Chapter Eight – A Cup of Hot Chocolate and a Dose of Hot Mitch
by Brenda Whiteside
Candy stared at her boots. They wouldn’t fit over Mitch’s wool socks, and even if they did, the thought of walking five miles in a foot of snow on those heels slipped over the border of ridiculous. She snatched them from the floor.
“Mitch?” She stepped into the hall.
She followed his voice to the living room and stopped in her tracks at the sight of him. His back was to her, the glow from the fireplace bathing him in golden light. Hunched over a box beside the tree, he pulled a tangle of lights into the air. A waft of hot chocolate teased her nose, dizzying her with memories of her childhood. She and her mother had always had hot chocolate and a fire while decorating the tree in Vermont. In New York, they hadn’t had a fireplace, but the hot chocolate tradition had continued. She didn’t do Christmas like that anymore.
He didn’t look up. “You all set to head out?”
The boots hung heavy in her hand. She clutched them tighter and took a deep breath to quell the nostalgia threatening her resolve. “I either need to borrow a pair of your boots, or a hatchet.”
“Excuse me?” He looked over his shoulder.
She lifted the boots. “The only way to walk in these babies is to remove the heels.”
“Right. You’re going to mutilate a pair of…what? Three hundred dollar boots?”
She snorted. “They cost a lot more than that. Do you have a pair of boots I can use or not?”
“Candy.” He pivoted around and sat cross-legged, the tangle of lights covering his knees. “If you don’t like the sweats and shirt—you do look damned good in plaid—I’ll let you pick out whatever you want from my limited wardrobe. You don’t need to get lost in a snow storm.”
Blond hair lit up in a halo around his head while the devil danced across his face. But the sweetness in his gaze, staring right through her, wiped away all ambition for striking out on her mission.
“I could use some help getting these lights off the tree and packed away.” He gestured to the mess in his lap.
“I’m not much good at holiday stuff.”
He stood, letting the lights fall around his feet, and stepped over them. In two strides he faced her; his hands gently rubbed the tops of her shoulders. The heat beneath her shirt increased ten-fold, and she sighed.
“You’ll get in the mood once you’ve had my hot chocolate.” He slid his hands to her arms and caressed. “Look at me, Candy.”
She swallowed, inhaled his warmth, and tentatively inclined her face to meet his gaze.
“You don’t have to be alone for the holidays.”
“How do you know—”
“Just a wild guess.” He brushed her hair from her cheek, his fingertips trailing sparks along her neck and collarbone on the way to her arms.
“Maybe I like being alone.” She jutted her chin, ignoring the signals sent by her body. “Besides, I wasn’t alone. I make a point of traveling, visiting friends. Just because I’m not a homebody—”
“There are all kinds of lonely. Believe me, I know.”
Why was he looking right through her like that, like he knew something about her? In less than twenty-four hours, the man seemed to think he knew everything from her liquor consumption habits to her lack of holiday cheer.
She'd turn the conversation his way, and see how he liked being under the microscope. “Are you lonely, Mitch?”
His tongue swiped along his lower lip and the corner of his most kissable mouth ticked up. “With the weather and the state of my truck, it doesn’t look like I’ll be joining any friends tonight. But I have you.”
The thump in her chest vibrated down her body. His hands slid from her arms, clasping her waist and drawing her near. Her breath came in short puffs. His closeness stole the air from her lungs. The heat building beneath her sweat pants had nothing to do with the crackling fire.
“How long has it been since you’ve decorated a tree? Then days later fought with strings of lights while packing them away?”
“I’ll let you take the star off the top.”
A wash of memory engulfed her. She dropped her forehead to his chest. The last time she’d topped a tree with a star was with her mother.
He hugged her tighter, bringing his body against the length of hers. His mouth brushed across the top of her head, and he murmured something into her hair. It sounded like poor little Candy, but it had to be her imagination.
She should move away. He’d get the wrong impression. Or he’d get the right impression; feel her pounding heart, her breasts taut against his chest. The magnolias and bourbon she'd enjoyed at her college roommate's holiday celebration couldn’t compare with a real Christmas tree, a wood fire, a cup of hot chocolate, and Mitch.
“Why are you hurrying back to New York?”
“What difference does it make?”
He rubbed her back, a soothing kind of motion without anything expected in return. But the unintentional friction he created flushed her face. She turned her cheek into his chest.
“Are you hungry?”
Oh, God was she. “Mmm…” The boots fell from her hand, and she encircled his waist. The muscles beneath his shirt tensed.
“I make killer cook stove pancakes.”
Oh, hungry for food? Her stomach answered for her. She leaned back to look up at him, thrusting her hips forward. What she felt against her belly nearly stopped the words in her mouth. “Pancakes and hot chocolate?” She strained to keep a straight face.
“Sound good?” His voice, husky and low, shivered her thighs.
“Sounds a lot better than a five-mile walk in the snow with hacked off boots.”
“I want you to have an old fashioned, holiday morning. The best way to start is with pancakes. Then we’ll finish putting away the decorations while we drink hot chocolate. We’ll haul the tree outside and get chilled.” His hands rubbed her back, caressed her waist. “But I’ll keep the fire going…uh…in the fireplace. How does that sound?”
“An old fashioned, holiday morning.” This man had more than gorgeous looks. “Why?”
His gaze roamed over her face, his lips parted as if to tell her some huge secret. But he stopped. “Just because.”