“Okay,” I said meekly. He’d headed off all of my arguments at the pass, so there was nothing left to do but agree with him.
We went outside and waited for his car to pick us up, standing on the sidewalk while pedestrians steered around us. It was a cold night, but I was so warm with wine and Carter’s company that I barely noticed. I didn’t usually drink much, so even the couple of glasses of wine I’d had with dinner were enough to leave me feeling pleasantly light-headed and giddy.
“We’ll go right past Rockefeller Center,” Carter said. “We can look at the lights.”
I smiled at him, but I didn’t care about the Christmas lights. I’d seen them before. I only cared about the broad expanse of the back seat of Carter’s car, and the twenty minutes we would have before we arrived at his apartment; and after that, whatever came next, a whole evening with nothing to do but enjoy each other’s company.
His car pulled up to the curb, and he guided me toward it with one hand on my lower back, lightly steering. He opened the door and helped me inside. The interior was warm, and I unbuttoned my coat and shrugged it off my shoulders.
Carter climbed in after me. He slid the privacy panel open and spoke briefly with the driver, and then slid it shut again and turned to me. He placed one hand on my bare shoulder and trailed it down my arm, leaving my skin prickling in his wake. “You look beautiful tonight,” he said.
I flushed and looked away. His open admiration made me uncomfortable. “Sadie made me buy the dress,” I said. “She said I needed something expensive if I was going to start dating a billionaire.” The car started moving, and I leaned back against the seat. I hoped he would kiss me soon.
“I think Sadie and I will get along very well,” Carter said. “I agree with her. You should indulge yourself more.”
“I’m indulging my savings account,” I said. “It’s pretty happy with me.”
“So frugal,” Carter murmured, touching one of my earrings, his thumb brushing the sensitive skin behind my ear. Our eyes met, and I could feel the change in atmosphere like the barometer had just dropped. We weren’t going to be talking about my spending habits for much longer.
Carter moved his hand to curl around the back of my skull, cradling my head with his palm, and leaned in to kiss me.
I closed my eyes at the first touch of his lips. I didn’t want to think, didn’t want to worry about the future and what might happen; I just wanted to be with Carter and fully experience every sensation.
The kiss went from gentle to hungry and demanding in the space of about fifteen seconds. I clung to the thick fabric of Carter’s overcoat, then slid my hands inside, trying to push it off his shoulders. I wanted to feel him, the heat of his skin. He drew back long enough to shuck off his coat, and then pulled me against him again, his hands curling around my hips.
I didn’t think I would ever get tired of kissing him. Each time seemed new, like I was learning him all over again, the way his tongue teased at my lower lip, the low sound he made in his throat when I responded to him.
He slid one hand up to cup my breast, his thumb skimming over the nipple, and I gasped without intending to. It was a small sound, but it was loud in the close confines of the car.
Carter chuckled and pulled away from me. “If we don’t stop, I’m going to fuck you right here in the back seat of this car, and we don’t have enough time for that.”
“You could just tell Henry to drive around in circles for a while,” I said, breathless.
“I try not to traumatize him into retiring,” Carter said. “And besides, I want to see you spread out in my bed. I intend to take my time with you tonight, Regan.”
It was both a promise and a threat, and I wanted it, whatever he was planning to do to me.
We slid apart on the seat. I straightened my dress and smoothed back my hair, and Carter fixed his tie. I didn’t want to stop, but he was right; we should wait. I would die of embarrassment if the driver opened the privacy panel and caught us mid-coitus. Henry was so grandfatherly and dignified that my skin crawled just thinking about it.
My blood pounded in my ears. I looked out the window, giving myself the time and space to calm down a little. Carter seemed to have the same idea, because he was quiet on his side of the car, and for several minutes we rode in comfortable silence, just existing together.
Finally he said, “We’re coming up on Rockefeller Center.”
It was the second time he’d mentioned it, so he must have really wanted me to look at the Christmas lights. I was happy to indulge him. I slid over to his side of the car and leaned against him as I peered out the window. He slid one arm around my waist and held me close.
“I thought we were waiting,” I said.
“I’ll be good,” he said.
I didn’t really believe him—I wouldn’t have been able to behave myself, in his position—but I wasn’t exactly opposed to any potential misbehavior.
But, true to his word, he just held me as we passed Rockefeller Center. I watched the lights glide by, the very tip of the big tree, the excited tourists posing on the sidewalk. I didn’t see tourists much—they rarely came to Brooklyn, and I was only in Manhattan for work or to see Carter—but they all seemed so happy and excited that I felt my own heart lifting in response.
Everyone always talked about how magical New York was at Christmastime, but I had never really understood it. It was cold, and it didn’t snow as much as I would have liked, and I had no family to celebrate with. I spent pretty much every Christmas alone on my couch, eating Chinese takeout. But now, here with Carter, I thought I finally understood what all the fuss was about.
“It’s really beautiful,” I said, and Carter squeezed his arm around me and said, “I know.”
Rockefeller Center receded into the distance, and I sat back, leaning my head against Carter’s shoulder. “How did your family celebrate Christmas, when you were a kid?”
“Well,” he said. “Let’s see. Presents on Christmas morning, of course, and then we usually went to my grandparents’ place in the afternoon for more presents and dinner. We had a dog—a cocker spaniel—and my mother always put a pair of reindeer antlers on his head.”
It sounded nice. Normal. Like a perfect, Rockwellian family.
When I was a kid, there was never enough money for presents, and my father usually spent the whole day too drunk to stand up.