“I got it,” Nick said as he stepped into the icy December wind. “I only bloody well got it.”
“Congratulations.” Nick could hear the smile in Seph’s voice, even though the mic on his friend’s pay-as-you go mobile made him sound like he was at the bottom of a well. “I knew you’d smash it.”
Nick also smiled as he hailed a taxi. Seph always made him feel good, even at times like this when his other emotions were harder to call. “Well, they couldn’t exactly pass me over after my big win last month.”
“You gonna phone your dad?”
“I’ll tell him Monday,” Nick said as he climbed into the taxi, wincing at Smooth Christmas blasting from the driver’s radio. “Mate, can you turn that down?”
The driver gave him a look and turned Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody down by one notch. Nick sighed. “Kensington please, pal. This is finally it, Seph. A shot at a partnership. The chance I’ve been waiting for… You still there?”
“Got something to share?” Nick said after a heartbeat.
“Why would you say that?”
“I know your silences, Seph. Come on. Spit it out.”
Seph sighed. “I dunno, Nick. Just last week you were telling me how you never have time for yourself—to have fun, to meet anyone. Won’t this promotion mean even less time for those things?”
“Yeah, but I’ll finally be getting paid enough to make it worth it.”
“Fair enough.” Seph’s neutral tone didn’t fool Nick, but he continued before Nick could retort. “So, did you make a decision yet?”
“About what?” Nick asked, gritting his teeth as Slade ended and Michael Bublé’s crooning filled the car.
“About this weekend,” Seph prompted. “You know…Christmas?”
“I can’t come. Gotta get caught up on my new caseload.”
A pause. “Not to be that guy, Nick, but your dad—”
“Dad wants to sit on his arse getting pissed. It will be no different from any other day, except on Saturday he’ll be drinking sherry.”
“He wants to see you, Nick. I know he does.”
“He told you this?”
“I can just tell. He’s lonely.”
“Stop with the guilt-tripping, Dr. Rose,” Nick muttered. “It doesn’t suit you.”
“Nick, Christmas is a time to be with those you love—even if you hate them at the same time.”
“I don’t hate Dad,” Nick said, loosening his tie. “I’ve just got too much on.”
“Even more reason to come. You need a break. Besides, didn’t it occur to you…?”
“What?” Nick prompted when Seph didn’t continue.
“Didn’t it occur to you that I might want to see you?”
“We just saw each other,” Nick protested, wincing when his work phone started buzzing in his pocket. His new secretary was emailing his schedule for the following week and requesting confirmations. He fought the sinking feeling when he saw the back-to-back court dates, meetings and corporate networking events. “What did you say?” he said when he realized Seph had said something else.
“I said my conference was eighteen months ago. And you’ve not been here to Littleton in, what? Christ…years.”
“Look… I’m sorry, Seph,” he said, opening the app to accept the appointment invitations. “There’s just nothing for me up there.”
Another pause, longer this time. But before Nick could decide what it meant, Seph spoke again.
“Come on, Nick,” he cajoled. “Even Charlie Kearney is spending Christmas at home this year.”
Nick started. “Charlie’s back?”
Seph swore under his breath. “Sorry. I didn’t think.”
“Charlie Kearney is going to be in Littleton for Christmas?”
“Yeah,” Seph said, a little tightly. “He’s having some big look-how-famous-I-am party at Arnold House on Christmas Eve.”
“And you’re invited?”
“He didn’t tell me…”
“Shit, Nick, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“No, no. This is a good thing,” Nick said, pocketing the work phone and smiling.
“Think about it. I’ve just got my new place, a new job. What better time to see him again? It’s, like, fate or something.”
“You really think it’s worth it? After all this time?”
“Things are different now,” Nick said. “I’m different.”
“His fiancé will be there.”
Nick snorted. “That designer he picked up in Paris? They’ve only been together for three weeks.”
“They’re still engaged.”
“I don’t care if they got married at Notre-Dame. Mega-star or not, it’s still just Charlie being Charlie. This feels like a chance, Seph, a second chance, and I’m gonna take it.”
“What?” Nick said, his friend’s tone sending irritation rippling over his skin.
“I just don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“I’m not an idiot,” Nick insisted. “I’m not saying we’ll get back together. But there’s unresolved shit there. You know I don’t like loose ends.”
“Well, that’s romantic.”
“Fine. You want romantic?” He drew a deep breath. “He’s the one who got away, Seph. I’ve never stopped thinking about him. I deserve the chance to at least tell him that. Right?”
“Of course you do. But do you really think you’ll have anything in common anymore?”
“He’s a Littleton success story,” Nick said, swiping the steam away from the window to try to see what progress they’d made down Brompton Road. “So am I.”
“Well, can’t argue with that.”
“Too right.” Nick frowned as they passed Harrods’ festive shopfront display—plastic snow, garish ornaments, a smiling family in matching jumpers digging into mince pies in front of a blazing log fire that had to be a set in some studio somewhere. “Might as well get something out of this god-awful weekend.”
“Great,” Seph said, the warmth in his voice starting an unfamiliar tingling in Nick’s toes. “That’s really great, Nick.”