Their conversation drifted to other subjects, and Finn was grateful. He didn’t often talk about his childhood. Carrie’s had been wrapped around happy memories of cousins and family gatherings. Finn hadn’t experienced that and didn’t realize all he’d missed. He enjoyed listening to her stories. If he ever had a family, this was what he would wish for his own children.
They cleaned the kitchen together, music playing in the background, using any time they were in close proximity to kiss. Hands down, this had been the best Thanksgiving of his life.
Once they finished with the cleanup, Finn brought out the cribbage board.
“What are we playing for?” she asked, as she sat down and reached for the deck.
He shrugged. “Whatever you wish.”
Carrie’s smile widened. “Oh, how tempting. Okay, if I win, we go shopping in the morning.”
“Shopping?” He couldn’t believe she would even suggest something so out of his comfort zone. He knew from previous conversations this was something Carrie and her mother did every Black Friday. “This is a joke, right?”
“No joke. I want you to meet my friends, and right now they’ll take one look and know you’re from Alaska. From there, it’ll be easy to make the leap that you’re Finn Dalton.”
Gauging by the determination in her eyes, Finn realized it didn’t matter what cards he was dealt. Within a matter of hours he would be on the Chicago streets, credit card in hand, and he’d do it gladly because Carrie had asked him to.
The deep-dish sausage and pepperoni pizza sat in the middle of the table in front of Carrie and Finn. Try as she might, she couldn’t take her eyes off him. He was gorgeous. His beard was gone, and his hair neatly trimmed. His jaw was clearly defined, and his lips were full and enticing.
“Stop looking at me,” he said, clearly uncomfortable with her scrutiny.
“Sorry, I can’t help myself. You look more scrumptious than that pizza.” The woodsman had disappeared, and in his place sat Prince Charming. Finn was handsome—well, in her eyes, anyway—and if the glances she saw coming from other women in the restaurant were anything to go by, she wasn’t alone in thinking so. The transformation was total. Finn exuded vigor and strength, and she found it nearly impossible to keep from staring.
“You have to admit this is the best pizza you’ve ever tasted,” she said, in an effort to keep the conversation going. If she was drooling, it wasn’t over the food.
“All right, you win. Chicago pizza isn’t half bad, but you have to promise to try reindeer-sausage pizza the next time you’re in Alaska.”
“I wouldn’t miss it,” she teased.
She loved the idea that he assumed she would visit Alaska again, and frankly, she wasn’t opposed to the idea, especially if it meant she would be with Finn. It didn’t hurt that he loved pizza as much as she did, either.
“You know what’s funny?” he said, wiping the grease from his fingers with a paper napkin. “I keep fighting the urge to text you.”
Carrie laughed because she’d experienced the same feeling. It was the usual way they communicated and had become such a habit that it felt odd not to be exchanging texts even when they sat across the table from each other.
“We’re done shopping, right?”
“We are unless you have a secret desire to face the maddening crowds yet again.”
He scoffed. “Hardly. I’ve seen about as many people in one day as I can handle. I’m starting to feel claustrophobic. Is it always like this in the city?”
“Always. Sometimes worse, although not often. Black Friday is a special, magical day.” Carrie hid a smile. One disgruntled look from Finn told her he could do without the holiday craziness. “But you haven’t been to Navy Pier yet.”
“Another time,” he pleaded. “I don’t think I can take much more of these crowds, let alone the noise.”
“Okay.” Carrie had no complaints, watching as he once again ran his hand over his smooth cheeks as though he felt naked.
He’d arrived at her apartment that morning clean shaven, and for just an instant she hadn’t recognized the man standing in front of her. She hadn’t asked him to shave and had been both shocked and delighted.
“And you keep staring at me.”
“Sorry, I can’t stop myself. I had no idea you were such a hunk.”
He chuckled as if she’d made a joke, but she wasn’t kidding. The minute her friends took one look at him, they’d be all over Finn, especially Sophie. She frowned, disliking the thought.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, as he paid their tab and collected their purchases. Finn reached for her hand, gripping it in his own as they started out of the restaurant.
It amazed her how easily he read her mood. “What makes you think anything is wrong?”
“I just got an inkling of how you felt with me spending the evening with Dave.” They wove their way around busy tables toward the front of the well-known Chicago pizza restaurant.
He paused, frowning, his brow folding into thick ripples. “I doubt that.”
“I was imagining my friends meeting you, and I realized they are going to want you for themselves. You’re mine, Finn, all mine.”
His eyes grew dark and serious. His grip tightened on her hand. “No one is going to turn my head, Carrie. It simply isn’t possible.”
Carrie and Finn walked back to her condo, bundles in hand. Until that morning Finn mentioned that the only clothes shopping he’d done in years had been through catalogs or online. It’d been a true test of the strength of their relationship when it came to choosing dress slacks and a sweater for him. All in all, he’d been more than patient, but she could appreciate his unease.
Once back at her condo, Finn collapsed onto her sofa, spreading out his arms along the back cushion. Her tree was up but had yet to be decorated, and although it was only four feet tall, it took up one entire corner of her living room. Finn had placed a gift under it first thing that morning. She eyed it now, wrapped in plain brown paper.
“Curious?” he asked.
“Very.” She picked it up, held it close to her ear, and shook it.
“I doubt it’s a can opener.”
He grinned. “You’re way off base.”
“Do you want to tell me?”
“And ruin the surprise? No way. You have to wait until Christmas.”
Carrie reluctantly set it back down. “You’re taunting me, and that simply isn’t fair.”
“I think you’ll be pleased” was all Finn was willing to tell her. Over the years she’d received a variety of gifts from the men she’d dated, but Finn’s gifts were distinctive in every way. It wasn’t likely she would ever forget that toaster.
Carrie went over to her television and removed a DVD from her collection.
“We’re watching a movie?” Finn asked.
“Yes. It’s tradition.”
“You’ll see in a minute.”
“Is it a romance? I don’t think I could sit through a chick flick—not after the last three hours.”
“Shush.” She sat down close to him and reached for her remote control, pushing the appropriate button.
Right away he slid his arm around her shoulders and then let it drop. “The Bishop’s Wife?” he muttered as the title flashed across the screen. “It’s in black and white.”
“Have you seen it?”
“Yes, years ago …”
“It’s my favorite Christmas movie.”
“Shhh, you’ll miss the introduction.”
His arm was back, and she pressed her head against his shoulder. “Just relax and enjoy.”
He grumbled, but she noticed that he was soon into the movie. Every now and again he would lean forward and kiss her temple. Carrie snuggled into his embrace. She loved that they could cuddle and be this close.
“Listen up. This is one of the best lines of any movie ever.” Carrie mouthed the words along with Cary Grant as he spoke to Loretta Young.
Finn sat up slightly. “You’ve memorized the movie?”
“Parts of it. Like I said, it’s one of my favorites.” It thrilled her that he was with her and they could view it together. What she loved was how much he seemed to be enjoying it, too.
“Just how many times have you watched this silly movie?”
“It isn’t a silly movie,” she insisted, knowing that he enjoyed teasing her.
“Have you ever seen The Replacement Killers?”
“Yuck? It’s a great movie.”
“Tell you what,” Carrie whispered, tilting her head back and kissing the underside of his clean-shaven jaw. “I’ll watch it with you one day, as long as you promise to hold me just like this.”
He smiled down on her. “Deal.”
The phone rang shortly after the movie ended. It was Sophie. “A group of us are going to Logan’s for drinks. Can you meet us?”
“Let me check.”
“Check?” Sophie repeated.
“I have company. F—Paul is in town.”
“Seattle Paul? The guy who’s got you walking around with your head in the clouds Paul?”
“One and the same.” Finn eyed her closely. Carrie was sure he was able to hear both sides of the conversation.
“You didn’t say anything about him coming to Chicago.”
“I didn’t know. It was a surprise.”
“Well, bring him. I, for one, am dying to meet this guy.”
“Hold on.” Carrie pressed her cell against her chest. “What do you think? Do you want to go out tonight?”
She shrugged. “I’d like you to meet my friends.”
He hesitated and then nodded. “Okay.”
She leaned forward and kissed him soundly on the lips.
“I could grow accustomed to these little rewards you so willingly hand out,” he murmured as he gripped her hand.
Carrie smiled and brought the cell back to her ear. “What time?”
“Does eight work for you?”
“Perfect. See you then.”
Sophie hesitated. “Does Paul have a friend?”
“No, and, fair warning, hands off. Got it?”
Sophie laughed before the line was disconnected.
“Who’s Logan?” Finn asked.
“It’s a bar about six blocks from here. A few of us from the newspaper hang out there when we can.”
“Afraid so. Sorry.”
Finn chuckled. “It won’t be so bad if there are rewards involved.”
Carrie smiled. “I imagine there will be more than a few.”
“Then bring on the noise.”
For the rest of the afternoon they simply hung out together while a medley of Christmas songs played in the background. It seemed they never ran out of things to talk about. And as promised, Finn gave her sections of his new book to read and critique. Carrie found it as good as, if not better than, Alone and told him so.