With an exasperated growl Tessa pushed the tangled string of lights off her lap.
“Can’t find the bulb that’s not working?”
“No, they work,” she said darkly. “They just won’t untangle.”
“Well, you’re the one that bought the eight foot tree that needed fifteen bazillion lights,” he said and wound his nice, neat string around his elbow and shoulder with a smirk.
Sneering at him she pushed her mess his way. “Then if you’re so good at it, then you do it.”
“I did four strands of 250, you can manage one.”
She frowned down at the green twine of colored lights even more hopelessly tangled at her feet. “I promise I’ll make it worth your while.”
He leaned over and brushed his lips over hers gently, opening her mouth with a clever tongue and a technique she didn’t want to think about in too great length. “Nope,” he said and stood dropping the lights with his other neatly coiled strands.
She huffed and stood. “Hey, where’s the Christmas music you promised me?”
He looked away from the tree, “Ah that would be the beauty of digital cable. There’s a Christmas station in the music channels.”
She went over to the coffee table to see four remotes. “God, you’re such a guy,” she said and gestured to the array of electronic gadgets.
“I’m all man, baby.”
Snorting, she picked up the remote that said Comcast thinking that was her best shot. Hitting all power she was pleased to see the TV blip on. It was on a local news channel.
“Looks like even rock stars still have to do their own shopping. While filming the Christmas Cookie Bake-off next door to Chapters Bookstore we caught Jon Bon Jovi coming out. Funny, he wasn’t carrying a bag. Maybe the newly single Bon Jovi was there to see the beautiful proprietor, Tessa Donovan instead, hmm? A little Christmas romance in the air? There’s been rumors that he’s been in the shop quite a bit lately.”
The on location reporter smiled and the in studio anchor-woman replied, “I didn’t know Jon was such an avid reader.”
“One never knows,” said the bright eyed reporter tucking a strand of blond hair behind her ear. “You just never know what you’re going to find in the little shops in Red Bank.”
“Thanks for the scoop, Lisa.” The anchor-woman turned to a different camera. “It’s time for sports with-“
Jon took the remote from her without a word and flipped to the music channels and settled on the Christmas channel.
Shit! Tessa swallowed thickly. “Jon-“
“Welcome to my life, Tessa. I’m just surprised it didn’t happen sooner.”
She frowned up at him. “But doesn’t this mean you have to…” she trailed off. Hell, she didn’t know what it meant. They weren’t exactly being secretive, but they certainly weren’t letting people know they were dating…or whatever it was they were doing.
“Rumors fly about me whenever I’m next to a woman. I could give Hillary Clinton a hug and someone would think we’re sleeping together.”
Tessa just arched a brow at him. “C’mon Jon. What are your kids going to say?”
“Well, my kids don’t watch the news for one thing, no matter how much I try to get them to be informed and for the other, they just don’t pay attention to me in the media. In fact they’re the first to turn it off.”
“But what about your ex-wife?”
“She stopped giving a shit about my personal life a long time ago,” he muttered.
She frowned and turned him toward her. “Hey,” she said when he wouldn’t meet her eyes. “Is this going to be a problem?”
His blue eyes were still distant when they met hers. “Of course not,” he said and put that fake smile on his face that she hated. “C’mon the tree’s not going to decorate itself.”
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer shot gaily out of the speakers of his state of the art television as she followed him back to the tree. He’d put the tree back into the base and even done the tightening again without complaint. They worked in silence, the Christmas music she’d wanted to help them feel festive now just felt false.
“Well, I’m not tall enough for this bad boy, I’m going to go grab the step stool from the kitchen.”
She watched his walk away and took her frustration out on her string of lights, managing to wrap the little bulbs even closer together for her trouble. He came back in and set the battered black and white stool next to the tree then sighed and folded himself Indian style next to her, taking the lights from her.
He didn’t look up at her as he slowly, methodically untangled the strand. “Dorothea found out about you today, before the reporter.”
Her gut clenched and knotted. “How?”
He peeked through the now curling strands of hair at his forehead. “I accidentally told her.”
Tessa drew her arms in and folded them tight against her body. She’d gotten a bad feeling earlier in the day and had just pushed it away as new relationship jitters. “Accidentally?”
“She wasn’t one hundred percent on board with me doing the Christmas thing with my kids on Sunday night.”
Without thought, she dropped her hand on his forearm. The sleeve of his soft blue, denim shirt had fallen low and she toyed with the cuff. “Why not?”
“She just thinks there’s too much change this year and I think it’s the perfect time to start a new tradition.”
Smoothing the cuff along his elbow she nodded. “I’m with you.”
“Dot’s always been the one to do the planning and the arranging of family functions. She’d just tell me where and when and we’d be good to go. She’s leery of me wanting to do stuff on my own.”
He shrugged. “It’s just never been my way. I’m gonna sound like a jerk no matter how I spin this one, but I’ve always had people do stuff for me, Tessa. She’s got a right to be a little weirded out when I said I wanted to do something just me and the kids.”
“Okay, so you made your argument and must have won.”
“Not without her friggin’ radar going off. She knows me too well, even with all the distance that has come between us, she knows me.”
Tessa swallowed back a kick of jealousy. His ex would always know him better than she did and she would always be there, the one before her. “Of course she does,” she said, hoping her voice was even.
“She guessed and I wasn’t prepared.”
The bubble of annoyance that piggy-backed the jealousy left her mouth dry. She rubbed his arm and stood up, lifting her wine glass from the coffee table, taking a deep drink. “Well, you haven’t told anyone but Richie about me.” She lifted the bottle he’d brought in and refilled her glass, forcing herself to turn back to him.
She’d gotten so used to being able to read his eyes, she didn’t know what to do now that she couldn’t. She took another swallow and felt the wine buzz in her head. It didn’t stop the dryness, or the lump in her throat. “I’ll be right back.” She went into the kitchen and took a bottled water from the fridge and drank more than half of it.
She felt him behind her and hated herself for being so stupid about this thing between them. This thing that could be there for the rest of their relationship. He crowded in on her and pressed his cheek against her hair, wrapping his arms around her waist. “Tessa,” he said on a sigh.
Her stomach clenched at his touch, then eased as she relaxed back against him, letting her hands fall on his strong forearms. “Its fine, we’ll be fine.”
“Right after the holidays I’m going to figure out a way to make all of this work for us.”
She closed her eyes for a moment before turning into his arms. His blue eyes were clear again, the distance that had been there was gone and determination had replaced it. The green monster loosened its grasp on her better sense and she smiled up at him. “Oh yeah?”
“Absolutely. I’m not letting you go.”
“Well, I like the sound of that,” she said just before his lips came down on hers. Falling into the physical part of their relationship was so easy. Her body seemed to know just what to do, how to meet each touch and let him take her away. When he pulled back his eyes were still clear, if a little heated at the edges.
“Okay, if we keep doing that we’re going to have a naked tree and a naked you.”
She laughed, “Well if we trim the tree first you can still have a naked me, how’s that sound?”
“Sounds like incentive to me.” He walked them backwards out the door and back to the tree. He handed her a strand of lights. “Okay, bottom up or top down?” he said and took the end.
“Which way did your Dad do it?”
“He liked to start at the top,” he said and waggled his brows before he stepped on the stool.
“Then top it is,” she said. She circled the tree giving him ample slack as they worked their way around the tree. He frowned when she wrapped around the tree branches every few inches.
“Don’t you just have to let them lay on the branches?”
“Makes them stay put and the tree look fuller.”
“Don’t you mean more work?” he groused.
She just laughed and grabbed the next set of lights. “You like my tree right?”
“Glad I don’t pay your electric bill.”
She snorted, “Shut up you probably have someone that takes care of that stuff for you.”
He shrugged, “Maybe.”
“Uh huh,” she said and plugged in one strand to the other. Elvis came out of the speakers and she laughed as his lip automatically curled and he sang along. He exaggerated the words with an extra dose of pelvis and she couldn’t stop laughing when he hopped off the chair and grabbed her.
His arm snaked around her waist and tugged her close as he swiveled his hips, pressing the flat of his hand along her lower back until there wasn’t a breath between them. He took them in an easy circle, his voice low and clear as he sang to her.
She laughed when the song ended and she was bent back in a dip, but the laugh turned into a groan when he took advantage of her neck. And when the nuzzle turned into a tug at her earlobe she curled her arms around his shoulders until he let her up. “You are a dangerous man,” she said her heart thundering in her ears.
“C’mon everyone loves Elvis.”
“I hate to be predictable, but I love him too.”
“Good, we’d have to have words if you didn’t love Elvis. That and my Dad will corner you and explain the joy of the music, followed directly by my Mother who will make you watch each movie.”
“Good to know that if I run into trouble with your mother, I can confuse her with my favorite Elvis movies. She’ll have to like me then.”
The laughter died down at the mention of parents. “I do want you to meet my family, Tessa. My brothers, my parents, my kids the whole big mess of Italians will love you, I’m sure of it.”
She slipped away from him and lifted the strand of lights that had fallen away from the middle of the tree. “Next Christmas,” she said brightly and moved around the back of the tree.
When she came out the other side Jon grabbed her hand. “More like Easter.”
“Let’s get through Christmas and New Year’s first, huh? This tree is never going to decorate itself. Help me finish the lights and we’ll do the ornaments.”
He sighed and took the lights from her and finished the rest of the tree with another two sets before he plugged it into the wall. “It’s a miracle! They all work!” she said happily and bumped her hip into his. “See, I knew you could be domesticated.”
“Oh, was this a test?”
“Absolutely! I had to make sure you could at least decorate a tree or all bets were off.”
He lifted an ornament and hung it. “Okay, I’m done. This is the girl part.” He dropped into his leather chair.
“Oh I don’t think so, buddy.”
“I know how it works, I put it on the tree and you move it anyway, so why do it in the first place?”
She tugged his arm, but he stayed in the chair. “C’mon it’s your tree,” she said with a trace of a pout.
He stood again, “Are you going to leave them where I put them?”
It pained her, but she nodded. “Of course,” she said solemnly and slid her hand behind her back, crossing her fingers.
Song: Blue Christmas