Things get spicy in Under The Mistletoe book 2 in my Holiday Heat series from Harlequin Blaze.
Penny Devlin had decided that she was giving herself an early Christmas present this year. A vacation from her life. Actually, making herself not read another email her former boss and ex-lover sent her was the best gift she could ever really give herself.
He’d made a mockery of her dreams of a white knight and cost her a job she loved. Rat bastard.
But really, who would keep working for a man like him?
Not her. Mentally she gave herself a pat on the back. She’d made the tough but right choice to leave her position as an event planner at Papillion Clothiers, and this place was her reward.
A ski chalet to herself for fifteen days at the luxurious Lars Usten Lodge in Park City, Utah. Her phone pinged again. She groaned as another text appeared on her screen from Butch—or actually from the label she’d assigned him.
JerkButtFace: Stop being a baby. I need to talk to you.
Penny: All my files are in my former office. You don’t need me.
JerkButtFace: Not about work. Penny: All we had was work.
JerkButtFace: Stop acting like I did something wrong. This is the 21st century.
Penny: Jerk is the same now as it’s always been. JerkButtFace: Name calling? You must still care.
As if. He was so frustrating. She didn’t care, and was coming to realize she hadn’t ever really loved him. That was the worst part.
Her phone pinged again.
She flung open the front door of her very lovely, secluded alpine cabin, stopped to admire the gently falling snow and then chucked her cell phone out the front door.
She glanced up just in time to see a man batting away her cell phone before it fell to the ground. She’d almost hit him in the face.
And what a face. A strong, square jaw with just the right hint of stubble, firm masculine lips curled in a sort of sneer, and bright, Chris Pine-blue eyes. He wore a heavy shearling jacket and a pair of faded blue jeans that clung to his thick, muscular thighs. His boots were covered in snow, and as she let her gaze travel back up his body, she forgot why she’d been so fuming mad just a second earlier.
“Sorry. I’m so sorry! I just couldn’t take my phone one more second.” She knew that sounded totally lame, but it was the only thing she could think of other than: Yowza! Hot guy alert!
He chuckled. The sound was deep and rich and echoed in the silent snow-covered land around them. It was cold, and the air seeped through the fabric of her chic lounge sweater, but she wasn’t tempted at all to go back inside.
Full disclosure? This guy was the perfect distraction. He held a leather suitcase in one hand and a brochure from the Lodge in the other, so she assumed he had to be a guest. She glanced at his left hand to see if he was single, but he wore leather gloves. Plus some married men didn’t wear their rings all the time. “I’ve been tempted to ditch my phone more than once,” he said with a smile. “What seems to be the problem?”
“I’m assuming part of the technology isn’t working,” he said.
He sounded logical and normal. All the things she just didn’t feel right now. And he was cute. Really, really cute. So if she played her cards right, perhaps she’d be able to salvage this and flirt with him. She wanted to. Needed to reclaim a part of herself she’d lost when she’d learned the horrible truth from Butch. No denying it.
“Um…it wasn’t picking up the Wi-Fi,” Penny stammered, making up the very first thing that came to mind.
He bent over to pick up her phone. Seeing him holding her pink, jewel-studded case in his manly hands made her feel funny. But when he glanced over at her with those piercing blue eyes of his again, she still couldn’t help but stare back. This time she noticed he had sun lines around his face. He spent a good deal of time outdoors, she figured.
“Mind if I give it a try?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said. He was a really good-looking man with his thick brown hair styled to one side so just a swoop of it fell over his forehead. No way could his hair be as soft as it looked, but she wanted to touch it and find out.
He glanced at her screen and then back at her.
“It seems to be working. You’ve got a text from… JerkButtFace. Apparently, he’s desperate to explain.”
She groaned. When he said it, the name sounded…well, still funny to her.
Of course, even though Butch was married and his wife was pregnant with their child—something he’d failed to mention when they first met or at any point during their six months together—he still expected her to be his girlfriend. Something that she definitely didn’t want to hear him try to justify again.
And he’d still managed to wriggle his way between Penny and the first attractive man she’d met in months. Ugh.
“I know. He’s like a broken record.”
“I take it you’ve heard enough?” the man asked wryly.
“You’ve got that right. But watch out, I seem to be a moron magnet,” she said, moving out of her doorway to approach the man. Her UGG boots protected her against the snowy path as she did so.
He smiled at her and shook his head as he handed her phone to her. She put it in the pocket of her long lounge sweater.
“Will Spalding,” he said, holding out his hand.
“Penelope Devlin.” She took his hand to shake it. She worked in the business world and probably shook hands at least three times a day with potential clients, so she was used to weak ones and even clammy ones.
But his hand was smooth and dry as he enfolded her fingers in his, and the grip was firm, but sort of gentle, too. He looked to be in his early thirties, close to her own age. She stared at their joined hands for a moment as a tingle spread up her arm. She pulled hers back and then looked up at him again.
“You are a very interesting woman,” he murmured.
She was not sure how to take that. “Not really. I get very boring once you get to know me.”
“I highly doubt that,” he said. Her phone beeped from her pocket and he raised one eyebrow.
“I’m sorry I almost hit you with the phone. I was aiming for the snowbank.”
“Why don’t you just put it on silent mode?” he asked.
“That would have been logical, but I’m afraid I was pushed beyond that,” she admitted, hoping he didn’t think she was crazy, but already suspecting that her first impression hadn’t gone very well. “I know it’s a sickness, really, but I’m waiting for an important work call.”
She’d applied for another job with a big, highend New York retail chain. And they were making the decision this week on who would get the position of senior event planner. If she got the job, she’d be in charge of the company’s parties for the various fashion weeks around the world.
“See, to me…that part is logical. I can’t ever really detach from work, either,” he said, giving her a half grin that made him even sexier. “That makes you even more intriguing.”
“And mysterious? I’ve always wanted to be mysterious,” she declared.
She liked the image he had of her. She could be that woman. Right now, she could be any woman she wanted to be. She was free of everything. A man who’d been way too secretive, a job that had been demanding and had that awful perk of working for Butch.
But that was behind her now. Will thought she was intriguing instead of old reliable Penny. That would be very exciting and different.
She’d be able to enjoy her holiday the way she’d planned. She thought of the framed print that she’d propped up in the kitchenette of her cabin.
No Regrets. Just Good Times, Love, Peace and Lots of Chocolate.
Will Spalding seemed the perfect man for that if he was single and interested, and she acknowledged there was a 50/50 chance he wasn’t even single. Well, he looked interested. God, what if he was another loser? Granted, a very sexy-looking one, but still.
He didn’t look like a loser, though. Not with that firm square jaw and serious expression on his face. He looked like someone who lived life on his own terms.
“I’ll leave you to the snowbank. I look forward to seeing you again,” he said.
He continued walking down the path and all she could do was watch him go. He had a seriously nice ass.
She didn’t realize she was staring until he turned to the cabin next to hers and then put his key in the lock and looked back at her. She shook her head and waved and then dashed back into her own cabin.
He was cute and she felt incredibly attracted to him, and for thirty seconds she just stood there letting all those feelings wash over her. She even felt a bit like her old self again.
Wild. Free. And ready for adventure.
Will had been on his own since he was fourteen. He didn’t say that to gain sympathy, as he was a trust-fund baby used to having whatever he wanted—as long as it was something that could be purchased. And for the better part of the year being alone suited him just fine.
But Christmas was his Achilles’ heel. He hated not sharing it with someone else. Christmas brought with it lonely memories that he had learned a long time ago would overwhelm him if he didn’t ensure he was distracted.
Being a man of action, he’d developed a very simple way of dealing with it: affairs that lasted two weeks. That was the optimal amount of time. Plenty of days for fun and not enough time to form a real bond with another person. One week left him wanting more, and after two weeks the novelty was gone. No strings, no hurt feelings afterward, just two weeks of pure, frivolous pleasure for him and the lady of his choice.
He’d learned that the hard way during his brief marriage when he was younger, and had decided to limit himself to just two weeks.
Will put his leather suitcase in the corner and thought of Ms. Penelope Devlin next door. On the surface she seemed like his favorite kind of distraction.
She was cute and funny and a bit charming in her awkwardness. He’d been very good at keeping his affairs light and making sure the women he got involved with wanted exactly what he did from the affair—fun and temporary companionship.
Penny was definitely intriguing. Maybe she was looking for something to take her mind off her problems. Plus that one innocent little touch of their hands had shaken him to his core.
It had been a while since he’d felt the zing of lust at first sight. And he wasn’t sure he was ready to write it off simply because she might be more than what he’d been expecting to find. Ah, hell, who was he kidding? He wanted her. And unless she shut him down, he was going to go after her. No bones about it.
Which made her dangerous, because he was simply looking for a casual affair, not a woman who could touch him all the way to his soul.
Shoving those troubling notions aside, he unpacked, checked his email and then realized that he totally sucked at relaxing when he glanced up and realized the sun had already set.
Where had the time gone?
He could eat dinner in his bungalow…but he’d be alone with just his thoughts, so he put on his shearling coat and snow boots and left his cabin. He stood in the doorway and looked at the night sky, so big and bright on this clear, cold evening. In the distance he saw the twinkling of lights down in the valley where the town was.
His breath puffed out in front of him as he locked the door and went down the path leading back to the main lodge. He glanced at Penelope’s door as he passed it. Someone had hung a Christmas wreath on it and strung some lights around the door frame. It looked homey and festive and not at all like his dark doorway.
“It’s beginning to look at lot like Christmas,” he muttered aloud.
It was just the little nudge he needed to start thinking more about Penelope. Maybe she was just what he needed this Christmas.
The path to the Lodge was lit with gas-style electric lamps with holly wrapped around the posts. A light snow was still falling and he promised himself that tomorrow he’d take advantage of the ski slopes. But that left a solid twelve hours to fill and even though he had international business interests, he didn’t want to spend the entire time working.
He climbed the steps that lead to the lobby past the lounge area that was dotted with fire pits and large padded chairs. There were families roasting marshmallows and couples snuggling under heavy blankets, and he just kept walking into the building away from all that…togetherness.
A blast of yuletide music hit him as he entered the lobby. “Last Christmas”.it had been his mom’s favorite song. Funny that he could still remember details like that, but not her face without the help of a picture.
He paused for a moment to listen to the song and let those faraway memories wash over him. There were times when he wished for things that couldn’t be. He shook himself and walked straight to the bar and ordered a seltzer water with a twist of lime. Though what he really wanted was a double shot of whiskey neat. Being a recovering alcoholic was a constant struggle.
But he’d never been good with self-control, especially when he felt like this. Truth was, he’d been unable to describe this feeling to any of his therapists, and there had been a lot of them during his teenage years. He just knew when he felt this way, he could destroy things—including himself—and not give a crap.
But the last time he’d done that, it had taken a lot of time and money to clean up the mess, and he still had some scars from that incident that hadn’t fully healed.
“Gin and tonic?” Penelope asked as she slid onto the seat next to his at the bar. She’d changed out of those leggings and the long sweater into a micro-miniskirt that ended at the top of her thighs, and her furry boots had been replaced with a leather pair that hugged her calves. She looked chic and fashionable.
And drop-dead gorgeous.
She wasn’t tall but sort of average sized and curvy. Her blond hair was pulled back around her face but left to hang free. It was stick-straight and looked like sunshine to him. She’d put on some kind of lip gloss that made her mouth seem full and kissable.
Kissable? Really? Was he going to be the kind of sap who—
He knew he shouldn’t stare at her legs and forced his gaze to her face. But the image of those long, shapely calves lingered in his mind. He wanted to reach down and put his hand on her leg but that was too bold. Even in this mood.
Her eyes were a welcoming shade of blue. Different from his own, darker and more exotic.
“Just tonic, unfortunately,” he said. He waved the bartender over and ordered a gin and tonic for her.
“Did you get your phone sorted out?” he asked after a long moment.
“Yes. I figured out how to block him for now,” Penelope said, chewing her lush bottom lip. “So are you married or engaged?”