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Smiling, I smoothed my hand down her back, loving the way she moved closer to me, fitting her body to mine like we were made for each other. Hell, I think we really were and it just had taken me a long-ass time to realize it. But I finally did, and that’s what mattered.

I loved her. God, I loved her so much. I couldn’t believe I’d made it this long without telling her. I was an idiot, but I was one hell of a lucky idiot.

Chapter 25


Ever since I was a little girl, I was always more excited about Christmas Eve than I was for Christmas Day. There was something about the anticipation, of knowing what waited the very next day, of wanting time to pass quickly, and at the same time wanting it to slow down.

This year was no different, but it was.

I couldn’t stop smiling, and I was sure I probably looked half-stupid to my mom and dad as I made pecan candies to take over to my grandparents’ house. Several times I found myself not concentrating, daydreaming while I was placing the caramel candies on the pretzel squares.

Things seemed surreal. I guessed after spending so long wanting something—someone—that when it finally happens, I almost didn’t believe it was happening. I kept waiting to wake up…but it was real.

Kyler loved me.

He’d been gone by the time I woke up yesterday, but the slight scent of the cologne he wore and the outdoorsy scent that was uniquely his lingered on my pillows. He’d left me a note, saying that he’d be back over, and that he would use the front door when he left.

Right after lunch, he’d shown up and he hadn’t left until after dinner. My parents hadn’t seemed surprised to see him, and they also seemed happy to see the change in our relationship. Mom had been pro-Kyler-and-Sydney since we we’d been in high school, so seeing us together was probably making her year.

It sure as hell was making mine.

“Honey.” Mom laughed, drawing my attention. “What are you doing?”

Frowning, I glanced down and then I laughed outright. I’d stacked three pieces of caramel on top of one pretzel. Plucking them off, I set them aside. “Whoops.”

“Uh-huh,” Mom said with a knowing look on her face. “Your head is just not attached to your shoulders.”

“Nope,” I admitted, arranging the pretzels and candies on a baking sheet. “I probably shouldn’t be doing this.”

“You have to.” Mom washed her hands. The kitchen smelled of the stuffing she’d made to take with us. “Your grandfather will hit someone with his cane if we don’t have these candies.”

Not doing this was almost worth seeing my grandfather chasing people down with a cane. I popped the candies in the oven, setting the time for three minutes, long enough to get the chocolate and caramel all gooey.

“So…” Mom began, staring out the window above the sink. Blue-tinted shadows grew longer across the snow as the sun set. We’d have to hit the road soon, since we had to drop some of the food off at church before heading to my grandparents’.

I arched a brow, waiting.

Mom grinned. “You and Kyler seemed awful chummy yesterday.”

Here we go. “Mom, people don’t say ‘chummy’ anymore.”

She pinned me with a look as she wrapped tinfoil over the large bowl of stuffing. I was sure it wasn’t sanitary to make stuffing for the turkey the night before, but my family had been doing it for years. “I use it, therefore people use it.”

I grinned.

She sighed. “Are you going to fess up?”

“Fess up to what?” I asked innocently.

Mom crossed her arms.

I giggled. “Kyler and I are…together.”

“I figured that much,” she said dryly. “But I’d prefer to know the details.”

The timer buzzed, and I grabbed a mitt. Opening the oven door, I pulled out the baking sheet. Moving quickly, I grabbed the bag of pecans and started placing them on the warm, semi-melted candies. “We’re together,” I told her, sneaking a pecan. “I’m not sure how else to say that.”

Mom popped her hip against the counter. “Well, what made this come about?”

I so was not telling her how it happened. Moving on to the second row of candies, I felt my face flush. “Things just sort of happened and we both admitted that we had feelings for each other. You know, more-than-just-friends kind of feelings.”

She didn’t say anything, and I glanced over at her. She was teary-eyed. I paused with the pecans. “Mom.”

“What?” She blinked rapidly and then laughed. “I’m sorry. It’s just that I always knew you cared about that boy more than you let on, and that Kyler felt the same way toward you. I’m happy you two finally recognized that in each other.” She paused, and then added, “Took long enough.”

I frowned as I hastily added the rest of the pecans before the candies cooled. “I’m beginning to think Kyler and I were the only ones who didn’t notice it sooner.”

“I think so.” She walked over and kissed my cheek. “He’s a good boy, honey. I couldn’t be happier for you.”

My lips split in a wide smile. “I’m happy. I really am.”

And then I was happy-happy less than half an hour later, when Dad announced that Kyler had pulled into the driveway beside their car. He hadn’t texted, and I wasn’t planning on seeing him tonight, but I loved how comfortable he was with just swinging by.

I popped the lid on the plastic container I’d put the candies in and then I raced through the house like a turd, nearly knocking over my mom. I opened the door before Kyler could ring the doorbell and literally threw myself into his arms.

He caught me at the last moment, wrapping his arms around my waist as he stepped back to balance the unexpected weight. “Hey,” he said, holding me tight. “You’re happy to see me.”

“I’m always happy to see you.” I looped my arms around his neck as I slid down his front, and his hands dropped to my hips.

He made a sound deep in his throat as he pressed his lips to the sensitive spot under my ear. Then he said in a low voice that simmered my blood, “You greet me like that more often and we’ll never make it into the house.”

Heat swamped me and it was an effort to pull away, but I didn’t get far. He slid his arms around my waist, his half-grin devious. “Whatcha doing here?” I asked, eyeing the backpack slung over his shoulder.

“I wanted to see you.” Kyler kissed my forehead. “I have a surprise for you.”

Excitement bubbled. “You do?”

“Yeah,” he said, and then looked over my head.

I turned in his embrace, finding my mom in the doorway, pulling on her jacket. Dad was behind her, arms full of containers. We’d loaded the presents and our overnight bags in the car earlier. Disappointment filled me. “We’re leaving now?”

“Your mother and I are.” My dad winked. “We’ll drop the food off at the church and set things up there. Kyler will bring you up to your grandparents’.”

I faced Kyler, brows raised. “Really?”

He winked. “I talked to your parents yesterday.”

My disappointment vanished in an instant, but I couldn’t help but tease him. “What if I want to leave now? Awful confident of you.”

Kyler smirked. “You want to spend time with me. Don’t even lie.”

I rolled my eyes.

Mom eased past us, kissing my cheek and then Kyler’s. “Be careful when you drive out. The roads are still icy.”

“Get inside,” Dad grumbled. “It’s freezing out here, and you don’t have a jacket on.”

I barely felt the cold temps, not when I was standing this close to Kyler. We promised not to wreck and die on the way to my grandparents’ house, and then we headed inside.

“I am happy you came by,” I said as Kyler put the backpack on the floor and stripped off his jacket, draping it over the back of the couch.

He swaggered over to me, placing his hands on my waist. “I know.”

“You’re cocky.”

“I’m right.”

I rose onto my tiptoes. “Then again, it was between you and my grandparents, so…”

“Nice,” he laughed, and then he kissed me—kissed me in a way that left me breathless, that made me forget it was Christmas Eve, which seemed impossible, but totally was with his lips moving against mine. I clutched his arms, wondering how we’d gone this long without doing this.

Kyler sat on the couch, by his backpack, and pulled me into his lap. “Mom wants to know if you’ll come by tomorrow and say hi.”

“I can come over tomorrow evening, if that works.”

“Whenever.” He slid his hands up my back, causing me to shiver. “Tanner called me this morning to see what I was doing for New Year’s Eve.”

I hadn’t even thought about that. My mind was too occupied with the present.

One hand traveled over my hip, resting on my denim-clad thigh. “I told him I had to ask you.”

“You did?” I couldn’t help the smile spreading across my lips, and I didn’t even try to hide it. “What did he say to that?”

Kyler grinned in returned. “He said and I quote, ‘It’s about damn time, you asshole,’ and then told me to let him know.”

I laughed. “Tanner’s one smart guy.”

“And I’m one lucky asshole.” He cupped the back of my neck with one hand and tugged me closer, so that when he spoke next, his lips brushed mine. “You’re too good for me, baby. One day you’re going to realize that and kick my ass to the curb.”

“That’s not going to happen.” I kissed him, and his grip on my thigh tightened. “Unless you do something stupid, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. You’ve hit your lifetime of stupid already.”

“Ha. Smartass.”

I gave him a cheeky grin. “I’d know.”

“You would.” And then he lifted me out of his lap, placing me on the couch beside him. He reached for the backpack. “Before I forget, I brought over the presents Mom got us.”

“Oh.” I’d totally forgotten about them. I made grabby fingers at the backpack.

Kyler grinned as he handed over the package with my name on it. Both of them were identical, and I was curious to see what his mom had done. Turning the present over, I slipped my fingers under the tape along the seam in the wrapping paper. I tore the colorful red and green paper off as Kyler did the same.

I ended up staring at the black velvet back of a picture frame. I flipped it over and drew in a shaky breath. It was an iron frame with the words This Is Forever inscribed along the top. The picture…oh wow, the picture brought a rush of tears to my eyes.

It was a picture of Kyler and me when we were in the third grade. Our school had had what they called “Friendship Day” where friends wore matching clothes. Kyler and I had our arms over each other’s shoulders, wearing cheesy grins and matching shirts my mom had made for the event that had said…“This Is Forever.” Kyler probably would love to forget he’d ever worn a shirt like that, and he’d taken a decent amount of teasing from the other boys, but I’d been so happy that day. Even though he’d protested wearing it, he had. I hadn’t remembered our picture being taken, but there it was, a goofy moment captured forever.