A sneak peek of Under the Mistletoe, my story in JINGLE BALLS, releasing on Tuesday, September 29th!
Nurse practitioner Darcy Ryan and football hottie Jackson Carmichael spent one magical, sexy summer together seven years ago. Everything between them was perfect until he abruptly broke Darcy’s heart and left her bitter.
She hasn’t seen Jackson until today, when he showed up unexpectedly at the first meeting of the Jingle Balls Gala planning committee . . . shocking both of them.
I’m only vaguely aware of the discussions going on around me during the first half of the meeting. Oh, I nod and smile and say yes or no as I should. I’m taking notes, jotting down shit that I don’t think means anything. I’m fairly certain there won’t be a test, after all.
But all that’s happening with one part of my brain. Another part is busy cataloging everything about the man sitting across the table from me, noting his every move.
Eyes? Check. The same beautiful bright blue that would darken to nearly navy when he was aroused.
Lips? Check. The same sensual shape that used to draw cries of pleasure from me on the regular.
Jaw? Check. The same chiseled feature, only today it bears a fine, unmistakable and almost unbearably sexy scruff.
Chest? Check, and check, and check. It’s broader. More defined. Even through the golf shirt he wears, I can see his pecs, and fuck if I don’t want to use my tongue to trace them. I’m imagining doing just that when the chairperson clears her throat.
“Now, we need someone to head up the music committee.” Mrs. Lockhart’s manicured finger taps the table. “Let’s see. Who hasn’t . . . oh, Ms. Ryan.”
“Yes, what? I mean, yes. I can do it.” I pause, coughing a little. “I mean, sure, I’m happy to help with . . . ah, the—”
“The music,” Jackson finishes for me, and damn the man to hell, he has the audacity to wink at me as he says it! As if we’re in this together or some nonsense like that. “And you know, Mrs. Lockhart, I’ll join Darcy on that committee, if you don’t mind. It sounds like it would be a good match for my talents.”
Mrs. Lockhart glances at him with her brows drawn together, and then she nods, smiling. “Oh, yes, the famous rhythm of football players—you’re probably an excellent dancer, aren’t you? What with you being so . . .” She rolls one hand. “Physical. So . . .” She seems to have lost the knack for words.
I want to tell Jackson that no, he cannot be on the music committee. Or even better, I want to tell Mrs. Lockhart that I won’t be on the music committee. But before I can say anything, she’s announcing that we’ve made tremendous headway today, and isn’t that lucky . . . and the meeting is adjourned! She’ll see us in August!
Everyone stands up and begins gathering their papers and shit. I realize that I’m trapped. I need to get out of this room fast before Jackson can corner me. I hope that someone will talk to him, holding him up, and thank the Lord and the Blessed Virgin, the TV station guy does just that. I’m so relieved that I actually smile at Jackson—I hope he reads my triumph and a little bit of nanny-nanny-boo-boo in that expression—as I sweep out of the room.
Okay, I don’t so much sweep as I scamper as fast as my sandal-clad feet will carry me. But the point is, I get the hell out of Dodge, and fast. I’m waiting for the elevator, tapping my toe impatiently, when I hear his voice in the hall. Damn. He and television dude are slowing walking this way, and Jackson glances over the other man’s head, searching me out.
Come on, elevator, I silently beg. As if it is just awaiting my plea, the doors slide open. But of course, the car is filled with other people. And they’re slow getting out. Jackson’s getting closer. Dammit, dammit, shit and fuck. I’m mentally reciting swear words in my head as the last person steps from the elevator. Two others stand with me, and they both move to get in first. I follow close on their heels, and for a glorious moment, I think I’ve gotten away.
Then I hear the dreaded words. “Hold the elevator, please!”
The woman standing to my left hears Jackson, and to my dismay, she jabs the Door Open button.
“You know, they could just catch the next one,” I murmur, but she shoots me a glare that questions my upbringing and leans harder on that stupid button.
“Thanks.” Jackson and the other man nod to the button-pusher as they step in. I maneuver my way to the back corner. Maybe I can just stay on here and ride up and down until I’m sure Jackson has left the hotel.
No such luck. Jackson must be hip to my jive because he also moves to the back wall and turns to face me.
“Darcy, can I have a moment before you take off? We should probably talk about the music and decide the direction we want to take.”
I grit my teeth and nod.
When the elevator stops, everyone gets out. Jackson and I are the last two, and I guess he’s afraid I’m going to make a run for it because he curves his fingers around my upper arm. “Why don’t we just come over here?”
I let him guide me, mostly because if I don’t, it’ll make a scene. We end up in a small alcove, where Jackson turns my back to the wall and rests one arm over my head, looming over me.
“Darcy.” His eyes search my face. “God, I can’t believe it’s really you.”
“It is really me.” I cross my arms and stare at a point on his shoulder, which seems much safer than looking at his face or his chest. “What do you need?”
“What do I need? Well, for starters, I’d love to know why you’ve been avoiding me.”
I snort and roll my arms. “Avoiding you? Get over yourself, Jackson. I’m not avoiding you.”
“Is that why you’ve missed almost every Christmas dinner at Granny’s in the last seven years, and in fact, the only one you didn’t miss was the one when Seattle had the Christmas Day game, and I couldn’t be home?”
I lift one shoulder. “Coincidence, I guess. I’m a nurse practitioner, Jackson. We work all the holidays. People don’t stop getting sick just because it’s Christmas.”
“You’re ridiculous.” His voice is tight.
“Oh, I’m ridiculous?” My words might be a little louder and a little shriller than I planned. “God almighty, Jackson. I don’t even know where to begin with you. And I don’t have the time or energy to do it today. But maybe you should give some thought to why it’s not me who owes you an explanation. It’s exactly the opposite.”
He swallows. I can see his Adam’s apple bob up and down. When he speaks again, his voice is huskier. “Darcy, have lunch with me. C’mon . . . you’ve got to admit this is a crazy coincidence, the two of us being on this committee. Please. There’s a little restaurant looking right out over the beach. We can talk.”
I waver for a moment. He sounds so honest, so earnest, and yet . . . I can’t forget what he did to me. I can’t forget how he threw away my love, abandoned me and never even explained why.
So instead of answering, I duck under his arm and step away. “No, Jackson. I can’t. I’m tired—I just worked an overnight shift—and I need to go home.” I hesitate just a moment more and add, “I’ll be in touch about the music for the ball.”
“Will you?” he questions, his skepticism clear.
I glare up at him. “Yes, in fact, I will. Because I keep my promises.”
With that, I turn and leave.