Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree
© 2011 Delia Latham
Jo grabbed a handful of Dean's jacket and jerked him backward. "You're leaving? Just like that? Without explaining yourself?" She fisted both hands and planted them on her hips, only to lift one and dash away a hot tear that dared to escape.
Dean sighed, but one corner of his firm, precisely curved lips quirked upward in that familiar, I'm-trying-not-to-laugh semi-grin that haunted her every time she closed her eyes. Right now she narrowed them in a threatening glare.
"Well now, darlin', I don't rightly know what to do here. Am I stayin' or goin'?"
Jo crossed her arms, partly reacting to the chill from the open door, and partly to keep from wrapping them around him.
"You're staying, just long enough to tell me where you've been—and I hope you were busy, since you obviously didn't have time to make a phone call. Not one!"
She sucked in a shaky breath and shut the door when Dean backed away from it. From the other room, Bing Crosby crooned, "I'll ...be home…for Christmas."
"Argh!" Jo gave a tiny stomp of her foot, and Dean's quirky half-grin turned into a full-blown one. He hiked one brow, and Jo suddenly remembered how he'd always called that unattractive stomping habit of hers a "Jo Leigh mini fit."
"Don't you dare say it!" She stomped the other one, no more able to keep it from happening than she was to prevent another tear from rolling down her cheek.
Dean's cheeky grin disappeared in an instant, and now she remembered how he'd always hated to see her cry. Well, too bad, because sometime between leaving the department store and arriving here, she'd lost every ounce of self-control she ever possessed.
"Aww, darlin', don't cry. Please don't cry!" Dean dropped his expensive leather jacket right down on the floor and stretched a tentative hand toward Jo.
Was he going to try and kiss her? She stiffened, not knowing whether to hope he was or pray he wasn't. Because if he did, she wouldn't be able to stop him in her current state of spinelessness.
But he simply caught the wayward tear on his thumb and brought it to his lips, where he proceeded to tease her senses by pressing an absolutely beautiful kiss onto it. "I never intended to make you cry, darlin'."
"Well, you did!" Jo flounced across the room. Flounced. Like a silly teenage girl in a huff. "You did make me cry, Dean. Night after night after endless night."
She dropped onto the sofa, pulled her feet up under her and covered them with an afghan.
Dean indicated the cushion next to her. "May I?"
"Suit yourself." She sniffled, hating herself for being so transparent.
Dean lowered himself onto the empty space and turned to face her. His blue-gray eyes reflected all the love she had longed for during the agonizing months of the past year, and she didn't understand. She knew that look. She knew what it meant.
But it didn't make sense. If he loved her, why had he abandoned her as he had?
She drew a shuddering breath and set her jaw, trying to strengthen her own weakening resolve. "Talk."
And he did. For half an hour, he talked. She learned how, on the morning of the day he left her, he had witnessed the assassination of a married couple by a man everyone in the city knew, but could not prove, to be a major crime lord. Dean explained how he'd thought the man might have caught a glimpse of him as he made his own escape, and about his panicked flight to the police department. He related how the FBI took the case right out of the hands of local law enforcement and whisked him off for hours of grueling interrogation.
He paused then, and held out his hand. Jo placed hers into it, while tears streamed down her face and dripped off the tip of her chin.
"They told me I had to go under the grid, Jo…not just to save my own life, but the lives of anyone who meant anything to me. Especially you. Because this guy wouldn't hesitate to use you as a tool to get to me—or simply kill you to send me a message."
His voice thickened, and he cleared his throat. "If I had to say good-bye to you forever, that's what I'd do to keep him from finding you, Jo."
"But he didn't know who you were, Dean. I don't get it."
"There's always a chance that someone in the police force, or within the FBI, is dirty. Money talks, and there was no guarantee that someone wouldn't sell me out—if not for money, then to protect someone they loved." He shook his head. "It was the only way I could know you'd be safe, Jo. I had to get as far away from you as possible, as quickly as I could get there. They helped me…put me in Witness Protection, and gave me a new identity. A new job. A whole new life."
He tugged on her hand, and Jo found herself melting into his embrace.
"A lonely, awful new life with no Jo. Oh, darlin', I missed you! You can't imagine how many times I picked up the phone to call you, just to hear your voice…but I never did, because calls can be traced. I couldn't do anything that held even the slightest possibility of creating a trail back to you."
Jo snuggled into his arms while harsh sobs wracked her body. Dean held her, gently rubbed her back, pushed the hair off her damp face, and kissed her forehead, her temples, the top of her head, while muttering comforting words into her ear.
She sniffled and sniffed and worked on gaining her composure, and even managed a weak grin when the rest of the world broke in with a rousing blast of "Jingle Bell Rock" from her stereo.
"Where on earth did you find this CD?"
"Buried under all your other ones." Dean grinned. "One look at your apartment and I knew I had to get some Christmas spirit in here. Fastest way I know to do that is with music. But of course…" His cheeky grin nearly stopped her heart. "I couldn't stop there."
Jo groaned, but couldn't prevent a tiny upward tilt of her lips. "I noticed. Happy-happy-joy-joy."
to be continued.....
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