Then he hands me a MacBook Air. “It’s brand-new and ready for your masterpiece.”

I stand and move to his lap, kissing him. “Thank you for being so thoughtful.”

“Hey, hey. Public affection makes the rest of us feel uneasy.”

I smile at the sound of Derek’s voice, standing to greet him, and I’m instantly wrapped in a big bear hug. “Good to see you, Amy.” He leans back to inspect me. “You look good.”

“So do you,” I say, inspecting his neatly trimmed blond hair and khakis and white polo shirt. “Very preppy. Chess club, I think.”

He and Liam give each other two-finger waves and Derek claims a footstool between our chairs. “Brokering real estate deals is a chess match every day.” He glances at Liam’s sketchpad. “Ready to design that Denver complex for me?”

“I’m not creating another world’s tallest building your people are insisting on,” Liam replies. “It’s been done.”

“What if I said the project stalled and if I can get you in, they’ll give you creative freedom?”

“I’d say I’ll believe it when it’s in writing, and I have to finish another project first.”

“You’ve been gone,” Derek says. “How do you have another project?”

Liam’s phone rings and he glances at it. “Chase Electronics. And speaking of Josh, that’s him calling. I need to take this someplace quiet.”

Liam stands and steps around Derek, and my heart races with the certainty this is about Meg. I grab Derek’s wrist and look at his watch: eleven o’clock, an hour after Meg was supposed to meet me.

“You can’t let him do Chase’s building before mine,” Derek tells me.

“I have no control over what project he does or when,” I assure him.

“You have all the control with that man.”

I snort. “Oh, please. Not even close. How did you know we were here?”

“I was next door at a jewelry store picking up a gift, and ran into Tellar.”

“A gift and a jewelry store. Anyone special?”

“My sister,” he says, “who wants to see you, by the way. She said you two started to bond before you left town.”

“We did,” I say. “I’ll call her, and—yikes! Maybe she can go shopping with me for Liam. You’ve just made me realize I have no Christmas gift for him.”

“Good luck on that one. The man has everything and more. I don’t even try to buy anything for him anymore, though last year I got him tickets to some violin player he likes.”

“David Garrett,” I say.

“Yes. And he made me go with him. So I told him that was his gift for this year.”

I laugh, then consider for a moment. “I need something sentimental. Special.” I light up with a thought. “I need your help. That can be your gift this year—helping me with mine.”

He leans forward. “I’m all ears.”

I quickly rattle off the details, and when I’m done, his eyes soften. “That’s perfect, Amy. You are good for him.”

“He’s good for me, too, and I think a real holiday at home will be good for us both. What are you doing for Christmas?”

“Family dinner Christmas Day. Lots of food, bad jokes, and questions about why I’m not married.”

“Speaking of that . . .”

He holds up his hands. “Don’t you start too.”

“Tellar has a sister—”

“No.” Then his gaze catches on my ring and he snags my hand. “That’s what I call a Christmas present! When?”

“New Year’s Eve.”

“Am I invited?”

“Actually, it’ll just be me and Liam. A private, romantic thing.”

Returning, Liam says, “I told her you’d insist on singing if we invited you.”

“That’s true,” Derek says. “Every wedding needs my rendition of Mick Jagger’s ‘Beast of Burden.’ ” He stands. “I’m due at my sister’s place in a few minutes. I’ll see you soon.”

As soon as Derek has left, I ask, “Well? What happened?”

“Meg’s with Dante.”

I let out a breath. “What do you think Jared will do next?”

“Watch us. Watch us some more. It’s done, Amy.”

“Done,” I repeat. While we both know none of this will really, truly ever be over, it’s at least the end of a chapter, and I have a sense of a new one beginning.



THAT NIGHT I DREAM OF CHRISTMAS with Chad again, of my mother laughing, and my father staring at her with love in his eyes. I wake in Liam’s arms as he strokes my hair, a sense of healing filling me.

“Morning,” he murmurs softly.

“Morning,” I say, rolling over to face him, and soon I’m sharing the dream, and that leads to stories about my family; and to my pleasure, he does the same of his mother, and his childhood. For hours we lie there, just talking. Just being together. Right in ways I didn’t know two people could be together. It’s noon when we finally shower and dress, laughing as we both somehow dress in all black and Liam declares us “true New Yorkers.”

“Come,” he says, lacing his fingers with mine. “I have a surprise for you.”

“Your surprises have been pretty wonderful,” I say, “so please lead the way.”

Tags: Lisa Renee Jones The Secret Life of Amy Bensen Romance
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