Christmas at Evergreen Inn (9 page)

BOOK: Christmas at Evergreen Inn
13.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Lonely, that's what. She almost wished she had work to keep her busy. “Oh, I'll probably go to the Christmas Eve service with my parents. Then Mom is having her dinner around one or two, I guess. It's just the three of us this year.”

They talked during the rest of the drive, keeping to the light and harmless topic of family Christmas traditions and the odd memory, and before Lainey knew it they'd arrived at a little café right on Main Street. Todd helped her out of the car and once more took her elbow as they walked to the entrance, the warmth of his hand burning through her coat and making the nerves flutter through her stomach again. Once inside he helped her with her coat, which the hostess solicitously hung up for her, and Lainey caught Todd staring appreciatively at her dress.

She'd always liked this dress and didn't have much occasion to wear it. But she liked how it fit, and how the silky black fabric looked against her skin. She'd left her hair down, too, letting the black curls tumble freely to her shoulders. She felt pretty tonight, and the way he was looking at her, it seemed he approved, too.

The hostess showed them to their table, a little table for two set with a trio of flickering tea lights set in the midst of real holly boughs. It wasn't until they'd ordered drinks that Todd spoke again, making Lainey's pulse leap.

“Damn,” he said quietly. “You're beautiful, Lainey.” He shook his head. “Not that you weren't before. That's not what I mean. Dammit…”

She shyly met his gaze, couldn't help chuckling a little since he seemed as nervous as she was. “You're not so bad yourself,” she replied. He hadn't changed, but wore the jeans and sweater he'd worn all day. He could pull it off, though, and she wasn't the only one who'd noticed. Over his shoulder she could see the hostess and a waitress, their heads together, looking their way. Todd didn't even have to try. He had an innate sexiness that women responded to. And tonight it was all hers. It was a heady thought.

The waitress came back with their drinks and listed the specials, her gaze flicking occasionally to Lainey—but mostly she spoke to Todd. Lainey smiled to herself a little. Todd gave the woman his full attention and she started to blush. She made it through the description of the lobster mac and cheese okay, but when she got to the veal marsala she began to stumble under his direct gaze. When she was gone again Lainey started to laugh.

“What's so funny?”

“You. That poor girl had her tongue tied in knots by the end.”

“What did I do?” He adopted an innocent expression, which only made Lainey laugh more.

“You know very well, giving her your undivided attention and then rubbing your finger along your lower lip.” She shook her head.

“I did that?”

She nodded. “Yes, you did. And if you didn't do it on purpose that's even worse. I never pegged you as someone who's unaware.”

He leaned forward. “Aren't you just a little bit jealous, Lainey?” His dark eyes held hers, and she knew exactly how that waitress had been feeling. Flustered, nervous, excited.

She leaned forward a little, too. “Not a bit.”

He looked so disappointed she laughed out loud, then put her fingers to her lips, abashed at the sudden noise. His grin returned and she thought once more how much she actually enjoyed him. Todd Ricker was anything but dull. But then, he never had been.

“Not even just a little?” He lifted his hand and moved his thumb and forefinger only about half an inch apart.

She shook her head, but her smile softened as a warm feeling of tenderness came over her. It wasn't just the attraction. She genuinely liked him. “I don't because you know who you came with, and I know you're a gentleman. I don't feel jealous, Todd. I feel lucky.”

His gaze warmed and he slid his hand across the table, linking his fingers with her. “Wow.”

She gave a tiny shrug. “Just don't let it go to your head,” she murmured, loving the feel of his thumb rubbing over the top of hers.

The moment was interrupted by the return of the waitress, who brought Lainey a glass of Pinot Grigio and Todd his iced tea, and left a basket of bread on the table along with a small plate of olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping.

“I shouldn't indulge in the carbs,” she said, pulling her fingers away from his, “but I love dipping my bread.” She dunked it in the oil and vinegar and took a bite, closing her eyes with appreciation at the smooth flavor of the oil matched with the sharp tang of the aged vinegar.

The bread was followed by fresh Caprese salad, then their entrées. They chatted constantly about things happening in the town, memories of grade school, hopes for the future. Lainey told him she'd wanted to take over the inn after Joan and Roger retired, and that it was a huge responsibility but one she was proud of. Todd said he'd once had dreams of joining the FBI but now he was enjoying working as a small-town cop.

“Really?” Lainey said, picking at her side of Parmesan risotto. They'd barely eaten anything; they'd been talking nonstop.

“I like knowing most of the people I see each day. Even with the storm, I was out helping people, you know? It's nice to be able to do that in my own community.”

Lainey nodded. “I know. Which sounds funny because at the inn I deal with strangers each day, but I get to help them see how great the cove is. The businesses all promote one another, and it's nice. It keeps people connected.”

He laughed, cutting into his chicken. “It's kind of funny, thinking of the two of us who used to party all the time, being all civic-minded now.”

“People change,” she mused. “They grow up.”

“Yeah,” he said, “They do. And we get wiser, and sometimes more scared, and sometimes being a grown-up isn't all that we thought it would be.”

“We really didn't have a clue, did we?” she asked, smiling wistfully.

“No. But I wouldn't go back. I think things truly turn out the way they're supposed to, you know? Like you and me, here tonight. Everything up to this point has brought us to this moment. And I don't know about you, but I think this date is going okay.”

It was more than okay. It was going so well that Lainey kept forgetting that she was supposed to keep her guard up. The more he smiled, the more they talked, the more smitten she became. He'd always been unfairly good looking. But tonight she was discovering a new side. A deeply caring, mature side that made her feel safe and strong when she was with him.

When their plates were taken away, Todd asked about dessert. She was already quite full, but she told him to order some if he wanted. He did, along with two spoons and two coffees. As the evening wore on, Lainey sipped on rich coffee, and when Todd gave her a spoon she dipped into the vanilla bean cheesecake. It was heaven.

He paid the bill and held her coat for her once more, then when they walked to the car he took her hand in his. Lainey's senses were on high alert, even from something as simple as an innocent handclasp. It was a point of connection between them; a chaste yet clear acknowledgment of their attraction and a tacit promise that there was more to come. On the drive back to Jewell Cove, the conversation turned to the meal, their favorite parts, and other favorite spots to dine on the midcoast. As they got closer to town, though, the interior of his SUV turned quiet. They were nearly to the inn, and the silent question kept repeating in Lainey's mind: Should she end the date or ask him in?

She knew what she wanted. She just didn't know if it was a smart idea. It had been an amazing day, and she didn't want it to end.

He pulled in behind her car in the narrow space allotted for the cottage, put the vehicle in park, and turned off the engine. Lainey gathered up her purse and opened her door, and Todd did the same on his side. The air was spectacularly clear and cold tonight, and the sky was full of thousands of pinpoints of light. Lainey's feet, in nothing but her heels, were cold instantly, and her breath formed a cloud in front of her face. She reached inside her purse for her key and put it in the lock, then turned to face Todd. She still hadn't made up her mind. But she did know that she wanted a good-night kiss.

“Thank you for dinner,” she said softly. “I had a really nice time.”

“Me too.”

“And for everything today. For making me come out of my doldrums.”

“It was my pleasure.”

Their eyes met, clung. Time seemed to hesitate as the moment held, weighted with anticipation and questions. Then Todd took a half step forward, lowered his head, and placed his lips on hers.

she thought. Odd that such a strange word should pop into her head at this moment, but that was the only way she could think of to describe his kiss. Beguiling. Fascinating, soft, sweet, luring her in for something bigger and grander. With a delighted sigh she put her hand on his shoulder and kissed him back. It felt perfect. Just as everything had today.

Their lips parted but they remained standing close, touching each other, letting the effect of the kiss linger.

“Mmm,” he hummed, and she felt the tip of his nose nuzzling her temple, urging her toward a second sampling.

“Mmm,” she agreed, lifting her chin a little, indulging in the kiss foreplay. “Do you want to come in?”

“I thought you'd never ask.”

His reply was so quick and sure that her pulse gave a solid thump. Her hand trembled as she turned the key in the lock and opened the door. He shut it behind them as she turned on a lamp then kicked off her heels.

It was warmer inside, and without saying a word they took off their coats and hung them by the door. Her arms were bare and the dress only came down her thighs about two-thirds of the way to her knees, but she wasn't cold. The goose bumps on her skin were from excitement rather than temperature. Todd came forward and gathered her in his arms, kissing her with an intensity that had been absent outside. But they were inside now. In private. And they had all night if they wanted.

His hand skimmed over her hip. She wanted.

She took a step back and put a hand on his chest. “What's your rush?” she asked, her voice low, and he smiled at her, a little smile full of wicked promise.

“No rush,” he replied. Then, to her surprise, he spread his arms wide. “I'm all yours, Lainey. Do what you'd like.” His dark eyes glittered at her dangerously. “Take all the time you want. I've waited all day. A few more minutes won't kill me. I think.”

Oh. My.

“Stay right there,” she murmured, moving toward him. “And put your hands here.” She dropped them to his sides. Her heart beat fast as she reached for the small zipper at the top of his sweater. She slid it down inch by inch, revealing the hollow of neck and a slice of strong chest. She lifted the hem of the sweater and pushed it up until he raised his arms, aiding her in removing it altogether. His chest was bare, and she pushed away any lingering nerves and did what she wanted right in this moment. She dropped the sweater on the floor and ran her hands over his arms, then slid her lips over the hard plane of his pecs.

“God, Lainey.” The words came out choked, and she smiled against his skin.

“You taste good,” she said, kissing his breastbone. “And you're not the only one who's waited all day.”

“You said you didn't want to get involved.”

She breathed deeply. His scent was a unique blend of whatever body wash he'd used that morning, with a hint of coffee and vanilla. “I lied,” she confessed. “To both of us.” And then she flicked her tongue over his nipple.

“You're playing with fire, here,” he warned her. Then he groaned and she smiled again. She knew exactly what he meant. All this was well and good but he was promising that she could expect the same from him.

“Oh, I hope so,” she replied, and with her one free hand she found his belt and began slipping it through the buckle.

Lainey reached back and undid the hook-and-eye at the nape of her neck. The drape of fabric drooped and fell to her waist.

She hadn't worn a bra beneath the dress. The back was low, and the folds of the fabric concealed a lot. Now she stood before him, the material pooled at her waist, her breasts open to his gaze, which had changed from blank surprise to heated desire.

But for all the tension simmering between them now, Todd still took his time. His hands gathered the material at her waist and tugged it down over her hips, leaving her in skimpy black panties and matching stockings. Lainey closed her eyes, luxuriating in the feel of his fingers trailing over her skin, the touch of his mouth at the curve of her shoulder, the feel of his hair in her fingers as she held on to him. His body was so hard, so strong, and she twined herself around him, desperate to feel closer, yearning to crawl into his skin if that were even possible.

Lips and hands explored until Lainey's knees felt weak and she didn't want to stand anymore. Slipping out of his embrace, she took his hand in hers and led him to her bedroom, her heartbeat pulsing in parts of her body that were begging for his touch. She left the lamp off, but the lights of the Christmas tree in the living room created a pale glow around the bed, leaving the corners of the bedroom dark and mysterious.

“Lainey,” he murmured, saying her name again, almost like he needed confirmation that she was here and that this was all right. In response she turned to him, lifted his hand, placed it on her breast. His palm was wide and warm and she knew without a single doubt that she didn't just want him tonight. She needed him.

Him. No one else.

And so she gave herself over to each sensation, vocalizing her pleasure as he laid her on the bed and explored every single inch of her body with his hands and lips. She writhed on the bedspread, gripping the soft coverlet in her fingers, her breaths heavy and punctuated with delighted gasps. When she could hardly stand it a moment longer, she turned the tables and rolled him over so he was flat on his back. The only clothing she had on now was her black stockings, and she unbuckled his trousers and slid them down over his hips, his legs, his feet. And then she did exactly what he'd done to her: drove him to the breaking point as she explored his warm, hard body.

BOOK: Christmas at Evergreen Inn
13.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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