Savoy didn’t burn the chili but she did burn the tip of her tongue trying to sneak a taste while Hudson was rummaging around in the basement storage. Sue her. She was hungry. There was only so much hunger that could be abated with snickerdoodles and two mocha lattes. Her taste buds yearned for the veggie dogs but she decided to go the route of a scoop of rice and a sprinkle of cheddar in an effort not to let the kind stranger know she could be somewhat messy eater.
Especially, when she was starving. She didn’t know if it was her empty stomach or if the chili was that good. She wanted to lick her fingers clean but someone told her that was polite so she fought the urge.
Snow started to fall as they tidied up the kitchen and retreated to the living room but the crackle of the fire subdued her displeasure in the falling flakes.
“Red and green or silver and gold?” She asked, holding up the boxes of unopened ornaments.
Hudson shrugged, standing next to the sparkling tree still reveling in the fact that he finally figured out how to string the lights around the branches the correct way so that the plug could reach the outlet. It took more than one try but Savoy wasn’t going to bring that up. Not yet. Nor would she mention the needles that littered the floor when he ripped the lights off like a bandaid but she did laugh. Loudly.
“You decide.” He said with that same dimness forming in his eyes from before.
She dropped on her knees next to the Rubbermaid container that held enough ornaments to decorate the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. It was all a bit confusing and the questions started to swirl in her mind as she picked through the container trying to do exactly what he suggested; decide. How was a girl supposed to decide with some many options? Especially when she wondered why someone that was indifferent to decorating a tree had a plethora of ornaments.
If you want to know the answer, ask the question. Duh. She glanced over at him as he lowered next to her. The earthy comforting cologne that wafted from her caramel skin made her itch to scoot near him. The gentle smile he wore as he waited for her to make a decision prompted her to know more about him. Who was this kind stranger that could melt snow with his smile but had flecks of sadness in his brown sugar eyes? He was a contradiction that she wanted to understand even though she didn’t fully comprehend why she wanted to know.
“If you weren’t intending on trimming the tree…” She sat back on her haunches pulling out a box of shiny red ornaments with her. “…why do you have a stash of new ornaments?
His Adam’s apple dropped quickly as he gripped the side of the container with such might she thought the plastic would snap like peanut brittle.
“Don’t answer that.” She abruptly said, her hand instinctively went to his forearm gripping tightly as if she could push away the hurt that flooded his face. “I’m sorry if I—”
“Nothing to be sorry about.” He shook his head, slowly shaking his head but not placing his sight upon her. “It’s a perfectly normal question and honestly it’s something I would ask if I was you.”
Understanding, too. She made a mental check on the list she made for things she wanted in a potential partner. And although Hudson wasn’t a suitor of hers it was something she did with all single men in her life. It was a habit. A habit of a single woman that was getting tired of singlehood.
“These aren’t mine. They’re my ex-girl…ex-fiance.” He corrected, finally matching his eyes with her. A sad quirk lifted his lips and created a twinge in Savoy’s chest. “She loved Christmas. She’d decorate the main tree.” He gestured to the lit fir behind him. “…little ones in the bedrooms and at my bakery. She forgot to cancel the order for this year and since she’s happily married with her own tree she told me to just keep them.”
Savoy’s lips were pressed tightly together. She had so many more questions but wasn’t going to answer them. The last one she asked seemed to pull so much out of him that he might exactly be in physical pain if she asked another one.
“Red and green is kind of played out. Silver and gold is a little basic but what about…” She leaned closer to him catching a whiff of cinnamon and sugar. “Gold and red. Elegant. Beautiful. Bold.”
His eyes glided over her as if he was studying a work of art and then smirked. “Are you describing yourself?”
“I’m not…” She grinned, slightly flustered but didn’t give in to the urge to look away even though the heat in his eyes could turn the blizzard outside into an ocean. “Did you just call me beautiful?“
“That’s rhetorical, right.” He chuckled. “You know you’re beautiful. The way you strutted into my bakery let everyone know you knew you were beautiful. You’re beautiful.”
Yep. That was it. She was Frosty the Snowman in July melted. A slow smile curved her lips up and a twinkle ignited in her midnight eyes. He was correct. She knew she was beautiful. Gorgeous even. Her mom instilled that in her when she was little, she remembered it during her teens, but it was something about hearing it for someone else that hit differently. She felt like a ball of chili pepper lights were blazing in her chest making her hot and electric inside.
“Thank-you.” She softly said around the smile still brightening her face.
“No thanks needed.” He shook her head with a smirk turning back to the ornaments. “Just being honest.”
“Are you always this honest.”
“Why lie?” He shrugged. “Life’s too short to waste time with falsities.”
She narrowed her eyes at him, “You’re a peculiar man, Hudson Snow.”
“Is that a good thing?”
She nodded. “A very good thing.”
“Good.” He glanced down at her hand still resting on his arm. “Very good.”
She followed his eyes and realized she was still holding him. She swiped her appendage away with such haste Clover’s head popped up from the toy bone she had it propped on.
Hudson’s chest moved with a soundless laugh as he reached in the container and grabbed a couple of boxes of gold ornaments, “We should get started if we don’t want to be late.”
“Late for what?” She stood up with him.
He glanced outside, a smile forming on his lips then he turned back to her. “Tobogganing.”
“To-whating.” She blinked so he started to explain and she stopped him. “I know what it is but she just got here and you want to go back into the Arctic.”
“It’s not the Arctic.” He chuckled as moved to the tree. “Plus, you told me to try and how will I get you to like snow if we don’t go where the snow is.”
“I don’t remember that.” She sidled next to him. “Maybe the cold froze my brain.”
“It’ll be fun.” He playfully bumped his elbow against her arm only making her grin a bit. “And I got you warmed up before. I can do it again.”
Savoy knew that was true. He was already keeping her warm and it wasn’t from the dancing fire. How could a man she just met with the last name of frozen water make her warm and tingly inside? It was a conundrum. A riddle she was going to solve right after they finished decorating the tree and tobogganing, of course.