“It’s settled, you’re coming.” Colin picked up his phone and RSVP’d to Amelia while they were sitting there. Natalie opened her mouth to argue, but it was too late. There was no getting out of it now. Amelia would insist and there would be no squirming.
“Why do you hate me?” Natalie asked as he put his phone away.
“I don’t hate you. I like you. A lot. That’s why I’m so determined to make the most of our short time together. It also doesn’t hurt that it might help me win that kiss.” His hazel eyes focused on her across the table, making her blood heat in her veins.
Natalie sighed, trying to dismiss her instant reaction to him. “I’ve kissed you twenty times. What’s so important about that kiss?”
“It’s The One. The most important kiss of all. Nothing can compare to it, I assure you. But I’ll make you a deal,” he offered.
“A deal? Does it allow me to skip the Christmas party? I’ll gladly spend that whole night naked in your bed if you’ll let me skip the stupid party.”
Colin’s lips curled up in a smile that dashed her hopes of that negotiation. “While that sounds incredibly tempting, no. You’re going to that party with me. But, if you promise to come and not give me grief about it the entire time, I’ll let you open this box.” He picked up the silver-wrapped box with the snowflake hologram bow and shook it tantalizingly at her.
Considering she was pretty much stuck going to the party anyway, she might as well agree and finally soothe her curiosity about that package. “Okay,” Natalie conceded. “I will go with you to the party, and I will not bellyache about it.”
“Excellent. Here you go.”
Natalie took the box from Colin’s hand, shaking it to listen for any telltale clues. No such luck. She’d just have to open it. Peeling away at a corner, she pulled back the wrapping to expose a white gift box. Lifting the lid, she found a Swarovski-crystal-covered case for her tablet.
This wasn’t some cheap knockoff they sold at the flea markets. Natalie had done enough weddings to recognize real Swarovski crystal when she saw it. She’d seen covers like these in the hands of Paris Hilton and other celebrities. Out of curiosity, she’d looked it up online once and found far too many zeroes at the end to even consider it. It was impossibly sparkly, each crystal catching the flickering candlelight of the restaurant, and it twinkled like thousands of diamonds in her hands. It cast a reflection on the ceiling like stars overhead.
“Do you like it?” Colin asked.
“Yes, I love it. I’ve always wanted one, but I don’t think I ever told anyone that. What made you think to buy me something like this?”
“Well,” Colin explained, “whenever I see you at the chapel, you’ve got your iPad in your hands. It’s like a third arm you can’t live without. It seemed a little boring though. I thought a girl that drove a little red sports car might like a little bling in her life. Besides, jewelry seemed...predictable.”
Natalie shook her head. “I’m pretty certain that a fling doesn’t call for gifts, much less jewelry. This is too much, really. What is this for?”
“It’s your Christmas present. I thought you could make good use of it at your upcoming weddings so I wanted to give it to you early. Besides, we’re not supposed to make it to Christmas, so I thought if I was going to give you something, the sooner the better.”
“It’s perfect,” Natalie said. Even as she ran her fingertips over the shining stones, she felt guilty. Not just because he’d bought her a gift, but because Colin had given it to her early because she was too flaky to stick with a relationship for two more weeks. She shouldn’t feel bad, though. They’d agreed to the arrangement. It had even been his suggestion, and yet she found herself already dreading this coming to an end. “But you shouldn’t have done it. It’s too much money.”
Colin only shrugged at her complaints. “What is the point of earning all this money if I don’t do anything with it? I wanted to buy you something and this is what I came up with. End of discussion.”
“I haven’t gotten you anything,” she argued. And she hadn’t. She hadn’t bought a Christmas gift in years and she was adamant about not receiving one. Every year she had to remind people she was on the naughty list, so no gifts. It had worked so far. Then Colin came in and started busting down every wall she had, one at a time. Soon, if she wasn’t careful, she’d be completely exposed.