by Donna Michaels
“Your room okay?” Trent asked, stopping beside Lauren in the middle of the bustling lobby.
She nodded, then headed for the exit with no intention of talking, stopping, or breathing, until she was outside and mistletoe free. Too dangerous. She scooted around a pack of incoming guests and pushed through the door into the cool winter’s night air…and underneath more mistletoe, haphazardly dotting the hotel’s grand, wrap-around porch.
It was a conspiracy. Everywhere she turned there was mistletoe. The urge to stomp her foot shook through her boot. This was not here when they’d first arrived.
“Excuse me, honey,” a little old lady called from down on the sidewalk, pushing her walker to the stairs. “Can you help me up?”
Before she could answer, Trent appeared and was at the lady’s side, escorting the beaming woman to the porch. Something inside Lauren’s chest cracked open as he gently placed the woman’s hand on her arm while he went back down for the walker. He was always helping, putting other’s first. It was one of the things that attracted her to him the most.
He needed to stop. Do something mean. Say something obnoxious.
Why did he have to keep being so sweet? Didn’t he know she was having a hard enough time talking herself out of liking him?
“Aw, what a sweetheart. You have yourself a good man, honey.” The woman grasped the walker with one fragile hand and patted Lauren’s arm with the other. “And I think it’s positively perfect you’re both standing under the mistletoe. Go ahead, young man. Do your duty. Kiss your pretty lady.”
Lauren’s heart shot for the stars, via her throat, where it lodged, pounding away her breath. No way was she going to turn to him. No way. But, she needn’t have worried. The handsome cowboy stepped to the smiling, older woman and dipped down to kiss her cheek.
“You young, whipper-snapper. Not me.” The woman giggled, pointing at Lauren. “Her. Go ahead. Don’t mind me. Kiss your girl.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, turning to face Lauren, dusty cowboy boots standing toe to toe with hers.
She knew this because it was safer to stare at the porch. Not his face. Definitely not his face.
“Lauren.” His voice was low and deliciously sexy.
He’d spoken her name for the first time. Ever.
Goose bumps raced down her arms. She had been right. Her name sounded darn good on his lips.
“Look at me.” Two big, strong, calloused hands cupped her face and gently tipped her head until she finally met his gaze. “You and I both know this has been a long time coming.”
More than a little shocked by the blatant admission he’d wanted to kiss her for awhile, she couldn’t stop her mouth from parting, or the soft ‘oh’ from leaving her lips.
Then all thoughts ceased, and everyone and everything faded from view as he slowly lowered his head.
Work didn’t matter.
Her bosses didn’t matter.
Sandy and her bad relationship didn’t matter.
Only the here and now, and the great smelling cowboy holding her close. Her pulse pounded out of control, growing louder and louder while her heart rocked hard in her chest. An unknown feeling fluttered in her belly while their breath mingled a second before their lips finally met.
Firm and warm, his mouth sent a tremor straight to her toes, and she reached out and slid her arms around his back to hold on since her knees where suddenly too weak to hold her weight. He smelled of the outdoors, and ocean breezes, and male. Very male.
Just like in his business practices, he was thorough, kissing her slow and deliberate, leaving her under no illusion that he indeed had wanted to kiss her for a long time.
When he finally lifted his head, he had her so mixed up she had no idea if they’d kiss for ten seconds or ten minutes. Time had ceased, along with her breathing.
And common sense.
She pulled out of the embrace, vaguely aware of the older lady smiling.
“It’s wonderful to see a nice, young couple fated to be together. Bless you both.” The woman nodded then pushed her walker toward the hotel door.
When Trent rushed forward to hold the door open for the lady, Lauren took advantage of his absence and raced down the steps, needing to put some distance between her and the hot cowboy. Gulping in air, she willed her brain cells to return to working order.
What the heck had she just done?
“What in the world did you do?”
Trent had no idea what his brother Cordell was talking about on the phone later that evening, and would’ve told him, if the idiot would’ve quieted down long enough to let him get a word in on their conversation.
“Why does Lauren want to come home?”
“What?” His heart dropped to his boots, and he stopped pacing in the executive office of their Texas City store. “She said that?”
“No, not exactly, but it was implied.”
“Indirectly. In a round-about way. To—”
“I know what implied means, you goof,” he interrupted his older brother, trying hard not to give into the frustration clawing his spine. “Did Lauren really call and ask to return home?” His chest hurt at the thought, and he rubbed the tight spot over his heart as if it would ease the ache.
“No,” Cord replied. “She called and asked if it was necessary for her to be down there since Trent was more than capable of handling things himself.” His brother used a girly tone to finish the sentence.
Trent wasn’t amused, but he was relieved. Lauren hadn’t specifically asked to go home. She wanted to bolt. Like she’d done from the porch. Running scared he could handle.
After he’d turned around from helping the nice older lady into the hotel, he’d hoped to get things out in the open with Lauren. Discuss the skirting-around-each-other tactics they’d both deployed over the last few years.
No more skirting.
And after that kiss, they definitely needed to clear the air.
Brew’s sweet lips may not have said the words, but he knew from her response to his kiss, and the way she’d melted into him, that she was more than a little attracted to him.
Which was great, since he was a darn sight more than a little attracted to her.
“So?” Cord asked. “What did you do?”
It was now or never. He took the bull by the horns and spilled the truth. “I kissed her under the mistletoe.”
Standing stalk still, he waited to see if Cord was going to go ballistic over the fact he’d put the moves on the sweet girl his brothers had always considered their little sister.
“’Bout dang time. Don’t tell me you did that wrong. Do you need pointers?”
He blew out a breath. “No, I didn’t do it wrong. And you can keep your pointers” Trent smiled, despite his frustration. “What do you mean, ‘bout dang time?”
“Did I stutter? It means, about dang time the two of you stop circling like vultures and admit you like one another. Sam and I are getting right tired. It was amusing at first, but after two years it gets old. Fast.” Cord paused, then his tone grew serious. “We love Lauren like a sister, Trent, you know that, but she’s a darn good worker, too. I hope you didn’t screw things up, or cost us one heck of a manager.”
“I haven’t.” He hoped.
“You better make it right.”
“I will. Don’t worry,” he reassured before hanging up, a plan already forming in his head.
Just the fact that Lauren had wanted to leave proved her feelings for him were strong. He knew she didn’t want to jeopardize her job. So he was going to prove to her she could have her job and him.
Lauren avoided Trent most of the night, using work as an excuse. There were still a lot of little last minute things to do to get ready for the holiday gala the next day. She helped the workers stuff stockings for the children with donations from local companies, sometimes working right next to Trent. His gaze kept straying to her, she could feel it willing her to glance up. But she couldn’t. Wouldn’t. He’d want to talk about the kiss. The kiss that was incredible and still had her lips tingling.
Yeah, not going to happen.
Two hours later, she breathed a sigh of relief as the hotel elevator doors opened. The stockings were stuffed, and even though Trent had ushered everyone back to the hotel for pizza and beer in appreciation of a job well done, she had managed to avoid being alone with the man.
And being under more mistletoe with him.
A small triumph, despite knowing she would’ve enjoyed every bit of another kiss. But that was how it had to be. So she ate, drank, socialized, and was relieved to say her goodnights and head up to her room.
Only one more day to go.
She punched the button to her floor in the empty elevator, then bit back a few choice words when Trent stepped on before the doors closed.
Sealing them inside.
“I’m glad I caught you,” he said, facing her, standing close enough to twist a piece of her hair around his finger, gaze warm and interested. “We need to talk.”
And if you're in the holiday reading spirit, don't forget about my brand new release!!! HARLAND COUNTY CHRISTMAS is a prequel novella to my Amazon Best Selling Harland County Series! Read the first cowboy to fall...