White-Hot Holiday

By: Coleen Kwan

a Real Men novella

Chapter One

Aaron Cade muttered an expletive as his rented Porsche Boxster lurched to a stop with its front just inches from the hedge marking the end of the driveway. He hadn’t quite gotten the hang of the machine or driving on the left side of the road, but it had been a blast zooming down from Sydney to his destination, the small country town of Burronga in the Southern Highlands.

When his boss had ordered him to take a two-week vacation, Aaron had decided to make his maiden trip to Australia. His week on the Barrier Reef had been fun, but now he was really looking forward to catching up with his old Aussie buddy, Luke Maguire. He’d met Luke when they both worked part time in a bar while studying at Columbia University, he an undergraduate, Luke enrolled in the MFA program. Now a world-renowned author, Luke had recently married and settled with his family in this sprawling timber house where Aaron had just pulled up.

He got out of the car, and heat immediately sizzled against his skin. Christ, it was hot here, especially after he’d sat in air-conditioned comfort for ninety minutes. The front door of the house banged open, and a slim, young woman hurried out. When she spotted Aaron, she paused, eyebrows lifting before they drew together into a frown. She marched down the stairs toward him, moving with a brisk energy that made her hair seem to crackle. Aaron found himself staring at her.

“Look what you’ve done.” The furry, red reindeer antlers perched atop her head quivered with exasperation as she jabbed a finger at his feet.

Three small potted conifers lay crushed beneath the car’s front tires. “Hey, I’m sorry.” He hunkered down to haul out one of the plants. “I didn’t see them when I pulled up.”

“No wonder you didn’t, driving around in that thing.” The woman cast a withering glare at the Porsche as she bent beside him to inspect the damage. “Oh, this is too bad. They were going to be the centerpieces for Christmas lunch,” she lamented as she lifted the limp remains of a squashed conifer.

Aaron shook his head. How could anyone be even thinking about Christmas lunch in this stinking heat? A week ago he’d left a grim, wintry New York and was still acclimatizing to the Australian summer, despite several sultry days at the Great Barrier Reef.

This woman didn’t appear too fussed by the hot weather. A green tank top and red shorts showed off her slender figure and lightly tanned skin. Thick, chestnut-brown hair drifted casually about her shoulders. Her feet were bare, toenails painted a frosty pink, a thin silver ring on her middle toe. Luke’s wife was a jewelry-maker. Was this her? She didn’t resemble the redhead in the few photos Aaron had received, but Luke was notoriously bad at sending up-to-date photos.

Whoever she was, this woman was quite something, despite the frown. As he studied her more closely, noting her blue eyes fringed by dark lashes and the faint dusting of freckles across her nose, a shaft of attraction streaked through him. Surprised, he pulled back. Insta-lust? For God’s sake, she might very well be his friend’s wife.

He dragged out the two remaining pots from beneath the Porsche, put them carefully to one side, and stood, dusting his hands. “I’ll gladly replace the plants, er, is it Tyler? Tyler Maguire?”

The woman shot him a startled look before laying aside the ruined conifer and rising to face him. “Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not Tyler. I’m Luke’s niece, Naomi. Naomi Spencer.” Her expression grew uncomfortable. “And you must be Luke’s friend from New York. Aaron Cade, right?” She wiped her right hand against her leg before offering it to him.

Relieved, Aaron shook hands, noting the absence of any rings on her fingers. No, he wasn’t disappointed. Quite the opposite. He grinned at Naomi. “That’s me.” She couldn’t be more than twenty-five, he figured, trying to place her in Luke’s extended family. “Is your mom one of Luke’s four older sisters?”

“That’s right. My mum’s Helen. She’s the oldest, and Luke’s the youngest, so he’s more like an older brother than an uncle to me. Everyone’s out at the moment except for me, but Luke did warn me you’d be arriving.” She glanced at the sleek, black Porsche Boxster that gleamed like a spaceship in the quiet suburban countryside, and the disapproving set to her lips returned. “Do you have a thing for sports cars?”

“Not exactly. I don’t own a car back home, so I rented this on a whim.” He patted the roof of the car briefly before he had to snatch his hand away from the burning metal. Both the Porsche and the vacation were out of the ordinary for him. He wasn’t used to taking time off or renting sports cars. Or young, attractive women eyeing him with reproach. “You don’t approve?”

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