White-Hot Holiday

By: Coleen Kwan

A charged silence fell between them.

Naomi cleared her throat. “There’s no need to apologize. I asked for your genuine opinion, and you gave that.” Leaning back in her chair, she drew her finger through some crumbs on the table. “But you and I will have to agree to disagree, because I can’t think of anything better than Christmas in a small country town with the people you love the most.”

Her head tilted up, and despite the wacky antlers and the glitter on her cheek, the look she gave him was cool and steely.

Thank God this Aaron Cade was only staying a few days and would be gone before Christmas Eve, Naomi thought as she stacked dirty dinner plates in the dishwasher. She didn’t need his bah-humbug attitude ruining the Christmas she’d been looking forward to for so long. After her wrenching breakup with Justin, all she wanted was to surround herself with family and immerse herself in the seasonal celebrations.

A few hours ago Luke, his wife Tyler, and five-year-old Chloe had arrived home, allowing Naomi to retreat thankfully to the background. Luke and Aaron had greeted each other with warm, heartfelt hugs and no residual awkwardness, despite the fact they hadn’t seen each other for several years. The two men appeared to be genuine friends, not mere acquaintances, and so, for Luke’s sake, she’d have to put up with Aaron, even though he’d literally and metaphorically run roughshod over her Christmas enthusiasm. Now, the sun was setting after they’d enjoyed a leisurely barbecue dinner on the deck. Chloe was playing with her puppy in the garden, and Naomi and Tyler were seeing to the dishes, while the two men continued reminiscing about their college years.

Through the window above the sink Naomi watched Aaron reclining in his chair, a bottle of beer in his hand. His navy-blue Brooks Brothers polo shirt stretched across his shoulders, emphasizing their broadness, while his snug-fitting designer jeans highlighted his long, lean build. With his trimmed brown hair, confident brown eyes, square jaw, and dimpled smile he was the classic, clean cut, all-American guy. Pity he was also the antithesis of what she wanted in a man, because she had to admit he was kinda cute.

She snorted. “What baloney,” she chided herself. She wasn’t looking for a new man, not when her heart had been so comprehensively broken two months ago.

Tyler walked into the kitchen with a pile of dirty crockery. Offloading the platters into the sink, she nudged Naomi’s elbow. “Well, what do you think? He’s kinda cute, don’t you reckon?”

Naomi flushed at having her clandestine thoughts echoed aloud. “Oh, I don’t know.” She tilted her head sideways, as if considering. “Cute implies I might find him attractive.”

“And don’t you?” Tyler smiled impishly.

Naomi turned on the tap to rinse the platters. “He flattened my baby conifers,” she said.

“Not on purpose.”

“He drove over them in his bloody Porsche.” Naomi compressed her lips.

“Mm. I can tell Luke’s dying to take that thing out for a spin. Maybe he’ll let you and me drive it, too.”

“It’s just a knob-mobile.” Naomi bit her lip, disliking how prim and judgmental she sounded, but she couldn’t help it. Justin had bought a top-of-the-line Jaguar, though there was no need to own a car in London, and Aaron’s Porsche was a sour reminder of her ex-boyfriend’s love of status symbols.

“Aw, I’m sorry.” Tyler gave her a quick hug. “But just because a man is rich, it doesn’t automatically make him a jerk like Justin.”

True. Luke was now a multimillionaire, but he’d never pursued fame and fortune. He’d been in a writing slump when he’d met sassy, smart-mouthed Tyler, who’d restored his faith in himself. Money hadn’t altered the down-to-earth uncle Naomi had always known.

“The wealth thing is an indicator of his personality,” she said. “Aaron is a typical type A. He’s got all the symptoms. He’s ambitious, driven, a self-confessed workaholic. He admitted he only took time off work because he wasn’t allowed to accrue any more leave.” During dinner, she had learned that Aaron was a hotshot corporate financier for a boutique Wall Street firm. “He’s like that Gordon Gecko character—obsessed with making it to the top, whatever that might be.”

Tyler laughed as she loaded platters into the dishwasher. “You’re exaggerating. Luke wouldn’t be friends with Aaron if he was a filthy-rich jerk who only cared about himself.”

“They do seem unlikely friends.” Naomi dried her hands on a tea towel. “Luke’s world revolves around words, whereas Aaron is all spreadsheets and numbers.”

Top Books