Could Tilly's day get any worse? Even Christmas had been cancelled! Will
Dean succumb to temptation as he endeavors to make Christmas better for both of them?
Matilda 'Tilly' Carter didn't think her day could get any worse, but even Christmas had just been cancelled.
The one girl Dean Watson has sworn never to have—never even expected to see again—just flared back into his life and into his home—his sanctuary—like she belonged there. Christmas would certainly be more bearable with Tilly around though...
As the chinks in Dean's armor appear, Tilly seizes the chance to win her knight once and for all. She's not about to take no for answer—not this time—but Dean must resist, even as his heart rebels and temptation threatens to undermine his resolve.
Win or lose? Love or honor? Which will Dean choose? Assuming he gets a choice...
Tears welled in her eyes, clouding her vision. She turned and wandered blindly toward the exit as the first tear escaped, forging a track down her cheek for the rest to follow. Tilly took in a lungful of air and then another. Having made a spectacle of herself once already, she really didn't want to be the cause of yet another scene.
The crowds swarmed around her, with students and family members heading home for the holidays only adding to the usual rush-hour melee of commuters. They jostled past, threatening to swallow her whole, as they rushed en mass in the opposite direction, using their briefcases and suitcases as a battering ram.
It was suffocating. She had to get out of there. Breaking into a run, broken heel or not, she raced through the doors and out into the biting December chill. Her waterlogged eyes struggled to adjust to the dark, dreary sky after the bright station lights, but she didn't dare slow down, desperate to escape the throng of festivities and merriment.
Carol singers assembled outside burst into a jovial rendition of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," full of joy and happiness. Didn't they know Christmas had just been cancelled?
"Ooof!" Tilly smacked her shin against the edge of a low bench, too dark to see as she tried to dodge the growing audience. She ended up sprawled across the bench, dropping the handle of her suitcase with a loud clatter.
At least the pain shooting down her leg gave her an excuse to be crying. Unfortunately, it meant she had to stop running too. Not good. Whenever things got too tough, too intimate, or too confrontational, you could rely on her to make a run for it. Running away was what she did best...
A tall figure loomed in the edge of her vision, something vaguely familiar about the man's loping gait. In an effort to see him more clearly, she wiped her eyes with the back of her hands, then cringed inwardly at the black streaks now etched all over them. Great. She could add impersonating a panda to her day from hell as well then.
The mascara stung her eyes, rendering her unable to focus properly. She blinked furiously as the man strode past her, talking into a mobile phone in a deep voice that resonated throughout her body and made the fine hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. A surge of adrenaline rushed to her legs, numbing the pain as her subconscious told her to run. Now!
The cloaked figure stopped mid-stride as if he'd heard her gasp. "Mike, I've gotta go," he barked into the phone, hanging up instantly. He backtracked until he was standing right in front of her, his tone changing from a growl to one of surprise. "Basmati?"
Great. She hadn't heard the nickname for years—nine years, four months and...sixteen days, to be exact—and even then, only one person had ever actually used it. She screwed her eyes tightly shut, shaking her head from side to side. No. No way. There was absolutely no way this could be happening to her. Not now. Not today of all days... Talk about kicking a girl when she was down.
"Is it really you?" he asked.
Maybe she should pretend it wasn't her? Mistaken identity and all that? She looked quite different now; she might be able to pull it off and get away from him. Even as she tried to convince herself to do it, a little voice inside told her it was futile to resist. It pained her to agree. It would kill her not to speak to him, to not look at him and see the man he had become. She'd only drive herself mad trying to work out why he was so far from home.
Nine years was a long time. Maybe he'd have forgotten all about how she'd thrown herself at him, her brother's best friend, humiliating herself to the extent that she'd fled her hometown? Yeah, and maybe pigs had suddenly learned to fly too.
"Hi, Dean," she mumbled, staring down at his feet like the timid and shy teenager she'd once been whenever he'd been around. But she wasn't that person anymore. Oh no, she was quite possibly even worse now. Slowly, she lifted her gaze, delaying the moment when their eyes would meet. "Long time no—"
Her jaw actually dropped. It gaped open, betraying her reaction. Smart brogue business shoes—well-polished—gave way to an expensive-looking gray pinstripe suit—Armani, if she wasn't mistaken. He'd teamed it with a crisp white shirt and a deep red silk tie—the color of blood—tied in a fancy Windsor knot, and then he'd completed the ensemble with a dark woolen overcoat. Left undone, it only served to highlight his spectacular physique.
Butterflies took flight in her belly, fluttering wildly. Where were the scruffy jeans and baggy T-shirts? She committed every inch of this new Dean to memory, but she couldn't bring herself to look beyond the shirt collar and tie. It was sure to be her undoing. She was practically salivating already. He must be able to hear her heart pounding ferociously against her rib cage.
She'd always had a thing for men in suits, and she'd always had a thing for Dean; putting the two together was sure to be a winning—or maybe that should be losing—combination.
"It is you. I knew it. Fancy seeing you here." He sat down beside her, his tone friendly, and he sounded pleased to see her. If only she could deny feeling the same. "Are you all set for Christmas then?"
Ripped from her daydream, the one where Dean had tracked her down, declared his undying love to her, and then whisked her away to a country manor, the events of the day came crashing back down on her. The shock and her excitement at seeing him drained out of her, seeping out of her shoes into the concrete slabs, as cold and harsh as the reality she faced.
"No, not yet. Speaking of which, I must dash," she said, ignoring the pain lancing through her leg as she stood. She did her best to saunter off without looking like she was running away but failed spectacularly.
"Hey, are you okay?" Damn it, he must have spotted her limp. He caught up with her in a matter of strides, the crowds parting for him, whereas she was trying to swim against the tide.
"I'm fine, thanks." Tilly sounded sullen and brattish even to her own ears.
"You could have fooled me." He spun her around to inspect her. She didn't want to think about how bad she looked.
"I said I'm fine." Stunned by her body's reaction to his slight touch, she staggered back a step. "I also said I have to go."
"What happened to your shoe?"
She could easily picture the way his brows would be knotted together, frowning down at her, but she didn't want his concern. What she wanted was for him to leave her alone. Didn't she? It was pitiful how much she was torn between pushing him away to make a run for it or wrapping her arms around him and clinging on like a frightened child.
"It doesn't matter, just forget it."
He either missed the hint and the dangerous edge to her voice or he chose to ignore it. "It does matter, and I can't just forget it. Are you injured?"
Now she really glared at him. "For Pete's sake! I said I'm fine. Just let it go." Big mistake! She'd been right to avoid looking above the shirt collar, and the poor light did nothing to hide the transformation he'd gone through. She couldn't hold the glare; she'd already seen too much. Heat was building in her core and merging with the fire that had erupted inside her at his touch.
"No." A hint of menace crept into his voice. It couldn't possibly be protective; he had no reason to be protective of her. Well, he'd been warned—