“Business is great. That’s why it’s so hard not to come in. There’s always something to do.”
“Can’t you hire someone to watch the place and answer the phones while you all take time off? Like a receptionist?”
Natalie bit her lip and took a large sip of wine as though she were delaying her response. “I guess we could. Anyways, I’m the only one without a backup, but I’m the only one of us without a life. It’s kind of hard to swap out the wedding planner, though. I’m the one with the whole vision of the day and know all the pieces that have to fall into place just perfectly.”
“Getting a receptionist isn’t the same as getting a backup planner. It just frees you up so you’re not answering the phones and filing paperwork all the time. You should look into it. Of course, that would require you not to be such a control freak.”
Natalie perked up in her seat. “I am not a control freak.”
At that, Colin laughed. “Oh, come on now. Your office is immaculate. You’re always stomping around with that headset on, handling every emergency. I’m beginning to think you run a one-stop wedding company because you won’t let anyone else do any of it.”
She opened her mouth to argue, then stopped. “Maybe I should look into a receptionist,” she admitted.
“If you had one, you could spend the next two days with me instead of sitting alone in that lonely office of yours.”
Natalie’s eyebrow raised in question. “Spend the next two days with you doing what?”
“Working on the house. Helping me decorate. What we discussed last week. I’ve turned over the reins of the company to my second-in-command to manage our remaining projects through the end of the year so I can focus on what I need to do before the holidays.”
That wasn’t the enthusiastic response he was hoping for. “Oh, huh? I guess I should sweeten the deal, then. Spending time with me to help your childhood best friend isn’t enough incentive.”
“Quit it,” Natalie chided. “I told you I’d help you with the house. Since I work on weekends, it makes sense to come over tomorrow, you’re right. And I will. I was just expecting something else.”
“I don’t know...a trip to the Opryland Hotel to look at the Christmas decorations and visit Santa, maybe?”
Opryland! Colin silently cursed and sipped his wine to cover his aggravation. The hotel in central Nashville was practically its own city. They went all out every holiday with massive decorations. They usually built a giant ice village with slides kids could play on. They even hosted the Rockettes’ Christmas show. That would’ve been perfect, but of course he couldn’t do it now that she’d brought it up. He refused to be predictable.
There wasn’t really time for that, either. When he’d made that impulsive bet, he hadn’t given a lot of thought to how much they both worked and how incompatible their schedules were. Between their jobs, working on the house and the wedding, there wasn’t much time left to reintroduce Natalie to the holiday magic. He’d find a way, though. He was certain of it.
“I figured it was something related to the bet, although I don’t know why you’d bother after that kiss we shared at the cake tasting. I’m not sure the one you’ll win will be better than that.”
Colin smiled wide. “Are you serious?” he asked.
She looked at him blankly. “Well, yes. It was a pretty good kiss, as kisses go.”
“It was an amazing kiss,” Colin conceded. “But it won’t hold a candle to the kiss I’ll get when I win.”
Natalie sucked in a ragged breath, her pale skin growing a more peachy-pink tone in the golden candlelight. “I guess as a teenager I never realized how arrogant you were.”
“It’s not arrogance when it’s fact. I intend to make your pulse spike and cheeks flush. I want you to run your fingers through my hair and hold me like you never want to let me go. When I win this bet, I’ll kiss you until you’re breathless and can’t imagine ever kissing anyone else.”
He watched Natalie swallow hard and reach a shaky hand out for more wine. He hid away his smile and focused on her so she knew he meant every word.
“Y-you’ve still g-got to win the bet,” she stammered. “I’m pretty sure you’ve run out of Christmas stuff to mail to the office.”
“Don’t underestimate me,” Colin said. “Those holiday gifts were just to get you in the right mindset.” There were a lot of sensory elements to Christmas—the smell of pine and mulling spice, the taste of peppermint and chocolate, the sight of bright lights and colorful poinsettias. “I wanted to...prime the pump, so to speak. When you’re ready, that’s when I’ll move in for the kill.”