Read A Little Christmas Jingle Online

Authors: Michele Dunaway

A Little Christmas Jingle (10 page)

BOOK: A Little Christmas Jingle
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“Dinner's ready,” Jack's mom announced. “And Nelson,” she called into the other room, “you better hit that pause button on the DVR. You can watch when we're finished and skip through the commercials. You will give this family at least forty-five minutes of your time.”

“Yes dear,” came the reply, for while no one better talk during Nelson's Sunday football, the flipside was that for the past twenty years Sunday dinner had gone on the table promptly at five thirty, football be darned. Needless to say, Jack's stepdad had been the first one on his block to own and master the use of a DVR.

Jack and Cecily grabbed serving dishes as their mom directed, and soon all sat around the dining room table, the eat-in kitchen too tiny to be comfortable for more than two at most. The old oak dining room table had seen many a meal, many a homework assignment, many a conflict resolution, and many a celebration.

Jack's back rested against the ladder-back chair assigned since childhood, his seat ever since his mom had married the man who'd found and fallen in love with her after Jack's father's desertion.

Cecily's fiancé, Brian, occupied Jack's older stepbrother Matt's seat; half sister Brenna's remained empty. In the middle of finals, she'd be home when the semester was over.

“How's Brenna doing?” Jack asked, figuring that might be a safe conversation.

“Fine,” his mother said. “She loves journalism. Competitive, but Brenna's got a special knack. So, tell us more about this girl you're bringing to the wedding. Is it serious?”

Jack stabbed a slab of medium-rare roast beef, lifting the slice from the platter to his plate. The center held just the right amount of pink. “Like I said, she's a vet. We just met.”

“Meaning it'll fizzle,” Cecily predicted.

“You don't know that,” Jack snapped, suddenly irritated. “It's still new. You've known Brian forever, so what would you know about my relationships?”

Brian wisely concentrated on spooning green bean casserole onto his plate.

“So what color are her eyes?” Cecily challenged.

“Brown. With these little gold specks.” The answer came forth automatically, without his having to think about it.

“Hmm. Okay, that was fast. You didn't turn on that recorder in your brain. Maybe you do actually like this one.”

“I do.” That wasn't a lie either, Jack realized as he reached for the mashed potato bowl coming his way. Kat was special. He easily recalled the length of her fingers and how they'd stroked Jingle's head.

He brought it all back—seeing the wide smile that indicated she'd had braces as a kid, for no one had teeth that straight. Full lips framed that perfect mouth, and he'd liked how the rose-colored corners crept upward when she saw something she liked. Little creases surrounded eyes that twinkled when she laughed. He made a big mound of potatoes on his plate and set the bowl in the middle of the table next to a small decorative Christmas tree. His mom had the decorations out early, probably on account of the upcoming wedding.

“Where'd she go to vet school?”

His brain found the answer quickly, seeing the diploma on the wall of her office. “Mizzou.”

“My alma mater,” Nelson noted. “Can't wait to meet her.”

The gravy boat came Jack's way, and he used the ladle to make a large brown pond in the center of his potatoes. “She's excited to meet all of you as well.”

“I'm just excited you're finally bringing someone around,” his mother said. “You never do.”

“There's no point if he's not going to be serious about any of them,” Cecily defended. “Which we know is most of the time. She must be special.”

“She is,” Jack confirmed.

“So where are you taking her next?” Cecily asked.

“What?”

“Like on a date. Surely she's not just hanging around waiting for my wedding. The food will be good, but not that great.”

“We're attending the Pet Rescue Gala.”

Cecily just arched an eyebrow. “The charity?”

“Our first public venture as a couple,” Jack confirmed. “It's a great event. Black tie.”

“Well, that will shock St. Louis's sensibilities to know that its calendar boy is off the market. I'll make sure to toss the bouquet her direction.”

“Don't you dare.” The words were out before Jack could stop them.

Cecily smirked. “Ah, now there's the Jack we know and love. So it's not that serious.”

“We just met,” Jack grit out again.

“Give your brother space,” Jack's mom said. “He'll figure it out.”

“Maybe,” Cecily conceded. She gave him a long, assessing look. “Time will tell, won't it?”

Jack simply shoved another bite into his mouth to keep from replying.

#

By Friday evening, Kat turned into a complete basket case. This was not a real date. So why was she stressing over a silly charity ball?

Besides, it wasn't as if she hadn't seen Jack. He'd come by Monday morning at eight to get photos. He stopped by or called at least once a day to check on Jingle's progress. While the dog grew stronger day by day, Jingle still had a long way to go. He wasn't out of the woods, and he required constant monitoring.

Kat looked at her bed, now covered with dresses and one comfortable, sleeping calico kitten. “I tell you, Pippa, you're lucky you have a fur coat.”

Pippa's black-tipped tail thumped once, her only acknowledgement of Kat's dilemma. She'd been so sure this morning. Wear her favorite dress, the red one with the slit up her leg. Until she remembered that Jack never forgot anything—and she'd worn it the night they'd met. So she tossed it on the bed and pulled out a deep green gown, only to find a stain on the skirt the dry cleaners had missed.

Two down. Then the black velvet standby looked too shabby, and everyone would be in black, a color that turned Kat's skin a ghostly shade of pale.

She even tried on the silver bridesmaid's dress she'd worn to her friend Marianne's wedding—until a glance in the mirror reminded her it shimmered like a cheap shower curtain, something a lot of wine at the reception had helped her forget. Time to donate that garment next time she cleaned out her closet. Dress five was another one she planned to donate—she'd worn it five years ago and it no longer fit. Dress six made her butt look big, and she couldn't remember why she'd bought it in the first place, unless she'd been indulging in retail therapy after her latest breakup. Her one shopping weakness post-breakup was buying pretty dresses.

Trouble was, she had very few places to wear them, but she'd purchase them anyway, just because she liked how wearing them made her feel. For a moment, she could pretend she was a radiant princess, or a supermodel, or an intelligent beauty queen, the type no man could resist.

Kat sat on the edge of her bed with a thump, the cat cracking one eyelid before closing it again. “You're no help,” Kat told Pippa.

Frustrated, Kat dug freshly painted fingers into her thigh, all but her thumb crawling like a spider. She should wear the red dress. So what if he'd seen it? This wasn't a real date. Tonight she would have attended anyway because she believed so strongly in the work Pet Rescue did.

So red dress it was. Except for now the cat slept on it, and she'd need to take a lint brush to it.

Kat wrinkled her nose and frowned. Why was it that when nothing should matter, it always did? At least her hair had gone up into the knot without issues. Her hair, that unruly brown mess, hadn't disobeyed tonight. One small blessing.

Kat stood up, walked into the spare bedroom, and threw open the closet door. Surely she had something. Something she'd bought, intending to wear and shoved aside for some reason. She thumbed through, pushing hangers aside.

And there it was. She'd found the gown at the Women's Closet Exchange, a high-end resale shop. The dark blue silk fabric shimmered as she pulled it out. Why hadn't she thought of this dress first? She turned the hanger around. Oh yeah. Because the dress had no back. None whatsoever. The last time she'd thought about wearing it, she'd chickened out.

The fabric caught the light like moonlit water, and she decided to try it on. Kat tossed the hanger on the dresser and stepped into the dress. She pulled it up and over, the silk caressing her skin. She slid her arms through the slots, attached the back clasp that closed the two-inch collar. The full, floor-length skirt swished around her legs as she strode back into her bedroom and stood in front of the full-length mirror.

The back of the sleeveless dress hit the small curve of her back. The dress showcased a diamond-shape exposure of pale skin from under the strap collar to right above the V of her breasts. She adjusted the built-in bra cups and looked at her reflection.

The designer piece had been worn once according to the salesperson, and Kat had picked up the thousand-dollar gown for a mere fraction of that. She slid into the four-inch silver heels she brought out only for special occasions. Did she dare wear this? She felt utterly glamorous, but then again, she was revealing suggestive amounts of skin. She twirled, loving how the soft fabric swished.

Then froze as she heard the doorbell. Surely Jack couldn't be here already.

She cursed as she read the clock. Where had the time gone? She'd sworn she'd had at least another hour, not fifteen minutes. Blue fabric swishing, she walked down the front steps and let him in. “Hi.”

“Hi,” Jack said, his gaze sweeping over her. “Ready?”

“Almost,” Kat replied, making her way back up the stairs. Jack gave a low whistle. “What?”

“That is one hell of a dress.”

“Thank you,” she said, a flush covering her cheeks. “I …”

“If you're trying to make a statement, you succeeded. I'll be the envy of every guy there.”

She reached the living room and faced him. “It's too much. I can put the red one on and—”

“Don't you dare,” Jack replied. His blue eyes had darkened to cobalt. “You're beautiful.”

“Thank you,” she replied again, and fled to her bedroom where she attached a sterling silver cuff bracelet, the only jewelry she'd wear aside from the matching dangle earrings.

She gave one last look-see in the mirror, put on a shimmery silver stole, and returned to the living room. Jack held out her black wool dress coat. “Shall we?”

“Definitely,” Kat replied, stomach butterflies already abuzz. Beneath his coat he wore a black tux, and Kat caught herself before her mouth gaped open. She couldn't remember the last time she was this affected by a man, and that could spell trouble, for Kat had the sudden urge to yank him into her bedroom and let him slake the desire flowing through her, charity be darned. He held open the door to the stairs, and some cooler air blew in, clearing her brain.

“Lead the way,” he told her, grin wicked. “It's going to be an interesting night.”

#

And even “interesting” was too tame a word, Jack thought as he and Kat checked their overcoats outside the Ritz Carlton ballroom. Her dress was driving him to distraction. When he placed his hand on the small of her back, all five fingers found silken bare flesh. The gown was red carpet worthy, and worse, the way she wore it made parts of his body go into hyperdrive. When he'd followed her up her flat's front stairs, he'd mentally recited “Mary Had a Little Lamb”—anything to keep his lower half quiet. He was taking a lot of cold showers lately, both mentally and physically. She drove him mad.

Kat wobbled once in her heels as they entered the ballroom, and he cupped her bare arm to steady her, drawing her to him. She fit perfectly, which should worry his sensibilities. Yet, he hadn't one qualm or innate urge to flee. “We're over there,” he said, bringing her over to a round table that sat ten. “Number thirteen.”

“My lucky number,” Kat murmured, as he pulled out the chair in front of the name placard reading “Dr. Katherine Saunders.”

His fingers skimmed over the fine silver lace stole that covered her shoulder blades as he eased her chair in. His breath heated her ear as he leaned down and whispered, “It's warm in here.”

She gave an involuntary shiver, as if the chair was slightly cool against her back. “It's fine,” she told him. Her fingers trembled as she reached for the iced tea and took a long sip. Her eyes had also darkened, proving she was as sexually affected as he was. He was playing with fire.

“What do you want from the bar?” Jack asked, ready to retreat to safety.

“Red wine is fine,” she answered.

“Be right back,” Jack replied. Kat watched him leave, her gaze trailing over him.

“Handsome, isn't he? They don't make them much better than that.” A woman dropped gracefully into the chair on Kat's right and held out her hand. “I'm Sharon. You here as Jack's date?”

“I am,” Kat replied, keeping her tone even and the immediate, catlike hiss tamped down.

“Lucky you. Jack's quite a catch. Women have been after him for years but he's Mr. Elusive.”

Kat took another sip of the iced tea, taking the moment to study the beautiful redhead whose black dress appeared painted on. She seemed pretty familiar with Jack. “How do you know him?”

Sharon laughed, long burgundy fingernails reaching for her water goblet. “Oh, I've known Jack for years. I'm married to Matt.”

Tension whooshed from Kat, only to be replaced with confusion. “Matt?”

Sharon clearly found the whole situation amusing, as her perfect white smile spread ear to ear. “That would be so like Jack to not tell you a thing. Matt's Jack's older brother. Stepbrother, but it's been like twenty years, so past time to drop that moniker. Have you been dating long?”

“About a month,” Kat replied, sticking to the story she and Jack had created.

Sharon suddenly snapped her fingers. “Oh, it's you.” She pulled out her phone, turned it on. “I don't believe it. What luck! You're the wedding date.”

BOOK: A Little Christmas Jingle
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