White-Hot Holiday

By: Coleen Kwan



“Oh, if you want to drive flashy cars, that’s up to you.” She shrugged, cool and offhand, then hooked a thumb over her shoulder in the direction of the house. “Why don’t you bring your luggage inside, and I’ll show you your room?”

So Naomi didn’t think much of men with flashy cars. Aaron tucked that tidbit of information away before hauling out his single suitcase from the maligned Porsche and following Naomi up the stairs. Inside the house it was blessedly cooler, with overhead fans whirling in the spacious interior. Green garlands with red baubles festooned the living room. Lines of Christmas cards were strung across a mantelpiece. A giant copper bowl filled with fir cones spray-painted gold and silver sat in the unlit fireplace. The incongruity of Christmas decorations sparkling in the energy-sapping heat made Aaron shake his head again.

“At my hotel in Sydney last night, they were serving eggnog at the bar. Eggnog in the middle of summer.” He swiped a forearm across his damp forehead. “I just can’t get my head around a hot Christmas.”

Naomi pursed her lips. “Well, I’m loving a hot Christmas again.”

“You mean you’ve been missing out?”

Her voice lowered as she glanced away. “Yeah. I’ve been in London for the past eighteen months. Just got back a month ago.”

“Were you working in London?”

She nodded tightly. “Teaching.” The single word shot out before her mouth compacted.

His curiosity rose at her rigid stance. He was willing to bet she hadn’t enjoyed her stay in Britain. A moment later, she shook back her hair and became businesslike again, moving briskly down the hall and off to a side passage.

“We’re in the annex,” she said over her shoulder as they skirted a paved courtyard filled with climbing roses.

“We?”

“I’m helping Tyler in her store over the busy period, so I’m staying here temporarily. This is the guest annex. There’re two bedrooms and a shared bathroom. This is my room.” She gestured to a shut door nearest them. “And this is yours.” She opened another door.

Aaron wheeled his suitcase into the guest room and gave it a cursory inspection. It looked clean and comfortable, but its best feature was being next door to Naomi Spencer. He hadn’t expected a gorgeous, single woman at Luke’s place. Though he’d barely known her ten minutes, and she didn’t seem much impressed by him, he was strongly drawn to her. She was prickly, quirky, definitely different. During his visit to the Barrier Reef, he’d met plenty of pretty Aussie women who liked his company, but none of them had grabbed his attention as instantly as Naomi had. He wanted to know her better. Wanted to know how long she was staying here, whether she honestly liked wearing those ridiculous reindeer antlers, and why she had a smudge of glitter on her chin.

Aware of the silence between them, he realized he’d been staring at her without shame. She backed up a few steps, as if suddenly alert to the fact she was home alone with a strange man who couldn’t stop ogling her.

“Um, I’ll let you get settled in.” She hesitated. “I was just about to make myself a cup of tea, if you’d like one.”

A cup of tea when his T-shirt was sticking to his back? But, determined to improve on the poor first impression he’d made on Naomi, he said, “I’m all settled in, and I’d love a cup of tea.”

She eyed him doubtfully before nodding. “Okay.”

She led him to the back of the house where a country-style kitchen adjoined a casual family room. There were photos on the walls, toys and books scattered on the couches, and a basket of towels in front of the TV. The place reminded him of his sister’s place back in Mecklenburg in upstate New York. Donna, her husband Bill, and their two kids lived a five-minute drive from his parents. Thank God for Donna. At least she didn’t make him feel guilty every time he visited his hometown, which, according to his mom, was much too seldom.

While Naomi filled the kettle, Aaron moved to the kitchen table and inspected the assortment of cards, paints, and glitter strewn across the surface.

“Just some last-minute Christmas cards,” Naomi said.

So that explained the glitter on her chin. “You make your own Christmas cards?” He picked up a red card adorned with a gold angel.

She nodded as she lifted two mugs from a cupboard. “I like to, though it’s time-consuming. You probably buy yours, like most sane people.”

“I don’t send out Christmas cards.”

“You don’t?” She hesitated. “I guess they aren’t too good for the environment, are they?”

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