Read Holiday Affair Online

Authors: Lisa Plumley

Tags: #American Light Romantic Fiction, #Romance: Modern, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance, #Single mothers, #Suspense, #Single fathers, #Hotelkeepers, #Espionage

Holiday Affair (10 page)

BOOK: Holiday Affair
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Ugh. That was terrible. What had gotten into her?

“Hmmm. I didn’t know that.” Reid came closer. “What else?”

Her mind went blank. Her mouth went dry. “Um, I don’t know. I didn’t expect to run into you so soon.” Karina swallowed hard. “I was about to go looking for you downstairs.”

“Looks like you found me.” Reid gave her a deliberately provocative look. It felt
so
irresistible. “Now what?”

His mouth was surprisingly close to hers now, Karina noticed offhandedly. His hands touched her hands; his hips swayed, almost making contact with her hips. Their bodies met, exchanged warmth, then met again.

How had they gotten this close, anyway?

And did she really care about how? No. They
were
this close, Karina realized as she stood in the open doorway with him. She felt powerless to resist the pull between them. She also felt light-headed with neediness—hungry with an insatiable appetite that no amount of cookies or cider could assuage. “Now I hold up the mistletoe”—she did so with a shaky hand—“and we kiss for good luck. Christmas style.”

Contemplatively, Reid glanced up at the mistletoe.

He nodded. An instant later, his mouth met hers. Softly.

Way too softly. Urgently, Karina grabbed his head with her free hand, startled to feel the silkiness of his hair between her fingers, then pulled him to her. Reid felt hard and good and strange and new and right against her, and she wanted more. She wanted it all. Right now. “More,” she breathed. “I want it all.”

Reid delivered. Starting with their next kiss, he opened his mouth wider. He moaned, then hauled her nearer. The sprig of mistletoe wobbled. It fell away as Karina gasped, caught beneath the onslaught of Reid’s lips and teeth and tongue. Mmmm.
Yes.

Breathlessly, she leaned back. “You’re good at this.”

“I’m a quick study.” He kissed her again. “C’mere.”

She did. They flattened together against the open door, mouths moving, hands roving, breath mingling with murmured words and a needfulness that didn’t require conversation to be satisfied. Karina’s skin prickled. Her heartbeat soared. Her mind raced, drunk with possibility.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this!” Wantonly, she arched her back to allow Reid better access to the next layer of her clothes. She helped him take off her sweater. Eagerly, she kicked off her boots. “I’m not usually like this at all.”

“Maybe all these clothes have you overheated.” Reid knit his brow as he studied her myriad layers. Expertly, through a tacit agreement they both shared, he removed her hat next. “You’re wearing way too much. It’s not that cold here.”

“Actually, it’s
much
hotter than I expected.” Mindless of her staticky hat head, Karina gave a grinning nod. Her hair could stand up and dance a cha-cha for all she cared. Right now, she needed more of this. More of Reid. She urged him closer, then tugged at his T-shirt. “Take this off,” she commanded.

“It probably smells like dog. That’s why I was—”

“Just do it.” They could discuss his animal welfare policies later. Karina licked her lips. “I want to see you.”

At that, his gaze flared with interest. A moment later, his T-shirt landed on the bed behind him. Reid gave her a heady look, then nudged the door. It closed with a subtle
snick.

This is really happening,
Karina realized. The “wild and crazy” holiday affair Chelsea had predicted had arrived right on schedule.
Oh boy!

Hazily, she kissed Reid again. His bare skin felt hot to the touch, his broad shoulders nearly singeing her fingertips. Very naturally, she ground her pelvis against his, wholly unable to help herself. Her reward was a preview of coming attractions. In his pants.
Ha!
She cracked herself up, Karina thought woozily.

Had she, possibly, drunk something other than spiced cider?

Who cared? Reid wanted her. She wanted him.

Right now, Karina wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Smacking her hands on his chest, she backed Reid up to the bed. Then she tipped him onto it. She studied him. Lasciviously.

“You know what?” she asked in a dreamy voice. “I think I’m starting to feel the wonder of Christmas already.”

“I think that’s my line,” Reid told her, grinning. “You’re supposed to be teaching
me
about Christmas, remember?”

“Oh yeah?” Karina asked. “Well, get ready to learn, then.”

The two of them smiled at each other, entirely in sync.

Then Karina jumped on the bed and lost herself in the moment, knowing that forever after she would associate the mingled fragrances of mistletoe, bayberry, and dog biscuits with the single most sexually gratifying night of her life.

She hoped.

Almost half an hour later, she knew.

Fa la la. Fa la la.
Fa la LAAAA!

Wiggling her bare toes with utter satisfaction, Karina shot a smug smile at Reid. He panted beside her, lying sideways on the bed, half tangled in the snowman-print flannel sheets. At the wonderful, amazing, hot-hot-hot sight of him, she sighed.

“So…how do you like Christmas now?” she asked.

“I’m not sure.” He rolled over and kissed her, then ran his hands along the length of her naked torso. “I think I need another lesson to find out. I might need
several
more lessons.”

“Do you really think you’re up for it?”

Saucily, Reid raised his eyebrows. He aimed his gaze lower. Much lower. All the way down to his…mischief maker.

“Oh, I’m up for it,” he confirmed. Then he pulled her into his arms again, gave her a smile, and proceeded to prove it.

Naughty or nice is way overrated,
Karina decided as she felt Reid’s body cover hers, igniting a new burst of giddiness and heat in her midsection.
Naughty wins, all the way….

Chapter Nine

…From the desk of Betty Sullivan
D
ECEMBER
18
TH
L
OCATION
: T
HE
C
HRISTMAS
H
OUSE
S
CHEDULED
E
VENT
: “V
ERY
M
ERRY
” B
REAKFAST

7:00 A.M.
TO
9:00 A.M. (
DAILY
)

Squinting at his grandmother’s elegant cursive handwriting, Reid frowned. He couldn’t imagine what made breakfast “merry.”

Jingle bells on the napkins? Christmas cutlery? Pancakes griddled in the shape of reindeer and snowmen and angels?

Reid didn’t know. But a “very merry breakfast” was on The Christmas House agenda first thing today, so he’d have to find a way to be in charge of it—for the sake of his guests
and
acing the Edgware evaluation. With any luck, the kitchen staff were already downstairs hard at work on some mouth-watering merriment.

Well, that meant he’d better get a move on too. Reaching for a pair of boots to go with his flannel shirt and jeans, Reid glimpsed something silvery, shiny, and fluffy—a cast-off piece of Christmas garland. He’d been wearing it last night, he remembered, just before he’d encountered Karina.

Karina.
At least once, she’d worn that garland too. Playfully. Seductively. Accompanied by nothing but burnished bare skin and a smile. Momentarily abandoning his plans to get dressed, Reid picked up the garland. He held it to his cheek.

His heart rate kicked up a notch. Helplessly, he smiled.

Damn, but he liked Karina. He liked her enthusiasm, her gentle demeanor…even her habit of wearing way too many warm clothes. Getting through all those layers last night had been a little like embarking on a geological expedition—a sexy one, with a superhot reward at the end. Remembering everything he and Karina had shared, Reid smiled more broadly. He didn’t feel particularly well versed in Christmas lore (yet), but he looked forward to enjoying some future “lessons” at Karina’s hands.

And all right…so she was officially a guest at the B&B. Maybe hooking up with her hadn’t been his most brilliant move to date. But he
had
issued his Standard Disclaimer first, so she wouldn’t get hurt. And minding The Christmas House wasn’t a real job for him, so enjoying a little private time with Karina wasn’t a real problem, either, Reid reasoned. It wasn’t as though he intended to set her up with free accommodations, a deluxe suite, or a lifetime supply of logo-embellished doggie sweaters. Reid felt pretty sure they both understood the temporary (and hot!) nature of their liaison.

He also felt pretty sure that he’d left Karina with a favorable first-night impression.
Yes, yes, yes!

Remembering her breathy cries, he almost wished Karina
was
the secret Edgware evaluator. Because theirs had definitely been an A-plus-worthy encounter—at least until her three children had wandered upstairs at bedtime, looking for their mother.

He’d never seen a woman get dressed that quickly.

It had been all Reid could do to grab her, give her a fast good-bye kiss, then watch with a grin as Karina had slipped surreptitiously from his room to hers, just in the nick of time.

That was going to be a fine arrangement, he decided as he dropped the silver garland on the bureau for safekeeping, then dragged on his boots. He opened his door for Digby, then stepped aside to let the dachshund scamper into the hallway.

Following the dog—after a stealthy, satisfactory check on his still-slumbering daughters in their adjoining room—Reid stopped at the door of the room opposite his. Inside, Karina was probably still asleep, he decided. He imagined her dressed in a silk and lace nightie, with her curly blond hair tousled across a pillow, and felt a fresh wave of longing.

“You know, I would have let her spend the whole night in my room,” Reid confided to Digby in a low voice. He crouched to scratch between the dog’s ears, still contemplating Karina’s closed door. “Hell, I would have let all four of them sleep in my room.” He sighed. “Does that make me a sucker, or what?”

Yep! It does!
Digby’s tongue-lolling canine expression seemed to say.
Join the club, human. Sit, stay, roll over!

The dog was right. Brought up short by the alarming thought that he’d been fully leash trained and brought to heel after a meager couple of hours in Karina’s arms, Reid frowned.

How had she gotten a room so near him anyway? He didn’t think any of the guests had been assigned attic rooms. Usually, those rooms were reserved for family members—and the occasional live-in B&B worker who’d fallen on temporary hard times and needed a place to stay. In Kismet, Robert and Betty Sullivan were notorious soft touches. Their doors were always open.

When they retired and moved to Arizona permanently, the entire town would be saddened, Reid realized. His grandparents would definitely be missed in Kismet—and at the B&B.

Whoever eventually wound up running the place as an Edgware franchise couldn’t possibly offer the same warmhearted touches his grandparents had. When it came to some things, efficiency and profitability couldn’t trump caring and genuine interest.

Speaking of which…It was possible that his (admittedly) cursory glance at the B&B’s guest registry software had left him with the wrong impression about Karina’s room assignment, Reid decided. Or someone had rearranged things. Or Karina had made a special request.

It wasn’t inconceivable that she might have pulled some strings to be near him—to “accidentally” run into him last night. In Reid’s experience, women had hatched more convoluted schemes to get to know him. Compared with some of those antics, Karina’s room reshuffling was pretty tame.

It was flattering to think that she’d gone to such lengths for their Christmas “lesson.” And the truth was, they’d both enjoyed the results. No harm, no foul, Reid decided. Even after a long trip, some serious jet lag, and a few too many cups of spiked cider, he’d still possessed the mojo to hook Karina hard.

Who knew what he could accomplish well rested and sober?

With a new swagger to his steps, Reid pounded his way downstairs, eager to find out. Digby followed him. First he had a schedule to keep, though, starting with that “very merry breakfast.” Focusing on that, he made his way through the darkened B&B to the back of the house. At this hour—shortly after 5:30 A.M.—the place felt deserted but no less Christmassy. The lights might be dimmed and the candles snuffed, but the whole B&B still exuded the requisite holiday ambiance. The hallway smelled like cinnamon and spice…and coffee. Led by the promise of an aromatic pick-me-up, Reid entered the brightly lit, bustling kitchen.

There, two cooks were already on duty. The countertops stood piled with cutting boards and metal work bowls, chef’s knives and whisks, loaves of bread and wire baskets of eggs. At the professional range, one cook in a long white apron flipped a skillet full of vegetables; another tended a pan of bacon.

It looked as though everything was coming along capably. Helping himself to a cup of coffee, Reid stood amid the activity and delicious smells, deciding what to tackle first. Digby sauntered to the doggie door and let himself outside. The door’s flexible covering closed with a
whap,
admitting a gust of frosty air. It barely made a dent in the kitchen’s steamy atmosphere. Tea kettles whistled on the stove, unleashing spires of vapor; more water boiled for poached eggs.

At Reid’s elbow, baker’s racks full of muffins stood cooling, emitting the fragrances of ginger and apples, pumpkin and chocolate chips, oats and hazelnuts. A bowl of freshly baked granola waited on the countertop beside an array of sliced fruit. As far as Reid could tell, when it came to breakfast, “very merry” meant “ridiculously over the top.” There was enough food here to satisfy an army, much less a few guests, some assorted family members, the neighbors, and the usual staff.

Alexis and Nicole would love it. So would Amanda—especially if there were a few regional specialties included, like Michigan cherries, maple syrup, and apples. His daughters’ nanny/tutor had never visited the Midwest before, but she seemed to have an affinity for the place already…particularly the food.

Reid hoped the Edgware evaluator liked an oversize breakfast too. He couldn’t forget what he was really here to do: impress him (or her, he still wasn’t sure) with an unforgettable Christmassy experience. Part of earning that A-plus rating he wanted—the rating Reid had all but promised his grandparents he’d get—was feeding the Edgware evaluator a series of scrumptious meals.

The B&Bs in the Kismet area were known for their cuisine, whether down-home or gourmet, decadent or healthy, or somewhere in between. The Christmas House had always occupied a place of pride in the community, hiring all the best available cooks and bakers to create its
spécialités de la maison.
As far as Reid could tell, when it came to being evaluated, the B&B’s gastronomic artistry was one of its never-fail aces in the hole. Over the years, it had earned multiple awards to prove it.

“Okay! I’ve got the sideboard set up with holiday-patterned plates, napkins, and cutlery,” a woman said in a cheery tone. She entered the kitchen via the entry opposite Reid, which led to the sun-splashed room where the guests dined. “I’ve got the glasses and the stands for the chafing dishes all lined up too. So whenever you’re ready to start taking out food, we’re set.”

She was perky. She was capable. She was…Karina?

Baffled by the sight of her in the B&B’s kitchen, Reid stared. This image didn’t jibe with his earlier, more seductive vision of Karina snuggled in her flannel sheets wearing next to nothing.

Then, he’d almost been able to feel the silk and lace beneath his hands. Now, this Karina—the real Karina—stood expectantly across the kitchen with an organized demeanor and twenty pounds of cold-weather clothing covering the body he now knew damn well ought to be flaunted, admired, and loved.

In that order. Repeatedly. Over and over and over again.

Rapidly, Reid counted. He estimated that Karina was wearing two different sweaters, a fleece top, one T-shirt, thermal underwear, tights, knit socks, hip-hugging corduroy pants, and a long, fringed fleece scarf—a different scarf than she’d been wearing yesterday. And not a single hank of silver garland, either. At the sight of all that wool and Polarfleece and buttoned-up knitwear, Reid felt his heart inexplicably…soften.

Damn, she was cute. He wanted to tell her so. But first…

“Good job.” Smiling, he gestured toward the dining room, where Karina had evidently been…working? Hmmm. “You know, if you’d told someone you couldn’t pay for your room, I’m sure other arrangements could have been made—arrangements that didn’t include forced kitchen labor. Like a different credit card?”

Noticing him at last, Karina smiled. Her eyes brightened. Her cheeks turned pinker. She opened both arms as though on the verge of running across the room to give him a hug.

Knowing her, Reid thought with pleasure, that might even be likely. Karina Barrett, he’d learned last night, really was generous to a fault. She was also much kinder than any person needed to be—especially in a world filled with Binkys, Boosters, Tophers, and Asshats.

Reid had never known himself to anticipate a kindly
hug
with so much ferocity. But there it was. He wanted her, layers and all.

Unfortunately, he had to wait. Because in the next instant, the two cooks he’d noticed earlier snapped to attention. They shot panicked looks at each other, then turned.

“Sorry, Chef!” one cried. “Good morning, Chef!”

“Sorry, Chef!” The other saluted with a spatula. “We didn’t see you there, Chef! What can we do for you, Chef?”

At the cooks’ harried—and militaristic—greeting, Reid raised an eyebrow. He was familiar with the conventions of kitchen staff—which explained all the Chef-iness—but that didn’t explain why both cooks seemed to think
he
was in charge here.

“Please, go back to what you were doing.” Reid waved his arm, indicating the stove. “I’m not in charge of the kitchen.”

“Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong, cuz.” Vanessa breezed in, toting a potted poinsettia in the crook of each elbow. She set down the holiday plants, then took off her quilted coat and her hat. Smiling, she gave him a good-morning hug. It was nice. But it did nothing to assuage his desire for the hug he’d expected from Karina. “In the absence of our
former
head chef, you
are
in charge—of the B&B
and
the kitchen.”

“What happened to the head chef?” Reid asked.


You’re
in charge of the B&B?” Karina asked.

Their questions overlapped. Reid stared at Karina. Karina stared at him. His cousin, Vanessa—apparently sensing a fraught undercurrent in the room—left them gawking as she poured herself a cup of coffee. She sipped it with gusto, then exhaled.

She must have missed out on the spiked cider last night, Reid realized. She was (possibly) the only one. Judging by the watery, bloodshot gazes the two cooks had given him, the liquored-up cider had been popular with the guests and the staff alike.

“Our
former
head chef was stolen away by those rat bastards at Lagniappe at the Lakeshore,” Vanessa told Reid, naming The Christmas House’s chief competitor in Kismet. “Apparently, while we were all here enjoying spiced cider and gingerbread, the Lagniappe at the Lakeshore owners were out wooing our chef with promises of imported matsutake and a brand-new snowmobile.”


You’re
in charge of the B&B?” Karina asked again.

Reid didn’t understand why she appeared so gobsmacked by the idea. After all, he’d greeted her in his official capacity yesterday. He’d inquired about her hopes for her stay at the B&B, just as his grandmother had suggested he do with each guest. Granted, he hadn’t made a point of his management role at The Christmas House, but he’d thought it would be obvious.

Also, he’d been a little…distracted by her.

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