He leans closer. “I’m going to watch out for you and Chad, whether you believe me or not. Not to destroy him or you. Not to get the secret everyone wants from him. But to protect you both, and my place in the CIA. Along with my focus on you and Liam, I will keep everyone else from watching. And that’s why I’m here. That’s my wedding gift to you, Amy. Lara. Be happy.” He stands and walks away, the doors chiming behind him. He’s gone for now, with the promise he will never be gone for long.
I’m still sitting there stunned when Liam appears above me, and the instant my gaze meets his, he goes down on one knee. “What is it?” he asks.
“Jared was just here.”
He curses. “Did he threaten you?”
“No. He apologized, and swore he’s protecting us and Chad. And I know it’s crazy, but I think I believe him.”
“I’m not quick to believe anything where Jared’s concerned, but I hope you’re right. Either way, if he approaches you again, he won’t like the response he gets.” He stands and pulls me to my feet. “You okay?”
“I’m better than okay. Did you get everything set up?”
“Signed, sealed, and delivered on Wednesday.”
“That’s fast—and on Christmas Eve.”
“I made it worth their while. So how about we hit the bank and get you all set up, and then we’ll get that eggnog?”
“And chestnuts. My dad roasted them one Christmas around a campfire in Egypt. It’s going to be my way of remembering him every year.”
Tenderness fills his eyes. “Eggnog for my mother and chestnuts for your father. I like it.”
He wraps his arm around my shoulders and we head for the door. When we exit, I know Jared is watching—but maybe, just maybe, that’s not a bad thing after all.
“WAKE UP, BABY,” Liam murmurs near my ear, his breath tickling my neck.
“Let’s sleep,” I murmur, snuggling deeper into the blankets. “Come back to bed with me.”
“It’s Christmas Eve,” he says.
Instantly awake, my eyes pop open and I sit up to find two gorgeous red packages at the end of the bed. “We can’t do gifts now. It’s not Christmas yet.”
“Says who?” he asks.
“Me. We have to wait.”
He sets a small box on my lap. “That’s our rings.”
“Oh my God, I can’t wait to see!” I tear off the ribbon and paper, excitedly opening the box and staring down at the two white-gold rings nestled in black velvet. My ring has the loops of an infinity symbol etched in diamonds on one side, while the other arches to fit my engagement ring. His has the same infinity loops etched on one side and engraved in black.
“They’re absolutely perfect. I love them both.” I shut the lid. “My turn.” I throw off the blanket and get up, pulling a beautifully wrapped green and white package out from beneath the bed. “You open yours now.”
“Not yet,” he says. “You still have another package. Actually, a couple of packages.”
I shake my head. “You open yours first.”
Shadows flicker in his eyes, a hint of discomfort I recognize instantly. “You aren’t used to getting presents,” I say. “Well, get used to it. You’re with me now, and every Christmas Eve morning from now on, you will be getting gifts.”
He arches a brow. “Every Christmas Eve morning?”
“We’re creating traditions, and you just started one.” I climb back on the bed and push the package closer. “Open it.”
After only a moment of hesitation, he reaches for the package and methodically starts unwrapping it. I laugh and yank one side open. “Hurry! I’m dying here. I can’t wait to see what you think.”
That gets a smile from him and he rips off the paper, then stares down at the black leather box and gives me a curious look.
“Open it,” I urge.
Almost tentatively, he lifts the lid and takes out the black leather picture album inside, then opens it to stare down at the dedication to Alex in the front. He flips the first page to a picture of the first building Alex designed.
“Every design he did is in there. And in the back are yours.” His chest rises and falls, his lashes lowering to become dark half circles on his cheeks, and I watch the way his lips firm above his goatee. “Derek helped me,” I explain, trying to read his reaction. “I told him his help was his gift to you this year. I really wanted it to be special.”
Still, he doesn’t move or speak, and suddenly I’m afraid I’ve hit some nerve that’s hurt him. “Liam—”
He sets the package aside and presses me to the bed, the sweet weight of him settling on top of me. “It’s perfect. You’re perfect.”
I curl my fingers around his jaw. “Oh, good. I was starting to worry it upset you.”
“How could something so amazingly thoughtful upset me?”
“I’m so glad you like it. And since you do, this seems like a good time to propose another tradition I’d like to start.”
“And what would that be?”
“I lick your tattoo every Christmas Eve morning.”
“Only if I get to lick you anywhere I like, first.”
“Okay,” I tease. “If that’s what it takes to get what I want.”
“I’ll try to make it as painless as possible for you,” he vows, sliding down my body to press his lips to my belly, his tongue flickering around my belly button. I close my eyes and sigh with pleasure. Sometimes the most unexpected traditions are the best.