Title: Their No-Strings Affair
Author: Charlotte O’Shay
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Honey packs everything she owns and heads to NYC to jumpstart her art career. Her cheating boyfriend is history, and she finally acknowledges the truth of her mother's mantra: Careers are forever and happily ever after isn't in their DNA. All she needs is a job and a place to live. What she doesn't need is a taciturn, sexy, ballbuster but she's woman enough to know the difference between need and want. Isn't she? Jake's childhood was marred by tragedy and his future hijacked to a promise born of guilt. His failure drove him to a career as a SEAL and a security expert. But it's not enough. Now he'll give up his freedom in reparation for the life he lost. Honey may be the last sweet stop on the road to a joyless future.
If it's what they both want, where's the harm in a no-strings affair?
Jake lifted the box of ornaments onto one shoulder and grabbed the tree by its thick base with the other hand.
Honey carried the bag of lights and slid past him to open the outer and inner doors.
Jake half dragged, half carried the tree into the hallway and stopped, lifting one brow.
“You want this up in your apartment.” It was a statement not a question.
“Uh, yeah, I mean, unless you’d rather… Where do you usually set up yours?”
“Mine?” His mouth flattened, then his lips parted on a harsh sound he tried to turn into a laugh. They’d never had a real tree. His father had put up a small, fake silver one a few times when he was a kid. The kind that sat in a crowded corner on the top of the TV. Gradually even that minor effort at sprucing up for the season had stopped.
He closed his eyes trying to picture what his mother did every year. He couldn’t recall. His years-long pattern was to arrive on Christmas morning, and after the long overnight flight, he usually catnapped at his hotel. He would meet her later at a restaurant and treat her to Christmas dinner, a practice not at odds with the Italian upper crust. Had he ever been inside the apartment she kept in Rome these last few years? No.
He made his obligatory visit every Christmas. Every year he heard again what a disappointment he was and what his duty was to her, to Cesco’s memory, and his family name. Was told he must come back to Italy and marry one of her hand-chosen, wannabe society women. The latest one had a father with a resort on the same coast where he and Cesco had taken their nightmare swim. She was an MBA and positioned, as an only child, to take the reins of the company when her father retired. There was no one else in their line, and the family assured Franca the match would take place. “Because it must,” Franca said. “And because you’re good-looking enough she’ll want you to father children with her.” He would be thirty-three next year, and last Christmas he finally agreed he’d keep his promise and comply with her plan in the new year.
As in, next month.
Franca even suggested he get his sperm tested. “For viability and volatility,” she said. “George Clooney ran a big risk waiting as long as he did. He had the money though, and we don’t have that luxury. You need to father at least one child with her. But preferably two.” And if that little speech didn’t shrink his dick, nothing had the power to.
But should he complain? As Franca reminded him time and again, he was alive. Cesco was not. It was time for him to bring back her family name and be the son Cesco would have been. So he’d marry, and damn him, he’d fuck his arranged match. Even if he had to pretend she was a silver-haired pixie with a cupid’s bow mouth. Because maybe if he finally kept his promise, the nightmares would go away.
“I don’t put up a tree.”
“You don’t put up a tree?” She said it in a scandalized, disbelieving tone reserved for pathetic losers. “With all the space you have in this gorgeous, traditional home?” She shook her head sadly. “Is it a time issue? It does take effort, but in the end, it’s well worth it.”
“Well worth it for two weeks and then pine needles everywhere?”
Her face suffused with color at his response, and he smothered a grin. He was about to get schooled on the joys of authentic Christmas trees, and he couldn’t wait.
“There’s no substitute for a real tree with a real scent. I’ve yet to find a box or a bottle that can impart the exact fragrance. Decorated with all of the ornaments you’ve collected over the years. And I have all of my own ornaments. I mean I’ve made them. Then when you have a fireplace, like you do?” Her face got red again, and she powered down her speech when she saw he was grinning from ear to ear.
“I guess you can tell I’m just a tiny bit obsessed with Christmas. Just help me upstairs with this.” She pushed out a breath. “Please?”
The four flights weren’t half bad. He took the majority of the weight from her and had the pleasure of watching the subtle sway of her jeans-clad hips as she slowly climbed the steps in front of him. He lingered to find a towel to rest the tree under while she went back up to the corner to buy the tree stand she’d forgotten she needed. He hung around while she dithered over where to put it, then set it in the place she chose.
“Okay. One last thing. I need a ladder and that’s it.”
He nodded, eyeing the nine-foot fir whose limbs, now unfurled, were beginning to come down and fill the space in the corner of the sitting room near the six-foot windows that fronted the building. “To hang lights. Need help with that?” he offered, not that he had the vaguest idea how to do it.
“No, I’ve done it a million times. I’m good here.” When he hesitated, about to offer up his brawn if not his expertise, she said, “Really. When it’s all done, I’ll call you, and you can come up and see, and then I dare you to tell me Christmas trees aren’t worth whatever it takes.”
Whatever it takes. Damn, she was cute. “I can’t wait,” he said with a wink. And because he couldn’t think of a good reason to stay that didn’t involve tearing her clothes off, he left.
He texted Honey on her progress with the tree, and she didn’t respond. No doubt she was up on the ladder. Dammit, why did he text? What if she reached for her phone and fell? Accidents happened every day. That fact haunted him most of his life. But when an accident could’ve been prevented, well, that had to be somebody’s fault, right?
He took the stairs two at a time to the top floor.
Pushing open the door quietly so as not to startle her, Jake stepped inside the door without making a sound.
She was on the ladder, perched on the second rung from the top, reaching to place an ornament on the tree. She paused and tilted her head, then hooked the ornament to her chosen branch. Then she tilted her head again, and holding the top of the ladder, leaned back to see its effect from a different angle. She was so painstaking he marveled she’d accomplished as much as she had in an hour.
Giant, old-school lights blinked in layers of red, gold, and green, glowing from deep inside the generous arms of the Douglas fir. Small fragile ornaments, some shaped like stars, seashells, and Santas, graced the upper third of the tree.
On the cocktail table, a red felt cloth was unfurled, and covering it were all of the ornaments yet to be given a place on the tree.
“You made all of these…” he murmured.
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Share a holiday family tradition:
Our traditions have evolved. I hope that doesn’t mean they aren’t traditions? They can be summed up as eat, drink and make merry with song.
This year I may have to settle for only a couple of them.
Choosing the perfect tree and decorating it and the house the first weekend of December while listening to Irish music.
Cooking an Italian Christmas dinner while listening to sacred and popular music especially by Andrea Bocelli and Michael Buble.
Attending Midnight Mass. In later years we’ve gone to five p.m Mass where we looked forward to a possible appearance by Santa after all of the congregants sing Silent Night in the darkened church. Most recently, Christmas Day Mass at St. Paul the Apostle near Lincoln Center where the best of Broadway sing hymns with parishioners.
Hosting both my husband’s family for brunch Christmas morning and my family for dinner Christmas evening making it one long exhaustingly glorious day.
Belting out Christmas songs in the car on the way to visits to relatives from Christmas Eve through New Year.
Attending a Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve cocktail party where the assembled guests tell one good thing about the year gone by and one hope for the coming year.
Why is your featured book perfect to get readers in the holiday mood?
This year I’m already in the holiday mood. I’m craving everything—all the light, decorations, the music I can get. The cheesy stuff the classy stuff: this year we need it all.