White-Hot Holiday

By: Coleen Kwan

Luke came in and pressed a hand at Tyler’s waist. “I’ll see to that.”

“Thanks, hon. I need to check on Chloe.” She left to find her daughter in the backyard.

Luke turned to Naomi. “Everything okay?”

“Oh, sure.” Naomi reached for the mugs and set them on a tray.

“You were a bit quiet over dinner.”

“Well, you and Aaron had a lot of catching up to do.”

Luke was silent as the kettle came to boil. “Aaron’s a great guy.” He looked at her expectantly. “A lot of women fall for him. But they never stick around long. He’s too dedicated to his job, and he’s not the relationship type.”

Naomi stared at him. “Oh Lord, are you telling me to steer clear of Aaron?” She snuck another glance outside, where Aaron was chatting with Tyler. “I am twenty-five years old, you know, not eighteen.”

“I know that.” Luke scratched his head, discomfited. “It’s just that Justin was such a prick, and you’re still picking up the pieces, and Aaron can be very charming when he wants to be.” He busied himself making the coffee. “I’m probably making a big deal about nothing but, jeez, Naomi, I saw you when you came back from London, and I never want to see that look on your face again.”

So because of Justin, now Luke was treating her like a kid sister more than ever. Affection and indignation warred in her. “You don’t have to worry. Aaron will be gone in a few days, and besides, he’s not my type.”

“He’s not?”

“’Course not. How could any man who hates Christmas and runs down my conifers be my type?”

Luke continued to look skeptical. “So no spark? No je ne sais quoi?”

“Nothing.” Behind her back, she crossed her fingers. As much as Aaron Cade annoyed her, there was definitely a “certain something” about him that got to her, but no way would she admit that to a hyperprotective Luke. “Come on, let’s get that coffee out.”

Naomi followed Luke back to the deck. Aaron looked up, and his gaze lingered on her as she and Luke dispensed coffee. As she sat down, the undisguised interest in his brandy-colored eyes set off a flutter in her stomach.

“I was just telling Tyler about my diving trip on the Barrier Reef,” Aaron said to Naomi, shifting his chair to look at her directly. “Amazing experience, but I guess you’ve already been there.”

“I haven’t.” She couldn’t help laughing. “You’d be surprised how many young people in this country haven’t explored their own backyard. We’re all so eager to tour Europe or Asia.”

He nodded, his attention focused on her. “You’ve seen a lot of Europe, I suppose, since you’ve spent a year and a half in London.”

She’d seen a lot of luxury hotels and fancy restaurants. Justin had wanted their weekend trips to the Continent to be done in style, which meant five-star hotels and plenty of dining and shopping. Spending lots of money had become his way of relaxing. Perhaps that was the same reason Aaron had hired that ridiculous Porsche.

“I’ve seen enough. Enough to last me a lifetime. I don’t have any desire to travel overseas anymore. I’m staying put.”

The words came out more dogmatically than she’d intended, and a brief silence ensued, broken only when five-year-old Chloe ran up with her tiny Shih Tzu puppy cradled in her arms.

“Naomi,” the child said, “can I bring Milo to show-and-tell when I start school with you next year?”

Glad of the distraction, Naomi put her arm around the girl’s shoulders. “Sweetie, I’m not sure I’ll be your teacher. The principal decides that.”

“Oh, but I want you to be my teacher.”

“You’ll have to call me Ms. Spencer.”

“I can do that!” Face solemn, she chanted, “Good morning, Ms. Spencer.”

“You’re going to be a star pupil, moppet.” Luke stood and ruffled his daughter’s hair. “Now, isn’t it time for your bath?” He glanced down at his wife and touched her shoulder. “I’ll take care of her. You’ve had a busy day at the store.”

“Thanks, darling.” Tyler kissed her husband’s hand and waved to her daughter. “Off you go, baby.”

The puppy lollopped after Luke just as the phone inside the house started ringing. Tyler got up to answer it, leaving Naomi alone with Aaron. The sun had set, and the sky was awash with indigo. While they’d been talking, night had crept up on them. Insects chirped in the milky darkness. A citronella candle on the table gave off an orange-scented glow. Fruit bats flapped about the trees. Naomi shifted in her seat, aware of the man sitting next to her and his potent, hard-to-ignore physicality. His bare, muscular forearm with a light dusting of hair lay at ease on the armrest not far from her.

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