Previously released as part of the Stranded with a Hero anthology. Now available individually!
Nice is about to meet Naughty…
When Aussie Naomi Spencer hears her uncle's American friend is coming Down Under for a short visit, she can't wait to be rid of him. Aaron's "Bah Humbug" attitude drives her crazy...and so does his incredibly sexy smile, and the way he pitches in to help her get ready for all her relatives. Okay, so maybe he's not a total Grinch. But when Naomi's uncle warns her to stay away from his playboy friend, Naomi's simple holiday gets even more complicated.
When a volcano grounds all flights back to the States, Aaron Cade finds himself stranded in Oz. For Aaron, family holidays are to be endured, not celebrated. Only Naomi brings magic to the simplest things: shopping for gifts, finding the perfect decorations, and making him feel at home in the bizarrely tropical December heat. His sudden, overwhelming attraction to Naomi will turn his idea of home upside-down…but can he change everything for one white-hot love?
Book #1 Real Men Don't Break Hearts
Book #2 White Hot Holiday
Book #3 Real Men Don't Quit
Book #4 One Real Man
About the Author
Coleen Kwan was a certified bookworm from a very early age, but she never dreamt she'd one
day be writing her own stories. After graduating from university with a degree in Computer
Science, she worked in IT for many years. It was only when she took long service leave that she
seriously considered writing. Her first attempts will thankfully never see the light of day, but
joining a writers' organization proved invaluable. Her debut novel, WHEN HARRIET CAME
HOME, was published in 2011.
Coleen lives in Sydney with her partner and two children. She loves writing contemporary
romance and steampunk romance. When she isn't writing she enjoys avoiding housework, eating chocolate, and watching The Office.
Read an Excerpt
A Real Men Novella
By Coleen Kwan, Kate Fall
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Coleen Kwan
All rights reserved.
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?"
"Oh, if you want to drive flashy cars, that's up to you." She shrugged, cool and offhand, then hooked a thumb over her shoulder in the direction of the house. "Why don't you bring your luggage inside, and I'll show you your room?"
So Naomi didn't think much of men with flashy cars. Aaron tucked that tidbit of information away before hauling out his single suitcase from the maligned Porsche and following Naomi up the stairs. Inside the house it was blessedly cooler, with overhead fans whirling in the spacious interior. Green garlands with red baubles festooned the living room. Lines of Christmas cards were strung across a mantelpiece. A giant copper bowl filled with fir cones spray-painted gold and silver sat in the unlit fireplace. The incongruity of Christmas decorations sparkling in the energy-sapping heat made Aaron shake his head again.
"At my hotel in Sydney last night, they were serving eggnog at the bar. Eggnog in the middle of summer." He swiped a forearm across his damp forehead. "I just can't get my head around a hot Christmas."
Naomi pursed her lips. "Well, I'm loving a hot Christmas again."
"You mean you've been missing out?"
Her voice lowered as she glanced away. "Yeah. I've been in London for the past eighteen months. Just got back a month ago."
"Were you working in London?"
She nodded tightly. "Teaching." The single word shot out before her mouth compacted.
His curiosity rose at her rigid stance. He was willing to bet she hadn't enjoyed her stay in Britain. A moment later, she shook back her hair and became businesslike again, moving briskly down the hall and off to a side passage.
"We're in the annex," she said over her shoulder as they skirted a paved courtyard filled with climbing roses.
"I'm helping Tyler in her store over the busy period, so I'm staying here temporarily. This is the guest annex. There're two bedrooms and a shared bathroom. This is my room." She gestured to a shut door nearest them. "And this is yours." She opened another door.
Aaron wheeled his suitcase into the guest room and gave it a cursory inspection. It looked clean and comfortable, but its best feature was being next door to Naomi Spencer. He hadn't expected a gorgeous, single woman at Luke's place. Though he'd barely known her ten minutes, and she didn't seem much impressed by him, he was strongly drawn to her. She was prickly, quirky, definitely different. During his visit to the Barrier Reef, he'd met plenty of pretty Aussie women who liked his company, but none of them had grabbed his attention as instantly as Naomi had. He wanted to know her better. Wanted to know how long she was staying here, whether she honestly liked wearing those ridiculous reindeer antlers, and why she had a smudge of glitter on her chin.
Aware of the silence between them, he realized he'd been staring at her without shame. She backed up a few steps, as if suddenly alert to the fact she was home alone with a strange man who couldn't stop ogling her.
"Um, I'll let you get settled in." She hesitated. "I was just about to make myself a cup of tea, if you'd like one."
A cup of tea when his T-shirt was sticking to his back? But, determined to improve on the poor first impression he'd made on Naomi, he said, "I'm all settled in, and I'd love a cup of tea."
She eyed him doubtfully before nodding. "Okay."
She led him to the back of the house where a country-style kitchen adjoined a casual family room. There were photos on the walls, toys and books scattered on the couches, and a basket of towels in front of the TV. The place reminded him of his sister's place back in Mecklenburg in upstate New York. Donna, her husband Bill, and their two kids lived a five-minute drive from his parents. Thank God for Donna. At least she didn't make him feel guilty every time he visited his hometown, which, according to his mom, was much too seldom.
While Naomi filled the kettle, Aaron moved to the kitchen table and inspected the assortment of cards, paints, and glitter strewn across the surface.
"Just some last-minute Christmas cards," Naomi said.
So that explained the glitter on her chin. "You make your own Christmas cards?" He picked up a red card adorned with a gold angel.
She nodded as she lifted two mugs from a cupboard. "I like to, though it's time-consuming. You probably buy yours, like most sane people."
"I don't send out Christmas cards."
"You don't?" She hesitated. "I guess they aren't too good for the environment, are they?"
Aaron gave her a rueful grin. "I wish I could say I don't send Christmas cards to save the planet, but no."
"Well, it's a girl thing — the cards."
He could have nodded agreement and left it at that, but maybe the heat had got to his brain because he heard himself say, "It's not just cards. The plain truth is, I don't enjoy Christmas."
From her horrified wince, he might as well have said he liked torturing puppies.
"Um, wow. That's a pity." She busied herself making the tea.
Aaron toyed with the Christmas card, wondering if he should have been more diplomatic. But why should he lie? Even if, for whatever reason, he wanted Naomi to think more kindly of him.
"Don't you find the whole Christmas thing too commercialized, too hyped-up?" he said.
She set two mugs of steaming hot tea on the table and gestured to him to sit. "I guess it can get commercialized," she said as she brought a plate of cookies to the table and sat opposite him. "If you let it. But I try not to go on a spending spree. I like making things, like the cards and these biscuits."
He glanced at the cookies, chose a gingerbread man, and bit off its head. "My mom likes baking Christmas cookies, too."
Naomi's face brightened. "There you go. I bet she enjoys celebrating Christmas."
That was an understatement. If celebrating Christmas were an Olympic sport, his mom would be a gold medalist, and his dad would collect the silver.
"She makes a gingerbread house every year without fail." With a sigh, Aaron dunked his cookie in the steaming tea and bit into it.
"That sounds lovely." A puzzled frown settled on her brow. "I still don't understand why you don't like Christmas."
Aaron blew on his tea. He was flying back to New York the day before Christmas Eve and would arrive in Mecklenburg just in time for Christmas, which was exactly how he'd planned it. "You don't want to know."
"No, really, I do." She leaned forward, her face reflecting genuine curiosity, as if she'd never met anyone with his anti-Christmas attitude. "Did something terrible happen to you one Christmas?"
If only he could blame one big catastrophe, but rather it was a string of quiet calamities — some large, others infinitesimal — that had built up his aversion over time, like weightless snowflakes falling on a roof and finally crushing it.
"Nothing like that." He lifted one shoulder. "But Christmas always makes me feel uncomfortable. Everyone else around me has this rabid look in their eyes and goes into this ... frenzy, and I don't get it. I don't get the hype. And the expectations. Oh my God, the expectations. Sometimes I feel like Christmas is being forced down my throat."
"Forced down your throat?" Her reindeer antlers quivered as she blinked at him. "That's an exaggeration, surely."
"Of course it's forced." He waved his hand. He'd never aired his dislike so bluntly before, and he found it liberating to express himself. "Every year I'm forced to endure an orgy of Christmas because everyone around me acts as if something terrible will happen if I don't."
She eyed him suspiciously over her tea mug. "What are you forced to do?"
"What am I not? I have to fight through overcrowded, overheated stores searching for gifts without a clue what to buy. I have to make a four-hour trip through bumper-to-bumper traffic out of the city. I have to wear a ludicrous holiday sweater that no man in his right mind would choose. I have to eat more food than I want, listen to the same carols year in, year out, read bragging letters from cousins I barely know, then chew a Pepto-Bismol while I fix Christmas lights in the freezing cold." He paused for breath, but the impulse that had loosened his tongue grew even stronger. "Don't get me wrong — I love my family. My parents are great. My sister and brother-in-law and nieces are great. I like hanging out with them. I like going to church with them. But where is it carved in stone that I have to be with them on December twenty-fifth every year? Why do I feel I'm a traitor for thinking that just once, just once in my twenty-nine years, I'd like to spend Christmas Day anywhere else except Mecklenburg, New York?"
He was steaming, he realized. Literally and figuratively. Where had all this acrimony sprung from? He didn't hate spending time with his family that much, did he? Confused, he gulped hot tea, which only brought a fresh outbreak of perspiration to his nape. Across the table, Naomi was eyeing him with renewed distrust.
"Look, I didn't mean to mouth off like that." He rubbed the back of his neck. "It's not just Christmas; it's also returning to my hometown. It's kind of provincial and" — he sought for the right description but could only come up with — "small."
A charged silence fell between them.
Naomi cleared her throat. "There's no need to apologize. I asked for your genuine opinion, and you gave that." Leaning back in her chair, she drew her finger through some crumbs on the table. "But you and I will have to agree to disagree, because I can't think of anything better than Christmas in a small country town with the people you love the most."
Her head tilted up, and despite the wacky antlers and the glitter on her cheek, the look she gave him was cool and steely.
* * *
Thank God this Aaron Cade was only staying a few days and would be gone before Christmas Eve, Naomi thought as she stacked dirty dinner plates in the dishwasher. She didn't need his bah-humbug attitude ruining the Christmas she'd been looking forward to for so long. After her wrenching breakup with Justin, all she wanted was to surround herself with family and immerse herself in the seasonal celebrations.
A few hours ago Luke, his wife Tyler, and five-year-old Chloe had arrived home, allowing Naomi to retreat thankfully to the background. Luke and Aaron had greeted each other with warm, heartfelt hugs and no residual awkwardness, despite the fact they hadn't seen each other for several years. The two men appeared to be genuine friends, not mere acquaintances, and so, for Luke's sake, she'd have to put up with Aaron, even though he'd literally and metaphorically run roughshod over her Christmas enthusiasm. Now, the sun was setting after they'd enjoyed a leisurely barbecue dinner on the deck. Chloe was playing with her puppy in the garden, and Naomi and Tyler were seeing to the dishes, while the two men continued reminiscing about their college years.
Through the window above the sink Naomi watched Aaron reclining in his chair, a bottle of beer in his hand. His navy-blue Brooks Brothers polo shirt stretched across his shoulders, emphasizing their broadness, while his snug-fitting designer jeans highlighted his long, lean build. With his trimmed brown hair, confident brown eyes, square jaw, and dimpled smile he was the classic, clean cut, all-American guy. Pity he was also the antithesis of what she wanted in a man, because she had to admit he was kinda cute.
She snorted. "What baloney," she chided herself. She wasn't looking for a new man, not when her heart had been so comprehensively broken two months ago.
Excerpted from White-Hot Holiday by Coleen Kwan, Kate Fall. Copyright © 2013 Coleen Kwan. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Very Good He goes too Australia for vacation & to see a college friend just before Christmas. He meets his friend niece who is going to be teaching. His friends is more a brother to his niece because he is the youngest.
Cute holiday read
Colleen Kwan gives us some holiday joy Australian style...no snow here. Just a hot guy, a volcano and lots of sparks between Aaron & Naomi. Great story with wonderful characters. Fun to see how others celebrate the holiday!I recommend this one.