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Trusting Forever

Monroe Brothers, Book 4

This Christmas, I might finally find my way out of the friend-zone and into my best friend’s heart.

Sebastian and I have been best friends forever. He knows everything about me, except that I’ve secretly crushed on him for years. When Sebastian finds himself without a nanny over the holidays, he makes me an offer I can’t refuse. Move into his cabin on the family’s Christmas tree farm and be a nanny to his little girl. 

I’d love to step out of the friend-zone and into his arms, but it’s time I accepted that Sebastian will always look at me as his faithful friend. Determined to change my single status (and tired of the pitying comments from our families), I jump at the opportunity to participate in the Christmas tree farm’s bachelorette auction. I might not find Mr. Forever, but I might just find Mr. Fun-For-The-Holidays instead. 

Imagine my surprise when Sebastian outbids everyone to win a date with me. I would’ve considered it a pity date, until I arrive at the ice-rink covered with fairy lights and enough mistletoe to make even Scrooge a romantic. I’m swept out of the friend-zone and into a hot and steamy night with my best friend.

 

Just when I’m sure that my Christmas wish has been granted and Sebastian and his daughter start to feel like family, his ex shows up threatening to destroy everything we’ve built.

Will he choose me, or will I be pushed back into the friend-zone? 

+ Excerpt +

“You’re welcome to stay with me as long as you need,” Sebastian said as we stood next to the elaborately decorated Christmas trees at the newly renovated Matthews Inn. Music drifted down the grand staircase from the ballroom upstairs. Guests mingled around us, drinking cocktails.

Sebastian offered me his guest room while I searched for an apartment, and it coincided with the few weeks before Christmas when he was busiest at the farm. I’d help with Ember in exchange for a room. It was a good deal if your heart wasn’t on the line. “My parents won’t be happy, but I don’t have a choice unless I want to move back in with them.” 

“This is our busiest time of the year. We’ll need help in the shop,” Lori, Sebastian’s mom, said.

Sebastian’s family owned the neighboring Christmas tree farm where, over the years, his brothers had built cabins to live on the property and run the business. Sebastian was the last one to make that move.

“I’m happy to help.” I was pleased Sebastian was finally relocating closer to his family. I suspected it was because he needed more help with his daughter, Ember, whom he was raising by himself, and wanted her to spend more time with his family.

“It will be easier to watch Ember if you’re living with me,” Sebastian said to me.

My heart skipped a beat, then galloped in my chest. I longed for my best friend to see me as something more than a friend. I’d settled into the friend role a long time ago, but the idea of living together made me feel excited and panicked at the same time.

Would he finally see how I felt for him? Then I panicked for a different reason. What if he asked me to watch Ember so he could go out with another woman? It would be torture, but I couldn’t say no. 

His brother, Talon, raised a brow. “A live-in nanny?” 

Sebastian sighed. “She’s my friend and roommate. Don’t be a jerk.”

I’d held the role of Sebastian’s best friend since we were kids. He either never saw how I felt about him or didn’t see me in that way. I suspected it was partly both.

“Whatever you say,” Talon said.

Holly stepped forward with an ornament she’d hand-painted with an image of the inn, and I tuned out the conversation. Was moving in with my best friend a good idea? When he’d gotten his ex, Brandy, pregnant, I’d backed away to allow them to work it out. When she left him to raise Ember, I helped as much as I could. But my attraction to him hadn’t waned. Over the years, I’d hoped he’d finally see me as more than a friend, but maybe it was time to come to terms with the fact he never would. Maybe it was finally time to move on.

“Can we dance now?” Ember tugged on Sebastian’s hand. 

Sebastian looked at me over her head and grinned. “We can do that.”

There was something in his eyes, a combination of sexy single dad and reliable best friend, that had my nerves going haywire.

We took the stairs to the second floor, where the guest rooms were located. Each door held a wreath, and at the end of the hallway, another tree stood in the window. Marley, who’d recently inherited the property from her grandmother, had done an amazing job decorating the inn for the holidays and restoring it to its former glory.

The music grew louder as we climbed to the third floor and entered the ballroom. Guests danced in the center of the room, and a crowd gathered around Alex, the cellist who was playing on the makeshift stage.

“He’s amazing,” Marley said.

Ireland dipped her head to say, “He was invited to play the national anthem at Madison Square Garden.”

The couples in our group paired off to dance, and I wondered what I was doing here. It was Ember who’d begged for my attendance. 

Ember tugged on my hand. When my gaze met hers, she said, “You should dance with Daddy so he’s not alone.”

Tingles erupted down my spine. I shifted my gaze from her to Sebastian. “Is that so?”

He held out his hand to me, and my heart raced in my chest. “You don’t want me to be lonely, do you?”

I smiled, placing my hand in his. “We can’t have that.”

His palm felt warm against mine, and my body was tingly all over with the anticipation of being close to him. We’d gone together to a dance or two in high school, and I’d always hoped it would lead to more, that he’d feel something between us, but if he did, he never let on.

He led me into the center of the dance floor and drew me into his arms. My cheeks flushed, and I felt a little lightheaded as he pulled me close and grinned at me. “I think Ember manipulated us.”

I smiled up at him, catching the amusement in his gaze. “I think so, too.”

He dipped his head slightly and lowered his voice. “I can’t complain.”

I had so many questions. Did he want to dance with me? Was he enjoying this as much as I was? The entire room smelled like evergreens from the number of trees around the perimeter of the room. There was a large one in the center of the dance floor, decorated with large ornaments and ribbon. It was quite possibly the grandest tree I’d ever seen.

“Do you have any trees left on the farm?” I asked him, nodding my head in the direction of the numerous trees.

He chuckled, and it rumbled through my chest, making me feel off-kilter. 

I wanted to move closer to him. I wanted to put my hands around his neck and press my body against his. But this was a formal dance, and Sebastian was my friend, not my date.

“I don’t get involved in the planting or the growing of the trees. That’s mainly Knox and Heath. What I do know is that Heath will do anything to make Marley happy.”

“That’s sweet.” I couldn’t imagine a love like that. This feeling I’d been harboring for Sebastian all my life was based on our friendship. I had no way of knowing what would happen if we took that step, and it was scary.

Sebastian led me around in a circle, and for a few minutes, he blocked out everything else, along with the sound of the cello and the twinkling of the lights. “I recently found out Marley and Heath dated a bit in high school. They kept their relationship a secret, but I have a feeling it was quite serious.”

“They dated in high school?” We were younger than both of them, and I didn’t hang in the same circle as the Monroe Brothers. They were athletic teens, and the girls naturally gravitated toward them.

But Sebastian was different. He didn’t play sports, other than tennis, and he wasn’t interested in girls. He liked school. We’d hang out a lot at his house under the guise of studying. And that’s what we did, but I spent more time gazing at his beautiful face and analyzing every word that came out of his mouth. He was an innocent schoolgirl’s crush. 

My parents were never concerned about us hanging out together, and maybe that should have been my first clue that he wasn’t interested in me. If no one else saw the potential for anything, why would Sebastian?

“You have any new plans for the new year besides spending time with me?” Sebastian flashed a charming grin, his dimple popping, and my entire body heated.

I wished more than anything I was living with him for real. That we were a couple, that he’d do anything for me, like Heath did for Marley. But that wasn’t a possibility for us. Once you were in the friend zone, there was no getting out of it. “Not really.”

My life was predictable. I taught language arts at the elementary school in Annapolis. I blogged my thoughts and ideas for education on the side and sold various worksheets and programs online. I didn’t make a lot of money, but I loved working with children, and I enjoyed my job. Recently, I wondered about moving from a teaching position to a reading specialist one. I was reluctant to leave the classroom, but I wondered if I could do more good in a specialized position.

“You don’t have a dream you want to pursue or an interest you haven’t spent time on?” Sebastian continued.

Just you. I’d been singularly focused on Sebastian since we met in eighth grade. It was right before he hit puberty, grew tall, and filled out. I kept waiting for him to notice girls, but he hadn’t. The downside of that was, he hadn’t noticed me either. 

“You spend so much time with me and Ember. I worry about you.”

This time, my cheeks flushed for a different reason. I was embarrassed. “You don’t need to worry about me. My New Year’s resolution is to start dating again.”

Sebastian stilled, and we stopped moving in a circle, even as the other dancers flitted around us, laughter and conversation surrounding us. “Are you serious?”

I shrugged as nonchalantly as I could, as if I hadn’t just given up on Sebastian finally noticing me. My heart pounded in my chest. “I’m eager to get back out there.” 

He started moving us again, this time slower, and I felt his gaze on my face. “I didn’t realize you were eager to meet someone.”

My mouth suddenly dry, I said, “I’m twenty-seven. I want to get married and have a few kids. You know I’ve always wanted a family.”

Sebastian swallowed hard. “I didn’t realize it was something you wanted in your life right now.”

“I’m not getting any younger. Women have a biological clock, you know, and mine’s ticking.” I wasn’t being entirely truthful. I did want a family and kids, but I wasn’t feeling pressured to have kids now. It was more that I wanted to stop pining after my best friend, especially since we were going to be living together. 

I saw the sympathetic looks his family gave me. Everyone knew about my crush. Did Sebastian? Did he feel sorry for me? That didn’t sit right with me. I felt hot all over, and slightly clammy. 

“Are you okay?” Sebastian asked. 

“I think I need some fresh air.” I looked around, desperate for a way to escape his scrutiny. 

Sebastian’s gaze roamed the room, and I was positive he was checking to ensure one of his brothers or his mom had Ember, and then he gripped my hand tightly in his and led the way across the floor. 

“Where are we going?” I wanted to tell him that I needed space from him. That he couldn’t just take me wherever he wanted to. 

He squeezed my hand and said over his shoulder, “To get you some fresh air.”

I followed behind as he pushed open a door I hadn’t noticed before. The cool air hit us as we stepped onto a deck that overlooked the back of the property. White rocking chairs and heaters lined the space, and the railing was wrapped with garland and lights. 

Sebastian shut the door behind us, shrugged off his suit jacket, and wrapped it around my shoulders. His familiar scent of spice with a hint of evergreen engulfed me. 

“I didn’t know this was here,” I said as I held the jacket closed.

“Heath showed it to me when he gave me the tour,” Sebastian said as he scrutinized me. “How are you feeling?”

“It was hot in there.” I’d wanted space, but now he was here, standing closer than before. It was hard to draw in a deep breath.

Sebastian put his hand on my shoulder and ushered me closer to the railing. “Look, it’s snowing.”

I held one hand out as fat flakes fell from the sky and into my hand. Enraptured with the white fluff on my palm, I said, “It’s beautiful.”

I shivered, and Sebastian moved closer, his chest a wall of heat against my back. I wanted to sink into him and watch the snow come down. But it didn’t seem appropriate. Not when he was a friend.

He lowered his head so that he could watch the flakes land in my hand. “I should call Ember out here.”

But neither of us moved. It was as if time was suspended. The music filtered through the windows, but out here, it was just us and the falling snow. There was a hushed quality, as if we shouldn’t speak.

“Thank you for coming tonight,” he whispered across the shell of my ear, causing me to tremble.

I turned slightly so that I could see his face. “Ember invited me.”

Sebastian glanced down at me, concerned etched in his brows. “Are you sure you’re okay with living with us and helping me out with her after work and on the weekends?”

“I love Ember. You know I don’t mind watching her.” 

Sebastian pulled me close to him so that I was leaning against his body. “I’m so lucky to have you in my life.”

His words flamed my desire for him that always simmered just below the surface. There was a part of me that longed for Sebastian to do things for me because he wanted to spend time with me, and he was attracted to me. Not because he felt obligated as a friend. 

“I feel the same way. The only thing is, I haven’t told my family I’m living with you. They’re going to ask what my plans are for the future.”

“We can tell them we’re roommates. It’s convenient since I’ll be working late during the holidays and tax season.”

“And I need a place to live.” I’d searched for other arrangements, but I needed a roommate to afford the apartments closer to my school.

“It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement.”

“It’s a win-win,” I said, but the words felt flat to me. I was Sebastian’s best friend, the first person he called when he needed help with Ember, but I wanted to be more. I wanted him to see me as a woman, not just as a friend. 

“Now, what were you saying inside about your New Year’s resolution?” His words tickled my ear.

“It’s time for me to meet someone. I need to make a real effort this time.” I tended to go out with a few guys and then give up, claiming there were no good men out there. Mainly because I’d already met the one I wanted to give my heart to. If only he felt the same way. But I couldn’t wait around any longer.

It was pathetic to harbor a crush on Sebastian for so long. Now I was living with him and taking care of his daughter; the pitying looks would only increase.

“I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“That’s part of dating, right? You put yourself out there and hope the other person feels the same way.” I was still leaning on Sebastian, his warmth heating me more than his suit jacket. I didn’t want to pull away from him physically or emotionally, but it was time. 

The only thing that made me hesitate was that I hadn’t told Sebastian how I felt. But I was worried it would ruin everything. Our friendship, my relationship with Ember, and his family. I couldn’t risk it.

I stepped away from him, turning to face him, the cool air nipping at my exposed chest and legs. I tightened his jacket around me as if I could ward off the cold. My heart raced in my chest. “If you’re home in the evenings, I might go out with friends or even on a date.”

Sebastian stiffened. “You don’t work for me. You are free to go out.”

He wasn’t paying me to watch Ember, but he was giving me a place to live rent-free. “This arrangement will work for both of us.”

Sebastian stayed quiet, his gaze assessing me, almost as if he were trying to figure me out. If he didn’t already know I liked him, I wasn’t going to tell him. It wouldn’t lead to anything but heartbreak and awkward moments. 

He needed me to take care of his daughter, and like always, I’d do that for him. But I wouldn’t wait around for him to notice me anymore. 

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