Read Her Mistletoe Husband Online

Authors: Renee Roszel

Her Mistletoe Husband (6 page)

BOOK: Her Mistletoe Husband
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“Why the hell not?” he demanded. “They know I own the D'Amour place. When and where we met doesn't compromise our deal.”
“It does to me.”
He ran a hand through his hair, clearly annoyed. “I don't get it. Maybe you'd better tell me all the rules so I don't have to spend so much time limping or doubledover gasping for breath.”
“That's all, Mr. D'Amour. Just don't mention the real reason you're staying here or that we met on your grounds last Sunday morning.” She held out a hand. “Deal?”
He eyed her outstretched fingers. Wariness riding his features, he leaned against the basement door and crossed his arms over his chest. “There's more to this than you're telling me. Come clean or there's no deal.”
His insight bothered her. “It's not important. It's nothing.”
He snorted. “That
is going to turn into a nice size bruise on my shin. So it's not nothing to me. Spill it or I'll tell them the truth.”
“But you promised!”
He shrugged. “You assaulted me, Miss Crosby. Do I hear why you did it, or do I tell your family you bought this property in a fraudulent deal, and that you're losing it after the new year.”
“It's not true!”
Fingers of dread crawled along her spine. “You—you
His lips twisted in a sly grin that was far from reassuring. “Watch me.”
FTER Elissa explained about the myth, Alex lifted his chin in a half nod, his expression a mixture of cynicism and amusement. “So...” he said, as though making sure he had all the facts straight, “you're worried your sisters will make something of your being on my property on your birthday?” His lips lifted wryly. “Why? You didn't sleep inside the mansion, did you?”
She hated the way he got right to the heart of the matter. He was like the TV detective, Columbo, who seemed to sense from the first second on the crime scene who the murderer was and then hounded him until he confessed. She bit her tongue to keep from doing just that.
Shaking her head, she lied, “Of course I didn't sleep in the mansion. What an insane question.” She had no intention of bringing up anything about the threatening letter she'd received and how it had made her believe she was being stalked that night.
Now that she'd had time to really think about what happened, she realized it was silly to believe someone had known exactly where she would have a flat tire and had been waiting there in the woods for her. The crank letter had spooked her, that was all. The stalker had probably been a deer, the poor animal every bit as startled as she.
Still, Elissa had no plans to go into that or the fact that she'd fulfilled the fable's requirements. The D'Amour myth was nothing more than a fairy tale, and her sister's experiences were charming coincidences. Mentioning it would cause her trouble she didn't need.
Alex pinned her with a dubious look. “I don't quite believe you, Miss Crosby, but...” He stuck his hands into his jeans pockets, the image of a disgruntled male, too good-looking for her peace of mind. Deliberately she shifted her gaze to scan the faded wallpaper. “For now, I'll take your word,” he said. “I don't see you as a woman who would sleep inside a deserted mansion in order to snag a husband, then knee the first sucker you meet. It doesn't fit.”
She silently thanked heaven that he was buying her story, but the “sucker” remark stung. She spun to glare at him. “Nice talk. What do you have against marriage and families anyway?”
His slow smile became a sneer. “Nothing. It's a fine institution for the terminally self-centered.”
Shifting position, Elissa surreptitiously put more distance between them. When he was angry he seemed to take up more space. Unable to understand why her question upset him, she gave a half laugh of impatience. “You should go into the greeting card business, Mr. D'Amour. That's a darling sentiment.”
He shrugged, his features solemn. “Do you want to finish your breakfast?”
The question took her off guard. She'd forgotten they'd left Damien and Helen upstairs gaping at their hurried departure. She made a worried face. “What do we tell them we were doing down here?”
He chuckled darkly. “I don't think what we tell them will matter, do you?”
Her exhale was long and dejected. Why didn't some family cancel their reservations so she could get this—this
out of her parlor. As she trudged up the steps beside him, a pessimistic thought intruded. Or was he the spider, and was this his parlor?
December 23 dawned bright and cold, a brisk north wind ruffling the evergreens and the brown oak leaves clinging to their branches. The rest of the leaf population spiraled and danced over the winter brown lawn, slapping the windows with the urgency of a snowstorm.
The day was passing swiftly and pleasantly, since the guests were all in town taking in the shows and sights. Peace reigned at the inn.
“Oh...” Helen sighed and stretched, drawing Elissa's gaze from her ledger. The youngest of the Crosby sisters stood atop a step stool in the parlor entrance. Elissa couldn't get over how great Helen looked with her ultrashort, ultrafeminine haircut. The style was not only practical for a mother of young twins, but suited Helen's face, making her lovely gray eyes seem large.
“I wish it would snow for Christmas,” Helen said as she lay a mistletoe branch over a small hook. Arranging the red ribbon tied in the greenery to its best advantage, she smiled down at her sisters gathered before the fire. Elissa noticed that her glance shifted to her twins, behaving amazingly well as they played with their dolls on the rug. “What's the forecast, Lis?”
“Snow, of course.” Smiling, she sat back in the big old leather chair that had been their father's. “I ordered the white stuff, myself. The weatherman and I are just like this.” She held up crossed fingers. “Flurries should start sometime Christmas Eve, just in time to give us a full-fledged White Christmas.”
Helen backed down the two steps on the stool. “Good. I know how much you spent for those
you bought for my you-know-who's for you-know-what.” With a nod she indicated the towering Christmas tree in the nearby comer, its boughs bright with tiny twinkling lights and Country Christmas ornaments collected from Branson craft shows. Two large sled-shaped packages stood against the wall behind a mountain of smaller presents. “I'd hate to see all that money go to waste.”
“It won't,” Lucy interjected. “Even if it doesn't snow this year, the you-know-what's will be here for other Christmases. Right, Lis?”
Apprehension stabbed Elissa's heart, but she hid it. She would not allow any negative thoughts to intrude on the holidays. “Absolutely. You don't think I'd let you take them home, do you—I mean how much snow does New York state get?”
Helen laughed. “Oh, right. It's a desert up there especially in the winter.”
The sisters laughed at Helen's joke. Today's newspaper had been plastered with pictures of the wild snowstorm inundating New York at that very moment. “Yes,” Elissa said with an emphatic nod. “You're lucky you're here in the Ozark mountains, where we have snow
Helen folded the stool. “Now all we have to do is wait for the guys to get back from shopping. And Alex from overseeing construction on his mansion. We can get our Christmas kisses.” She gave Elissa a sly look. “
Alex. I bet you have a hankering to kiss that good-looking hunk. Don't you, Elissa?”
Startled, she shifted to stare at her youngest sister. “What?”
“Or do you already know what it's like to kiss him?”
Elissa could feel her cheeks color. “Now listen, you two.” She slapped her ledger book closed in her lap. “Do I have to have it tattooed on my forehead before you'll face the fact that there aren't any sparks of interest between Alex and me. Now, get over it.”
Helen picked up the stool to return it to the pantry. “Mmm-hmm,” she said, not sounding convinced.
Lucy shifted to curl her legs beneath her, drawing Elissa's eyes. She gave the blonde a narrowed look. “You believe me, don't you?”
Lucy smiled. “Whatever you say.” She glanced back at her knitting, and took a stitch before she added, “It's just that you and he are so much alike. You're both ex-lawyers and you're both feisty.”
Lucy giggled. “Helen told me how he practically dragged you out of the dining room the other morning.” She slanted her older sister a suspicious look. “What did he want so urgently, anyway, a review of his bill?”
Elissa swallowed. “It wasn't sexual, if that's what you think.” She shook her head at Lucy. “When will you and Helen get it through your heads that I'm not cut out for marriage. I'm argumentative. I'm bullheaded and stubborn...” She stopped, frowned. “Or is bullheaded the same thing as stubborn?”
“On you? I'd have to say no,” came a masculine voice from the parlor entrance. “The bullheaded Elissa is more painful.”
Both women looked up to see Alex framed in the doorway. He grinned, slipping out of his ski parka and tossing it on a straight-back chair beside the parlor entrance. Elissa watched him, taking in his wide shoulders and the attractive ruddiness of his cheeks, suggesting that he'd walked from the mansion through the woods. His black hair was mussed by the capricious breeze, giving him a country-boy appeal. Dragging her glance away, she checked her watch, feigning boredom. Though she was far from preoccupied with the time, her brain caught the fact that it was five o'clock. Damien and Jack should be back soon.
Just then Helen appeared by his side and Lucy said, “Okay, sister dear, this is your chance to kiss Alex. We expect a full report, don't we Lis?”
Elissa had no idea why Lucy's question embarrassed her. She didn't care if Alex kissed every woman, dog, cat, frog and squirrel in Branson and all of their reports were printed in the newspaper. So why did she feel strangely warm and fluttery at the idea of his kiss? Turning abruptly to thumb through her ledger, she muttered, “Whatever.”
“Ah, Helen,” Alex said with humor in his tone. “A fantasy come true. However, we must do this fast before jealous husbands show up.”
“Too late,” Damien called from the front door. “The jealous husbands have arrived.”
Alex laughed. “Helen it looks like tradition will have to be served with minimal lust.”
Helen giggled. “I'll try to control myself.”
“I can't promise the same thing. I'm a wild man when faced with a beautiful woman,” Alex teased. “How about a nice, safe handshake?”
“Probably wise,” Damien agreed, laughter in his tone.
Helen laughed. “Don't be silly, Alex. We're under the mistletoe. Tradition requires a
“She has a point, Damien,” Alex said with a chuckle.
For the next couple of seconds there was no sound, and Elissa pictured Alex taking Helen into his arms. She shook off the image, and concentrated on the figures in her ledger before her. Then she concentrated on them again, battling back visions of Alex crushing Helen against him, devouring her lips in a passionate kiss.
“I give that forehead kiss a perfect ten, Alex. You've done that before, you suave thing.”
“I don't want to brag, but yours is not the first forehead I've kissed,” he joked.
“Spare me glimpses into your sinful past,” Helen teased, “I might swoon.”
“No swooning allowed until I've had my turn,” came Jack's voice. “Helen, let's have that forehead.”
Helen laughed outright this time. “Oh, no, you don't. The forehead is officially Alex's. You can have a cheek—either one. Your choice.”
“I had no idea I married such a flirt,” Damien interjected, a smile in his voice.
Elissa looked up for this one, watching Jack hug his sister-in-law, as they exchanged cheek kisses. Helen gave him an extra hug of sisterly affection. “I don't know a better cheek-kisser in the entire world, Jack.”
With a wink, he stepped back. “My past is every bit as sinful as Alex's.”
Helen grinned. “Don't I know it, seeing as I've
with you.”
“That's true. Your past is pretty darned sinful, too.” Motioning for her husband to come over, he added, “Okay, Damien, your turn. Let's see what she lets
“Back up a second.” Alex broke in, sounding stunned. “You slept with Jack?”
Damien nudged his arm. “Luckily I'm openminded.”
Helen made a face at her husband. “Oh,
.” She smiled at Alex. “I was five years old and afraid of thunder. He was fifteen and called me a scaredy-cat pest”
“Oh.” Alex shrugged and put his hands into his pockets, his grin crooked. “For a minute, there, I thought I'd stumbled into some depraved den of iniquity.”
Damien hauled his wife into his arms. “I'll see what I can do to arrange that.” His voice was husky and meaningful.
“Damien!” Helen squealed with mock consternation. “We're doing cheeks and foreheads!”
“We'll get to those later, sweetheart,” Damien mumbled, kissing her with great singleness of mind. Elissa could almost feel the passion they shared, and experienced a surge of envy so strong she was ashamed of herself.
Both Helen and Lucy had quieter, gentler natures than she. Any man who might fall in love with her had his work cut out for him. He'd have to be turned on by a stubborn, smart-mouth who had to beat every opponent into dust. In all her thirty years there hadn't been that many takers, once the awful truth of her personality had come to light. It was odd how men tended not to date a woman who whipped their backsides in law school and who could argue them into mush in the courtroom, and who-face it—even, on a couple of recent occasions, kicked them when they exasperated her beyond words.
“Oh, get a room, you two,” Jack admonished with a laugh.
“Luckily they have one,” Lucy added.
BOOK: Her Mistletoe Husband
8.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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