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This Christmas
Chapter Twenty


"That was, hands down, the worst flight I've ever had the displeasure of taking."

Taylor shot a surprised glance in my direction as she grabbed her duffel bag off the carousel. "Wow. That's high praise coming from the man who's flown around the world in a hundred hours."

"I can't believe you're still giving me shit. Don't you get tired of thinking up new ways to deflate my ego?"

She shrugged, smiling to herself. "Not really. It all comes so easily..."

I pulled her ponytail in revenge. I couldn't help it. After fucking four hours of turbulence, I so deserved to be immature. Besides, Nick was picking us up from the airport. Lord knows he could use some company in the immaturity department. Boy's been alone in there for almost ten years now.

Shit, I'm old.

"Do I want to know what you're thinking?"

I frowned at her. "Isn't the expression 'penny for your thoughts'?"

She frowned back at me. "Well, I thought about saying it, but then I decided that said thoughts probably weren't worth my spare change."

"You suck," I muttered dryly. I had a headache. I'd suffered enough turbulence to send my innards into knots. I wanted to go home and have sex with my girlfriend before falling asleep in front of the fire.

"And you love it," she shot back with a grin.

I had to smile. "This is true."

She winked at me. "If you're good and non-pissy for the ride home, I might suck extra hard."

I raised my eyebrows as I entertained the thought, and Taylor laughed.

"What? It's tempting!"

"That was kinda the idea, baby."

I glanced around, tugged the bill of the baseball cap lower on my forehead, and kissed my girlfriend senseless. She'd made me laugh only ten minutes after the flight from hell. She deserved some kind of reward, right?

She responded willingly, begging entrance with her tongue while I massaged her lips with mine. I had just dropped my suitcase to wrap my arms around her waist when I heard a throat clearing behind us.


Wonderful. Just what I needed.

With a sigh, I stepped away from Taylor, satisfied but not content to hold her hand in mine. "Yes, freak."

He glanced from Taylor to me and back again before breaking out into a huge smile. "Aw, shit. I called it. I SO fucking called it! Man, what'd I tell you before you left? I told you there was no way you could just stay friends with that girl."

I rolled my eyes and started shoving him towards the exit. "Uh, dude, you want to take that down a few notches? I think the entire city of Orlando just heard you."

"Maybe not the whole city of Orlando," Taylor countered, "but definitely the entire baggage claim."

He laughed and pulled her into a hug. "Good to see you again, girl."

She winked at me from his embrace, smiling devilishly. "You too, Nick. With all the whining AJ was doing, I was really starting to miss you."

He let her go immediately. "Hey! Watch it, chick. You're the one dating the tattooed one."

Taylor shrugged. "Who said we were dating? We could just be fuck-buddies."

Nick looked at her curiously for a moment before shaking his head. "Nah, you wouldn't go for that."

"How do you know?"

"You like to mindfuck people too much to go searching for that kind of gratification elsewhere."

Taylor's jaw dropped, and I had to give Nick credit. The boy may seem like a dumbass sometimes--and, trust me, he is--but occasionally, he'll let rip with something that sounds remarkably intelligent and leave the rest of us speechless.

"Nicely done, Nick. Hey, Tails, I bet if you pick your jaw up off the floor and ask real nice, he might even give us a ride home."

She closed her mouth indignantly and sighed. "Nick?"


"You mind taking us to AJ's?"

He grinned. "I do, actually."

"Mind telling us why?"

"Because the other fellas have planned a little welcome back party for the two of you."


He nodded politely. "Yes, indeed. You want to hand me that duffel bag?"

Taylor shook her head, and I laughed. Let Nick handle the independent bar chick for awhile. I could use a break.

"Nah, I got it."

"Oh, I don't doubt that," he intoned with a laugh. "My momma raised me right, though, and I'd be quite the disgrace if I let a lady carry her bag."

I snickered. Why? Meet Nick's mother. Once you talk to the lady, you'll know that he definitely didn't get his manners from her side of the family.

"But what if the lady wants to carry her bag?"

Nick sighed sadly. "Then I might have to go against her wishes in order to lighten her load."

Taylor turned to me in complete and total disbelief as Nick continued to hold a hand out for the duffel. "Is he fucking for real?"

"No. He doesn't fuck for real until at least eleven o'clock at night," Nick replied smartly. "Until then, he plays the part of the perfect gentleman."

Normally, I'd call him on his bullshit, but I was enjoying Taylor's reaction to it way too much. She was so impressed with his comeback that she not only handed him the bag, but thanked him as well. He shouldered it with a smile and a wink in my direction.

"Not a problem. That's what I'm here for."

Taylor's eyebrows rose so high on her forehead that I could've sworn I saw them conversing with her hairline. "Nick, are you single?"

"Sadly, yes."

"Looking for a lady to spoil with your obvious gentility?"

He smiled softly. "You could say that."

"Interested in New Yorkers?"

Immediately, I knew where this was going. "Nick, please, for the love of everything good and holy, tell her no. You do NOT want to get yourself into this mess."

He looked at me with obvious amusement before replying, "Taylor, my dear, I thought you'd never ask. I love New Yorkers. Do you have a roommate?"

She grinned. "Do I ever."


"As the day is long."


Taylor cringed and looked over to me for help, but I just shook my head. I'd met Diana enough times to know that Nick would fall flat on his ass with her.

"Well, see, about that..."

Nick burst into his high-pitched giggle, and Taylor rolled her eyes. "She's really not that bad."

"Sure she's not. And I bet you and AJ didn't fuck each other's brains out over Christmas either."

I choken on stifled laughter and Taylor's affronted expression. Welcome to my world, dear. You think the comments are bad? Try living with four of these motherfuckers every damn day for a year.

And you wonder why I'm less than sane.

At long last, Taylor recovered. "Well, we didn't fuck ALL of the brains out. Just the majority. Don't expect AJ to be particularly witty for the next few days."

Nick chuckled. "I expect AJ to be a good number of things, Taylor, but witty is definitely not one of them."

She smiled devilishly at our chauffeur for the evening. "You two must make quite good company, then."

"Ouch!" Nick's grin was good-natured. He's taken shit from us so long that he's learned to deal like a pro. "Tell ya what. If I promise to lay off the f-word for a few hours, do you think you can play nice?"

Taylor stroked her chin carefully. "I suppose so."

"Good deal."

"But Nick?"

He looked up with an expectant smile. "Yes'm?"

"Don't expect me to lay off the f-word."

With that, Taylor crawled into the backseat of the car. I followed her, but not until I'd received a thumbs-up from Nick. Apparently, he loved her. Thought she was wonderful. Thought the others would love her even more once they'd gotten to chill with her for a bit. Thought she made a great addition to my otherwise surly demeanor. Thought she made me happier than he'd seen me in quite awhile.

Imagine that.