but my heart is heavy for him.

He’s had a rough couple of months, and I know he isn’t over what happened at the end of his freshman year. I think that’s why he isn’t going home for the holidays—not only because he doesn’t want to stop training, but because he doesn’t want to tell his mom that he’d gotten a girl pregnant and she chose to terminate the pregnancy. I am extremely proud of the way he supported and stood beside her through the whole thing. I’ve heard they don’t talk anymore, but I know he knows that he did right by her.

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