“I’m not Mom and Dad.”

Kristy blew out a breath. “I know.”

Jack put an arm around her. If he’d tried that when she’d first arrived at the mansion, she would have shrugged it off. Now, she reveled in the strength and comfort of his simple gesture. “I think Kristy was somewhat embarrassed. She’s not normally impulsive.”

“And you know what she’s normally like, do you?”

“She’s my wife.”

Sinclair shook her head. “Hello?” she said into the phone, turning away. “Yes. I’d like to change my ticket.”

“You okay?” Jack asked.

“Not really,” replied Kristy.

Hunter moved closer. “You want me to get rid of her?”

Kristy couldn’t help but smile. “You offering to harm my sister?”

“I meant get her out of the room,” clarified Hunter.

“She’ll calm down in a minute.”

Sinclair finished her call.

“I’ll skate if I have to,” she informed Jack. “As long as somebody does some talking while I’m skating.

And as long as there is some kind of alcoholic beverage at the end.”

Then she moved forward and drew Kristy into a one-armed hug. “I wanted to be a bridesmaid,” she muttered. “How could you do this to me?”

“Jack is persuasive,” Kristy answered.

Sinclair drew back, smoothing the front of Kristy’s hair. “Obviously. And I want to hear all about it.”

The moon was full, the stars snapping bright, and strings of white Christmas bulbs illuminated the periphery of the glassy pond. Jack’s gloved hand was tucked into Kristy’s as they made lazy circles around the edge of the ice.

He could see Hunter in the distance, annoying Sinclair by skating around her as she struggled to stay on her feet. Further back was his family. Cleveland carried Dee Dee, while Elaine and Melanie laughed their way through fumbled spins and jumps.

Beside him, Kristy looked beautiful. Her cheeks were rosy beneath her fur-trimmed hat. Her lips were full and dark, and her eyes glowed indigo beneath her thick lashes.

“I seriously thought about telling her the truth,” she admitted, referring to her private conversation with Sinclair at the beginning of the excursion.

“But you didn’t?” Jack asked, enjoying the feel of her small hand in his. He turned and snagged the other, skating backward so they were facing each other.

She sighed. “I stuck with our story.”

The urge to lean forward and kiss her was so strong. “Will she tell your parents?” he asked instead.

Kristy shook her head. “She promised me she’d wait and let me tell them in person.”

“That’s good.”

“There’s nothing at all good about this.”

“I disagree.”

“How can you disagree? The whole damn world thinks we’re married.”

He shrugged, not really caring what anybody in the world thought. It was getting harder and harder to regret spending time with Kristy. In fact, he was getting greedy for more of it. She was working such long hours on the collection. He was proud of her.

“You know what they say,” he offered, fighting the urge to draw her closer.

“There’s something about our circumstances people ‘say’?”

He smiled softly, the idea gelling in his mind. “There is—If you can’t beat them…”

“What are you talking about?”

“Join them,” he offered. “Haven’t you ever heard that saying?”

“Join them in what?”

“Thinking we’re married.”

Her eyes narrowed. “That’s ridiculous.”

“No, it’s not. Think about it for a second. What if we were to buy into it along with the rest of them and be married for a while?”

“You’re suggesting we pretend we reallyare married?”

“We don’t have to pretend,” he reminded her.

“You know what I mean.”

“We had fun in Vegas. Didn’t we have fun in Vegas? You liked me there, right?”

“Vegas was a fantasy.”

“But you married me. That means I’m not such a bad guy.” He gave in and drew her toward him, letting them glide to a stop on the far side of the pond.

She gazed up at him, and there was a hint of something encouraging in her blue eyes. “You’re a liar, a cheat and a con man.”

He tipped his head, hoping he was right about the message in her eyes. “But you want to kiss me anyway.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Liar,” he whispered, moving closer.

“This better be for show,” she said.

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