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BOOK: A Fairytale Christmas
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“I live with Blake.”

She thought she saw a gratifying blaze of possessiveness in his eyes, but without her contacts, she couldn’t be sure. She laughed and admitted, “William Blake is my cat. Sometimes my mother visits, but since my father died, she prefers really long cruises to really warm places.”

He gazed at her for a moment. His hand lifted, and she thought he might touch her. She wanted him to. Then he lowered his hand and concentrated on fixing the Irish coffee.

They went into the living room. Madeleine reached for a light switch, but a gentle hand on her wrist stopped her. “I like it dim,” he said quietly, “so we can see the city lights.”

She glanced at the view out the front window. On the crystal-clear winter night, New York City glittered with its own special magic. “Of course,” she said with a smile. “I keep forgetting you’re a tourist.”

They sat together on a white Italian-leather sofa facing the broad window. Touching the heel of her black satin pump, she asked, “Do you mind?”

“No. God, no. Go ahead, Madeleine.”

He was charmingly flustered, and she laughed again, sliding out of her shoes with a grateful sigh.

“Dance your feet off, did you?” he asked.

“Uh-huh.” Before she knew what was happening, he had drawn her feet into his lap and begun massaging them. A small, startled gasp escaped her.

His hands stilled. “Am I being presumptuous?”


“Would you like me to stop?”


His smile unfurled slowly, languidly, matching the motion of his hands as they traveled over the arch of her foot, gently pressing, creating a tiny center of warmth and ease that flowed through her. There was something shockingly sweet about it, too, and she wasn’t used to sweetness in a man.

She wondered how far they would go tonight, how long it would take for him to reveal himself as friend or fortune hunter, lover or liar.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” he whispered, leaning forward to put his mouth very close to her ear.

She shivered with pleasure. “Don’t what?”

“Don’t start thinking, Madeleine. You’ll ruin it.”

“Ruin what?”

“This,” he said and, cupping her cheek in his large, warm hand, he touched his lips to hers.

She caught her breath, surprised by the cool softness of his mouth. Never before had she known a man who—
No. Don’t think
. He was right about that. She was too adept at talking herself out of things.

She pressed closer, letting the shape of her lips fit the shape of his. The taste and texture of him intoxicated her. A peculiar enchantment seemed to be moving through her, leaving a trail of fire in its wake. Yet even now, while hidden flames engulfed her, he seemed to be holding back. Aloof. Waiting. But why? She had all but thrown herself at him.

A possibility struck her like an icy slap. She tore herself away from him and scrambled back into a corner of the sofa. “You fraud!”

* * *

Jack felt the blood drain from his face. The jig was up. She’d probably known from the first instant, but he’d proved a convenient escape from a boring party. Now that things were heating up, her ice-goddess persona was kicking in.

“Madeleine, I can explain. I—”

“Oh, I’d like to hear that one, mister.” She reached for her coffee and took a sip, then winced as if her throat were on fire.

“Look, Madeleine, I never planned on letting it go this far, but you—”

“You’re married!”

“Never!” he said, relief mingling with untimely amusement. “Is that what you thought? Swear to God, Maddy, I’m not.”

“Then you have a—a disease or something.”

“Not that, either. Honest.”

“A fugitive?” she guessed.

“Okay,” he said, still amazed by his narrow escape. “I fled Texas to find myself.”

“And did you?” She eyed him warily.

“Maybe. I found you. That’s something.” His gaze swept the showcase apartment. Did she know she lived in the glossy pages of
Architectural Digest?
It was sort of sad, in a way. Empty, somehow. Like the large potted pine tree in the corner. It bore no ornament except a single red bow at the base of the pot.

Madeleine’s gaze followed his to the barren tree. “I’m Christmas challenged,” she admitted somewhat sheepishly.

“I’m not,” said Jack. “Where are the lights and ornaments?”

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he wanted to reel them back in. Damn, he was an idiot. He had been
this close
to seducing Madeleine Langston and here he was offering to decorate a Christmas tree for her. He was losing it.

She took another sip of her Irish coffee, her eyes bottomless and blue as she peered at him over the rim of the cup. “I might cry,” she said softly.

He felt a jolt of unexpected tenderness. “Why?”

“Daddy always made a big deal of Christmas.”

He slipped his hand around hers. “I get it. If you’d rather not—”

“I didn’t say that,” she interrupted. “I was just telling you—if we do the tree, I might cry. I wanted to see if you’d mind.”

“Mind!” This woman was a surprise a minute. “Sweetheart, believe me, there are worse things in life than having a pleasantly tipsy, gorgeous woman cry on my shoulder.”

She tilted her head to one side. “You’ve got nice big shoulders. Maybe I won’t cry, after all.”

* * *

But in the end, she did, of course, as they had both known she would. It happened in the wake of laughter, just after they had finished untangling the string of lights and draping them artfully around the odd-looking, skinny tree.

Jack had hit a wall switch, bringing the lights and treetop star to twinkling life. Madeleine stood in front of the glittering tree, bathed in the reflective glow. The colored lights flashed in the beads that ornamented her black dress. She stood very still, looking curiously bereft, her
eyes wide and sparkling with tears, her hair nicely mussed, more blond wisps escaping to curl around her face and neck.

“Maddy?” Jack asked softly, as if speaking louder would make her shatter like a crystal goblet on a Memorex commercial.

She wept silently, giant tears rolling down her flawless cheeks. Finally she whispered, “Your shoulders are too far away.”

Flooded by a rush of tenderness, he took her in his arms and pressed her cheek into his chest. Her tears soaked the front of his Harry Fodgother original. “Shh,” Jack said. “It’s okay.” He grimaced. For someone who worked with words all day, he wasn’t being very eloquent.

After a while, she drew back and said, “It
all right. I mean, I miss Daddy. Sometimes it feels like I can’t even take the next breath. And then, somehow, I take that breath, and the next and the next, and the world keeps turning, and I know I’ll go on.”

Jack couldn’t help himself. He pressed a kiss to her brow. It was almost reverent, the way his lips touched her, felt the heat and flavor of her skin. The last thing he’d expected of this evening was that Madeleine Langston would turn out to be sweet and vulnerable and wise.

One of the kids at the shelter where Jack volunteered most of his free time had just lost her mother. He would tell her what Madeleine said about breathing. That might help.

He handed her a Kleenex from a box on the table and stood back while she dried her face. She swayed a little, then gave a wobbly laugh. “I’d better lay off the Irish coffee.”

He got them each a bottle of mineral water from the
bar. Blake the cat made an appearance, looking haughty and sleek as he batted his paws at the Christmas ornaments. They clinked bottles and drank, looking with absurd pride at the clumsily decorated tree and chuckling at the antics of the cat.

Madeleine leaned back against Jack, and he trailed his free hand up her bare arm. She turned, taking both bottles and setting them aside. Her arms slid up his chest and around his neck, and she bent his head down to hers. “Thank you,” she whispered. “Thank you for being with me tonight.”

What was she, crazy? Thanking
for being with
“Yeah,” he said with a soft laugh. “It’s been sheer torture, forcing myself to hold a beautiful woman in my arms.”

She laughed, too, and stood on tiptoe. Their mouths brushed together and then melded, clinging, the subtle taste of sexual yearning filling Jack until he nearly lost control.

She glided her hands down his chest, opening his shirt. Fancy silver studs dropped to the floor. So did the fancy belt—Harry called it a cummerbund, and Jack had refrained from making a rude remark.

Somewhere, a clock chimed midnight, reminding Jack that he was a fraud. He half expected his tux to turn into a sweat suit and Harry’s truck to change into a pumpkin. But he didn’t dwell on that for long. Madeleine wouldn’t let him.

He felt her soft palms against his bare chest and nearly lost it.
Tell her
, urged the commonsense fairy inside his head.
Hurry up and tell her the truth

“Maddy,” he murmured against her mouth.

“Mmm?” She nipped at his lower lip, and he hissed in a breath, forgetting what he was going to say.

“I think tonight was meant to be,” she whispered.

Lady, you don’t know the half of it

“What do you mean?” he asked, tracing his tongue along her full mouth.

“Right before I met you, I told myself to do something wild. Unexpected. Unlike myself. Then—poof!—you showed up. So …” She took his hand and led him slowly, deliberately, down a dimly lit hallway.

Her bedroom was an interior decorator’s wet dream, he supposed. It was dominated by an antique four-poster bed that should have been marked Napoleon Slept Here.

She pulled the tails of his shirt out of his trousers and ran her hands over his bare skin. Every muscle drew taut.

Tell her. Hurry

Yeah, right, he thought as he found a fancy comb in her hair and pulled it loose. Tell her what? That she’s seducing Jack Riley? That she’s just confessed all her personal secrets to a guy she despises? That the slob who makes her life hell at work is about to take her to heaven?

It’s still not too late. Tell her

“Maddy.” He forced it out.

“Mmm?” she said again, feathering her lips along his collarbone.

“Uh, why are you doing this, Madeleine?”

Her butter-colored hair cascaded down her back. He had never seen it loose before.

“Because I need it,” she said. “Do you ever feel like you’ll die if you don’t touch someone human and warm?”

God, she
die if she learned she’d just said that to Jack Riley.

“Sometimes I feel like that,” he admitted. And his hands, which had no self-discipline whatsoever, slid down the zipper at the back of her dress.

He made a discovery that drove all but the last crumb of decency from him—the seamed stockings he had admired earlier were attached to a black silk garter belt.

garter belt

Garter belts drove him insane. He was a sexist pig when it came to garter belts.

He tried one more time to tell her the truth, but he couldn’t even manage to get her name out.

“Ahh,” Madeleine whispered. “This is crazy. I don’t know who you are, or where you came from, but I think I’m falling in love with you.”

And on hearing those words, John Patrick Riley of Muleshoe, Texas, knew two things for certain. First, that this would be the most incredible night of his life.

And second, that it would never be repeated.

Chapter Five

amn, Madeleine,” he said, dropping his shirt to the floor. “You
have too much to drink.”

Feeling curiously bold, she stepped out of her dress. “Drinking just makes me more honest. I’ve never told a man what I’ve just told you. I trust you. Call it instinct, whatever. With you, I feel safe saying anything.”

He ducked his head, looking endearingly bashful in the dimness as he removed first one shiny black cowboy boot and then the other. She was faintly amused to see that he wore white athletic socks.

But when he removed his trousers, her amusement changed to sheer, unadulterated lust. She stared at him in the faint glow of the lithophane nightlight near the bed. This man was U.S. Grade-A beefcake. He ought to have a ratings sticker on him.

“You’re staring, ma’am,” he said.

She swallowed past the dryness in her throat. “The last time I saw a body like that,” she admitted, “I was in a museum in Italy.”

He laughed and drew her close, so that she could feel the silky-warm firmness of his muscles and inhale the
expensive scent of his cologne and the unique essence of him—a thousand times more evocative than the cologne.

“You’re not half-bad yourself, ma’am,” he said, releasing the hook of her strapless bra. He groaned, a compliment more eloquent than words. He skimmed his hands down to caress her, and she had never felt so cherished or secure.

He seemed to take particular interest in her garter belt. She’d bought it on a whim to go with the vintage dress, never dreaming that anyone would actually see it on her.

He didn’t just look; he seemed to inhale her through his eyes. Being the object of such rapt, undivided attention was heady indeed. His total being, every inkling of concentration, was centered entirely on her—her pleasure, her sensibilities, her needs, her desires.

BOOK: A Fairytale Christmas
12.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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