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A Christmas tree to rival the one in Rockefeller Center sat in the corner of the enormous drawing room. The tree was jam packed with ornaments and tinsel. How many stores did Jack’s mother have to empty to decorate this monstrosity? Lights twinkled on the ceiling, and mistletoe and holly were strung with generous abandon throughout the room. Holiday music was piped over speakers. It was a Christmas nightmare complete with a house full of people. Jack’s family clearly didn’t favor intimate family holidays. Nina had been introduced to so many of Jack’s relatives she couldn’t keep track.
Jack had played his part to perfection thus far. He’d complemented her royal blue shimmery gown, and had spent the evening by her side, touching her from time to time like a real lover would…an arm around her waist, a squeeze of her hand, a brush of hair back from her cheek. His behavior was oddly pleasant and disturbing at the same time. She had to remind herself it was all an act. No way would she let his touch get to her.
One of Jack’s aunts, Nina couldn’t recall the woman’s name, had Nina trapped next to a side table filled with an array of Poinsettias. Nina almost cried with relief when Jack appeared, rescuing her from an interrogation of how they met, how long they’d been together, etc, etc.
Jack turned a charming smile on the older woman. “Excuse us, Aunt Penelope. I’ve barely seen her all evening. You understand, young love and all.”
With Penelope still yammering, Jack rested a hand on Nina’s waist and led her to the bar. “I thought you could use a drink.” He signaled the bartender. “What will you have?”
“I could use more than one.” She leaned wearily on a stool. “Champagne, please.”
He ordered, then passed a bubbled-filled flute to her.
“Thank you. That was rough.” She took an appreciative sip. “Penelope informed me she’d never met any of your lady friends. So, I’m a little confused.” She tilted her head to the side to gage his reaction. “Since you don’t normally bring women around your family, why couldn’t you just come to the wedding dateless?”
Jack scowled into his glass of whisky. “I have my reasons.”
“Reasons you refuse to share with me?”
“There’s really no point—”
“Jack, there you are!” Suzette’s sultry voice cut him off.
Nina looked past Jack to see his brother’s fiancée approaching. Suzette wore a floor-length rust-colored dress that was the perfect complement to her ivory complexion and auburn hair. Nina pushed back a twinge of envy.
“I need to speak with you.” Suzette turned her gaze to Nina. “Alone.”
“Is that all right with you?” Jack peered into Nina’s eyes as though what she wanted really mattered.
She had to give it to him, he was quite the performer. She may as well get into the spirit. “Of course, darling.” She smiled at Suzette, then slid her hand to the back of Jack’s neck and lifted her face to give him a quick kiss on the lips. His eyes widened in surprise, then he met her lips, moving his mouth over hers, stealing her breath. While she was still registering the fact that Jack Trescott had kissed her—her, Nina Crenshaw—he pulled away and captured her gaze with eyes that had darkened to black emeralds.
“I’ll be right back,” he said softly, then turned to follow Suzette into the hallway.
Although the kiss had been quick, the imprint of it remained on her mouth, and Nina’s heart fluttered like a wounded bird. She gulped champagne, trying to restore her breathing to normal. What the hell had just happened? Something about the look in his eyes said the kiss was more than just an act. Or was that wishful thinking on her part? If so, why would she wish for that when she could barely stand the man?
Her chaotic thoughts were interrupted by Jack’s Uncle Robert, who positioned himself next to her at the bar. He was twenty years or so older than Jack, in his mid-fifties she’d guess, and balding. A paunch tried to break through the buttons of his suit jacket, and the smell of booze wafted from him. He clutched a glass of amber liquid and narrowed his eyes. “You’re not what I expected.”
“Not what you expected? Did Jack tell you about me?”
He shook his head. “Not about you, specifically.” He said “specifically” like it only contained two syllables. “But I figured his rebound girl would be some glamorous bimbo.”
“Rebound girl?” She was torn between confusion as to his meaning, taking offense that she wasn’t glamorous, or being flattered that she wasn’t a bimbo.
“Yeah, rebound from Suzette dumping him. Didn’t you know?” He waited a beat, then grimaced. “Ah, hell. You didn’t know. Me and my big mouth.”
So, Jack had been fooling around with his brother’s girl. And Suzette had called it off. And apparently everyone knew about it. Everyone except Nina. Anger heated her blood. The least Jack could have done was told her so she wouldn’t be blindsided by Drunk Uncle. What was going on between the two lovers out there alone in the hallway? People had to have noticed they’d escaped together. Nina could abide anything but looking like a fool. And she wouldn’t stand for it, especially since she never wanted to be here in the first place. She was about to have it out with Mr. Jack Trescott. She stalked toward the exit, but Jack and Suzette reappeared before she made it.
His expression was darker than a storm cloud. When he spotted Nina, he gripped her elbow and steered her to the bar. “I could use another drink,” he muttered.
“And a cigarette?” She batted her eyelashes at him and turned her mouth down in a sardonic grin.
He frowned. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
Before she could say more, a man’s voice carried through the room. “Can I have your attention please?”
Nina looked to the podium where a stocky man with a goatee clutched a microphone in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other. He lifted the flute above his head. “To Mark and Suzette, may they live a long and happy life. And to Jack.” He tipped the glass in their direction. “What a trooper. I wouldn’t have the balls to show up if my girl dumped me for my brother.”
Uncomfortable titters rose around them.
Nina opened her mouth in surprise, then quickly closed it. Oh my God. Jack wasn’t trying to steal Suzette from Mark, Mark had stolen her from him.
Nina glanced at Jack. The only sign the words had an effect on him was a muscle ticking in his jaw and a glassy sheen in his eyes. He blinked rapidly, his grip on her elbow tightening.
Sympathy spiked her heart. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
He gave a quick head-shake. “It doesn’t matter.” His hold moved down to her hand and this time, there was a difference in his touch. Electricity sizzled from his hand to hers. She looked up into his jade eyes and caught a glimpse of an emotion she couldn’t name. It seemed…soft, yet at the same time held a sizzle.
“Would you like to dance?” His voice was low, coaxing.
Her mind raced, trying to catch up with all that was happening…learning of Jack’s heartbreak, seeing him look at her with something different and frightening and exciting all at once. She didn’t realize she’d moved, but the next thing she knew, she was in his arms, gliding with him around the dance floor.
His chest was warm against hers, his nearness making it difficult to swallow. Blood rushed through her head, and she couldn’t focus on anyone or anything other than Jack’s touch, his spicy, manly scent she’d never been close enough to notice before.
After a few seconds, she became aware once more of the sights and sounds around them and realized they were dancing to “Please Come Home for Christmas” by the Eagles.
“This is one of my favorite Christmas songs” She said the first thing that came to mind, hoping to break the tension, even though she might be the only one feeling it.
He chuckled. “Is that right? It’s not exactly one of the classic Christmas carols.”
“No, I’m not crazy about standard carols but I love this, and I love Elvis Christmas music.”
He leaned his upper body back and peered down at her. “You are some kind of throwback. Maybe you were sent from the 1950’s?” He flashed a dimpled grin and pulled her closer. “I’m beginning to think you’re too good to be true.”
She sucked in a breath. She knew he was talking about her Mary Jane image, but the words sounded just romantic enough to make her foolish heart pound.
No way…it couldn’t be… Was she falling for Jack the Jerk?
“Hey, there, big brother, kiss your woman.”
Nina blinked and glanced over to where Mark and Suzette danced next to them.
“Do what?” Jack scowled.
Mark pointed upward. Nina’s gaze followed his gesture and found they were directly under a large bunch of Mistletoe.
Check back tomorrow for Chapter Three of Christmas Sham...