Liam kisses my hand. “I have a little holiday surprise waiting for you inside.”

If distracting me from worry is his plan, it’s working. The excitement I’d felt at seeing the Macy’s holiday display is returning. “Oh? What kind of a surprise?”

“It wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you.”

My lips curve. “Now you have me curious.”

“No need to be curious for long.” He releases my hand and motions to the house. “Go see it.”

“Where will I find it?”

Now his lips curve. “You’ll find it when you get inside.”

I full-out smile. “Okay. You win.” I exit the car, dying to know what awaits me inside. Racing across the garage floor, I feel like a kid on Christmas morning, so eager to get inside that I enter the wrong security code twice before the door buzzes open.

Inside, I smile as I’m greeted with cozy warmth and the spicy masculine scent that is so very Liam. Behind me one of the men turns on the lights, and I rush up the short flight of stucco stairs. When I reach the main entryway, I gasp. A giant tree towers under the magnificent glass chandelier hanging from the triangular ceiling, and at least a dozen boxes sit around it. I’m stunned at this unexpected delight, as Liam told me only weeks before that he hadn’t had a tree since he was a child, and dang it, I feel myself tear up again. I know what he’s telling me with this surprise. Our home. Our traditions. Our new life.

“I’ll see you later, Amy!” Tellar calls, and I hear the garage door shut, telling me that he’s left for his apartment next door. This is the first time that Liam and I have truly been alone since we left for the safe house six weeks ago, and I’m ridiculously nervous and excited.

Footsteps sound and my skin tingles with the awareness of Liam’s approach, my gaze lowering as I anticipate the familiar jolt of his touch. And the instant his hands come down on my shoulders, that sensation magnifies a hundred times.

“What are you thinking?” His voice is a deep, rich velvet that strokes its way to intimate parts of my body, but even more so to my heart.

I turn in his arms, twining my fingers at the back of his neck. “I love it.” I think of the mother he lost, and the alcoholic father who now sits in jail. “Just tell me it’s not painful for you.”

“Christmas was an issue for Alex, not me. He never really recovered from his family being killed in a car accident.”

I don’t miss how he talks about Alex. Never his mother. The pain of losing her seems to be shut in some tight corner of his mind. “You said Alex liked to travel at Christmas?”

He gives a quick nod. “He swore traveling with me during the holidays kept him sane. When he died, I was rarely home at the holidays, usually traveling for a work project.”

Because he was alone, like I was for the past six years.

He motions to the boxes. “I wasn’t sure how you would want to decorate the tree, so I had a little of everything delivered. But tomorrow we can go pick out exactly what you want. We can even exchange the tree if you want—”

I push to my toes and kiss him. “It’s perfect. And special. The way you always seem to make me feel.”

His hand cups my head. “ ‘Special’ doesn’t begin to define what you are to me.” He leans in to kiss me, but when his cell phone rings, we jolt apart. Chilled for no reason, I hug myself, watching Liam’s face as he digs his phone from his pocket and glances at the caller ID.

His lips thin with evident dissatisfaction, and he hits the End button. “It was Derek,” he announces. “No doubt wanting to come over and welcome us home, which isn’t going to happen.” He glances in my direction. “And I’m not giving you the chance to fix him up until I warn him.” The joke falls flat, like the mood in the room, and he shoves his phone back in his pocket.

My stomach twists in knots, and I now know what I sensed in him on the plane. I step to his side, linking my arm with his. “You’ve been trying to reach Chad and you can’t.”

His hands go to my shoulders, and the denial I hope for is nowhere to be found. “It means nothing.”

“Then why are you worried?”

“Because I knew it would upset you.”

“I told you I didn’t want to talk to him.”

“Because you were afraid you couldn’t talk to him. You thought he wouldn’t answer.”

“So you tried to call him, and I was right: he didn’t answer. Did you expect him to, Liam?”

“He gave me every reason to believe he would.”

“And he gave me six years of reasons to believe he wouldn’t.”

His cell phone rings again, and with a quick glance at the caller ID, Liam’s eyes jerk to mine. “It’s Chad.”

He answers the call and presses it to my ear, and I hear my brother ask, “How’s Amy?”

His voice strikes about a million nerves in me. “I buried you today,” I snap, walking around the tree to give Liam my back. “How do you think I am?”

“Amy!”

I hear both shock and guilt. “Yes, Amy,” I confirm, sitting on top of one of the boxes. “You planned this for weeks and didn’t tell us,” I accuse.

“I had to do this,” he insists.

I laugh without humor. “Right. And I’ll see you at the next family barbecue.”

“I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere.”

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