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?
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.
“Yikes! Jake!” she screeched, teetering on the ladder, and he braced himself to catch her, but she didn’t fall. She righted herself and shook her head at him. “You can’t sneak up on me like that.”
His face heated. “Yeah, sorry. These ornaments are all your work, aren’t they?”
She climbed down the rungs to stand beside him. “Yes,” she said, pride plain in her voice.
“They’re...gorgeous, really something.”
“Thanks.” She looked him in the eye. “What would you pay for one?”
“Um.” He scratched his chin. “I...”
“Oh, right. You are the no Christmas tree guy. Yes, all of it is my work. I have my own collection, which basically is everything I’ve ever made or designed. Whichever ones I have duplicates of I sell. If it’s popular, I make some more. As of today, I have rental space to create more inventory. I need to figure out my price point though. Cover the additional expense of the rental... I haven’t had time yet to research what other people might be doing.”
“Delicate. Glowing even without the lights from the tree.” He wasn’t looking at the ornaments though, pretty though they were.
Her face, already rosy from her exertions, colored some more. She made a face at him. “You’re distracting me.”
“Do you want me to leave? I came up to tell you I’m making dinner, and to see the tree of course.” He placed the Santa ornament in his hand back down on the felt.
“No, that’s fine. I’ll only be a couple more minutes.”
“I can help.” His gaze zeroed in on hers. “If you want.”
“Sure. Great. The more the merrier.” Why was he so formal?
She climbed the ladder before common sense sent her back down again.
“You’re so much taller I don’t need the ladder, if you want to help. How about I pick the ornaments and you put them up?” She made her way back down the ladder, and as she stood next to him, the top of her head barely reached his shoulder.
“You being on solid ground is a great idea, pixie. Just give me basic instruction. You only need to say it once. I’m a quick study.”
She swallowed, but the sour taste still coated her throat. His sincere smile twisted something tender in her belly. She kept her gaze down, tried to focus on the ornaments, schooling the shocked frown from her face because how sad was this? Jake just admitted he’d never hung ornaments on a Christmas tree. His parents had a shit ton to answer for in her book. Even Joss recognized the joy trimming a tree gave her and her brothers and let them have at it.
She only nodded and picked up a seahorse, a translucent green-gold that had been the very devil to get right. She placed it in Jake’s broad palm and held her breath as he examined her work using a careful finger to stroke the fine tail and the green ribbon that served as a hanger.
She pointed. He hung. And they moved around the tree in record time until it was her turn to be the hanger of ornaments on the low branches.
“Which should I choose?” Jake flung an encompassing hand out to the array on the low table.
“Up to you, Jake. Like you said, you caught on quick.” She grinned.
“Only because I’m hungry.” He flexed his palm over the taut plane of his abs, abs she knew were beyond perfect. Which gave her an idea.
“How would you feel, I mean, would you object if I took your picture at the tree? For my social media feeds and website. People with objects sell better than objects alone. You can look it up.”
“I believe you. But I...”
“I can take it so that your face is in shadow but maybe your profile shows when you’re reaching up to place the ornament. Jake, the women who buy the ornaments, and yes, it’s almost always women, will go nuts over you.”
His mouth flattened. “Sure. Yeah. Tell me where you want me to stand. Because like I said, I’m hungry.” His smile was lopsided and didn’t quite reach his eyes.
She raised her cell phone to take the photo, then put it down again.
“You don’t want to do this. The tree looks great. And we’re just about done here. Are you inviting me to dinner? I can cook, you know.”
“So can I. Tonight’s my treat.”
“Okay then, thank you.” This dinner would be special even if he couldn’t boil water. Because Honey couldn’t recall a single time, not even a birthday, when someone cooked for her.
“Listen, it’s...okay. If it’ll help your business to photograph me, then go ahead.” He spread his arms wide and nodded at the windows. “Now the sun’s set, the way the tree’s lights glow, I get why you want a photo now. It all looks...inviting.”
“If you’re sure? You don’t have to do anything really.” She snapped a few quick photos of him facing the window with the tree behind him and couple more when his gaze honed back to her. Then a few more as he slowly circled the tree using a careful forefinger to examine the variety of her designs.
The photos would be dynamite on her website and social media. But for the love of Christmas, why was a guy as drop-dead gorgeous as Jake so visibly uncomfortable when she requested a photo? No question he knew how hot he was.
It had something to do with how she asked him. What had she said? Women would go nuts when they saw him? Damn right because he had a droolworthy, buff body, the eyes and lips of a fallen saint. He was an unbelievably perfect specimen of manhood. But he wasn’t reveling in that reality. Did he think she was objectifying him?
Aarrgghh. She knew nothing about men outside of the two scrawny teenagers who were her family. In her ignorance, she’d managed to screw up a compliment and marketing idea and turn it into an insult. Way to go, Honey.
“Jake.” She put a hand on his forearm, suppressed a shiver at the warmth of the corded tendon and sprinkling of the hair there revealed by his cuffed shirtsleeves.
“I’ll show you these before I post anything. If you don’t like them, I’ll delete them all.” Maybe not all. Would it be so wrong to save one of him for herself and only herself for when their time together was over?
His low voice was the darkest chocolate. “No, it’s fine. I thought about it. I want you to have them. Use them however you want. Maybe you’ll let me take a couple of you too?” He raised a suggestive brow, and heat suffused her face.
“Maybe.” She croaked out the response as damp heat tingled between her thighs and a bowling-ball sized lump clogged her throat. “Did you say dinner? Let’s go eat.” Her voice was rusty, and she wobbled down the stairs ahead of him on noodle legs.
What is wrong with you, Honey? Yeah, sex with him was amazing, but now that she experienced it, the constant urge to be with him that way should start to fade, right?
But instead, the opposite was happening. The more she was with him; the more she wanted him. Something about the intimacy of sharing space, finding out that he’d never trimmed a Christmas tree.
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What I love most about the holiday season:
What don’t I love about the holiday season? I love it all.
When I was a girl my family would go to Midnight Mass and open gifts afterwards with dessert.
Later, when my own children were younger, we would go to Mass late afternoon on Christmas Eve, greet friends and sing Silent Night when Mass ended in the darkened church. One year my daughter was the Christmas Angel in a pageant. Another year our youngest was honored to carry the Baby Jesus from the back of our church to the manger in the front. There was an older man who would sing Ave Maria at Christmas Mass. He had the most heartbreakingly beautiful voice.
Every year, then and now, the season officially kicks off with picking out a real tree. (Mind you, my daughter who is my December child lives in California. She starts the season in July like we’re doing here. In July Maddy begins to play Christmas music in her car and at her home.)
Back in New York my husband strings thousands of lights on our tree. We decorate the tree and the entire house (now apartment) with ornaments and keepsakes collected over the years.
As we decorate the music is always playing, my favorites are the Bells of Dublin by the Chieftains, Frank Sinatra and Michael Buble’s Christmas with some vintage Mariah Carey thrown in for good measure.
I laugh at our thorough discussion of the Christmas menu which hasn’t really changed in forever. The one time I tweaked it it didn’t go over well with the traditionalists in my family. We prepare platters of appetizers for drop in guests or to bring when we visit old friends.
Of course the baking is an excuse to indulge as I taste test everything with my daughters.
The anticipation of Christmas morning never fails to turn me into a child when I hope to surprise my loved ones with a small surprise gift they didn’t know they wanted.
Most of all, I love the gathering of family. Now that our children are grown and flown those few days when we’re all together are moments I cherish and revisit over and over in my mind during the long months in between each Christmas.
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Charlotte grew up the middle child in a big family in the heart of New York City. Books were always her escape from the mayhem of urban family life. She lives in NYC with her one true love, a suit and tie wearing corporate warrior and their last child, a black dog who thinks he’s a bear.
There’s nothing, not coffee, not wine not even hot dogs smothered in mustard, Charlotte loves more than reading—except… writing sweet, steamy and unforgettable happily ever afters.
Charlotte would love to talk romance with you.
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