by Donna Michaels
She'd never seen a Santa suit used in quite that way.
On a horse…pulling a red wagon decorated to resemble a sleigh with green garland, twinkling white lights, and silver bells. Because that was normal. Lauren Brewster smiled. It was for her bosses. Her three handsome bosses who owned a chain of feed stores throughout southern Texas.The free Santa-horse wagon rides the guys started today were a big hit with the customers. A brilliant idea from three equally brilliant brothers. Born with good looks and brains, the Callahan boys also inherited their father’s sense of business and keen knowledge of their customer’s needs. It was never a dull moment at the store, and she enjoyed her job.
Hired right out of high school seven years ago by their late father, Lauren was lucky to work for the fun, smart, sexy cowboys. Her extended family. Brothers. Well, two of them. The third one, the middle one…not so much. Six-foot-one with powerful shoulders, dark brown hair, quiver-inducing chocolate brown eyes—milk chocolate, her favorite—Trent Callahan elicited absolutely no sisterly feelings from her whatsoever. Nada. Zilch.
He was hot.
She was sunk.
Especially now. They were both single. At the same time. Something that had never happened in all the years she’d known the charismatic man. And the fact she was accompanying him to Texas City for two nights to help oversee the big, outdoor, holiday charity bash the store sponsored every year was going to test her resolve.
And confirm her stupidity.
Spending two days in close proximity to the irresistible cowboy without his brothers around…yeah, not smart.
Inhaling, she parked in her usual spot behind Callahan Feed, and blew out the breath. Everything was going to be fine. Just fine. She’d managed not to act on her attraction to Trent for years now. This weekend would be no different.
Feeling better, she got out of the car as the handsome cowboy lumbered from the back door of the main building, worn jeans sitting low on his lean hips, black T-shirt stretched across the drool-worthy broad shoulders and muscled pecs not so hidden beneath an opened green and black flannel shirt.
“Hey, Brew.” He smiled, revealing dimples capable of reducing grown women into giggling schoolgirls.
She ought to know.
Her heart rocked hard in her chest then fluttered back into place. “Hi, Cal,” she replied in kind, using a variant of his surname.
Not once had either of them ever called each other by their first name. An unspoken rule. A smart one because, given her attraction to the cowboy, saying his first name aloud made it personal, and hearing her name on his lips would surely do her in.
“Ready for this weekend?”
No. Not really. “Yep.” She lied through her smile. Reigning in her feelings was crucial to the success of their trip—and her future—if she wanted to continue managing their main store. And she did. Very much.
“Good,” he replied, taking the initiative to grab her suitcase from the back seat, gaze sparkling with life as he straightened and shut the car door. “Because we’re going to have a memorable time. Trust me.”
Trent Callahan was a patient man; in both his professional and personal life. By no means a slacker, he didn’t believe in procrastination, but there were times in his twenty-nine years when waiting proved smart, and the resulting reward, priceless.
He glanced sideways at his silent passenger. A curtain of silky, golden brown hair obscured a face he knew to be beautiful with high cheekbones, mesmerizing green eyes, and full lips always ready with a smile. Except for today. No smile. No friendly chit-chat. Nothing. In fact, the woman who’d worked for the company since graduating high school, the one who’d touched his heart and didn't know it, was unusually quiet, and hugging the door as if he carried the plague.
“Everything all right, Brew?”
She turned to him and blinked. “Yeah, why?”
“You’re getting awfully comfortable with that door.”
Color crept into her delicate face, turning her eyes a deep, emerald, which never failed to take his breath. “I-I’m just sitting.”
He grinned. “Yeah, far away, as if I bite.”
Lord have mercy, her gaze dropped to his mouth and lingered, tempting, teasing, trying to pull the rest of the air from his lungs and force him to reveal his feelings, the ones he’d hidden for awhile now. Feelings he hadn’t recognized as more than friendship until they’d danced at a company Christmas party two years ago. The connection, the chemistry, had zinged through him with an unexpected wave of energy and heat he hadn’t been able to forget, or find with anyone else.
Not for lack of trying. He’d been in a relationship at the time, but when it had ended, Lauren had already started to see some college professor, and Trent had remained tight-lipped about his attraction.
He was single.
She was single.
The time had come to test their chemistry and this trip was the perfect opportunity.
“How about we listen to some music?” He flipped on the radio and a jolly holiday tune filled the cab.
She smiled and settled back in her seat, not so close to the door, relief easing the tightness from her full lips. “Oh, I love this one,” she said, and began to sing along with Alan Jackson.
Sweet and warm, her voice surrounded him like a soft blanket, tugging a grin onto his lips, making him happy to be in her presence. He was always happy around her, but should he try to take that a step further? A relationship was risky, very risky. Lauren was a fantastic asset to the company.
Handpicked by his late father. She loved Callahan Feed as much as he and his brothers, Sam and Cordell. The last thing he wanted was to jeopardize their working relationship. But, the attraction was already getting in the way of work…for both of them, as his siblings had taken delight in pointing it out at their recent monthly meeting, all because he’d handed them October’s spreadsheet instead of November’s.
How his brothers had connected the mistake to his feelings for Lauren was still a mystery, but they were correct. She’d breezed into his office to hand him the day’s receipts, smelling of fresh apples with a hint of vanilla. He must’ve clicked on the wrong file to print when he’d leaned closer to her hair and inhaled deep, because, yeah, he was that far gone.
So, here he was on his way to the Gulf to do something about it. Trent just hoped to God he wasn’t misreading Lauren’s blushes and lingering glances. He’d hate to be in the off-kilter vortex on his own, or worse. Make the woman uncomfortable enough to quit. His father would roll over in his grave, and his brothers would skin him alive.
***She knew it. Lauren knew going to Texas City with Trent—alone—was a bad idea. It was a small miracle she hadn’t made more of an idiot of herself during the short drive down to the Gulf earlier that day. But the handsome man had a powerful presence. All consuming. His broad shoulders and solid frame evaporated space in the cab as rapidly as his warm gaze had zapped her brain cells. And what was with his friendly open expression? Darn thing sucked her in, upping her temperature and pulse. She had to cling to the door in order to keep from scooting over to him. The sexy cowboy was like a magnet, and she was a piece of trembling sheet metal.
A weak-kneed idiot.
Exiting the hotel elevator on her way to meet her boss in a lobby decorated in red and green for the holidays, she silently commended herself for having the foresight to book their stay weeks in advance. The place was nearly sold out, and if they’d had to share a room, she would’ve caved to the man’s charm in an instant.
That would’ve been bad.
Sandy bad. Lauren was determined not to end up like her friend Sandy. The poor woman had gotten involved with her boss, and seven months later, was single and unemployed.
Not her. No way.
She weaved through a throng of people waiting in line to check in and passed a group of carolers happily singing in the corner by a brightly decorated, ten foot Christmas tree. Their beautiful voices helped sooth her frazzled nerves, but she nearly stopped dead when she caught sight of Trent pushing from the far wall, staring straight at her, lazy smile tugging his lips. Her heart kicked her ribs then did that flutter in her chest thing.
Why did he have to be so dang good-looking? And why did she have to have this type of reaction to the man? Her pulse never leapt for his brothers. Why him? Was there a cure?
She needed a cure. Pronto.
And a miracle.
Her fluttering heart dropped to her feet when her gaze encountered a bigger problem.
Hanging in the doorway—a doorway they had to pass—sat a huge sprig of mistletoe. Not good. Lauren glanced at the other door. More mistletoe. She hadn’t noticed the twigs when they’d check in, but she couldn’t miss them now.
She was trapped. No matter which door she exited with the cowboy, they’d walk underneath the holiday’s excuse-to-kiss decoration.
Maybe he won’t notice.
~ ~♥~ ~
Come back tomorrow for Part Two!
Today is release day!!! I have a brand new cowboy holiday release today! HARLAND COUNTY CHRISTMAS is a prequel novella to my Amazon Best Selling Harland County Series! Read the first cowboy to fall...