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Xoxo, Steamy Thanksgiving

A 'xoxo, Valentina' bonus scene

Gabriella’s family owned some land about thirty minutes outside Mossy Oak, in the rolling hills of Sapphire Valley. Her great-grandfather had bought the land a hundred years ago, and it had been passed down through the heirs ever since. Gabriella’s father and his siblings owned the land, and they had cultivated it into a family gathering place.

We crossed a wooden bridge spanning a wide creek to get to the isolated property. Bare-limbed trees decorated the gently sloping hills. Leaves scattered the ground like piles of brightly colored laundry. The clouds were high white wisps in an impossibly blue sky.

“My dad calls it ‘the cabin,’ but don’t let the name fool you,” Gabriella said. “There’s nothing minimalist about the place. My dad and his brothers like their creature comforts.”

“Yeah, Papa flies first class,” Shane said from the backseat.

“You would too if you’d just finished climbing the highest peak on the continent and you had the money to pay for more leg room.”

Gabriella’s father was an outdoor enthusiast who traveled all over to hike, fish, and hunt. He’d just come back from climbing Mt. Ranier in Washington, and before that, he’d been in Alaska hunting bear.

When we drove up the gravel road to the top of the hill, I saw the cabin nestled in the valley below, and my jaw dropped. Once upon a time, it may have been a cabin, but now the stone structure was more like a sprawling estate.


Gabriella chuckled. “I told you.”

“Calling that a cabin is like calling Frodo a cat.”

Shane laughed. “Frodo isn’t a cat,” he said. “He walks on a leash.”


“I know, right?” Gabriella parked in between an SUV and a truck and turned to me. “I apologize for anything in advance my cousin Brenda says.” Her lips pursed. “And Uncle Jimmy, too.”

“Cousin Maggie is a trip,” Shane said. “She lives for Thanksgiving.”

Gabriella’s nose crinkled. “She takes the holiday seriously.”

“Wonder if she’ll wear her turkey costume again?” Shane asked, opening his door.

A teenaged boy with bright red hair and a face full of freckles appeared at Shane’s door. “Hey, Stupid!”

“Buttface!” Shane climbed out of the car. “You got even uglier since the last time I saw you.”

They fake punched and dodged each other’s fists in a round of air boxing.

“I bet I can still dunk on you,” the kid said, jumping up to steal Shane’s hat.

Shane ripped his hat from the kid’s hand and crammed it back onto his head. “I’ll take that bet.”

Gabriella came around from the front of the car. “Not so fast,” she said. “Find a place on the counter for Joey’s dish.” She handed him the cornbread I’d made and a bottle of Champagne. “The wine goes in the fridge.”

Shane and his buddy hurried off towards the house. When they were out of sight, Gabriella linked her arm through my elbow and leaned into me.

“Don’t worry if you can’t remember everyone’s names,” she said. “There are a lot of us, and it can be overwhelming.”

I wrapped my arms around her waist. “I’m good with names.”

“I have three uncles named Jimmy,” she warned, scrunching up her nose.

We followed Shane into the house at a more subdued pace, allowing me to get an eyeful of the property. She and Shane always referred to this place as “the farm.” It looked little like a farm from where I was standing. There weren’t any crops, or fields, and the closest thing I’d seen to farm animals were a couple of golden retrievers chasing balls on the lawn.

She led the way up a set of wide stairs and introduced me to a few people rocking in chairs on the wrap-around porch. I repeated their names in my head, using one of my old teacher's tricks of associating each name with an animal from their initial letter that closely resembled their appearance.

Martin was a mammoth. Cecelia, a cat. And so on.

When we got inside, we shed our coats and hats, hanging them on overcrowded pegs. There were more relatives, more animals, and I met two Jimmys in a row. There were only so many J-named animals, and neither Jimmy much resembled a jellyfish.

A woman in a full turkey suit complete with a gobbler must have been Cousin Maggie.

The busy kitchen reminded me of being at home in my parents’ restaurant. People scooted around each other to get to the fridge or the oven. Laughter and conversation filled the room. Christmas music played over the speakers, and the only thing flowing more steadily than the wine was the stream of relatives coming through the door.

I caught Gabriella’s hand. “Anyone ever suggest name tags?”

Gabriella pursed her lips, thinking. “I like that idea. Maybe next year.”

I laughed. “It was a joke, baby.” Of course, my little boss lady wanted to implement name tags. She was so cute when she was organized.

“It seems everyone brought someone this year.” She gestured at the long table dominating the dining room and spreading into the living room. “Sarah brought her roommate from California, and Jimmy-C brought three of his swim team friends.” Her smile beamed. “And I brought you.”

My smile beamed back. “Thank you for this. It reminds me of home.”

She put her hand on my arm and gave me a little squeeze. “I know it’s a little crazy. Everyone is always talking at once.”

The bustle of people, the love shining in everyone’s face, the smell of delicious food in the air—it was just like home. “I love it. Thanks for including me.”

“I wouldn’t want to spend the holiday without you.”

The velvet softness of her brown eyes tugged at my heart. I put my arm around her, drawing her closer in the crowded room. People were circling the covered dishes, making noises about eating soon. “I hope my dish is okay.”

“I’m sure it’s wonderful,” Gabriella said.

“Everything you make is wonderful.”

“I had to improvise on one ingredient because I gave my creamed corn to a lady in line behind me.”

“Why’d you do that?”

“She said her family was counting on her to make their favorite recipe, and she couldn’t make it without the creamed corn.”

“You are such a giver.”

“I couldn’t let her family be disappointed. You should have seen her. She was almost in tears.”

“This woman must have a crazy family.”

I glanced around at the chaos and smiled. “She must.”

She reached up and kissed my cheek, and a sudden heat filled my body. It had been too long since we’d been alone. It had been weeks since we’d managed a night alone, and I was starving for a taste of her. “Is there a hayloft somewhere we can put to use?” I’d meant it as a joke, but when Gabriella looked up at me with a wicked gleam in her eyes, I reconsidered.

“Not a hayloft.” The sparkle in her eyes made my blood heat. “Somewhere even better. Meet me outside in five minutes. Dress warm.”

“Are you sure? Won’t we be eating soon?”

“There are so many of them. Believe me, they won’t notice we are gone.” She kissed my cheek again, lingering. “Five minutes, okay?”

She hurried off, ponytail swinging, leaving me alone in a sea of friendly faced strangers. I grabbed my coat and hat and made my way through the crowd, murmuring polite hellos. When five minutes were up, I wandered outside and scanned the porch for Gabriella.

A rumbling noise behind me caught my attention. I turned and saw a four-wheeler heading toward the house, a smiling Gabriella behind the wheel.

She slowed to a stop and patted the bench seat beside her. “Get in.”

I jogged down the steps and climbed into the four-wheeler, my smile beaming. “Did you steal this?” I teased.

She hit the gas, and we careened off on the gravel trail, heading into the woods. “I’ve been coming here all my life. I want to show you something.”

Gabriella navigated the four-wheeler up a steep hill. I turned and saw the house in the distance. A plume of smoke rose from the chimney, and it looked like something out of a fairy tale.

“Where are you taking me?” I asked.

She put her hand on my leg and squeezed. “Somewhere we can be alone for a minute.”

I slid closer and put my arm around her shoulders, liking the sound of that. We were dressed for cold weather in coats and hats, but I could still feel the heat of her body under all the layers. She squeezed my thigh, and my entire body stiffened.

“Only a minute?” I asked, nuzzling her neck as she drove. “Is that a challenge?”

She laughed, and the throaty sound made cock react. Made my entire body react.

“We don’t have long…” Her words drifted off when I pushed aside her coat and kissed the sensitive spot on her neck. “Mmm.”

It had been too long since we’d had a moment together, and I was going to make every one count. I reached under her coat and cupped her breast. She sucked in a breath, and I smiled, my lips curving against her throat.

The four-wheeler came to a stop and Gabriella cut the engine. “I can’t drive when you’re doing that,” she said. “It isn’t safe.”

I pulled her into my lap, shifting so she straddled me. It made me smile to think my little rule-follower couldn’t even break the rules in the middle of the woods. I pulled her head down to mine and kissed her deeply, my tongue sweeping into her mouth to taste what I was craving. She ground against me, feeling the hard length of my erection through the layers of our clothes. I was hot and hard for her, needing release just as badly as she did.

Our kiss went on forever. Pleasure swept through me as Gabriella met every stroke of my tongue with a demand from her own. She broke away on a panting breath and slid off me. Grabbing my hand, she tugged me out of the four-wheeler.

“Come on, we’re here.”

I looked around and saw we were in the middle of a dense forest. A path wound through the trees and up and over the hills. Straight ahead, I saw a giant oak tree with a treehouse perched on its sturdy limbs.

Gabriella led the way, climbing the wooden ladder to the top of the tree. She propped the door open and waited for me. “I used to come here all the time when I was a teenager,” she said.

I climbed the last rung and joined her in the tiny space. Levered windows were closed against the elements, and the only light was what filtered through the cracks between the rustic wood-beamed walls.

Gabriella lit a candle and set it on a shelf, shining light around the small space. It was a simple room with plywood floors and wood planked walls. A few lawn chairs and a card table were the only furniture, and a poster of an actor I recognized from nineties American television hung on the wall.

While not exactly warm inside the treehouse, it wasn’t freezing either. It was private, and that’s all that mattered.

A buzz of energy passed between me and Gabriella, and I reached for her. We hadn’t spent the night together in weeks, and we were missing each other terribly. It wasn’t just the sex, although there was that, too. It was also talking until we were both too tired to say another word, falling asleep together, and waking up tangled in each other’s arms.

But our lives were busy. We both worked full-time. I coached indoor track after school and was training for a marathon. Gabriella had her job and Shane. Plus, we had his feelings to consider. We treaded carefully in his presence. Although he knew we were dating, we were respectful of his feelings. Gabriella and I had agreed that her place was off limits for sleepovers.

“How much time do you think we have?” I asked, slipping my hands inside her coat.

“My uncle Robert will bless the food for at least eight minutes. Then, everyone will line up.” She pushed my coat open and unbuttoned my shirt, her movements frenzied. “I always dreamed of doing it in her when I was a teenager,” she said, sounding breathless.

“Doing what?” I teased.

She slipped her hands into the gap of my shirt. Cool fingers spread across my heated skin. “You know,” she said, her voice adorably shy.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Why don’t you tell me?”

I bent my head and pressed my mouth to hers. At the first touch of her lips, a bolt of lust slashed through me. My blood rushed through my veins, and the hunger I’d been denying for weeks grew stronger, pulsing with a life of its own. Her mouth opened to mine, and our tongues tangled.

I wanted to take my time with her, but that was the one thing we never had enough of.

“Tell me,” I said, trailing kisses across her jawline to her ear. “What did you want to do in this treehouse when you were a naughty girl?”

Her hands spread further up my back, griping the muscles along my spine. “I wanted to sneak a boy up here.”

I slid my hand up her thigh, glad she’d worn a dress, so I had easy access. “Did you want him to touch you like this?” I cupped her through her tights, and she gasped.

“Yes.” Full of longing, her voice was a flame to the fire burning inside me.

I slipped my hand beneath the waistband of her tights and didn’t stop until I was touching her right where she needed me. Right where I needed her. I pushed a finger inside her, curling deep to hit the sweet spot that made her knees buckle.

Adding another finger, stretching her slick walls, I took her mouth again in a hungry kiss. She sucked tongue, her hands spreading to grip my shoulders.

“Would he just use his fingers?” I asked, sliding my fingers through her wetness. “Or his tongue too?”

She moaned, and I didn’t give her a chance to answer before I claimed her mouth again in a searing kiss. I rubbed her clit, strumming it lightly before slipping my fingers back through her silky folds. I kept up a rhythm intended to make her come hard and fast. Her body responded immediately, hips bucking against my hand. Her fingers clutched my shoulders, and she threw her leg up over my hip.

I ended the kiss and dropped to my knees. Spreading her thighs, I buried my head between her legs. I kissed her, licked her, plunged my tongue inside her, until the noises she made could be heard all the way to the cabin.

Lifting my head, I rubbed the scruff of my beard across the top of her thighs. “I want to fuck you,” I said. “But we don’t have time.”

She yanked off my hat and buried her fingers in my hair. Guiding my head back to her center, she chased my mouth with her hips. My fingers plunged inside her, ruthlessly taking her to the edge in record time. I knew what she liked, what she didn’t, and what made her hips jerk out of control. Gabriella was easy to please. Every little touch between us filled the space with electricity. The temperature in the treehouse soared as our hot breaths filled the air. I put my mouth back on her at just the right moment, and she shattered against my tongue.

My name spilled from her mouth. My real name, not my American name.

“Fernando,” she said, drawing out every syllable.

I licked every drop of her honey and then fixed her clothes before rising to my feet. She took a moment to catch her breath, her eyes heavy lidded.

“We should get back,” I said, tugging her toward the door.

“Wait,” she said, her voice a heavy sigh. “I can’t leave you like this.” She palmed my heavy erection through my pants, and I groaned. “Maybe we can find a supply closet after desert.”

I wanted to bury myself inside her sweet heat, but she was worth the wait. Gabriella was worth taking my time on.

“Maybe.” I started down the ladder first, reaching up to brace her fall in case she wasn’t steady.

We reached the house just in time to get in the back of the line to fill our plates.

“Uncle Robert’s blessing must have been long-winded.” Gabriella leaned into me, smiling.

She still had a blissful smile of satisfaction, but her ponytail was crooked. I reached up and smoothed her hair.

“Looks like everyone liked your cornbread,” she said, pointing to my empty casserole dish.

“Ah, I worried for nothing.” I smiled. “But you didn’t get to taste it.”

She winked at me. “I’ll taste it later,” she promised.

Have you read the Book?

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