White-Hot Holiday

By: Coleen Kwan

“Aaron’s not just a number cruncher. He’s a creative thinker, too. That’s what drew him and Luke together in the first place. They’re both a little maverick.”

Once more Naomi found her gaze drawn to Aaron Cade. He looked buff and leanly muscled, his forearms toned, his stomach hard and flat, and she wondered how he kept fit if he was a workaholic. Maybe he hit the gym in between corporate takeovers and billion-dollar deals. Perhaps he had a gym in his office so he wouldn’t waste any precious time. Probably he had his day mapped out in thirty-minute blocks, each allocated to a task. Justin had done just that, because lawyers billed by the half hour, and his time was so important, so valuable. Far more valuable than hers.

Unexpected moisture stung her eyes. God, she wouldn’t waste any more tears on her ex-boyfriend. She’d done the right thing ending the relationship and quitting London. She couldn’t be with a man who thought so little of her teaching career merely because she earned a tenth of his salary, who assumed she’d blithely give up work when they married and started a family. She couldn’t be with a man who required she always put him first and denigrated her choices. She couldn’t be with a man who didn’t value her or love her the way she wanted to be loved. But knowing all that didn’t mend her heart any quicker or easier.

She turned away from the sink, not wanting Tyler to see her damp eyes. As long as she kept busy, she’d forget about Justin. She was enjoying her temporary job at Tyler’s art gallery and gift store. Tyler and her partner Ally needed all the help they could get over the busy summer season. And there was Christmas to look forward to. Except for last year, she usually went home to her mum’s for Christmas. Her mum and most of their vast extended family lived in Goulburn, a neighboring town an hour away, but now that Luke and Tyler had bought this big, beautiful house in Burronga, the entire family would be celebrating Christmas here. Which meant she’d get to indulge in all the preparations, which was half the fun. And at the end of January, she’d begin her new teaching position at a small primary school just a few blocks away. She was looking forward to teaching again.

Yes, there was a lot to look forward to, especially Christmas, and she wouldn’t let annoying Aaron Cade spoil her mood. She paused, glancing at the two men outside. Why had her thoughts wandered from Justin to Aaron so quickly?

“So how long is Naomi staying with you?” Aaron asked Luke out on the deck.

Luke sat up a little straighter. “For as long as she wants.” His brow furrowed. “She’s had a rough time lately. Her lawyer boyfriend persuaded her to move to London because of his career and then quickly morphed into a selfish jerk. Luckily she broke up with him, but she’s still hurting.” He kneaded his knuckles, still scowling.

“That’s too bad. Why do nice girls fall for jerks?” Aaron took a swig of his beer. “I ran over her conifers when I arrived. I don’t think she likes me.”


Aaron coughed. “Why’s that good? I want to be friends. I’m a likeable guy.”

“Huh, that’s the trouble. You’re too likeable.”

Aaron eyed him for a moment, then set his beer down on the deck and leaned forward. “Are you trying to warn me off Naomi?”

“Uh, yeah, guess I am.” Luke looked uncomfortable before determination settled on his face. “Naomi’s an attractive girl, and you—well, we both know what you’re like with women. You’re not into anything long-term. And mate, that’s fine with me, but Naomi’s like a little sister to me and—” He shrugged. “I don’t want to see her hurt again.”

Aaron didn’t know whether to be insulted or flattered. Sure, he was interested in Naomi, but he wasn’t plotting to seduce her against her will. Yet Luke seemed genuinely concerned.

“Hey, that’s not going to happen,” Aaron said.

“I hope not.” Luke’s frown lingered.

“You’re overestimating my powers of seduction. Don’t you remember that girl I had a thing for back in college? Remember how she cut me off at the ankles whenever I tried to be friendly?”

Luke’s face relaxed into a grin. “Yeah. Dominica. She was awesome. Every time you came on to her, it was like watching a train wreck in slow motion.”

“There you go. I’m not Mr. Irresistible. Nothing to worry about.” Although Dominica was no competition for Naomi.

Luke nodded before pushing to his feet. “Okay, Mr. Resistible, I’ll go get us some coffee.”

In the kitchen, Naomi shut the dishwasher while Tyler took out the French press to make a pot of coffee.

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