My headache wakes me up first—that and the smell of coffee wafting from the kitchen. As I force myself to get up from the bed, there’s a knock on the door and Campbell sticks his head in.
“I could hear you groaning all the way from the kitchen,” he says. “How’s your hangover?”
I cover my face with a pillow. “Do you have to ask?”
“Care for some coffee?”
“Can I brush my teeth first?”
“That would be a good idea. Sure.”
I rush to the bathroom, hating that my hair is a mess and I must look a fright but a girl’s got to at least look presentable first thing in the morning especially in the presence of a boy, even if he’s just her brother’s best friend. I’m sure Campbell has seen me in worse shape when we were kids… but we’re not kids anymore.
When I return to the bedroom five minutes later, he’s standing by the window pulling the shades and I cover my eyes as the room is filled with sunlight. “Why do I suddenly feel like a vampire?”
“Because you’re hung over.” He hands me a pair of sunglasses. “Here. Put those on and I’ll get the coffee.”
I sit back down on the bed and look at the flannel pajama bottoms I’m wearing. Somehow I’d availed myself of a pair of tie-on PJ’s from his walk-in closet and don’t even remember it. This one has Dalmatians running all over it.
“I never realized you like wearing PJ’s.”
“Your parents gave that to me last year. Don’t you remember?” he says, handing me a mug of coffee. “That way I had something to wear on Christmas morning when I’d sleep over after the Christmas Eve dinner and open presents with you guys. It’s their ritual every year.”
“That was the year Jory missed Christmas for the first time ever,” I murmur, remembering how my parents and I begged Campbell to stay over. It simply wasn’t the same without Jordan and Campbell was the next best thing. Thankfully, he stayed and the next morning, Jordan called us from the Philippines to wish us a Merry Christmas. A month later, he’d be home and—cue Addison and Piper—he’d discover that he’d become a baby daddy while he was away.
As Campbell takes a step back toward a chair, I pat the space next to me. “Sit with me, Cam. It’s your bed, remember?”
He sits next to me and for the next few minutes, we don’t talk. Outside the skies are clear and although it looks cold, it’s not raining. I sigh happily, feeling my headache receding with each sip. “You make good coffee.”
“I do instant only because I need instant gratification”
“Don’t speak blasphemy around me, Cait. Do I even know you? Instant is not real coffee.”
We laugh, back to the same back and forth bantering we always do since we were kids. It used to drive my parents crazy while Jordan would just roll his eyes.
“I was really drunk last night, wasn’t I?I I hope I didn’t make a fool of myself.”
“No, you didn’t. You were just fine.”
I narrow my eyes. “You’re just saying that.”
“You didn’t throw up, did you?” Campbell asks as I shake my head. “Then you weren’t really drunk. You were just a wee bit drunk. I mean two shots isn’t really that much… unless you’re a lightweight, which you are.”
I glare at him in mock indignation even though he’s right. “Thanks.”
We don’t talk for the next few minutes again, too busy enjoying our coffee or probably wondering what to say. I suddenly find myself noticing his bedroom for the first time. First, he’s got the best bed I’ve ever slept in, just the right firmness and the sheets are the best I’ve ever felt in my life. I don’t even want to ask him about the thread count but I’m sure it’s up there. There is a stack of books on the bedside table, two on investment banking and one on Tuscany.
I like that there’s no TV or computer in sight; those are in the living room. It’s a bedroom, plain and simple with an amazing view of Manhattan—and I’m sure everyone outside gets a view of him, too. And right now, of us.
“You know, I just realized I’ve never really been in a boy’s bedroom besides my brother’s before.”
Campbell glares at me. “A boy’s bedroom? You still think I’m a boy?”
“No! I mean a man. A man,” I say, giggling. “A man’s bedroom.”
“And?” He cocks an eyebrow at me. “Does this one pass or fail?”
“Oh, it passes, alright, but I’m not really the best person to judge. I’m more acquainted with labs and university classrooms more than anything. Oh, and the campus library. The only thing I do in bedrooms is sleep.”
Suddenly I find myself blushing, the realization that I don’t just sleep in my bed hitting me. Besides reading and typing more research notes on my iPad, I do other things… things I can’t really say out loud. What the hell was I thinking talking about bedrooms?
I clear my throat. “That’s for me to know and for you to find out, dude. Anyway, I should call Roxy and tell her what a dud Carter turned out to be. I should have her set me up with someone new. You know her. She never accepts defeat. She won’t give up until she finds the right match for me.”
Campbell doesn’t answer. He finishes his coffee and looks out the window before getting up from the bed. “You done with your coffee?” I nod and he takes my empty cup before heading toward the door.
“Did I say something wrong?” I ask as he stops and looks at me.
“No, you didn’t. But you’re right. Maybe Roxy can find you a better match next time. She seems to enjoy playing matchmaker anyway.”
As I follow him out of the bedroom, I can’t help but feel I just said something wrong. Suddenly I stop in the middle of his living room. “Wait! Where’s your tree?”
“I don’t have one.”
“What do you mean you don’t have one? It’s Christmas, Cam.”
“I don’t need one. I usually spend it with your family anyway, so I don’t need a tree.”
“But what happens when you come home?” I ask.
He shrugs, rinsing the mugs and stacking them in the dishwasher. “I sleep. I work. I play my video games. Besides, there are Christmas trees everywhere I go. It’s no big deal, Cait. It’s just Christmas. Unless it’s at your house, then it’s full-on Christmas.”
As I look at Campbell, I can’t believe I never saw it before, the quiet boy who became the man of the house when his father abandoned him and his mother for another woman. He even bailed out on child support payments by fleeing to France, forcing Campbell’s mother to sell their house just to pay the debts he left behind. When she found a live-in job as a cook for a wealthy family in the Hamptons, my parents asked her if Campbell could live with us for two years until he graduated high school. That way he didn’t have to transfer schools where his mother wouldn’t have been around to take care of him anyway. He worked hard those two years, earning straight A’s and eventually landing a scholarship at an Ivy League university. While he’s always spent Christmas Eve at the house, I don’t blame him for not entertaining anything else. His mother moved to Miami and lives her own life and his father keeps promising he’ll visit Campbell one day but never does. Still, this whole just Christmascrap is too much and I’m not buying it. Not one bit.
“What do you mean, it’s just Christmas? It’s not just Christmas, Cam. It’s Christmas!” I emphasize that last word in case he didn’t hear me the first time. “We have to get you a tree. Like, we have to.”
He laughs. “No we’re not. I don’t have room for one.”
“Yes, we are and yes, you do have room. We’ll find room. So what are your plans for the day?”
“I was going to drop you off and check out the Union Square Holiday Market.”
I clap my hands. “Oh my gosh! Can I come? I need to shop for Jordan and Addy and Piper and it’s my goal not to order anything online this year. I want to support local arts and crafts. Can I? Can I? Can I?”
Campbell looks at me for a few seconds because he starts laughing. But he doesn’t say yes or no.
“Can I?” This time I give him my best sad puppy dog look. “Please? While we’re at it, we can even shop for the ornaments that will go on your future tree.” I even bat my eyelashes.
“Okay.” He laughs again and it’s a deep hearty sound that sends a tingle straight down my belly, something that’s never happened before with Campbell.
“Let me get you a towel so you can shower and get ready,” he says as I tell myself that what I just felt must be part of my hangover. “I’ll go in after you’re done.”
* * *
Half an hour later, I step out of the bathroom wearing Campbell’s robe. It has that clean mountain fresh soap smell and a scent that is all male, all him.
Stop it, Cait! He’s your brother’s best friend and you’re just the annoying sister who just talked him into doing something he never wanted to do.
“Hey, I’m done in the bathroom,” I announce as he gets up from the couch, the laptop perched on the coffee table. “Wait! Are you working?”
“Just sending emails.” He closes the laptop and heads into the bathroom, leaving the door partially open. Soon, I hear the shower running.
I can’t explain it but I’ve always felt safe around Campbell. Maybe it’s because he’s my brother’s best friend and my unofficial ‘other’ brother when he lived with us. I can be myself around him, not worried about being too smart for my own good. I can be weird and nerdy, too, and he totally gets it only because he’s just as nerdy. He used to wear thick prescription glasses and then one day, he had one of those eye corrective surgeries that got rid of the glasses and suddenly he was hot. Even Roxy said so and she proceeded to pair him with one of her friends. Although I heard their the date went well, Campbell never asked her out for a second date.
I slip on the dress I wore the night before, glad I’d picked one that wasn’t too short. With the forecast calling for rain, there was no way I was wearing something too short or with stilettos for that matter. Instead, I wore knee-high boots to the party which work out perfect for today’s excursion to the holiday market. Satisfied with the way I look, I step out of the bedroom—and freeze.
Wearing only a towel around his hips and his back towards me, Campbell is standing in front of the mirror brushing his teeth. I stare. Forget the nerd. Since when did he get all bulked up? I can see the muscles on his shoulders and back ripple, the unmistakable indentation of one muscle to the next tensing with each movement. Even his buttocks look perfect from under the towel. When he runs his fingers through his dark hair, I can’t help but notice how his broad shoulders taper to slim hips. And then there were those six-pack abs. I don’t realize he’s watching me from the mirror until he playfully winks at me.
“Oh! Sorry!” I mumble as I hurry to the kitchen to get a drink of water. Wait! Is that where that saying comes from? A tall drink of water because… damn. But I draw a blank, my mind still on the sexy man I’d just ogled at in the bathroom.
I down a glass of water in one gulp, blowing out a breath as I stare at the blank spot next to the electric fireplace. What on earth am I thinking? Campbell is my brother’s best friend and I have no business thinking he’s anything but that. It’s exactly the reason I feel so comfortable around him, because I trust him just as much as Jordan trusts him, too. Even my parents trust him.
Doing anything with him outside the realm of friendship can never be on the agenda at all. Well, unless we get stuck in a deserted island somewhere and we get bored.
“Hey, you ready?”
His voice snaps me out of my thoughts and I nod, pointing to the empty space in front of me. “I was just thinking the tree would look good over here. Maybe a Fraser Fir—because they’re the best in my opinion. Maybe five or six feet. What do you think?”
Campbell smiles. His hair is still slightly damp and an errant curl has made its way to the middle of his forehead. “I think you’re right, Cait. A tree would look good there. I’m glad you suggested it.”
More like insist on it, but that’s okay. I’m blushing and I hate that I am because it’s as if I’ve suddenly lost control of my body. There are butterflies fluttering about in my belly, too. “Oh, gosh, thanks, Cam.”
“You’re welcome.” He takes my coat from the rack in the hallway, cocking his head toward the door. “Care to have breakfast first? I’m starving.”