Never for acclaim, always for country.


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Happy Holidays...
Cutie pie
freshoffthefarm
The holidays were Annie's favorite time of the year; all the parties, the weather, the reasons to put a fire in the fireplace in the guest house... all of it.

When Clay asked her to the party on his mother's behalf, she was both excited and a little worried. Worried because she wasn't sure she was up to that kind of socializing and because she wasn't sure that she fit into the world that he managed on the side so effortlessly. And because she knew that he would look absolutely incredible in his tuxedo, Annie went on the hunt for a dress that would do him justice. The very last thing that she wanted to do was embarrass him.

The excitement came from the shopping. A dress to match the jewelry she had, though not what she used to have, was in the cards for her and she planned to make sure that she looked incredible. What she found was going to make him smile, she was sure of it.

And when he arrived to pick her up, she opened the door with a smile before doing a little turn to show herself off.

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A black tie affair that he had to attend because Porter couldn't. It was never a set of circumstances he enjoyed at least spending time with Annie would be worth it and the food would be excellent.

When Annie opened her door, he couldn't help his smile. She looked fantastic and was sure to make everyone else at the club jealous.

"You look amazing."

His smile combined with the way he looked made her skin flush and her own smile softened in return.

"You don't look so bad yourself, though..." She reached out and gave his tie a tug, even though it didn't need any kind of straightening at all. Any excuse to touch him, though? She'd take. "There. Perfect."

"Was it crooked again?"

Clay hated bow ties. He could never get them straight and always felt like they were choking him. From someone who wore neckties every day, he never understood why that was but it happened.

"No." She gave him a sweet smile before she confessed, "I just wanted an excuse to touch you before we had to leave."

Then she stepped back and reached for her clutch, something red that matched her dress. "I'm guessing we should get going before we get distracted." Truth was, she was already distracted. "Club?"

"You don't need an excuse to do that." Other people might, but Annie? Never.

Clay helped her into her coat before taking her arm,"Let's go."

He really just wanted to get this over with so he could enjoy being with Annie afterward. Since her return from Amsterdam, he was determined to rebuild what they had based on as much honesty as possible. It was taking some getting used to on his part, but it was happening.

He was steady and comfortable and with her hand on his, she felt like things were status quo, even if they were off to his mother's country club where things for them were definitely not status quo.

In his car, she reached over and put her hand on his thigh to keep her heart rate normal. Nerves seemed to get the better of her whenever they did something like this and she didn't want to have it happen now. "So, what kind of party is it?"

"Just dinner, dancing, holiday cheer, and an open bar." Clay put his hand on hers between shifting gears, "It should only be for a few hours."

Then it dawned on him, Simon, Lena, and the FSB knew Annie's cover. "Did you get a new job yet?"

Best to get the story straight in the car.

"So, clearly we're going for the open bar," she teased as the car got closer. Annie knew Clay was an excellent dancer - and by extension could make anyone else look like an excellent dancer - but without him, she felt like she had two left feet. As for holiday cheer, she'd felt lacking recently.

And then there was the lack of a new cover story. "Not yet, no." A deep breath. "Ideas?"

"Yeah," she murmured, dipping her mouth toward his ear as they moved together. "Being just Annie and Clay. We don't get to be just us very often."

She trailed off, brushing her lips against his cheek before tucking her head against his neck and swaying slowly to the music, the dance itself going by the wayside. The steps didn't matter to her so much as being close to him. "I've missed being just us."

"Almost never," Clay whispered back leading the dance just a little bit. Then Annie got comfortable against him and he was perfectly willing to forgo the rest of the party and head right home.

"Me too. Us, together."

"We'll have to do something about it, this spending time together thing."

It was whispered against his skin before she lifted her head and gave him a pretty smile. "Are you and your mother spending Christmas day together or did you make other plans?"

"I'm sure we'll think of something. We're smart people," he said it with a smile. Spending time with Annie during the week or otherwise would be fantastic.

Clay loved that smile, "We're going to church on Christmas Eve then spending the day together. What are your plans?"

"I don't have any," she admitted, though she then felt a spike of guilt, hoping it didn't sound like she was angling for an invitation. With Danielle gone, there was very little from keeping her from getting Chinese and sitting in front of the television and watching 'While You Were Sleeping'.

The song ended and she (very reluctantly) stopped swaying with him... until another song started.

Clay never thought Annie was angling for anything when it came to his personal life, except maybe a trip to Manderly. He also didn't like the idea that she'd be spending Christmas alone.

The next song started, and he couldn't help himself, "Come with me. Mother always makes enough for dinner, one more person won't matter. Besides, she likes you."

Annie was constantly angling for a trip to Manderley, even when she wasn't. Always. And Christmas alone this year mostly felt like a penance to be paid rather than a simple punishment, so she wasn't too very upset about it... not until she'd heard Clay's plans.

Plans that now included her if she wanted them to, and she did. So she nodded, a smile appearing again. "Okay. I like your mom, too."

More than she had in the beginning. In the beginning, Porter had terrified Annie.

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