She sees I’m alone and is pissed off. “You didn’t bring her?”

Why does she do this to herself? “No, Mum. I told you I wasn’t.”

“I hoped you’d change your mind. I want to meet the woman who has caught my son’s eye. Is that too much to ask?”

“No, Mum, it’s not.” I shouldn’t, but I give her false hope because it would be the right thing to say if Paige were my real girlfriend. “Maybe I’ll bring her next time.”

Her eyes sparkle with my proposal. “We have your birthday dinner next month. You can bring her then.”

“I’ll discuss it with her and we’ll see,” I lie.

She’s satisfied with that answer and finally lets me in the house.

We’re sitting at the dining room table when she brings it up again. “I want to hear about your girlfriend.”

Everyone around the table stares while they wait on me to answer. I see I’m going to be forced into lying. I’ll try to be as vague as possible. “She’s American.”

I see my mum’s face fall. “She doesn’t live in Australia?”

“No. She’s here on an extended visit with a friend.”

“So she won’t be returning to the States soon?”

That makes my mum smile again. “That’s good. What does she do?”

“She’s a musician—a very good one. That’s how we met … I heard her sing at a club in Wagga Wagga.”

I avoid telling them Paige’s name, but the illusion feels real for a moment, and I like it. I take pleasure in the happiness I see on their faces, but then the guilt sets in. Everything I tell them about her is the truth wrapped in a blanket of lies.

Addison is out with Zac, and I’m uncomfortable because I see a change in Ben as soon as we get inside the apartment. He’s next to me every time I turn around, brushing against me any chance he gets, sitting next to me on the couch. He’s pursuing me in a much more aggressive manner, and I don’t like it.

I lie and say I need to go to the store for tampons to get away from him. He insists on driving me, but I decline by telling him the walk will help with cramps. How asinine. I’m a terrible liar, but I think the talk of tampons and menstrual cramps keeps him from insisting.

I’m walking around in the drugstore a few blocks from the apartment when Bret begins to sing in my purse. I’m standing in front of a mirror in the makeup aisle when I look up and see the goofy grin on my face as I answer. I didn’t even realize I was smiling. “Hello, caveman.”

“Hey, American girl. How’s it going back in Wagga Wagga?”

He may ask how it’s going, but what he really means is how is it going with Ben, and there’s no way I’m going there. “Everything’s good. Are you having fun with the fam?”

“Not really. I’d be having a lot more fun if I were with you.” No argument here.

“We’ll have plenty of fun when you get back.” And what was the plan after the holidays? Would he keep making the drive into town to get me?

“What are you doing to pass the time without me?”

I laugh because it’s so ridiculous. “I’m strolling around a drugstore.”

“And you’d be doing that because?” He doesn’t give me time to answer. “Did that little bastard do something to you?”

I know the worst thing I can do is tell him about Ben’s behavior, so I lie. “I was bored and wanted to get out for a while, but it’s a bad night to get bored. There’s not much open on Christmas Eve.”

“It’s not safe for you to be out walking the streets alone after dark.”

Shit. He sounds mad. “I’m only a few blocks from the apartment.”

“I don’t care if you’re across the street. I want you to take a cab back.”

“Says the girl right before she gets nabbed by some crazy-ass psycho. I’ll be quite upset with you if you are kidnapped and murdered, so please take a cab back. Got it?”

I smile at his concern for my safety, even if he is a little overbearing. “I will if it’ll make you feel better.”

“Yes, it will make me feel much better. Have you changed your mind about going to your friend’s house for Christmas?”

“No, but that doesn’t mean I’m without plans. I’m going to watch a marathon of Christmas movies and drink lots of eggnog. I’m an only child so I’m used to entertaining me, myself, and I. It’s really not a big deal.”

He’s quiet and I’m not sure he’s buying my story. I hope it’s not the pity thing again. I can’t stand that. “Not a big deal, huh?”

“No, it’s not,” I lie. It is a big deal. Who wants to be alone on Christmas?

“I just wanted to check in for a minute before I got tied up. My brother has solicited my help in putting toys together. Yay.”

He sounds annoyed, but I think it would be fun. “Okay. Well, have fun building dollhouses. Merry Christmas, caveman.”

Addison and Ben have been gone to Zac’s for hours, so it’s just me, Jimmy Stewart, and a half-emptied carton of eggnog. It’s possible I mixed it with some mighty fine bourbon and garnished with a dash of cinnamon. Christmas is on now.

I hear Bret singing and I’m surprised because Lachlan didn’t mention calling me today. I expected him to be way too busy with his family. “Hey, caveman. This is a pleasant surprise.”

“Well, I hope you still think that a couple of minutes from now.”

Oh, shit. “Is something wrong?” The words aren’t out of my mouth when the door buzzes. “Hang on a second. Someone’s buzzing the door.”

Weird. Who’s here on Christmas Day? I push the intercom button. “Yes?”

It’s a man’s voice, but this is Ben’s apartment. How am I supposed to know who he is? “I’m sorry. Ben isn’t home.”

Well, shit. Do I talk to the phone or the intercom? “Lachlan! What are you doing here?”

“Do you really want to have this conversation with me standing downstairs?”

“Of course not. Sorry. I’m in apartment 311.” I press the button to allow him into the building and stand at the door waiting.

Shit, I look a mess. I’m wearing jogging pants with something stupid written across the ass and an equally stupid T-shirt. I’m not even positive my clothes don’t have stains or holes. My hair is piled into a messy bun on top of my head and I’m wearing my glasses. They’re trendy, but I’d still rather be wearing my contacts for Lachlan. Too late now.

He comes around the corner from the elevator dressed in dark stonewashed jeans and a white button-up. He’s as handsome as I’ve ever seen him and I want to crawl into a deep, deep hole so he can’t see me like this.

I smile because I can’t see him and not beam. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s Christmas. I didn’t want you to be alone. And I wanted to see you.”

“My mother was rather annoyed with me when I told her you were alone today. She insisted I come and spend the evening with you.”

Oh. I feel deflated when I realize this is his mother’s insistence.

I shrug and stare at my bare feet. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t expecting you so I look like hell.”

He reaches out and grabs the hem of my shirt, giving it a little tug. “You’re always beautiful. And I love the glasses.”

I’m dazed by his simple touch. He has that kind of power over me.

It takes a moment, but I finally come to my senses and invite him in. “I’m sorry. Come in.”

He prowls through the door and I feel him on my heels as I shut it. He grabs me from behind. I’ve come to accept this as his thing, but I like it.

He uses his hips to pin me against the door. His hands are pressed on each side of my head, locking me inside his cage of muscular arms. Because my hair is piled in a messy bun, he has easy access to my whole neck, but I realize I miss the glide of his hand pushing my hair over my shoulder. He leans forward and begins kissing the back of my neck, and I evanesce.

I know what he’s doing. He wants the thrill of screwing me in the rival’s territory. It means he’s won and I’m fine with him taking me as his prize.

He brings his hands to my hips and navigates me to the couch, but we don’t sit. He steers me to the arm until it hits me across the top of my thighs. I hear the sound of his zipper behind me and then the tearing of a foil wrapper.

A few seconds later, he pushes my pants and panties to my knees. Shit, I don’t remember which panties I’m wearing. I hope they’re not some of my old ones.

I feel his hand at my lower back and he pushes me over the arm of the couch. He glides a hand up my spine to my shoulders. I should be mortified at being bent over with my pants to my knees, but I’m not, and the thought dissipates altogether when he slides two fingers inside me. I rock back against his magic hand because I can’t hold still. It feels too good.

“You’re always so wet and eager.” I love the things he says to me when we’re like this. I implore him to say something else and he reads my mind. “Tell me what you want.”

“You.” I manage to whisper, but I’m not as good at this as he is.

He takes his fingers out and I feel his hard tip sliding up and down. “Tell me where you want me.”

“Inside me.” It comes out a little louder, but still barely more than a whisper.

“When?” He’s still teasing me, but uses a little more pressure.