“The lights are pretty,” Natalie admitted as they neared the big tree. “It reminds me of the tree in Rockefeller Center.”
“Now why would a Grinch go see the tree in New York?” he asked.
“I was there on business,” she insisted. “I went down to see the ice skaters and there it was. It’s pretty hard to miss.”
They approached the black wrought iron railing that surrounded and protected the tree. It, too, was wrapped in lighted garland and big velvet bows. Colin rested his elbows on the railing and looked up at the big tree. “I think our tree is nicer.”
Natalie cozied up beside him and studied the tree more closely. “I think you’re right. This tree is kind of impersonal. Ours had a special something.”
“Maybe we need hot cider,” he suggested.
“No,” Natalie groaned, pushing away from the railing. “There is no room left in me for anything, even hot cider.”
She reached for his hand and he took hers as they started back to the other end of the shopping center where they’d left his car.
“Thank you for bringing me here tonight,” she said. “I’ve never seen this place decorated for the holidays. It’s pretty. And not as crowded and chaotic as I was expecting it to be.”
“I’m glad you think so,” Colin said with a chuckle. “If you’d have been miserable, it could’ve set me back days.”
“No,” Natalie said, coming to a stop. “It’s perfect. A great first date, I have to say.”
“It’s not over yet.” As they paused, Colin noticed a decorative sprig of mistletoe hanging from a wire overhead. He couldn’t have planned this better if he’d tried. “Uh-oh,” he said.
Natalie’s eyes grew wide. “What? What’s wrong?”
Colin pointed up and Natalie’s gaze followed. He took a step closer to her, wrapping his arms around her waist. “That’s mistletoe up there. I guess I’m going to have to kiss you.”
“Sounds like a hardship,” she said. “Christmas is such a burdensome holiday. Shop, eat, decorate, make out... I don’t know how you people stand it every year with all these demands on your time.”
“Am I wrong or does it sound like you’re coming around to Team Christmas?”
Natalie wrapped her arms around his neck and entwined her fingers at his collar. “I wouldn’t say I’m that far gone yet. A lot hinges on this kiss, though. I’ve never been kissed under the mistletoe, so I can’t understate how critical this moment is to you potentially winning this bet.”
“No pressure,” Colin said with a smile. Dipping his head, he pressed his lips to hers. Her mouth was soft and yielding to him. She tasted like the buttery bourbon sauce from the bread pudding and the coffee they’d finished their meal with. He felt her melt into him, his fingertips pressing greedily into her supple curves.
Every time he kissed Natalie, it was like kissing her for the first time. There was a nervous excitement in his chest, tempered by a fierce need in his gut. Combined, it urged him to touch, taste and revel in every sweet inch of her.
As they pulled apart, Colin felt the cold kiss of ice against his skin. Opening his eyes, he saw a flurry of snowflakes falling around them. “It’s snowing!” he said in surprise. Nashville did get cold weather, but snow was an unusual and exciting event. “How’s that for your first kiss under the mistletoe? I kiss you and it starts to snow.”
“Wow, it really is snowing.” Natalie took a step back, tipping her face up to the sky. She held out her arms, letting the snowflakes blanket her dark hair and speckle her black coat. She spun around, grinning, until she fell, dizzy, back into Colin’s arms. “I guess I haven’t been paying enough attention to the weatherman,” she admitted when she opened her eyes.
“I’m not sure snow was in the forecast. It must be a little Christmas magic at work.” Colin looked around as the other shoppers quickly made their way back to their cars. Not everyone appreciated the shift in the weather. In the South, snow typically ended up turning icy and the roads would get bad pretty quickly. They all had to make an emergency run to the grocery store for milk, bread and toilet paper in case they lost power.
He wasn’t worried about any of that. Colin just wanted to be right here, right now, with a flushed and carefree Natalie in his arms. She’d worn her hair down tonight for the first time and it looked like dark silk falling over her shoulders and down her back. The cold had made her cheeks and the tip of her nose pink, accentuating the pale porcelain of her complexion.