A rumble of shouts and groans echoed off the metal walls of the indoor sports complex. The humidity hanging in the air made it nearly impossible to believe that a cold wind blew outside in fifteen-degree gusts through the barren trees.
Thea Bequette was perfectly happy to remain indoors and pretend it was any day other than Christmas Eve. The holidays weren’t her favorite time of year to begin with, which was why she’d signed up with her brother’s 3v3 soccer league to play in the Mistletoe Madness tournament.
Thea’s teammate sent a long shot arcing across the field and into the goal. She leaped up and punched the air with her fists when the soccer ball sailed into the net. There was less than two minutes left in the second half of the championship game, and it was tied up. If the opposing team stole a victory, it would be over her dead body.
Sweat dripped down Thea’s back, and she swiped a line of blood away from the scrape on her knee. Her unruly blonde hair was coming down from the messy bun she’d secured on top of her head. Her elastic headband barely kept it out of her eyes. She was tired, hot, and dirty, but she wasn’t going to quit. Ever.
She glanced left toward Alec Tavares and then to her right at Dom Lopez. Their attention was focused intently on the opposing player who’d gained control of the ball. This was 3v3. Just Alec, Dom, and Thea against three opponents. Thea was used to being the only woman who took advantage of the coed league, but throughout the tournament, she’d been facing guys who were easily twice her size. Now the final team looked like they’d been handpicked from a lineup of trolls.
Thea stared at Dom’s broad shoulders and muscular body. Just under six feet tall, he was big for a soccer player. His thick black hair was shorn close on the sides and longer on top. Thea sensed his intentions just before he sprang into action.
Dom challenged for the ball while Alec fell back to screen another player. Shorter than Dom, with an athletic build, Alec had a Cuban heritage that gifted him with warm brown skin and golden eyes. He was unbelievably quick and easily prevented the other player from accepting a pass.
That left Thea to handle the last guy. She could almost feel the clock ticking in rhythm with her heartbeat. Seconds crept by as she struggled to keep her opponent out of the action. She didn’t have Dom’s bulk or Alec’s speed, but she was damned determined all the same.
Alec pivoted sideways on a breakaway just as Dom sniped the ball right out from underneath the other guy’s feet. He booted it down the field, and Alec effortlessly picked it up. Knowing it was her turn, Thea bolted away from the player practically hanging on her narrow shoulder.
She sprinted all out for the goal. There were no offsides in 3v3 and no goalie. If she could just get there, she’d be golden. Alec’s dark gaze touched Thea like a physical caress. The world narrowed to that moment. Thea saw his shoulders shift as he executed a beautiful cross-field pass. She sucked in a deep breath and held it.
The arc of the ball was perfect. She twisted her hips and used her left foot to kick the ball into the goal. Before she could even think to celebrate, she was knocked off her feet with the force of an oncoming train. The world spun one hundred and eighty degrees before she landed with a thud that resonated through her body.
DOM SHOVED PAST an opposing player as the final whistle sounded. He barely registered the end of the game; he was more concerned about Thea. She was lying flat on her back, as though stunned. He could only hope she didn’t have a concussion after flipping ass over teakettle.
“Dom?” she gasped out.
He knelt and rested his hands on her shoulders, encouraging her to stay down. “Easy, killer.”
“Did we win?”
Dom cracked a smile at that. “Yeah, we won.”
Dom and Alec hadn’t been thrilled by the club owner’s suggestion that his younger sister fill the empty slot on their 3v3 team. First off, she was a girl. Second, she was known around the club as kind of a bitch. Three days into the season, Thea had forcefully altered their opinions.
The girl was tough as nails, dedicated, and competitive beyond belief. Plus she had a wicked sense of humor and knew how to cut loose and have fun. Of course, that was once they got past her I-don’t-trust-you-and-probably-never-will armor.
Dom brushed a stray curl away from her forehead. “That was a helluva hit. Anything broken?”
She managed to shake her head.
Alec snarled at the player who’d run over Thea. “The ball was already in the net when you hit her!”
The guy shrugged it off. “If the bitch can’t take a hit, she doesn’t belong on the field.”
Alec’s handsome face took on an ugly expression, and he went after the player like a rabid dog. He threw his arm around the guy’s neck and wrenched his head down with the obvious intention of pounding his face in. Alec might be shorter, but he was fast and blessed with incredible flexibility.
Thea struggled to sit up, trying to watch the drama going on behind her. Dom understood Alec’s desire to make the other guy eat dirt, but there were other, more important things to take care of.
“Alec,” Dom said sharply. “Enough. Let’s get Thea to the locker room.”
It warmed Dom when Alec dropped his opponent without another word and strode toward Dom and Thea. The other guy backed off toward his buddies. He obviously preferred to pick on people a hundred pounds lighter than he was.
Alec offered Thea a hand. “Here, querida
, I’ll help you up.”
Thea gathered her legs beneath her. “I’m cool. I just got the wind knocked out of me. That’s all.”
Dom exchanged a look with Alec. The Mistletoe Madness tourney was the official end of the season. No matter how much the two of them might have been attracted to Thea, starting something with a teammate had the potential to blow up in their faces. Especially when it’d been apparent that both Dom and Alec wanted a chance with her. Now the final game was over and all bets were off. There was nothing stopping either one of them from trying to entice her into their beds.
One of our beds, anyway.
Dom grimaced. He didn’t like his chances if he was competing with Alec for a woman’s affections. Not even Thea would be immune to the Latino playboy. Alec was all Cuban charm and sweet talk.
Shouldering Alec aside, Dom swept Thea into his arms. It felt good when her hands snaked around his neck. She weighed next to nothing. He inhaled and caught a deep breath of her unique feminine scent. Nobody smelled like Thea. She was a no-frills girl who didn’t need designer perfume to enhance her essence. Dom figured that was one of about a million reasons she’d so forcefully snagged his attention.
“You don’t have to carry me,” Thea said with a pout. “Everyone is going to think I’m a weakling.”
“Let them think it.” Dom snuck a glance at his passenger. “Besides, maybe I want
to carry you.”
Two frown lines appeared between her brows, but Alec caught up with them before she could comment.
Alec shoved at the door that led from the two indoor fields to the administrative offices and the locker rooms. The metal banged against the wall, and Alec caught it before it could slam into Dom’s shoulder. “Now you have to put her down, Mr. White Knight. You don’t want to drag her into the men’s locker room. The bastard that knocked her down will be right behind us.”
Alec was right. They couldn’t take Thea into the men’s locker room with them, but there wouldn’t be anyone else in the women’s locker room that afternoon. Dom made a move toward the arched entryway.
“Whoa, Mr. Play by the Book is breaking rules.” Alec’s taunt echoed around the cinder-block hallway.
Dom entered the cavernous room and gently set Thea on a bench. He glared at Alec. “Would you shut your mouth and go turn on the shower so it’ll be hot?”
Alec retreated, grumbling something in Spanish. Dom straddled the bench beside Thea and started helping her peel off her cleats and shin guards.
“I’m not a child, you know.” Her blue eyes were suspicious. She pushed his hands away and skinned off her socks. “I manage to shower all by myself quite regularly.”
“Believe me, I’m not insinuating that you can’t take care of yourself. I like my nuts where they are, thanks.” Dom meant the words in fun, but he was surprised to see the hurt that flashed across her face before she was able to control her expression.
Thea exhaled slowly, her narrow shoulders sinking as she trained her gaze on the smooth skin of her calves. “Is that really how you see me? Like some colossal bitch that yells and screams and kicks guys in the balls?”
ALEC WONDERED HOW Dom would respond to Thea’s question. Alec knew his friend hadn’t meant the words as an insult. They’d had more than one discussion about the novelty of womanhood that was Thea Bequette. There had been a prickly friendship between Dom and Alec for years, but they agreed on many things. One of those involved an inexplicable attraction to Thea. Both men understood that one of them was destined to fail. She’d make her choice, and the odd man out would be left in the cold.
Dom was still searching for the right words. Alec could see it in his friend’s solemn expression and deliberate movements. Dom was what Alec thought of as a slow processor. On the field, it made him a steadying presence when things went to hell. Alec got the feeling Dom often wound up tongue-tied in his regular life.
“Dom?” Thea said softly. “I didn’t mean to be bitchy.”
Alec sighed, unable to stay on the fringe any longer. “He knows that, querida. Neither one of us happens to believe you’re a bitch without reason.” Alec took a seat on Thea’s other side. “Do I believe you’d nail a guy in the nuts if he deserved it? Absolutely. Do I think you’d do it just for shits? Nah.”
Dom flashed Alec a warning look. Alec ignored it. “In fact, I think the two of us believe you’re the least bitchiest woman alive.” Alec gave her his warmest smile, the genuine one he saved for when it counted. “Not to mention you’re the sexiest, most fun, and maybe even the smartest woman we’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.”
Thea blinked, her lips parting in a look of surprise. “Come again?”
Alec listened to his instincts quite regularly when it came to strategies that got a woman in his bed. This was the first time a physical urge was so closely entwined to an inexplicable zing of something he might actually call emotion. His cock twitched between his legs, and Alec no longer cared about anything but telling this woman what he needed. “I want you, Thea. Dom wants you. One of us is bound to convince you to let us have the best Christmas present ever.”
Christmas is Love
“Austin!” Dylan called out to his perpetually tardy lover from the entryway of their home. “We’re gonna be late!” He could not be late for this holiday party. His mother had warned him if he was even a minute late, she wouldn’t make him all the delicious desserts he craved come Christmas. He loved this time of year. But he mostly loved it for the food.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Austin yelled, his voice vibrating as he trotted down the steps. Dylan couldn’t suppress a smitten sigh as Austin came into view. He wore a fitted green sweater matching his unique emerald eyes. His wavy blond hair was styled to perfection, probably with little to no effort, and his dark slacks highlighted the incomparable ass Dylan had fucked not hours before. Shit, he wanted to take the man again. Every second he spent with Austin, he discovered a new reason to want him. To love him.
Dylan pulled Austin in close at his hips, slotting their cocks together in that delicious way, and leaned in for a kiss. Austin groaned, carding his hands underneath Dylan’s hat and into his black hair. Dylan felt the man’s cock harden as he ground his own against his lover. Austin never failed to light Dylan on fire. “Fuck the party. I want you again,” he whispered against Austin’s soft lips. “And again.” He bit Austin’s bottom lip and trailed his hand down Austin’s chest to unhook the button on his slacks. “And again.”
Dylan knelt, pulling slacks and boxers down around chiseled hips. He bit and licked at Austin’s skin, savoring the scent and taste of his man. Austin’s hands tugged at Dylan’s hair. He looked up, and Austin was smirking down at him with his devil’s grin. So mischievous and playful. “I love you, baby,” Austin whispered, petting Dylan’s head in affection. The clear love in Austin’s expression propelled Dylan’s lust to higher heights, forcing his desire into a shocking thirst that needed to be quenched.
Dylan pulled Austin’s large cock into his mouth and sucked. He wanted to make Austin come hard and fast; he wanted Austin dazed with pleasure. He relaxed his throat and sucked him down so far he could feel him at the back of his throat.
“Yes, love,” Austin moaned. He was a vocal lover, which worked beautifully for Dylan since every moan and cry incited his passion further. Austin dug his hands into Dylan’s hair and began to fuck his mouth, thrusting that needy cock of his in and out of Dylan’s already swollen lips. Dylan could taste Austin’s precum. That salty essence was the sweetest taste on earth to Dylan. Nothing could compare. Dylan grabbed Austin’s hips, urging him to fuck his mouth harder.
“Yes, baby. Yes, right there. I love your lips on my cock. Fuck!”
Dylan trailed a set of fingers into the seam of Austin’s ass and rubbed his rim. Austin came with the force of a fire hose, his cum jetting into Dylan’s mouth in satisfying and salty bursts. Dylan glanced up as he swallowed, not wanting to miss the erotic expression of pleasure on his lover’s face. It was beautiful as always.
Austin pulled Dylan up by his shoulders and kissed him. He nibbled on Dylan’s lips and licked at him tenderly, lovingly. Dylan wrapped his arms around Austin and rested his head against the muscular man’s shoulders. Austin was barely an inch shorter than Dylan, the difference so minuscule Austin never even noticed it.
“Not that I’m complaining,” Austin murmured into Dylan’s dark hair, his voice sending shivers down Dylan’s spine and comforting him. “But was that worth being late to this party and missing out on all your mom’s baked goods? You know she’ll follow through on her threat, and I know how much you love all those desserts.”
Dylan pulled back, still marveling at how Austin could in any way doubt how much he loved him. “More than worth it.” He framed Austin’s face with his hands, gazing into those deep green eyes. “Because I love you.” Dylan kissed him slowly, savoring the feeling of that plump bottom lip as it gave way to his tongue. “Merry Christmas, Austin.”
“Merry Christmas, Dylan.”
Feeling a tad smug, Dylan watched Austin put his clothes back to rights and don his winter gear. The snow was falling steadily, guaranteeing an authentic holiday party for the hostess with the mostess, Mrs. Danica Johnson.
“You ready for this epic night?” Dylan asked.
“What’s the big deal with this party, anyway?” Austin questioned. “Your mother made it sound like it would be the end of the world if we missed it.”
“Oh, you dear, naive young thing.” Dylan shook his head, putting his black hat and gloves back on.
“I’m older than you,” Austin muttered, shaking his head in good fun.
“Mrs. Danica Johnson’s ChristmaHanuKwanzikah Extravaganza is the event of the year in my hometown. If you don’t get an invitation, you are pretty much labeled a grinch and are considered a pariah.”
“Why’s that?” Austin laughed.
“Because only an antisocial grinch wouldn’t get an invitation from the exuberantly cheerful Danica Johnson. She loves everybody.”
“She sounds like a trip.”
“She’s actually…sorta awesome. She doesn’t care what people think, she says whatever is on her mind, and everybody loves her for it.”
“Why is it so important to your mom that we go?” Austin asked, stopping Dylan from opening the front door with a hand on his wrist. Dylan smiled, seeing the small hesitation and understanding Austin needed some time to collect himself before braving the party. Moving back to his hometown was simply coming home for Dylan, but for Austin it was a new world with new small-town challenges to face. Dylan wanted Austin to understand there was nothing to be scared of in this town. He wanted Austin to not only live here, but to feel like he was home. A little background on the exuberant Danica Johnson would be just the story to help Austin acquaint himself with his new town.
“Mom and Mrs. Johnson have been aerobics buddies for as long as I can remember, although I think it’s Zumba buddies now. Mom always helped Danica organize this massive party. She used to talk about all the details and shenanigans that went on during the planning, and it sounded amazing. I’ve always wanted to go, but I was at my dad’s during the holidays, so I was never able to.”
“Ah, the joys of divorced parents.”
“Hear, hear.” Dylan mimed holding up a glass in a salute. “Well, with us moving back into town this year, my mom is bent on me finally attending her best friend’s party.”
Dylan smiled at the memory of his mother’s fierce declaration. Come hell or high water, Dylan and Austin were going to this party. Admittedly, Dylan was excited to attend the famous get-together. He’d personally known a few of the older Johnson sons, had attended high school with them, and every year after Christmas break, they’d come back telling hilarious stories about the party. This guest was found in the closet with that guest. This guest got so drunk he started singing “Oh, Holy Night” in perfect Latin.
After moving away for school, Dylan forgot about the stories and all that the season entailed in his hometown. But ever since moving back with Austin this past year, he was excited to be a part of it…and with a man he loved more than anything. He couldn’t wait to show Austin off to his old town and claim the handsome man in front of everyone.
“I should warn you, the party has unofficially been labeled mating season.”
“What?” Austin asked with a chuckle, sounding perplexed by the odd nickname. “Why?”
“Danica manages to fix up at least one single adult with one of her many grown kids or some other unsuspecting single person. Her ability to see a potential love connection is uncanny. She gets it right every time. All her married children either met or proposed to their significant others on Christmas Eve.”
“You don’t think that’s really why your mom is crazy about us going to this party, do you? So you’ll meet the right woman and leave me for her?” Austin asked, his tone indicating he was joking. Dylan saw through that casual and carefree veneer; he could see the man who had been tossed aside by his family and left to flounder.
“Please.” Dylan laughed. “My mother loves you, and you know it. You’re never getting away from us, Austin.” Dylan grabbed the lapels of Austin’s coat and pulled him in close. “Deal with it.” Dylan leaned forward with a smile and gave Austin a series of small, playful kisses.
“Fair enough,” Austin said with a sigh as they parted. “I think I can handle being chained to you and your crazy family for eternity.”
“Yeah…” Dylan hesitated. His mother might not be sending him to Danica’s party to find a woman to replace Austin, but she sure as hell had her own motives. He couldn’t let Austin go to this party unprepared in case his mother decided to inexplicably start throwing women at them. He’d been thinking about it for a while but never found the proper time to broach the subject. “But don’t relax just yet. My mom may have mentioned recruiting Danica to help find a lady to add to our relationship.”
why she wants us to go so badly?” Austin laughed loudly, slapping his knee in glee as his Southern twang let itself be heard. “We should have told her we were bi sooner.”
Dylan shrugged, not knowing how to take Austin’s reaction. Was he laughing at his mother’s antics, or was he happy with the direction the conversation had taken? “My mom thinks we’re hopeless without a woman.”
“Well,” Austin said, playing with the tip of Dylan’s ear. “I don’t need anyone but you, baby.”
“Neither do I,” Dylan said, leaning into Austin’s hand. He wanted to keep talking about it but didn’t know how to continue the conversation. Austin bent his knees to catch Dylan’s downcast gaze.
“What are you thinking?” Austin asked.
Dylan decided to throw caution to the wind and be honest. “Do you ever miss being with a woman?”
“Sometimes.” Austin nodded, surprising Dylan with how quickly he answered. Maybe Dylan wasn’t the only one thinking about a woman’s curvy shape and soft skin. “Just little things.” Austin moved to open the door, but Dylan stopped him.
“I don’t know. Their smell. Their hair always smells like flowers—”
“Yeah.” Austin laughed, running his hands through his blond hair. “What do you miss?” he asked, turning back to Dylan. “Tell me, please?”
“We’re gonna get ourselves into trouble here,” Dylan prevaricated, encouraged by how excited Austin was getting.
“C’mon,” Austin teased right back with a grin, playfully poking Dylan in the cheek. “It’s just a game.”
“I miss… I don’t know. This isn’t something only women do or have, but that rumpled look in the morning. They’ve got leftover makeup under their eyelashes, sleep lines on their faces, and hair sticking up every which way.”
“Is that why you’re always horny in the morning? Because I’m rumpled?”
“Oh, baby,” Dylan purred. “You all rumpled is like sex on a stick.”
“What else about women?” Austin asked after his booming laughter subsided.
“I miss…small hands. Shapely hips.”
“Not that I don’t love your cheeks,” Austin added at the exact same time as Dylan said, “Not that I don’t love your hands.”
They laughed at their idiocy, clearly having wanted the same thing but too nervous to discuss it with the other. Dylan reached out to Austin and was suffused with familiar warmth as Austin’s long fingers intertwined with his.
“So we both miss women,” Austin said.
“Apparently.” Dylan squeezed Austin’s hand in agreement.
“Would you ever want to…”
“Add a woman? Only if you wanted to.” Dylan would never do anything to jeopardize their relationship. “I love you, and I know you love me. I know that nobody, man or woman, could ever come between what we have. We worked too hard to get where we are, Austin. From you dragging me out of the closet, kicking and screaming, to everything with your family…I have full confidence that we can weather anything coming our way.”
“Even a woman?” Austin joked, ever the playful one.
“Even a woman,” Dylan echoed, appreciating his handsome lover and letting the love he felt for Austin fill his features, never wanting Austin to doubt how much he loved him.
“Okay…what does this mean?” Austin asked as they opened the door and finally stepped onto the snow-covered stoop.
Dylan couldn’t believe they were on the same page about this, but it was fucking exciting. “I think it means we are open to it.”
“Right,” Austin said evenly. Dylan could hear him reining in excitement. “We won’t actively go searching for a woman. If it happens, it happens.”
“Right. Do you think her hair will smell like flowers?”
The Naughty List
Jake McGrew watched her as she worked. She was up on a ladder, hanging Christmas decorations, wearing perfect-fitting jeans that showed the best curves he’d ever seen. He’d been watching her for the better part of an hour from various places as he checked out the mall. When she reached up to hook lights around another branch of the gigantic tree she’d spent all morning assembling, he’d caught a glimpse of creamy skin above her jeans waistband. His mouth watered.
This was the best part of his job. As the mall owner, he could step out of his office, see his mall filled with holiday shoppers, know he created happiness, and watch all the action and the reactions of the customers. He did not regret for one moment hiring Maggie Little to decorate his mall. She’d had four helpers earlier assisting her while the mall was closed to get the last bit of decorating finished. Working the graveyard shift had been at her request. She had wanted to get the decorating done while no one was moving about. Not only had he agreed, but Jake had stayed all night, too, watching her at every opportunity. He looked around. She just had this tree and another in the main courtyard left to decorate. She must have sent her team home and stayed to finish herself.
As she hung the lights, her breasts swayed. Her last name was Little, but her breasts were far from it. They would fit nicely in his hands or mouth.
Her dark, shoulder-length hair was pulled back in a single ponytail that also swung as she moved. Her lovely blue gaze met his. She smiled.
His heart somersaulted while his cock did its own little dance for joy. He wanted her. Plain and simple. Since the moment she’d stood in his office and signed a contract to do the job and he’d heard her voice and seen her easy smile, he’d wanted her. Everything about her, from her soft, spicy scent to the way she met his gaze, called him to her.
As the days had gone by, that interest had only intensified. Her deep, haunting voice every time she spoke seemed to melt right through him. He’d really thought that once she’d left his office, his interest would wane, but so far, that hadn’t been the case.
In fact, he’d taken every opportunity to step out of his office and watch her as she worked. He stood on the first level of the mall. Her ladder put her above him a few feet in the center of the court. Hell, if he’d been on the upper level, he could probably have looked over the railing and seen down the top of her blouse.
She still held his gaze. His heart raced. Fuck, he hadn’t felt this kind of response since…
He refused to think of his last affair. It had ended badly. There was no sense in digging up old aggravation.
Jake stepped closer, watching as she hung up what appeared to be a long, curled piece of paper. “What is that?”
“It’s Santa’s naughty list,” she called down to him.
“Are you on it?” he teased, making her laugh. “Better yet, am I?”
She looked back at him. Was that a warm, pink blush he saw sliding up her cheeks? Damn, yes, it was.
“Should you be?”
He smiled at her. Thinking what he was thinking, hell yes, he should be on it.
When she returned to her work, Jake stepped away from the courtyard and out of earshot. He reached for his cell phone and pressed speed dial to reach his best friend, business partner, and partner in crime, Andrew Harper.
Andrew was in Donovan’s Cove, a little town forty miles down the coast, putting the finishing touches on their fifth and newest mall before its grand opening later that week. While Jake knew the business side of running their malls, Andrew knew the construction and detail side to building them and the maintenance in keeping them running. It was, among other things, what made their partnership work so well. Growing up together and being best friends hadn’t hurt either.
Andrew answered on the second ring. “What’s up?”
“How’s it going down there?”
“Right on schedule. As far as I can tell from this morning’s managers’ meeting, every store should be able to open on Black Friday, on time, after everyone’s had his or her fill of Thanksgiving turkey. So we’ll be able to get in most of the Christmas rush.”
Jake watched Maggie as she stepped down a rung and continued stringing lights. “That’s great.”
“Did you need something?”
Jake’s cock twitched as he watched her. Oh yeah, he needed something, all right. “How soon can you get here?”
“Is there a problem?”
“I want you to meet Maggie, the girl I hired to put up decorations.”
The line was silent for a long moment.
Then Andrew chuckled, deep and full. “Oh, so we’ve decided to jump back into the pool finally, huh?”
Jake let out a long breath. “I just want you to give me your opinion on her before I make any propositions. I don’t want a repeat of the last time.”
“You need to let it go and stop taking it personally, my friend. If a woman can’t handle both of us, it’s her problem, not yours. Or mine.”
“Yes, but I was the one who met her. I was the one who took her to dinner. Then I failed to tell her we’re a package deal.” He trailed off. Andrew didn’t argue with him. “This time, I thought we should talk to her together, maybe offer her dinner, tell her what’s what, let her decide before either of us gets too attached.”
“All right. We’ll try it your way. As long as we don’t scare her away and she leaves before she’s finished decorating, since as soon as she’s done there, according to her contract, she’ll be here decorating this one next. It’s a shame Henry broke his leg and couldn’t finish these two malls for us, but I’m glad you found her.” There was amusement in Andrew’s voice as he added, “Besides, I was getting damned tired of waiting for you.”
Jake looked at Maggie’s shapely legs—not too long, not too short, but curvy in the right places. He wanted to feel them wrapped around his waist. He wanted even more to see them wrapped around Andrew’s waist. The only thing he liked as much as great sex was watching Andrew enjoy great sex. “Well, Henry’s bad tackle playing football with his kids was to Maggie’s advantage. And I’ll do my best to make sure we don’t scare her away.”
“I’ll be there in an hour.”
* * * *
Maggie looked around at her handiwork. The courtyard was magnificent if she did say so herself. It seemed every holiday, she outdid herself. She smiled and thought of her mom as she said her mom’s words out loud. “You are a true decorator, Maggie.” And, Mom, you are the only person who never thought I was crazy when I said I wanted to decorate places when I grew up. Thank you for believing in me
. She smiled at the memory. She remembered arguing that, no, she didn’t want to be an interior decorator and pick out wallpaper or paint. She wanted to pick out decorations
. There was a difference. She stared up at the huge tree she’d just completed, wishing her mom could see it.
Maggie pulled out her phone and did the next best thing—she took a picture and texted it to her in Florida, where she was now happily retired.
Her phone buzzed with an incoming text. She frowned. That was unusual. It was early morning. She didn’t expect her mom to be up yet. Besides, her mom generally didn’t reply until evening. The text wasn’t from her, though.
. It was from her hot, tall, dark, and handsome new boss, Jake McGrew. When she’d caught him watching her a short while ago, she’d nearly lost her balance on the ladder.
She couldn’t believe she was actually here, working for Jake McGrew. Hell, he was the owner of this mall and a number of others. All the malls were higher end, upscale. They screamed money and wealthy patrons. He might dress in casual business clothes here at the mall, but he was way out of her league. Besides, she was his decorator
. He’d hired her. He paid her. She’d signed a contract with him. She worked
for him. The last thing she needed was a broken leg or worse, falling off a ladder because she couldn’t control the way he made her stomach tighten or her heart race or…
No, she was not going to think about the way he made her hot and needy or her panties damp with desire. She was not going there. Not again. Not for a long time. Maybe never. Not after last Christmas, when she’d given her heart to a man who’d turned her on, only to discover he’d had a fiancé who’d hired her to decorate the reception hall for a Christmas wedding for them. It didn’t matter that he told her he loved her. He even made it clear they could continue to see each other, since he was only marrying the other woman because of a family obligation and for her money.
What did he think she was? Desperate? Stupid?
Not yet. Nor was she that naive young woman who fell in love with the first man to show her some attention. Not any longer. Which was why she was going to ignore any reaction she had toward Jake McGrew.
Besides, she had another tree to finish and the new mall that was about to open to decorate for him. She slid the screen on her phone and read the text.
Please come to my office.
It was a simple, direct text. She tried to look beyond the way her nipples responded as she read it. She looked again at her phone. It was just after six in the morning. This was the time Maggie preferred to decorate, when there were no shoppers about. The mall wasn’t completely dark, but the stores were. She wasn’t sure being alone with Jake was a good idea, especially after the way he’d watched her less than an hour ago. She shrugged. He probably had a wife and three point five kids or at least a girlfriend. He probably just wanted her to add something to the decoration theme. His question about the naughty list didn’t really mean anything at all.
She was letting her imagination run away with her. Hadn’t she just reminded herself that he was in a way different league than she was?
Maggie reached the mall office suite. Through the door was a receptionist’s desk, to her left was the security personnel office, and at the end of the hall was the door to Mr. McGrew’s office. A security guard buzzed her in through the locked door. He offered her a smile, and they exchanged greetings before she headed down the hall. The reception desk was empty.
She heard voices as she neared Jake’s office door. Maggie stepped closer, trying to distinguish what they were saying and couldn’t. She took a deep breath and knocked. The talking stopped. Then Jake McGrew’s rich voice came through.
She opened the door and stepped into the lush office, her footsteps silent on the deep blue carpet. The last time she’d been in here had been to sign her contract. It had been daytime and raining outside. Now only the dark gray of an early-dawn sky could be seen through the open window.
Jake drew her eye first, but her attention was caught by the other man in the office. He was the total opposite of Jake. While Jake was tall with dark hair and eyes the color of the evening sky, this man was shorter, stockier, with noticeable muscles beneath his shirt. He raked his hand through his sandy, wavy hair. His short fingers looked as if they were rough from work—as though he did physical labor.
“Please join us, Ms. Little.” Jake waved her closer.
Maggie took a deep breath. She wouldn’t let his sexy voice get under her skin and make her heart skip. But oh, the way he said Ms. Little
, as if her name was important to him, as if she were one of his associates, not one of his employees. She stopped beside the chairs and licked her lips. Her mouth was dry.
“Is there a problem? Something wrong with the decorations?” His was the largest contract she’d gotten thus far. She needed the money, true, but more than that, she needed the reputation decorating for a man like Jake McGrew could give her. She couldn’t afford any screwups. Besides, there was so little time before the holidays. There wasn’t time for any drastic changes right now.
“No, no. The decorations are perfect, thank you. I admit, I was a bit concerned about the mistletoe you’ve hung in various places about the mall, but it goes well with the vintage style you’re using.”
“This is my partner, Andrew Harper.”
“Mr. Harper.” She extended her hand.
His warmth closed over her with his touch and filled her insides when he looked into her eyes, brought her hand up, and lightly kissed the back.
She almost swooned. First from the lust that gesture brought forth and then from the fact that it was the most romantic thing a guy could do to a woman. And she loved anything and everything romantic. That was why she loved vintage and the Victorian era and everything having to do with chivalry.
Allie Quinn, Anthology, Ceri Grenelle, Kaitlin Maitland