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“Well, look who doesn’t know how to drive a car? Reade Collins.” Kat put her hands on her hips and gave him a disgusted once-over.
Reade knew that look. He’d seen it before. Didn’t especially care for it.
But still…Kat Graves is standing right here.
He almost couldn’t wrap his mind around that notion. The fact that she was still magazine cover beautiful didn’t help to clear his head any either. Black leather boots traveled up her long, jean-covered legs. A copper-colored ski jacket covered her torso, and a fluffy scarf looped around her neck. A neck he remembered smelling like peaches from lotion she used to make. He hadn’t been able to eat a stupid peach without thinking of her. Damn annoying.
Wavy, blond hair fell about her shoulders under a knit hat. Her cheeks had a healthy blush, and her eyes were a bottomless blue. She resembled an advertisement for winter fun. She’d always looked amazing no matter what she was wearing…or wasn’t wearing.
God, it had been at least ten years since he’d seen her. It felt like longer.
“How have you been?” He took a step closer, pulled off his ball cap, and ran his fingers through his floppy black hair. He hoped he didn’t smell too heavily of garlic or salmon from the restaurant at which he was head chef. With any luck, the fragrance of tiramisu had chosen to stick with him instead.
“I was great until some idiot banged into my car.” She gestured a gloved hand toward the crinkled bumper of her Mazda.
“I’m sorry, Kat.” He walked past her to inspect the damage more closely, not that there was a damn thing he could do about it here in the middle of a shopping center. His buddy, Tom, could take care of it at his garage just up the street.
“I guess your attention span has not improved.” Kat folded her arms across her chest. “I mean really, Reade, we were basically parked and you hit me.”
Yes, and thanks for the reminder of my stupidity and incompetence.
This was not the reunion with Kat he had pictured many, many times in his mind. He looked like a fool. Not a good start. Not at all.
“I said I was sorry.” He held up his phone. “My brother was in one of his emergencies and…oh, never mind.” He exhaled and a cloud of vapor trailed out of his mouth. The temperature was dropping fast, and those falling snowflakes were picking up speed. His gaze went to the flakes that had settled momentarily in Kat’s hair. They went well with the icy look she was giving him right now for hitting her.
Why didn’t I take some tiramisu home with me tonight?
That would have definitely defrosted Kat. If he remembered correctly, the first time she’d eaten his tiramisu, she’d nearly had an orgasm.
A horn beep made both of them jump.
“Look, let’s avoid the police ordeal and holding up this traffic, okay? The damage isn’t that bad. I’ll pay for it to be fixed. You know where Tom Westin’s garage is?” He pointed toward the exit and to the right.
“If we get out of here in the next millennium, pull into his place. I’ll be right behind you.”
“Not too close behind me, please.” She pointed a finger at him, and though he was supposed to feel as if he were in trouble, that finger had a magnetic pull instead. He wanted to race toward it, let it touch him as it had so many years ago.
He held up a hand as if taking an oath. “I promise to pay attention.”
She let out a puff of breath indicating she didn’t believe he was capable of paying attention. Little did she know. Now that he knew she was the driver in front of him, all he’d be able to do was pay attention. He didn’t plan to let her out of his sight.
She may have looked at him like he was completely brainless, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him. He loved a challenge.
After what seemed like hours of staring at the back of Kat’s head and keeping a light foot on the gas, Reade pulled into the lot of Tom’s garage next to her car. A good dusting of snow was on the ground now with a guarantee of more on the way. Good thing his parents were in Florida for the winter or else he’d have to rush off and plow their driveway. With that obligation out of the picture, he was free to…to follow wherever the night may lead him. And he had some ideas on where he wanted to be led.
“Pull her into the bay!” Tom hollered as soon as Reade got out of his car.
Kat gave a thumbs up that she’d heard Tom and did as he’d said. When she got out of the vehicle, Reade had this instant urge to stand right next to her.
So he did.
She cast him a sideways glance, no trace of those sexy grins he had enjoyed when they’d spent nights together.
“Hey, Tom,” Kat said, throwing her arms around the man.
Wait a minute.
At Reade’s raised eyebrows, Tom said, “Kat is my wife’s cousin.” He kissed her cheek.
“I see.” I’d much rather see her hugging me. This would have been way easier if he hadn’t looked down to his phone in the car. Damn Kevin to Hell for calling me. His brother was getting a karate chop to the neck for this one. Maybe two.
If Reade hadn’t hit Kat, but saw her in one of the stores, perhaps they would have had a cordial chat, followed by a lovely dinner, and ended up rolling around naked like in the good old days.
“What’s the trouble?” Tom angled his head toward Kat’s car.
“I tapped the bumper,” Reade said.
“Tapped?” Kat whirled around to face him, and his heart beat double time over the full force of her arctic gaze. “It was more than a tap.”
“It was not. I barely touched you.” Now he was a little too close to her. You know, within slapping range. He took a half-step back.
“My bumper looks more than tapped wouldn’t you say, Tom?”
Tom put his hands up in a time out gesture. “Okay, kids. Let’s not get all riled up.” He followed Kat to the rear of the Mazda and smiled. “Gonna have to side with her, Reade.”
“That figures.” Who in his right mind would side against Kat? “Can you fix it?” He jammed his hands in his coat pockets to keep them warm and to keep them from pulling on one of Kat’s damp curls.
“Of course I can fix it.” Tom kneeled to get eye-level with the damage.
“Right now?” Kat interlaced her gloved fingers and held her joined hands under her chin in a begging manner.
“No. Not right now.” Tom ran his grease-covered index finger over the bumper. “I’ll have to order paint from the manufacturer to get rid of these scrapes.”
“Hey, what did I tell you?” Tom said. “You had to have a purple car, and now that special order silliness is biting you in the patoot.”
“Aw, shut it, Tom.” Kat cuffed him on the bicep. “I love my purple baby.” She pressed herself against the driver side of the car in an embrace.
This was the one and only time Reade wished he were a little purple Mazda.
“Let’s see. With tomorrow being Christmas Eve and Christmas right after that…” Tom twitched his lips to the left then right. “I’m afraid I won’t have the paint until the 26th or 27th at the earliest.”
Kat turned a sub-zero glare on Reade, and his insides should have frozen up solid, but instead he felt all melted. Even a furious Kat Graves was something to behold.
“I’ll bring the car back after the holiday then,” she said through clenched teeth. She threw herself into the driver’s seat with an exasperated sigh, and something inside Reade snapped. If she started her car and drove away, that’d be it. They’d managed not to bump into each other all this time. He’d probably never see her again.
He grabbed Tom by the oil-stained shirtsleeve and yanked him down to the bumper.
“What the hell are—”
“Shhhh.” Reade clamped a hand over his buddy’s mouth. “Tell her she can’t take the car. It has to stay here.”
Tom pulled Reade’s hand away and whispered, “What? But the car is drivable.”
“Dude, no, it isn’t.” He opened his eyes real wide, hoping to communicate psychically with Tom. “Help me out, will you?”
“Oh, gotcha, but you’re going to owe me, big time. I’m thinking full filet mignon dinner with dessert.”
“Anything you want.” Reade jerked Tom back up to standing as Kat started her car.
“Whoa, whoa!” Tom waved his hands, and Kat shut off the engine.
She rolled down the window and stuck her head out. “What’s the matter?”
“Well…” Tom shook his head and made a few humming and hawing sounds. “Thing is, Kat, the dented bumper seems to have put your tires out of line.” He dropped to the floor and snaked himself underneath the car on his back. “Could be your brakes have been compromised.”
Oh, he’s good. Reade almost believed what Tom had said. From the wrinkle between Kat’s brows, he could tell she was buying it too, and if she hadn’t suddenly become an expert in cars, this could work.
“Are you saying I can’t have my car back?” She got out of the vehicle and met Tom and Reade at the bumper.
Tom shimmied back out and shook his head, giving Reade the quickest of glances. “It wouldn’t be safe, Kat. You’d better leave it here until I can properly inspect it.”
“Wonderful. Just wonderful.” She paced away, and Reade thoroughly enjoyed how her jeans showcased her perfect ass. “Well, can you give me and my gifts a lift home, Tom?”
“Ummm, I could do that,” Reade said. Bait launched.
Slowly, Kat’s eyes focused on him. She stared at him for a few seconds then looked back to Tom. “I’d really rather have you take me, Tom.”
Bait tossed back. Damn.
“Can’t.” Tom shook his head.
Kat tapped her booted foot on the cement floor. “Why not?”
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Kids are expecting me to help them decorate the tree. I’m already late.”
Oh, pulling the kid card. Brilliant! Time for bait relaunch.
“Again,” Reade said, “I can take you. I do have a valid driver’s license.”
“Shocking, considering the way you drive.” She angled a foot at her damaged bumper.
“It’s snowing harder,” Tom said. “Just let him take you, so I don’t have to feel guilty.” He gave her pleading eyes, and her shoulders slumped in what Reade hoped was defeat.
“Fine.” She stomped to her car, ripped open the back passenger door, and collected her bags.
“Thanks, man.” Reade clapped Tom on the back.
“Happy Holidays, friend.” Tom pantomimed cutting into and eating a hunk of steak then turned toward his office. “I’ll give you a call when your car is all set, Kat. Merry Christmas.”
“What’s so damn merry about it?” Kat mumbled. She came to stand in front of Reade with her arms full of purchases. When he didn’t move, she said, “Are you going to help me with these or what, Prince Charming?”
“Oh, yeah.” He immediately took her bags and dumped them into his trunk.
You’re slicker than this, man. Get it together.
Kat waited at the passenger side of his car for him to unlock the door. When he did so, he accidentally brushed up against her, and they both froze. Was he the only one who felt that electric shock zip through his body?
“Let’s go,” she said, though something had thawed in her tone.
Thawing was good. Reade could work with thawing. Some mistletoe wouldn’t hurt either.
He slid in behind the steering wheel, and soon they were pulling out of the garage’s parking lot. “Are you hungry?”
“I have gummy bears in here somewhere.” She pulled off her gloves and shuffled around in the purse on her lap.
“Gummy bears aren’t dinner, and I know you haven’t eaten, because you were in that shopping center traffic as long as me.”
“Does that mean you don’t want any of my gummy bears?” She held up the package and shook the remaining bears.
He held out his hand if only to get a part of him onto her side of the vehicle. He hated gummy bears, but he’d consume an entire army of them if it meant her fingers might touch his palm.
“What color?” she asked.
“Don’t care.” Didn’t they all taste like plastic?
“You were always so passive. No opinion on anything.”
“Ouch. Look, maybe I’m not the same guy you knew in the past, all right?”
A flash of anger whipped through him. Okay, he’d broken up with her when he went to Europe to study cuisine ten years ago. Okay, he’d dented her bumper an hour ago. Couldn’t she forgive and move on? In both cases, he hadn’t intentionally meant to hurt her. In fact, the break-up was meant to give her some freedom. He hadn’t wanted her to sit around waiting for him and besides, he’d asked her to come with him first.
“Us ending wasn’t all on me, Kat. I wanted you to come to Europe.”
She pointed to the left when they came to an intersection. “And what was I supposed to do, Reade. Paint on the banks of the Seine while you pursued your career and mine sat stagnant? That wouldn’t have been fair. Breaking up was the right thing to do.” She popped a gummy bear into her mouth.
“If you agree, why are you giving me a frigid shoulder tonight?”
“Because you busted my wheels and…” She shrugged and stared out the windshield.
She turned to look at him and said, “You’re still flippin’ gorgeous.”
Join me tomorrow for Chapter Three, the final chapter of Mistletoe Wish.
Buy my other holiday stories, Midnight Mistletoe and In the Nick of Time at www.christinedepetrillo.weebly.com.