I’m SO grateful to all my readers that I thought I’d share a few chapters of one of my favorite holiday scenes in one of my books. The Thanksgiving chapters in Noah! For those of you who have read enjoy revisiting and for those of you who have not here is a nice LONG excerpt of Noah and Roni celebrating their first Thanksgiving together! Enjoy!!
Noah walked in the back door. His hands were a grimy mess. He’d been working on Veronica’s car for most of the morning. Roni was on her phone in the front room.
“I know it’s your family Nellie, but it’ll feel weird without you there. I’m telling you I’ll be fine. I never got what the big deal was about Thanksgiving anyway. I can get a turkey dinner and a slice of pie at Denny’s without the mess to clean afterwards.”
Noah listened as he washed his hands. Roni had mentioned she’d be having Thanksgiving dinner with Nellie and her family. He’d be spending his at Gio’s. Gio’s mom and aunts went crazy cooking even when there wasn’t a holiday that warranted it. So Thanksgiving at his place was the place to be—always had been. The Fuentes were never big on holidays.
“I don’t know why you’re getting all worked up. I promise you I’ll be fine. You go on your retreat and enjoy. Okay? I’m really happy things seem to be working out for you two.”
Noah leaned against the kitchen counter drying his hands. Roni walked in once she was off the phone. She seemed a little down but she smiled. “So did you fix the leak?”
“Yeah, it was a bitch but think I finally got the damn thing to stop leaking.”
Her smile faded fast and Noah waited for her to mention Thanksgiving. He hated to think of her spending her first Thanksgiving without her mom alone. He was sure Gio wouldn’t have a problem with him inviting her, but given that she apparently didn’t even feel comfortable with Nellie’s family unless Nellie was there she’d most likely decline the invitation.
He watched her pour herself a glass of juice and grab a string cheese from the refrigerator. “You okay?”
She glanced at him, her expression a bit surprised. “Yeah, why?”
He shrugged. “You seem a little down. I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. Nellie’s not gonna be around for Thanksgiving?”
“Oh that.” She nodded. “Yeah, she and her husband are going on some couples’ retreat. They’ve had some issues this year they’re trying to work out so the pastor down at her church suggested they try it. They’ll be gone the whole holiday weekend.”
She sat down at the small table and began pulling the strings of cheese apart. She opened her mouth and she dangled a string in front of her mouth, then played with it with her tongue, making Noah swallow hard. He nearly forgot what they’d been talking about when he finally snapped out of it and cleared his throat. “So where are you spending Thanksgiving?”
She lifted a shoulder but continued her affection with the string cheese. Noah made a mental note to buy more string cheese—a lot more.
“I’ll probably just stay here. Maybe rent some movies or something. It’s no big deal.”
She finally looked up at him and away from her cheese. “Yeah, alone.” She smiled weakly. “I’ve been alone for over eight months now. Well… until you moved in. But I’m used to it.”
“But it’s a holiday.” He walked over to the table and sat across from her. “One you’re supposed to spend with family or friends.”
Immediately he felt so stupid for saying that because those eyes that seemed a bit sad when she first walked into the kitchen were now undeniably cheerless though she still attempted to hide it.
“I’ve never had much family and the only friend I ever really had is Nellie. So I’m immune to these kinds of things. They don’t affect me like they would other people.”
Noah wasn’t buying this shit for a minute. He reached over and touched her hand. “You have me, now.”
She stopped chewing and stared at him. He saw a bit of what he’d seen in her eyes the night he told her how old he was. “Noah, I—”
“I mean, we’re friends, right? Not just roommates. So you can include me now as one of your friends.” He sat up straighter panicked she still had that look in her eyes. “Why don’t you come with me to Gio’s house for Thanksgiving? I’m sure he wouldn’t mind and—”
“Oh no, I couldn’t.” She shook her head adamantly.
“I hardly know him.” She stood up and Noah stood with her. “Really. I’ll be fine.”
“Then I’ll stay with you.”
She turned to him her eyes even wider. “No!”
God, she was cute when she was being stubborn. “Why the hell not? Look, you’re my friend now. I don’t want you to be alone.”
“Noah, you’re being silly. I’ll be just fine. You should be with your friends. You said it’s where you always spend Thanksgiving. You were looking forward to it.” She crossed her arms in front of her. “I’m not going to keep you from it.”
Noah could see she wasn’t going to give in to this but he’d be damned if he was going to let her spend the holiday alone. He knew what that felt like and he didn’t want her to. “All right.”
She seemed a little surprised he’d given in so easily but pleased. “Good. I appreciate you offering but I promise you I’ll be just fine.”
Noah couldn’t help but smirk. Yes, she would be fine. He’d make sure of it. “Well, maybe you don’t plan on eating a lot this week but I do, so I say we get in a damn good work out tonight.”
That smile of hers was breathtaking and Noah struggled to pull his eyes away from it. “Okay then. I’ll go get ready.”
He couldn’t help feeling a little irritated with himself for staring at her as she walked out of the room. He had to stop with all the thoughts he’d been having about her lately. They were friends now and nothing would ruin a friendship faster than doing some of the things he could only dream of doing to her.
The tension he felt throughout his entire body was unreal. Food had nothing to do with why he wanted to work out hard tonight. Between watching her make love to that damn string cheese and then staring at her lips as she explained why he shouldn’t stay home with her on Thanksgiving, a hard ass workout was exactly what he needed.
Thanksgiving morning Veronica woke to a familiar aroma. One she hadn’t smelled in the house in years. She wasn’t completely sure but as she walked through the hallway toward the kitchen the smell was unmistakable. Honey ham and it smelled delicious.
She turned the corner so see Noah in the kitchen wearing an apron peeling potatoes. The dining table was set for two, centerpiece and all and there were pies on the center island. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Noah glanced up at her with a grin. “I’m making Thanksgiving dinner for us.”
“No you’re not. You’re going to Gio’s house. You said you were really looking forward to it.”
He raised an eyebrow with the grin turning into an all-out smile. “But what I decided I’ve been looking forward to even more—my entire life—was preparing a Thanksgiving meal.”
When she didn’t return the smile his smile turned into a pout. “Foster care system all my life remember?”
How dare he use that to guilt her into not being mad at him. She should’ve known better when he’d given in so easily the other day. When his smug grin returned, she couldn’t help but smile this time. She walked toward him trying to appear still angry but secretly she was a little excited. Though it really wasn’t a big deal that she’d be spending Thanksgiving alone she wasn’t exactly looking forward to it. “I can’t believe you. When did you do all this?”
He seemed relieved that she was more curious than upset. “Well, I’ve never actually prepared a meal like this so I sort of cheated. The ham was already prepared and spiraled. All I had to do was stick it in the oven and I figured a turkey would be too much for just me and you so I got a stuffed turkey breast that again, all I had to do was stick in there.” He gestured to the oven. “I’m not much of a baker so I bought pies already made but I did wanna prepare something and was hoping you’d help me. We could sort of… you know… do this together. So I’m making the mashed potatoes and I bought some string beans so we can make a string bean casserole.” He pointed at a bag on the counter by the refrigerator. “And in keeping with the Mexican tradition I bought some tamales from the lady selling them in the parking lot.”
Veronica laughed bringing her hand to her mouth. She didn’t want him to notice how giddy she was beginning to feel. This was completely unexpected and she hadn’t had a Thanksgiving feast like this in ages.
“So whatta ya say? You gonna help me with this or what?”
“Sure I’ll help.” She walked around the island to where he stood.
“You wanna do the potatoes or the green beans?”
Remembering the easy recipe her mother had taught her, she chose the green beans and got to work. She watched as Noah pressed a few buttons on his phone then set it on the table next to what looked like a speaker and soon Christmas carols began playing.
“Well that’s cool.” She had to admit.
Noah laughed. “That’s like one of the easiest things you can do on this phone. The more I play with it the more awesome I think it is.”
“Still too extravagant for me. I’ll stick to my dumb phone thank you very much.”
Noah promised to sell her on it yet and said he’d find an app just for her that would make her go out and just have to get an iPhone for herself. The conversation made her feel like an old unyielding geezer afraid of change like the ones she used to work with who were angry anytime there was an upgrade to their computer system. She decided to change the subject by singing along to the music. To her surprise, Noah sang with her. Veronica laughed at how seriously intense he got at certain parts of the songs, then blushed and stopped singing when he told her he loved her voice.
“No, don’t stop. That’s the best part. I was waiting to hear you sing it.”
She sprinkled the fried onion topping over the casserole and smiled chewing her lower lip. Her face was on fire now and she refused to look up at him. It was just a compliment. Geez. How old was she anyway? At the moment she felt like she was five in the middle of her elementary school yard and someone had just declared their love for her in front of the rest of the giggling student body.
She knew what he meant. He wanted her to look up but she shook her head. She could feel him staring.
“Look at me, Roni.”
Spinning around so she wasn’t even facing him now, she took her time placing the casserole in the oven. The music still blared away. When she finally turned to face him his smile was so genuine and it was all for her, it made her heart speed up. “God, you’re adorable when you’re embarrassed.”
“Okay, so stop embarrassing me,” she said, feeling the heat from her face rush south down her neck and back. She wiped the counter and cleared her throat. “Is that it? Are we done?”
The smile was ever present and she did everything in her power to try not to stare at those suckable lips and how his normally intense eyes almost twinkled now. “Well looks like you are but I’m not. You wanna give me a hand with these potatoes?”
She walked over and helped him peel and cut more potatoes. A few minutes later, ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ started to play. It was one of her all-time favorites so she gave in and sang along. Noah smiled and to her surprise, he knew all the words so he sang the male part to her female part. She playfully leaned in to him singing. And he’d lean back when it was his turn. She noticed his gaze became heavier as the lyrics got more and more flirtatious but she kept singing. “So nice and warm.”
He glanced at the window amazingly not missing a single lyric. “Look out the window at that storm.”
She gulped knowing what was coming up. “My sister will be suspicious.”
His eyes were on her lips now. “Man, your lips look so delicious.”
Veronica pretended not to notice how his voice changed ever so slightly with that last line. “My brother will be there at the door.”
His eyes were still on her lips. “Waves upon a tropical shore.”
Giving in to temptation, she glanced at his lips as he licked them. “My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious.”
He stopped singing and spoke the next line. “Gosh, your lips look delicious.”
Feeling a sudden heat, she forced her eyes away from those lips and stared at the potato in her hand. “I think this is enough potatoes.”
He was quiet and didn’t even move for a moment. She was almost afraid to look at him. When she did, his playful expression had gone hard and he cleared his throat. “Yeah, that should be enough.”
She scrambled across the kitchen and pulled a pot out of the cabinets near her knees. “You can use this,” she said handing him the pot.
His expression looked almost as stunned as she felt. “So that’s it. I think I’ll go shower now and get ready for our feast. Looks like we’ll be eating all day.”
Nodding he glanced at her, his eyes making a stop at her lips again before turning back to the pot in his hand. “Okay I’ll put these on to boil and do the same when you’re done with the shower.”
Shaking away the sudden visual of his hard body under the shower, she walked away quickly to the bathroom.
Once safely behind the closed bathroom door she allowed herself to let out the trembling breath she’d held back when she’d been so close to him in that kitchen. This had to stop and she would make sure nothing like that happened again.
At Noah’s age sex was probably eternally on his mind, and she was certain that’s all he was thinking when he looked at her the way he did sometimes. As young as he was, he was an adult of sound body and mind. He knew what he was doing so if things ever escalated but didn’t work out between them she was certain he’d be okay with it. In fact she hated to admit it but that’s exactly what she was worried about. Not only would he be okay with it, most likely it was what he’d prefer. And why not? Why on earth would a guy his age, looking the way he did be thinking about settling down? It would be selfish of her to expect him to.
She shook her head. “Nope, nope, nope,” she whispered turning the shower on.
She wouldn’t even consider it. Besides she’d finally found another friend—one wonderful enough to go all out and plan a feast for them on Thanksgiving. Why would she be stupid enough to ruin that?
“Done,” she said pulling her pajama top over her head.
That was it. It was out of the question and she was done thinking about it. She’d take a shower, get dressed and enjoy the very special meal her roommate, trainer and now good friend Noah had planned. She closed her eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath before stepping into the shower.
Noah was seriously going to have to go out and get laid soon. He couldn’t believe he’d gone this long, but wanting to be home spending his time with Roni had won out each time he’d had the opportunity these last few weeks.
What he’d done in the shower today had been happening too often now that he was around her so much. It wasn’t going to be enough soon even if he visualized Roni the entire time. It only made him crave the real thing more, especially if things like what happened in the kitchen earlier kept happening.
It was odd to say the least. When he first met her, out of shape, in baggy sweats the last thing he would’ve figured her for was a girlie girl. Then watching her work out week after week without a trace of makeup on and her hair pulled back in a messy ponytail he assumed he was right. He’d worked out with girls before but sweaty or not there was always a telltale sign of girliness—the manicured nails, cute earrings, or perfectly matched workout outfits.
Roni had none of these things. Even when she started wearing the more flattering workout outfits, she steered far from cutesy and stuck with simple black or gray. Not that her new outfits hadn’t driven him insane anyway, particularly when he noticed some of the other guys at the gym eyeing her. He’d openly stared them down especially when they’d gaped and silently sent them clear warnings—don’t even fucking think about it.
The first time he’d gone in her bathroom he expected to find lots of lotions and perfumes, maybe even scented candles. But what he’d suspected all along was correct. Roni wasn’t a girlie girl. In fact he’d yet to see her all done up. It was when she was in her loose fitting comfortable clothes and fuzzy pajamas that she seemed most in her element. Noah had always been into girlie girls. He liked them to fuss over their hair and loved watching them apply their makeup, especially the lipstick. Roni didn’t even wear any, yet something about her exuded femininity. She didn’t have to do all those things. And she didn’t need makeup or scented lotions. It was all natural with her. It was what he now loved about her.
In the kitchen earlier, he’d barely been able to contain himself. He’d been that close to pulling her to him and taking her mouth in his. The only thing that stopped him was fear of ruining this day he’d so carefully planned out.
He knew Veronica was reserved and in a way, that was also part of the attraction. His days in the ring had been short lived because of his injury but he’d been around Abel and Gio enough to know all about the groupies. Neither he nor any of his friends had made it to the big time yet, but even at this level, there were groupies. There was no denying that some of them were hotter than shit. And of course he’d had fun with plenty of them. He was a man after all. But there was something refreshing about a girl like Roni.
He’d long ago stopped looking at her as older than him. Of all the girls he’d ever met he’d never felt as comfortable around any of them as he did with her. He always thought it but he had no doubts at all now. Age had nothing to do with friendships or any type of relationship. He’d known this his whole life. Some of his closest relationships, male or female, had been with people decades older than him.
Veronica was no different. The day she’d told him she was okay with being alone for the holiday he’d seen right through those big sad eyes and again this morning. When she walked in the kitchen trying to pretend she was upset about him not going to Gio’s, but there was no hiding the glee in those beautiful eyes of hers. In some ways he felt she was younger than him. She hadn’t told him a whole lot yet. Judging from the fact that someone had thought far enough ahead to make sure she was taken care of with a house and all the family portraits he’d been so consumed with since he moved in, he was pretty sure she’d been sheltered most of her life.
He finished getting dressed and braced himself to meet Veronica in the kitchen. She was already singing and that voice of hers could silence a crowd. Not because of her singing abilities. That was average at best, but that low silky smoothness of her voice could almost put you into a trance. He frowned remembering how even Abel had noticed it. But Noah had to admit it was hard not to notice. There was something so uniquely mesmerizing about it.
Gio called just as he was getting ready to walk out of his room and Noah winced remembering he’d forgotten to call him.
“Hey, Gio what’s up?” Noah could hear the noise in the background. Even this early Gio probably already had a full house.
“Not much. What time you coming down? Rita is here and she was asking about you.”
Shit. Rita was Gio’s cousin from up north. They had sort of a holiday understanding. Since she lived so far and only really came down for the holidays a relationship was out of the question. Not that Noah had ever felt inclined to have one with her but she was fun and very generous under the sheets. So a few times a year, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter—the holy holidays—they got together. Though their trysts were anything but holy. It was perfect because she openly admitted she wasn’t into settling down so she’d never been clingy. Once she went home, he rarely heard from her except maybe to text him good luck before a fight or a random question here and there. She was a cool chick and hot enough, but most importantly he never had to worry about her getting hung up on him.
“I meant to call you earlier, man. I’m not gonna make it this year.”
“What? What do you mean? Where you gonna be?”
Gio knew better than anyone that unless Noah was spending time with a chick or was at the gym he really didn’t have anywhere else to be. And since Gio’s family was the closest thing Noah had to family he wouldn’t pass up spending the holiday with them for a night of lust. But this was different. As cold as the shower had been that he was forced to take earlier this wasn’t about lust. “I’m having dinner here—at home.”
The second the words came out, it hit him. He’d never used the word home in relation to where he lived. It was always the Fuentes’ place or whatever other foster parent’s place he was staying at. The thought nearly suffocated him—he was getting too sucked into this whole thing. He had to keep in mind that this also was only temporary. Just like all the other homes he lived in throughout his life, this was no more his home than any of those had been. So why the hell was he referring to it as that?
The silence on the other end went on a little too long. “You still there?”
“Yeah, I’m here,” Gio said, clearing his throat.
“So uh, yeah. Let your mom know—”
“Noah, what are you doing?”
“What do you mean?” Noah squeezed his eyes shut, knowing exactly what Gio was getting at. Several times over the past couple of weeks, he’d gotten strange looks from Gio, especially when he’d slip and refer to Veronica as Roni in front of him—Gio already knew what Noah hadn’t even admitted to himself yet.
“Are you falling for this chick?”
Noah’s first thought was to play stupid. Act like Gio was being ridiculous but he knew it was pointless. So instead, he sat down on his bed, letting his head fall back and said nothing.
“Dude, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with it, or that it couldn’t work out. I just hope you’re not getting too comfortable, in case it doesn’t. You’re my boy and you know with everything you’ve been through… I don’t wanna see you hurt is all.”
Noah wanted to smile but he couldn’t. Things weren’t even close to what he knew Gio must be imagining. “It’s not like that with us, man. So if you’re ever around her don’t go saying something that would make her think I said it was. She just… she has no one. I know what that feels like and she was gonna be alone tonight, so I decided to stay and keep her company. That’s all.”
Noah knew Gio would never buy that’s all it was, but he also knew he’d let it go. He heard his friend exhale and then he spoke again. “Okay. Well, I’ll tell Rita and you’ll be missed, bro. Enjoy your day with Roni.” He chuckled. “We’ll have plenty of leftovers so come by this weekend and grub. You know my moms. She’ll be disappointed you didn’t come by tonight so you’ll have to make it up to her.”
Noah chuckled. “Got it. I’ll make my rounds this weekend. Thanks.”
He hung up and took one last look in the mirror before walking out of the room. As he walked around the corner of the hallway, Veronica came into view. She stirred a cup of coffee and then sipped it. He sucked in a hard breath when she glanced up and smiled at him. How was it possible that she’d gone from being average looking, when he first met her, even after she’d lost the weight he thought her somewhat attractive but now she was beautiful. Not much had changed in her appearance, but everything about her now seemed to glow—the curls, her eyes—those lips.
She raised her cup at him. “You thought of everything. Pumpkin spice creamer. I love it.”
Noah smiled, trying hard to conceal the fact that having pleased her for something as simple as picking the right creamer made him feel damn good. “I thought it fit the occasion.”
“I also saw the champagne in the fridge. How’d you manage that? Didn’t they card you?”
Taking an annoyed deep breath he walked into the kitchen, the smell of her freshly shampooed hair, with a touch of something else—very subtle perfume maybe— overwhelmed his senses as he walked by her. He almost forgot about the irritating question. He’d had a fake I.D. for over a year now, not that he got carded too often. Like this morning, the clerk glanced up at him and just asked him for his birthday. He gave it to her with the fake year and she just punched it in.
“I also got beer. And no, they didn’t card me.” As smug as he had hoped to sound, his words sounded more defensive than anything. If she noticed, she didn’t let on. Instead, she barely glanced at him before her eyes were on the oven behind him. “It’s already lunch time. We spent so much time preparing the food we skipped breakfast.”
“Well let’s do this.”
With everything done, they moved the food to the dining room table and sat down prepared to eat. Just as he saw her fork dig into the mashed potatoes, he had to ask. “Aren’t we supposed to say grace first?”
With a near frown, Veronica shrugged and dropped her fork. “You can if you want to. God and I haven’t exactly been on speaking terms for a while.”
Ah. With that in mind, Noah kept it short and to the point then they dug in. Noah glanced up at her after a few minutes of silent ravishing. She wasn’t kidding when she said she was starving and he hadn’t realized what an appetite he’d worked up with such a busy morning.
“So your mom was really the only family you ever had?”
She nodded and thankfully, she didn’t seem uncomfortable with the subject. “My mom mentioned having a much older sister who she never really knew. My grandparents were older when they had my mom. She was an unexpected but pleasant surprise.” She buttered a roll as she spoke seemingly okay with sharing this part of her life with him. She told him all about the much older sister her mom had that ran off when she was eighteen and never returned so while she knew she had an aunt somewhere she’d never met her.
“What about your dad?” Judging by her sudden change in expression, this obviously wasn’t quite as easy a question as his first. Worried that this might change her mood he added, “we don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want.”
“No. It’s no biggie. I never met him. My mom fell in love with an acquaintance of the family who came from Mexico to visit for weeks at a time. He made her all kinds of promises, especially after they became intimate and when he’d go back to Mexico they’d write each other constantly. When she wrote him to tell him she was pregnant he never wrote back.” Her expression hardened. “She later found out he’d been married the whole time. His visits over here were to make money to send back to his wife and kids. She was devastated but my aging grandparents helped raise me though I was really young when they passed and from then on it was just me and her.”
She dipped her roll in her potatoes and took a bite.
Feeling bad that he’d dredged up such a sore subject Noah felt compelled to say something and then hopefully change the subject. “Well, I’m sorry about your dad but at least your grandparents stuck by your mom. I know the older generation tends to be very stern about those kinds of things.”
Her smile made him feel better. “No. My grandparents were wonderful.” She glanced around. “This was their house. They left it to me and my mom.” Her eyes met him and were suddenly full of compassion. “And don’t be sorry. At least I had my mom. Were you really in foster care your whole life?”
Noah wanted a change of subject but this certainly wasn’t the direction he had in mind. He continued to eat trying to play it off as if it was no big deal. “I honestly don’t know anything about my dad and I barely remember my mom. All I know is we lived in a house here in Los Angeles. We shared it with several other families. I’d go to school, come home, go into our room and wait for her to get home from work.” He took a hard drink of his coffee surprised that talking about it still made him sad. “One day when I was six she never came home. The other women in the house looked after me saying la migrahad taken her from the factory she worked at and sent her back to Mexico, but she’d be back for me. Then weeks later, we got notice that she’d been killed when the truck she and about thirty other immigrants were being smuggled in crashed just before crossing the border. So I was placed in foster care and was told it was only until one of my mother’s family members came to get me.” He moved his food around on his plate. It’d been years since he told this story to anyone and he was surprised now that he was telling her this. The only other person he’d ever shared this with was Gio. He glanced up at him and she was staring, her eyes full of compassion. “No one ever came. End of story.”
She nodded as if she understood and wouldn’t ask anything else. Strangely, he wanted her to. As hard as it was to relive it, it felt good to tell someone else. He’d only told Gio bits and pieces over the years and that was usually when he was drunk.
“I’m so sorry to hear that, Noah. Have you ever tried to find any of your mom’s family?”
Noah shook his head almost annoyed, not at her, but at the idea of him trying to reconnect with people who obviously didn’t give a shit about him. Over the years he’d come to the conclusion that if he and his mom were all alone living with strangers in a shared house then none of her family gave a shit about her either. “What for? If they had any interest, they would’ve come looking for me. I was the kid.”
“Maybe they didn’t know about you.”
A bitter chuckle escaped him. “Someone knew. They knew enough to send word about my mom being killed.” He stared at her eyes that now seemed to search for more in his. “You know that saying ‘blood is thicker than water’?” She nodded. “It’s bullshit. Growing up I got to know a lot of different families and it always amazed me how fucked up some of these families were.”
Noah bit his tongue before he went on. As good as it felt to let it out, today wasn’t the day for it. Today was supposed to be fun. He shook his head and speared a piece of turkey breast with his fork. “Anyway, some of the relationships I’ve developed over the years with friends, I would never dream of trading them with someone just because we have the same blood running through our veins. That’s all I’m saying. I didn’t mean to get all heavy on you.”
He stuck the turkey in his mouth and stood up. “You ready for some champagne?” Her pensive eyes were still glued to him even as he glanced back at her. “I know it’s early but what the hell? It’s a holiday.”
Her expression finally eased up then she smiled. “Yeah, I’ll take some.”
All the muscles in his back and arms seemed to have tensed up with that last conversation. He needed something to bring him down. Help him relax so he could enjoy the rest of the day and evening with her. The very thought pulled him immediately out of his edgy mood and he smiled as he pulled the bottle of bubbly out of the fridge.
After only one glass of champagne, Noah switched to beer. He said he wasn’t much of a champagne drinker and only ever had a glass or two when he was in a celebratory mood. Veronica’s insides had warmed when he said that today he was celebrating his new friendship. Given the little speech he’d just made about how he felt about his friends, it was even more heartwarming that he now considered her a friend. That of course only made her reasoning even more pertinent about why she shouldn’t get caught up in anything like what happened that morning.
They now sat on her porch. There’d been a break in the weather and the sun had actually made an appearance so they’d gone out to enjoy the beauty of the sun rays that sliced through the clouds. Though there was a chill in the air, the champagne helped warm Veronica.
She sat on the swinging bench while Noah sat on the porch stairs leaning back, his elbows supporting him on either side as he stared up at the clouds. “This break ain’t gonna last. Those are some mean looking clouds.”
“That’s okay.” Veronica stared up at the bright sunrays that seemed to fight the weather. “As pretty as this is, I like the rain.”
She continued to admire the sunlight but nodded. “Something about it. It’s cozy, moody—romantic.”
She finally pulled her eyes away from the sunlight and smiled. “Yeah, don’t you think?”
Noah straightened out then moved up to the top stair, leaning up against the porch railing so he faced her now. “I guess it can be romantic.” His smile was teasing. “The cold weather is always a good excuse to snuggle.”
Veronica laughed, feeling a bit nervous about where this was going but then decided they were friends. If she did in fact want to keep him as a good friend and see him like she decided earlier—a younger brother then they should be able to talk about anything without it getting awkward. “I doubt you’ve ever needed an excuse to get cozy with anyone. You probably have them lining up.”
A stupid nervous laugh escaped her again when those damn suckable lips of his curved into one of the sexiest smiles she’d ever seen.
Not awkward. Not awkward.
“I wouldn’t say lining up but I’m flattered that you’d think so.”
This time her laugh was more sarcastic than nervous. “Oh, please. With a body like yours and you’re a boxer to boot. I wouldn’t doubt that you have a fan club already.”
He frowned at that. “Groupies don’t count. They’re only attracted to three things: fame, status, and money. On occasion maybe they’re just looking for a good time they can brag about later. Hot, maybe. But romantic? Hell no. That’s not what I’m into.”
Veronica was just taking in how familiar he seemed to be with what inspired groupies and most notably that though the thought of groupies didn’t seem to excite him, he did consider them hot. She was certain now he’d had his share. Then he brought the subject back to her. “So how come you’re not married?”
She didn’t even realize her smile had vanished until he spoke again lifting his beer bottle. “I’d blame the beer but I’ve only had a couple. I’m sorry if I’m getting too personal.”
Friends, she reminded herself. She could do this—she should—so she cleared her voice and sat up again a little straighter. “No that’s okay. I’ve nothing to hide. I just haven’t met the one yet. Well…” She paused wondering if she should even mention it. He seemed to be hanging on her every word. “I was in one pretty serious relationship for a while there. We were even talking about moving in together. But then my mom got sick and…”
She glanced away unbelievably feeling her throat constrict.
When she glanced back at him, his playful demeanor was now replaced with a look of concern or…disgust.
She cleared her throat again taking a sip of her champagne to swallow back the emotion. “I uh… got real busy with my mom and it was just a really hard time for me so… Derek said maybe we should take a break.”
She’d only seen the expression he now wore on him a few times at the gym and even then she never knew exactly what to make of it. Out of nowhere, she’d glance up at him sometimes and he seemed distracted but the expression was the same as he wore now: hard and almost menacing. “So he walked away when the going got tough—when you needed him most? What an asshole. How long were you with Derek?”
She’d never heard Derek’s name, or anyone’s for that matter, sound so foul. With the lump gone now, she almost giggled. Instead, she lifted and dropped her shoulder. “I really don’t blame him. I was absolutely no fun—”
“Roni, you were going through some heavy shit. Did he expect you to drop everything to entertain him? What he should’ve done is help you through it —help make your life easier. It’s what I would’ve done.”
Veronica smiled, feeling a newfound tenderness for Noah. On this Thanksgiving Day she was absolutely grateful for her new friend. And though their circumstances were a bit unconventional she really hoped now that their friendship would be a lasting one. One that would continue even long after he moved out. The very thought killed her suddenly warm and fuzzy moment. It had taken a few weeks but she was used to this arrangement now. She liked having him around. Just last night she’d thought of the day ahead of her with a bit more dread than she’d admit to herself—a day he’d be gone all day. How was she going to feel when he left for good?
She glanced at him and even though he still wore that fierce look of disgust, she smiled. “I don’t wanna talk about Derek, anymore.” She stood and held her champagne glass up. “I need a refill.”
Like magic, his fierce expression morphed into an incredible smile and he stood up. “Yep, I’m ready for another one, too.”
He was so much taller than her and his masculinity was so potent that if she didn’t know what a sweetheart he could be she might be intimidated. “Besides,” she said as they walked through the front door. “With everything that’s happened in the last year and me trying to get back to a normal life, the last thing I need in my life right now is the distraction of a relationship. I need to work on me first, you know? Baby steps.”
She glanced at him and saw he studied her. “So what’s the next step?”
“Going back to work,” she said surprising herself at how definite her words came out. She’d put some thought into it and vamped up her resume but she really hadn’t been completely sure until now. “I’m hoping to go back in the beginning of the New Year.” She added with a smile.
“Well good for you,” he said his own smile as big as hers felt. They walked in the kitchen together. “Ooh!” Noah said as if he’d just remembered. “I could go for some pie, too.”
Veronica had to laugh. “Really? Beer and pie?”
“Yeah,” Noah smiled, pulling a beer out of the fridge, tucking the whip cream can under his arm and then grabbed the bottle of champagne out with his free hand. “It’s the best. Actually pumpkin pie is one of those universal desserts that go with almost anything. I’ve never tried it but it probably goes great with champagne too.”
He was right. Turns out the pie was great with champagne. They sat at the table eating their pie. Veronica watched, her eyes widening as he sprayed a very heavy dose of whip cream on his second slice of pie.
“That much, uh?”
“Oh yeah,” he said putting the can down and digging his fork into the pie. “Everything tastes better covered in whip cream.”
There was something so sinfully wicked about his smile, just before he stuck the forkful in his mouth. It made her squirm in her chair and she had to turn away. Then she heard him chuckle, adding annoyance to the list of emotions she gone through just today. He was enjoying this but if this is who he was then she’d have to get used to it so she decided two could play this game. Friends could be playful, right?
She sipped her champagne, glancing up at him. He was still smirking even as he chewed. “Oh yeah,” she said lowering her voice a little. “I know everything tastes better with whip cream.”
His eyes widened and he stopped chewing but the smirk was still there. “Is that right?”
“Sure does.” What was she doing? This wasn’t playful, this was flirting, something she’d always done so naturally. She needed to stop.
“Even the salty stuff?”
“Especially the salty stuff.” Too much! Too much!
That wiped the smirk right off his face and his dark eyes stared at her now. So she switched gears as fast as she could, standing up and heading toward the living room. “Aren’t there a lot of good movies on tonight? We should watch one.”
Oh, right. Snuggle up on the sofa together just after she mentioned liking her whip cream on the salty stuff. She set the champagne glass on the counter just before walking out of the kitchen. She’d had enough. It was bringing out the idiot in her.
Grabbing the remote from the coffee table, she clicked the television on and made sure to take a seat on the recliner that sat one. She didn’t want him thinking she was suggesting anything. She could kick herself now for flirting with him. Like Nellie had mentioned that first day at the gym, the old Veronica was a flirt. The champagne seemed to have allowed it to resurface. She made a mental note to keep the alcohol intake to a minimum while around Noah, especially alone. It was hard enough not to notice how incredibly sexy he could be even when she was completely sober. Adding alcohol into the mix was just stupid. She should’ve seen that coming.
Noah waltzed into the living room, looking a little too smug. Veronica gave him a quick glance then averted her eyes to the television. “Polar Express! My favorite. And it just started.” She jumped out of her recliner. “I’ll go make popcorn.”
Halfway into kitchen she heard Noah call out. “You gonna put whip cream on that?”
Then she heard the laugh. She bit her tongue holding back what she really wanted to say. That’s not the kind of salty stuff I was talking about. Instead she said, “Ha ha. No. That would be way too messy.”
“Isn’t the mess part of the fun?”
She spun around her face going hot not just from his words but at the sound of his voice so close behind her. He stood a couple of feet away from her now, a tinge of humor in his smoldering eyes. Clearing her throat, she turned back to the pantry and grabbed a bag of naturally flavored lightly salted popcorn. The best thing to do was ignore his question and change the subject. “Do you know that not only did I use to buy the buttered popcorn but for a while there I actually added morebutter?”
As embarrassing as her fat ass confession was, it beat anymore talk of whip cream. Thankfully she turned away from his penetrating and playful eyes as she took the few steps to the microwave.
“Depression will do that to you. Food is comforting. Lots of people turn to over indulging on it just like others turn to alcohol or drugs to help them cope. You had every right to be down, Roni.”
Their eyes met and his usually intense eyes now teamed with compassion for her. Something she only ever got from Nellie.
There were two powerful forces fighting against each other now. While his smoldering eyes earlier had begun to wear her down, making her consider that maybe allowing herself to give in to something exciting and so against her better judgment for once in her life wasn’t such a bad thing, then he said things like this. The genuine kindness in his voice was undeniable and it reminded her how stupid she would be to ruin a friendship with such a great guy.
The microwave beeped just in time for her to catch her breath and turn away again. “Well,” she said as she took the popcorn bag out and grabbed a bowl to spill its contents in. “The over indulging came with its consequences.” She turned back to him and smiled. “You were witness to that first hand. No more extra butter for me.”
That smile again, so tender but unlike when Nellie smiled at her like this it touched her in a way she couldn’t understand. “I’m proud of you. You fought your way out of that dark stage of your life and look at you now.” For a moment, the tenderness in his eyes disappeared as he took her in from top to bottom, making her breath catch then it was back and he smiled again. “Not an easy thing to do you know. You did good, Roni. You should be proud.”
She took in a slow breath hoping he wouldn’t notice how a few words and his beckoning gaze affected her. “I am proud.” Picking up the bowl of popcorn, she started to the living room feeling his presence right behind her. She now regretted not grabbing another bowl because sitting by herself on the recliner would be rude since they were going to share the popcorn.
Sitting down on the sofa, Veronica decided she would stop worrying about her relationship with Noah and just enjoy the rest of her Thanksgiving evening. She didn’t even flinch when he sat a bit closer than she had expected and after several times of their fingers accidentally touching as they both reached for popcorn at the same time, her heart stopped reacting so erratically. For God’s sake, they were two grown adults not middle school kids.
By the time the evening was over they made it through without any more uncomfortable moments or inappropriate flirting and Veronica concluded this was the beginning of what she hoped would be a wonderful long term friendship.
Happy Holidays everyone! Hope you enjoyed this extra long excerpt! If you’d like to read more you can get your copy from the links below!