Baby it’s Cold Outside
My Christmas list did not include a broken heart, freezing temperatures, or my tree stuck in the door to my apartment building, but that’s what I got. Just when I thought Santa had failed me, I got something I never thought to ask for …
We make our way toward the other side of the store, and I grab an abandoned shopping cart along the way. “I might need some other things too.”
“Like decorations. Lights and ornaments.”
He glances at me. “You don’t even have lights or ornaments?”
“No, and stop making me feel bad. Getting the tree wasn’t even my idea, it was my boss’s.”
“What did you do last Christmas?” he asks.
My spirits sink even lower as I remember. “I put up a tree with the asshole ex in our apartment, but it was fake, just like his love for me. And I don’t want any of the stupid ornaments that we hung on our fake tree with our fake joy in our fake happiness. It was all a lie.”
“Oh, Jesus.” Michael sighs heavily.
“I’m going to grab some vodka too. Be right back.” I veer off down aisle four and head for the booze section. They probably won’t have my favorite brand here, but beggers can’t be choosers, and I really need something to take the edge off this holiday angst.
Too bad Michael won’t be able to stick around long enough to have a drink with me. It sounds like he has to drive somewhere, and the weather is getting worse by the minute. I’m lucky we ran into each other and he had mercy on me—I’d probably be stringing lights on a tree still stuck in the lobby door if he hadn’t.
God, he’s so damn cute. And charming. And sweet. There was a moment in my apartment, right after he touched my nose, that I thought he was going to kiss me, but he didn’t. Did I imagine it?
Duh, of course you imagined it, you dummy! All you’ve done is make an ass of yourself and talk about your ex. He probably looks and you and thinks Crazy Ex Girlfriend. And look at the way he’s dressed—that man is too hot to be alone on a Friday night. He’s got a date.
I pull a bottle of vodka off the shelf and place it in my cart. Then I add a bag of Hershey Kisses, a box of candy canes, and a tube of ready-made sugar cookie dough. In aisle eight, I grab a few strands of lights and a box of colorful ornaments. Since we’re on foot, I don’t want to buy too much, but I can’t resist picking out a star for the top.
I find Michael in aisle nine looking at a box in his hands. My stomach flip-flops a little as I approach. He’s so tall. I wonder what he looks like underneath all those clothes, and for a moment I fantasize about unwrapping him layer by layer. The winter coat and scarf. The suit and tie. The buttoned-up shirt. I wonder if it has French cuffs or not.
I love French cuffs.
He catches me staring at his hands, which are strong but elegant-looking, with long fingers. “Do I need a manicure or something?”
Embarrassed, I feel my face get hot. “No! Sorry, I was just wondering something.”
One of his eyebrows cocks up. “About my hands?”
Oh, dear God. “Uh, about your shirt actually. Whether or not it has French cuffs.”
“Why were you wondering about my shirt?”
Because I was thinking about taking it off you is not an appropriate answer, although I’m almost tempted to give it. I mean, why not—I’ve been spewing every thought in my head without a filter all night long, haven’t I?
But in the end, I don’t.
“I guess I just like a nice dress shirt with French cuffs.”
He looks amused. “And why’s that?”
I shrug, figuring I might as well be honest. “I think they’re classy and convey there’s something powerful about a man. But it’s an understated kind of power. Like he might drive a Range Rover and drink expensive scotch, but he’ll still pull your hair and say dirty things to you.”
He doesn’t say anything for a moment, but his eyes stay locked on mine. The tension between us ratchets up about a hundred notches. “Yes.”
I’m so lost in the heat of his gaze that I forgot the question. “Yes, what?”
“Yes, my shirt has French cuffs.” He places the boxed tree stand he’s holding in my cart. “Yes, I drive a Range Rover.” Then moves closer to me, so close I can feel his breath on my lips. “Yes, I drink expensive scotch.”
I can barely breathe. My throat is dry. “And the other stuff?”
He smiles the slightly sinister grin of a well-heeled villain. “Come on. I have to let some things come as a surprise.”
While I’m standing there, equal parts turned-on and dumbfounded, he takes the cart from me and pushes it toward the front of the store.
Jolly Old St. Nicholas! Is this guy for real?
I feel like I might look for him again only to find he’s been nothing but a figment of my imagination. Do guys like Michael exist outside of fantasies and romance novels? Is he secretly a serial killer? Am I going to wind up tied up in my closet tonight?
Actually, the idea has some possibilities…
It takes me a couple minutes to recover my senses, and by the time I find him near the registers, he’s already paying for all my loot. “What are you doing?” I ask, frantically tugging on his sleeve. “You don’t have to buy all this!”
“Harlow, it’s not that big a deal.” He pulls out a credit card from his wallet, but before he can swipe it through the reader, I grab it.
“Hey, that’s funny,” I say.
“What is? You stealing my Amex?”
“No. Your last name is West. Mine’s North. North…West… we have the same kind of last name.” I don’t know why it makes me so happy, but it does. We’re both directions! We’re both witches from Oz! Together we’re Kim Kardashian’s baby! It has to be a sign, right?
“Nice to meet you, Harlow North.” He quickly snatches the card out of my hand and swipes it. “Now quit being a pain. I’ve got this.”
I huff and pout, but there’s not much I can do since the transaction is complete within seconds. “Thank you. It was really nice of you to help me at all, let alone pay for my drunk tree-trimming party supplies.”
He laughs and gathers up three of the four bags, including the bulky one holding the tree stand box. “Is that what all this is?”
I grab the last remaining bag, which contains my candy and cookie dough. Maybe I’d just eat it right from the tube. “Pretty much.”
We exit the store and immediately a frigid blast of air hits us. The snow is coming down hard and heavy now, and it’s tough to see even five feet ahead. The ground is slippery too, and I slide a little as we make our way down the sidewalk.
“Careful.” He switches all his bags to one hand so he can take my arm. His touch sets off a spark that warms my entire body. I swear every snowflake that lands on me sizzles.
“So where are you headed tonight?” I ask, hoping it sounds like an innocent question.
“To my sister’s in Lake Bluff.” He looks up and down the avenue. “But the drive is going to be so fucking slow.”
“Do you have to go?” Inside, I’m shrieking for Christmas joy that he’s not going on a date. Visions of sugarplums and his naked body dance in my head.
“I should. It’s my family’s Christmas party, and I skipped it last year too.”
I nod, focusing on the sidewalk again as my sexy visions go poof and vanish. Unless… “You know, your sister probably wouldn’t want you on the road in this blizzard.”
“Definitely not. In fact,” I tell him as we reach our building, “I think you might want to call her and tell her not to expect you.”
“Really.” He sounds amused as we make our way to the elevator.
“Of course!” I punch the button. “I mean, no pressure or anything, but I know I wouldn’t want my brother on the road tonight.”
The elevator doors open. It’s empty.
“Ah. Very sweet of you.” He lets me enter first, then hits 20.
“It’s just too dangerous,” I insist as the doors close. “You could get in trouble out there.”
He leans back against the wall and looks over at me, his expression smoldering. “I could get in trouble right here.”
About the Authors
About Corinne Michaels
New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Corinne Michaels is the author of ten romance novels. She’s an emotional, witty, sarcastic, and fun loving mom of two beautiful children. Corinne is happily married to the man of her dreams and is a former Navy wife.
After spending months away from her husband while he was deployed, reading and writing was her escape from the loneliness. She enjoys putting her characters through intense heartbreak and finding a way to heal them through their struggles. Her stories are chock full of emotion, humor, and unrelenting love.
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About Melanie Harlow
USA Today bestselling author of sweet and sexy romance. Lover of cocktails, high heels, and history with the naughty bits left in. Michigan girl. INTJ. Always seeking ginspiration…