When he handed it to Natalie, she realized it was a memorial ornament and the picture was one taken right before their accident. It seemed an odd thing to put on the Christmas tree. Why would he decorate with bad memories?
“Put it near the front,” Colin instructed. “I always want our parents to be a part of our Christmas celebration.”
Natalie gave the ornament a place of honor, feeling herself get a little teary as she looked at the two of them smiling, with no idea what was ahead for them and their children. “I miss them,” she said.
Colin nodded. “Me, too.” He took a bite of one of the iced snowman cookies. “Mom’s were better,” he said.
That was true. Mrs. Russell had made excellent cookies. But as much as Natalie didn’t like the holidays, she didn’t want to bring down the evening Colin planned with sad thoughts. “Do we have many more ornaments?”
The sad look on Colin’s face disappeared as he focused on the task of digging through the box. “Just one more.” He handed over a crystal dove. “Now we just need some sparkle.”
Together, they rolled out the red satin tree skirt with the gold-embroidered poinsettias on it, then they finished off the last decorating touches. Colin climbed onto a ladder to put the gold star on the top of the tree while Natalie wrapped some garland around the branches.
“Okay, I think that’s it,” Colin said as he climbed down from the ladder and stepped back to admire their handiwork. “Let’s turn out the lights and see how it looks.”
Natalie watched him walk to the wall and turn out the overhead chandelier for the room. She gasped at the sight of the tree as it glowed in front of the window. The red, green, blue and yellow lights shimmered against the walls and reflected off the glass and tinsel of the tree.
Colin came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. She snuggled into him, feeling herself get sucked into the moment. The tree, the music, the scents of the holidays and Colin’s strong embrace...it all came together to create a mood that stirred long-suppressed emotions inside her.
“I think we did a good job,” Colin whispered near her ear.
“We did a great job,” she countered, earning a kiss on the sensitive skin below her earlobe. It sent a shiver through her body with goose bumps rising up across her flesh.
“Are you cold?” he asked. “I can turn on the gas fireplace and we can drink our cider there. Soak in the ambience.”
“Sure,” Natalie said. She picked up her cider and the plate of cookies and followed Colin into the living room. Natalie noticed that above the fireplace were a pair of stockings with both Lily’s and Frankie’s names embroidered on them. There was pine garland with lights draped across the mantel with tall red pillar candles and silk poinsettias. It was perfect.
With the flip of a switch, the fireplace roared to life. Colin settled down on the love seat and Natalie snuggled up beside him. She kicked off her shoes and pulled her knees up to curl against him. It was soothing to lie there with his arm around her, his heartbeat and the Christmas carols combining to create a soundtrack for the evening.
It had been a long time since Natalie had a moment like this. She didn’t limit herself to one-night stands, but her relationships had focused more on the physical even if they lasted a few weeks. She hadn’t realized how much she missed the comfort of being held. How peaceful it felt to sit with someone and just be together, even without conversation.
Sitting still was a luxury for Natalie. Once they had opened the chapel there was always something to be done, and she liked it that way. Now she was starting to wonder if she liked it that way because it filled the holes and distracted her from what she was missing in her life. Companionship. Partnership. Colin hadn’t convinced her to love Christmas again, but he had opened her eyes to what she’d been missing. She could use more time like this to just live life.
Unfortunately, time like this with a man like Colin came with strings. It had only been a few short hours since they’d agreed to a casual fling, but in her heart, Natalie still worried.
While the decisive and successful owner of Russell Landscaping was driven and in control of his large company, the Colin she’d always known was also sentimental and thoughtful on the inside. The business success and the money that came with it were nice, but she could tell that he’d done all that to honor his father’s memory. And more than anything, he wanted his own family, and had since he lost his parents. No little fling would change that.