On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ....
Two Turtledoves, No Money Back
Jingle bells jangled as the door of Fluff burst open in a flutter of tinsel. Carrie jumped around in alarm, nearly trapping her hand inside an African Gray’s cage. A tall hunk of a man dressed in an expensive gray winter coat was blasting his way toward her, an ornate birdcage brandished in one leather-gloved hand.
“I want to return these birds. I expect my money back. With interest.” He plopped the cage down on the counter. Carrie peered at the pair of perfectly harmless-looking Streptopelia turtur, otherwise known as European Turtle Doves, perched inside. They cocked their heads at her and cooed.
“What’s wrong with them?” Puzzled, she looked back at the irate customer, only to find her breath snatched away by the impact of his jade-green eyes and late-in-the-day stubble.
“They’re worse than a horror movie, that’s what. You’ll be lucky if I don’t charge you for all the damage they’ve done.”
“These are turtledoves, not cobras. Turtledoves hide out and coo all day. That’s why they’re a symbol of devoted love, though as an ornithologist I never really bought into that romantic crap.”
The man, if possible, grew even more enraged. “Well my girlfriend did buy into that romantic crap. Turtledoves for Christmas, that’s all I’ve been hearing about for weeks. So I finally gave in and bought her the evil beasts.”
“Birds aren’t beasts. Beasts implies a mammal, whereas birds are descended from dinosaurs, which, come to think of it, could be called beasts, since it’s not exactly a scientific term...” She frowned, puzzling it over.
“Who are you?” He slapped one hand on the counter and leaned in. She caught of whiff of fresh snow and noticed a stray snowflake on one black eyebrow. Lord, he was a good-looking man.
“I’m an avian veterinarian. I’m here to help the new Rosy Bourque Parakeets settle in.”
“A bird vet? Perfect. Maybe you can explain why these demented birdbrains tried to peck out my girlfriend’s eyes. She had to lock herself in the bathroom.”
“That’s ridiculous. Why would they do that?”
“You tell me. After they scared the life out of her, they knocked over the candles I’d lit and set the tablecloth on fire. While I was running for the fire extinguisher, they flapped around the room, squawking up a storm, and managed to spill a bottle of champagne. At least it put the fire out. But that was a five-hundred dollar bottle of Veuve Cliquot.”
“Special occasion?” Carrie gingerly opened the door of the birdcage. True, turtledoves tended to be unpredictable in captivity, but she’d never heard of one pecking at someone’s eyes.
“Oh.” A quick shaft of disappointment surprised her. She murmured to the turtledoves, who gave a peaceful trrr trrr in response.
“Yeah. I bet you can guess her answer.”
“I’m sure if she loves you and you love her, her answer was yes.”
“Well, it wasn’t. She thought I was trying to kill her.” All the ire left his voice, leaving only a weary sadness.
“I’m very sorry. But clearly that’s absurd. Turtledoves aren’t anyone’s murder weapon of choice.”
The birds looked alert and bright-eyed, perfectly healthy. One of the doves stepped onto her forefinger, wrapping his claws around it for balance. She brought it out of the cage, murmuring soothingly the whole time.
“What are you doing?” The man stepped back in alarm.
“I’m showing you there’s absolutely nothing wrong with these birds.”
“Are you kidding? I should have wrung their necks on the spot. I don’t know why I didn’t get my shotgun out.”
Now it was Carrie’s turn to glare. “Probably because you didn’t want to ruin your fancy bachelor pad.”
“These birds are perfectly fine. Maybe your girlfriend’s the one with the problem.”
“Oh really? What problem would that be?”
Carrie had had it with this arrogant, anti-bird bozo, now matter how sexy he was. “I don’t know. Maybe her problem is you. Did you ever think it just wasn’t meant to be?”
Jacob couldn’t believe his ears. This petite little scrap of a woman, with her big blue eyes and cinnamon hair fluffed around her head, was taking the turtledoves’ side over his? Of course she might have a point about Liz. He’d been so relieved when she turned him down, he’d decided not to throttle the birds or hand them over to animal control. But still. They’d wreaked havoc in his house, which was not a bachelor pad, no matter what the snippy bird vet thought.
“Are you saying these doves know what’s best for me and my love life?” He used the low, menacing tone of voice he employed with the criminals he interrogated on the witness stand.
“Maybe they do. They are symbols of romantic love, after all. Aren’t you, little sweetie-kins?” She cooed at the dove in a revoltingly endearing way. The bird responded by rubbing his feathered neck against her wrist. He experienced a sudden longing to do the same. Despite her lousy attitude toward customer service, she had a serene, grounded air that he found incredibly appealing.
“Here,” she said suddenly. “Why don’t you two get to know each other a little better? You probably didn’t get properly acquainted. European Turtle Dove, meet…”
“Jacob Harper.” He shifted uncomfortably. Had he just introduced himself to a bird?
“James, meet European Turtle Dove. He’s a member of the bird family Columbidae. He likes woodland walks, rooting around for seeds, and falling in love. Turtledoves are monogamous and mate for life. Your turn.”
“Um…” Though he felt ridiculous, those wide blue eyes wouldn’t let him off the hook.
“I like walks in the woods too, but I’d go for a steak instead of the seeds. And I’d like nothing more than to fall in love.”
“You weren’t in love with your girlfriend?”
Ouch. She sure knew how to stick the knife in the wound. “The hell if I know. She had everything I thought I wanted. Beautiful, smart, good family connections.”
“Wow, can’t imagine what went wrong.”
Her sarcastic tone made him laugh ruefully. “Okay, so I’m not as good at romance as I am in the courtroom. That’s why I got the turtledoves. Figured they’d do the job for me.”
“Mr. Harper, they’re just birds. Maybe that was asking too much.”
“Call me Jacob.” As if she’d ever have occasion to call him anything again.
“Okay. I’m Carrie.”
“Carrie.” For a moment they stared at each other. The turtledove cooed peacefully as she stroked its back in an absent-minded manner. He reached out a finger to touch the bird. He’d never even taken the turtledoves out of the cage until the disastrous proposal. Its delicate brownish-gray feathers were deliciously soft. A patch of pastel pink adorned its breast. It was exquisitely beautiful, though Liz had been disappointed that the doves weren’t white.
He accidentally touched Carrie’s hand and felt a current of electricity travel up his arm. He snatched away his finger. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay.” Her eyes widened. Had she felt it too? Curious, compelled, he reached out to stroke her feather-soft hair. Again, that remarkable spark ignited his blood. Her pupils dilated. He leaned toward her, needing to explore this mysterious connection. Their lips met.
Magic. Pure, raw magic. She tasted like the outdoors, like pine trees and marshmallows and campfires in the snow. She tasted like a promise of everything good and sweet and real. Right then and there, he made up his mind not to let her out of his life, if he could help it.
When they finally pulled apart, she put a hand over her mouth, looking flushed and adorably rattled. “I’ll tell you what, Jacob Harper. I’ll give you your money back. But you should keep the birds.”
“You’re giving them to me?”
“Yes. This species can be a wonderful choice for the right person. They’re a bit wild but worth the extra attention. I recommend a ten-foot high aviary and an occasional treat of mealworms.”
He caught the purple-ringed eye of the dove. Was that a wink? “You’ll have to help me get everything just right. For their sake. And mine.”
She blushed even more deeply. “Fine. I’ll be happy to help you.”
Eyes a-blaze, heart a-glow, he pulled her into another deep, soul-searing kiss.
The turtledove lifted off her finger and perched on the top of the cage. The other bird hopped to the door and flew up to join its partner. They cooed and rubbed their necks together. In the back of Jacob's mind, he wondered what all that trrr trrr-ing meant. Not that it really mattered. All that mattered was how he intended to win Carrie’s heart forever.
On top of the cage, a deep, wordless discussion was taking place. “Typical humans. Trrr trrr. Don’t they listen to the actual song? Who do they think the line “my true love gave to me” refers to? Just anyone you’re hot for?”
“Would you relax, my love? Trrr trrr. At least she got it right. She gave her true love two turtledoves, even if she didn’t realize it. True love always wins out.”
“I guess all’s well that ends well. I just wish it didn’t take so much work.”
“Oh, you. As if you didn’t enjoy that champagne.”
“Trrr trrr. You know me so well, my sweet.”
“Stop that! Not in front of the humans.”
“Oh please. They’ve forgotten we exist. Look at them. By the time they’re done with that kiss, it’ll be the Third Day of Christmas.”
“Well, I think it’s romantic. I guess I’m a sucker for true love.”
“We’re turtledoves, what do you expect? Now let’s show these humans a thing or two about necking.”
“Trrr trrr TRRR.”
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May true love surround you with peace and joy this holiday season.