Under the Millionaire's Mistletoe, page 2
“Before or after you propositioned me?” he countered.
She gasped, outraged. “I did not!”
“You said, ‘Kiss me and save my life,’” he reminded her with a grin. “What did you expect a man to do?”
“Okay, yes, I did. But I didn’t know it was you.”
“We covered that already,” he said.
“I’ll just find Dave,” Clarissa said, tipsily oblivious. “He’ll be so happy to know about the two of you!”
“Don’t!” Anna spoke up quickly, but it was too late, the older woman was already disappearing into the crowd. “Oh, for heaven’s sake.”
“Now that we’re alone, want to move back under the mistletoe?”
“No!” She flushed, though, and he knew she was lying. She stared helplessly after her stepmother for a long minute. Then whipping back around to glare at him again, she said, “You have to leave.”
He’d been thinking the same damn thing a second ago. But now that she was practically ordering him out, Sam wasn’t about to leave. “Hey, I was invited. Why should I leave just because you’re suddenly regretting trying to seduce me?”
She hissed in a breath and her cheeks flamed with hot color. Amazing. He hadn’t thought there were still women around who actually blushed. Sam was more intrigued by the minute—and even less inclined to leave than he had been.
“I did not try to seduce you,” she said through gritted teeth. “It was a blip. An emergency situation.”
He was starting to enjoy himself. “An emergency make out session?”
“We didn’t—” She stopped, took a deep breath and closed her eyes briefly. “You know what? I’m not doing this anymore. If you’re not going to leave, I will.”
She turned around so fast that her long, auburn hair swung out behind her like a flag. She was wearing a sleeveless silver top that clung to her breasts and a short, black silk skirt that hugged her behind and defined every curve. Her long, lean legs looked as smooth and pale as fresh cream and the three-inch black heels she wore had a cutout at the toes that spotlighted dark red nails.
His gaze dropped to her behind as she hurried away from him and he had to admire the indignant sway of her hips. But damned if he was going to let her walk off and leave him standing there still buzzed from that kiss.
Sam caught up to her in a few long strides. Grabbing her arm, he stopped her, then swung her around to face him.
She looked pointedly at his hand on her arm. “Excuse me?”
He laughed but let her go. “Does that snotty queen-to-peasant tone usually work on men?”
Her eyes widened. “I’m not the one who tells people how to live their lives,” she told him flatly. “That would be your specialty, remember?”
A couple of guests wandered through the hallway and before he could suggest it, Anna pointed down the hall and he followed her. She was clearly looking for some privacy to finish this conversation. She led him to a pair of French doors that opened into a garden with a stone pathway laid out between the flower beds. She started off down the path and Sam was right behind her.
A glance to his left showed him bright lights spilling from the ballroom to lay across a wide, brick patio. The music was muted at a distance and the rush of people talking sounded like the sea, rising and falling in rhythm.
Only twenty or so feet away, it was as if he and Anna were alone in the world. There were no lights decorating this tidy garden, just the moonlight covering everything in a pale glow. She kept walking and Sam stayed close, until she stopped beside a stone bench encircling a small fountain in the shape of a dolphin.
The white noise of the falling water drowned out most of the party, but truth to tell, Sam was so caught up in the woman in front of him that he wouldn’t have noticed a train blasting through the yard.
Satisfied that they were alone, Anna continued her rant as if she hadn’t been interrupted.
“How is it you get to decide what people do and who they date?”
Irritated, he snapped, “I don’t remember filling out your social calendar. As for my brother…”
“Did you or did you not tell him to stop dating me because I was—” She stopped and tapped her chin with the tip of one finger. “Let me see if I can get this just right. She’s using you to get to my money to save her father.” She narrowed her eyes on him. “That about cover it?”
Hearing his own words tossed back at him caused him to wince. Figured that his brother would be fool enough to actually tell her what Sam had said. He should have known.
Most of his life, Sam had been taking care of Garret. He’d seen him through school, bailed him out of trouble occasionally and waited for him to grow up. Hadn’t happened yet, though.
He moved in closer to her and had the satisfaction of seeing her eyes widen slightly at his nearness. Good to know he wasn’t the only one still affected by that kiss.
“He shouldn’t have repeated that to you.”
“You shouldn’t have said it in the first place.”
“I’m looking out for my family.”
“And what? I’m a threat?”
Looking at her now, Sam thought she was only a threat to a man’s sanity. But how could he be sure she wasn’t simply an excellent actress? If she was feigning insult, though, she was doing a damn good job of it.
“Babe, I don’t know what you are. All I know is I do what I have to for my family—why shouldn’t I expect you to do the same?”
“So you don’t even deny saying it—and don’t call me ‘babe.’”
He scraped one hand across the back of his neck. “No, I don’t. Can you deny that your father’s company’s in trouble?”
She took a deep breath and helplessly, Sam’s gaze briefly dropped to the deep V of her shirt. When his eyes met hers again, he noted fresh fury sparking in her grass-green eyes.
Lowering her voice, she said, “Are you in the Middle Ages or something? You really believe I would barter myself to save my dad’s company?”
“People have done a lot more for a lot less,” he mused.
“Well, I don’t,” she told him. “And I really think you’ve insulted me enough for one night, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” he said, edging closer, “I think we’ve both done enough talking.”
Staring down into her eyes, he reached for her and waited to see if she would pull away. She glared at him. He pulled her in closer, until her breasts were pillowed against his chest and he could feel the heat of her body sliding into his.
“This isn’t a good idea,” she said, tilting her head back to look up at him. “I should be kicking you.”
“Yeah,” he said, his gaze moving over her features as if trying to burn her image onto his brain. “But doesn’t seem to matter. I’ve got to taste you again.”
“Really not a good idea,” she whispered, going up on her toes to meet him as he lowered his head to hers.
His lips brushed hers and he felt that zip of something amazing scatter through him. Her mouth opened under his and he swept inside, losing himself in her heat, her acceptance. He felt her heartbeat pounding against his chest and knew that his own heart was matching that wild rhythm.
She leaned into him and he swept her up, nearly lifting her off her feet to get her closer to him. He wanted more. Wanted bare skin beneath his hands. Wanted to ease her down on that damn bench and—
Close by, a raucous burst of laughter shattered the night as people started wandering out into the garden. The intrusion was enough to tear them apart instantly.
Sam took a step back from her, just for good measure, and he didn’t think it was far enough. Her taste still filled his mouth and his blood was pumping through his veins as hot and thick as lava.
“This is crazy,” she whispered, shaking her head as if she couldn’t believe what was happening between them.
Sam knew exactly how she felt. “Doesn’t seem to matter,” he said, as he took a step closer to her.
An uneasy laugh shot from h
“Why not?” Yeah, he knew this was trouble. But he didn’t really care.
“Because…” She mentally searched for a good reason and apparently came up empty. Still struggling for breath, she added, “We’re just not going to, trust me. And if you won’t leave, then I will.”
She swept past him, chin lifted, head held high.
“Good night, Anna Cameron,” he said softly.
She stopped, looked over her shoulder at him and said pointedly, “Goodbye, Sam Hale.”
Sam didn’t leave.
Instead, he wandered through the party, listening to snippets of conversation even as he tried to get her out of his mind. She wouldn’t go, though. Instead, he kept seeing her eyes, filled with fury and dazzled with passion. He heard her voice, standing up to him as no one had dared do in years. She hadn’t backed down. She’d stood her ground and challenged him. Argued with him.
And then kissed him senseless.
Why the hell had a woman like her ever dated Garret? he asked himself. She was way too much woman for his younger brother. Which led him back to his original thought, that she had only been dating Garret to try to help her father’s company.
But if that were true, why wouldn’t she have tried to snag Sam? Why not go for the head of the business?
He accepted a glass of wine from a passing waiter, had a sip, then set the flute down again on a nearby table. His gaze scanned the crowd, noting the decorations, the Christmas tree that had to stand ten feet tall and the mountain of small gifts beneath it, tokens for their guests, all wrapped in bright paper and festive ribbons.
Sam didn’t know whether to admire Dave Cameron for going ahead with a party when times were so bad for his company, or to pity him for being a fool. The snippets of conversations he’d heard throughout the place told him that everyone in the room knew about Dave’s troubles, so this party wasn’t fooling anyone. Why do it, then?
“Having a good time?”
The voice behind him caught Sam off guard and his shoulders stiffened. He should have known that Dave Cameron would come and find him. Especially considering the man’s wife had probably reported seeing Sam and Anna kissing like teenagers in the backseat of a car.
Turning, he held out his hand. “It’s a good party, Dave.”
“Glad you could come,” the other man said, shaking his hand. “Don’t recall seeing you here last year.”
Or any other year. Sam didn’t usually get involved in community activities. The only reason he was here this year was because he’d wanted a look at Anna. Now, he wanted another, longer look at her. “You know how it is,” he said, “never enough time to relax.”
“You should take the time,” Dave told him. “There’s more to life than business.”
“So I hear.”
The older man watched him thoughtfully. “Clarissa tells me you and Anna have…met.”
Uncomfortable, Sam hedged. No doubt, the story of that mistletoe kiss had already made the rounds, thanks to Clarissa. As it was, he felt the stares of at least a dozen people. Small towns were notorious for gossip, and Sam knew he and Anna were going to be the hot topic for at least a few days.
“Yeah. That’s a long story, though,” he said and gave a quick look around at the surrounding crowd. “Not really the time for it now.”
Nodding, Dave said, “I’ll look forward to hearing it.”
“Right.” Not a conversation Sam wanted to have. “Well, I only stopped by to wish you a Merry Christmas, so I think I’ll be going.”
“No need to rush off,” Dave told him. “Stay, enjoy yourself.”
The only way that would happen is if he could get Anna to himself again. And because the chance of that was slim, there was really no point in sticking around.
“I appreciate it. Another time.” He took a step, then stopped and added, “Say good night to Anna for me.”
Let her explain the situation to her father, he thought with an inner smile.
“Now that’s a gorgeous Christmas tree.”
Anna stepped back to admire her own handiwork and smiled at her best friend, Tula Barrons. Her real name was Tallulah, but heaven help you if you actually called her that. Tula’s blond hair was cut short, close to her head. She wore silver hoop earrings, a blue tunic sweater and black jeans with navy blue boots.
“Thanks,” Anna said. “I like a lot of lights.”
“Yeah, they’ll probably be able to spot that tree from space.” Tula grinned as she carried in the lattes she’d gotten at the corner coffee bar.
Anna studied the tall Douglas fir. There were only four strands of a hundred lights on it. “Can you really overdo Christmas?” she wondered aloud. “I don’t think so.”
Tula handed her one of the lattes and took a long look at the tree herself. After a second or two, she nodded. “I think you’re right.”
“Plus, it looks great in the front window and maybe it’ll draw in some holiday business.” She could use it, Anna thought. Her shop, Faux Reality, had been all too quiet for the last couple of weeks.
But then, people weren’t really thinking about faux finishes or trompe l’oeil paintings on their walls right now. They were too busy buying presents and baking. All good, she told herself, because Anna, too, loved the Christmas season. But she could do with a really big job about now, so she could go and do some Christmas shopping herself.
Tula took a sip of her latte and looked at Anna over the rim. “Is business that bad?”
Anna sighed. As a writer of children’s books, Tula had her own worries, but at least she understood that making a career out of the “arts” was usually feast or famine. “Bad enough that I took a couple of quickie jobs painting storefront windows. Art is art, right? I mean, Christmas trees on windows is still painting.”
“Absolutely.” After taking another sip, Tula nodded and said, “So, I heard all about the big mistletoe kiss last night.”
Anna choked on a gulp of hot latte. “You heard? How? Where?”
“Are you kidding?” Her friend laughed. “You’ve lived in Crystal Bay your whole life, just like me. You know the grapevine in town works faster than a Google search.”
“Oh, God.” Suddenly, the brightly lit tree wasn’t uplifting her spirits quite so much anymore.
“Oh, yeah,” Tula said, walking to the front counter and dropping onto one of the high-backed stools. “So spill. Tell me everything. Word is you and Sam Hale were lip-locked so completely that steam was lifting off the tops of your heads.”
“Oh, this is perfect,” Anna muttered.
“Sure sounded like it,” Tula agreed, then asked, “still, I’m dying to know…wasn’t it weird kissing the brother of the guy you used to go out with?”
Weird wasn’t the word she’d use, Anna thought. Hot. Passionate. Intense. Crazy, even. All good words. Weird? Not so much.
“I really don’t want to talk about this,” she said, moving to hang one of her antique ornaments from a high branch of the tree.
“Nice attempt at evasion,” Tula told her with a laugh. “But no way are you getting out of this. I left the party early, so I didn’t see the show you two put on. But ac cording to Kate, down at Espresso Heaven, people clear across the room from you guys were going up in flames.”
“Just shoot me.” Anna looked out the front window onto Main Street and imagined everyone in their shops taking about her. Just great.
“Come on, give a little,” Tula whined. “I haven’t had an actual date in six months and the least you could do is let a girl live vicariously.”
“Just what I want to do.”
“Was it great?”
“Are you going to let this go?”
Tula laughed. “Have you met me?”
Anna had to laugh, too. She and Tula had been best friends since junior high. They’d gone to college together and had planned to move to Paris and be famous. They never had made it to France, though, instead com
Tula was loyal, a great friend and profoundly nosy. Anna knew darn well that her friend was never going to let this go.
“Fine,” she said on a sigh. “It was incredible. Happy?”
“Not nearly. If it was so incredible, why do you look so bummed?”
Anna shook her head. “Hello? Don’t you remember that Sam Hale is the guy who told his brother to dump me?”
Tula frowned and pointed out, “Yeah, and I remember that Garret Hale was the giant weasel dog who did the actual dumping.”
“True.” What kind of grown man took orders from his big brother? Anna wondered. But on the other hand, what kind of guy was Sam to step in and try to take over his younger brother’s life?
“So, how’d you happen to bump into Sam’s luscious mouth?”
Anna glared at her. “What makes you think it’s luscious?”
“I’m not blind, you know. I have seen the man from a distance.”
And one look would be enough for most women to curl up and whimper at his feet. Not that she was going to be doing any whimpering, thanks very much. “It was an accident.”
“So you slipped and fell onto his mouth. Sure. As your friend, I’m happy to buy that lame explanation.” Tula took a sip of latte and leaned back against the counter. “The question is, why are you so touchy about it?”
“Because he was an ass and because I liked that kiss too much.”
“Ah, that I get,” Tula said, then straightened up, a look of horror on her face. “Oh, you never slept with Garret, did you?”
“Of course not!” Anna practically recoiled at the idea. The few kisses she’d shared with Garret hadn’t exactly started a fire inside. “We only went out a few times.”
“Good,” Tula said with a chuckle, “because that could have been awkward. No guy wants to think you’re comparing him to his own brother.”
Remembering that long, amazing kiss under the mistletoe had Anna practically sighing. “Trust me when I say, there is no comparison.”
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