Read Her Mistletoe Husband Online

Authors: Renee Roszel

Her Mistletoe Husband (9 page)

BOOK: Her Mistletoe Husband
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“Damned straight.”
She heard him lift the receiver and slammed her hand on top of his. “Don't bother,” she said through a weary sigh. “I've already called the police. They're working on the case.” She squeezed his hand, her expression pleading. “Promise me you'll keep this to yourself. I won't have my family's holiday spoiled by something that's nothing but a sick joke.”
He held on to the receiver, his glance stormy, his jaw working. “I've never met such a hardheaded woman in my life,” he muttered. “Damn.”
She experienced an ironic sense that she'd been complimented, and she smiled wearily. “Thanks.” She indicated the door with a nod. “Now go away. It's under control, okay?”
Her hand was still clamped over his on the phone receiver. She knew if he wanted to, he could easily throw her off, so she had the impression that he was rethinking the whole thing, too.
“All right, Miss Crosby.” He lifted his hand from the phone and ran it through his hair. “As long as you keep the police informed.” He shook his head at her. “I only hope your family appreciates the way you protect them.”
She dropped her glance to her lap, embarrassed, and not sure why. “Just go.”
She didn't hear movement and knew he was hesitating. “Maybe you ought to keep your bedroom door open at night. Just in case.”
She eyed him with misgiving. “Just in case what? You get the urge to play Peeping Tom?”
He snorted. “Have it your way. But what if this letterwriting bastard doesn't know your statistics and decides to sneak in your window and do his worst?”
She heard the scrape of his shoe as he turned away. By the time he reached the door, she'd spun around, unable to stop herself. “Okay,” she called. “But just a
crack.”
He shifted to glance at her over his shoulder. “That puts a crimp in my Peeping Tom fantasy,” he said, “but okay.” He flashed a brief grin. The reassuring warmth in it affected Elissa strongly. And that knowledge unsettled her almost as much as the letters.
 
The Chamber of Commerce Holiday Dinner Dance got off to a rocky start, as far as Elissa was concerned. She hadn't planned to mention it was that night. Unfortunately Jack was also a business owner in Branson, so he'd been invited, too. Much to Elissa's regret, he brought it up, suggesting that it would be a nice change. So Friday evening, December 27, the three couples headed into town in Damien's rental BMW.
Even though Lucy sat up front with Helen and Damien to give those in the back seat more room, Elissa felt as though she's been welded bodily to Alex. Sitting in the middle, she kept peering over at Jack, wondering how such a trim man could take up so much room. Was he doing it on purpose? Poking an elbow in his ribs she asided, “Jack, could you scoot over?”
He grinned at her. “Nope. Sorry.”
“You could slide into Alex's lap,” Helen suggested.
Elissa glared at the back of her sister's head. Bending forward, she whispered in her ear, “Do you want tomorrow's headlines to read ‘Unidentified woman found by roadside'?”
Helen laughed. “You wouldn't do that. My pets need me.”
“What are we talking about?” Lucy asked, looking from one sister to the other.
“My pets.” Helen met Elissa's gaze in the rearview mirror and she grinned. “And since you're so interested, they're all fine. I talked to our house sitter last night. He said the injured owl I rescued is doing much better.”
“Your house sitter's that retired veterinarian?” Lucy asked.
“Mmm-hmm. He loves the animals, and of course it makes me feel good to know they're being taken care of properly.”
“Injured owl?” Elissa shook her head, almost able to smile about Helen's latest project. She touched Damien's shoulder. “Don't you ever wish she'd give up her hobby of collecting broken creatures?”
Damien laughed. “Don't forget, Lis. I was one of those broken creatures.”
Elissa felt a softening at the memory of how Damien had come to their inn. “It seems like forever-ago.” She touched Helen's cheek. “Of course, I remember. My baby sister is our little patron saint of—”
“Oh,
please,
” Helen interrupted, sounding selfconscious. “Subject change.”
“This is exciting,” Lucy chimed in, right on cue. “Jack and I haven't been dancing in a long time. I'm glad you mentioned this, darling.” She shifted so that she could better smile at her husband, then eyed Elissa curiously. “I can't believe you forgot, Lis. Usually you're so adamant about attending Chamber functions.”
Elissa felt herself flush and hoped the darkness in the car masked her discomfort. “Too much going on, I guess.”
“You have been busy,” Jack admitted. “Buried in that office of yours. This will do you good.”
“Yes, it will.” Alex stretched an arm out along the back of the seat, giving them both more room. As his hand brushed her shoulder, she scooted forward until her knees were wedged against the front seat. “You're starting to get coal miner's pallor,” he added.
She glared at him. “Thanks. That's the look I was going for.”
His grin was teasing and sexy. Hastily she turned away, trying to ignore the hard feel of his leg against her hip. “What were you saying, Lucy?” she asked, desperate to find something else to think about.
Lucy looked puzzled. “Nothing. I just coughed”
“Oh...” Elissa cursed herself for being such a nervous ninny. She'd touched men's thighs before. Alex wasn't poisonous, for heaven's sake.
An eternity passed, her unsettled spirit slightly mollified by the charm of twinkling Christmas decorations they passed as they motored through the snow-covered hills and hollows of the Ozark Mountains. As they entered Branson, a vast animated scene on the mountainside told the story in extravagant shimmering lights that Branson was the home of music, music and more music.
A vote was taken to drive around to view the festival of lights. Elissa tried to get into a festive mood, even though Alex's leg seemed to be pressing harder against her hip. She avoided looking in his direction for fear she would scream, so she looked out of Jack's window.
Lake Taneycomo reflected the holiday lights of Branson's old-fashioned waterfront Elissa knew any other time she would have been delighted by the festive scenery, but right now all she wanted to do was shove a certain bothersome lawyer into the lake's frosty depths.
“Look up there.” Lucy pointed toward the east where Mount Branson displayed its traditional depiction of the Nativity.
“It's even more lovely than I remember,” Helen said, her tone hushed.
Along 76 Country Music Boulevard, Elissa felt Alex's arm around her shoulders again, and realized she'd slumped back. Hurriedly she jerked forward. Frantic to give a reason for her abrupt move, she blurted, “Aren't all the theaters beautiful, lit up the way they are! Look there, and there...”
She pointed disjointedly, not caring where she indicated. And it didn't matter. Every building was unique in its own way—from the Andy Williams theater that looked as though it had been carved from the very cliffs, to the Grand Palace, its facade the image of a Southern mansion.
As they drove along the mountain ridge boulevard the whole town gave off a welcoming sparkle. In truth Elissa hardly noticed, her thoughts about Alex D'Amour a conficting mix of hunger and homicide.
“After the party, let's take a drive down the Trail of Lights,” Helen suggested.
“No!”
Elissa yelled, then cringed at the panic in her voice. “I mean, well—it might be late...”
Jack laughed. “It probably will be.”
“Oh, Elissa's right,” Lucy admitted. “She does get up early. We should think of her.”
“We're here,” Damien interjected, as he pulled into the snow-cleared parking lot to the Lodge of the Ozarks. “Okay, Helen, let's show these folks how to tango.”
Helen giggled. “You're so funny.”
Jack stepped out of the car, heading around to help his wife out, leaving Alex to assist Elissa. She reluctantly faced her nemesis, giving him an aren't-you-going-to-open-the-door? glare. Withdrawing his arm from around her, he asked, “Do you tango? If you don't I'll teach you.”
She chewed on the inside of her cheek, hating having been forced into this untenable position of being Alex's date. But a refusal would have required more explanation than she planned to go into. She glanced toward the front seat. It was empty. The hollow
thud
,
thud
of doors closing was the only sound in the crisp night She counted to ten, but it didn't lighten her mood. Meeting Alex's disturbing glance, she muttered, “If my choices were to learn the tango from you, or be devoured in a feeding frenzy of great white sharks, I'd choose the sharks. Is that
perfectly
clear?”
He chuckled and turned to open the door. “Why, Miss Crosby, I had no idea you were such a tease.”
 
The rustic convention center was a Yuletide wonderland of artistic displays of greenery. The ballroom's centerpiece was a huge Christmas tree decorated with old-fashioned colored balls, tinsel, ribbons and hand-crafted ornaments.
Alex watched Elissa with wry amusement as she adroitly avoided not only his presence, but every location where mistletoe dangled. He scanned her as she chatted with Yakov Smimoff, the famous Russian-born comedian who had given an hilarious after-dinner performance. The comedian was laughing at something she said, but they were too far away to hear over the din of conversation and dance music.
Alex slid his glance over her approvingly. Lord, she was gorgeous. Tall and sleek in that long, shapely dress of ivory silk, she gave the impression of being untouchable, like some Grecian column amid an ancient ruin-standing alone and proud, refusing to crumble.
He wasn't a man who mixed business with pleasure, and he knew the knee-happy redhead didn't care much for him, to put it mildly. But being a man who loved a dare, he found her reticence to be on the same planet with him more intriguing than anything he could recall in years. He may have given up his law practice, but he was still damnably aggressive, and he still loved to win. If feisty Miss Elissa Gardenia Crosby wanted him to ignore her, she was going about it the wrong way.
With the cunning intent of a lion stalking a zebra in high grass, Alex made his way toward his prey. A lull in the conversation between the redhead and the comedian presented him with his opening. “It's our dance, Elissa.” He nodded toward Yakov. “You put on a great show,” he added, meaning it.
Yakov's smile glinted out from his black, curly beard, but before he could respond, he was pulled into a nearby conversation, leaving Alex to draw Elissa into his arms. “Why do I feel like you've been avoiding me?” he asked with a taunting grin.
She went stiff in his arms, and that amused him further.
“Maybe because I
have
been avoiding you,” she retorted, her tone as inflexible as her body.
“Ah,” he teased. “My instincts are still on target.” The music was sensuous and slow. He led her into a turn, adeptly drawing her against him. She was warm, real, not a marble column at all, even though she was making every effort to imitate one.
“If your instincts are so on target, then why are we dancing?”
He chuckled, enjoying the repartee. “You're a challenge, Miss Crosby.”
She eyed him with skepticism. “What?” Something seemed to dawn on her, and her green eyes went appealingly wide. “What do you think you're going to do? Seduce me?”
He splayed his hand along the hollow of her back to draw her more firmly against him. “Yes,” he whispered.
She sucked in a shocked breath, stiffening again. He quirked a sly grin as he watched her absorb the fact that she had actually relaxed against him. “You have about as much chance at seducing me as you do taking away my inn, buster.”
He watched her, saw fear glint in her gaze. She wasn't as sure of herself as she pretended. “Have you heard from your lawyer friend?”
She flinched and he experienced a twinge of compassion. He didn't like putting her out of her home. But it wasn't his fault she'd been duped by a clever con man. These things happened every day. She would come out okay. Elissa Crosby had more backbone than any ten women he knew.
“Dr.—Dr. Grayson's out of his office for a few days. It is Christmas vacation, you know. I can't expect him to ignore his family.” She lifted her stubborn chin and he fought the urge to kiss it. “He'll have the bad news for you soon enough.”
Her voice broke slightly, and his smile faded. She didn't have a leg to stand on, and her vulnerability—one she refused to admit to—got to him.
BOOK: Her Mistletoe Husband
4.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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