Home > Christmas Kisses (Winter Kisses #1)(3)

Christmas Kisses (Winter Kisses #1)(3)
Author: H.M. Ward

He watches my lips move, and then looks at me out of the corner of his eye. “Sounds good,” he stands and I follow him out of the bar. I get a few stares for leaving with Ryan, but we were friends before I left for college. We can be friends now. I can handle this. Maybe.

When we step outside, the temperature has dropped and the large white flakes have turned into tiny ice shards. They fall from the sky and sting my skin when they land. I shiver and fold my arms across my chest. My dress has no sleeves and I have no jacket. My keys are in my hand, with my wallet attached to the key ring. I’m a no purse kind of girl. I shiver and walk faster, which makes my dress swish at my thighs. It forces cold air up between my legs. Before we are three steps away from the building, I feel Ryan’s leather jacket settle on my shoulders. It’s still warm.

I look over at him and say, “No, I’m fine,” trying to give it back.

“Keep it, you lunatic. You don’t have a coat in the car either, do you?” He smiles at me. Tiny snow crystals cling to his dark hair. Ryan seems to forget himself and gazes at me for a moment.

I keep the jacket over my shoulders and shake my head. “I forgot. I showed up at the airport the other night in flip flops and a tee shirt. No jacket. No socks. I totally forgot about the weather, and it’s warm down there. I was so excited about coming home that I forgot about the snow. I’ll remember next time. Walking through slush in sandals isn’t something I want to do again.” I cringe, thinking about the black sludge from the pavement sloshing between my toes. Gross doesn’t even begin to describe that nasty stuff.

“So, after all those years of wearing straw hats, it turns out that you really are a country girl at heart.” He smiles at me. “Because I was really worried someone would kick your ass in high school. I mean, you were wearing a farmer’s hat in New York, and I don’t know if you realize this yet, but we kinda live in the hood.”

I snort laugh, and cover my mouth with my fingers. “Yeah, figured that out. When I first got to college, I thought the random people making small talk were trying to steal stuff.” I laugh. “Apparently there are places that are just friendly.”

“Mmmm,” he says, grinning at me. “I suppose so. It probably doesn’t hurt that you’re hot, either. I think you could steal my jacket right now without really trying.”

I smirk at him. I don’t know how to respond. A girlish voice inside my head is squealing, OMG! He thinks I’m hot! I let her do the happy dance inside my brain until we reach my parking spot.

We stop in front of the car and I walk to the door to unlock it. Ryan’s jaw drops. “Holy crap. Are you seriously driving this thing?” My beast of a car is an old Caprice. It’s so big it doesn’t fit in the parking spaces. Plus it guzzles gas like a drunk monkey. The only people who drive this thing are either cops or mobsters. I actually have a shovel and duct tape in the back, but it’s because it’s snowing.

I nod and pull the door open and hit the unlock button. “Shut up,“ I say laughing. “Get in before I throw you in the trunk with the last guy who pissed me off.”

“You gonna whack me, Connelly?”

“Maybe,” I grin and waggle my eyebrows at him. “Get in.”

I thought we were going home. I thought we’d chat and catch up along the way, and maybe share a goodnight kiss.

I’ve never been more wrong about anything in my life.


Ryan clicks his seat belt and leans back in the passenger seat. My heart is beating in my chest, freaking out like an animal trapped in a cage. I wonder if Ryan can hear it. It slams into my ribs and makes my throat tighten. I have a death grip on the steering wheel and we pull out of the parking lot. The snow is thinning. I’m starving and a cup of coffee before driving back sounds good.

I glance at Ryan out of the corner of my eye. “So, want to find a diner around here before we head home?” I ask. I reach for the heater, making sure it’s pushed all the way into the red. I’m still freezing. Ryan has got to be an ice cube by now, but he doesn’t shiver the way I do. He sits there, leaning back in the seat with a slight grin on his face.

Ryan looks at me, “Awh, are you asking me out, Connelly?”

“You wish,” I laugh.

He points to the traffic light ahead and grins at me. “There’s a diner around that corner. Turn left at the light.”

My car hates me, but it hates snow more. It fishtails as I turn the corner, but I maintain control. Ryan stiffens in his seat. I manage to maneuver the beast through the narrow lanes. When I pull out onto the main road in front of the university, Ryan tells me where to go. I make a few turns, and pull into a parking space. We get out, hurrying across the slick pavement.

The wind is icy cold and catches my hair, whipping it into Ryan’s face. I yank it back as he sputters, pushing it out of his mouth. “Mmmm. Fruity,” he smiles at me.

I laugh and don’t watch where I’m going. I step onto a sheet of ice and my heel doesn’t grip. The boots look awesome, but they don’t provide a lick of traction. I try to correct my step, but my feet fly out from under me and I slip forward. Ryan reaches for me as he cuts me off, stepping in front of my falling body. I crash into his arms, making him stagger a little bit. He chuckles, and tucks a crazy curl behind my ear. My face is inches from his. His breath is so warm. It slips across my lips and it’s all I can do to stand there and not kiss him.

“No ice skating, not tonight.” His voice is deep. His sapphire eyes lock with mine. My body tingles, but it has nothing to do with the cold. His breath slips across my lips and I blink slowly.

The world around us fades away. When his hands are on me, I can’t think. My mind betrays me and lets my body lead, and my body wants him. I lean into him a little more, my chest brushing his as I right myself. Neither of us lets go. Ryan leans closer to me, his lips a breath from mine when a pair of headlights shine on us. He smiles softly, takes my hand and helps me get to the door without falling on my ass.

Ryan holds the door open for me, and I walk inside. The heater is cranking and a wave of hot hair washes over us. I sigh and feel my shoulders drop, some of the tension fading away. The diner is typical, and dressed to the nines for the holidays. Silver and red garland is strung all over the ceiling. Stockings with the names of employees in glitter line the back of hostess station. An inflatable Frosty flanks the entry way, waving at us with a big red mitten. Holiday music plays from speakers hidden out of sight.

The waitress seats us and we order. When she leaves, Ryan says, “So.”


He looks like he wants to say something. His eyes change, the expression on his face hardens a little, but he conceals it with a smile. “So, I heard you went to Texas?”

I nod. “Yeah. I thought it was a good idea. Starting over and all that.”

He nods slowly, “I thought you were going to state with the rest of us. I didn’t realize that you… ran off.”

“I didn’t run.” I squirm a little. He knows me too well. I ran like a dog with my tail between my legs. I ran two thousand miles away and didn’t stop whimpering until I got there. Between my dysfunctional family and a horrible break up with the biggest ass I’ve ever dated, I wanted to wipe the slate and just start over. “It was the best choice for me.”

“Really?” He tilts his head, and folds his hands, placing them under his chin. “Do they have a kick ass art program?”

“It’s good enough—”

He interrupts, “What about music?”

“It’s okay. I didn’t want to be a—”

Ryan watches me, his blue eyes slipping over my face, my hands, my lips and taking in every little detail. He leans back, confident, irritatingly so. “That’s all you ever wanted to do. Art and music, and you chose some school that doesn’t excel at either.” I start to defend my choice, but he holds up a finger, stopping me. “I’m not an idiot. Musicians don’t run off to Texas unless they play the banjo, so what’s up with you? And don’t give me the Dixie chick line, that the South suits you. You loved it here, so what the hell happened?”

My stomach fills with ice as he speaks. Suddenly I’m sitting ram-rod straight in the booth. He’s right of course. I do love it here, but I wanted to move on. I couldn’t do it here. I wanted to steer him away from the truth, but there was something in his eyes that told me I couldn’t. “I thought I’d go to school in the city.”

“Yeah,” he interrupts, “that was the last thing I heard.”

“But something happened. They lost my papers and I didn’t want to wait to start college, so I went to my backup school.” He gives me a look and I correct myself. “Okay, I went to the backup for my backup school. I’d already turned everyone else down, except this place. And it’s not a bad school. I like it there. I’m happy for once, Darcy. Be happy for me.”

Ryan looks at me, his blue eyes piercing through me. “You could have told me.” His gaze drops to the table. Before I have a chance to reply, the waiter sets down the coffee and hot cocoa.

I grab my cocoa. Ryan pushes the cream toward me, knowing I’ll want it. I pour it in, and stir. My voice is too quiet when I speak. It doesn’t want to come out. “I didn’t really tell anyone. Besides, I didn’t realize that you wanted to know.”

Ryan makes an annoyed sound and looks away. He leans back in the booth and runs his fingers through his hair. I watch as the tips curl slightly as his hand passes through his thick, dark hair. The snow made it damp. I wonder what it feels like. I picture myself touching it, running it through my fingers as I sit on his lap. Yeah, that’ll never happen.

“I don’t understand you,” he finally says.

“What do you mean?”

The way he looks at me makes my heart slide up into my throat. I can’t speak. “Holly, if you don’t want to be here, just say so.” He moves, like he’s going to leave.

I panic. I grab his hand, pressing it to the table. He looks down at the contact, and then his gaze lifts to mine. He freezes. “That’s not it. Please, just sit.” I keep my hand on his until he’s in his seat again. Reluctantly, I pull it away.

“Then, what’s with you? When I saw you tonight, I nearly died of shock. I thought you weren’t ever coming back.”

“Things with…” I don’t want to say his name, but Ryan knows who I mean, “things didn’t end well. I wasn’t exactly looking to tell people that I couldn’t get over him, you know? I didn’t want the pity looks from all our friends. So, I left. I didn’t tell anyone. Mandy called me a few days later and flipped out when I told her I was in Texas.” I shrug, like it doesn’t matter—who would miss me?—and glance up at him. “I didn’t want to have a repeat of that phone call, so I didn’t tell anyone else. We’re friends, right? We always have been…” Right? Something inside me wants him to say, no we aren’t, kiss me.

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