Window Shopping by Tessa Bailey
by Tessa Bailey
Two weeks before Christmas and all through Manhattan,
shop windows are decorated in red and green satin.
I'm standing alone in front of the famous Vivant department store,
when a charming man named Aiden asks my opinion of the decor.
It's a tragedy in tinsel, I say, unable to lie.
He asks for a better idea with a twinkle in his eye.
Did I know he owned the place? No. He put me on
Now I'm working for that man, trying to ignore
that he's hot.
But as a down on her luck girl with a difficult past,
I know an opportunity when I see one-and I have
to make it last.
I'll put my heart and soul into dressing his holiday
I'll work without stopping.
And when we lose the battle with temptation,
I'll try and remember I'm just window shopping.
Christmas Contemporary Romance
"Two weeks before Christmas and all through Manhattan,
shop windows are decorated in red and green satin."
I don't know why I am surprised. Why, you ask? Well, first let me tell you why I am NOT surprised. I am not surprised that I enjoyed this book. Tessa Bailey is one of my "instant buy" authors, so I knew before evening opening the book on my kindle I would like Window Shopping. Now to answer your question, I was surprised by the spice! I don't know why. Again - it's Tessa Bailey. Queen of dirty talk. But I guess that within the first chapter, I was also bamboozled by the bow tie. The bow tie made me think I was getting into a sweet, nice romance. And it is sweet, and nice ... but its also dirty as hell and I love it.
I won't lie to you - if I had never read a Tessa Bailey book in my life, and I read this synopsis - I wouldn't have bought it. It's a terrible synopsis. Don't judge this book by what's on the back. But the story - its an entertaining Christmas tale. Two complete opposites - grump vs. sunshine, ex-convict vs. part owner of upscale business on Fifth Avenue, pessimist vs. optimist - come together over a rather terrible window display. And immediately you become hooked. The characters definitely play off one another nicely, dialogue is fun and the chemistry is hot. Is their relationship a little too insta-love? Yes. But I don't think it can be helped when it comes to these Christmas romances. Despite insta-love being one of the tropes I am not a fan of, Tessa managed to help me get over that. I rooted for these characters - for their personal issues, and the ones between the two of them - and I couldn't wait to get to the end for their happily ever after.
If you are looking for a quick rom-com with holiday cheer and lots of dirty talk, Tessa Bailey has you covered. I guarantee, you will never look at a man with a bow tie the same way again. And shout out to Tessa for writing about a man with a bubble butt. Because YES MA'AM! Bubble butts for the win!
But the most remarkable thing about him is those smile lines. They bracket his mouth, they fan out from the corners of his eyes. They are deep and worn-in like a pair of jeans that have been washed seven hundred times. This man smiles constantly. I hate him. I pop out my left earbud.
Stella: “Is there something I can help you with?”
Aiden: “Oh, me?”
A dimple appears on his cheek.
Aiden: “I was just waiting for your song to be over.”
There is no music playing, but I’m obviously not going to tell him that.
I ask, jerkily removing the second bud and shoving both of them back into my jacket pocket.
Stella: “Do you have another pointless story to tell me?”
Aiden: “Aw, hell.”
His eyes are green. And they twinkle in a way that reminds me of fairy lights.
Aiden: “I’ve got thousands of pointless stories to tell you.”
My smile is saccharine.
Stella: “One was more than enough.”
Aiden: “All right,”
he draws out, tossing back the remainder of his coffee.
Aiden: “But after the beer-spilling era, Aunt Edna eloped with a rodeo clown named Tonto. Guess you’ll never know about it.”
Aiden: “Sure was. Let’s just say the bull took him by the horns, instead of the other way around.”
He gives a full body shiver.
Aiden: “All he left behind for Edna was a half-used face painting kit and some floppy shoes. She patched things up with Uncle Hank about a year later. Now they go yard sale hopping on Sunday mornings.”
I’m pretty sure my jaw is hanging down at my knees.
Stella: “Is this like a strange kink? Instead of flashing people, you just go around accosting people with bizarre tales?”
Aiden: “Well it’s too cold to flash people in December. My options are limited.” Aiden: “Everyone knows you don’t wrap presents until the twenty-third of December.”
Leland: “I don’t know that.”
Curious, he stops clicking and arches a cautious ginger eyebrow.
Leland: “Why do you wait?”
Realizing I forgot to take off my overcoat, I stand up and cross to the rack by the door, draping it over the top hook so the hem won’t brush the floor. Snow falls from the collar and melts onto the gray carpet, leaving little wet spots behind.
Aiden: “Let’s say you bought your aunt a green scarf. You bought it assuming she didn’t already have one. But you have to leave yourself a cushion in case she shows up wearing one three days before Christmas. Or out of the blue she might say, ‘I hate green scarves. I hope no one ever buys me one.’”
Leland: “Now what are the odds of that?”
I hold up my hands.
Aiden: “You want to wrap presents pre-twenty-third and gamble with Scotch tape, that’s up to you. You just better hope my theory doesn’t stick.”
Slowly, my assistant turns back to his computer, muttering,
Leland: “You asked. You know better than to ask,”
Aiden: “What did you do with the applications that didn’t make the cut?”
My assistant doesn’t answer right away and when I glance over, he’s got a slight wince on his face.
Leland: “Uh, well…they’re in a sub-folder marked Utter Rejects.”
I give a low whistle.
Aiden: “How someone so cold can craft such a spicy salsa is a mystery.”
Leland: “It’s the habanero juice and pickled—”
Aiden: “I don’t want to know, man, I just want to eat it.” Aiden: “Can we go somewhere less soul-crushing to talk? I’ve got peppermint bark in my office with your name on it.”
Stella: “I can practically hear the bow tie in your voice.” Stella looks around as if she’s just been teleported to the moon.
Stella: “This might be the weirdest moment of my life and I’ve been trading cornbread for toothpaste and other assorted toiletries for the last four years.” Stella: “Yes. You talk.”
Aiden: “Hot damn. That’s the first time anyone’s ever said that to me. I’m going to take a few seconds to savor the glory if you don’t mind.”
A second ticks by.
Aiden: “Done. Did I ever tell you about the time my aunt Edna accidentally baked a sock into a pie? A dirty one. She didn’t keep the laundry basket in the pantry after that. Moved it back to the bedroom where it belongs. She’d originally hidden it in the kitchen so Uncle Hank would stop digging through it for his favorite shirt and wearing the old thing, whether it was clean or not. Anyway, that’s where her saying ‘you can’t avoid dirty laundry’ came from. Craziest part of the story for me, though, is they ate the sock pie. I think about that a lot.” Aiden: “Don’t let the bow tie fool you, Stella. I’m not always nice,”
he says, a deep burr in his voice.
Aiden: “When the situation calls for it, I can be downright rough.” Stella: “All I’m saying is…maybe the positive power of the bow tie only has to extend so far. Maybe it’s okay to loosen it up once in a while and let yourself feel or express some bad stuff. It’ll only make the good that much more valuable.”
Stella: “Everyone’s got some yuck.” When I realize I’m standing there, hypnotized by the booty, I shake myself. Move. In the ensuing silence, the only sound is Aiden exhaling unevenly.
Aiden: “Now that’s a laugh worth waiting around for, Stella.”
Then, more to himself,
Aiden: “I was wondering if you were ever going to let me hear it.”
My insides are flailing, but I manage a scowl.
Stella: “Just don’t get used to it.”
Aiden: “Getting used to it would be impossible. But trying to hear it again?”
His voice matches his eyes now. Smoky.
Aiden: “I don’t know if I’ll be able to help myself.” Aiden: “Ah ha. You’ve got the gift giver heebie-jeebies. Totally natural.”
He doesn’t try to take the small box from me, but sits and waits with his big hands resting on his outstretched thighs.
Aiden: “Whatever it is, it won’t be as bad as Aunt Edna’s gift on Christmas of ninety-four. She took me out in the backyard in my pajamas and taught me how to field dress a rabbit.”
Stella: “What? Jesus!”
Aiden: “She nailed the surprise element. I’ll give her that.” Aiden: “What would these two people want? I can’t answer that for you.”
He releases an expulsion of breath.
Aiden: “I only know I think about you to the point of distraction. The board meeting wasn’t the only reason I was drinking tonight. I had to stop myself from going downstairs. I knew I’d end up here again, feeling like I’d melt unless I kiss you.” Aiden: “Name one other rule in the employee handbook. Besides the non-fraternization policy, I mean.”
Heat seeps out of my pores like molten metal, engulfing me. I don’t know the other rules. I only skipped to that one. Oh God.
Stella: “Sorry, what?”
My airways shrink to the size of licorice.
Stella: “Can you repeat that?”
I don’t like the knowing smile that transforms his features. I don’t like it one bit, even though I experience my own relief that he’s no longer looking out to sea. Lost. Mainly, I’m panicked. Aiden takes a step forward and now I’m tipping my head back to meet his eyes, the rich male scent of him fuzzing up my brainwaves.
Aiden: “Name one rule in the handbook. Besides the one saying I can’t take you out. Can’t…”
He drags his full bottom lip through his teeth, a low sound kindling in his throat.
Aiden: “…bring you home to bed. Without signing paperwork.”
Bed. Aiden’s bed. It would be amazing. Big and sumptuous and heavenly. Especially with him in it.
Stella: “I, um…well, there’s the one rule that says…”
Aiden: “The one that says employees must enter and leave through the rear entrance on weekends?”
I say brightly, snapping my fingers between us.
Stella: “That’s it. That’s the one.”
His eyes twinkle.
Aiden: “There’s no such rule in the handbook, sweetheart.” Stella: “I was curious.”
Aiden: “About us,”
he clarifies, studying me.
Aiden: “If it could happen.”
Despite warning signals from the back of my mind, I hum in affirmation and he grins the grin of a lifetime. It’s so gorgeous and bright, transforming every one of his features, I almost liquify in the face of it.
Stella: “Maybe. But I-I’m not paperwork curious.”
His expression doesn’t dim a single watt.
Aiden: “If you don’t mind, Stella, I’ll be sticking around until you are.” Aiden: “Tell me you want to hear what would happen next, Stella. Give me permission to say it.”
Stella: “Permission granted,”
I say with embarrassing quickness, because who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t want this beautiful man rasping secrets into their ear? Aiden prowls around me slowly, stopping when we face one another. The hand on my waist has been dragged low, along the small of my back and that’s where it remains now, burning me through my clothes.
Aiden: “Once we worked out the strain in your back…”
He leans in and settles his mouth on top of my ear.
Aiden: “We’d work on making the right parts of you nice and sore, wouldn’t we?”
I breathe, half admonishing, half stunned. I really thought I had a read on this man. He’s a wholesome rule follower who believes the best in people. A man who has a few demons lurking but is innately good at his core. Now we’re throwing a dirty streak into the mix? Good grief.
Aiden: “I tried to warn you,”
he says, taking my hand and leading me out of Vivant onto the street where bitter Manhattan cold does its best to cool my flaming cheeks.
Aiden: “I’m not always nice.”
Stella: “Oh, don’t worry, I remember,”
slips out. His lips twitch while he’s flagging me down a cab.
Aiden: “I was hoping you would.” Aiden: “See you bright and early for the unveiling.”
I swallow hard.
Stella: “I’m definitely not thinking of skipping town or anything.”
he says seriously, making me look up in time to catch his wink.
Aiden: “When in doubt, remember Penguin Chernobyl.” Right away, I’m hit with a prickle of guilt over this morning’s activities. Not only did I fantasize about her body, I had the nerve to pick out dinnerware without her input. Double shame on me. Stella: “It’s weird. When you’re younger, you think you know everything. Then you get older and live in constant awareness of how little you actually know and understand.” We’re in the back of this car, alone, it’s half dark outside and she’s in those dang soft-looking tights, looking at me with heavy eyelids, her tits rising and falling, ripe fruit asking to be stroked and sucked. One would think I didn’t churn one out in the shower this morning for all the blood rushing to my cock. Making it thicken and rise. On top of it all, her mouth would taste like marshmallows and chocolate. Who knew God would forsake me a week before Christmas? Shirley’s features are no less pinched than they were before, but Bradley’s expression is utterly blank. At least until he looks at Aiden and his eyes widen a little. Probably because Aiden is giving off serious don’t fuck with her vibes that are trying really hard to turn me on, despite the fact that I asked him to remain neutral. The vagina wants what it wants. Aiden Cook is out of my league, might as well admit it. He’s a class act. He’s real and incredible and I blew my chance with someone so altruistic and wholesome the night I held up a restaurant at gunpoint. He’d give us a try—he’s said as much. But I’m even more positive now that he would stick with me, even if we weren’t the right fit. He’s a fixer. A loyalist. He’s already bandaged one of my broken wings. I can’t let him run around underneath me while I try to fly. Jordyn: “Did you hear that? This one is wise beyond her years. And that is why…”
She raises her glass.
Jordyn: “Our store was packed full of new customers today. They didn’t have black American Express cards, but dammit, we take Visa, too.” Jordyn: “What are you…following me now?”
Seamus: “Nah, I was invited.”
He scoots in between Jordyn and one of the perfume girls, grinning like a jack-o’-lantern.
Seamus: “Get you another one of those fancy drinks, Miss Jordyn?”
Jordyn: “I pay for my own drinks,”
Seamus: “I know.”
He shakes his head slowly.
Seamus: “It’s a damn crime.”
Jordyn rolls her eyes, but she’s battling a smile. As someone who made fighting smiles into a lifestyle, I’m sure of it.
Jordyn: “If I let you buy me a drink, you’re going to read something into it and there is nothing—let me say that again—nothing to read. This book is out of print, as far as you’re concerned.”
He doffs his hat, pressing it to his chest.
Seamus: “I just want to quench your thirst, my queen.”
Jordyn: “Oh my—”
Jordyn covers her face with her free hand.
Jordyn: “Fine. Go. Just go. It’s a lemon drop martini.”
She pins me with an incredulous look when he walks away, moving triumphantly through the crowded rooftop on the balls of his feet.
Jordyn: “I can’t even deal with that kid.”
make sure no one else is paying attention before I speak.
Stella: “You like him.”
Jordyn does a double-take.
Stella: “You. Like.”
I pause for effect.
Jordyn: “I take back what I said about you being wise.”
Stella: “What is holding you back exactly? From giving him a shot, I mean.”
Jordyn: “I’m sorry… Did you miss the fact that he’s a baby compared to me? And hello, he is the weird friend from every sitcom you’ve ever watched.”
She makes a show of crossing her legs.
Jordyn: “He doesn’t get to date the main character.” Aiden: “Hey, buddy,”
I say, giving the kid a broad smile and jerking my thumb over my shoulder.
Aiden: “There’s some woman out here looking for you. Says she’s your mama.”
He straightens, his features going from man on the prowl to confused boy.
Tommy: “Are you sure? She lives in Milwaukee.”
I’m already nodding.
Aiden: “I could pinpoint a Wisconsin accent in the middle of a hail storm.”
I move my flattened hand up and down until his eyes widen.
Aiden: “She’s about yay high?”
Aiden: “Whoa. That is her.”
He shakes his head like he’s trying to wake up, looking at Stella and then the opening leading back into the bar indecisively.
Tommy: “I guess I should…”
Well I was starting to feel bad about lying, but he’s really weighing his options, isn’t he? Continue flirting with my Stella or going to find his mother who has flown all the way from goddamn Wisconsin in the blistering cold a week before Christmas. My conscience is clear.
I cup a hand around my ear.
Aiden: “I hear her calling you. Tommy…Tommy…”
Aiden: “Braxton, right. Hard to hear over all the noise.”
I give him the smile I normally reserve for Leland when he’s in a bad mood—which is often.
Aiden: “Better catch her before she gives up and leaves.”
His shoulders slump. Still visibly confused and skeptical, he gives Stella one last, longing look before skulking back into the bar and disappearing into the crowd where he belongs. I return my attention to Stella and find her mouth hanging open.
Stella: “Aiden Cook,”
she scolds me slowly.
Stella: “You better hope Santa isn’t watching.”
With that hot gasoline burn easing a little in my chest, I look up at the sky.
Aiden: “Santa, if you’re listening, please bring Braxton some new jeans for Christmas.”
Stella: “Aiden!” Stella: “You’re my type,”
she blurts. The music behind me stops. Or maybe I just can’t hear it anymore over the wind in my ears.
Stella: “Oh my God,”
she groans, slapping her hands over her face.
Stella: “I can’t believe I just said that out loud. I can’t believe it’s true. You’ve given me a weird bow tie kink and nothing else is appealing now. It’s terrible. All I was thinking when that guy offered to buy me a drink was, why? He doesn’t have any stories about Aunt Edna. What can I possibly get out of this?”
Ah hell, I have to yank on my collar. It’s choking me. Pulses are rioting all over my body, the center of my sternum gathering up tight.
he means what she’s saying.
I’m her type.
She likes my Aunt Edna stories. Aiden: “Nice guy?”
I slip my middle finger out, almost the whole way, then push it back in accompanied by my ring finger.
Aiden: “I’ll fill this tight, little thing up so full, you won’t know whether to open wider for it or slap me across the face.” My impulse is to give it to him. To march into human resources and check the right boxes, cross the T’s and dot the I’s. But that would put me all in. I’d be invested. More importantly, I’d be telling Aiden I’m invested—and I have barely started investing in myself. I’m just starting to find my sea legs. The world is this massive place without the prison walls keeping me penned in. Every day, I’m trying to walk the same path, hoping it will wear into a permanent walkway. A constant.
But it hasn’t yet. Not completely.
Everything is still foreign. This version of me is foreign.
Last time I was free to make my own decisions, most of them were bad ones. Now I’m supposed to believe I can just magically be this person who makes the right choices? That I can just step into this role of a professional? A girlfriend?
And Aiden…I know he senses the uncertainties in me. That he wants to be my knight in shining armor. I can’t let him. I can’t take advantage. But maybe if we can just…explore being together quietly for a while, someday soon I’ll be healthy enough to be my own knight. Healthy enough to sign my name on a dotted line beside someone like this.
Like Aiden. Stella: “No. No, you’re…there’s muscles under here. I’m getting Clark Kent transforming into Superman vibes and I’m not mad about it.”
We smile against each other’s mouths and that shared moment makes me think of china patterns and Vermont and the nine million other things I want to do with this girl. Aiden: “You like to be reminded that I’m not so nice once I get your panties off?” Aunt Edna: "Now are you going to tell me about the girl or are we going to drag this out another twenty minutes?”
I sit up a little straighter in my chair, shooting a glance toward Leland. Keeping my voice low, I say,
Aiden: “How did you…?”
Aunt Edna: “You’re doing a hell of a lot of sighing, Aiden Cook. Tell me what’s up.”
Leland: "You are,”
Leland stage whispers from across the office.
Leland: “Sighing a lot.” Aiden: “You’d…love her.”
There’s a pause.
Aunt Edna: “Well if I’d love her, she can’t be stupid. I’d consider it pretty stupid if she let you get away.”
Aiden: “It’s complicated.”
Aunt Edna: “Complicated is a love triangle with a rodeo clown. Hank.”
The zing of metal on the other end of the line tells me she’s made good on her painting knife threat. Or at the very least, she’s brandishing it like a weapon.
Aunt Edna: “I swear. Roll your eyes one more time. I never loved that clown like I love your crabby ass. But we lived in the same house and you hadn’t spoken to me in nine months. Nine. Not a bless you or a how’s it hanging.”
There’s a grunt in the background.
Aunt Edna: “I’m crazy about you. But I’ll still carve out your eyeballs.”
Grunt. This one more affectionate. Leland: “It’s finally happening. He’s losing his temper. Get the popcorn.” Aiden: “Are you going to scream?”
he asks raggedly. I shake my head rapidly.
Aiden: “Good girl,”
he grunts, slanting his mouth over mine.
Aiden: “Put me in. Put me all the way in.” Stella: “What would be your perfect Christmas?”
He takes a moment to think about it and I use the opportunity to study the strong line of his jaw from below, growing drowsier by the second as his fingers thread through my hair, stroking it from the roots to the very—probably split—ends.
Aiden: “You promise not to laugh?”
Stella: “I promise,”
I sigh, half asleep. So close to giving up the fight and letting oblivion claim me.
Aiden: “Matching robes,”
he says, shaking his head at himself.
Aiden: “I think of having a family around the tree in matching robes.”
Stella: “That’s nice.”
Stella: “I like that.” Stella: “Wow,”
I whisper. Aiden does, indeed, have a bubble butt and that fact is so much more obvious without the advantage of dress pants and a jacket to hide it. Until meeting this man, I never fully understood the human fascination with butts, but I get it now. I’m a believer. At least in this particular set of taut, brawny buns. He should enter it into some kind of booty pageant. A twinge of jealousy catches me off-guard. Oh great, now I’m jealous of the imaginary judging panel of a butt contest. My life has taken a serious turn. Aiden: “You like me coming in your sexy mouth, Stella, then we’ll arrange it. Believe me. As often as you want.”
Tennessee flavors his tone more than usual.
Aiden: “But your first day as my girlfriend?”
I look back over my shoulder to see him shaking his head, eyes glittering with need.
Aiden: “Nah. You’re going to leave here with the memory of my cock between your thighs. You’re going to spend the day missing it. Wanting to climb back on it as soon as nighttime hits.” Aiden’s grip tightens on my hand and he pulls me forward.
Aiden: “Merry Christmas, Dale and Kendra, it’s a real honor to be here. We meant to arrive a little earlier, but we stopped for hot chocolate. Can’t get enough of the stuff this time of year, can you? My Aunt Edna used to break up a salted pretzel on top of her whipped cream. Just like that. I’ll be polite and not mention the spiced rum she threw in there, too. Accidentally drank from her cup when I was eleven and spent Christmas passed out under the tree in footy pajamas. If you ask me, that’s how it should be spent, rum drunk or not. How’s brunch coming along? Need any help in there?”
I’m staring at my fiancé in disbelief. Not because I didn’t expect him to open with an Aunt Edna story. No, that’s pretty much a given. I’m in disbelief at myself. For not believing this would be okay. In under a minute, Aiden has not only broken the tension, he’s shattered it like it never existed. My stomach knots are untying themselves and…I’m even exchanging a bemused smile with my mother.
I breathe into the cold Christmas morning air.
Stella: “Yes, he’s always like this. Isn’t it wonderful?”
#alpha #beta #rich #boss #forbiddenlove #grump #loveatfirstsight #oppositesattract