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Authors: Renee Roszel

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BOOK: Her Mistletoe Husband
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“No. We had an affair.”
She jerked to stare at him. “What?”
He shrugged, his eyes glittering eerily. “Why else would I be here?”
“Lots of men have platonic female friends.”
“I don't.” His grin was revealing. The woman in her knew—without a doubt—that no female who had ever befriended Alex D'Amour had
any
desire to keep the relationship platonic. “This could be fun,” he went on. “Of course, if we use that lie, I'd have to sleep with you.”
She stared, stunned, then saw the sparkle in his eyes and realized he was baiting her. “That's very funny, Mr. D'Amour. Does that line work for you?”
“Apparently not.” He grinned crookedly, clearly far from crushed by her rejection. “It's worth thinking about, though.”
“Let me do the thinking. It's less dangerous.”
“If you must.” He placed his hands on the back of her office chair. “But, while you're thinking, Miss Crosby, think K-I-S-S.”
She scowled at him. Couldn't he get off sex? Did he think he was so irresistible that she would be willing to stoop to anything to get his help? “Mr. D'Amour, do you do
all
your thinking with your—”
“Keep it simple, stupid,” he interjected. “Didn't you learn that in law school? K-I-S-S.”
As the acronym soaked in, her cheeks heated. Just who was the one who couldn't get her mind off sex? “Oh...”
“I find that the simplest story is usually the best. If you must lie to your family, tell them I own the D'Amour mansion, that I'm staying here while it's remodeled and that we've become friends.”
After a moment, she nodded, acknowledging that the idea had merit. “And—and since you didn't have a reservation,” she improvised, “I had to put you down here in the basement.”
His expression had grown serious. A tensing along his jaw drew her attention. “What's wrong now? It was your idea.”
He leaned forward, over the chair back. Elissa had the urge to clamber onto her desk to put distance between them, but she resisted. “Are you sure you want to lie? Wouldn't you rather have your family join you in staring daggers at me?”
“Of course I would,” she admitted, then shook her head. “But I want their holiday here to be happy. Besides, once I've proven my ownership, they'll never have to know there was a problem.” Making reluctant eye contact, she tried to seem confident, but the act was tainted when she adjusted her suit jacket and toyed with the buttons.
He clenched his jaw. “I may joke about it, Miss Crosby, but frankly, I don't like lying.”
“I don't care what you like.” She bit her tongue. This was no time to make him mad. Shaking herself for her outburst she eased her features and her voice. “If you have an ounce of humanity in you, you'll do this for my family's sake.”
He eyed her with cynicism. “I don't give a damn about families.”
“Miss Elissa!” came Bella's shout from the top of the stairs. “Your sisters are here.”
Witnessing Alex D'Amour's unyielding expression, Elissa's heart fell into a deep, dark well.
CHAPTER THREE
A
LEX D‘AMOUR'S expression was uncompromising, and panic rose inside Elissa. What could she offer this ruthless man to make him help her? In a last-ditch attempt, she pleaded, “I'm begging you, Mr. D'Amour.” Her voice cracked, and she hated the sound of her weakness. Hated to have to ask anything of him.
She'd always been the strong one, the big sister Helen and Lucy depended on—ever since Mother had died. She'd only been nine, but her grief-stricken father had been no comfort to the three young girls. Even after Elissa had gone to law school she'd been there for her family, calling home every night to make herself available to listen to their problems or fears. Daddy had come to depend on her, too, when the illness that finally took his life incapacitated him. Helen and Lucy continued to count on her. She'd been mothering her sisters almost all their lives, and she didn't intend to fail them now.
She would not allow Alex's claim on her property to cast a pall over the holidays. She saw her sisters so rarely since they'd married, she refused to inflict pain on them during their short visit. But in order to protect them, she needed Alex D'Amour's help.
Swallowing to steady her voice, she asked, just above a whisper, “If you won't do it for my family, what—what
would
you do it for?”
A muscle flexed in his jaw, emphasizing the place where she had wounded him nearly a week ago. Shuttered eyes scanned her face, making her feel like a flea about to be swatted. As time stretched into an agonizing eternity, her emotions became as taut as violin strings. Finally he muttered, “I'll do it for you.”
She was confused, not sure she'd heard right. “For—
me?”
Visions of demanded sexual favors flashed through her mind. She bit out her reply, “No matter how badly I need your help, I won't sleep with you.”
His low chuckle was humorless. “Don't panic, Miss Crosby, I don't force women into my bed.” He turned away, presenting her with his grim profile. “I just figure I can do that much for you.”
She could hardly believe what she was hearing. He'd agreed, and there were no strings. Clearly he was less than delighted about it, but he was going to keep the secret. That's what mattered.
Overwhelmed with gratitude, she stumbled around the chair and threw her arms around his neck, hugging him. “Oh, thank you! Thank you, Mr. D'Amour.” She could feel his body go taut against hers in his surprise, and that reminded her exactly who he was and why he was there.
What did she think she was doing?
She backed away, mortified.
She noticed his hands had stilled in a half-raised position, almost a defensive gesture. She came close to smiling about that. Could she blame him for anticipating an attack? After all, the only other times she'd made contact with his body she'd clawed him, kneed him, then tried to knee him, again.
Avoiding his gaze she focused on his cleft chin, striving to appear all business. “Uh, you can call me Elissa and I'll call you Alex. Okay?”
He smiled, but there was precious little humor there. “Why didn't I think of that.”
“Miss Elissa?” Bella called again.
Her heart constricted. “Oh dear...” Was she going to be able to carry off this farce? Could she keep her worries from her family? “Oh—dear...”
A hand, big and warm, encircled her elbow. Until that second, she hadn't realized how cold she was. “Let's go, Elissa dear.” He tugged her into movement. “How's this?” Light-headed with trepidation, she glanced at his face. He grinned down at her in a way that reeked of affection.
He was really good
“Now you try,” he coaxed.
She inhaled, attempting to arrange her face in a smile.
He chuckled as she battled to fake a pleasant demeanor. “This is your lie, Miss Crosby. If you want to look believable, unclench your teeth.”
She tried again.
“Better.” He aimed her toward the steps. “Should I put my arm around you?”
“No!” She drew away. “We don't have to be that friendly. Maybe just, er, acquaintances is fine. The point is, I don't want you to mention the—you know.” She could feel her nerve draining away. It had never occurred to her that her little white lie might include physical contact.
He took her arm again when he saw that she was hesitating. “Okay, Miss Acquaintance. Just so we're
acquainted
enough that we don't claw each other in the face or knee each other in our private parts. Deal?”
She slanted him a look, her lips twitching in what was trying to be a smile. Dam the man; his easygoing charm was getting to her. Apparently her gratefulness was making her feeble-witted. “I make no promises.”
Laughter rumbled in his throat. “I love a woman of mystery.”
The mellow timbre of his mirth rankled her, not so much because she didn't like the sound of it, but because she did.
 
Much of Elissa's. anxiety melted away when she entered the noisy commotion going on in the reception hall. Her sisters, Lucy and Helen, and their husbands, Jack and Damien, laughed and chatted and carried in luggage. Since their flights had arrived within the same hour, they'd decided to rent a car and drive down from Springfield together.
When Elissa spied her nieces, Gilly and Glory, scampering among a forest of suitcases and adult legs, she managed a real smile. Hurrying into the fray, she hunkered down to toddler level. “Where are my girls?” She stretched out welcoming arms. “How about a kiss for Aunt Elissa?”
Giggly squeals answered her. Seconds later she was plowed into by twin, chubby projectiles, who had their daddy's dark hair and their mommy's bright, gray eyes. Shy little Elissa Gillian, her namesake, planted a cool, sloppy kiss on her cheek.
Elissa hugged them close, her heart turning over with a mixture of joy and sadness. Where would they all be a year from today? Shaking off the thought, she stood, hoisting the twins in her arms. She would do no negative thinking. “Okay, you all can go now,” she kidded. “I have my Christmas presents.”
“Okay, Red,” Damien teased, his arm around Helen's waist. “If you want the little darlings, they're yours. But I warn you, they're almost into their terrible two's.”
Helen jabbed him with an elbow. “Hush. She'll take you up on it.”
He laughed, releasing his wife to kiss his encumbered sister-in-law. “How've you been?” Damien's gaze searched her face as though he detected something was wrong. Even half-blind and sporting an eyepatch, he was much too perceptive. “I'm about to keel over,” she lied with a forced laugh. “What have you been feeding these young ladies, rocks?” Handing the giggling, squirming toddlers to their daddy, she embraced Helen, kissing her cheek. “You look fabulous,” she whispered. “Damien must be doing his job.”
Helen laughed. “Oh, yes.” She kissed her sister back. “Yes indeed.”
“Hey,” came another familiar male voice. “Where's my kiss?”
Elissa released her baby sister and grinned at her other brother-in-law, Jack Gallagher. With mock consternation, she shook her head at him. “You're getting handsomer; you aren't supposed to do that. You're supposed to go fat and lose all that sexy brown hair.”
He winked at her, pulling her into his embrace. “And you're supposed to get hippy and crotchety.”
“Why, Jack,” she said with affront “I pride myself on my crotchetiness, and I'm working on hippy.”
Jack laughed as they hugged. Lucy came up to take her sister's hands. “It's good to be back. The place is beautiful with all the decorations. I love the lights and greenery around the windows. It looked so festive as we drove up. I can't imagine anywhere else on earth where I'd rather spend Christmas.”
Lucy's heartfelt statement stabbed Elissa, but she hid the pain. When her sister's soft blue eyes lifted over Elissa's shoulder, her smile grew curious. “Who's this?” Elissa's stomach churned. She knew exactly who Lucy meant
Hesitantly she shifted to peer at Alex as he watched the hustle and bustle, his expression oddly troubled. She was surprised. She'd expected to see that really-good-lie-of-a-grin on his face. Before she had time to react, Damien walked up to the stranger, extending a hand around the fidgety bundle he was holding in the crook of that arm. “I'm Damien Lord, and the pretty lady in the maroon tunic and leggings is Helen, my wife. These wiggly-worms are our girls, Gillian and Gloriana.
Helen extended a hand, which Alex took. Then by some sort of identical-twin brain wave, two pudgy baby hands flew out, flapping in a childish burlesque of their parents actions. Though Alex had released Helen's fingers, Elissa noted that he looked puzzled about the girls, not seeming to know what to do. Clearly he didn't have any experience with females under the age of consent. “I'm Alex D'Amour.” He gave Damien an inquiring look. “Aren't you the author and political columnist?”
“Yes,” Damien said with a grin. “And aren't you the lawyer who won that big toxic waste case in California not long ago?”
Now it was Alex's turn to smile. “Ex-lawyer. I've decided to become a gentleman landowner. Between the Santa Anna fires, earthquakes and working eighty hours a week, I knew some changes had to be made in my life.”
“D‘Amour?” Helen repeated with a gasp. “The same D'Amour who owns the estate?”
“The same.”
Touching her husband's arm, she said, “Then you must have met Damien before. He rented it from you a few years back.”
“No, honey,” Damien said. “A friend of mine knew a lawyer in New York who was overseeing the property for the heirs. I rented it through the lawyer.”
“My parents live in Europe, ”Alex said. “Since there was no will, my father inherited the property. He could never bring himself to sell it, but didn't have much use for a drafty old place in the boonies. Then last summer a will was found in a piece of furniture that belonged to my grandparents' lawyer, who died around the same time they did, when I was five. Until the desk was sold at auction a few months ago, no one knew a will existed .”
“And that will left the property to you?” Helen asked with a delighted smile.
Alex grinned back, his dimples appallingly sexy. “Right. I was only notified last spring that I'd inherited. That was the catalyst for me to make the move.”
Elissa gathered her composure and wove her way through bodies and baggage to stand beside him, desperately uncomfortable, but determined. She smiled with difficulty, knowing it was time to call this—this—
trespasser
by his first name. “Isn't it nice that Alex is going to restore the mansion?” she said, rushing on, “He's staying here during the remodeling—since my inn's so convenient.” She faced Alex, working to make her smile look real. “Isn't that right?”
He grinned down at her, and though she knew his expression was as false as hers, it was breathtaking, with those lush-lashed silver eyes and deep, slashing dimples. “Exactly, Elissa.” His gaze was so affectionate she wanted to kick him. He was doing it on purpose, the conniving bum! Wasn't he causing her enough trouble without this?
“Well, well...” Lucy came forward hand in hand with Jack. She looked speculatively at her elder sister. “You're both ex-lawyers and you're neighbors, too. How nice.” She took his hand. “It's so good to meet you, Alex. Your mansion has played a strong part in our lives. Of course Elissa has told you about that.” She smiled up at him.
His grin broadened, which was no surprise to Elissa. Lucy, beautiful and blond, had turned more than one man to mush with that smile. “Really?” He lifted a brow. “No, Elissa hasn't said a thing.”
“The D'Amour myth? You do know about the myth,” Lucy prodded.
With Alex's puzzled expression, Elissa grew nervous. The last thing she needed was for her sisters to discover she'd slept inside the mansion on her birthday. Under a full moon, yet!
She certainly had no intention of letting them find out that Alex had been the first man she'd seen that morning. Since both Helen and Lucy believed in the silly story, that bit of news would only complicate an already lousy problem.
“No, I don't believe I've heard of any myth.”
“Uh, Alex, have you met Jack Gallagher?” Elissa interjected abruptly. “He owns a few restaurants here and there.” She hoped her tone was lighthearted, because she sure didn't feel that way. “The newest one is right here in Branson.”
Alex's gaze shifted to Jack, who was hovering protectively beside his wife. “No kidding?” He withdrew his hand from Lucy's and took Jack's in a firm grip. “I've eaten at the Gallagher's Bistro in L.A. Great steaks. Is that yours?”
“Guilty, counselor.” Jack grinned. “One of these nights we'll all have to go into town and eat at the Gallagher's here.”
Elissa rolled her eyes. This was going way too well. They weren't supposed to welcome him into the clan, just tolerate him.
BOOK: Her Mistletoe Husband
11.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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