“Nervous?” Michael says. He’s parked the car and looks over at me.
“A little,” I say. “Your mother has a way of…”
“Intimidating the hell out of everyone?” Michael completes my sentence. He smiles and runs a hand through his hair.
I laugh. “Well, I wouldn’t go that far. She was rather sweet to me last night.” When she told me she was rewriting the will to be all in my favor. That’s another thing I should tell him about. I decide that I will, at the same time I reveal I’m Samantha. My father was right. Some secrets hurt those we love, and I can’t afford to hold onto any of them. To have a shot at making us work, I need to let go and trust this man with everything I hold dear. No more secrets. No more lies.
“Don’t let her fool you,” he says. “One minute she’s your best friend and the next, she’s your worst enemy. I just hope you never get to see the other side of her.”
I gulp. I really just want to have a nice evening with Michael and his family, but his comment makes me think that I’ll be on my toes, watching my back all evening. At least I’ll have Michael there.
He strokes my cheek with the back of his hand and leans over and presses his soft lips to mine for just a second. From that measly second, my heart is beating fast.
“I’ve been thinking, we can go home if you’d like. I wouldn’t mind spending the rest of the evening in bed with you.” He smiles seductively.
I’m seriously considering his offer, but no. “We really should spend some time with your family. I want to get to know them better, and besides, you never know how much longer you will have with your mother.” I hope my comment doesn’t offend him.
“That’s why I love you so much,” he says.
“Love me?” I say, teasing. Were his words earlier not just a slip of the tongue? He actually loves me? The words sound so warm and so right coming from his lips—intended for me.
His brow crinkles. “You don’t understand yet, but I don’t think I’ve ever truly loved another woman before I met you.”
His words fill me with unspeakable happiness. But I’m also shocked. I can’t get myself to say I love you to him. It’s too soon. And I have this deep fear that if I do say it, the whole relationship will unravel on me. Like the admittance of love will somehow curse everything we share.
“I admit it, Scarlett. I love you!” He opens his car door and stands in the storm, the cool air rushing into the car, the snowflakes landing on his black overcoat and in his hair. “I love Scarlett Hansen!” he yells, tilting his head back and reaching his hands up to the sky.
I feel my cheeks flush hot. Diane’s servants are waiting for us to get out of the car so they can park it, and it feels weird and wrong to have them be part of this sacred moment.
“Shhh…” I say, getting out of the vehicle, but I can’t help grinning so hard my cheeks cramp. In my exhilaration, I run over to him, but just as I’m about a foot away, I slip. My feet fly into the air, and I’m heading for the ground. There’s a moment when not a single part of me touches the earth and I tense all the muscles in my body, anticipating that painful crash.
However, before I collide with anything, I feel two strong arms pulling me, and the next thing I know, I’m in Michael’s arms, being held firmly against his chest. I inhale, the comforting and highly erotic scent of him filling me.
“Don’t shush me. I want to tell the whole world I finally found you!” He bear hugs me and then kisses me lightly on the lips. “Every time you fall, my love, I will catch you.”
I gaze into his deep, blue eyes, the memory of how I had nearly smashed into the ground completely forgotten.
“Let’s get you inside, Mrs. Manning,” he says.
I’d stay here forever in his arms if I could.
Michael pulls me inside, and helps me get the snowflakes out of my hair. A servant takes our overcoats, and right as we enter the foyer, a waiter offers us a flute of champagne. Wreaths, red bows, golden bells, and Christmas trees decorate the vestibule. An instrumental version of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town is playing over the speakers, and it smells of apples, cinnamon, and some type of meat.
My stomach rumbles.
To the right there’s a life-size Nativity Scene, and to the left stands a crew of servants ready to fulfill any of our whims.
We walk past the garland-adorned stairwell, and into the marble hallway. When we arrive in the dining room, the rest of the party is already seated and are eating their appetizers. There are roughly 90 to 100 people here tonight, and I recognize some of them from last night’s Christmas Eve dinner.
Kenneth waves to me and I wave back, and when Harold winks at me, I smile in return. And, oh, there’s the lady again with the exact same Wilma hairdo as last night.
I am seated at the end again, but unfortunately this time Mrs. Manning sits right next to me. I’m probably imagining it, but during dinner she keeps glancing at me like she’s planning or scheming something. I try to keep as pleasant a smile on my lips as possible, telling myself it’s all in my head, but it’s difficult when she only talks to Michael about his real estate business. She’s up to something, but what?
Once I have finished the four-course meal, I’m stuffed like a turkey on Thanksgiving. These dinner parties will do nothing for my figure, I’m sure. Maybe I’ll have to take Michael up on those early morning Cross-Fit sessions or I’m going to have to get myself to a gym if I don’t want to look like a hippo at my wedding.
After dinner, Michael escorts me to the ballroom. The huge room has been beautifully decorated with garlands, lights, and with red, green, and gold Christmas trees along the walls. A band has been hired to play tonight’s music, and they’re playing Jingle Bell Rock. It appears that even more people have arrived after dinner, and they’re eagerly chatting away while sipping their drinks.
The ballroom is filled to the brim with Portland’s high society. I even see some of the same people as when Michael took me on our first official date to the ballet. Wow, that seems a lifetime ago when he propositioned me, and the only reason I agreed to go out with him in the first place was so I could get my scarf back. I smile at the memory. Even back then he knew how to push my buttons.
“May I have this dance?” Michael holds out his hand.
“Oh, you’re a dancer?” I ask, surprised, giving him my hand.