So what if kissing Jack again sounded a thousand times better than the bath-wine-book combo? She’d just have to get over it.
It was incredibly comforting to come home to a house full of voices. She was going to miss the girls a great deal when they headed to their respective homes for the holidays.
The scent in the air was one that always reminded her of Italy at Christmas. “You bought a tree,” she exclaimed as she walked into the living room.
Yvette grinned down at her from her perch on top of the ladder. “Surprise!”
Janeen put on a Christmas record and pulled Mary into an impromptu jig that made her momentarily forget that she wished she were somewhere else, with someone else.
“We’ve got cookies and eggnog, too,” Susan said from the kitchen.
After Mary went into her room to put down her things and take off her heels, Susan handed her a glass so that they could toast each other. “To you, Mary, for taking all of us in and giving us a home away from home.”
Mary hadn’t spent Christmas with her family for the past thirteen years, but tonight she felt as if she was finally part of a family again. As they clinked their glasses together, she was afraid she would spoil the moment by crying, but then Yvette said, “We’re dying to find out how your shoot went today with the gorgeous Mr. Sullivan.”
“It went fine,” she said in her primmest voice.
“Ooh,” Janeen said, not fooled in the least, “you’re blushing.”
Mary lifted her free hand to her face and felt how hot it was. “We’re just business associates,” she protested.
“From the way the two of you look at each other,” Susan noted, “it sure seems like more than just business.”
Mary hadn’t realized they’d been that obvious when she’d invited him inside the other night. But she had just finished dancing with him in the rain, and it had been so wonderful, how could she not have stars in her eyes?
“He kissed me.”
Everyone’s eyes grew big—including Mary’s—at what she’d just admitted.
She was supposed to be setting a good example for the young models, which meant teaching them that it was a bad idea to get involved with a business associate. But her long walk home through the city hadn’t done a darn thing to push away the memory of how it had felt to have Jack’s hands in her hair, his hard heat against her, his delicious mouth pressing against hers.
“I’ll bet he’s a great kisser, isn’t he?” Yvette said with a dreamy look on her pretty face.
This was Mary’s chance to explain to them what a mistake the kisses she’d shared with Jack had been. Instead, she nodded and said, “The best.”
As a group, the girls spontaneously hugged her. “When are you going to see him again?”
“I’ll be shooting a TV commercial for his new invention in a few days. I’m sure he’ll be there.” She hoped her voice sounded more nonchalant than she felt. How on earth was she going to make it through a handful of days without seeing Jack? Especially when he was all she could think about…
“Or, you could call him now and invite him over tonight,” Janeen suggested. “We wouldn’t mind having a gorgeous man in our midst, would we, girls?”
Needing to do something with her hands so that she didn’t pick up the phone and call him right that very second, Mary lifted a sparkly ornament and walked over to the tree to hang it on a branch. “We’ve agreed to keep things professional between us until the campaign wraps up.”
Susan gave her a very knowing look for a nineteen-year-old. “Stolen kisses are the best kind, aren’t they?”
“They weren’t—” she began, before admitting, “Okay, they were stolen.” And Susan was right—his kisses were the very best of Mary’s life. “But they were the last ones I’m going to let him steal until after we wrap up the campaign.”
From the doubtful looks on their faces, Mary knew she looked even less convincing than she sounded.
“Personally,” Yvette said as she lifted her drink to her lips, “I prefer forbidden kisses.”
Mary had been intent on letting the conversation peter out, but now she turned from the tree and pinned Yvette with a laser-sharp gaze. “Who are you having forbidden kisses with?”
Yvette reached into the box of ornaments so that Mary couldn’t see her face as she muttered, “No one,” but it hadn’t been that long since Mary was nineteen, and she knew better than most about being headstrong and foolish. Maybe, she thought, she should tell them about her mistakes. But with the Christmas carols playing and their laughter ringing out, she didn’t want to ruin the evening with what would surely sound like a lecture.
Not for the first time since the three models had moved in with her, Mary realized what her mother must have gone through. How did you give advice to someone you cared about without ruining your relationship? And what could you possibly say to get a young woman with the entire world at her feet to listen to your advice without storming out in a huff?
Hopefully, one day when Mary had children of her own, she’d have some of the answers.
Over the course of the next few days, Mary not only gave dozens of radio, print and TV interviews about the Pocket Planner, but she and Gerry traveled all through San Francisco taking pictures of her using it in different parts of the city. After the handful of kisses Jack had stolen from her—and especially given how quickly her resistance had fallen both times—Mary knew she should be glad for this break from seeing him to regain her sanity. Before Jack Sullivan had walked into her life, she’d been perfectly fine. Content. Comfortable.