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Authors: Jaci Burton

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BOOK: Melting the Ice
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Sometimes love taught very painful lessons, but she’d long ago decided she wasn’t equipped for that whole falling in love thing.

“Apology accepted. I’m sorry I brought it up—again.”

He took her hand. “You’re entitled to bring it up as many times as you want to. I was a jerk that night. And a lot before that. I didn’t notice you when I should have.”

He wasn’t making this any easier. “You weren’t supposed to do anything other than be who you were. I was the one who threw myself at you.”

He smiled at her. “You did. Thanks for that. It was good for my ego.”

“As if your ego needed any more stroking. You had girls lining up to crawl into bed with you all through college. For as long as I can remember, you were the hot stud every girl wanted to get with. And you were oblivious to most of them, or you strung them along, choosing the best ones and discarding the less attractive ones.”

“Ouch. Was I really that bad?”

“Yes. You were really that bad. As far as I know, you might still be.”

“Trust me. The only thing keeping me busy these days is hockey.”

“Uh-huh. Somehow I find that difficult to believe. A leopard doesn’t change its spots, Drew. And you haven’t suddenly become a monk.”

“Okay, maybe not. But I’m an adult now, and chasing after women like there’s no tomorrow isn’t high on my priority list anymore.”

She wasn’t sure she bought his reformed-bad-boy speech, but as they ate dinner, she noticed he focused only on her, despite several very attractive women trying to get his attention. Okay, points for him on that one. She’d been out on dates with plenty of men who had a roving eye, who seemed to think that they’d been placed on earth to have women service them.

Generally, those were the one-date-only types. A man who couldn’t pay attention to her for the duration of a date didn’t deserve her, and the one thing she’d learned over the years was that she deserved to have a man who wanted her—really wanted her.

Maybe she had Drew to thank for that, since she’d endured a lot of misery because of him, and she’d grown up during those months she’d spent crying over him and mourning the loss of her fantasies about love and happily ever after.

“You’re quiet over there.”

She lifted her gaze to find him staring at her. “Just enjoying my dinner.”

“The steak is that good?”

“You wouldn’t have brought me here if it wasn’t, isn’t that right?”

The waiter took their plates and Drew leaned back in the chair. “Right. So you’ve had some wine, and you’ve been fed. Feeling better now?”

“I was feeling fine before.”

“No you weren’t. You wanted to rush home and do something about those sketches you made during the game.”

“Maybe.”

“Now your face is flushed and you don’t seem as . . . frenetic.”

“Oh, you know big words.”

His lips curved and she watched them as he finished off his glass of wine. “Yeah. I went to college, you know. Got a degree and everything.”

“So I heard. And what have you done with that degree in business you got? Anything useful?”

“Nah. Just pissing the money away on booze and women.”

She didn’t believe that, but then again, what did she really know about what Drew had been doing with his life in the years since he’d left college?

“Seriously?”

He gave her a slanted smile. “Sure. I’m single and carefree. What else am I going to do with the money?”

“I don’t know. Invest it. Give some of it back to your community, to those less fortunate.”

“Now you sound like your dad.”

“And that’s a problem? What’s wrong with my father?”

“Nothing. He’s a great guy. Smart. Successful. Vice president of the United States and everything. And he likes hockey. What’s not to like about him?”

“You didn’t mention his politics.”

“I make a point to never mention politics.”

“Why? Afraid you can’t handle political talk?”

He leaned forward. “Are you baiting me, Ms. Preston?”

“Not at all. I’m just curious about what you do like to talk about.”

“That’s easy. Hockey. And sex.”

Now this was the Drew she remembered, the one who teased her and did his best to irritate her.

It was working.

She rolled her eyes. “Amazingly enough, two of my least favorite subjects.”

“I know you’re lying about the hockey part. I saw how excited you got watching the game. So, you don’t like sex?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“I think you just did.”

She should have just gone home after the game. Despite his apology, Drew was obviously only interested in annoying her. He hadn’t changed all that much in the years since college. “I think it’s time I leave.”

He laughed. “You never could handle a good argument, Carolina. And I thought as a politician’s daughter, you’d be one to hang in there for at least a little longer.” He waved to the waiter, who asked if they wanted coffee and dessert. When Drew looked at Carolina, she shot him a glare.

“Guess not, Daniel. We’ll just take the bill.”

He sat back and finished up the last of the wine, then paid the bill while Carolina fumed silently.

He’d gotten to her, and Carolina had been certain he didn’t have the capacity to do that any longer. She didn’t know if she was more irritated with him, or with herself. They stood and headed outside, and she was half tempted to grab a taxi rather than share a car ride with him.

But that would be petty and childish and she’d outgrown those emotions. She could certainly endure the ten-minute ride back to her place.

“You’re irritated,” he said after a few minutes in the car.

“No, I’m not. I’m just tired and thinking about how much work I have to do tonight.”

“Are you on a schedule?”

“Yes. A very tight one.”

“Then maybe you should have said no when I invited you to dinner.”

She shot him a look, then realized she couldn’t blame him. He was right. She was an adult and capable of making her own decisions. It wasn’t like he’d kidnapped her or in any way forced her to come to dinner with him. It was her own weakness where he was concerned that pissed her off.

“Maybe I should have. Next time I’ll say no when you invite me out.”

“What makes you think I’ll invite you out again?”

Refusing to take the bait this time, she sat silently while the car took them to her apartment. She reached for the door handle, but Drew stopped her.

“I’ll walk you up.”

She let out a short laugh. “I don’t think so.”

Ignoring her, when the driver opened the door, he stepped out after her, his long stride bringing him alongside her.

“I don’t want you coming up with me.”

“I’m going to see you to your door. It’s the way I was brought up.”

She stopped. “Oh . . . so
now
you’re being a gentleman?”

Apparently, he wasn’t taking the bait, either, because he merely smiled and held the door for her while she went inside and to the elevator. Clearly she wasn’t going to be able to get rid of him, so she stepped into the elevator and rode with him to her floor, then walked to her door. Key in hand, she unlocked her door and turned to him.

“Thank you for dinner.”

“Why don’t you invite me in for an after-dinner drink?”

“I might be dumb, Drew, but I’m not stupid.”

“Not sure I know what that means. Can I use your bathroom?”

She rolled her eyes at the obvious ploy. “No.”

“Come on, Carolina. It’s kind of urgent. I had a lot of wine and it’s a long ride back to my apartment.”

“Fine.” She stepped in and closed the door while he made his way down the hall. She hung up her coat and went into the kitchen to put the kettle on to boil to make tea.

“What are you doing?”

She jumped, her thoughts lost in what she was going to be working on tonight, along with the tea. She turned to face him. “I’m making tea.”

He wrinkled his nose. “No coffee?”

“I do have coffee.”

“Good. I’d love some.” He shed his coat.

Drew was the worst guest ever. She followed him into the living room. “Don’t you have a car waiting?”

“Yeah.”

“Don’t you think you should go downstairs and get in it?”

He blew into his hands. “No. He’ll wait. Do you want me to make the coffee?”

She let out a frustrated sigh. Drew was either utterly dense or deliberately trying to piss her off. He wasn’t stupid, so she was going with the latter. Surely he knew she had work to do and that she wanted him to leave.

She should just ask him to go. Damn her upbringing. Her mother would kick her butt if she found out she’d thrown out a guest, even if it was Drew. The Prestons always treated company with a smile. They were always polite.

Ugh. She wanted to boot his annoying ass right out the door. “No. I’ll make the coffee.”

She put water in her brewer and stuck a brew cup in, then pressed the button to start the warming process and grabbed a cup.

“Cream and sugar?” she asked him.

“Black is fine for me.”

She prepared her tea, then his coffee. “Why don’t we go into the living room and sit down?”

“Okay.”

She mentally relaxed her jaw, which had tightened when Drew had invited himself to stay. Thinking of all the sketching and notes she had to make, she forced her shoulders down and tried to relax.

Always be a good hostess.
That was the Preston way. After all, he couldn’t stay all night long.

Could he?

She glanced at her watch. It was eleven thirty.

And it was going to be a long night.

 • • • 

DREW SHOULD HAVE BEEN A GOOD SPORT AND LEFT Carolina at the door, but there was something about this woman that got under his skin.

He couldn’t just let it go—let her go.

Besides, she was just so damn polite. She should have stopped him downstairs. Or at the door. She should have been rude to him and told him to take a hike. Instead, she’d been gracious, letting him come in when he’d given her that bogus excuse about needing to take a leak. Then she’d even made him coffee, when any other woman would have kicked his ass out the front door.

Typical Preston manners. He’d seen it plenty in Gray’s parents, especially his mother. God knew Gray didn’t have the same manners. Gray would kick your ass if you needed it, though he still possessed elements of etiquette—more so than any of the other guys, anyway.

But Carolina—she was a piece of work. He’d done his best to annoy her, and she still gave him the Preston stiff upper lip and air of politeness.

He’d really like to ruffle her feathers a little, to bring out the passion he knew lurked just under the surface. He’d made her burn once, had turned the ice queen into a molten, bubbling volcano of sexual lava. He’d seen glimpses of her today, when she thought he wasn’t looking. The glances she leveled at him, the way her body turned in his direction. It was like she wanted him, but she resisted.

He wanted that erupting volcano of a woman again, not this cool, reserved specimen of polite society.

He took a seat on her sofa, which he knew irritated her. She wanted him to leave. He wanted to talk to her. “Are you going to Washington to be with your family for Thanksgiving?”

“I don’t think I am. I have so much work to do. Are you going home?”

“No. I have a game right after, so I’m just going to hang out here. A bunch of us are going to serve the homeless for Thanksgiving.”

She leaned back. “That’s . . . really nice of you.”

He shrugged. “Better than hanging out in the apartment playing video games.”

“I have to admit, this surprises me.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. It just does.”

“I have a heart, Carolina. Despite what you might think about me.”

She took a sip of tea. “I don’t think anything about you.”

“Don’t you?” He smiled at her.

“No. I don’t.”

“Why don’t you spend Thanksgiving with me and the guys?”

He loved the way her eyes widened, the look on her face like a cornered animal, searching for a way to escape.

“Oh. I don’t think so. Like I said, I have to work.”

“It’s Thanksgiving. No work that day.”

“That’s the reason I’m not going home. I need to be productive.”

“You need to be thankful for everything you have that day. Or show your appreciation to others for everything you have. Work the rescue mission with me and my friends.”

He had her now and she knew it. “Okay. Fine. I’ll do that for a few hours, then I’ll come back and work.”

“Sounds great.” He laid his coffee cup down. “Speaking of work, I’m sure you have some you’d like to do, so I’ll get out of your way.”

She stood up so fast she created a breeze. “I’ll walk you to the door.”

She opened the door. Drew leaned in and brushed a kiss on her cheek. “Thanks for coming to the game, and hanging out with me at dinner.”

Again she wore that surprised look, which made him happy. He liked keeping her off balance.

“Thanks for inviting me to the game. It’ll help with my line.”

He gave her a smile. “Anytime, babe. I can’t wait ’til we work on the underwear.”

FIVE

CAROLINA HAD INTENDED TO SPEND THANKSGIVING immersed in her work, not elbow-deep in gravy. Yet here she was at the mission, surrounded by a half dozen men a foot taller than her and a crowd of people hungry and waiting to be fed.

It was amazing. The mission was filled with people, and instead of being alone and lonely, she was facing smiles and listening to raucous laughter, both behind and in front of the counter where she was serving up turkey dinner.

She supposed she had to be grateful to Drew for dragging her out of her apartment today. She would have likely eaten a salad and spent the day watching the parade and missing her family. Instead, he’d picked her up at seven a.m. and she’d met four of his teammates, who’d immediately hugged her and told her she was now one of the Travelers. Drew even brought her a team jersey to wear today, though it was miles too big for her. But Colin Kozlow, one of Drew’s teammates, had told her she looked cute.

Cute. Just great. Avery Mangino, the goalie for the Travelers, had asked her if she was Drew’s girlfriend, since the jersey she wore had Drew’s name and his number. She vehemently said no, which had caused Drew to smirk and all the guys to give him a hard time.

BOOK: Melting the Ice
8.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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