Authors: SUSAN WIGGS
New York Times
bestselling author Susan Wiggs sweeps you away with this beloved story of a fairytale holiday romance…
Ace reporter Jack Riley loves his job, or at least he did until Madeleine Langston took over as publisher for the
. The perfect blonde ice queen is a daunting presence in the newsroom?and an irresistible distraction, despite Jack’s determination to avoid her as often as possible. Even if it means boycotting her fancy Christmas party.
Then a chance encounter with a stranger transforms Jack from a scruffy journalist into a debonair Texan in a tux, and he suddenly finds himself at the center of Madeleine’s attention. As they embark on a fairy-tale evening together, Jack realizes that Madeleine isn’t the woman he thought she was…but unfortunately, she no longer recognizes
in his new “Prince Charming” attire! Will Madeleine still be able to love the man behind the suit when she discovers who he really is?
Previously published as
A Fairytale Christmas
Table of Contents
ey, Riley! You going to the ball?”
“Come on, Brad,” Derek said. “Riley thinks a ball has to say ‘Wilson’ on it to be any good.”
Jack Riley looked up from a Zenlike contemplation of his aged high-top sneakers, which he had propped on a stack of files on his desk. The world’s smallest Christmas tree, hung with decorations made by kids at the shelter, perched atop his computer monitor.
For all Jack cared, the cluttered newsroom, the ringing phones, the glaring fluorescent lights and the two yammering preppies could vanish in a puff of smoke.
“Look at the boy, Brad. Like, old Riley’s got nothing to wear.” Derek Crenshaw took nauseating pride in his cashmere sweaters from Brooks Brothers—supplied by overindulgent parents.
“Gimme a break,” Riley said, scratching his gray CUNY sweatshirt. “I got a clean set of sweats in my gym bag.”
Guffaws burst from his companions. The preppies, playing at being ace reporters, were so easily amused, Jack thought, folding his long legs under his desk and snatching a pencil from behind his ear. He pushed his
thick-lensed glasses up on his nose. For a moment, his gaze rested on the engraved invitation that lay atop the rubble on his desk. Somewhere, a mile under, lay a brand-new ink blotter purchased with scraped-together pennies by a grateful young boy he had once helped.
Jack squinted through his horn-rims at the cream stock card. “Miss Madeleine Langston requests the pleasure of your company…. Nine o’clock … at the Dakota … Black tie only …”
“Black tie,” Jack muttered, lowering the bill of his Yankees cap. Miss Madeleine Langston was no doubt praying Mr. Jack Riley would drop off the face of the earth. Why the hell had she invited him, anyway? Pity? Guilt? Or did the young heiress have a yen for slumming with nobodies from Brooklyn?
“Hey, Riley!” Derek said, advancing on him with a Sharpie marker. “Maybe I could, like, you know, draw a black tie on the front of your shirt.”
“Hey, Derek,” Jack said, effortlessly mimicking his co-worker’s southern California accent. “Maybe I could, like, break your kneecaps and toss you in a shallow grave.”
Brad and a few of the mailroom boys again burst into laughter.
“Working hard, gentlemen?” The blade-sharp question knifed through the merriment.
Jack looked across the newsroom, and there she was.
The ice maiden. The crystal goddess. The bane of his existence.
“Er, Jack was just finishing up,” Derek said hastily, capping the marker and dropping a manila legal file on the danger zone of Jack’s desk.
Madeleine Langston effortlessly negotiated a path
through the maze of desks. She moved as if the layout of the bright glass-walled newsroom was imprinted on her brain like circuits on a computer chip.
After her father’s death six months before, she had inherited the
. Everyone had expected her to retire gracefully to the Hamptons and let the income roll in. For a while, she had. Then, just three weeks ago, she had fired the inept managing editor and appointed herself publisher. Apparently she was having trouble finding someone to reflect her standards of perfection, so for the time being, and to the dismay of all the staff, she had taken on the duties herself.
Until last week, she had stayed off the city-room turf, preferring her sterile corner office one floor up. This was only the second time Jack had seen her up close. She was terrifyingly gorgeous. He liked her much better as a brittle voice on the telephone.
Because he knew it would annoy her, he put his feet back up on his desk, crossed his ankles and linked his fingers behind his head. He peered at her from beneath the brim of his cap.
Madeleine Langston advanced like a guided missile. She was, Jack decided, the only woman in Manhattan who could wear an ivory wool suit all day and not get a single wrinkle in it. Probably because she had no body heat. None at all.
What she did have was looks, brains and money. In deadly excess. She made him want to cross his fingers to ward off evil. Worse, she made him want to make love to her until she cried out for mercy—or for more.
She stopped in front of his desk. He had a perfect view of her face: dainty cheekbones and a nose that was probably used as a model at plastic-surgery conventions; eyes as blue as the bottom of a swimming pool; pale blond
hair done into some sort of painfully neat macramé arrangement.
She brought a French-manicured fingernail to her full lower lip and held it there just for a moment in case of the unlikely event that she had not gotten his attention. She eyed the lopsided miniature Christmas tree; clearly it was as alien to her as moon rock.
If she was waiting for him to stand and remove his cap, she would miss her party tonight.
“The waste-management finance scandal?” she inquired. Her upper-crust East Coast accent rang with the tones of generations of selective breeding and years at Marymount and Vassar.
Jack gave her his most crooked, irritating smile and stroked the week-old bristle on his chin. “Why don’t you hurry up and hire a managing editor to ride herd over us wayward boys?”
“This is my paper, Mr. Riley, and I’ll ‘ride herd’ over whomever I please.”
“Sounds kinky, Miz Langston,” he muttered. Leaning forward, he jerked a file from the stack under his feet and held it out to her.
Platinum-and-pearl rings flashed as she opened the file. An empty potato-chip bag drifted to the floor. She made an admirable effort to ignore it. Her gaze snapped over the typed copy.
She gave the barest of nods, then said, “And the school, er, health controversy?”
Jack chuckled. “You mean the debate about whether or not we should hand out rubbers to high schoolers?” He savored the delicate coral blush on her cheeks. “Yeah, it’s ready.” Keeping his gaze trained on the boss lady, he tapped on his keyboard. The printer beside his desk ejected a copy of the story.
Her refined nostrils flared subtly. “Mr. Riley, how has such a charming man managed to live so long without sustaining serious bodily injury?”
He grinned and toyed with the short, curly ponytail at the nape of his neck. “Guess I’m just quick on my feet, sweetheart.”
Her look of disdain would have done Katharine Hepburn proud. “I see.” She took the hard copy, still warm from the printer, and added it to her stack.
To his relief, she turned her ice-dagger gaze on Brad and Derek. “What about you gentlemen? Have you made your deadlines, for a change?”
They stared at her like a pair of dieters eyeing a box of Godiva chocolates. Idiots, thought Jack. He knew they had a standing bet to see who could get her into bed first. As if either one had a chance. Who would want to, except maybe a polar explorer with a suit that could withstand subzero temperatures?
Jack Riley, that’s who
, he thought in self-disgust. She was everything he should despise in a woman, but perversely, he found her the sexiest thing he had ever seen. He wanted her. Bad. Wanted to melt the ice around her with his own heat.
“Sure thing, Miss Langston,” Brad said, looking like the soul of efficiency.
“Yep,” Derek agreed.
“Excellent.” Madeleine turned to go. Before Jack could get comfortable again, she pivoted back, her three-hundred-dollar shoes clicking on the linoleum floor. “Oh, and gentlemen? Will I see you at the Dakota tonight?”
“Of course,” Derek and Brad said in unison. Their cashmere sweaters and Top-Siders personified the ersatz newsroom-clone look. They would be swell in their tuxes. Just swell.
Madeleine Langston’s gaze fixed on Jack. Damn, she was a good-looking woman. What a waste of a great set of j—
“Well?” she asked, interrupting his thought. “Are you coming?”
Jack decided it was too easy to take advantage of her choice of words, so he relented. “Naw,” he said, laughing with his eyes at her look of relief. “I’ve got a date with the Urban Animals.”
She raised a pruned eyebrow. “Urban Animals?”
“A group of punked-up ice skaters in Central Park.”
“Oh. You’ll be missed.”
Jack could contain his laughter no longer. God, she was a pain in the ass. Only their second face-to-face meeting and they were already in hate. He loved to razz her. “You know,” he said, “I might just be able to tear myself away….”
Her wide, beautiful eyes flashed a message of distress. For an ice goddess, she was a damned poor liar, and her habit of blushing made her seem almost human.
“Don’t worry, Princess,” he said consolingly, dropping the invitation into the overflowing wastebasket beside his desk. “Prince Charming has other plans.”
earing the perfect dress, Madeleine Langston stood in the perfect suite in the Dakota. In the center of the room stood a perfect designer Christmas tree. She heard the perfect strains of the swing band, watched the perfect poise of the guests and nibbled one of the perfect hors d’oeuvres.
“Madeleine, darling!” William Wornich, the gossip columnist of the
, leaned forward to kiss the air beside her cheek. “Wonderful party. It’s perfect, a perfect fairy-tale ball.”
“Thank you, William. Isn’t it just?”
Acrid smoke from his cigar made her eyes smart. Damn. She would have to take her contacts out, and she was practically blind without them.
Unrepentant, Wornich stood back and held her at arm’s length. “And that dress! Too cunning. Wherever did you get it?”
She gave him a practiced smile. “Darling, you’d never believe it if I told you.” It had been her grandmother’s: a vintage 1940s affair of black silk taffeta set off with cascades of bugle beads at the shoulders and hem. The
perfect dancing dress. The problem was, there was no one here with whom she wanted to dance.
. The thought of him came unbidden, as evocative as the spice of wassail or the scent of pine boughs. The lavish apartment in the Dakota had belonged to him, and next week it would be sold. It was strange being back here, strange seeing the people he had known. He himself had planned the party, months in advance, never knowing he wouldn’t be around to play the host.