Page 5

Nothing to see here, people. Move along.

Liz sidled up closer to Massey, who apparently was super jealous about Liz’s jingle bell necklace. She promptly handed it over for Massey to wear and insisted she keep it for her date night. Then Liz made her way to Tristan’s table to try to coax him to come out of his corner. He stared up at her doe-eyed and shared a few words with her about the party, informing her he was having a great time. She couldn’t get him to leave the table, though, and as soon as she walked away, he started in on his laptop again.

Time seemed to fly, and Liz realized with a start that she was having a really good time. Her anxiety had been for nothing. She kind of wished that she had come to the event the previous two years. Either way, it was nice to mill around with her friends and colleagues and just relax a little instead of being constantly on deadline.

Hayden was also nearby, never too far away but certainly not hovering. And . . . it felt right.

The room quieted as Hayden called everyone’s attention to where he was standing. Without even thinking she moved to stand next to him, and he squeezed her hand.

“Hey, y’all! Thanks so much for coming out to the annual holiday party. I don’t have a long speech or anything, but I just wanted to thank everyone for your hard work and dedication this semester. You’ve all really put in the time and effort it takes to propel this paper into the forefront of college journalism,” Hayden said to a chorus of applause.

Liz smiled up at him. She felt a familiar excitement spread through her body at the words. She was proud. Proud of Hayden, proud of the paper, proud of everything they had accomplished. She was part of something worthwhile.

“I know I would never be able to stand here today and talk about so many achievements without every single person here right now. From our three-person campaign division, taking on the midterm elections, to our kvetching column, keeping the student body entertained, to the photojournalists, chronicling the activities around campus, we are the heartbeat of the university. We only have one week left this semester, and I know it will live up to my high expectations for this paper. I can’t even wait for next semester, which always brings in new people, new challenges, and new chances to shine. So thanks for coming out tonight, and happy holidays!”

Hayden held his glass up and everyone followed his lead, yelling out happy holidays and merry Christmas, then tipping their drinks back.

The chatter resumed as soon as Hayden finished his drink, and he turned to face Liz, pulling her into him. She slid her arms around his middle and leaned her head against his chest. It felt totally normal, as if she had been doing it for much longer than she actually had.

“That was a good speech,” she told him thoughtfully.

“Thanks. Made it up on the spot.”

“I could tell,” she joked.

Hayden poked her side playfully until she giggled and tried to pull away. She looked up at him to tell him to stop, and his lips found hers. The kiss was brief, but heated, and when he released her, she seemed to have forgotten what she was going to yell at him about.

“Are you ready to get out of here?” he asked.

“Where are we going?” She wasn’t sure why it mattered, with the way he was looking at her.

“Well, we could go back to my place,” he said softly. “Or we could go to that party with my friends.”

Hmm. Going back to his place sounded like a good time. A really good time. But was she ready for that?

“Party? I’m not tired yet,” Liz said quickly. As if he wanted to take her back to his house to sleep.

They had been dating a month, and still she changed the subject whenever the subject of sex came up. God, she loved sex, but a small part . . . okay, a large part of her screamed that she wasn’t ready for that.

She still associated Brady with so many of the emotions and feelings that came with sex. It wasn’t fair to jump right into bed with Hayden when she couldn’t even tease apart her own thoughts on the subject. Sometimes she thought that she wanted to, and she knew Hayden wanted to—what guy didn’t?—but she wouldn’t until she was sure she was ready, and Hayden didn’t push her. Ever the upstanding gentleman.

“All right. Your call. I’ll let the guys know,” Hayden said, reaching for his phone and hiding the slight look of disappointment that crossed his face.

When Hayden got on the phone, they moved over toward the entrance so he could hear the phone conversation. Liz took out her own phone to see if she had heard from Victoria. The screen came up blank just as Savannah Maxwell walked into the party.

As usual, she looked gorgeous, tonight in a red sweater dress, thick black tights, and black heels. Gold jewelry dangled from her ears, and a long chain hung around her neck. Her dark brown hair was sleek and straight well past her shoulders. And still . . . she reminded Liz of Brady. They had the same shape eyes, the same overconfidence, and the same poised stride.

Liz had fought with herself every day this semester while working with Savannah. She liked the girl, and Savannah wasn’t her brother. That was for damn sure. But sometimes it was all wrong, and Liz just wished over and over that things could be right again.

“Liz,” Savannah said with her effortless politician’s smile. She really should consider running for office, though Liz knew she had no interest whatsoever. “Sorry I’m late. I got held up. What did I miss?”

Liz had a moment where she wanted to ask her where she had been. It wasn’t that it was likely that she had been with Brady. And it wasn’t that it made a difference if she had been.

Christ, Liz needed to get ahold of herself. Everything in her life did not revolve around Brady f**king Maxwell.

“Not much. Hayden made a speech. We all just hung out,” Liz told her.

“Cool. I’m going to go say hi quickly. I have a physics test in the morning,” she said, rolling her big brown eyes.

Liz cringed. “That sucks. Good luck.”

“Thanks. See you at the paper.”

“Bye, Savannah.”

Liz watched her walk away, a weight lifting off her chest. Her relief at the other girl’s departure was totally irrational, but it happened all the time.

“You ready?” Hayden asked, slinging his arm over her shoulders again.

She diverted her attention back to Hayden. “Yep.”

They walked down the street briskly to try to keep back the biting cold. The first week of December was usually pretty chilly, but this was too much. A cold front had just run its course through Chapel Hill. With North Carolina’s mercurial weather it would be in the eighties tomorrow or something equally ridiculous. She seriously missed her parents’ house in Tampa right now.