All I want for Chistmas is .


Paul Blaisdell yawned, stretched, and rubbed his eyes. He sat up straight as his tired brain took in what was wrong in the picture of the quiet street the house was on. The babysitter's car was gone and she had driven herself here.

Swearing under his breath and praying that his two young daughters were safe, the police lieutenant dashed up the walk and to the front door. Cautiously trying the doorknob, he found that the house was locked; well that was something at least. Inserting his key he let himself in.

"Paul?" A familiar voice called to him from the living room. He stopped and drew in a deep breath, Annie's was always a welcome voice, but what was she doing at his house at this hour and where was the babysitter? Surely if she had had an emergency or something, she would have called him at the number he had left instead of calling his friend, it wasn't as if he had been incommunicado, he had been meeting a business acquaintance at a bar and the bartender knew him well and would have been happy to get him if there had been a call, it had even been a slow night, so Murray would have been easily able to do it.

"Paul?" the voice asked again, more frightened, now.

"It's okay, Annie, it's just me," he called out to assure her.

He stepped into the living room of his house and stopped dead in the doorway. He could hear Annie softly crooning Hush Little Baby while cradling his baby in her lap, there wasn't a rocking chair there, but she was doing a good job of rocking the child with her body. If he had had any doubts about his plans for the future and Annie's place in them, they were gone, now. Kelly, his grade-A, number one, government inspected, daddy's girl that no one but him could quiet from her night terrors was sitting quietly on Annie's lap sucking three fingers.

He sighed with relief, if Annie was here and sitting calmly on the couch, then both the girls were safe and sound. What amazed him was how quiet Kelly was. His little Imp had had a hard start in life with her mother, Grace, having to be on bed rest half her pregnancy and then both of them nearly dying with the little girl came six weeks early and finally had to be delivered breech. It was touch and go with Kelly fighting for her life in a body that had not totally finished being formed and Grace nearly dying when they had had trouble stopping her bleeding.

Big blue eyes opened wide when he approached two of his three favorite people downstairs and she held arms out to him. He was not surprised that Kelly had been unable to sleep until she knew he was home, what had surprised him was that she was not howling at the top of her lungs.

Once frightened, and waking up with no adult in the house, would have scared her senseless, Kelly was not easy to calm. For Paul, she would settle down fairly easily, his mother, who babysat for him, but due to a date was not free tonight, also could quiet her, though it took longer. So far, no one else had proven to have the knack for it, at least until tonight.

"Kelly, I need to check on Caroline, you need to stay with Annie for just one more minute. I'll be right back," he assured her, the chubby arms still waiting for him to pick her up.

The dark brown, almost black curly head nodded once and the fingers went back in the mouth.

Paul kissed his girl on the head and gave Annie a quick kiss as well, before taking the steps two at a time to check on his other child.

Once upstairs, he peered in a pink and white frilly room that had a princess motif going, he saw the blonde head of his kindergartener. He gently kissed her forehead as she softly rolled over in her sleep and nestled deeper under the covers. If either of the girls had called Annie, it would have been his little Liney, Caroline. Once there was an adult here, she was also the one that would relax and get over the fright of having been alone first. Maybe it was because he had been gone so much of her early years, she was almost three before Paul saw her, since she had been born just when he had left for two tours in Vietnam. She was much closer to Grace than she had been to him, and had not had an easy time adjusting to life without her mother.

Leaving the girl sleeping, he went into the other, smaller, bedroom. This room was still in many ways more nursery than bedroom, with Beatrix Potter everything and as many books as his baby could get people to buy her, was fast giving the room a more preschool and less baby look to it. He found a beat up Peter Rabbit laying on the bed and grabbed it, Annie wouldn't have known about Petabit, as Kelly called him, and Kelly was not speaking very clearly just yet, so wouldn't have known how to say what she wanted.

As he descended the stairs, his free hand automatically went into his pants pocket and felt something there. It was time, he had been carrying that thing around almost since Thanksgiving, and here it was almost a week before Christmas. Smiling, he continued on his way down.

"Daddy!" Kelly insisted as she held her arms out to him once more upon his return to the main room.

"When I tried to put her down, she was shaking she, was so scared, so I brought her down here with me," Annie explained, as he took the child from her and sat in another chair, snuggling the little body against him and handing her her beloved rabbit.

"Kelly's prone to nightmares, so it was probably best to let her wait up with you," Paul assured her.

"Has she always been like that?" Annie asked. Kelly had been the first of the girls to warm up to her and had seemed almost fearless in most situations.

"Unfortunately, yes, she was born early and couldn't even come home for the first week and a half, so tended to be a restless sleeper then, and if she is left alone for any time at all, she gets panicked, night or day. I think maybe she remembers Grace dying, still, or at least being there when she died," Paul explained.

Annie shook her head slowly from side to side. "I didn't realize she had been with her when that happened, was Caroline there as well?" Paul rarely talked about his first wife, the girl's mother, so she was interested to learn anything she could about what had happened. All she knew was that Paul had loved her and she had died New Years Eve Day when a drunk driver hit her.

"Caroline was at a friend's house playing and didn't know anything until I came and picked her up and had a chance to tell her. Kelly had been in her car seat in back screaming in terror for nearly an hour until they got her out of the wrecked car and handed off to me," Paul explained softly and calmly, he didn't want his almost asleep child waking because he got agitated.

"I can understand why she reacts like that to waking up and finding you gone," Annie sympathized.

"I was impressed. You're the first person other than myself and my mother that I've known to calm Kelly down from a full-blown panic attack," Paul told her. Looking down, he saw that Kelly had nodded off and was happily sucking three of her fingers in her sleep, which was usually an indication that she was far enough gone to be safely moved to bed without waking.

Annie smiled, "It actually wasn't that hard, I was just glad she was so comfortable with me. I think another couple of minutes and she might have actually been asleep."

"I'll be right back, she's nodded off and I want to get her down," Paul said, as he stood up and carried his baby upstairs.

He gently laid her in the crib that was almost ready to be exchanged for a bed, tucked the blanket around her and left her to sleep. He did, however, turn on the baby monitor that had not been in use for some time, if she started to wake, he wanted to know before she was crying.

If Annie had not even had trouble with Kelly, it was definitely time for some changes in the Blaisdell household. He had mourned his late wife and then gotten on with his life, which was what she would have wanted. And if her children were comfortable enough with another woman to allow her to comfort and love them and loved her as well, then Grace would not object even if she was able. She had been a kind and giving woman, who had always put her family's best interests first, she would not have wanted them to stay alone after her death.

For the third time in just over half an hour, Paul reemerged into his living room after a trek upstairs and rejoined Annie. He was getting tired from all the up and down stairs, probably an indication he should quit smoking like he had been talking about.

"I really appreciate you coming over, tonight," Paul told her, relief on his strong features.

"I wasn't doing anything, and I could hardly have left the girls alone after Caroline called and said the babysitter was gone and she didn't know how to get hold of you," Annie told him.

Paul took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Exploding would not help the situation and the person he was angry with, the sitter, would not be affected in the least.

"The babysitter left before you arrived?" He growled, and once more thanked God that his older daughter had a good head on her shoulders and instead of panicking had called Annie.

"It seems that the girls and their sitter got into a catsup fight in the kitchen and the sitter was afraid of what you would say, or something, because she left once the girls were asleep. Apparently Kelly woke up and started crying, which woke up Caroline who, seeing they were alone, decided to call you, but mine was the only number on the contact sheet that was not covered in catsup, so she called me and I came right over," Annie explained.

"A catsup fight?" Paul repeated in disbelief.

Annie chuckled, "I didn't actually go in, but it certainly smelled strongly of tomato, so I suspect the evidence is still covering the scene."

"Great, just what I wanted to be doing at this hour, cleaning the kitchen," Paul groaned.

"I'll help you clean up," Annie volunteered.

"You don't need to do that, but if you wouldn't mind staying here, in the guest room of course, I'd appreciate it, since I can't leave the girls alone while I drive you home and I would hate to have to put you in a taxi at this hour."

"I know I don't need to, but I don't mind in the least, and the guest room is fine, especially since I wasn't even your date tonight

"I wish you had been, then I might have enjoyed myself," Paul snorted.

"I'm sorry that you didn't have a good time," Annie replied, her tone leaving the truth of the statement just a bit questionable.

Paul stared at her, hard, "Honey, did you think I was out with another woman?"

"I'm sorry, Paul, I'm not usually the clingy type, but I did kind of wonder..." she let it fade as she bit her lip.

"Annie, sweetheart, you are the only woman I am at all interested in. Tonight was a business meeting that ran much, much later than I ever intended. I was not with another woman, I promise," he assured her.

"I never should have said anything, it's really none of my business if you were or not, although I admit to be glad that you were out on business and not a date," Annie blushed slightly.

"I'm glad that you did bring it up, obviously there are some things we need to talk about, and we probably should," Paul told her, taking a deep breath and kneeling in front of her.

"Okay, I would like that," Annie told him, surprised.

"First, I want to give you this, I've been carrying it for the last three weeks or so, trying to find the right moment. You see, I do tend to be the clingy type, or at least I hold the people I love close, and I do love you and I don't want to risk having you leave," Paul told her, after clearing his throat.

"I happen to like being held close by you," Annie told him, giving him the smile he had fallen in love with on their first date almost a year earlier.

Annie's fingers felt the object he was holding. It was metal and flat, a circle with a stone ... okay a ring, Paul was giving her a ring ...

"If you're not doing anything else for the rest of your life, Annie, would you spend it here with me?" He asked, swallowing hard.

Annie didn't say anything, but got up, threw her arms around him and kissed him.

Paul returned the ardent kiss with a passionate one of his own.

By the time the kitchen was clean, they had planned out a lovely fall wedding; twenty minutes kissing on the couch and they had moved it to spring. As he kissed her goodnight at the guest room, all he could think was that once again he was getting exactly what he wanted for Christmas... Annie had said yes.

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