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Mistletoe Kisses
Author: Anna B. Doe

 

Chapter One

 

 

Griffin


I knew as soon as we pulled up to my parents’ house that I’d made a mistake inviting the woman in the passenger seat. It was the fifth year in a row I’d done it too, and the optimist in me kept hoping it’d be different each time, that maybe this girlfriend would be different.

There was something about pulling up to my childhood home for our annual holiday dinner that brought my relationships into focus. It was terrible timing, right before the holidays, but it always helped me see whether she was the one or not. And so far, she never was.

I turned to smile at Rebecca, knowing I’d have to fake my way through the night before breaking things off tomorrow or the next day.

“This is it,” I announced unnecessarily.

“Same house you grew up in, right?”

“Yep.”

“Is Beckett Steele’s house on this street too?” She still referred to my best friend by his full name, even though they’d met several times over the three months or so we’d been dating.

“A couple streets over.” I’d already told her Beck would be here with his parents, wife, and sister. It was one of the reasons we’d pushed the dinner two weeks before Christmas. Beck and his wife Jordan split the holidays between their families, and they’d be leaving soon to head to Connecticut to be with her side. We got them for Thanksgiving this year. At least it gave me a little window of time to break up with Rebecca without having to be a bigger jerk and do it on Christmas Eve or something.

As we got out of the car, a familiar green Jeep pulled up behind us. My chest suddenly felt tight and heavy as Naomi Bello stepped out of the driver’s seat. She was Beck’s sister, but with different fathers, they didn’t share the same last name. I remembered when he gave her his old Jeep on her sixteenth birthday over seven years ago, back when I still thought of her like a younger sister. It was then I noticed my actual sister was with her, getting out of the passenger seat.

I forced my eyes off Naomi as Summer greeted us with hugs. “Oh, what’d you bring?” Summer asked, eyeing the dish in Rebecca’s hands.

“Bundt cake. It’s from this amazing bakery in Jay Beach.”

The cake was wrapped in shiny green and red paper and while I was sure it was delicious, there was no way it could compare to the one Naomi had been making for the past decade. She’d learned the recipe from her mom and had perfected it to make it her own.

“I told her not to bring anything,” I explained sheepishly.

“I couldn’t show up to your parents’ empty-handed.”

Summer guided Rebecca inside, probably to delay the embarrassment of her discovering Naomi brought the same thing.

“I’ll be right in,” I called as I opened the door to the backseat of my car.

Naomi was right behind me when I turned around a moment later, a bag of clothes in one hand and a skateboard in the other.

“Hey Griff,” she breathed out. I swore I’d started to imagine her reactions to me. The way her voice got a little husky and she faltered a bit before regaining composure. Not only was I ten years older than her, but I was certain she thought of me like family, the way I should be thinking of her.

I struggled to get air for a beat as her nearness made my spine tingle with awareness. I just wanted to touch her, brush her cheek with my knuckles, wrap an arm around her waist, kiss her forehead. And that was wrong on so many levels. Beginning with the girlfriend I’d brought tonight. Instead, I started to shove the bag into her chest before remembering the Bundt cake in her arms.

“I brought you Brazen’s winter line. Realized you didn’t have it yet. I’ll just put it in your backseat.” Brazen was the company I started seven years ago, shortly after injury ended my professional skateboarding career. The company sold skateboards in addition to skateboarding clothing and shoes, which was a fairly unusual combination. Most companies specialized in one of those three things, maybe two. With both Jordan and Beck as the primary reps, Brazen had taken off quickly and had been growing ever since.

Naomi glanced at the gigantic shopping bag with the Brazen logo. “You don’t have to do that, Griff. I know you don’t do it for all your employees.”

“Yeah, but I’ve always given you and Summer the newest line of Brazen clothes. It’s free advertising when you wear them. You might not have chosen the pro skateboarding route but people still notice you at the parks.”

“Except you don’t give Summer Brazen gear anymore,” she pointed out.

“Only because she insisted on working for a competitor.”

“Davis’s surfing company is not a competitor, not really.”

“Well, she told me she doesn’t want to wear Brazen all the time now that she’s working for them.” I understood why my sister didn’t want to start her career with Brazen, I was just grateful Naomi didn’t feel the same way.

Naomi sighed. “Thank you for the clothes, Griff. But I don’t want my colleagues to think I’m getting special treatment.” Well, Naomi did share similar feelings about proving herself, and I tried to respect that, even if it pained me to see her in an entry-level position. Sure, a data analyst role was highly competitive, but no one could argue she hadn’t earned the position fair and square. She was whip smart and wise beyond her years. I wanted to promote her, and often wondered if the opposite was occurring – if I was holding back on giving her greater responsibility because I was afraid she’d be suspicious of my motivations. We were damn lucky to have her at Brazen.

“So, I guess you don’t want the new special edition Jordan Slattery skateboard then?” I held up the board I’d had tucked at my side.

Naomi bit her lower lip. “It’s not Christmas yet.” It was a weak protest and I knew she wouldn’t say no.

“I’ll just put all this in your car.”

Naomi didn’t step back to let me pass though. She swallowed. “Did you get this stuff for Rebecca?”

“No, it wouldn’t be a great girlfriend gift if it’s from my company, would it?” This was partly true, even if I knew Rebecca would love any one of the items in my hands. It was also my way of deflecting, masking how I felt about Naomi. Because I couldn’t deny it to myself any more, and I was beginning to wonder just how long I had been denying it at this point. No one else could know though, ever.

“What I meant was, did you get this stuff for her and then realize when you pulled up to the house that you two weren’t going to last and it was time to break up?” Naomi’s blue eyes bored into me, and I respected the hell out of her for calling me out. She was always too damn perceptive.

I sighed, never wanting to lie to the woman in front of me. Unless of course it was about how badly I wanted her. “I got the stuff for you. But you’re right about the other part.”

There was a flash of something across Naomi’s face, and I couldn’t quite identify it.

“I’d tell you to stop doing this to yourself, but I guess if bringing her here helps you see she’s not your future, maybe it’s better to figure that out sooner rather than later.”

My lips tilted up at her astute reflection. “Maybe,” I conceded.

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