Taylor is guarded and untrusting, while Phillip is at a place in his life where he's more ready to make a commitment when he finds what he wants. And he wants Taylor.
“What?” I frowned.
“Move away first chance you get.”
My face warmed. “I do?”
“Yep.” He pretended to sniff under his arms. “I just showered so I shouldn’t stink.”
“Sorry.” I cleared my throat. “I didn’t know I did that.”
“You do.” He moved up and joined me, his shoulder bumping into mine. “But I’m secure enough to not take it to heart.”
“Good. It’s not intentional.”
“I know. Any idea what you’re doing for Christmas yet?” he asked abruptly.
“Not a clue.” I’d just come out of a messy relationship. I’d screwed up and acted like an idiot when I caught my ex cheating, and had the pleasure of being arrested. The last six months had been so tumultuous, dealing with the aftermath of his betrayal and my own bad judgment, that I hadn’t thought about where I’d be hanging my Christmas stocking this year. Besides, the holidays held no charm for me. They never had.
Phillip was quiet. Watching him out of the corner of my eye, I tried to study his sharp features without being detected. His long, dark lashes flickered as he tapped his chin as if deep in thought.
He turned his head and addressed me. “May I make a suggestion?”
“I’d be surprised if you didn’t.”
He frowned. “What does that mean?”
I laughed. “It’s just a joke.”
His lips twitched. “Are you saying I’m bossy?”
“You are my boss.”
He chuffed. “As I was saying… from what little you’ve told me about your past, I can assume you won’t be spending Christmas with your parents, correct?”
That was a safe assumption. I’d rather stick a hot poker in my eye than visit those two. “Of course not.”
He nodded. “And your ex is probably afraid of you, so odds are he won’t be inviting you over for the holidays.”
I winced. “It’s no laughing matter.”
“Right, no, sorry.”
“Until that night I was in one fight, in grade school.” I scowled and crossed my arms.
“I’ll bet you were in more fights than me,” I grumbled.
“I had a few when I was much younger.”
“Kids get in fights all the time and I was in one.” I held up my finger. “One lousy argument over where to sit on the bus.”
He held up his hands. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“You make me sound like a bully.” You’re making me sound like my father.
“It was a lame joke. I didn’t mean it, I swear.” Phillip grabbed my hand and squeezed it gently.
I didn’t say anything.
“I was nervous because of what I was going to ask you,” he said. “I don’t want to spook you by coming on too strong and so I blurted out the first dumb joke that came to me.”
I frowned, but I was starting to relax because of his reassuring tone. The gentle stroking of his thumb against my skin was distracting, and I inhaled deeply and forced myself to chill. “What were you going to ask?”
He hesitated and then he said, “I’m trying to iron out my—our—holiday plans.”
Our holiday plans?
“Oh.” I was definitely surprised he’d thought that far ahead. Pleasantly surprised. “What… what kind of plans?”
“I was going to suggest we spend Christmas together. It’s only four days away.” He watched me as if waiting for a reaction.
Surprise and warmth spread through me, replacing irritation. He wanted to spend Christmas with me. I basked in the glow of that for a moment, enjoying the fact that he must be as into me as I was him.
“What do you usually do over the holiday break?” he asked.
“To be honest, I never do much. Sometimes people from work have me over for a pity meal.”
He laughed drily. “That’s so sad.”
I shrugged. “Hey, I get a free meal.”
“Would you want to do something a little different this year?”
I bit my lower lip. “Perhaps. How different?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it, but I have a house in Big Bear. I was wondering if you wanted to go there with me?”
“Yes. It’s beautiful there this time of year. It’s very Christmassy.”
I hesitated. All I knew about Big Bear was it was in the mountains and near a lake. The idea of venturing into the wilderness didn’t exactly thrill me. I wasn’t much of an outdoorsman, just ask my father. My dad had pegged me a complete wimp when it came to all things outside. When I was younger he’d plan elaborate hunting trips to impress his business friends, and I’d stay in the cabin with my nose in a book. It had pissed him off that I didn’t want to join him shooting rabbits and gutting fish.
“We can build a big fire in the fireplace and drink expensive wine.”
“Um… I’m no Daniel Boone,” I said. It was best he knew the real me. Even if it meant I’d be spending Christmas alone in my apartment.
He brushed the side of my cheek with his thumb. “Taylor, I don’t expect you to be. I’m not either. But it’s a beautiful place, and it’s supposed to snow tomorrow night so it will be cozy and secluded, and I can’t wait to have you all to myself.”
My stomach warmed at how earnest he sounded. “You really should have framed your invitation with that last bit.”
“Like I said, I was nervous you’d shoot me down immediately.” He smiled.
“I like the sound of spending some more time with you.” I avoided his gaze as I spoke, feeling a little embarrassed about being so open about my feelings.
“Yeah?” He squeezed my hand. “Good.”
“I can’t believe Christmas is just a few days away.”
“I know. But if we leave tomorrow afternoon, we should be able to settle in before the snow hits. But we’ll need to get everything ready today.”
I nodded slowly. “Okay.”
“Yeah? You’re up for it?”
“I think so.”
He sighed. “We’re good, right?”
“Yes.” I laughed sheepishly. “I didn’t realize you were just teasing earlier.”
“I’ll let you do the jokes from now on.” He pulled me tighter into his arms, hugging me close.
“I think it would be best. Let a professional handle it.”
“I agree.” He chuckled and let me go. “Do you have any winter clothes?”
“I do. I know you’re originally from New York, so you may not be aware that even in California people have winter clothes.”
“Are they for those frigid days when the temperature plummets to seventy-nine degrees?”
“Very funny. Greg and I attempted to go skiing once, so we bought some stuff. It was a nightmare. All we did was argue the whole trip.” I climbed off the bed.
“He sounds like a wonderful guy,” he called after me as I headed into the shower.