A California Christmas (Silver Springs #7) - Brenda Novak Page 0,1

I came in.” He didn’t mention that she’d been wearing nothing except a faded Van Halen T-shirt and a pair of bikini briefs. It was obvious she hadn’t planned for anyone to walk in.

“Oh! You saw her?”

“Yes, I saw her.” Emery’s long blond hair had been mussed, as though she’d only recently climbed out of bed, and she hadn’t been wearing makeup, so it wasn’t only her state of undress that led him to believe she was staying at the house. “It looked to me as though she’s living here.”

“She is,” Aiyana said simply, and went back to unloading the groceries.

His mother didn’t volunteer the reason; she made him ask. “Why?”

“Why not?” she countered.

“Your wedding is less than two weeks away, for one.”

She waved off his words. “It’ll be fine. You’ll all be here, but Elijah and Gavin have their own houses these days. It won’t get crowded until the twins and Seth come home on the eighteenth. Even then, we should have plenty of room.”

“I wasn’t claiming there wouldn’t be enough room—just that...that we’ll be busy. We have a lot going on,” he added to shore up his argument.

A playful gleam entered her eyes. “What’s the matter? Does having her here make you uncomfortable?”

As innocent as his encounter with Emery had been, he wouldn’t soon forget seeing her ass in those panties, he knew that much. He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. “Don’t start with that.”

“With what?”

“You know what. I don’t need you playing matchmaker.”

He’d wanted to take Emery to Senior Ball back in the day, and Aiyana knew that because she’d tried to help him come up with a clever way of inviting her. But even with his mother’s encouragement and the ideas they’d tossed around, he’d never gathered the nerve. He couldn’t imagine a wealthy girl from Topatopa Academy, a private school known for providing an elite education, would care to be seen with one of the “bad” boys from New Horizons. He couldn’t imagine her parents would be pleased to have her go out with him, either. And during the time he was dithering back and forth, she accepted an invitation to attend the public school’s prom with the best player on the McGregor football team—the running back, who was now in the pros. The McGregor prom was the night before New Horizons’ Senior Ball, so while the events didn’t directly conflict, he’d decided to spare her the trouble of trying to decide whether to attend two formal dances on the same weekend. There was no way he could follow a local hero. She’d be taking a huge step down.

Considering everything, he figured he’d saved himself some rejection by not asking her out ten years ago.

“I’m not playing matchmaker,” she said. “I admit that I like Emery. She’s a lovely person. And I wouldn’t mind if you were to finally fall in love—”

“Finally?” he broke in. “I’m only twenty-nine!”

She closed the refrigerator after putting away the bacon. “Someone has to get hold of you, get you to change your focus and settle down before you kill yourself. The idea of you rock climbing without any safety gear, any ropes...” She shook her head. “It keeps me up at night. But having Emery here has nothing to do with you. That poor girl. I’m just providing a safe haven for her until after the holidays.”

“Why would she need a safe haven?” Emery’s father, a plastic surgeon, was rumored to have patients who were famous. He made a lot of money. On top of that, Emery had been smart, popular and pretty. What could possibly have gone wrong when she was starting out with everything in her favor?

His mother pulled a tub of mayonnaise from one of the bags and opened the fridge again. “You don’t watch much TV, do you?”

“Not in the months I’m climbing.” He put some potato chips in the pantry. “You don’t understand what it’s like. I live out of my van for a week or more at a time.” And this year, his climbing season had lasted longer than in previous years. He’d finally found a sponsor, a sponsor who was paying handsomely just to have him endorse their brand of climbing apparel. He’d never had so much money.

“Well, if you don’t already know what happened, I probably shouldn’t tell you.” She reached into another sack. “The more word of it spreads, the worse things will get for her.”

“What are you talking about?” He folded the sacks they’d emptied. “And how