Highlander for the Holidays (5 page)

BOOK: Highlander for the Holidays
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She went perfectly still, not resisting but not participating, either. In fact, it appeared as if she wasn’t quite sure what was happening.
She certainly tasted as sweet as she looked, and not ten seconds into the kiss Ian began to worry that his own arrogance might end up ruining his chances of seeing her again. That is, until he felt her hands slide up between them to settle on his chest; not to push him away, apparently, but to grip his shirt as if she were afraid he’d stop.
Not likely, and definitely not any time soon. He slid an arm behind her shoulders and tucked her head in the crook of his elbow, dropping his other hand low on her back to pull her more intimately against him. Her lips parted enough to allow his tongue to go in search of hers, and Ian felt her shiver. And then he felt her soften at about the same time she made a sweet little sound that sent all his blood to his groin—which told him that if he didn’t stop now, he might not stop at all.
He lifted his head to find her big hazel eyes staring up at him, unblinking.
“A matronly pat on the arm might be how ye handle this sort of thing in the city,” he said, his voice sounding thick even to him, “but in the wilderness,
that’s
how we say good night to someone we just spent the better part of an enjoyable evening with.”
Her cheeks flushed. But when she still didn’t move, Ian decided to kiss her again. Only his heart nearly pounded out of his chest when she pressed a hand to his face and kissed him back—although hesitantly, as if she were worried her boldness might encourage him to ask for more liberties.
But he came by his patience honestly, thanks to his highlander genes. And since Jessie was moving here, Ian was content to let her grow comfortable with him at her own pace—assuming her sweet torture didn’t kill him first.
He heard Toby growing restless inside the car, which suggested the dog wasn’t used to seeing his mistress wrapped in a man’s arms being repeatedly kissed. Then again, maybe the big man was jealous. If that was the case, he’d have to make sure he and the dog came to an understanding. Ian reluctantly lifted his head again, but only enough to kiss first one of Jessie’s flushed cheeks and then the other before nudging her upright to stand facing him.
She started to say something but stopped, then tried again—only to drop her gaze to her hand, still clutching his shirt. Her fingers unclenched and she started to give his chest a pat, but stopped in midpat and sighed.
Ian bit back a laugh and opened her door, helped her inside, and handed her the seat belt. “Welcome to Pine Creek, Jessie,” he said, softly closing the door.
Chapter Three
JESSIE LAY IN HER HOTEL BED, STARING OUT THE WINDOW
at the big fat snowflakes drifting past the parking lot light, and decided that four years was way too long for a girl to go without being kissed. Or be asked to dance. Or
almost
get picked up in a bar.
And three years was way too long to have only a dog to cuddle up to at night. “No offense, Tobes,” she whispered to her sleeping pet as she absently stroked his head. “But for as handsome and strong and gallant as you are, you’re not exactly the man I had envisioned myself growing old with.”
Someone like Ian MacKeage came closer to her vision, though. He was definitely tall and solid and handsome, as well as interesting and attentive and a really good dancer. He was also quite considerate, considering he hadn’t tried to pressure her into going home with him even after he’d found out Merissa certainly was game.
Unless he’d thought odd Jessie Pringle was okay for an evening’s entertainment but not for taking home. Except he’d kissed her like he had wanted more. And by God, she’d kissed him back once she’d gotten over the surprise of feeling his mouth on hers.
Would she ever make love again? Was there a man out there smart enough to see past her physical and emotional scars, and strong enough to want her anyway?
Lord, she hoped so. But she wasn’t about to hold her breath waiting for him to show up. And if someday she did meet such a shining example of brain and brawn, Jessie hoped that
she
would be brave enough to let him past the defenses she’d spent the last four years erecting.
She couldn’t explain to anyone—not even herself—why she’d chosen Pine Creek as the place of her reincarnation, other than the fact that she’d nearly worn the ink off that TarStone Mountain Ski Resort brochure. Its pictures had captured her immediately, making her wonder what it would feel like to live in such a rugged, powerful place—which is exactly why she’d thrown it in the trash the first time she’d caught herself believing all that power could be hers for the taking. She’d tossed it away several times, actually, only to find it sitting under a bunch of papers on her desk the next day, or in her briefcase a week later, and one morning she’d even found it on her nightstand.
She couldn’t escape that damn brochure any more than she could deny the spark it had ignited inside her, despite all the resistance she’d run into when she’d started talking about moving. Just visit Maine, her parents had suggested, or move back home to New York if she wanted a change. It’s too far from needed services, her physical therapists and doctors had argued, certain she’d regress if she walked away now. “Are you out of your friggin’ mind?” Merissa had shouted when she’d told her.
But every time Jessie had picked up that brochure . . . well, just holding it seemed to give her the courage to do and feel and
be
more than a scar-riddled, hollow shell of her former self. Until finally it had empowered her to turn in her resignation, put her house—that she hadn’t lived in for four years, anyway—on the market, give away most of her belongings, and ask Merissa to make the trek north with her to see for herself that this was a sound plan.
So here she was not four months after first coming across that brochure, and already she had danced, been kissed, and almost picked up in a bar by a sexy stranger.
Not bad for her first day in town.
Jessie heard the electronic lock on the door trip and glanced at the clock as she put a steadying hand on Toby when he lifted his head. She smiled, undecided if Merissa was tiptoeing into the room really late or really very early.
“I’m awake,” Jessie said.
Her friend fell back on the other bed with a loud groan. “In what civilized world does anyone go to work at
five A.M.
?” Merissa muttered. “The only living things crazy enough to be up at this hour are owls, a family of raccoons, and one suicidal moose the size of a Clydesdale trotting down the center of Main Street.” There was enough light coming through the window for Jessie to see Merissa’s smile. “Duncan said it’s the tail end of moose rutting season, and that the old boy was too busy chasing a lady-love to be concerned about the rules of the road.” She snorted. “I told him he should know, since he seemed to be of the same mind.”
“You didn’t!” Jessie sputtered on a laugh.
“Hey, the guy is a
machine
. I swear to God that I got maybe twenty minutes of sleep all night.” Merissa rolled onto her stomach, propping a pillow under her chin. “Not that I’m complaining. Paula was right: MacKeages are
not
harmless.” She closed her eyes on a sigh. “I think Duncan just ruined me for other men.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Jessie said, remembering Ian’s kiss.
Merissa’s eyes snapped open and her head popped up. “Ohmigod, I am such a scumbag. I didn’t even ask how you made out after I left. Was Ian very disappointed that Duncan scored and he didn’t?”
Jessie arched a brow. “What makes you so certain that Ian didn’t score?”
“Jessie, you didn’t!”
“No,” she said with a laugh. “But I did get thoroughly kissed.”
Only instead of smiling like Jessie expected, Merissa sat up, suddenly wide awake and utterly serious. “Oh, Jessie, what are you doing?” she whispered. “You just got here; you can’t kiss the first guy you meet.”
“You did.”
“Only because I’m out of here in six days, so it doesn’t matter what Duncan thinks of me. But you’re
moving here
, Jess, and you’ll probably run into Ian all the time. What are you going to do if he asks you out on a real date?”
“Maybe I’ll say yes.”
“And by date number three,” Merissa growled, “when he decides good-night kisses just aren’t working for him anymore? Then what are you going to do?”
Jessie threw back the covers, got out of bed, and headed to her suitcase. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she muttered, yanking out her bathrobe and putting it on. “I only know that I have to do
something
, or I might as well have let that guy finish hacking me to pieces four years ago.” She grabbed her slippers and waved them in the air. “Even totally humiliating myself has to be better than doing
nothing
.”
“Oh, Jess!” Merissa cried, rushing to her. “I’m an idiot. Please don’t be mad.”
Jessie took a calming breath, giving Merissa a sheepish smile. “I’m not mad. I’m just frustrated, because . . . well, because
this
is the entire extent of my reincarnation plan,” she said, gesturing at the room. She nodded when Merissa’s eyes widened. “I was so focused on just getting to Pine Creek that I never actually worked out what to do once I got here.” She walked over and sat on the bed to put on her slippers. “And I sure as hell didn’t think ahead to dating, much less when—or rather,
if
—I ever reached the getting naked part.”
Merissa plopped down on the bed beside her. “If the guy can’t get past a few measly scars, then I say you don’t want him, anyway.”
“I’m missing half my left breast, Mer. That’s not exactly something a man’s going to be able to overlook.”
Merissa nudged her shoulder with her own. “My two boobs together don’t fill a C cup. So if your one really impressive breast isn’t enough for him, then I say you kick the greedy bastard out on his ass in the snow.” She flopped back on the bed. “Promise me that if Ian does ask you out, you’ll run in the opposite direction. Because if he’s anything like his
uncle
Duncan, he’ll have you practically naked before you even make it through his front door.”
Jessie patted Merissa’s leg and stood up. “I promise I’ll think about it,” was all she was willing to concede, going to her suitcase again.
“I’m serious, Jess. Paula wasn’t kidding when she said we should start lower on the food chain. I think I would have been safer with that moose.” Merissa snorted. “I know she said any woman who goes home with a MacKeage complains that dawn arrives way too early, but I thought she meant it was because they’re such great lovers. I didn’t even consider that he’d roust me out of a nice warm bed at four-friggin’-A.M., dress me almost as fast as he undressed me, stuff me in his truck, and drive me back here through an obstacle course of wild critters.” She lifted her head to arch a brow. “Do you know he actually gave me a pat on the ass as I headed for the lobby door wondering where in hell I was?”
Jessie stopped rummaging through her suitcase. “Are you having morning-after regrets, Mer?”
“Good God, no!”
Jessie set her hands on her hips. “So did Duncan live up to Paula’s bragging or not? Because I can’t tell if you’re happy or mad or still drunk.”
Merissa dropped her head back on the bed with a moan. “Neither can I. Maybe I’m all three. Last night I actually caught
myself
thinking about moving here right around the time Duncan was . . . when he was . . .” She rolled onto her stomach with a groan. “I am such a slut,” she muttered into the pillow.
“You really need to start working on your opinion of yourself,” Jessie said, pulling Toby’s sweater out of the suitcase. She walked back between the beds. “Or one of these days you’re going to start believing it.”
“A rose by any other name is still a rose.”
Jessie pulled a blanket up over her. “Bar sluts go home with anyone, whereas
you
are discerning. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with appreciating men.”
“I’m thirty,” Merissa mumbled. “It’s time I got serious about
keeping
one of those men, don’t you think?” She rolled over, pulling the blanket with her then propping her head on the pillow. “Did you appreciate a parade of men before you married Eric?”
“I kissed my share of frogs.” Jessie clutched Toby’s sweater to her chest and sat down on her bed with a sigh. “Only I can’t say I would have gone home with Ian last night even five years ago. All through high school and college I kept looking for the . . . for . . .” She shrugged. “For fireworks, I guess; one defining, magical moment that would tell me he was the one.”
“And did you find it with Eric?” Merissa whispered.
Jessie stood up with a snort. “I told you, I was so drunk the first time we made love that a nuclear bomb could have gone off and I wouldn’t have known it. About the only thing I do know is that we didn’t use any protection and I got pregnant. We got married in Las Vegas not twenty-four hours after I told him, and three months after that . . . well, you know the rest, because that was the day you walked into my hospital room and saved my life,” she finished thickly. She touched Merissa’s short curls. “So the next time I hear you calling yourself a slut, I swear I’m going to have Toby sit on you while I wash out your mouth with soap. Duncan MacKeage is the luckiest man on the planet, because he got to spend last night with an angel disguised as Merissa Blake.”
BOOK: Highlander for the Holidays
5.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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