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YULE BE MINE by Charlene Teglia Copyright 2004 Charlene Teglia Scheherazade Tales Romance E-Novels All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information and storage retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental. 2004 Scheherazade Tales Romance E-Novels YULE BE MINE

Prologue Seymour Walters was the last straw. Jordan had put up with a lot from her brothers. She knew they meant well. She knew they loved her. She knew that deep down in their little misguided and deranged brains, they only wanted her to be happy. But looking at Seymour's sober face, beneath a thatch of hair no artist could give style to, set off by glasses that were definitely, actually taped together over the nose, Jordan realized with a chill of horror that it was never going to end. They would never stop trying to fix her up with “the perfect man." And their version of theperfect man was Jordan's version ofperfect hell . First of all, if Seymour had ever laughed in his life, she was certain he would have apologized immediately. She made it a firm rule that any man she dated had to laugh at her jokes. Then there was his appearance. Jordan eyed him in sober silence and was unable to even comment internally. It was that

bad. No, actually, it wasworse —because if Jordan didn't do something, and fast, she'd be thrown together with Seymour or some other equally bad Disaster Date on every single hayride, skating party, dinner and dance of the holiday season. She pictured herself seated by Seymour through an endless meal. Even in her imagination, she couldn't eat. A mortician just didn't contribute sparkling small talk to dinner. And his compliments—she could hear them now. “You're looking lovely this evening. So lifelike. So natural." You're a creative person, Jordan,she screamed at herself.Last year you wrote two hundred different ways to say “Happy Birthday.” You need a plan. And make it good. Or Seymour will be by your side from Thanksgiving through New Year's Eve, and you'll have to kisshim. The greeting card writer shivered at the very thought, and Seymour noticed. "Got a chill?” He heaved a morose sigh. “Leona Watkins went like that. Pneumonia. That's how it starts. Before you know it, death comes knocking." Death was already knocking, Jordan thought wildly. Death was closing in and choking the life out of her. Well, not this year! It had to stop. And it was going to stopright now . Jordan was going to give her brothers exactly what they wanted, and gain a reprieve from the Grim Reaper. She was going to get engaged to “the perfect man."

Chapter One Single man! Are you haunted by the ghost of Christmas past—terrifying attempts at holiday matchmaking? Frightened by the ghost of Christmas future—more yuletide yahoos? Then what the dickens are you waiting for? Give us both a Christmas present. Single woman seeks phony fiancé for family functions; will pose as yours in return. Jordan Christian reread her singles’ ad with a critical eye. Was it short, snappy and to the point? Did it communicate her needs clearly, but with a humorous tone that would make it appealing to a decent human being? She pushed her notepad back and dropped her pen on the lacquered surface of her antique roll top desk. Wanting some reassurance, she let her gaze wander over the wall. It held award certificates, the framed copy of her first check as a professional writer and an extremely flattering letter from an editor praising her skills. Jordan found the physical proof of her success and ability as a writer comforting whenever doubt crept in on a project. This was a project she really couldn't afford to mess up. If this ad didn't snare a sane, single and at least semi-attractive male between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five, Jordan was going to be in a lot of trouble. She was going to be toasting the New Year with Seymour the Undertaker under the watchful eyes of her four older brothers.

It wasn't easy being the baby of the family. At twenty-six, she still wasn't free of fraternal harassment. True, her brothers—all considerably older—had shared in raising her after their parents were killed in a car accident, making them considerably more involved than most brothers. They'd been there for her through high school and sent her to college. They'd watched her graduate and taken her picture. They'd celebrated with her when she immediately got taken on as a writer for a greeting card company. And they'd shoved countless stuffed shirts at her, every single year. Christmas seemed to bring out the worst in them. They couldn't seem to stand seeing her without a man at her side through all the traditional family events. Jordan had tried reasoning with them. That didn't work. So she'd tried tears, tantrums and had even gone to the Bahamas one year to evade the matchmakers. She'd gotten sunburn and gained ten pounds eating all day on the cruise ship, and all for nothing, because they'd managed to get Mitchell onto the same ship and he'd followed her relentlessly. Mitchell was a dentist, and she was fairly certain he'd been Gary's idea. Gary was the oldest brother and the most determined to settle his baby sister down with a respectable, secure husband. But as annoying and self-centered—not to mention depressing—as Mitchell was, Seymour had him beat. He could drive a right-to-lifer to suicide. Especially if they had to listen to him talk through dinner. Jordan shuddered again and reread her ad. Well, it wasn't perfect, but she didn't have much time. If she got it in today, it would run in the weekend edition of the Singles’ Page, and with any kind of luck at all, she'd get some answers the following week. It stood to reason that somewhere some man was enduring the same difficulties she was, and all because he just hadn't met the right person yet. So they'd help each other out. It was a perfect plan. After the New Year, they'd simply drift apart and eventually end their mock “engagement." Jordan bounced to her feet and stretched, rolling her neck and shoulders to loosen the kinks produced by hunching over her desk. Maybe she should have requested a man who liked to give massages. No, she couldn't be that picky. She wasn't shopping for a real fiancé, just a good fake to fool her brothers with. As long as he didn't tape his eyewear together or talk about dentures, she'd take him. She ruffled her short blond spiky hair and picked up her ad. She'd already rented an anonymous postal box for replies. Now all she had to do was drop off her copy and pay for her ad to run. And sincerely hope for a good man. A good “single man". **** "Luke, I want you to meet Candy,” his sister Wendy gushed. She shoved the saccharine pink fluff-ball of ruffles towards Luke. He knew there had to be an eligible female in there somewhere. Why else would Wendy push her on him? The ruffles spoke in a sickening, simpering sweet voice. “I'mso pleased to meet you. I've heardso much about you.” Then she definitely—distinctly—tittered. "Have you?” Luke Foster's bland, merely rhetorical question was more a statement, neatly providing a response to Cotton Candy's verbal overture without encouraging further communication.

cousins and all their spouses and offspring. and then seemed to wilt under his stolid indifference that bordered on the thin line of rudeness.Luke glared at his oldest sister Wendy. Every year the matchmaking went on. He was a patient man. Luke squelched the chiding sound of his mother's voice in his head that urged him to be a gentleman in any situation. steadily and silently. Wendy's little pre-holiday cocktail party was only the beginning. His successful consulting business spoke for the wisdom of not fighting nature. A shrill sound emerged from the frothy dress. I have to go. Wendy frowned at him and Luke realized that she was going to come over and demand that he apologize to Cotton Candy. Damned if he'd encourage this unwelcome piece of fluff. The ruffles twitched. It had taken time to . rugged appeal and chiseled muscles that declared him to be aman with a capital M. Cotton Candy was Wendy's guest. he knew he was in over his head. down at the pink ruffled confection with chilling disinterest. and that. uncles. But he had the face and build of a born fighter. A wise man knew when to retreat. actually. lonely place with. but she didn't seem to notice—probably because. lonely place to looking like a man to seek out a dark. “N-n-nice to meet you. and every year it grew more insistent and more unpleasant. The Foster clan included two more siblings. He stared. Luke smiled. It was already starting. and quickly. parents. and they celebrated the holidays with a vengeance. Luke eyed the pink ruffles in dread. having done her “duty". He blended into the crowd and made his way towards the door and freedom with a sense of desperation that was sheathed in outward calm and confidence.” and pulled back. she'd artfully retreated and was now busily occupied serving canapés to another guest. But even he could be pushed too far. His eyes silently encouraged her to do so. actually. twittered. And all those relatives couldn't bear to see their Luke peacefully alone. combined with his height and an air of reserve as a natural result of his quiet. His family simply failed to understand that he had other concerns. But he did have a rough. Luke was too prosaic not to use whatever natural advantages he had. reflective personality. peacefully single. a smile of triumph and satisfaction which transformed his rough features into a warm. An easy-going. approachable face and lit his cold blue eyes with humor. He went from looking like a man to avoid in a dark. She squeaked out. other priorities. Candy let out a faint sound of mingled offense and fright and melted into the crowd. They suffered some sort of genetic compulsion to match up and marry off every member of the family. even-tempered man. In truth. He'd found that the intimidating edge of danger he could affect at will produced results in the sometimes rough world of business. added to the illusion of watchful readiness for trouble and the ability to handle any that was foolish enough to turn up. It was an illusion. Luke Foster didn't have anything resembling classical features or Hollywood handsomeness. These endless excuses to eat and drink and shove unwanted women at him that went on every year from November to January—he hated them. Luke didn't even nod. He was gentle by nature. Let Wendy entertain her.

Luke nodded brusquely. But there was no hurry. combined with the sight of what had become of the man who'd taught Luke everything he knew about succeeding in business. he pitied the man who ended up with that bit of fluff. Let this be a warning to you. Here it was—solid evidence that he wasn't the only person who hadn't succumbed to marriage mania. he realized after a moment. . but later might turn out to be too late. Go back to your business—but if I were you. Jake shook his head and waved him on. AndDaisy seeking gardener with stamen-a .” said Luke. He recognized that voice. Somebody had left a newspaper on the table.” the voice continued. That was the only rational explanation. He hoped it would be a dentist. It was a listing of singles ads. sat in a corner booth and asked for coffee." "Heartproblems. With grim sarcasm. Wash away the sugary taste that just looking at Cotton Candy had left in his mouth. Freedom and sanity lay just beyond. Then something different caught his eye. Idly. Yes." "I didn't know you had heart problems. "Leaving already? Heading back to the office?" The question made Luke pause. Why hadn't he ever read them before? There was abig woman seeking big man for a whale of a good time . The ads were enthralling." The words. and I'm scheduled for another triple bypass. Luke. “You could say that. "Jake Marlow." Even old Bottom Line Jake Marlow had matchmaking on the brain? The holidays caused mass insanity. Luke felt quietly gratified by that fact. "It's what I would have been doing. "Don't bother to tell me how I look. Yet. It wasn't exactly a newspaper. The college student waiting tables waved to him and told him to sit anywhere. were distinctly unsettling. and more years to firmly establish it. “Go on. It isn't too late for you. He shrugged on his heavy wool overcoat but instead of his office he headed towards a nearby café. I'd go find a life instead. “I know how I look. Some of the ads were from people in their forties and fifties who'd never been married. Turns out it was a bad investment. Thirty-two wasn't too old to be single. And somebody to live it with. I'm old. too. Luke reached the door.” Jake gave a wheezing laugh that held no trace of amusement. Luke opened it and flipped through. In time.gain the experience to start his own business. I put my heart into my business. twenty years ago. He'd get some coffee in peace and quiet. He barely noticed when his coffee came. You might think there's plenty of time for a personal life later.” Jake said. I'm tired. the energy or even the inclination to pursue a serious relationship. he wouldn't have recognized his old mentor. turning around. he intended to select a suitable wife. If it hadn't been for the voice. That kind of commitment meant long hours and short weekends and didn't leave the time.

for instance. Will pose as yours in return. some other man would get a free ride through the holidays with no pressure to settle down. she'd be impressed by a literary reply. He shuddered. and probably not just from watching a Christmas movie. will pose as yours in return. She'd drive away not only the sniveling sweet types but also the militant equal-partner business types who only wanted to use a ring to further their careers or to get a foothold in his own company. Presumably. Then he pictured himself with a poised. And she had a quirky sense of humor. to deal with the latter. She didn't want a ring. The waiter returned with a full coffee pot. he read back over the result and nodded to himself. Luke realized. She'd impress his siblings.. He wanted his message to stand out amongst the replies she'd get to her ad. too. He tore . Single woman seeks phony fiancé for family functions. Wendy wouldn't be perusing her guest list right now looking for another candidate to foist on him. If he'd had her with him tonight. The words reverberated in his head as he stirred his coffee and sipped the dark brew. Sounded like some poor woman was enduring the same fate. Whoever had left that newspaper lying at his booth had circled that one in red. Something must have pushed her over the edge to resort to an ad like that. and the inevitable parade of pink-ruffled piranhas. And Luke would be up against the wall—alone. Luke noticed. If she didn't agree to be his fake fiancée. She intrigued him. wrote briefly. She'd compared blind dates and surprise fix-ups to being haunted by phantoms. intelligent companion. That revealed something else about her. He wondered what the male equivalent of Cotton Candy was like.. Luke continued to think. She knew Dickens. the more it intrigued him. whoever she was. He thought she would likely be able to handle the thankless task of fending off his family. and the more he did. “Certainly. “Do you have a pen and some paper I could borrow?" The waiter looked at the singles ads and smirked knowingly. parents and assorted partner-pushers. Now . She didn't mind being a single woman. Luke thought about it. Candy wouldn't have gotten within a mile of him.” He left a pad and pen for Luke after refilling his coffee cup. from her blatant proposal to perpetrate fraud. Luke imagined the forthcoming round of manic holiday events.. The mystery woman was intelligent enough to out-do the former and devious enough. and Luke caught his eye. scratched out and rewrote. Okay.Single man! Are you haunted by the ghost of Christmas past—terrifying attempts at holiday matchmaking? Frightened by the ghost of Christmas future—more yuletide yahoos? Then what the dickens are you waiting for? Give us both a Christmas present.. An intelligent woman. She wanted a co-conspirator to weather the holiday madness. Luke drank his coffee and pondered. Finally satisfied. how to respond to something like that? It would take some thought.

Jordan fitted the key into her box. Jordan scooped the mail into her oversized bag and zoomed back home. Not one single reasonable rational reply in the whole batch. “Well. Well. Bonanza! She'd struck itbig! With a quick glance to make sure she wasn't noticed." 'T'was the month before Christmas and all through the house Were relatives trying to find me a spouse. Fretting when the key stuck. The slot bulged with envelopes. “It seems we have a winner. Then what to my weary eyes should appear But a singles ad asking for my help this year! Together we'd fend off the brothers and sisters. An hour later. **** After waving to the postman out front. lipsticks. as she reached the last letter. she practically danced around the box until she had it open and peered inside hopefully. her enthusiasm had dimmed considerably. What did she have to lose? Maybe this one could even spell.” she murmured. Even in the mail. She'd attracted men who thought it was a clever hook and wanted to date her. she thought in disgust. And hope that there really was a Santa Claus after all. A man in the same boat.the ad out and folded it with his answer. well. She hoped it wasn't too soon to expect a response to her ad. She didn't have much time. nobody took her seriously. I got talked half to death by sickly-sweet chatter And fled for my life from her sugary patter. He'd mail it to her post office box tomorrow. she might as well read the last one. Men who wanted to show her theirDickens . The bag was upended on her desk and Jordan rummaged through the clutter of pens. So much for attracting a decent human being. Her brows shot up. Thanksgiving was only a few days away and the holiday madness was underway. business cards and other odds and ends for the all-important envelopes. Men who wanted to unwrap her for Christmas. Together we would escape our sad plight . She pulled the single sheet of paper free of the envelope and started to read. The dreadful mismatches of misses and misters. A man with a sense of humor. She couldn't believe it.

A fun-loving. inviting an answer. She did most of her work by mail. a questionnaire. The mystery respondent had signed “Single Man” to his spoof and enclosed his address. Did he have an ego the size of a mountain? Did he consider commercial artists like herself hacks or sell-outs? Did he have the ability to think on his feet and. Jordan pinned the letter from “Single Man” to her corkboard. she conceded. A man who could get along with her four impossible brothers. instead of recommending a good therapist. A man who'd appreciate her creative abilities and personality. most important. he didn't like the Three Stooges. Her notebook ready. Sexy and devastatingly attractive. and a great deal of thought. The kind of thing that would reveal all sorts of little quirks. Like—did he prefer Larry or Moe? If he couldn't answer. Amazing. it would be better if he were as close as possible to her fantasy man. Fortunately Jordan was free to create her fiancé in her own dream image. to the pen cap's detriment. She'd sifted through an awful lot of pebbles. He could spell. She really needed to know if she could stand his company better than the dentist or the undertaker or any of the other past holiday horrors her brothers had come up with. for once. Jordan thought she just might have found the solution to her dilemma. He had a sense of humor. understanding man with a good sense of humor. He had to look enough like someone she'd actually consider marrying to make it work. In short. a man who didn't exist. except in her vivid imagination. Or did that matter? She couldn't get off-track. Fortunately she had the sort of job that wouldn't cause any of her brothers to question her frequent trips to the post office or rabid interest in the mail. she chewed thoughtfully on the cap of a pen and debated possibilities. So as long as he wasn't a felon on parole. Although. So what would she consider marrying? Jordan pondered that. and whether or not she could tolerate hours of his company through the holidays. Why not? If he could play a role. Now she just had to find out a little more about him. patient. Now she just had the problem of trying to roughly determine how close her “Single Man” came to her specifications. A man who was successful enough not to mind her success. he could play the one she defined for him. For instance. It took some time. the ability to play a pretend role convincingly? Her brothers knew her well enough to spot an obvious fake. Maybe she should send him a survey. A man who found her little eccentricities amusing. but Jordan got her reply finished and addressed to “Single Man. but she'd struck gold at last.And find Christmas Eve. The rest of the letters went directly into the round file—the wicker garbage basket. And he needed her as much as she needed him. a good night. sensitive. and occasionally via the . did he like tactile experiences like using paper and pen or did he do everything on computer? The typed letter on a blank piece of regular paper told her very little.” She'd drop it in the mail along with the new concepts for her greeting card company.

I just wanted to make sure you wouldn't skip a meal. Randall caught her giddy arabesque as he came out of the kitchen wiping his hands.” Jordan grasped at anything to explain her flight from Seymour the mortician. who could eat? Even a cast-iron constitution like hers had its limits. Randall was a serious guy. Strong as an ox. I want them to go out first thing in the morning. you know I'm as healthy as a horse. Between the four of them.” Cheer radiated from her voice. “You're a dear. I told you we'd be going out tonight. Just because a person liked to live alone. She held her pose and smiled innocently at her second to oldest brother. “You're right. they kept her fed and also kept her from being “reclusive".. I have to drop these at the post office." Her shudder was entirely unfeigned. Jordan thought in delight. but you didn't answer. When do I ever miss a meal?" He responded to her teasing with typical seriousness. “Can I walk you to your ." Randall's faintly reproving look censured her for having a sylphlike slenderness. “What are you doing here? I didn't even hear you come in. She whirled around in a burst of sheer joy. of something. "Thanks!” She dropped her improvised joyful dance pose and skipped over to kiss him on the cheek. and so is Teresa for sending you over to feed me. But they meant well and she loved them. And she was. Jordan shook her head. There was no reasoning with her brothers.fax function on her computer if it was urgent. She figured if she suddenly turned up engaged. You missed a meal last Thursday because you didn't show. "Listen. He'd be hurt and he was too kind and considerate to deserve that." "You didn't hear me because you were writing when I came in. I couldn't eat. “I have a new batch of cards ready to go and they're really good. Honestly. Just the prospect of putting one over on the bunch of matchmakers—along with the possibility of actually relaxing and enjoying the season—was enough to have her doing cartwheels. but she usually took turns eating with one of her brothers’ families.” she agreed solemnly.” Jordan said with deliberate cheerfulness. But then he was a CPA. “I had a sudden attack of . Jordan hugged him reassuringly. so I just put your dinner in the refrigerator. Did I forget to show up or something? Were you expecting me?" "No. With Seymour. what are you doing?” he inquired.. She might actually get away with it. as they called it. but she resisted the impulse with an effort." The literal reply made Jordan want to laugh again. I stood in your doorway and called. Had she missed a dinner appointment? She didn't remember having one.” Randall gave her a faintly accusing look. “Come on. so what did she expect? “Last Thursday. The gray eyes and light hair that added to her otherworldly air made the rugged brothers feel like they had a fragile hold on someone who might slip out of their grasp at any time. “Jordan. “Something that didn't agree with me. I also eat like a linebacker. it would look a lot less suspicious if Randall remembered her being excited and sparkly-eyed over something.

he told himself. It was too soon to expect a reply.” she assured him. “Give my love to your family. Unlike Gary. Seymour would have given him the willies. But that didn't stop him from waiting impatiently for the mail and digging through it eagerly when it arrived. Jordan thought in" He indicated for her to precede him and they walked outside together.” Jordan answered his remark with a mischievous grin. She could usually get a little smile out of him. Christmas wasn't going to be a humbug. He was counting on her help. too. Jordan leaned companionably against her brother's side. was probably born laughing. the sudden disappointment when no reply appeared in the stack of business correspondence was surprisingly sharp. He was a tough nut. She was one step closer to peace on earth. now that she thought about it. “You won't forget next Sunday?” Randall insisted. He wasn't obsessed with a woman he hadn't even met. who'd wink at him and encourage him toembrace his sexual identity. the voice of Jake Marlow was not ringing in his head with dire warnings about leaving things too late. Then there was Theodore. that was all. and could usually be counted on to appreciate her antics.” Randall pointed out. Even though he'd told himself not to expect anything. the next in age. Lawrence. He simply dreaded the coming onslaught of parties with the inevitable questions about his still being a bachelor and being seated next to women whose only potential suitability as a future mate consisted of their having been born with the proper chromosomes. Luke reflected grimly that even that could change if he stayed single much longer. Chapter Two Monday Luke was on pins and needles." This year. Evidently shewasn't forgiven for not showing up on Thursday. "They're all my favorites. Either Theodore or Lawrence. too. She probably hadn't even got his letter yet. He hoped again that the mystery woman got his letter. His family was more than capable of it. the youngest of her brothers. He'd probably been the one to set her up with Seymour. Above all. It was the sort of prank they'd pull. and I'll see you on Sunday. even if it was somewhat stiffly. “How could I forget dinner at your place with my favorite nephews?" "You say that about all your nephews. “I won't forget.” She stood on tiptoe to kiss him good-bye and waved as he drove away. But he smiled. Then she broke her previous land speed record for getting to the post office. the oldest. Luke shuddered. And all your nieces. She really didn't think Randall was responsible for that one. with any luck at all. He'd be fending off advances from men named Maurice or Gavin. if they decided he'd never married because he wasn't interested in heterosexual monogamy. She could even spare some good will towards “Single Man. He was fairly laid-back in contrast to the rest. He couldn't expect to hear from her before Wednesday at the earliest. He hoped .

that will be all. he wasn't even pretending to be working anymore. It's you. He smiled and the abrupt transformation didn't go unnoticed by either woman. and Luke shot out of his chair again. he snapped his attention back to the present and pushed the mystery woman and Jake Marlow to the back of his mind. not appear in person. “My. “Perfume?” It had to be her. His family knew him too well to buy the charade without laying some groundwork. what a charming welcome! No wonder you get so many visitors. Only he was expecting her to write. Abby chose that moment to appear with his morning mail. his only thought was that Abby. "Expecting a letter from Ed McMahon?” Abby teased. Iam expecting an important letter.she'd found it amusing. "Expecting someone?” She arched an inquiring look at her brother and took in the unusual sight of the normally intense.. Disappointment drove him to speak without thinking. he wanted Wendy to be able to remember his distraction.. the one thing guaranteed to absorb his attention and divert his morbid thoughts. “What?" She was suspicious. Abby. Abby . all-business man staring blankly at the report in front of him as if wondering where it had come from. When a knock interrupted his musings. Dare I come in?" Luke retreated to his desk and waved at the chair in front of it in a grudging. A sister's special prerogative. Besides. silent invitation. who just crossed her legs and settled back comfortably. since obviously it was the truth. but she acquiesced and left his office. thanks.. and both eagerly waited for an explanation. "Yes." Wendy raised a fair brow at his surly tone. He looked up at her with the same unseeing expression.." That startled him.. Luke realized.. . yet he couldn't even concentrate on work. At least intriguing enough to warrant an answer. was bringing in his mail. He'd hoped she'd answer it." Abby's smile looked a bit disappointed. It wasn't Abby. he supposed. With an effort. Luke shot out of his chair and took a step towards the door. “Uh . No such luck with Wendy. He was acting strangely. Witty. They exchanged thoughtful glances as he turned back to his desk. “Thank you. And soon.” he agreed. He gave her a disgruntled look and all but snatched the mail from her. his secretary. If he suddenly turned up engaged. “Oh. he figured this could work to his advantage. focused. By Wednesday morning." "That would be the lavender envelope with all the perfume on it. He'd stared at the same report for so long he should have had it memorized.

Question One: I'm unmarried because. She'd written by hand. but Luke was still in the dark. The one you're keeping so romantically over your heart. “Who is what from?” His tone dared her to question him further. Within reason. “The letter. Really.) Please complete and return the questionnaire. "Next Friday. “Is there something I can do for you?" Wendy smiled winningly back at him. “Is there something I can do for you?" Wendy smiled triumphantly. although he didn't remember any such thing. Personally.” Wendy expounded. He hoped she didn't mean this coming Friday. using each other's families as an excuse.Luke dropped the stack and sorted through until he found the envelope that was obviously not business. He'd only just heard from his mysterious single woman." Luke dealt with that the only way he could think of. He planted both hands on the cherry desk. He had high hopes that he and his fabulous fake fiancée could manage to avoid several of them." "Friday?” Luke frowned and tried to remember what was happening Friday. he heaved a sigh of relief and pulled out his letter. He repeated. Luke managed to weather the rest of the low-level debriefing before Wendy finally accepted that she wasn't going to get anything more out of him and mercifully left. He needed time. Encouraged. “The perfumed one... It clearly had no purpose but pleasure. and feel free to ask any questions of your own. Alone at last. from the feminine stationary to the musky fragrance it exuded." "Right. I'm sending you. The chic blonde leaned back in her seat and swung one foot idly. That had to be a good sign. “As a matter of fact. the enclosed questionnaire. “You remember—a little thing at Aaron's. There is absolutely no cost to you (other than postage) and all answers will be held in strict confidence. leaned forward and asked with studied casualness. Single Man: Poetry? I'm impressed! As my number-one contender for the position of temporary fiancé. A truly cheerful thought. That was a little soon. You can bring her along Friday. There were always far too many of these “little things” scheduled from November to January. there is. Luke swiftly tucked the envelope inside the pocket of his discreet gray suit and squared his shoulders to face Wendy's curiosity. He ignored it. “Who's that from?" He put on his coldest business persona and stared back. Unfortunately. absolutely free of obligation. Fine handwriting graced the outside.” she drawled. Wendy was fond of dares.” Luke agreed. The day after Thanksgiving. Your only brother. . Although I reserve the right to plead the Fifth. (Although I have to remind you that you're trusting a person who was desperate enough to place a singles ad in the first place.

a. Maybe he should come right out and ask her to cut to the chase. Luke mused. So Right I Can't Believe It.. I don't talk to my neighbor's dog. And that “little thing” at his brother's.. Question Three: I'm willing to spend my time filling out this ridiculous questionnaire because. he should be as blatant in his preferences as she was. hate my family. you fascinate me and I'd do a lot more than fill out a silly questionnaire for you Question Four: What I really like to do for fun is. Or even Ms. go bowling b. Otherwise he could earn some extra points with her and speed up the process that way. Single Woman Luke smiled more than once reading her pert answers that revealed as much about her as she claimed to ask about him. or use the wrong fork at dinner. I hate them all and they deserve it b. I haven't yet met Ms.. especially during the holiday season b. Question Two: I'm willing to lie to my family because. I suggest that you choose the time and a public place you'd feel comfortable in. play the accordion c. my neighbor's dog told me to c. I don't have a life d. I don't have a job c. attend Star Trek conventions dressed as my favorite character d. Single Woman. Close Enough. e. She all but admitted to preferring bribery and flattery. haven't you? I eagerly await your reply.. There had to be a way to get through the letter-writing stage and meet her in person. Yours Most Untruly. I don't know of any other way to save my sanity and survive the holidays. Thanksgiving was coming. my therapist recommended that I stay busy.a. a. Too bad her post office box wouldn't accommodate a floral delivery.. She didn't like bowling. I have a commitment issue. Also. in this case. I just got out on parole d. but how can I convince you only through anonymous letters? Since you might have some real concerns about meeting me for the first time. women haters or psychobabblers. Right. Also a trust/intimacy issue. I don't know e. Also a dependency issue.. but the florist wouldn't deliver to a post office box. The obviously slanted responses disqualified the first four and left the last as her less than subtle preference. Single Woman: I would have sent flowers. Candy would start to look like a real candidate for Ms. shower single women with flowers and poetry I'll bet you've noticed a distinct pattern here. Maybe. wax my car e. I have no social graces whatsoever and bathe only as an annual ritual c. If he didn't have someone to fend off his family by then. it sounds like fun e. Thee 's definitely had it. I'm convinced I'm the right one for you. I'm revealing my identity so you can . a. why not? d. I hate women b.

Luke Foster? The local financial expert featured in magazines and newspapers?The Luke Foster neededher? Well. Foster. by some freak of chance.investigate me for any criminal history I might potentially be hiding. I can't call you Mr. Saturday at the latest. and apparently anything female qualifies. As good a meeting place as any. She could get a reply to the post office by five. Meet me. I need you because I have an extended family with an unwarranted and disturbing interest in seeing me paired off. If nothing else. I'm Luke Foster. he was certainly worth meeting. Luke: I suppose if we're engaged. She might have heard of his business? He did have a sense of humor. she'd have an excuse to escape from Randall's get-together in case her demented brothers had another surprise waiting for her. Meet me at the cafe on Battery Street. I'm waiting to hear from you. And if. never married. Jordan glanced back over the letter and grinned. The sooner the better. She'd have to live in a cave not to have heard of it. she did not live in a cave. Luke **** His bold. she wouldn't be any worse off for trying. He'd given her the advantage of retaining anonymity while he revealed himself. I own a consulting business called Solid Solutions. So she should arrange to meet him on Sunday. Jordan figured. Or a very chivalrous one. too. 32. No matter what opinion her brothers held. he was willing to resort to bribery to persuade her. Jordan **** . and there was a good chance he'd get it the next day. he was a total write-off. can I? I appreciate your willingness to meet me at my convenience. You won't be able to miss me. She really didn't have anything to lose by showing up to check him out. You may have heard of it. Sunday afternoon at four. Make me your stand-in and I'll send you flowers every day. slashing signature told Jordan that here was a man who left his mark. He had family problems. and of choosing the time and place if she even chose to meet him. Her mind made up. He could hardly be worse than Seymour. it just went to show that money didn't solve everything. Whatever. Jordan glanced at the clock. There were plenty of respectable cafes and coffee shops. Any one of those would have people there at all hours. Apparently. Only a very confident man would give her the upper hand like that. Maybe her “Single Man” was the last rescuing knight in existence.

He doubted she'd be stunningly beautiful. She tilted her head back to meet him eye to eye and grinned again. Caught up in the scenery. She was dressed in black from head to toe. It was simply the natural desire to solve a puzzle. the traffic through the cafe door and his private musings concerning the identity and appearance of the mysterious Jordan. There were many ways he could think of that would make a person impossible to miss. If he ran into Jake Marlow again. His problem wasn't lack of feminine attention. But then. and few of them were good. For some reason the thought disturbed him and repeatedly intruded as he attempted to focus on a marketing analysis for a new client. visible to Luke even at this distance. Well. too. too. She casually unwound her scarf and draped the ends over her shoulders.” Luke found himself wondering what she meant by that. he'd be safe from that quarter. revealing white-blond hair cut spiky short."You won't be able to miss me. Lake Champlain was a beautiful sight in the large window as snowflakes swirled. Sunday he'd meet her and the mystery would be solved. He didn't want to intimidate her. But apparently the woman in black wasn't easily intimidated. he still couldn't fail to notice the next person who came in. he told himself. She'd have a hundred volunteers without having to place an ad. A long black scarf covered her hair and the ends trailed carelessly down her back. Sunday couldn't come soon enough. She'd said he couldn't miss her. When it finally did. He held his breath. she might say the same of him. Beautiful women collected men as a hobby. A woman came in. Still he wondered—until she joined a group of friends at another table. but in fact the opposite. She wore a heavy black cape that came to her knees. brushing stray snowflakes from her hair and he eyed her carefully. At least she'd chosen a place with an interesting view. under which black jeans were visible down to where they tucked into black leather half-boots. Luke settled at a small table that offered a clear view of the door and waited. wandered over the cafe patrons for a moment. He stood politely as she reached his table. She smiled—an elfin expression that lit her composed features with mischief—and strolled confidently towards him. . The woman paused inside the door and her clear gray eyes. Her cool gaze continued over the tables and patrons and came to rest on Luke. For the first time. Nothing distinctive about her. he was early. He towered over her and wondered if maybe he should have stayed seated. Jordan represented a mystery. She had another fifteen minutes. Luke sipped meditatively at his hazelnut coffee and continued to keep watch on the comings and goings at the popular cafe. He'd have his holiday conspirator secured. It sounded ominous. Luke wondered if that was her problem.

Jordan considered Luke with a sense of ever-growing jubilation. He had nice eyes. Their waiter appeared and Jordan dropped her eyes to the cup and saucer in front of Luke. She'd just known it was going to work out perfectly. I'd change my name.. undertakers and lawyers of her nightmares. he noted with approval. “If I wasn't. Nothing she couldn't handle herself. But of course big brothers never saw it that way. “I love hazelnut. he scored high on sex appeal." He gifted her with a slow smile that lit his blue eyes with warmth.” she assured him and seated herself before he could move to assist her. He was the man to protect her from the dentists. since they imagined she needed alot of defending . solid financial prospects. pale pink Cupid's bow mouth and deep dimples. in every way he was just the kind of man her brothers would love to have her bring home for their inspection. His were light blue and steady. “I'll have the same. She continued blithely. Maybe it was her pale coloring. . I'm Jordan Christian. in spite of his rugged appearance that might otherwise be alarming. Big and macho-looking. “Hello. Or the charming slightly pointed chin.” Luke answered. He was also very appealing in a way totally atypical of stereotyped movie-star good looks. Or her diminutive size. She laughed and he thought she looked more sprite-like than ever. or a fighter. And even Randall." Airily she waved one slender hand to indicate the seat across from her as if she thought he was waiting for her permission to sit in her presence. too.. It made her feel she could depend on him." She turned her smile on the waiter. “Something else we have in common. He was absolutely perfect. Something about him reminded her of John Wayne in “The Quiet Man."Luke?" She had a husky contralto voice.” As he seated himself across from her. Yes. She looked very much like one of the little people come to charm him. couldn't complain about his secure. if not pure aesthetics. “What's that?" "Hazelnut. “Your fiancée." She nodded and felt a bone-deep conviction that this was absolutelyright . Jordan firmly believed that eyes revealed a great deal about a person's character.” Turning back to Luke. Come to think of it. she added. Just the type to impress her brothers with his manly ability to defend her delicate person. rumbling voice that went well with his battle-worn face. "Flattery will get you everywhere. Luke. His broad chest and wide shoulders would appeal to most women with a pulse and he had the face of a rather battered knight. Jordan wondered if he'd ever been a cowboy. maybe he had been.” He had a low. Something about her carriage made Luke think of the queen of the fairies. merely because she managed to get herself into the occasional scrape. the accountant. Definitely.

” she began lightly. as the man who'd been named Burlington's most eligible bachelor. Luke. now you see why I need you. "And before that was the sadistic.” No wonder the poor woman had resorted to running an ad. If you can't pull off this charade with me." Luke tried not to laugh at her melodramatic recounting. She could envision spending the next two months in his company without suffering the agonies of the damned. He wanted to find them and flag their bookkeeping systems for an IRS audit. cruel people responsible for her misery. I have a business that takes most of my time and energy. She was still indignant over that one and it showed. “The undertaker was the last straw. Then there was the divorce attorney who wanted me to sign a prenuptial agreement on our first date. And failed. “Oh. "So tell me. undeterred." He squared his wide shoulders and braced his hands against the table top. “what's a nice guy like you doing in a place like this?" He gazed back at her steadily. He wasn't desperate for female companionship. “I might ask you the same question. I'm going to change my name and move to Mexico. Luke decided as he took in the defeated slump of her fragile shoulders. “I asked you first. And best of all. Luke." There was nothing sadder than a depressed pixie." Jordan recited her list of grievances moodily and drank some hazelnut coffee to ease the pain.” She reached forward and took one of his broad hands to emphasize her point." Wry amusement in his eyes told Jordan what an understatement that was. I also have a large family who think their sole purpose here on earth is to find me a wife. “I believe I told you the answer to that. have you?” Jordan challenged. she didn't have to worry about him getting serious on her or taking advantage of the enforced intimacy due to their unusual circumstances. that's wonderful. He felt a sudden surge of resentment for the thoughtless. I can't tell . I can't say I've ever suffered that. “I do need you.Nothing about him was off-putting or abrasive. depressing and egotistical dentist who followed me on a cruise to the Bahamas. Which made her wonder why he didn't have a line of volunteers to aid and abet him if he wanted to keep his family off his back." She grinned. Anyway. That might not be so bad except for the—shall we say—unusualcandidates they come up with. He turned his hand palm side up to hold her small one comfortingly. Luke. She brightened magically at his words and Luke felt rewarded. “No. “At least you've never been stuck with an undertaker. I'm at the end of my rope.” he assured her. “That's what fiancés are for. Therewere worse things than Cotton Candy. Just imagine it—dinner with an undertaker. “It's unkind to laugh at another person's misery. She frowned at him. He looked surprised. talking about death and dying. I was supposed to have dinner with him. he decided.

” Luke answered soberly. She was so small. She needed him. “They think I need a keeper. And constantly coming up with new and different ways to say the same thing is enough to make anybody talk to themselves. sometimes. Maybe she didn't need a how much this means. Luke drew her out with the ease of a man accustomed to getting information from even unwilling sources as he questioned her about herself. I love my brothers. but she certainly needed a fiancé.” A light of fanatical glee lit her gray eyes. “I'll need your number and directions to . Luke could see her point. law-abiding. using the other family as an excuse. “You know. He hadn't even considered the uncles and cousins and assorted others. either. "I always wondered who wrote those. "They have this fixation about getting me married off.” Her gray eyes sparkled. And that's where you come in.” The more she thought about it. and she saw his unguarded reaction. sometimes I wonder if they're firing on all cylinders. "Now you know. but I'm content to wait for the right person and I'm tired of fending off the wrong ones. “And what about Thursday?” She pondered the possibilities. Luke filed that information away for future reference. It was beautiful. Cards usually get read out loud and things that look good don't always sound right. "I'm glad. hunched over desks and computer keyboards. That she earned a living writing greeting cards." There Luke thought he might see eye to eye with them. yet. yelling out punch lines to the walls to find out how they sound. “So that's about it." "Do you actually do that?" "Talk out loud? Sure.” She gave him another beatific grin. this could work to our advantage. I'm a decent. if his parents didn't claim seniority. indeed. “People like me. never to be seen again. So easily hurt.” he admitted. productive member of society. I don't have anything against marriage. Jordan slid comfortably low in the booth and summed up her abbreviated life story. He nodded his agreement with her assessment of the situation. but really. She laughed merrily. we can eat twice and miss all the dish-washing. And Aaron and Cassie—his other sister—would be right behind her. That piece of information surprised him. If we time it right. She'd had time to prepare.” Cheerful candor and a careless shrug finished that admission. That she was an orphan and that her four older brothers had taken on the job of raising her. She looked as if a good gust of wind coming in off the lake would sweep her away. “And we can duck out of both places if the interrogation gets too hot. She seemed blithely content to answer." She nodded. No doubt Wendy would have a number of awkward questions lined up and waiting. He learned that she lived alone. the more advantages Jordan could see." So her brothers were the villains.” she continued. I want a rest. A prearranged escape route seemed prudent. “Are you free on Friday? My brother Aaron is having this ‘thing'.

He'd come back. He wouldn't rest from the first fleeting contact until his ring rested on her slender finger. I did write down a few things for you. He'd draw her into a conversation that would capture her agile mind and lure her into his offer to continue over cappuccino. tantalizingly near. He'd offer her any terms she wanted. “Size five—but don't you think that's going a little overboard?" . He wouldn't be able to resist persuading her to linger and exchange more than a casualhello ." She looked impressed. “No fiancée of mine is going to buy her own ring. I'm always running in there to send my submissions off. Your brothers’ names. “We did meet through the post office . her elfin face catching his attention as he stood in the mail line. her fey eyes catching his and exchanging a telling look. he'd draw her closer and weave her into the fabric of his life. He'd propose before she could brace for it." Jordan rummaged through her shoulder bag. And you're absolutely right. mutinous expression. Your secretary had the flu. and putting the energy he'd funneled into his business into an equally satisfying personal life. “As a matter of fact." "You did?” She was thorough. But the mental lapse had reminded him of something vital. Also I came up with a pretty good story to explain our whirlwind courtship. That sort of thing. He could just imagine it. “I need to know your ring size. Her graceful.your house. he'd wear her down in the sweetest way. and you had a priority letter to pick up." Luke could almost believe it had happened just like that. With that one. they'll see through us in a heartbeat. But don't worry. She wouldn't be able to resist. Jordan's charming face took on a decidedly stubborn. Luke cleared his head. He'd have to work quickly. He'd wait for her. I should be able to find something in a pawn shop. We started meeting purposely and lingering. flat voice warned her not to argue. and then one thing led to another. slim thread. I'll get the ring. light walk would draw his eyes after her as she left and he'd be intrigued by the petite pixie. The closest to the truth. Your birthday. in a way. "Then we ran into each other a few other times. You just tell me your size. “A man with a mind for detail.. Luke thought in approval. This imagination stuff was dangerous. started exchanging small talk.. He blamed Jake for planting ideas about rearranging his priorities. "Uh huh. “You might also make some notes for me.” Jordan added in explanation. Without an engagement ring. The best fictions are the most believable. She was just out of reach. much less from a pawn shop. and hope to catch one of her innocent smiles that he already could tell meant trouble. Mentally. And if she did. set for a fight." Luke braced his hands flat on the table and leaned forward.” His hard. Wonderful. Something about her seemed so elusive.” he reminded her. Eventually she would agree. purposely hoping to catch her again. How about this—we met at the post office. or she'd escape his silken snare.

“Until Thursday. I might lose it. but it did. “Right.. though. After we get through your family.” Gray eyes twinkled at him. A code word.” Jordan mused out loud. I forgot. What do you think?" He wondered where the dickens he'd lost control of this entire crazy situation. When he looked back down at the check. Dickens. “Fine. only without the sunglasses. making her look like a movie star incognito. The black scarf swathed her head again. it was particularly disturbing. “I have appearances to maintain. However. “Maybe you should insure it. he saw that she'd had the effrontery to pay the tab.” She brightened again. I'll pick you up at your place on Thursday. He didn't think she'd translate to any kind of graph or chart. Don't worry. What time are you expected for dinner?" "Around two. “If you have any questions or need anything.” He slid a business card over to her. then.” Then she frowned. outwardly calm while inwardly he reeled from her words. Luke stood. With a final conspiratorial wink. It didn't bode well. And then I'd feel terrible." He didn't miss her look of dismay. as the starting point of their unconventional relationship. "We might be able to duck out sooner. It shouldn't have hit him where it hurt—in his masculine pride.He'd overreacted." Jordan unwound herself from the booth and stood. Luke. It shouldn't have bothered him." "Oh. of course. the money isn't a problem and I won't lose anything on the deal. Itwould look funny if your fiancée didn't have the Rock of Gibraltar on her finger. For a man who was always solidly in control and securely entrenched. wouldn't it? Sorry. “I have it. we'll go deal with mine. “Perfect.” he placated. it was oddly fitting. staring numbly after her for seconds—or possibly hours." Luke nodded brusquely. to tell each other we're drowning and need to be rescued. It shouldn't have . call me. She wouldn't even think enough about it to keep from losing it. And I see your point. She tapped one fingertip on the tabletop for a moment. He decided he was on thin ice and it was best to stick to the facts for now. Luke drew a slow breath and searched for an explanation. None of his reliable methods could predict what she might do next. It wouldn't look right. Of course you'll get it back. the black fairy vanished into the gathering twilight. For a man who relied on solid facts and carefully kept records. Probably from around six to ten. I'll get the ring. both ways. She hadn't even put his ring on and already she was giving it back.. ." Luke stared steadily back. "We should have a signal. It shouldn't have made him worry that this was proof that he'd already left matters of the heart too late. it definitely carried disquieting implications. it's not like it's going anywhere. “Then I'll be there at one-thirty to go over anything last minute we might need to cover. Then she beamed.

or did he sound pleased to hear from her? She couldn't resist vamping a little. thanks. "Good morning. I hope so. is he in?" A slight pause followed.Still." .” he assured her in a strangled voice. Luke was actually looking forward to Thanksgiving. “No. and didn't. but I'll buzz him for you. handsome. May I help you?" Yes!Jordan did a little victory dance that her smooth speaking voice didn't betray. Are we alone?" He made a faint sound. “Someone's in your office. It was only when the phone started to ring that she realized she should know his secretary's name." Hmm. “Then your secretary's in the room?" "No. “Ilove your perfume.. a tough one. Oops. Party line?" "No. I hate them." "We aren't. With quiet satisfaction he decided that his family deserved everything Jordan would give them. “Yes." "Darling." Jordan thought. yes.” Inspiration struck once. "Oh. This is Abby. slowly stretching her arms over her head and leaning to the far side both ways." "Okay. They were going to drop the bomb on Thursday.” Abby replied with a distinctly warmer tone to her voice. as the unknown Abby no doubt tried to figure out who “Jordan” was and if she was supposed to recognize the name. with the phone cradled between her shoulder and cheek. Jordan tapped out the number from the card Luke had given her. This is Jordan. "Jordan?" Was it her active imagination. “Some family member who just happened to drop in to grill you. I need to speak with Luke. as if he'd started to choke on something. Luke's on another line.” Jordan waited. One small detail overlooked. Luke probably hadn't informed his secretary yet. Solid Solutions. She could only hope that the woman would follow standard business phone etiquette and identify herself when she answered.. We're not. then twice. tell me we aren't on a speaker phone. Chapter Three Bright and early Monday morning. Abby. "Oh. “Hello.

" Oh. I sent you flowers. Jordan rolled her eyes. I realized you were right about that. Moments later. Did you get them?" "Never tease a woman about something really important like flowers. but unfortunately he couldn't personally appreciate the effect. no price is too high. The graceful white flowers were her favorite." "I can't fax it to you right now. whoever she is. sure. a fact she was certain she hadn't mentioned. A very enjoyable sound. I'm willing to overlook it.” Jordan sniffed in mock derision. line and sinker.” Humor sounded dryly through the line. Maybe he had a healthy dash of ." Whew.” Jordan huffed. Not easy to do. darling. Nice touch." Jordan eyed the bouquet of calla lilies and wondered where he'd gotten them from. How dare he hang up on her? Was that any way to treat a fiancée? The doorbell interrupted her fit of pique and she banged the phone down to answer it. “Youwere being high-handed. can I? It would look suspicious. though—she's probably bought it hook. “Where do you want to meet?" Then he actually topped her for bold moves. “Of course I didn't get them. “But I have a better idea. because you didn't send them.” Jordan figured circumstances being what they were. After you left last night. He evensounded like John Wayne in “The Quiet Man. And hedid have his “ways. "At twelve-thirty?” he continued smoothly—somewhat like a steamroller moving steadily ahead.” Jordan swore fervently. "There is that. she was smiling again. We'll go shopping for the ring together. Can you meet me for lunch?" "For the man who's saving me from Seymour the undertaker.” Luke hesitated only a second. "Never fear. "No.” Then he added the clincher. your fiancée will ride to your rescue at the drop of a hat. You were too busy being high-handed. remember?" Luke laughed. Jordan stared in disbelief at the receiver in her hand. of course I mean it." Then he hung up. But considering my options."I admire your intuitiveness. darling. you wouldn't know where to send them to. He hadn't been teasing about the flowers. Jordan didn't think she'd heard him laugh before. and I was being a bit high-handed. Only it occurred to me that you wouldn't knowwhere to drop your hat because I neglected to leave the information with you. Meet me at my office. “I'm glad you called. “I look forward to it. he'd be too relieved at the present time to hold a grudge. I didn't like the way we left things last night." "Darling. I'll see you at twelve-thirty. no sacrifice too great. And even if you weren't." "No. “I have my ways." "I don't believe for a minute that you actually mean that.

Her stylish boots were laced and on the proper feet.. Her brothers seemed to share a bizarre penchant for choosing ludicrously inappropriate men with names no loving mother would choose. Ten minutes later a composed. No.intuitiveness himself. believe it. Getting away with almost anything depended on a shameless ability to lie on command and. or “Luke” was short for something else. She'd make it. and she was soon scribbling away. Just barely . Also it helped that she seemed to lack the ability to blush. The thought was unsettling. When she put down her pen to stretch her aching shoulders. Deciding a dramatic cape might be a bit much for business types. That distracted her from her flash of trepidation and Jordan started paging through a book of names. . Winston. and car keys in a miniature whirlwind. Jordan took a breath. her sweater was already sliding down over her head. She flew out the door and her faithful little car came alive on command. although she'd done it before and pretended it was a fashion statement. Maybe he had a really dreadful middle name he could use. A surreptitious glance revealed no forgotten items of clothing. Jordan caught sight of the clock and let out a shriek of horror. no seams declaring an item donned inside-out. Unless it was a much larger office than she'd realized. Starting with the woman behind the front desk who must be Abby. donned a smile and swept inside the quietly plush office as if she had always belonged there. she looked as innocent and pure as the driven snow. she removed it and slung it over one arm. She wet her hands and fluffed up her hair. better still. she was being ridiculous. Gaston. She would do what she always did when in a tight spot—charm the socks off of everybody. she was a pro at the art of the quick change. As she hurled her sweats to the floor. Her white leggings and matching long sweater in a slightly flared tunic style made a nice contrast to the black cape that hung open on her shoulders. All in white now. but she'd make it. The man who could out-do her for unpredictability was a man to be reckoned with. It occurred to Jordan that she might have simply traded one problem for another. It took an unusual man to surprise Jordan. Mitchell. Luke and the origins of his name forgotten entirely. That led to an idea for a series of cards. Fortunately.. She hoped it wouldn't put them off Luke. He was far preferable to Seymour. If for no other reason than his name. A friendly smile in return from the perfectly made-up face beneath the sleek chestnut bob at the front desk convinced her she was off to a good start. But she did owe it to Luke to at least appear normal. Norton and company. "Hello. serene Jordan stood outside the impressive office door. Her fiancé was a man of many talents. There. Knit leggings barely preceded baggy socks and half-boots. pocketbook with notes still inside. grabbed pink lipstick to touch up with on the way and collected cape.” Jordan said and turned up the wattage on her smile.

“You must be Abby. Now for whose benefit were they putting on this little show? She could play the role better if she had some inkling as to the nature of the audience. “I hope I will." At his compliment.Following her instincts.” Abby responded cheekily. eventually. dismissing the label ofparagon even as she warmed to the compliment. Jordan did her best to look demurely bridal. what she must be thinking when he just kept looking at her. He should say something. This was her rescuer from truly deadly conversational gambits. I've been half afraid to meet you. evidently. Thanks to him. morbid tutelage of a mortician suitor. It's nice to meet you. a performance worthy of an Oscar at the very least as she looked up adoringly at Luke. His blue eyes focused solidly on her and as he reached her and took her hands in his. He wondered how many other looks she had. Simple enough. he simply wanted her to stand and gaze longingly into his eyes for the benefit of whoever might be present. “Is Luke with someone right now?" "Yes. All it took was the shuddering thought of spending the holidays with Seymour the mortician to focus her energies on adoring Luke.” a masculine voice replied from somewhere off to her left. You know." "Thank you. They really needed to work out some more signals. she wouldn't spend the holidays composing her own epitaph under the dreary.” Jordan dimpled charmingly. Luke wondered how she managed to look so fascinating in black and equally captivating in white. He looked and sounded just like a smitten groom-to-be. possibly. Abby was looking more like a person and less like a polished executive assistant with every word. Luke made you sound like such a paragon. He wondered if he'd ever see all the sides of her mercurial personality. "You look beautiful in white." The sweet confession was just the right touch. She turned her head in the direction of .” she teased. Jordan tried to telegraph the question back to him. She thought that was a good touch on his part. "Luke is very impressed by things like color-coded files. she decided. A faintly amused “ahem” was Jordan's first audience response. but again the wave-length didn't seem to be working. “You must be Jordan. Jordan wasn't getting it. Whatever it was. Jordan gave it her all. Or. She'd gone from the black fairy to the Snow Queen overnight. fantasizing about his bride. Jordan turned to see her newly acquired fake fiancé moving towards her in a straight-arrow fashion that she thought was probably typical of him. She was a vision in soft angora that nearly matched her white-blond hair. He wondered. Jordan continued brightly. his eyes steadily continued to penetrate into hers as if he was trying to telegraph some silent message to her. He wasn't using the right mental wave-length. referring to the fictitious upcoming nuptials.

“Tell me this isn't your mother. In fact. you've embarrassed this sweet little thing. She'd given him a snow job fit to open a ski season. He didn't even have the grace to look abashed. And now he was the bad guy?Unfair . Luke thought. That would have been going too far. she resisted the temptation to step over. but she certainly wasn't helpless. I thought I raised you to have better manners. She let out a faint moan of despair and buried her face in his suit jacket. The obvious conclusion floored him. Luke would be in trouble now. "I'm afraid I can't. If they really were engaged. If she ever turned to a life of crime. "Oh. No. Luke was certain she'd make a fortune pulling off con games and never being caught. Instead he looked sort of harried. she would be downright frightening. I was going to be all dignified so you'd be impressed. How had the wicked fairy done it? His mother had insisted on lingering and annoying him. thanks to Wendy's rumor mongering about perfumed love letters. he realized in dawning horror. Devious wasn't the word for her. “I can't believe it." She managed to stop short of wringing her hands. the family resemblance.” she hissed. he protested silently. and although she played it right up to the edge." Luke was dumbfounded. Oh. which she hoped he appreciated. In fact. Luke. Also her marvelous acting talents. The woman waiting to be introduced to her had to be his mother. Maybe contending with four brothers—plus spouses—was a piece of cake compared to a whole clan. his mother had decided she had to get a look at the mysterious fiancée before the rest of the family met her on Thanksgiving. and the maternal stance of inspection gave it clearly away.” Luke replied. She might be small. visibly went from reserved inspection to motherly sympathy.the sound. Jordan turned stricken eyes to his mother. like his reaction to her description of her fraternal tormentors. Sort of in need of rescue. fragile shoulders. and didn't have to fake her consternation. Luke's mother. Jordan turned horrified gray eyes on her silent conspirator. Instead. She'd have his mother on her side. This isn't how I wanted it to go. Somewhat. if she wasn't his ally. He'd thought Jordan's timely phone call would get him off the hook. no officer would have the heart to arrest her and no judge or jury would ever convict her. No doubt she was recalling her own trepidation about meeting her future mother-in-law and feeling Jordan's pain. it fell far short of describing her slippery. Although if she was caught. Jordan realized. Jordan thought in satisfaction. dear. His mother was now looking at him as if he'd inflicted terrible suffering on Jordan's frail. not even trying to avoid being overheard. “I can't believe he let me meet you looking like this. the woman proceeded to turn an accusing look on Luke. He had her sympathy. wily ways. The age. . And he'd fallen for it. How could you do this to me?” The accusing question ended with her wounded face lifted to his. meanwhile. Really.

“But that's just it. Didn't I just rescue you from nagging and haranguing. for having to improvise. A cheerful warmth rose slowly and settled somewhere in the vicinity of his heart. Jordan would be firmly embraced by the family. “If anyone calls for me. They had. “You did rescue me. “I don't know if I should spank you or thank you. Luke. “Truly. “Now. she pointed out her justification for lying to a dear woman whose only crime lay in wanting to see her son happily married.” Margaret Foster interjected. That was a close one. I'll be back around two. “Now I have to be going.” She came closer to hug Jordan. dear.” he agreed. she let out a long gasp of relief and sagged against his convenient support." With a parting wave and smile to Abby. too. It's much more fun. remembering his unexpected maneuver. He was really going to get away with it. Judging by his normally reserved mother's reaction. I'll look forward to seeing you both on Thursday. What are they going to think?" "They'll think you're an angel sent from heaven. how did youdo that?” Jordan demanded. of all people! Still. but actually Luke was rather proud of his detective work. she was only keeping her side of their bargain. Once they were safely out of sight and hearing.He was impressed. Jordan let Luke pull her along. “Welcome to the family. I think we did pretty well.” Luke neatly sealed their escape as he led a very willing Jordan towards the door. Jordan looked pensive. "I didn't think there could be many Jordan Christians in Burlington. Abby. darling. And they wouldn't have been driven to it in the first place if their families would simply listen to reason. I think you should be grateful. We had nearly given up hope that Luke would ever settle down. and I just took a chance that you liked calla lilies." Jordan's eyes twinkled. What do you think?” Jordan went from consternation to exhilaration in a single conversational bound and waited patiently for Luke to catch up with her.” With a final approving smile. and in return I'm not only rescuing you but keeping my promise to send you flowers every day. He thought he'd scored a few points for perseverance as well as delivering superior . he supposed in resignation. He glanced down at her and gave her a rueful look. Jordan might sympathize.” She kissed Luke's cheek in a congratulatory salute. "And we should go. but she and Luke were only acting out of a sense of self-preservation. Then I called a florist and asked if they'd ever delivered to that address. He'd had no idea he was getting a true professional for his holiday hoax. "True. After all. she exited Luke's offices." "Hey. I'm so pleased. not to mention any further potential matchmaking she might have had up her sleeve?" Airily. I found you in the directory. shortening his stride to accommodate hers.” His explanation sounded businesslike. Besides. “Thank me. The least he could do. How could she help falling for you as fast as I did?” Luke teased the shameless little liar. Yourmother . since she was nearly running along beside him. What would a real fiancé do? He drew her into his embrace and wrapped one arm securely around her slight form. "Whew. was to take the fall and look more or less contrite for subjecting Jordan to his mother unprepared. don't worry. It all happened so suddenly.

" Luke was beginning to suspect she did it because she couldn't help herself. He patted her hand comfortingly. He silently dared her to find a real fiancé who could compete. Do you really think I can negotiate from an equal position with four hulking brutes? No. he made a mental note to keep a handkerchief on hand for the day she tried that stunt on him.fiancé service. of course I can't. “Do what?" "You not only had my mother believing you were my fiancée. “I was doing what I agreed to do. you had her so fooled with your helpless act that she jumped on me for upsetting you. you want to know why? I'll tell you why. she sighed and threw her hands up. She looked hurt. You won't have any problem meeting the rest of my family. How else am I supposed to compete? Look at me. She'd like the ring and she wouldn't talk about losing it. He wasn't an easy man to fool. No. she'd cry before she'd be willing to give it up. He hadn't met the pixie he couldn't impress. She'd done it once. that's why. but she wouldn't do it twice. As if reading his thoughts. He was onto her little bag of fairy tricks. Then Jordan would twist her victim around her little finger as she accepted a hankie and dabbed at the crystal drops sparkling like dew on her pink cheeks and adding luminescence to her gray eyes. “Well. Perhaps his temporary faux fiancée was a compulsive liar. complete with charming little hiccups.” Come to think of it. I'm reduced to humiliating myself by pleading helplessness. She'd done it for his benefit. Jordan crying would be a sight of feminine distress that would cut to the heart of any right-thinking male. Luke didn't think the minx cried often—unless she was in danger of not getting her way. either. Four big brothers. She'd be one of those women who didn't look blotchy in a fit of tears. Once she saw it. Then he had no doubt that she could turn on a stream of tears to compete with Niagara Falls. Luke mentally added another carat to the ring they were shopping for. I had to just wing it. He had to concede that he didn't know what it was like to be in her small shoes. I was supposed to have three more days to prepare. Could he really blame her for using hers to gain sympathy? It seemed uncomfortably hypocritical put that way. "Why do you do it?” Luke inquired as he directed her to his sedan." . And she wouldn't be giving it back before she even put it on. Luke. And he was about to buy her a ring to die for. And she was correct. She gave him a look of startled innocence that he probably would have fallen for a day earlier. Under very difficult circumstances. So much so that Luke was forced to reconsider his harsh judgment of her. whatever your reasons. He'd never managed to get away with it as a child. He could almost see it. either. you do it very well. “All right. In fact." Her dejection at being forced to play a demeaning role looked entirely convincing. I might add. He used his size to intimidate his competition. and he wasn't exactly showering her with gratitude. his mother wasn't easy to pull one over on.

"I know how to turn on the charm. “No. Not only was he on to her tricks. he had an advantage over all the other poor males she'd had at her mercy. They'd be certain that deep down inside my frivolous head lurked an undying devotion to the big lunks. He still shows up from time to time to laugh in my face when I tell him to go away. He knew she was sincere. as of now. Still. Fortunately.” Jordan shuddered. He really was acting the hero on her behalf." Luke laughed at her melodramatic expression of despair. and always one step ahead on her nimble feet. but not how to drive away the un-suitables. he had her using them for his benefit." Jordan gave him a look that would have melted granite. Just the opposite. “Well. trust me—being charming and helpless makes a man like Norton believe that I will eventually break down and marry him because I'm too fluff-headed to know my own mind. He decided to ask. Think about it. And so many tricky little details. “Anyway. they wouldn't. grasping or dull. she wanted to keep it straight as much as humanly possible. “My hero. in fact. She figured any real fiancée would be nervous and prone to forget things when meeting the whole family for the first time. Jordan was deceitful. And Jordan feeling grateful was enough to make a man want to slay dragons. Luke. Luke was smugly confident thatboredom was one problem he wouldn't be struggling with. Luke." "Norton?" "The insurance broker. He'll find himself dealing with me if he doesn't. For an answer. Norton will have to take you seriously. he wondered how she'd failed to deal with the divorce attorney. Hollywood. Yes. She held the three-by-five card that contained her notes behind her back as she tried to remember . In fact. didn't I? The stage lost a real star when I went into the greeting card business instead. the dentist and the undertaker. chanting names. There were somany of them. they'd hardly agree when I asked them to leave. Whatever else the coming holidays had in store. she could probably fluff a few without giving anything away. considering her talents. but she wasn't sugary. I'll gladly leave Norton in your big and capable hands. Chapter Four Thanksgiving Day found Jordan pacing in a circle. Besides. Luke thought he was one man she'd find it hard to dance her way around." Her playful act didn't diminish the warm feeling Luke got from her words. now would they?” Jordan asked reasonably. If I charmed them into wanting to do anything I asked. It's enough to make a woman of steel crack wide open. “I did do a good job. eat your heart out!" Her moods changed faster than her ever-shifting appearance. he got a disgusted look. I know—because I was foolish enough to try it with Norton.She brightened at his praise.” he assured her. infuriating. much less buy a diamond ring. I didn't mention Norton? Maybe my subconscious was trying to block out the horror. “Now let's go pick out an appropriate rock.

“Aaron. That their shopping expedition had ended in a rip-roaring fight instead of the traditional sort of romantic moment should put any silly ideas like that clearly out of his mind. Margaret and . He'd ended by shoving it on her finger and shouting that she'd wear it and he didn't want to hear one more word.. younger brother. he closed the door behind himself and looked for signs of life. as unique and exquisite as she was—although certainly not comparable in size. Hisreal fiancée wouldn't have any complaints on that score. Cassie. Jordan sighed and took a peek at the card. Thinking about that. remembering she hadn't seemed all that pleased with the ring. he'd insisted that none of the rings so far measured up to the high standard his fiancée deserved. When she'd questioned his fussiness. wife Tess. Jordan had to wonder why he'd even pretended to consult her. A disturbing sensation settled somewhere around his vitals.. and in a big way. oldest sister. After knocking again and waiting a few minutes. and it turned in his hand. But instead of the feminine admiration and gratitude he'd imagined. and . Jordan had to laugh. four. an antique style that Luke had insisted on. anyway. Ben! Yes!" **** Luke knocked.. Following it. He'd imagined his troubles were over. No children. seemingly dissatisfied with everything they looked at. The lovely pear shape of the huge diamond was set off by an unusual platinum setting. The idea kept crossing his mind that maybe Marlow was onto something and that maybe Jordan would make an interesting permanent addition to his world. she'd protested and pouted. six. Then she put the ring out of her thoughts and continued to pace and chant.. He tried the knob. She even . He hadn't known it when he'd acquired her. It was a wonder she could lift her hand at all—it was that big.. Luke had good taste. The sound of a muttering feminine voice drew his attention. Luke reflected morosely that at least Jordan had an aversion to lawyers. She did have to admit that it was beautiful. A woman in a somber business suit had handed Jordan a card and announced loudly that she was a divorce attorney. She was dressed in fitted black slacks and a white blouse that made her look like a pilgrim. son Keith. and Tommy Jr. Stepping in. Wendy. He'd hauled her around in search of the Hope Diamond. husband Mitch.. And he was finding that. Had she changed her mind? Run away? Left him for another single man? Luke frowned. She sincerely hoped he knew better by now than to expect any kind ofhigh standard out of her. husband Tom. He'd thought it was perfect. though. Honestly. Luke decided that she was being perverse and trying to avoid him.Luke's parents’ names. Parents. He'd regretted it instantly. The man truly was high-handed. butgaining a fiancée was nothing compared tokeeping one. Especially when every single shopper in the jeweler's had turned to glare at him as if he were a child-beater. surprisingly. but nobody answered. Margaret and . A miniature tornado of trouble named Jordan had moved into his life instead. baby daughter Audrey.. younger sister. That was something. Luke turned a corner and stopped at the sight of her. Yelling at her in public was a big mistake. He should have known better. evidently. That brought the rock into view. he liked her brand of trouble.

For the record. but don't be surprised if I mess up on some of the aunts and uncles. "Hi Luke!” She waved her cheat-sheet at him. Luke. I find it so . "You know. For a moment. or you're going to think you've stepped into a madhouse when you meet my brothers." He gave her a look of blatant disbelief. How about you? Are you ready?" He studied her for a minute.” Jordan assured him in a conspiratorial whisper. are you fishing for compliments? All right.” She stood on her tiptoes." "Oh. there was something so fey and other-worldly about her he was almost afraid to speak for fear of frightening her away. That kind of flair for costume was pure Jordan. then laughed. “I hope you don't come from a family that never raises their voices. humor twinkling in her gray eyes... “Oh. she turned to search for her shoulder bag. Jordan gave him an exasperated look and linked her arm through his. Even shouting at the top of your voice and forcing oversized diamonds on me. swooned and sighed." "What about? Oh. chanting softly. I've got the immediate family down cold. I don't always hear when I'm concentrating on something. I'm not upset with you. hands down. you call that a fight?” She shook her head. Especially when you shout." . I wasn't sure you were here. It's so exciting. I find you irresistible. clutched his lapels. You didn't answer the door. Luke. He'd actually thought she'd run out on him over a little disagreement? Amazing. big guy.” Jordan grinned. “Just practicing. come on. “What's wrong?" He hesitated before answering carefully. He smiled and Jordan felt as good as if she'd gotten a smile from Randall on a bad day. the cloisonné lily you sent me would have gone a long way towards smoothing things over. but if Iwas ." "It would?" "It would. Sorry. He reminded her of Randall when she forgot to show up for dinner. I think I should tell you that in order to get me to back out on our holiday deal. She was moving in a fairy circle. A brilliant smile lit her pale features. Jordan spun around and saw her fake fiancé watching her in open amusement. “What will you do when we have a real argument?" He didn't seem to know how to take that. A smile tugged at his mouth. Then she stopped and swore loudly. She had to laugh. serious expression. “I thought you might still be upset with me. shattering the illusion. “I adore a shouting man. “Luke. “What. She turned back to find Luke still looking at her with a sort of watchful. you would have to prove yourself worse company than Seymour.had black shoes with square buckles. you've got Seymour beat. manly. the ring thing.” Her airy explanation delivered. and Luke laughed out loud. you got it. “Ready as I'll ever be.” She fluttered pale lashes at him.

Behave yourself.” Then she added. Drink too much communion wine and pass out on the altar at the very least. Jordan replied saucily. you'll get Gary started. please. “I think I should have a talk with your brothers about the lack of discipline they raised you with. but never on the altar. Get your coat. “Well. You'd find a way to get into trouble there. “Yes. “You'll be thanking me a thousand times for my wicked ways before the year is over. wicked one." Luke started to laugh again. He wanted to send me away to Catholic school. spanning her small waist with his big hands and lifting her to eye level. too. too. I can see his point. Jordan quizzed Luke on the way. Don't say anything like that." He pretended to consider her case." "Yes.He plucked her off her feet effortlessly. actually he didn't—not in the way you mean. “I wouldnot . I'll let you off this time. All the snow in Vermont doesn't compare to the amount I can produce for our mutual benefit. When he sobered enough to talk." Jordan couldn't resist cooing.” he threatened. “Why? Does he hate nuns?" Jordan shot him a nasty look that didn't discourage his laughter in the least.” he answered knowingly. “Minx. “I'll get the Foster family jewels out and make you wear those." "You'll behave like you always do. “Pass out in the confessional. “Oh. “Who are all these ." He set her back on her feet and she groaned at his last threat." Luke shook his head sadly. The drive to Gary's house didn't take long. Luke added. For some reason he thought I might be too frail to resist temptation. “Worse." She gave him a look of sweet innocence." Jordan sniffed in injured pride. You're incorrigible.” Luke agreed as he guided her towards the door. You are the undisputed Snow Queen. “It's nice to know one of your brothers knew what you were up to. “Or what? You'll make me wear the matching earrings?" Laughter shook Luke's shoulders and nearly made him drop her. “You see? There's no keeping you from a life of wickedness. but once they stepped through the door into the reigning pandemonium. I promise. But I'm afraid sending you to a convent wouldn't do any good. please." Luke nodded. “I'll behave." She gave him a look of feigned terror. maybe. he shot her a horrified look. “No! Not the family jewels! Have mercy on me. “Well. I've seen you in action. Tacky. we've got family to snow." Jordan grinned. all right. He wanted to keep me away from all the deadly sins. But next time I won't be so forgiving." As she got her cape and threw it over her shoulders.

“They're so easy to distract at this age. Instead of a nice guy like Luke. He easily lifted her off her feet to dangle her above the floor. anyway. sitting on the floor like that. This is Gary. She supposed it could be a little overwhelming. It was up to her to smooth this over. I'd be drowning. Instead he kept a firm hold on her hand. Just her luck—the one brother who could be relied on for comic relief was conspicuously absent. “Guys.” He reached down to collect the child and lifted Jordan back up. . “Luke. You'll get used to it. defiance in every line of her small body. Jordan swung Amy up into her arms and gasped.Oh boy . Randall and Theodore. you weigh a ton." Luke grinned back at her. he didn't back down from his protective stance. Any minute now war was going to break out. she could have ended up with a dangerous nut in her panicked flight from their matrimonial mismatches. Still. instead of an impish pixie being held two feet off the floor. I love it. sitting on the floor in tears over a lost toy. Randall and Theodore in turn. She glared at Gary. It looked like there was going to be a showdown at sundown. If he had. The toddler forgot about the toy and started to laugh. They were the ones who'd driven her to concoct this wild scheme in the first place. My fiancé. If there was any more testosterone flowing here. Amy." He had the grace to look slightly abashed. I want you to meet my brothers. “Don't worry.people?" Jordan tried to view the usual three-ring circus from the perspective of an outsider. “Behave! All of you!” Jordan yelled at the top of her lungs. Jordan gave Luke a grin of victory. “You look like you're about the same age. “He's mine and I'm keeping him!” she shouted at full volume. Luke really did look like a gun-slinging cowboy about to draw. When he straightened. The younger children were running up and down halls yelling. she kept hold of his hand as she marched up to Gary to stand toe to toe with him. he found himself face to face with three men who matched him for height and width and he barely resisted the urge to push Jordan protectively behind his back. I can't take it. sinking to the floor with Amy on her stomach. When he did.” She handled the introductions with the smooth dignity of a society matron. “You. this is Luke Foster. And the brothers were just as bad. Oooff!” She pretended to stagger and collapse under the crushing load. She gave Luke an encouraging smile. The three strangers looked him over and it slowly dawned on him that they must be her brothers. Just as well. her brothers wouldn't respect him in the morning. Jordan looked from her brothers to Luke. not in the least perturbed at the unsubtle suggestion that she wasn't the one in charge." He didn't look convinced. The teenagers were banging their heads in the den to whatever was the latest grunge rock CD.” She grinned back at him. Most of them. Then she turned to Luke. She sighed gustily. “You are?" "Yes. That was too much for Luke. and she spotted Theodore's youngest. “Good grief. but she could tell he still wasn't about to back down first. She felt like the lone cat in the middle of a gang of dogs.” Jordan pointed to each as she named them. One is missing. too. Jordan gestured at Luke to set the toddler down.

“Yes?" "Put me down. He could tell they didn't like it. The older brother hesitated a moment longer. “Stop! Wait!" The bear lumbered to a halt. She waved a tiny fist. He turned to her in response.” he countered. “Luke Foster? Of Solid Solutions? I'm Randall Christian. this is . Congratulations. I knew I should never have let you get your way with the ring.” he agreed willingly." "Only if you admitI'm keepingyou . Nice to meet you. swooping his fiancée off her feet.” Luke relented enough to set Jordan back on her feet as he shook Gary's hand. but the middle one relaxed and held out a hand. Luke. not the other way around. You're a CPA." "No. that's my company. Too bad. And it gave him an inner sense of deep satisfaction to think of her wreaking havoc on his unwitting family later. It gave him chills to think of the trouble she could stir up without even trying. “You can't escape your fate. “There you are! I've got you now..."Glad to meet you. Then she seemed to recall that she'd forgotten someone and tugged at one handy ear. Youwill . It's your turn. peel the potatoes!" The pronouncement of her sentence had Jordan moaning and pleading for a lesser one. "Ring?” Gary asked mildly. It served them right for all their heavy-handed attempts to see him paired off. “Don't try to weasel out of it." Jordan gave a peremptory “ahem” for attention. then reached out to clasp Luke's hand. “Yes. He ignored the fact that it was only temporary. I'll peel the potatoes.” Luke murmured blandly. “I admit nothing! A Christian never says die!" "But you aren't going to be a Christian much longer. "Iknew it.” The stranger let out a chilling cackle and began stomping off with her down the hall." Luke continued to hold Jordan easily with one hand and shook Randall's hand with the other. His smug reflections were disturbed when another bear-like male let out a roar and charged. Now you'll expect to get your way all the time. as if he wasn't toying with their sister before their very eyes. You'd better get used to doing things the Foster way. but he made sure he kept a firm grip on her.” Jordan assured him. Jordan beamed at him and displayed the rock for his perusal. “I want you to meet someone. isn't that right? I remember Jordan mentioning it." "Thank you. “I guess you're the lucky man. no. Two of them continued to look suspicious. She was his now.” Jordan fumed.

” Jordan replied with apparent sincerity." "I won't. And my heart. He was sure she'd have tiny. perfect pink toes with miniature pearly nails. Lawrence. Then he rumbled. He had a sudden desire to see her naked feet. I'm sorry. The Christians were a family of heathens. It was rather amusing.” she threw in for good measure. Luke shot her a look of pure venom. He wondered if Lawrence would bellow that a woman with an unworthy name likeMargaret couldn't be allowed to have anything to do with the ceremony. You can marry him. A person like Jordan didn't come from an average. No. Welcome to the family. Lucius. The bear growled. Don't let him help. thinking of his mother's expression as she anticipated wedding plans that would accommodate the preferences of both sides. Apparently she'd given that one a great deal of thought ahead of time. Come and stir the gravy. The bear nodded. I've already thought of Desdemona. One syllable.” Luke murmured. would you?" "Glad to." "His full name is Lucius. An enticing urchin with dirt streaking her face. . It's ridiculous. actually. He couldn't wait for his family to meet them all. “Him? You want to marry him? What's wrong with Seymour?" Jordan gave a half sigh. He followed the stomping bear-like Lawrence carrying Jordan off to the kitchen if not to the dungeons—and he had the distinct feeling that he'd stepped into a strange world inhabited by mysterious beings. Luke had already captured my hand. content to stir gravy if it meant he had the unprecedented pleasure of watching her be made to peel the spuds. she'd be even more adorable. And he had a long way to go before New Year's Day. He really should have known. he'll have to go. meet Luke Foster. He could barely contain a grin. considering. Anyway he came along too late. Luke began to wonder if he wouldn't have been better off with Cotton Candy after all. “All right. The bear rumbled. “What kind of a name is Luke? I can't let you marry a man with a name like that. For the first time. normal American family.Lawrence. Or maybe he'd be moved to accept her on the basis of her name consisting of three syllables. “Nice to meet you. She'd make a charming scullery slave. It was exactly what they deserved. Then he realized the direction his thoughts were taking." The bear turned and subjected him to a leisurely head to toe survey. Luke could appreciate the sentiment of keeping a woman in the kitchen. your future brother-in-law. But you'd better think of the children when it's time to come up with names. Jordan grinned at him over her brother's shoulder and Luke smiled back at her. half groan in answer to that. my other brother.” Jordan stated serenely. Drucilla and Lucretia for girls.Luke . Barefoot. “What'sright with Seymour would be a better question. She was driving him insane.

where a pot of gravy bubbled to the side of a cauldron of boiling water. He handed her a peeler.” Then the bear lumbered away. “Stir or wear the matching earrings. “What's it going to be. It's a terrible name. “Go stir the gravy. He wished he had some of it himself. handed him a wire whisk and then made a megaphone from his hands. she was his ." Suddenly he didn't trust her with a paring knife. either. . the hitch-ee. He moved quickly to take it away from her and heaved a sigh of relief.” he boomed. “Jordan's getting hitched. oblivious to the shocked female faces left in the wake of his announcement. You use a paring knife for that. Lawrence elbowed past a crowd of women to deposit Jordan in front of a mountain of potatoes. Luke decided he could well understand Jordan's penchant for charm.” he threatened. “This was handy. he decided. nearly deafening Luke. but Jordan promises not to let him name the children. “Don't ever do that again. “This is Luke. stir the gravy or we'll have some explaining to do to Lawrence when it burns. Introduce yourselves and don't let him burn the gravy. I'll do these.” Lawrence adjusted the temperature.” He removed his hand and handed her the whisk with a flourish.” Then his eyes bulged in horror as he saw Jordan pick up an enormous carving knife to cut out a potato eye. She wouldn't sound very loving just at that moment. Jordan. at least for the time being. For better or worse. It could come in handy around this group.Then Jordan winked and blew him a kiss and he knew he wouldn't trade her for anything." "No. “Nice to meet you. huh? Do you feel lucky?" She started to laugh in surprise and delight at his talent. I'll turn it down to simmer for you. pointed to a pan for the peels and plunked down an enormous bowl to contain the readied potatoes. "Here. “Keep stirring until it thickens. presumably in readiness for the spuds Jordan began dutifully peeling. Then he glared at her. Then he placed a paw between Luke's shoulders and aimed him at the stove.” he announced. “Everyone. Luke grinned back at her." "Yes. wench." She glared back. listen up!" A hush fell over the kitchen and all eyes turned to the bear. as if that was necessary.. It was a good thing she couldn't speak.. He did an impromptu Dirty Harry impersonation. “Come on. He summoned up his best smile and made eye contact all the way around. Maybe he should make it easier for her to back down. “Stop!" She jumped at his unexpected shout and Luke nearly died inside until he saw that she hadn't lost her grip on the knife handle. Sparks flew from her gray eyes." She opened her pink Cupid's bow lips to argue and Luke clapped a hand over them in callous disregard. Your choice. so we'll let her keep him anyway.

" Luke wondered how to respond to that. So in a manner of speaking. we're all so happy to see her finally settling down that you'll probably be nominated for sainthood. they nodded thoughtfully. don't you? She was a late gift. we all sort of helped mother her when we married into the family. Tom Sawyer hadn't been half as clever. and nowhe was stuck peelingher potatoes. He certainly couldn't announce to the whole kitchen that he was an idiot who'd been thoroughly snowed. “You know that her brothers raised her from the time she was twelve. Vicky laughed at his obvious consternation. He was growing in his understanding of her every minute. In a flurry of banging dishes. As the eldest. “Don't worry. The boys were all grown so when their parents died. “Well. By golly. Luke felt the first hint of unease when he was included in the . things are never dull around here. "I've known Jordan for years. and assorted other moments of madness. Luke shot Jordan a look of smug satisfaction. “The quiet one. dinner was finally served and the whole family gathered to give thanks.” Vicky continued. Only a more devilish and determined man stood a chance. He'd beenhad . she actually stuck her tongue out at him when nobody was looking. She shrugged when the group of sisters-in-law turned their questioning eyes on her.” she added in explanation. Luke did a slow burn as she saw the realization in his eyes and giggled in helpless delight at his predicament. “Theodore's wife. she'd done it again. he mused. getting his fence whitewashed." Luke digested that piece of information with some dismay. Gary gave the blessing. He wasdefinitely going to get her later. The Snow Queen had just struck. “Are any of them quiet?" She grinned back." As one. arguments over the proper way to carve the bird. Let's just leave it at that. “Private joke. Unmoved. A motherly-looking brunette pulled up a chair and started to assist Luke in peeling through the mountain. A man like himself. “I'm Vicky. Without some peace and quiet.Jordan took it and headed for the stove. It was a pleasantly heady thought. But he would get her later. insanity would strike quickly. A saint would never be able to handle Jordan.” she said with a friendly smile. In fact meeting her family was providing all kinds of little revelations. He's the youngest brother." Luke nodded. The dark promise burned in his light blue eyes and the incorrigible imp just laughed harder. you'll soon have four mothers-in-law. The mothers-in-law—or sisters—whichever—ooh-ed and ah-ed gratifyingly over the engagement ring. He thought he could understand Jordan's preference for living alone. Then she threw him a melting. impish look over her shoulder and blew him another kiss—and it hit him." Luke raised a dubious brow.

He smirked knowingly at her. The more he thought about it. Show time . He was certainly big enough. she cheekily dropped one lid in a naughty wink." That was a good touch on his part. she noted admiringly. unable to resist the heat. Dependable. But if she lost her wings. And she wouldn't lethim down. Instead. too. And hadn't she said they'd think she was an angel? That the family would love her? Jordan concentrated on seeming sweetly angelic. She charmed. “There's too many of them. it was a very loving. He stopped to whisper in her ear. This isn't fair. really—he'd started off wanting a fraud for his family." She didn't look at all concerned. he did. as pure as the pearly gates. she could easily hide behind Luke. Visions of harps. Made polite conversation. Warm. “Relax. She'd probably even put in a good word with his father. Her sweet mouth shaped the words “thank you” at him. Trustworthy. told amusing anecdotes." She was practically dancing in an agony of anxiety. If all else failed. she tried an especially heavenly smile on Luke and was rewarded with one of his warm smiles in return. I'm right behind you. For practice. It was poetic justice. His mother already liked her. intimate sort of gesture. Jordan promised silently. thanks to diligent study beforehand. she could count on Luke to catch her before she plummeted to oblivion. she reminded herself to bolster her confidence. Jordan reasoned. Amazing. She summoned up a smile and prepared to be her most irresistibly charming.prayer of thanksgiving for the family's blessings. She suddenly felt as high and giddy as Icarus flying into the sun. was warm and witty. She'd be as charming as a cherub. He had his hands full fighting for the side of good. An angelic Jordan was looking soulfully at him. trying to keep a wicked. To all appearances. Then he decided that no thunderbolt from the heavens would be striking. Jordan went with dragging feet. she relaxed slightly. “Now you know how it feels to be on the receiving end. wayward wench out of trouble. “I'm going to get you. She smiled. His smile made her feel positively buoyant. And didn't forget a single name. her palms together in prayerful devotion. the more certain he felt that if anyone needed the hand of divine providence. Luke gently but firmly turned her in the direction of the genteel crowd in the large open foyer and propelled her forward." When he settled one big hand on her shoulder. He gazed steadily back at her and mouthed. Now he was rising to the challenge of straightening out a woman with more twists than a wire clothes hanger. The very image of an imp from the netherworld. He had steady eyes. Chapter Five "Who are all thesepeople? ” Jordan whispered as Luke hung her cape in his parents’ hall closet. There should be some kind of limit. . He wouldn't let her down. wings and haloes danced in her head.

Her startled eyes met his amused ones.” Luke tugged her into an alcove and smoothed back her white shock of hair in a comforting gesture. feeling better by the minute. She felt a shaft of envy for whoever Luke ended up marrying for real . She'd exhausted all other avenues first. And her eyes widened.. That is. “No. A warm arm hugged her to a solid side and she leaned into Luke's support readily. Luke's father Ben presented an impromptu toast to their future happiness. The other stroked her spine. But as predicted. Luke. Jordan couldn't ever remember feeling worse. You were drooping. “I didn't think so. they loved her. she reflected with a flash of unease. "All right?” The low question spoken against her cheek looked to anyone watching like a kiss and an endearment.” Luke informed her in a solemn voice. “I see. She cuddled trustingly in his arms. There is nothing sadder than the sight of a forlorn fairy." A brow quirked at her." She did. It was one thing to fool her impossible brothers. "Jordan?" "Yes?" "Look up. His sister Wendy admired her perfume and asked Jordan the name of the fragrance. "Hmm. "Providence. She wasn't so sure Luke's family would be as forgiving. if nothing else. the lucky lady would have wonderful in-laws. Not even the time she'd given Randall's long suffering retriever a punk haircut. She felt an instinctive certainty that he'd know how to straighten everything out without causing a family feud of epic proportions. They were directly under a sprig of mistletoe. They had it coming for ruining her cruise with Mitchell. if she didn't embitter them for life by perpetrating a hoax like this on them.Margaret Foster was demonstrably glad to see her again and took her in hand to make the introductions. "I don't like lying to your family. “What's the matter? Running out of trouble to stir up?” His teasing grin didn't draw the expected smile. The dog hadn't held it against her.” Luke drew her closer and cupped the back of her head with one palm. they were glad to accept her. Then he tipped her chin up with one warm finger and slowly lowered his mouth to brush lightly against .. But lying to people who hadn't done anything to her was different. It would have been easier if they'd hated her. She leaned up to answer.” She told him the truth baldly and leaned her cheek against the smooth fabric of his jacket." She was glad he did. To Jordan's delight.

oldest sister of Margaret. This really was a perfect plan. Nothing worked. At least. confident that she'd been worried about nothing.” Luke teased. flitting around the room from group to group. his wife in tow as he gestured towards the mistletoe. Jordan tried every ploy she knew. Jordan trusted her instincts. as sweet and warm as mulled wine. until Aunt Cora cornered her about the wedding dress.” he assured her gently. "I do. Jordan set about enjoying herself. Her spirits lifted once more. She and Luke were safe from holiday horror dates. Her heart stopped.hers. "Everything's going to be all right. as soft as a sigh. "Hey. She had from the very first. the old lady was unshakable on the subject.” She did. Time stopped. plaintive note in her voice spoke volumes. "It is." Jordan sagged against him in relief. A little side-stepping around questions—like when was the actual date of the wedding—she could handle artfully. Feather light. Jordan tipped her head back and grinned up at him. she answered herself. The same instincts that screamed a warning around all the mismatched men had cheered at the first sight of her battered rescuer. Smiling. "Trust me. Jordan and Luke retreated from the alcove and rejoined the party. "Now show me a smile. no children. It would all work out perfectly. . They could enjoy the season secure in each other's company. he'd probably just meant for the kiss to reassure her. Whatever the reason. happy again. What kind of woman was she? Not a dead one. Maybe the fact that she'd never had the opportunity to plan a wedding for her own daughter sparked her rabid interest in Jordan's wedding. And he'd probably thought that it would look really funny if they were spottednot kissing under the mistletoe. Only a dead woman could be unmoved by a kiss from Luke. or I might have to go open the safe and start looking for a really heavy necklace. "It is?” The hopeful. let someone else have a turn. He meant it. Luke's lips teased hers for an endless moment. She'd known she could trust him.” Wendy's husband urged them. She was kissing her fiancé. Cora. Then he lifted his head to smile at her. Jordan ran through her mental family-tree check.” He gave her a gentle squeeze. He'd fix it somehow. In fact. widowed.

“It wouldn't be right. The painting he'd pointed out featured a rough gunslinger dressed in black. this is my form of fun and relaxation. Luke guided her over to it and pointed. I'd have to take up skiing or something. I have a dickens of a time finding clothes to fit properly. won't you? I want to show Jordan something. “Good things come in small packages. "I'll do you as the fairy queen with Thomas the Rhymer. From the comfortable chairs and rows of bookshelves. enjoying her response.” she teased. Maybe there's a petite line of bridal wear. Something about the rough rider looked familiar. Luke appeared at her elbow. “This is the family gallery. “Excuse us. she said loudly.” he informed Jordan. in desperation. I will. Have you sold any?" "Oh.” the chic blond replied.” Then he turned his charm on Aunt Cora. She gave him a melting smile.” she said sincerely. but frowning. I couldn't get her off the subject of our approaching wedding with dynamite. riding a black horse with the conformation of a steed with endurance. She's done most of us in character. remember that. please.” Luke smiled at her. Another close call. Then she looked around curiously. "Whew. "Yes.” He led her through the pictures and indicated them one by one. competing with her for the title of most charming. Several paintings graced the walls and one painting in particular seemed to be their goal. Then she danced around Luke in effervescent glee. “You think so?" "Definitely.” Jordan moaned. Or maybe I could be rescued by the man in black as a . What do you think?" Jordan looked.” she swore solemnly. Aunt Cora. Jordan surmised that this must be the library.” Then she prodded. My father as a Green Mountain man with Ethan Allen. “Don't try to turn it intowork . Jordan? Will you pose for me?" Jordan grinned at Luke as she answered Wendy. “I don't know what I'll do about a dress. "Wendy did this." Immediately. “I can't be the fairy queen unless Luke gets to be Thomas. “You dashed to my rescue. My hero! You werewonderful . “These are wonderful. She gave a delighted laugh. Jordan stepped closer to inspect it—and then she realized. will you?" "Oh. It was Luke. “Where are you taking me?" Luke just held up one finger against his lips and pulled her along.” She smiled and waved them off. startling them both. “What do you say.” Wendy announced from behind." "Oh.Finally. of course.” She heaped praise on his head as she flashed him a dimpled gamine grin. My mother as the Mona Lisa. “Ilove it!" "I thought you might. He drew her into a room with heavy double doors and closed them. “I didn't know you painted. Jordan turned to her.

Maybe I should just take up skiing. Wendy shook her head in mock dismay at their lack of serious appreciation for art and romance." "Oh. “Oh.” Luke agreed. Luke frowned. He'd stand there with his jaw hanging instead of dashing to your rescue. Jordan looked disappointed. or is the artist allowed to embellish?" Wendy threw her hands up in the air.” Jordan answered with an impish twinkle in her eyes. cleavage." Jordan considered that.” Jordan answered gravely.I would certainly stop to rescue any damsel with a ripped bodice. The man in black will be sufficiently titillated by even a popped button." Luke's lips twitched at that description.” he said with an edge of threat. Jordan?" "I'd love it. Bigger is not necessarily better.. “Or you know what. Luke gave a low. I don't know if I can do you as the man in black again. though. Then she added.damsel in distress." Jordan and Luke exchanged sheepish looks. Wendy cleared her throat distinctly. Then Luke took Jordan's hand and led her toward the .” he vowed.” he assured her. with me in his arms. “Or what?” she sneered in open disdain. “Well. but no embellishing. no. “The man in black willnot be dictated to. “As the man in black. “How ripped are we talking? Would there be cleavage?" "You'll have to take that up with the artist. “You don't need embellishing. It's hard to repeat a character. Wendy sighed. And she was beginning to feel a certain fondness for his bark. Jordan frowned back. “Does the cleavage have to be true to life.” Luke suggested helpfully. "Ithink there should be cleavage. I wanted to spill voluptuously over the top and out the sides. And nobody was born to wear a black hat like Luke. Ripped. “I wanted a ripped bodice. If Jordan agrees. The damselwill be happy enough that she was rescued andwill shut up and go along for the ride.” she decided. It'll be so much fun. Please. “Philistines!" Luke tugged Jordan up against his side and traced her dimples with a teasing finger. you can have cleavage. The man in black will ride off into the sunset on his horse. Okay. I can see three's a crowd here. She knew his bark was worse than his bite." "The man in black would be paralyzed. “And they say chivalry is dead. They both turned to Wendy expectantly. wearing a long gown strategically ripped at the bodice.” The menace in his voice—combined with his size—didn't disturb Jordan in the least.. chilling laugh. "Perfect.” Jordan sighed at the fantasy image. “This is going to be some picture.

Feeling like a child caught misbehaving. "I don't know how. and she liked the idea that she'd leave Luke something to remember her by—with or without embellishments.” he announced diplomatically.door. Then she realized she was checking out her fiancé's buns. but it was too late. can't say that I do. Not bad for a financial expert who probably did a lot of sitting. Jordan. Yes. "You don't know when to quit. she consoled herself. "No. He'd be properly shocked that his fiancée was eyeing him lasciviously and he'd put her down promptly. . First she kissed him.” she answered cheekily." The George Burns take-off undid her. He didn't really expect her to admit what she'd been doing." Jordan widened her eyes dramatically. The fantasy painting would be fun. after all. did he? Although maybe she should. she backed up a step. “Paralyzed? Hanging jaw?" His nostrils actually flared. Jordan giggled delightedly.” she sweetly echoed. Jordan fleetingly debated the finer points of both sides.” he warned her. she trailed along beside him.any woman who found herself this close to Luke Foster's attractive backside would probably take at least one quick peek. The man in black lunged. "I'm looking forward to sitting for you. grabbed her and threw her over his shoulder in a terribly undignified fireman's carry. But she couldn't refrain from cheering inwardly. “Say good-night. Unconcerned. evidently suspicious of her silence. “Good-night. “I'd say it's time we rejoined the group. "I'll be happy to give you lessons. “You meanyou know how?" He stopped and turned to her.” Jordan agreed with him cheerfully while she took the opportunity to check out his buns from her new vantage point. She wasn't dead.” she called back to a stupefied Wendy as they headed out the door. She tugged on Luke's arm. She burst into peals of laughter. Jordan. now she ogled him? What kind of woman would do a thing likethat? Actually. Dead silence followed their unorthodox exit as he collected her cape and bag and carried her off into the night." Suddenly wary. “Be good. he strolled through the suddenly hushed living room and snarled. and when he leaned down she whispered. Although maybe itwould be as much fun to paralyze the man in black with her attributes as it would be to get rescued and carried off on his black horse. "Ah. do you?” Luke barked.” Jordan agreed. "Now what?” he demanded. “That does it.

He stopped and looked around as if wondering what she was talking about. warming her." They stood together in an awed hush and watched the snow fall. “As your . Luke could almost believe that the snow was something magical. “You've got to be kidding.Then Jordan saw it. Until Jordan. “You won't let me. Something that could make a man of numbers set aside his ledgers and reflect that.” he agreed gently. Chapter Six "Caroling?" "Caroling.” she protested. I won't. It's just beginning. Luke admitted silently. Then. "Jordan. She was starting to shiver in his arms.” Jordan laughed. squirming to get down. bringing out a thousand diamond reflections in every snowflake. She took advantage of his distraction to slip free and whirl around in the moonlight. She opened her mouth to taste winter and let a snowflake melt on her tongue. Something. nose and cheeks. “There'll be more snow. You'll freeze." He silently folded her into the wool garment and lifted her again. Streetlights cast a silvery glow. he'd been on a dangerous path of outward success and inner poverty. I don't want to go yet." He was talking about more than a storybook Vermont winter. “Luke! Luke. Something else was beginning. no. shooting Luke a look full of mischief. like Dickens’ Scrooge." "Would I kid? No. "You're right.” she answered dreamily." "No. Luke stood beside her for a long moment. maybe it was. Hadn't noticed. A miracle of life. eyes still closed to feel the winter night. He smiled at her dismay. In a sense." Silence. "Oh. don't answer that. look!” She wiggled in excitement. and Luke started for his car with her. She rested her head against his shoulder and spread her fingers to catch the falling snow. you don't have your cape on. His chin rested on top of her head. a strong silent presence in the night. Then he came behind her and wrapped her in a hug. “I won't. The kind of thing he hadn't had time for. “It's snowing!” She tipped her head back and laughed as the flakes kissed her eyelids. Something as hushed and beautiful as an untouched fall of snow. but this time in the cradle of his arms. called love.

that could only be a good thing. I'll have you know that I'm not the sister of a CPA for nothing. sitting back with his arms folded across his chest in a firm position of refusal. “And I do know that one and one make one. Pulling one over on him and watching him do a slow burn as he figured it out was providing her with a source of vast amusement and entertainment." Jordan straightened to consider him mutinously. you know. you want to fightmore? ” Luke looked alarmed at the possibility. I've sworn not to kid you." He wasn't bending. shooting him another teasing look from beneath pale lashes. . Getting what you want. “Fighting is one way of negotiating. Luke. She looked down at the reports littering his desk and tugged one from beneath her hip to flip through it. She reached out to tease the end of Luke's no-nonsense navy pin-striped silk tie. “I know you know how to count. you'll like it.” she coaxed as he continued to look stubbornly opposed.very own genuine fraud. Please tell me how a fiancé can get out of this without a fight. Count ’em.. In her opinion. Did it ever occur to you that avoiding a fight is not necessarily a positive course of action?" "What are you saying. "Come on. But let's get back to the subject.. “I like you. Never. I'd hate being engaged to someone I didn't like. "Luke.” She struck a vamp-y pose and continued wickedly.” she offered seriously. Even temporarily. which is why I said it isn't necessarily a positive action. Jordan went on. This called for drastic measures. He certainly didn't look like a man on the verge of having fun.” honesty forced her to admit. The truth was it was simply too much fun for her to resist pushing Luke's buttons.” she answered cheekily. Jordan casually lowered herself onto his wide desk like a blues singer draping herself over a piano. Well." "Ha. “I think I'm on dangerous ground here. she realized.” she invited as an afterthought. not much anyway. “No. I helped Randall study and I fill in during tax season when he gets swamped. a man accustomed to having fun wouldn't be in his office the day after Thanksgiving when all the rest of the world was celebrating a long weekend. well aware that her zigzagging conversation was driving the by-the-book man quietly berserk. “It is not a four-letter word. It'sfun . I'm so glad. looking even more confused. He looked horrified at the suggestion. We'll go caroling. “We do it every year. do you?” Then in an abrupt shift of mood.” she breathed. do you have too much to do? I could help you catch up. Only three letters. “I think I've just been insulted." "Whatis the subject?" "You'd know if you paid attention..." He definitely did not look convinced.” While he tried to digest that." Luke gave up and scooped her off his desk to dump her on his lap. “Oh. She shook her head sadly. Much more fun than she would have had with a dreary mortician. "Fun. Well. Avoiding a fight sometimes means losing by default. you just don't get it. she said cheerfully.

reflecting that it was certainly convenient that he had such an accommodating chair. Well. He was definitely confused. when she was getting to enjoy the holiday season for the first time in years. she was finding it a maze of unexpected complications. She'd been silent for too long. you'll be one of those guys who wakes up one day and suddenly finds that he's forgotten how to make a snow angel." "Caroling." She smiled at that telling sound..” Jordan should know.” she reminded him. Luke. You do them in an uncontrollable. And if they weren't friends. And if they should find themselves under a mistletoe again. of course. too. "Oh. that's exactly what I mean. Then an unwilling smile emerged. shocking. Coordinating. If he didn't. hoping the businesslike terms would comfort him and help him come to terms with the concept of having fun. “We're in the same chair. That would ruin the whole point. that's wonderful. but notall the time. What could that hurt? She certainly wasn't going to let a little thing like swooning over a kiss ruin her engagement. he wouldn't be so comfortable with her. she'd make an exception for New Year's Eve. “Right. isn't it? I'm so glad you agree with me on these things.” She sat up straighter on his lap and lectured. Jordan barely restrained her laughter.” she pounced on the opening. But it was his fault for kissing her. Don't get me wrong. She was an expert on snow angels." His lips twitched suspiciously. Also that he liked her. “If you keep this up. We were discussing the calendar of social events. As it was. after all. One little word could convey so much.” She curled happily in the curve of his arm. So serious.. Where else would I be?" "See. wild moment of reckless abandon. And reckless abandon. “You're so literal. with witnesses.“Caroling. you're with me. looking as if he wanted desperately to know how he'd gotten himself into this so he could possibly get himself out. "Good. . It was terribly inconvenient. What would Wendy say when Jordan allowed her to paint a family picture for a family she wasn't really joining? And then there was the rather alarming fact that she was definitely attracted to her own fiancé. Oh. Luke prompted her gently." He slanted a look of amazement at her. He nodded. Wendy . “How terrible!" "Yes. Snow angels are spontaneous and unpremeditated. this engagement would be terribly awkward. apparently. but bending more every minute. of course they'd have to behave as expected. A couple of kisses at most. She wasn't made of steel.” Luke repeated. he was fun to tease. Jordan reflected serenely that the only solution was to avoid kissing him again. Aunt Cora. That was different. “Snow angels? Are those on the calendar?" "You don't schedule something like making snow angels.

he wouldn't go quietly. In my family we open presents in the morning. wild abandon. now every commitment meant more time with Jordan.” he agreed blandly. no conflict there. He knew the numbers of the weeks he had with her. Yes. sledding parties. we can limit it to two things a week.” he informed her positively. I don't want to limit it." "No. he thought they were off to a good start.” he reminded her."Caroling.” Luke agreed. then the stack of files on his desk. cheese-and-cracker things. "Good. Does your family do it the night before or what?" "The night before. The days. aren't we?" "We are. All the moonlight and miracles. All the cleavage and embellishments in the known art world couldn't stop him from holding tight to each and every one of those minutes. she'd moved on to race like fine brandy through his veins. I'll be too busy to come to work. If you want. “I break them. too. he vowed silently. Plenty of time for you to brush up on your skills. Luke thought. After that kiss under the mistletoe. I agreed to it. As for the rules. and we'll have to figure out about Christmas Day." "The offer stands. she could think again. “Tonight we have that thing at your brother's. he was ready to break them all. What's a cheese-and-cracker thing?” He pretended suspicion.” Jordan assured him. He was thinking of calculating it in minutes to make it seem like more." "Someone has to. however rusty they may be. Hmm. But she was waiting for an answer. and we're scheduling time to pose for Wendy. This pixie would rue the day she tangled with the man in black. “But it won't be that bad. it was a good start. And while he'd planned originally to evade family functions. And he wouldn't stop until he had all the days and all the years. The hours. then? Caroling. She tipped her head back to grin at him. But unlike a too-sweet confection. but not that bad. “Do you do everything by the rules? By the numbers?" Funny she should ask about numbers. A little full. We'll do it all. is on the calendar for the second week of December. the works?" "I don't know. “So you want to do it all.” Jordan informed him magnanimously. . Come January second. however. And it was just beginning. but we are going to be kind of busy. "I make the rules.” he supplied. Jordan considered that answer. She laughed. “Maybe I'll take you up on your offer. She'd melted like sugar on his lips. It warmed him considerably just remembering. If she thought he'd give any of his precious minutes up. All the reckless.

Lawrence would hear about it. she was pretty sure her brothers were both convinced Luke was for real and as impressed as they were likely to get with someone they didn't hand-pick for her themselves... those excuses to dress up and mingle where you eat little cheese and cracker appetizers designed to crumble on your clothes. Snowmen. but she would have plenty of time to enjoy every wonderful minute of holiday festivities. She was going to have to do some fancy footwork herself to stay on schedule. Fortunately she could work in whatever odd hours she had free. Even she knew where to draw the line—appearances aside. after all. we say yes to it all. Jordan grinned at the thought as she bounded through the dusting of snow to her car. Thinking of snow. “Until I see you again.. Luke. Appropriate for Thanksgiving weekend. She couldn't ask for a better fiancé.she told herself sternly. or her name wasn't Jordan Christian. Jordan. Did she want to find . but she wasn't a fool. then.” she sighed admiringly. Instead of carrying out his threat to get her. We'll risk it."You know.” he stated modestly. Okay. She would even find an opportunity to throw Luke Foster to the ground and make wild. though. could ruin everything. Something to be thankful for." Luke laughed at her description. He was rough and tough enough to take even a gang of Christians. was a very nice man. Soon the inches would add up. "And you succeed. she decided as she drove home.” Then she speedily made her exit before he could catch her and make her pay for her impertinent antics. Luke had watched the snow with her. snowball fights . That. really.Remember what's at stake. abandoned snow angels with him . It might take some thought. She slid to the floor and stood with her hand dramatically over her heart. Then he'd rubbed her icy hands to warm them while the heater in his sedan chased away the chill. And then she laughed out loud as she remembered his face as he peeled that endless mountain of potatoes.. Jordan thought again contentedly. She pushed it right up to the limit. she could hardly wait. she thought sorrowfully. Yes. she was sure. for certain. sleigh rides. As long as he didn't kiss her. my hero. she'd made the perfect choice. She had weaseled out of it. Any woman raised by four men knew where the line was. "I try. And even an hour could be very productive if she was organized. Too bad. reckless. but a man could get very surly if kept from his work for too long. Think of Seymour. “I have a good dry cleaner. The uproar hadn't driven Luke away. because his kisses were a terrible temptation to risk ruining everything for." "Oh. Now I should probably let you get some work done before tonight. youare prepared for any emergency.” Jordan hated the thought of abandoning her present comfortable perch. farewell. either.

Rose oil in a glass decanter. wondering if that would ever see the light of day again. but all still legitimately within the floral boundaries. Peep at your own risk. He just might be a bit lawless himself. Jordan rummaged through her closets in a happy tangle of fabric. Well. only her scantiest panties would work. The tightly fitted jacket-style bodice cut wonderfully low was boned and padded and would make even Jordan spill voluptuously out without need of embellishing or ripping. Paralysis guaranteed. but he really did make them. she thought in satisfaction. His choices were largely unorthodox. Jordan paused to admire her blooming Christmas cactus. . Luke might claim to follow the rules. Every day something that could be considered a flower arrived.. A cloisonné pin.. Completely see-through. Ha. It really was going to be some painting. she thought she had a pair of lace tap pants. pushing the description of flowers to the limit. She had a collection of costumes from previous Halloweens and she occasionally picked up vintage clothing.. No. Luke really had kept his promise. A pale yellow silk vintage gown from the late 1800's. It fastened up the back with a thousand tiny hooks. She found a mermaid costume a shell away from wearable. And he was all hers . Back in those days. even a professional sinner could learn to resist. and tossed the naughty undies on top of the dress. not cover. A bit of a reckless rebel. his hat was riding too low and blocking out the scenery. Actually. if she remembered right. Now that would put the man in black in shock. Below the fitted waist. Jordan gazed at the dress and felt a wicked thrill. "Eureka!” Jordan crowed. If the man in black wouldn't stop for this. and if she had to resist temptation to avoid that—well. It had had an unfortunate accident. She dug deeper. or paint in the appropriate footwear. Gave new meaning tomaking a clean breast of a situation . A ridiculous turn-of-the-century bathing suit. she'd have to improvise. For something like this. they'd had serious UV protection. As for underneath. Or have Wendy leave her feet out of the picture. but didn't find vintage boots or undergarments. She'd just pose barefoot. a padded bustle draped over the skirt in the rear. It was wonderfully unpredictable. then parked neatly in her driveway and headed inside. shoes and odds and ends.herself under the mistletoe with Seymour? Did she? She shuddered violently at the thought. She just might already have something. The cactus. she didn't want to end up under the mistletoe with Seymour. designed to display. Then she found it. Lilies. Jordan held it up and smiled at the sight. at least for the holidays. She dug through a drawer and produced the scandalous wisp of black. A heady thought. Now she just needed to decide what to wear to Aaron's get-together and find a dress for the fantasy picture. Couldn't she? Tossing her cape and shoulder bag on a chair. first. Jordan shook her head..

He closed his eyes. “There's nothing wrong with what I'm wearing. Black silk trousers with a matching camisole. as if it made a difference in her height. Luke. but stopped. A jacket. short and fitted at the waist. it isn't enough to keep you in. “Jordan. that would be a bad thing? I'm a Medusa look-alike?” Jordan demanded in outrage.” Then he roared at full volume. she was revved up to party and looking forward to more—and she'd just artfully dodge any stray mistletoe that might interfere with her plans. in a rough. “Look.Jordan stuffed everything back into the closet except for the items she needed to pose in for the painting. His tensed muscles appeared to swell in size. shoes. lingering in a tub of hot water into which she had added a generous splash of rose oil. Jordan opened the door with a flourish in her satin and velvet. pants. A great outfit. As if she wasn't dressed. I am. it's going to become permanently un-wearable!" It was too coincidental that this conversation was taking place the day she'd come across the unfortunate mermaid costume. Then she took her time getting ready. grabbed her shoulders and roared out. He opened his mouth to bellow some more. Then she flipped through her normal clothes in search of something that wasn't overly holiday-ish." Now she was offended. You're half naked. The mermaid costume she set on top of the shelf so she could easily find it again. it was the spirit of the thing. A pair of black satin high heels. he really did have the hat he'd worn in the first painting. A black velvet jacket. He took two strides to confront her.” she answered patiently. It was an astonishing sight. Jordan glared back in instant fury. for all she knew. she decided to wear black in case an opportunity to steal Luke's imaginary hat presented itself. And if I was half naked. Jordan decided as she looked over the pieces. Or. singing carols in a lilting voice. She waited. Some time when she wanted to come out of her shell. only Gary had been the one roaring in her face. There would be plenty of other occasions for sequined and beaded sweaters and such. strained voice. By the time Luke arrived to collect her. On a whim. “And if you don't put something under it. a—" He interrupted to shout. The very same conversation had occurred the night she'd worn that. “Oh. “Go put on some clothes!" Really. Finally he said. “I don't want to know! Don't say it! Whatever it is. . with the lapels crossed in a deep vee to make it appear as if there just might be cleavage to be glimpsed. It's a beautiful jacket. breathed deeply and hauled her up against his chest. Luke struck a gratifying pose of paralysis. You're beautiful. That it wasn't a pose became clear when he recovered enough to start shouting. His eyes became stabbing blue beams of sudden death." "You aren't wearing anything!" "Yes. Still.

” she invited with a wide smile. no. He pinned her in place and hauled the sweater over her head without saying a word. “If you don't like it. a Shetland wool knit at least an inch thick that didn't even remotely go with her pants and started towards her with it. We would have been here sooner but Luke thinks I don't know how to dress myself. She wanted to take notes. heaviest. you don't. Stubbornness would have to do. It was impressive. then pulled each hand through the bulky sleeves while she silently resisted and struggled like a three-year-old having a tantrum. bulkiest sweater she owned. She was a writer. He stared. under the circumstances. She glared. Then he picked her up by her elbows. Then he picked her up by the waist as if she was an awkward package and carried her bodily to the car and dumped her in. At Aaron's she refused to speak or get out. silent rebellion on Jordan's face and the implacable expression on Luke's. "Get in there. She cleared her throat faintly and stepped away to let them pass. crossed her arms. "Luke. He grabbed the lapels. Jordan waited a minute. carried her into her bedroom and started to ransack her closet. “No."But. Tess. Jordan. hauled them shut and started swearing in ways she didn't know had been invented. "I am not wearing that sweater!” She barked the words at him in a blinding rage. Charm wouldn't cover this occasion. Or tried to. Since he wouldn't listen. He wanted to drag his family into their little spat? Fine. I'm not going to. come in. There is nothing under that jacket but you and we aren't leaving until you change. He groaned as if she were putting him on the rack and turning the screws. she vowed. glared and announced. and she didn't know those words could be used in that combination. she thought irritably. Jordan. and do itnow . I have something under it. Jordan. Luke—" "Jordan!” His shout was enough to give her a permanent headache. and put something else on. Jordan's fury ebbed as quickly as it had risen." She saw Tess eye her unusual fashion statement in some amazement." She'd shocked him. That did it. The door was opened by Aaron's wife. she ripped open the jacket to change it.” Luke said in a voice that threatened death and dismemberment at the very least if she failed to comply. He was really very upset. Jordan yanked off the jacket before he could stop her and stood there with her hands on her hips. but was afraid to. Tess. He'd get . Luke. she saw in satisfaction." "But. and her normal sense of mischief began to stir. so he picked her up again and carted her to the door. then gave Luke a killing look before she said. The smile dimmed and died as she saw the simmering. She guessed he didn't like camisoles.” she tried to explain. He grabbed the biggest. There would be retribution. “Hi. Mutinously Jordan dug in her tiny heels. the perfectly proper—in her opinion—camisole bared to his sight.

Without saying a word. wives glared at husbands. "You look.” Luke growled in warning. she reflected that this might very well prove to be her finest hour as an actress.” she said in a small voice. “Nothing." Wendy accepted the compliment and started to return it. Luke was too far away to stop her. “Warm. Jordan sipped the wine as if bolstering her spirits in the time honored way. In fact.” she agreed sweetly. And worse.. Jordan shivered. "Jordan. There wasn't a single nice thing anyone could say about what Jordan was wearing. Wendy came up to put a glass of wine in Jordan's hand and put a protective arm around her slight shoulders. and everyone knew it. "Jordan. she was fighting laughter. sniffed and brushed at one eye with the back of her hand. walked in and allowed the merest quiver to touch her lips.” The warning increased. helpless Luke. now considerably bulked up by the enormous sweater that appeared to be swallowing her whole. she turned to Wendy with a watery smile. She fully intended to laugh last tonight. Followed by every accusing male eye.” Wendy hesitated and searched for something diplomatic to say. In sympathy. She pulled off the sweater just as he let loose with a bellow that could start an avalanche and the sweater hit the floor a bare moment before he slapped his suit jacket over her bare shoulders. Jordan took the glass with a pale. lips trembling. ah. . "What happened. As she drooped with dejection. “Thanks. a chauvinistic autocrat.” She gave Wendy a look of gratitude that proportionately increased the look of rage Wendy was giving Luke. Her pitiful outfit spoke volumes. he played right into her hands. shaking hand and sniffed. he vibrated with ever more tangible rage.just that. As she did. “That's a really lovely outfit. Actually. In spades. Jordan gave her an angelic smile. It didn't stop her.” She sniffed audibly. but there would be time for that later. as they silently blamed him for getting them all in trouble by association. She slowly. Jordan?” Wendy inquired sympathetically as she continued to glare daggers at her brother. She raised pitifully brimming eyes to his. As if she were fighting tears.” she finally concluded. “Don't yell at me again. then checked herself as she took in the woolen horror overwhelming the dressy pants and heels. haltingly.. but he saw it coming. Ignoring him. she denounced Luke as a fashion criminal to the whole clan. “I am. There was no doubt that Luke was on to her. Then every feminine eye in the room turned accusingly on poor.

Do go on. And she'd done just that. “The night Jordan wore a see-through camisole and started a riot” would never be forgotten. intractable and utterly beyond redemption. "You forgot incorrigible. Pandemonium broke out. "You're shameless. Jordan threw her arms around his neck and tried to hold on. He sighed. including Aunt Cora. Half of the members in the group tried to protect Jordan from Luke and the other half started to throw their jackets in as reinforcements.” she offered helpfully. at full volume and in graphic. He noticed that none of his supposedly loyal and concerned family members offered to help. She was too tiny for there to be that much of her in the first place. The more she laughed. while the family exchanged looks of incredulity." "Those are very big words. left far too much of her still bare. I wasn't done yet. he thought. "No. A moment to savor and cherish. still giggling. hopeless and uncontrollable. after all. merriment alive in her sparkling eyes. She continued to laugh. the party was a raging success. All of them .” he conceded. This night would live on in infamy. “I can see you meant it when you said you wouldn't wear the sweater. Ridiculous and utterly charming. giggling irresistibly. Everyone was shouting. Luke looked down at the terribly pleased troublemaker clinging to him." "Oh. even buttoned. By her standards. A triumph. "You're an imp. and in the midst of it all. He caught her and never missed a beat. Irreclaimable. She brushed one small hand against his cheek to turn his face towards hers. And laugh. Luke gave up.” he announced. Sorry. He'd wanted her to wreak havoc on his family. looking nearly as ridiculous in his suit jacket as she had in her absurd sweater. Then he frowned as he saw that the size of his jacket on her. He smiled at her and set her back from him just far enough to be able to button the jacket. Reactions ranging from gasps to dropped dishes presaged the full-scale riot that ensued. Luke settled for wrapping the suit jacket around her twice and looked for something to fasten it with. gory detail as he described her coming retribution. Her legs gave out and she fell into Luke's arms. Luke started shouting at her again. shouting all the while. Jordan started to laugh. He hugged her.But not before her scandalous silk camisole made its party debut. buried his face in her shock of white hair and laughed. He'd even looked forward to it.” she informed him approvingly. Laughing until she cried. until finally he stopped as if realizing how futile it was.” she encouraged. It served him right. I didn't. helpless with mirth. A fiend. he admitted silently. And laugh. the louder he yelled.

“You single-handedly turned a formal Foster affair into a barroom brawl without getting a hair out of place. He found himself wondering what plansshe was concocting. this was it. “I did tell you that flattery would get you everywhere. First he'd planned to foist a fake fiancée on his family. keep this on for the rest of the night?" "Do you admit you were wrong?" He frowned at her.” She settled more comfortably into her corner and put her feet on the space between them as she faced him. If there ever was a situation to bull his way through. “Don't push it. “Things are certainly more interesting now that you've gotten engaged.interesting certainly described the situation well. Chapter Seven Jordan was still smiling as Luke drove her home. Will you please. “I originally planned to swipe your hat tonight. "Still proud of yourself. Jordan was still grinning from ear to ear. . "You don't know the meaning of the word.” She beamed and pretended to swoon. As if nothing untoward had occurred. since she was still standing there looking both pleased and entertained. There was no telling what she might do next. The punch bowl was still standing upright and he intended to see that it stayed that way.” She cooperated. he said. are you. I suppose I can't refuse." Luke privately agreed. imp?” Luke asked wryly. Luke tucked her just as firmly against his side. Just wear the jacket. And neither plan took Jordan into account. I'll give you that. “Since you ask so charmingly. I'm a triumph.” she answered. Wendy. Whatever else you could call it. Luke." "You are amazing. He wasn't about to turn her loose again." Wendy fought laughter and lost.were on her side. then he found himself falling prey to the temptation to turn the lie into truth. I amaze myself.” he stated." She sighed dramatically. “Can we make a deal?" "I'm always willing to be reasonable. He gave Wendy a frown. "Definitely. folding her arms over the fabric to keep it firmly in place and smiled sweetly at him. Jordan. Aunt Cora announced loudly. “Good evening." "More praise. her dimples showing deeply. He sighed. She saw him glance her way as they passed under a street light and took advantage of the illumination to grin widely at him. and instead I got your jacket.” she agreed. for my sake.

She looked too peaceful to disturb and he didn't have the heart to wake her. She suspected glumly that a match made in heaven would be terribly pale and boring in comparison. Luke decided.” She curled into his jacket with a contented sigh. Luke wasn't boring and. He now knew where to find her bedroom. it went from wonderfully warm to scorching hot. It clung like a second skin and revealed the lack of any other undergarment. she had plenty of excitement guaranteed for the rest of the holidays. that was a universal first. The thing about a match made in a fiery place was that it really warmed a person. How in the world could someone who looked so utterly peaceful in sleep be the same restless sprite out to destroy all peace while awake? It was as wonderfully incongruous as everything else about her. A leopard couldn't change its spots and she would never be able to stay out of trouble. Her outrageous antics might infuriate him. He might have known that a confirmed rebel would refuse to wear a bra. she didn't have the body of a child—a fact he was confronted with when he removed his jacket from her and considered how to put her to bed. She suspected that Luke was enjoying the excitement himself. whatever the outcome. Too bad she'd never been especially rational. That cursed camisole. She'd certainly given him enough reason. They'd had enough quarrels to convince any rational person that the match was made in hell. Heat glowed. "Jordan. Even wicked fairies needed their rest for another day's work making trouble for mortals. for Jordan. She'd probably burned hers in protest. Jordan thought wistfully. after a brief skirmish with the door. White blond hair above soft lashes laying against the curve of an innocent cheek. Luke had a great family. Luke scooped up a cuddly. Lulled by the motion of the car. fragrant armful of trouble and carried her inside. It certainly made things exciting. brawl or no brawl. Unfortunately. Well. she'd never be able to keep it.” Luke looked over at her face in the moonlight and saw the face of a sleeping angel. whenever Luke was around. And whenever something happened to stoke the blaze. We're here. so he made for it in easy strides. Maybe a break-up would be best. Pink lips parted in sleep. like embers banked to last the night. She barely stirred when the motion stopped and someone called her name. She was as light as a child. What an evening. Jordan yawned and curled more deeply into her corner. but he was also demonstrably entertained. Wendy was fast becoming a friend and she sincerely hoped the relationship could survive once she and Luke either came clean or announced a break-up—whatever he had planned. He had a sinking sense of horror that underneath the silky pants there'd be nothing but an endless . I'm fine."Are you cold?” He glanced over at her again in inquiry. "No. because even if he gave her an ultimatum such as behave or lose her fake fiancé. she dozed. It didn't hide nearly enough. A good thing. She'd had a wonderful time. Even knowing he was the mortal who'd suffer for it tomorrow. he was going to let her sleep.

He smiled just thinking about it. He suspected that only a pure heart allowed the sprite to dance through life unharmed and able to abandon herself so completely to joy. “I do expect to be nominated for sainthood. complete with pert. The wedding march. clad in the briefest briefs he'd ever seen and the camisole which revealed her lack of need for embellishing. But Luke was smiling when he brushed a light kiss on her rosebud lips.. Luke vowed. For a moment his arms refused to release her. The pants slipped easily over her small hips and he hung them over a chair so they wouldn't wrinkle. . too.expanse of silky skin. Then he pulled the covers up to her pointy little chin. Still. It was her innocence that charmed everyone around her. On impulse. While he debated. He pulled the covers back and placed her under them. She was going on with the masquerade only because he'd promised to take care of everything. some did like it hot.. She trusted him. maybe. smoothed it and laid it over the chair. He'd make her face the music. Jordan made up for in sheer trouble what she lacked in size and that was the truth. He reminded himself sternly that he was a saint. For all her wicked ways. there would be a white wedding. one way or another. He slipped off her shoes and then decided that only moving very quickly was going to get him through this torture." He closed his eyes and reminded himself that for all her free-spirited. however it started out. especially on a solemn occasion. To his vast relief. As the saying went. He'd roast over her coals any day. Jordan shifted and the camisole went from bad to worse. I am a damned saint. So much so that he'd already determined to turn her little plot back on her and trap her in her own snare. she probably would. Even in sleep she tormented him with the ingenuity of an experienced imp in a special chamber of hell. He doubted that she'd ever deliberately hurt anyone in her life. She tormented him mercilessly but he found it oddly exciting. By the time Christmas rolled around. she wasn't completely bare beneath the silk. he picked up the velvet jacket still lying on the floor. As real as the powerful attraction between them and the even rarer bond of friendship and trust. but alive—and he found the awareness exhilarating. It was twisted on her small frame and one small globe lay revealed to his hungry eyes. That was the important thing to remember right now. He'd put the little minx safely to bed and then he'd go lie in the snow until he recovered from the experience. It was too much to expect any kind of conventional behavior from her. sweat beaded on his forehead when he picked her up. too. knowing her. to be specific. This was one time when she wouldn't go dancing on her merry way. He didn't care if she wore black and went barefoot and braless . "Lord. Alive and suffering. She couldn't even bring herself to deceive his Aunt Cora. Being on pins and needles let him know with certainty that he was alive. pink nipple. free-thinking lifestyle.” Luke breathed in a pained whisper. and. whom she didn't even know. She couldn't bear to disappoint his family or hers. Jordan was all that was good. she was possibly the most innocent and untouched creature he'd ever encountered. And by then he hoped to have convinced her that. and she trusted him to keep his word. their engagement was very real.

He'd need every advantage in the fight to make an honest woman of the world's biggest liar. If she did that. I'll be sufficiently paralyzed knowing what your bloomers look like. The little scamp. the more outrageous he could depend on her behavior to be. Also. No doubt Wendy would happily paint in the sweat beads on his brow and the look of torture on his face at the sight. He put the dress back down and saw that something had fallen loose. it wouldn't save her too-tempting hide. too. “I'm going to have my way with you. Luke sighed in resignation. If you dare rip this bodice and try to wear it in front of me. so the thought had occurred to her—but she wasn't sure his heart could take it and that was theonly thing stopping her. he suspected that the more solemn the occasion. Thinking of Jordan trying to be still led to thinking about the fun of posing with her for Wendy to immortalize in a painting. He wouldn't rescue her to ride off with her on his horse. Then he scowled as he considered the almost absent bodice and hoped she didn't plan to make it worse by ripping it. There was no way he could sit in front of his sister knowing the temptation in front of him was wearing nothing under her voluminous skirt. And you'd better keep your skirt down. he thought with a smile. it was more interesting than watching tropical fish or playing new age music—two things he couldn't imagine her being still long enough to enjoy. not his macho threats. and no matter how many times she batted her eyes at him and called himher hero . He thought it just might be her way of coping with stress. You're going to have to do this the Foster way. As it was. the man in black would just keel over in a dead faint at the very thought. But what a sight it would be. She'd probably ransacked somebody's attic to find it. When he bent to investigate. you will find yourself in real distress. She couldn't help spilling voluptuously over the top. She was joining the family gallery and by golly she'd have to join the family. As if she'd flash him a look at her peek-a-boo underwear. “but my way includes a few little formalities which you'll have to accommodate. As a coping mechanism. His gaze fell on the vintage dress then. **** My dear damsel. Luke let out a wicked laugh. .” he threatened her sleeping form. an unwilling smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. Another good reason for her to follow through. okay." It was a very good thing that he outweighed her by at least three times her slight mass. He'd capture her and steal her away to become his pleasure slave instead. the man in black was going to need rescuing more than the supposedly distressed damsel. but if he did she'd probably go one worse and wear nothing at all underneath. too. The Man in Black Jordan laughed out loud at the outrageous note he'd left her. it looked like she was going to get her wish. She'd planned to wear those practically nonexistent bloomers? Luke was sorely tempted to foil her plans by stealing them. Well.In fact. Only Jordan would have something like this. Luke walked over to it and held it up to take a closer look.

It certainly had been a glorious moment. Jordan put the note down and vowed to leave the bodice un-ripped and her skirt down. For that alone she was bound to get on Santa's “Nice” list.. He reacted so beautifully. The sounds of gasps. But she would go barefoot and shimmy and wiggle as the mood struck her. Nice bored him to tears. Well. so she dismissed that idea. Fighting with Luke was her Christmas bonus. she'd be herself and make him sing carols. Or all her glory. after undressing her and putting her to bed last night. She'd be nice to him from now on. It made her smile. So thoughtful and concerned. It made her curse the sneaky. He was so nice. Jordan found that almost unbearably sweet. As it was. come to think of it. after all. She smiled dreamily at the thought. Luke's delightful companionship and the security of knowing no awful Mr. She wasn't a saint. He had a scowl to die for. . He hadn't been able to stay mad for long . Instead. She'd come up with something guaranteed to make him shout with rage first and then laughter. A gun sprang to mind—but he might be tempted to use it on her. deceitful subterfuge that prevented her from enjoying all the privileges of an engaged person. and she certainly did have a lot—specifically. Luke didn't likenice. as nice as she could stand. He'd actually put her to bed and tucked her in. she vowed. Feeling distinctly self-righteous at the thought. any way she looked at it. A frown to faint at. that was where. no doubt about it. luckily for her. Worse off than before. Imagine the freedom to walk out her door instead of fleeing through a window! And she owed it all to Luke. hairy sweater on her unwilling person? He'd seen wherethat would get him. Whatever. No. She wondered what to give her favorite fiancé for Christmas. Instead of the jacket she'd planned to wear modestly over it. How was she supposed to resist that kind of temptation? If he merely yawned. And it wasn't as if Luke was completely unacquainted with her body. which he would do while scowling so enticingly at her that she'd have to resist with all her strength. such as telling her what to wear and dragging her to parties when she didn't want to go and from them when she didn't want to leave. Or maybe his laugh.Her fiancé was so much fun to tease. so violently to her pushing his buttons. shouts and breaking glass were music to her ears. but the sweetest music of all was Luke's raging. It was a Herculean feat of goodness and it certainly ought to outweigh quite a bit of minor little naughtiness. roaring voice. Well. Well. he ought to be glad she was resisting the temptation to kiss him breathless. she couldn't have everything. She started to laugh again at the sweet memory of his comeuppance last night. It sent little warm shivers down her spine and happy tingles from head to toe. symbolizing the disorderly lawman? It was definitely going to take some thought. It made her sigh. proof of his overall niceness. finding the perfect gift was a talent of hers. at least he was when he wasn't being high-handed and passing down edicts. Cowboy boots? A tin star to go on his black hat. would he? Force a big. A yell to make her shiver and sigh. Try to make her wear whathe wanted. Never Never Never In a Million Years would show up on her doorstep. Fortunately.. she wouldn't bother. the camisole had appeared in all its glory. she'd be able to pass up an opportunity now and then.

Her dangerous curves surged up and out as if trying to escape the confining boned corset. **** "Jordan. Endings to twist. which did complicate Jordan's already complicated schedule. Luke was perilously close to it himself.. I'll send you both into different corners. at the very least. hold still. Luke secured his hold on her and balanced them both in the saddle that was perched atop a prop horse. He was sweating.” Wendy threatened." "I can't. I may never be able to have children. She had jokes to tell. but she managed it. that she'd better quit gloating over past triumphs and anticipating future debacles and get to work.” Luke retorted.Since Wendy wanted to give the new addition to the family gallery to her parents for Christmas. It was too much to also expect her to be still. Up to diabolical black lace. Words to play on. It should rightfully have singed her eyebrows.” She said the last in a dramatic whisper designed to remind Luke of who would get damaged in that event. "Well.” Luke answered with a stern look. She picked up her notebook and went at it with a will. Which meant. Shut up and look grateful before I shove you off my saddle. Luke. Knowing Jordan. "If you two can't behave. a fall of—what. Up to heaven worth the hell she was putting him through. Jordan concluded with a wince. wiggling around on his lap in that outfit designed to inspire ravishment in even the mildest male heart. then keep right on going .. And her bare feet peeking out from beneath the hem of the skirt made him want to run his hands over that tempting arch. Save me!" "I've already saved you.” she replied indignantly. warm and curving. Her tiny waist rose above the padded bustle and draping skirt that were all that protected him from the curvy hips that lay across his lap and nestled into his groin. The real black steed would be painted in later. fidgeting Jordan a dozen times by now. up. If she spilled out any further from the inadequate bodice. because a real horse would have reared up to unseat and trample the twitching. and it wasn't from the heat of Wendy's lights that created the illusion of midday sun . Iam in distress. she and Luke would be posing for her. too. It was hard to be distressed and indignant while swooning in the arms of the lethal man in black. they probably were. begging to be touched. he'd be able to see her belly button. three feet? It might do permanent damage. starting tonight. “Oh. "She's going to get me. Good thing. That earned her a killing look. It might make my skirt fly up. if you move your hip again. up satin limbs that beckoned. Jordan added laughing to her repertoire and ruined the distress with deep dimples and the sparkle of humor in her eyes. She waved a vicious-looking palette knife at them for emphasis and Jordan quailed. Help. Jordan rolled her eyes at that. She was killing him by inches.

What they needed was a distraction. do you? I'm telling you a legend. Luke. Luke shifted her a little more to relieve the pressure on her ribs and she looked grateful enough to make up for Wendy's strident remark that he'd just ruined the angle. the alleged sea monster in Lake Champlain.” she added in answer to Luke's question. A romantic legend. “I didn't know you could tell stories. “Anything to take my mind off this ancient torture device. do you know how the marble got there?" "Sure. The tribe knew when she was born with the white hair of the moon that it was a sign—but what the sign meant they didn't know. the sight of Jordan in that dress was definitely worth a little torture. “Sorry. "How about if I tell you a story?” he offered hopefully. "Well. She was beautiful. Start swooning. don't you? A lot of it is visible in the rock throughout the Champlain valley. too. "You know that Vermont produces most of the nation's marble. “I'mtrying. Jordan brightened. but they feared her. I am in real distress. over the lake came a strange boat of a kind they had never seen before. and so the princess grew more beautiful every year. Tell me a story." Luke was un-chivalrously glad that the dress was torturing her. and historical tales weird enough to qualify as fiction of the wildest kind. Yes. He smiled at Jordan and wondered what kind of story would please her." Jordan nodded and earned another frown from Wendy. “How about the story about the painter who killed her models so rigor mortis would set in and they'd have to stay in position?" Jordan gave her a pitiful look. What kind of story?" Wendy interrupted archly. "Long ago. "She was always one of the tribe and yet a person apart. and more alone. Whathe needed was a distraction.against the painted backdrop.” she finished pleadingly." "Oh. I forgot.” She swooned and waited eagerly." Luke paused and Jordan held her breath until he continued. The white sail moving across the lake concerned the people. So beautiful that it was said that her eyes were made from the stars of heaven and her hair from moonbeams. Wendy. “You have no romance in your soul. She looked apologetic.” Jordan answered readily. Luke sighed. These whalebones are pinching and poking me and I can't breathe. They watched to see what would happen. too. It seemed only fair. Still. There were hundreds of local legends involving Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain boys. heat and pressure from the fault lines under the mountain ranges. They loved the princess. Okay. I'll keep still. And she was looking uncomfortable. Wendy growled. It was a long boat with a sea serpent's head and a sail." . which the Algonquin had never seen. Then one day. an Algonquin Indian princess lived in the valley. But he thought he could come up with something original just for her.

” Luke reminded her.Jordan interrupted excitedly. nudging Luke where it was most likely to prod him to action." Jordan waited impatiently. but there were still many men of her tribe who were jealous and who secretly wished to have the beautiful princess as their own mate. One terrible night. where was I? Oh yes. Perhaps. their princess with her white hair was born to bring this about." "Right. Perhaps. “Doyou want to tell this story?" "Sorry." He moved a hand to brush her cheek at the risk of incurring Wendy's wrath.” Jordan sighed." "Princesses have to do what their told. mixing another color in the middle of her palette." She giggled. But her white tears seeped into the ground and became the marble you see in the valley. a jealous rival came and killed the Viking man while he slept. he knew this was the man that the princess should marry. it was an omen—new people were coming to their land and perhaps this was a sign that the two peoples should join together." "You should be. "Will you just get on with it?” Wendy demanded. “I bet nobody asked the princess. “Luke. don't wiggle like that—our future children are at stake.” Luke snickered. that's terrible. To be absolutely certain. The princess grieved. Ow! Jordan. "Everyone's a critic. she was gone and was never seen again. and when he found the man he could not defeat in a wrestling match. The white sail and the white skins of the newcomers reminded them of their princess with her white hair. when the sun came up. and grief stole her voice and she never spoke again.” Jordan fumed. “The princess and her husband loved each other deeply. they said. they said. She sat on a rock in the moonlight and wept white tears." "It always does. they looked for the sign of the moon and found it in a crescent mark over the Viking's heart. In the morning the princess was found with the knife that killed him and his blood on her hands. So the princess and the Viking were married and the Vikings and the Algonquians were as one people. Because she loved her own people too well. “The Viking colony led by Leif the Lucky!" Luke frowned at her." Jordan sniffled. Perhaps they should give the princess to a man of the new tribe and it would bring luck to all the people. Noblesse oblige. “Well. But trouble soon came. In the morning. didn't it?" . But bad feelings on both sides grew until war broke out and the strangers fled in their boat. it took your mind off of being pinched and poked. The Algonquin people watched the strangers. she wouldn't say who had done the terrible deed. "You should know. not only for her lost love but also for the jealous rage in the heart of one of her own people. "Ah. All right. “What happened then? What about the princess?” she demanded. “So a great warrior of the Algonquin went to test the strength of the white people. but he didn't continue. It's sosad .

But if it makes you feel better. Something I would have said was impossible. Only I don't have my running shoes. while everything is still standing." He smiled at her.” he informed Wendy." Jordan looked both fascinated and ridiculously pleased. "Just with you in it. “Well. Wendy tossed a long strand of hair back and eyed them both. now. I can't believe you just made that up." . You've made a romantic out of him." "Oh.. Luke laughed again and swung her off her feet and into his arms. “Can you stand?” he asked. “We'd better run for it.She considered that. “That's enough for now. and grimaced until the cramps slowly eased.” She sounded surprised and forlorn." "I noticed. yes.” Wendy ordered them both sternly. “Really?" "No. I didn't know sitting still was so hard. “Ouch." "Get out. couldn't you have come up with a happy ending?" He smiled at her. they were reunited as stars in the sky. “Happy endings are for real life. after their deaths. I can now. then frowned when he saw her bite her lip. Yes. “Well. "All right.” he improvised. not really." "We don'tbrawl .” Jordan protested indignantly. thanks. did he always tell stories?” Jordan asked. Without waiting for permission." "I'm glad you approve. “That's because you've never done it before in your life. Luke." She stuck her tongue out at him. considering the picture they made. That dress alone is enough to incite a riot. it was wonderful.” she added with a lift of her eyebrow. "You're a really good storyteller. You should do it more often.” he agreed. Luke. But still .” Wendy warned them both. “Of course we don't. you two. “if you're going to start up again. leave. “You just can't help starting trouble everywhere you go. Wendy. Luke couldn't help laughing.. I don't want any brawls distracting me while I'm working. “Only since he met you. “That's much better. supporting her in case she couldn't. Jordan leaned closer into Luke. Jordan sighed happily. She flexed and stretched her legs one at a time. Jordan smiled sweetly at him.” he replied dryly.” She visibly drooped with disappointment. he swung down and lowered Jordan carefully to her feet.

Jordan sighed blissfully and leaned back against Luke. Well. She hadn't even specifically requested a fantasy massage-giving fiancé and she got a bonus anyway. eyeing the strained bodice in trepidation. “I won't need you in costume again. that feels sogood . what wouldyou call it? I'm being stabbed from all directions. maybe in one or two. In his fantasies. "Thanks. This was not the way he'd envisioned undressing Jordan.” she groaned. Get me out of this iron maiden. "Certainly. "Then undo me." He laughed at her dramatics." He slanted a wry look at her. Amazing. at least she could enjoy being carried off by him. she was . And in his fantasies involving Jordan and this dress. “Oh." "Okay. “Free at last! Free at last!" "Stop that or some parts of you will be free before other parts.” She moaned in misery. Empty. But she woke up eagerly early on in the short drama instead of snoring peacefully through the whole thing."Carry me?” she requested unnecessarily. I always carry off damsels in distress. “How did women survive this through the centuries? Thank God for lycra and spandex. Hurry.” Jordan turned and presented her row of miniature fastenings and tried to stand still so he could unfasten her.” Luke warned her. He swung it open and ushered an eager Jordan inside and closed it behind them. I will need your faces again.” Jordan agreed. “Come on.” Then she heaved a dramatic sigh of relief and dropped her head on Luke's ample shoulder. I'll get you out. “Let us know when. “Take me away. Jordan. She bounced up and down in eagerness." Jordan sighed happily and looped her arms around her hero's neck as he carried her off and silently vowed never again to wear running shoes when he was around. I got enough from today and from the snapshots for the composition. please. feeling her aches dissipate and evaporate under his hands. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the massage. she wasn't asleep. He obligingly fumbled at the little hooks and wondered how he'd gotten himself into this. Luke. since he was holding her already. Strong fingers kneaded aching muscles and rubbed away the irritation produced by confining whalebone. Luke. for the final details. “Iron maiden?" "Well. The dress was open from neck to waist and his warm hands stroked her bared back soothingly. Jordan sighed in blessed relief as one by one the fastenings came open and relieved the vise-like pressure. though. two small boys weren't running loose in the same house who might possibly burst in unexpectedly. If she couldn't kiss him.” Wendy added over her shoulder. either of you. And maybe a little anticipation. When they continued up and slid around to cup her abused cleavage. without realizing how it sounded. He was in fact undressing her for the second time. moving down her spine. then spreading out to move up her sides and continue the massage along her aching ribcage. and neither one went remotely like the scenarios in his fantasies.” Luke set her down and tapped on the bathroom door.

. she wasn't sure which. He'd hate her. Yes she did." Chapter Eight "Earth to Jordan. And again and again. “Don't look like that..” Luke said quietly. at least she'd get a good burial plot.” He released her breasts and slid one hand down to her waist to press her back against him. Would John Wayne lie to her? He was the man in black. Her bones were turning to water. of course. She stabbed at a Brussels sprout and attempted to redirect the conversation. imp. "Luke. And when he turned her to him and kissed her fiercely. Neither was his jaw scraping against her cheek. but everything else had caught fire. "It's going to be all right. I promise. leaving her to Seymour's tender mercies. “Huh?" Teresa shook her head. Oh dear. the other moving safely up to rest below her throat as he held her tightly. Jordan relaxed. Jordan." They stayed together in a few minutes of silence. She was holding it. Jordan. she thought wildly.This is what being engaged does to a person? I never thought I'd see Jordan like this—quiet and worried. Steady. “She's been like that all day. or his warm breath feathering her bared neck and sending shivers down her spine." Great. Jordan thought weakly. She could trust him." Randall looked suspiciously at Jordan. He'd call off their phony engagement. Then Luke loosed his hold and smiled down at her. Jordan tried to look innocent and searched for the fork she'd either lost or forgotten she was holding . This wasn't in the plan. Luke released her lips and she stared stupidly at him. “Okay. she settled for staying put and staying still and staying quiet for possibly the first and only time in her life. It won't happen again. What had she just done? Ruined everything. She wanted it to happen again. Luke hugged her gently against his chest.suddenly very glad he was holding her up..” he murmured. No she didn't. She didn't know whether to protest or cheer. “I'm sorry. after all. “Get dressed. Good. Well. Confused." "Okay. that was definitely not in the plan. "Shh. Come in." Her head snapped up and she looked back and forth from Randall to Teresa. Her hero. I'll take you home.” His name burst from the depths of her soul at the intimate touch.

A humiliatingly happy smile broke over her face. She wanted to see him smile and hear him roar in outrage and feel him throw her up in the air as if she was Theodore's little toddler. too. She missed him. she's your sister." "I did?" "Randall. She was pining for his presence. he hadn't sent her flowers or anything remotely along the floral theme. Sunday hadn't been much more peaceful. “Now she's showing an interest incooking . or Teresa's. She was insanely driven. She knew it.. for goodness sake. coerced by her brute and base instincts and deeply depraved urges. emotional night—after being unexpectedly kissed and caressed by a dangerous gunslinger in his sister's bathroom. that was closer. No—how aboutderanged. And so far. For the first time. or either of their boys. Teresa shook her head.. there were no words to describe how she felt. Pathetic. She had managed to get herself “engaged” to a man she . her fork once more forgotten in her limp hand. But she admitted to herself that she was being lousy company and she ought to at least contribute to the dinner conversation.Attraction fell short. Just thinking about Luke and the fact that he wasn't there had Jordan wilting and drooping over her Brussels sprouts again. She had nobody but herself to blame for her predicament. Pitiful. but she was too glad to see him to care how disgustingly . She hadn't seen him since he'd dropped her off the previous evening and she missed him all the way down to her toes.” his wife demanded. "She's my fiancée.. delusional. But—he was disgusted with her. “You already said that. maybe cowboy boots. Jordan snapped to attention again. lunatic andirrational ? That was better. She had to get a grip. She was worried enough herself. which was equally disgusting. Did you cook these in garlic butter?" Teresa just sighed. Teresa." Jordan couldn't spare any sympathy just then for Teresa's concern. She was lusting after Luke and fantasizing about him in his black hat and nothing else. I'll do something. The reason for her distraction wasn't Randall's fault." At the sound of the familiar voice.” she offered inanely with a weak smile in Teresa's direction. As usual. Jordan realized in horror that she was inches away from weeping into Teresa's Sunday pot roast. "Good sprouts.Obession? Well. Well. compelled. Do something. It's even worse than I thought.. Her eyes swung to his. She'd spent a restless."Great sprouts. Sad.

"Oh. “We had soap suds all over the kitchen floor up to our knees.” Teresa added as if to a child." Luke smiled back. Right. Almost as good as he did shouting. He looked a little relieved. “You're welcome. Personally. . trying very hard not to laugh. "Go put them in water." She smiled some more. He didn'tlook disgusted. “Why are you here?" He whipped a bouquet of white carnations from behind his back and offered them to her. That struck her as odd and she asked. it went.” Fork still in hand.. Water. Relief sang through her. If he wasn't. she reasoned.” Jordan defended herself huffily. she had. with any luck. He sounded so good laughing. “Thank you. and Jordan was distracted by the sound. “It was an honest mistake. he wouldn't have bothered with flowers. Hadn't she already demonstrated considerable talent in that direction? Yes. Himself. as swiftly as the relief came. though . January second. Once there. instead of through George the delivery man. that was exactly what he'd attribute it to—acting. "What has she done now?” Luke asked Randall in commiseration. “To give you these. Jordan thought. Luke wasn't disgusted with her after all. How was I supposed to know it was the wrong kind of soap?" Randall cracked a smile at the memory. He'd brought her flowers again. Jordan. and say ‘thank you'. It was a subtle reminder of his first promise to her.. She looked down at the flowers and tried not to cry. Besides. too. She'd snowed him before. He wouldn't leave her to the likes of Seymour and company. Jordan abruptly rose from the table and headed for the kitchen with the flowers.besotted she was acting. Jordan accepted the flowers with numb fingers and smiled her horribly besotted smile. “Burned something? Broken the dishes? Filled the dishwasher with liquid dish soap instead of automatic detergent?" "I only did thatonce .” Teresa prompted her. who she was rapidly getting to know as well as she knew her mailman. Maybe he planned to put the whole half-naked kissing thing behind him and forget about it." "Oh!" "Take them. leaving her slumped and despondent. He'd kept every one he'd made since then. actually. The fact that he'd shown up unannounced at Randall's to surprise her showed her that he was still planning on holding up his end of their bargain. He'd buy it. And he was here. Hewould leave her. Then. Gary wouldn't allow her in the kitchen again for a month." Luke laughed. she leaned against the counter and sniffed the spicy fragrance of the carnations and smiled dreamily.

How about a code word for riot? I've got it—camisole. “Thank you. “You can count on me.almost anything. Sweet.” Jordan managed to say. “Do you want to make a snowman?" Hope ran through her and erased every trace of unhappiness. we'll make our escape unnoticed. “I am a native of Vermont. She never wanted it to end. I'm counting on you to start another riot. "Do you have mittens? A scarf? A coat?” He prodded. She wanted to play in the snow with Luke." Jordan gave him an impish smile and her dimples deepened. "It's snowing again. He took the flowers from her unresisting grasp and put them in a vase with water. “I think I can use that in a sentence.” he snickered. Jordan. you do.” It was what she wanted to do more than anything at that moment." Jordan didn't respond. If it's too hopelessly dreary. All she knew for sure was that it wasn't January yet."You don't like carnations?” Luke asked. “Yes." "Yes." "You don't know the meaning of prepared. “I thought carnations would suit you. and Luke was holding her in his arms. She lifted her head to smile at him and he smiled warmly back. "They didn't have any calla lilies. “You run outside in your shirt and turn blue and have to be thawed out.” he agreed. Then in all the confusion. I do. With something like her old verve. For once she was without words." "Oh. Luke set the flowers aside and turned to pull her into his embrace. Colorful. “Friday? I don't remember Friday. “I took a chance. “But I'd rather not have a Popsicle to dance with on Friday. so why risk it? Get your coat and mittens on. “So? I thaw well. She lifted wide eyes to his unreadable gaze. I'm always prepared for snow from October to April.” he continued. Some things were off limits." . Of course I do. Well." She grinned at him saucily. Jordan gave him a deeply offended look. But not this. What do you think?" He smiled at her and traced the dimples in her cheeks with a finger." She shot him a questioning look. What are we doing?" "A boring business cheese and cracker thing. Spicy. She laid her cheek on his chest and breathed in his warm musky scent—the scent of a businessman who didn't quite manage to look like he belonged behind a desk—and felt sheer bliss from head to toe.” he said apologetically." He might have been talking about fractions or demographics or tabulated statistics for all she knew.

“Dickens for escape. No matter what she wore . camisole for riot. which Luke did while she zipped her jacket despite her squirming and protesting. Soon he'd have her registering for crystal and picking a china pattern and—and she'd be lost.” Luke gave a diabolical laugh at the thought. Not to mention as the dark and dangerous man in black.” Luke arranged the covering to his satisfaction then led her outside. the invitations would be in the mail and the flowers ordered. My snowman will be better than yours anyway. “I don't need something on my head." "You're making that up.” she smirked and then raced for her mittens and jacket. she needed to be muffled. We should be a spy team. Bright sun reflected off the new snow but the air held the cold bite of winter in spite of the sunshine. What a code. as his future wife. “While you're busy running. hadn't she? She'd smiled and looked pleased when he teased her. using one of Wendy's handy photographs of the two of them. Hopelessly trapped in an endless snare of formalities that tied her tightly to him. need something on your head. “You'd start world war three within a week. I'm setting you up. at that bold statement. and she could be outside turning blue right now. “Settle for savingme . He had a reputation to uphold as a desirable and eligible bachelor. The announcement had already been sent to the paper. No self-respecting outlaw rider would let a damsel in distress charm his horse out from under him and his hat off his head..” She gave him a wicked look." "You're on! I make a mean snowman. She'd just agreed to be introduced to his business associates. Instead. quickly and lightly. Friday and every other day. too. At least not for long.” Jordan accused. I'll be fine. She didn't have a chance. because Luke Foster did not fall alone. She'd been happy to see him." She frowned in offense. I'd save the world!" Luke couldn't resist kissing her again. “Heat loss. Come on." "Oh no. Luke Foster. either.” He wound the scarf over the top of her hair. “I wouldnot .” he continued. he frowned and started after her." "You do. “You're afraid of the competition. She might need to be thawed. “we could just make one together. he intended to lure her out to the edge of that precipitous leap. "Oh yes I will. But he didn't think she'd be too distressed. professionally. you'd never outdo me. Even with a head start. Now hurry and get bundled up or I'll cheat and get a head start instead of waiting for you..” Luke shook his head. hurry up. I'm creative."Then camisole it is. She'd glowed when he offered to build a snowman with her. Body heat gets lost through the top of the head faster than anywhere else.” he promised the empty air behind her. or didn't wear. Thinking of that." . You're trying to distract me. And no one was going to ride to her rescue to save her from the man in black. He wouldn't put it past Jordan to run outside just the way she was to get a jump on him." "You're insane and I'm not going to let you freeze. “Besides. By the time she realized the hoax had grown and overwhelmed her. Luke. And if she wasn't. She had to be falling in love with him. horrified. then wrapped it under her chin.

" She hesitated. But you should know they call me the Snowball Kid. “You want a challenge? You're on. She sat up. Then. “Yes. He'd made a mistake last night. “I'm the first guy you've made an angel with in the snow. Her dimples deepened. but I expected better from the Snow Queen. settling his hands on his hips and swaggering towards her in his best John Wayne mode. Try it. Luke couldn't stop himself from smiling at the picture she made. Wild and unpremeditated. Then without warning. huh?” he asked lazily. still holding her hand and moved arms and legs in a definite snow angel. How could any man resist a temptation like that? Even a man sworn to saintliness wouldn't be oblivious. he grabbed her hand and pulled her with him to the ground."Aha! I knew it!” Jordan whirled to laugh in his face." Carefully he rose from the packed outline without disturbing the pattern made by his body in the snow and stood. but now was not the time. But. of course. His light blue eyes met hers steadily as he drawled." She laughed in delight. It was the influence of that dress." Luke brushed snow from her cheek and tucked white-blond hair back under her scarf. You're trying to con me into lending you my talents again. “You're afraid of a challenge. The kind that moved and laughed. then grinned and fell back into the snow and made an angel of her own. that'sgreat . Together they looked at the outlines in the snow. “Not bad. They fell into wet snow that clung and packed when Jordan brushed a mittened hand across the white surface. "Oh.” she gasped.” he boasted quietly. “Being spontaneous. and the two forms were visibly holding hands. An animated snow angel. He wanted to do things with her that wouldmelt the snow. for now.” Her breath made puffs of steamy condensed moisture as the warmer air met and mixed with cold. She hugged her arms around his waist and grinned at him." Without another word. And now I think we should make snow monsters. she slipped from his arms and threw herself into packing and rolling the beginnings of a snowman. “What are you doing?" He smiled at her. . to her amazement. he rolled onto his back beside her. “What a good idea. coming on too strong. His was huge and hers was tiny. Jordan let him pull her up and kept from disturbing her own design. That was what she looked like—a snow angel. I've never made hand-holding angels before. then extended a hand to help her up. “The Snowball Kid?" "That's right. he'd be content to see Jordan smile at him and feel comfortable in his presence again. careful to keep the desire in his voice under control. He eyed it critically. not the kind that lay quiet and frozen on the ground.

Whenever Jordan lookedthat innocent, trouble was brewing. Luke braced himself for it with a tantalizing mixture of trepidation and anticipation and went to start his own snow creation. A half hour later, Jordan tapped on his broad shoulder. “Ahem." He turned and quirked a brow at her. “Yes?" She smiled sweetly, her gray eyes dancing. “I'm done. How about you?" He considered her impish face. “I'm done, too.” He stepped back and let her see his snowman. He thought he'd done well. The figure had a hat, nose, mouth and scarf sculpted from the snow and he thought it would impress even her. She eyed it politely and nodded at last. “Not bad ... for a beginner." He frowned. “Not bad? It's great. It's better than great. I think you're jealous." She smirked. “Oh yeah?” She waved a mittened hand in the direction of her own creation. Luke followed the line of her hand and started to laugh. The snow angel had indeed made a snow monster. A hideous snow demon, suspended in the act of lurching across the yard. "That's going to terrify your nephews,” he choked out, still laughing. “We'd better warn Randall to keep them away." She gave him an indignant look. “It will not. It's great! It's beautiful." It washideous . There was no other word to describe the monstrosity. “Jordan, it'll give them nightmares. It might giveme nightmares. It's macabre. Horrific. Not to mention bizarre." She scowled at him. “I love it." He grinned at her and cupped her cheeks, pink with cold. “I do, too." She stopped scowling and charmed him with her dimples again. He should have known then. Her gray eyes were melting pools of innocence, her soft lips curved in the sweetest of smiles. She radiated purity. He should have known, but all he could think about was the memory of those soft lips moving against his. Until an icy shock jolted him from his fantasies to the reality of a wicked fairy who'd just dropped snow down the inside of his shirt. Luke gave a roar of outrage and Jordan slipped free to run for her life across the snowy yard. “I'll get you! As God is my witness, I'll get you!” He bellowed as he gave chase. He caught her with a flying tackle and wrestled her down. She just laughed at him, unrepentant. "You're a criminal,” he accused. "I'd do it again,” she vowed, looking very pleased with herself.

He nodded, resigned. “Yes, you would.” He sighed. Then he ruthlessly retaliated. Snow went down her thin sweater and more covered her face. He unzipped her and filled the jacket with cold wet snow until she shrieked and begged for mercy. "Stop! Stop, Luke, it'scold! ” Jordan gasped and laughed at the sensation of snow melting on her bare skin under her clothes. “Oh, I'm cold." He smeared another handful over her face. “I don't think you're sorry yet.” He gathered another handful of snow in preparation. Jordan eyed the snow, then him. “You wouldn't. You beat me. I'm helpless. You wouldn't keep freezing a helpless woman, would you?" Luke sighed in mock regret and gave her a sorrowful look. “Repent, sinner.” He lifted her sweater and dropped the icy mass onto her bare chest and she wailed in reaction. "I repent. I do, I really do. Oh, Luke, that'sso cold!” She protested and squirmed under him, trying to escape the trap but he wouldn't let up. "Oh, Jordan. Too late.” His loins burned at the sight of her nipples, puckered with cold and clearly outlined under the thin wet knit. She saw the line of his gaze and stopped struggling. She caught her breath and waited. He slowly lowered his mouth to hers and she melted into him. She was hot and cold and shivering, all at once. He kissed her in the snow, fire and ice, and Jordan clung to him mindlessly. She protested when he drew away and reached for him. The regret in his eyes was genuine this time as he shook his head at her. “We're in your brother's yard, Jordan." She'd forgotten, actually. She'd forgotten where they were. She'd forgotten their bargain. She'd forgotten about everything but Luke and the wild delight of kissing him. "Oh.” The shock in her voice was audible. "Yesoh ,” Luke teased her gently, coaxing a slight smile in return. “Come on, you'll freeze. I'll take you home and thaw you out before you turn into an icicle." He scooped her up and brushed the snow from her jacket. When he felt her shivering, he frowned. She really was cold. He unzipped his own coat and spread it wide to wrap her in the edges and grimaced at the cold, wet shock. Nothing with Jordan went according to his fantasies. Sharing a coat with her in a daydream wouldn't involve dripping, melting snow and blue lips. Luke privately mourned the inadequacies of reality as he tucked her against his heat and went around to the kitchen door for her flowers. He eyed the puddle forming at their feet and knocked. Teresa opened the door and looked at the two of them, covered in snow. “You'renot coming in here,” she said sternly. Jordan looked up at Luke and grinned. “I think we're in trouble."

Luke nodded. “That seems to happen whenever you're around." Teresa handed them the flowers and waved them away. “Go get warmed up, you two! Go drip water on your own floors!" Jordan snuggled into his warmth and tried unsuccessfully to chase away the chill. “I'm going to drip everywhere,” she groaned. "I'll mop it up,” Luke offered. A warm glint of humor in his eyes made her smile again. "You should, you're responsible for getting me soaked. And frozen. Now you will have to thaw me or I'll be a Popsicle for sure.” Jordan winked saucily. “You wouldn't want to dance with a Popsicle, would you?" He swung her in a giddy waltz. “I don't know,” he mused. “I think it's kind of fun. It might grow on me." She laughed at him and then shivered in earnest. All laughter gone, Luke swept her up and hurried to his car. “Don't worry, I'm an experienced rescuer of damsels in distress. Would you like to see my resume?” he inquired smoothly as he dumped her in and shut the door. She eyed him in interest as he joined her, started the engine and turned the heater on. “You have a resume as a rescuer? Oh, this I have to see." He gave her an arch look. “I keep it at home." She considered that. “You do?" "Yes,” he assured her warmly. “Right by the indoor hot tub,” he added. Jordan debated briefly. She'd never been much for resisting temptation. The lure of Luke and his kisses and his searing heat were bad enough. The added persuasion of the promise of a hot tub made an overwhelmingly irresistible combination. She scooted across the seat to burrow against him. “Sounds like the perfect spot to keep a resume. Rescue me,” she commanded. He wrapped an arm around her. “I'm thinking of making it my sole professional focus." Thatsounded interesting. “You are?" "Mm-hmm. It looks like a full-time proposition. I've never seen anyone who needed more rescuing than you." "You can't have it both ways, Luke,” she retorted. “I'm either a threat to the entire planet, or harmless and no threat to anyone. I can't be both." Luke dropped a kiss on top of her head. “That's what I used to think. Then I metyou ."

Chapter Nine

she wasn't so sure. No family of any kind anywhere. She pictured Luke in the hot tub in his black hat and felt instantly much warmer. it was all the more reason not to waste a single minute of it.” he teased. no in-laws.. no aunts and no uncles. but it couldn't hurt to pretend. carried her to his house and even over the threshold. Great. He'd never use it again without thinking of her. Hot water and hotter kisses. Not that she had much time to see anything as Luke. "Are we?" He took her by the shoulders and drew her close. no small children. Luke didn't want to get married at all. Jordan realized. steamy water. too. it could almost be real. She didn't even notice the neighborhood until the car stopped. This would be a night to remember. sought after and desired by hordes of admiring women. Was she stupid? At least she had him now. for instance. all right. Now .. in his enthusiasm to heroically rescue her. “Yes. Then he locked it and leaned against it. The problem with creative fiction. Jordan curled on the seat and concentrated on thinking warm thoughts. as insurance against pressure to marry. Wasn't she the bane of his existence? A threat to world peace? A riot looking for a place to happen? The day Jordan Christian went quietly would be the day she went six feet under. and if that was all she'd have. It was so believable. “Alone at last. was that it was all too easy to believe. wet. So it was temporary. she was completely oblivious to anything else. hot. While she thought and plotted. was that Luke didn't want to marry her. Now she was cold. and depressed. flames. but probably especially not to her. and then the rapidly falling twilight made it difficult to see. He carried her to a huge master bath and set her down on the tiled floor. He was only temporary. Luke hugged her in sympathy. More evidence of his incredible niceness. You'll be warm in no time. She sincerely hoped the hat was here instead of at Wendy's with the rest of the props for the painting. she paused. Determination stirred and she realized how idiotic she was being. At that thought. Jordan. and it was absolutely horrible that she couldn't have him. No brothers. no sisters.It couldn't hurt to pretend? She hadn't thought so before. Just us. And it wasn't. Fire. Jordan vowed silently. He was a carefree bachelor. Think about hot water—lots and lots of nice. Jordan told herself sternly. He'd been willing to con his family. and look where it had gotten her—up to her little metaphorical neck in it. a conflagration racing through her veins and burning her from the inside out. She was here and by golly she'd leave her mark on his hot tub. Hot tubs. She'd never met a nicer man. She was nothing but trouble and he'd even said so. The inescapable truth.It wasn't far from Randall's house to Luke's. closing the door behind them.” He slowly trailed ." Shehad been. She huddled closer and didn't say anything. a family he loved and respected. Luke wasn't hers. and pretending wouldn't change anything. Jordan shivered and tried to curl more of his coat around her. She was still cold. “We're almost there. we are.

blazing kisses across her upturned face, then teased the corner of her mouth before claiming it in a kiss that stole her breath away. He smiled at her dazed expression. “I can't believe it. You're speechless." Jordan smiled back at him. “You seem to have that effect on me. Enjoy it while it lasts." "I intend to.” The lazy drawl accompanied by the warm glint in his eyes promised just that. Luke turned the hot tub cover back and Jordan saw steam rising from it. “Wow. Quite the bathroom you have here,” she remarked. It was impressive. Above the sunken wooden hot tub, a skylight offered a tantalizing view of the starlit sky. Beautifully polished wooden decking surrounded the tub. An adjoining room contained dual marble sinks and counters beneath a long beveled mirror; another room housed a standard bathtub with whirlpool jets, and a glassed-in shower stall; all laid out in roomy comfort that made an inviting suite. Tile covered the floor in this room and the other bathing room, with deep plush carpet in the sink area and down the center of the tiled area. Jordan could happily imagine spending the entire day in there without ever unlocking the door. "I'm glad you like it,” Luke answered. He began to remove her dripping clothing. The sodden scarf was unwound and dropped, followed by her coat. Jordan tried to step out of her snow boots and was surprised when his grip tightened on her arms, arresting the motion. "Let me.” The low request sent shivers through her that had nothing to do with cold. Jordan gazed back at him, hypnotized by the sound of his voice and the desire in his eyes. She held still and waited. He knelt and peeled off her wet socks, then cupped her feet in his hands to chafe and warm them, one at a time. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the feeling returning to numb toes. "You're soaked and frozen,” he informed her. "I know. The penance for my sins, remember?" Luke laughed. “I'm not sure whose penance it is now.” He stood and swiftly and impersonally removed her wet jeans, teasing her when they stuck. “Too much fudge, Jordan?" "There is no such thing,” she informed him loftily. Leaving her in her wet knit sweater and panties, he removed his own clothes down to cotton jockeys and took her hand. “Come on, let's get you warm." Jordan readily plunged into the hot water and sank in up to her chin. “Ah-h-h. Warmth. I love it." Luke joined her and pulled her onto the ledge to sit, then slid one arm behind her to support her head. “Better?" "Better than better. This is the greatest,” she said happily. He arranged her legs across his lap and turned her sideways against his chest. Maybe it was better this

way, Jordan thought in mingled regret and relief. Half of her wanted to rip off the rest of her clothes and wrap herself around him, while the other half didn't want to take the risk. Just what were her feelings for Luke? Was she actually thinking of keeping him? With so much undecided, staying neutral for the time being seemed prudent. Which was too bad, because being prudent wasn't her strong point. She didn't have much practice at it. Jordan sighed and snuggled closer, torn between passion and prudence. "Jordan?" "Hmm?" Luke tugged her more fully onto his lap and she turned to face him, slipping her legs over his thighs. “I don't want to do anything to make you look at me the way you did last night.” He spoke quietly and soberly against her hair. What way, Jordan wondered. Lust-crazed? Dazed with desire? He continued. “You looked so shocked. I don't want to scare you." Jordan eyed his bare, beautiful chest and wondered ifhe'd be scared if he knew what she wanted to do to it. Certainly he'd be shocked. "Jordan, I want you to spend the night." Now there was an idea. She warmed to it immediately. "Just stay with me. I promise not to touch you." Now there was a verybad idea. She didn't think she could promise not to touchhim . Luke tugged her chin up. “Say something,” he urged, searching her eyes with his. What did one say in a situation like this? When one found oneself attracted to one's fiancé—who wasn't really—and was asked to spend the night—but only platonically? Jordan struggled with confusion. “Do you snore?” she inquired. Luke smiled slowly until his blue eyes lit and glowed with enough warmth to chase away the chill permanently. “No,” he assured her. "Okay.” She dropped her head to his chest again and wondered if she should be certified. He was driving her insane, and there was a long way to go before the New Year. They sat in companionable silence, absorbing the heat until Luke declared that their time was up. Apparently a person could only stay in hot water for so long. Jordan ruefully wondered if she'd ever get herself out of the amount of hot water she'd managed to get into. If only it was as easy as climbing out of a hot tub. She stepped out and started to dry off, then realized she was still in her wet clothes. “Do you have

something I can wear?" "Of course. Rescuing includes dry clothes. Wait right there.” Luke rummaged around and came back with boxer shorts and a tee shirt that would probably double as a dress on her. He handed them to her then left her to change in privacy. The wet sweater and panties clung as she yanked them off, and puddles of water swiftly formed on the tile. She toweled quickly, pulled on the shorts and tee shirt, then wrung out her wet clothes and hung them over the shower door to dry. Barefoot, she padded out to join Luke and found him pouring brandy into two snifters. "What a brilliant idea. We'll be warm inside and out,” she said cheerfully. "That's the plan.” Luke handed a snifter to her then picked up an afghan and gestured for her to follow. He led the way to an enclosed gas fireplace which flickered invitingly and spread the cover on the carpet. “Come here and watch the fire with me." Now there was an offer she couldn't refuse. Jordan joined him on the floor and he pulled her into his embrace for another kiss. As warm and sweet as the brandy, it was a wonderful kiss, but it ended much too soon for Jordan's satisfaction. Still, settled in Luke's arms drinking brandy in front of a fire was no bad place to be, with or without kisses. She decided to count her blessings. Luke teased her blond shock of hair with long fingers and she sighed in bliss. “Ah, you do scalp massages, too? You're too good to be true." He tugged her down and took away her glass before leaning over her on one elbow. “I have to put my hands somewhere. Your head seemed like the safest place." She gave him a regretful look. “Do you always do the safe thing?" His fingers moved down to feather over her eyebrows. “It depends on how much is at stake." She tipped her face up to bite his fingers. “Sounds serious." He gave her a warning look. “Behave..." "Me?” She blinked innocently. "You." She gazed up at him seriously. “Shut up and kiss me, Luke." He quirked a brow at her demand. “That's a very ungrateful, unladylike remark from a damsel who's just been rescued." She smiled sweetly. “I never claimed to be ladylike." "Thereis that,” he agreed and lowered his mouth to hers again.

“Stop tempting me. But she wasn't sure about him and she could understand his hesitation when she looked at it from his point of view. she thought.” he answered seriously.She relished the kiss and never wanted it to end. I can only take so much." Jordan raised her head the fraction of an inch required to bring her lips into contact with his for a feathery caress. I can see it in your eyes." It was the awful truth. Luke groaned and nearly crushed her underneath him. “Luke. “When I make love to you.” she clarified. the only thing she regretted was the fact that they were still talking. Only one answer that would resolve everything to everyone's satisfaction. but it would cost him a fiancée. He needed to laugh more. quiet. Jordan. I will do it so slowly. What kind of cruel. He had fun with her. Now. “I want to make love with you. “tomorrow you would have regrets. Jordan almost wondered aloud exactly what a fiancée had to do around there to get ravished. You'll have regrets because you aren't sure. “Here. She settled for looking him straight in the eye and announcing baldly. so thoroughly and so completely that you will forget anyone else who's ever touched you. “You can't always get what you want. And it was for his own good." Jordan trembled at his words. but he still broke it off in the end. “Why not tonight?" "Because. And he'd made snow angels with her. proof positive that he was seeing things her way. His hands cupped her face." Then he absolutely maddened her by smiling until his blue eyes crinkled in the corners. “What makes you so sure I'd have regrets?” At that moment. but there is definitely a joke here of epic proportions because I am not going to make love to you tonight. And then I might find myself dateless on Friday. analytical brain. She was going to have to keep Luke. How did he know her divided mind—when she didn't even know herself? That was a mystery.This was supposed to help her adjust to not getting what she wanted tonight? Maybe it was worth another try.” he replied teasingly. She frowned. His family would just start in on him again if she walked out of his life and he'd be worse off than he'd been before. unfeeling fiancée could leave him under those circumstances? . thoughtful way. even he'd admitted it. He just looked back at her in his steady. I want you. Maybe she hadn't been clear enough for his detailed. Luke lowered his weight onto her. “No. Realization dawned as she lay there in the firelight with him. And the pressure from his family would probably quadruple now that they'd seen him with her. Tonight. “Is that a joke?" He shook his head. He stood to gain a one-night stand. Jordan.” He didn't seem surprised. And you have to be sure. it wasn't funny. careful to keep part of it balanced on both arms propped on either side of her. There was only one possible solution to the whole sorry mess." If that was a joke.

I was going to climb onto your lap.” She thought that imaginative confession would be particularly effective. He yanked his hand away as if burned and she immediately took the opportunity to go on. you're right. He was breaking out in a sweat. if it came to that. too. passionate. She'd wrap him around her little finger and get him to say “I do. all naked. Luke. Without her." Luke closed his eyes in agony and wondered if she had any idea how close she was to just that fate. he didn't doubt that he would hurt her. wet and slippery. or we wouldn't have even made it this far. raging beast." She had the man in black shaking in his boots and ready to fall out of his saddle. His eyelids even drooped sexily as she imagined the fantasies running through his mind. It's a good thing we left some clothes on in the hot tub. letting her hands roam over his magnificent back in tantalizing caresses.. He needed her. he'd probably forget how to make snow angels and all the words to every Christmas carol and he'd never again have a riot at a boring function. She'd charm the socks off of him. She was right. rocking and rocking in the saddle until—" Luke let out a tortured groan and clamped a hand over her mouth. He couldn't jump on her like a maddened. She'd just have to do what she always did when the chips were down. She went on innocently. like you were in the bathroom. In the state he was in.” he begged. or I won't be responsible for the consequences.And he worked too hard. and ride you. She had unmistakable proof." He was breathing as hard as if he'd just raced his black horse at breakneck speed. So would the whole family. I'd be naked underneath. "I also have fantasies about you and me and that dress on your horse. It would be terribly irresponsible to throw caution to the wind and tear off my shorts right now and give me a rug burn to remember. “But I see your point. You could lift up my skirt. Jordan smiled in gleeful anticipation and prepared to begin his ultimate torment." His mother would help. “You know . He . And he'd asked for it.” she agreed sweetly. Jordan. You'd run your hands under the dress and find me all wet and ready for you. Jordan thought in satisfaction. and we could ride together. and it wasn't from the brandy or the heat from the fire. She stretched against his wonderful body and delighted in the feel of him as she curled closer. Followed by every other item of clothing. He had to be in control of himself when he made love to her. Jordan noted gleefully. "Or you could stand behind me. since he'd so thoughtfully put a hand over her mouth." She was getting to him. She sighed in mock regret for all the fantasies they couldn't bring to life tonight. She started to suck on one of his fingertips. right there. "You're right. Of course. “We can't forget everything else and make wild.Perfect .. unzip your pants. including his symbolic black hat. I wanted to see you in your hot tub in nothing but your black hat. Shutup . She was so small and fragile. She at least got him to come out and enjoy himself after hours. and unfasten my dress. unforgettable love right here on your floor in front of the fire. Jordan. “Shut up. You'd lift the skirt from behind and lift me onto you and take me. But she noticed he wasn't running away. "Stop. He was so much fun to tease.

hands down. Do you hear me. on the other hand. Get in. He shook her until her teeth rattled. Then she wrapped herself around him and he laid there." Then she went to sleep. But couldn't she understand why? He wanted her so badly he couldn't see straight.." She gave him awho. She'd offered herself to him and he'd turned her down. And he prayed. “Get in. too. while her musky scent filled his nostrils and her pert nipples teased his chest and her slender legs tangled through his. The women. He decided finally that it would depend on whether the jury was composed of men or women. She kissed his shoulder and sighed. If she did. "Good night. but he lay awake. would probably say he deserved it for rejecting her. stiff and unmoving. Maybe he did. why hadn't she said so tonight? . He was almost certain of that." It was so much worse." Did she listen? No." "Then you won't get any sleep tonight. There was Jordan.” he snarled in the darkness.. I'm so glad you talked me out of being impulsive tonight. I have to sleep naked. When did she ever listen? He suffered the torments of the damned as he watched Jordan peel off the inadequate tee shirt and reveal small. he conceded. “Not one more word. perfect. but she didn't love him. me? look that made him want to shake her harder. “That's so much better. He heard the covers rustle as she slithered over the mattress until she found him. He concentrated on taking slow. deep breaths. and he couldn't touch her. When she moved to obey his directive." Then the wretched. It wasn't his lucky night. Luke stood with the irrepressible imp in his arms and strode off to bed. he wanted very badly to contradict himself and take away the covers so he could keep looking. The men would acquit him. “I can't sleep in clothes. Luke. naked and beautiful in his bed . If he was lucky. however. I'm cold.outweighed her by three times her small body mass and he was far stronger. he got a shaky grip on himself and proceeded to get a death grip on her. By inches. Instead he turned away and got in on the other side and shut off the light. Put your clothes back on. she'd stay away and stay quiet. They'd probably commend him for not brutally ravishing her. That had to sting. staring at the ceiling and wondering what were his odds of being convicted or acquitted if he strangled her. wicked wench had the audacity to inform him. firm breasts. Then she stood on the bed and let the shorts fall and he wanted to cry for the first time since sometime in childhood." "Good. He dumped her unceremoniously on the mattress so abruptly that she bounced twice. Jordan? Not one more word out of you until morning. "Luke. He hauled back the covers and pointed.

If he told her he loved her. she was laughing out loud in jubilation. she might back off and he'd lose her before he had her in too deep to escape. Jordan couldn't wait to get him in a pose again. Jordan. Even a saint.Of course. with one floral offering after another. she fell into a creative fit and wrote some of her best material ever.Call her ." . Chapter Ten Monday. A man could only endure so much temptation. it was a wonderful torture to have her in his arms. Wendy needed them one more time for the finishing details of the painting. So it was obvious he couldn't avoid thinking about her. **** "Please. to end the torture. including marriage. I'm begging you. Camisole or no camisole. all right. She also had plans for Friday. He tucked her closer against his side and stroked her from hip to shoulder in a lingering caress. She hoped he couldn't bring himself to use the hot tub. By Wednesday. Tuesday. She had never ever in all her life had more fun. “Good night. He dreamed of a gray-eyed sprite who came to him out of the snow. no matter how hard he tried to run or how deeply he tried to bury himself in work. She planned to squirm on his lap until he was ready to commit a crime. he hadn't told her he loved her. where he couldn't get away from her. And she hoped he cried. He was shaking in his shoes. Luke was conspicuously absent. She hoped he wasn't sleeping.” he said softly. She hoped he was suffering so terribly that he'd agree to anything and everything. Ebullient. Four days. day after day. he admitted to himself. She hoped he laid awake at night and remembered her in bed beside him. By Thursday. Still. naked and innocent and unafraid. She had him running scared. He continued to hold and caress her until sleep finally came and put him out of his blissful misery. She hoped he had to close his eyes every time he walked past his fireplace to avoid images of naked bodies entwined in an ancient dance. the silence continued. He also had to stay away from her until Friday. either. Jordan was deliriously certain that she'd stuck in the knife and twisted it hard enough to turn him inside out. but that was different. He had to bide his time. he'd be feeling real pain all evening and he'd be forced to smile and make polite conversation to his business associates all the while. caught by a mortal and held by desire until love bound them together in an unbreakable bond. But George kept coming. The miserable coward.

She was everywhere he looked. He would have left her bruised and exhausted and too sore to walk for a week. Even Abby threatening to walk out. Late. He would. it was even worse.” That was an understatement. His lack of sleep. If Jordan had really been there last night. Naked in his hot tub. “You'd be unemployed for Christmas. the flames turning her white skin to shadowed ruby as she waited for him. is it worth it? Apologize. He checked the time through bleary eyes. a cold fury grew inside him to match the winter storm outside. Tonight was Friday and he had a date with his dear little devoted fiancée. “Sorry. at least. At the thought of her. People went on vacation. Laughing. Abby snorted derisively. He definitely wouldn't have left her in any condition to walk away. he promised himself. He was certain he remembered a date. or I'm quitting. much less skip gaily out of reach. “Call her. There. yes. You'd have to explain to your son why Santa can't bring that train set. In fact. If you'd talked to any of your clients this week." So she'd been screening his calls? He wondered why it had been so quiet. He'd heard that sleep deprivation did that. Abby thrust her hands in the air and stalked away. Tonight. Naked by the fire. I haven't been sleeping much lately. he would have given her worse than a rug burn in his desperation. He considered that idea with some interest and was startled when the pencil he was holding snapped loudly in half. for the love of heaven!” she snapped in exasperation. His misery. Everything was her fault. Luke sighed and rubbed tiredly at his eyes. He'd barely slept at all since the night he'd had heaven in his arms and endured the fires of hell. Whatever you two fought about. “Have I been that bad?” he asked cautiously. That was where it belonged. Of course.” Then he added furiously. Right. “Bah! Humbug!" It was all Jordan's fault. sweet little temptress. patient secretary and wondered what he'd said to drive her to attack him. “Worse! You're a bear. you'd be out of business.” she threatened and slammed his office door behind her. she whispered in his ear all the delights that were just out of his grasp and laughed when he couldn't catch her. Business sometimes got put on hold. Jordan. Or maybe he was starting to hallucinate. maddening deceitful little liar.Luke looked up at Abby and blinked blood-shot eyes. But he'd get the best of her. he realized. He'd been working late again and it was after seven. Jordan. All of it was Jordan's fault. of course. holding out pale arms to draw him in. Luke considered his efficient. had parties and family activities to attend. he might even be late. It was frequently quiet during December. “What?" "Call her. In his bed. Look at you—you're a wreck. Abby. Why was Abby still here? He got up to check . Oh. He searched for his watch and found it on his wrist. but he'd put it down to holiday madness. didn't he? He did. "You can't quit!” Luke roared after her. elusive little imp.

attacking him had definitely been in her plans. Too bad. So he had another and felt instantly better. but for the sake of his male ego she held her tongue. Just a business holiday social. Jordan. Only he wasn't expecting two of her. I think you need this.." "No. "And don't humor me. I feel terrible.” she informed him politely. at least.Whoa . probably." . Then he'd be able to stand the sight of Jordan. What he needed. She'd left after slamming out of his office. “Of course. Come in and wait. but we have to take a taxi. as long as Jordan played the role of sweet fiancée instead of trouble on two legs. A breeze . What mattered now was the fact that he had to go and get his little lying love and he still couldn't touch her. He smelled like a distillery. he was even looking forward to the sight of her. it didn't matter. She stepped closer and sniffed. I'm not a child. Luke decided firmly. after all. “Hello. she didn't think Luke was quite functional any more. Luke frowned and stared until the images stopped wavering and melded into one. Rudeness wasn't completely out of character for Luke. or everyone in the room will see your nipples. He was adorable when he scowled.. That was a relief. He did it so very well. One Jordan was bad enough.” he sneered. Two was too much for any man to deal with. “You look like you always do. “You'll tear off what's left of your clothes and attack me.and found that she wasn't. really. "You look terrible. The extra dry martini was wonderful.” He took the cup and scowled at her ferociously. but he definitely wasn't driving anywhere else. He glanced down at the suit he wore and decided it was good enough for tonight. And then his eyes managed to focus on what she apparently—and mistakenly—thought was an appropriate dress for the occasion. that was for sure.” she responded in a placating tone. Are you ready?" "Yes. He popped into the first bar he found. It made her want to kiss him. "Thank you. of course. Although how he was going to keep from doing that he couldn't begin to imagine. A third .” He frowned at her. Then she made him some coffee and pushed the cup into his hand." "Stop telling me what I need. She didn't know how much he'd had to drink.." Jordan eyed him suspiciously. By the time he rang her doorbell. She guided him to the sofa then called a cab. but still that was a rather nasty crack. but probably not nearly enough to numb him sufficiently for the optical assault of whatever almost-naked outfit she'd be wearing tonight. It wasn't a black tie affair.. and he felt confident that he could get through the night without committing murder. Sadly. but how long ago had that been? Well. Luke. “Here. was a good stiff drink. I hope you don't plan on bending over." Jordan considered telling him that in his present condition it wasn't likely to do her any good .. no matter what she was—or wasn't—wearing..

It was part of the plan. “Just don't bend over.” he growled at the man.? Yes."No. Remind me to buy you a bra. too. “Keep your eyes off her or they're going to turn black and swell shut after a close encounter with my fist. She smiled winningly.. “I'm going to introduce you to everyone. She wouldn't miss it for the world. A whole bunch of bras. in fact." The cabbie hastily averted his gaze and drove them in silence to their destination. Luke Foster. Luke glared at her over the rim of the coffee cup and sipped. I'm ready for you to introduce me to your buddies. . Where's that taxi?" She got up to check the window. was bombed out of his skull and in a state to start a riot all on his own. And she was." He really seemed to be looking forward to it.” Luke informed her heavily." He closed his eyes and moaned. Hundreds of them. “I could always wear the camisole again. buddy. why do you insist on dressing in such a provocative manner? This is a business social." There was something funny about that. Then he laughed. He remembered. Then he turned to face her again. “I didn't think so. He continued to stare down at her and she realized he was looking down at her revealing cleavage. then. not someone from an escort service. Wasn't there. Don't you have anything you can put over .” He led the way." "You don't reallythink . "Well. ever controlled. “Right here.. let's go. Come on. “Never mind. that?” He waved his hand in the direction of her flagrant cleavage. Got that?" "I won't bend over. He climbed into the cab with her and gave the address. then stopped abruptly and she plowed into his broad back. "No. "Right. Then he noticed the driver's gaze in the rearview mirror was on Jordan's bosom and he frowned." He let out a pained sigh." Jordan giggled at that description.” he informed Jordan proudly. Jordan?” Luke inquired in the same impersonal way he might ask the time. all of them going from your waist to your neck. Luke thought. ever calm. “Don't you ever wear a bra. Jordan.. She'd been right. Jordan thought in amusement.. Luke.” Jordan looked suitably shocked at the very idea. “I really don't think that's necessary. "That's my plan.” Jordan agreed soberly. “Jordan. but inwardly she was bursting with laughter. You're supposed to be my fiancée. of course you aren't. She'd figured the low-cut dress would get to him. the ever practical. “That's my fiancée.” she suggested as she collected her cape and keys.

Then he turned the scowl on the cab driver and fumbled for the fare." . “Yes. About time.” she agreed calmly. one way or another. In between trips. "Sure. "I didn't think the cabbie looked miserable. And I won't bend over—you have my solemn oath.” she pointed out reasonably. Even if he wasn't functioning fully by the end of the evening. “Come on. he stayed protectively by her side." "Yes. And you'd better remember to stand up straight. "Think of all the misery you'd prevent. Then he eyed the straining fabric and groaned before he reached down in a vain effort to try to pull it up higher. He wasn't offended at the sight of her. you're going a little overboard. I think I need another drink. He continued to scowl at her until they arrived. aren't you?" He turned his scowl on her. “Luke. But just barely." "But Luke. it's as high as it goes. there was always tomorrow. Maybe some day you'll actually look in a mirror and realize that your breasts are bare for the world to see and the sight will motivate you to start covering them on rare occasions.Jordan laughed at Luke's fierce expression. I can see you far too clearly.” he threatened. Luke continued to make frequent trips to the wassail bowl whenever he gazed overly long at her revealing neckline. “No." She fought a smile successfully. you'll be sorry. think of all the fun I'd miss. "Luke. She smiled and made polite conversation with all of Luke's business acquaintances. “As if your solemn oath means anything." He sneered at that. Why didn't I think of that? Then you can wrap your arms around me and slither all over me. you professional liar. He was enjoying the sight all too much and being unable to do anything but look was evidently beginning to get to him.” Then he gave up and pushed her along towards the door. “Some day. She'd had enough of thedon't touch policy long ago. too. She reached up to straighten his tie since at some point he'd yanked at the knot to loosen it." Jordan would have been insulted if he hadn't produced such a marvelous exhibition of masculine jealousy and raging possessiveness." His hands shot out to grip her shoulders and he shook her hard enough to nearly make her burst out of her dress. who seemed to sense his dangerous mood and kept a wary and safe distance. she thought with serene assurance. “Why don't we dance?” she suggested pleasantly to the glaring madman. “I'm glad you're amused. Luke. exactly. Jordan. Jordan finally decided it was time for a distraction. It was certainly going to be a night to remember. glaring like a madman at anyone he thought might be deliberately ogling her. He handed it over with another glare for good measure. Jordan tried not to laugh and he swung around to face her.” he countered.” Jordan agreed cheerfully. Tonight she intended to see to it that he'd had enough of it too. “Come on. On the contrary.

she really tried—but couldn't stop the laughter from bubbling up between her lips. “And keep your cape on this time. Jordan. “Not one more word out of you. imp. “We're leaving. I'll get a cab." "Yes. He gripped her shoulders and bellowed. do you? Well." She started to open her mouth to agree. so get your things. but drew the line at slithering." "Yes. “I mean you're right. she assumed.” he informed her in tortured tones. Not a peep." "Good. You're not throwing that ring back in my face. You already tried to do that before I even got it on you. you think it's funny. “What do you mean by that?" She smiled innocently at him. laugh away. Me either. In fact he came to a rather abrupt halt and glared at her suspiciously." "Yes. Jordan.She led him to the dance floor and proceeded to wrap her arms around him. She tried." The mild response didn't appease him. I'm right? You're not getting out of this. Luke. because you won't be laughing tomorrow." He stopped and lifted her to eye level—the better to scowl at her. “I can't take this anymore. "Good. Not a sound. “What do you mean. That seemed to enrage him. Luke." "I just agreed with you. but he really was in such an ugly mood he was not likely to take it well." "Shut up. He started shouting even louder. "Good.” he added darkly. just shut up and do it." He didn't seem to expect that." "Yes. Jordan. Luke. I do. Jordan. “Oh. Jordan. “I'm not going to sit there quietly while some man looks down your dress. You will marry me and you'll smile when you sayI do or you won't be able to sit down for a week!” Then he grabbed her and dragged her towards the door." He frowned darkly.” She had to smile at that. then thought better of it and nodded instead. You're not leaving me. “Jordan. It did sound like fun. “Don't you talk to me like that! How dare you stand there and agree with me?" It was too ridiculous.” she pointed out calmly." . Luke. sweetheart. Luke sighed and tightened his hold on her until she was pressed firmly against him. “Then you agree it's time we ended this farce of an engagement.” Luke was silent for a while as they danced.

Jordan. shedid . too. She'd managed to tug the shirt free and was preparing to slide it off when he started to struggle and slap at her hands. "Why not?” she asked sweetly. "Jordan. .don't . but she'd take it. He'd actually roared at her that she wasn't getting out of it. shove and cajole him onto the bed. It was exciting." "No. leaving her free to undress him without interference. Not exactly the most romantic proposal in all of human history. You want to attack me and have your way with me. Luke. The after-effects of overindulgence. Although there was definitely something to be said for his present scowling state. Jordan quickly removed his shoes. He was draped heavily over her and she staggered under the weight—but he wouldn't have even made it through his front door without her support. socks and tie and then wrestled him upright to get him out of the jacket and vest before tackling the buttons on his shirt. which was miraculous. That she'dhave to marry him and evensmile while doing it. Luke immediately slumped over.” she stated firmly. Just a little further. And that was too bad. but he clamped a hand over her mouth and glared a warning. then do it yourself. He'd had it with thedon't touch nonsense and he'd had it with the phony engagement. “If you won't let me. She had him nearly to the bedroom now. wildly. And she had a feeling it was only the beginning of his suffering for the drinking binge he'd decided to indulge in. Chapter Eleven "Come on. It was really too bad that Luke had consumed so much alcohol that he was probably in no condition to consummate their relationship. More to the point.” he groaned and grabbed at her hands to still them. She was madly. be reasonable. considering his condition. she'd take him. passionately in love with Luke Foster and it was time to tell him so. She managed to heave. we're almost there. She'd gotten to him. Although hewas awfully cute. God. "Cut it out. because she had a feeling that the news would go a long way towards improving his mood.” he muttered. She tried to do just that. but not just then. It did things to her. defending his honor against her imagined lusty advances. Luke. so she guessed it would just have to wait. “I know what you're trying to do. Jordan. I have to take your pants off.” Jordan encouraged. all right.” He opened his eyes to stare bleakly at her." "You can't sleep like that. running her fingers under the waistband in a teasing gesture.He was grimly silent on the way to his place but Jordan was gloating inwardly." Well. "Luke. “Stop undressing me.” She got his shirt free and searched for the fastening at the waistband of his pants. He wouldn't be in much better shape in the morning.

“You'll say anything to get your way.” She climbed onto the bed and wrestled him under the covers." She won the fight easily and hung his pants over a convenient chair with the rest of his suit. “It's bad enough that you flaunt your body at me the way you do." "Yes. I will marry you.” Jordan smiled at him and kissed away his frown. wearing nothing but panties and shoes. “Not without marrying me. it's such a great body. giving her a wounded look. No other men.” he accused.” Jordan sighed. Then she proceeded to undo his pants and tug them down. "You're lying. His eyes bulged gratifyingly as the dress fell to the floor and she stepped out of it. Jordan.He frowned at her." . You'll take off the few clothes you ever bother to put on in the first place and I won't be able to defend myself. Jordan smiled even wider and unzipped her dress. “But Luke. “Why are you always naked?" She smiled sweetly at him. “But Luke." "That's too bad. "I mean it.” he ground out.” she informed him. do you understand? I won't put up with it. Then she got rid of those. But then who am I going to ravish?” Jordan inquired in sweetly reasonable tones. “Keep your hands to yourself. fighting for possession of the pants.” he declared threateningly. You don't mean it.more .” he demanded. "You're naked. he was devastating. Luke groaned and closed his eyes." "That's what you'll be saying." He clamped his hands onto her arms in a vise-like grip at that remark. He was heavy and very uncooperative. You aren't getting my body. “It makes it easier to ravish helpless men. “Please. I do. I understand. “Now be good and get into bed. you can't have it.” His hands went protectively to his jockeys as if he thought she meant to take those next. figuring she was properly dressed for the occasion wearing nothing but a smile. Jordan.” she murmured throatily. “Go away.” He glared at her ferociously. "Well." "Yes.” Luke glared some more and pushed her hands away." "No.” Jordan promised as she removed his last piece of clothing. All of it. but she managed eventually. I'm not getting into bed with you again." She bit back a smile and just to be contrary took his underwear while he protested and struggled. It was. “You won't let me ravish you. “You'd better not ravish any other helpless men. Luke." "Please. Jordan. “I am not that kind of man. "No. Jordan. too. Even in his present muddled state.

Maybe you should just go to sleep. The happy realization gradually sank in.He frowned in confusion at that question. You tease and torment me and I can't take it anymore. Don't run away this time." "Oh. She wanted him with an urgency she'd never experienced. . One knee nudged her legs apart and then he was pressing against her. “Luke. slithering sexily against him. Some ghost of Christmas present that would make. now. She saw stars. A wicked spirit that descended on a helpless man in the night and ravished him relentlessly. I want you.” she decided out loud. “I accept. She'd always wanted to be an incubus. I can't stop. She saw heaven open up and swallow them both. "Luke. telling me what you're going to do to me. “You lie there naked and taunt me all night long. hard and fast and deep. She saw fireworks. The universe tilted and the only solid reality left was Luke. aspirin and orange juice. "Succubus. "That sounds wonderful. I want to be inside you." "I can't sleep and it's all your fault. She'd never been so ready in all her life. and she took advantage of his distraction to get him the rest of the way into bed and joined him before he could come up with another complaint about her presence. Luke. It was a good thing Luke had a hot tub." It dawned on her that it wasn't his knee that was pressing into her.” he muttered roughly as he took her with driving fury. there's an offer that would stun any woman. all of him. where he belonged.” Luke agreed. Luke rolled over and without warning hauled her into his embrace. Jordan wrapped her legs around his hips and silently urged him to hurry. "Jordan. I want to take you so hard and so fast that you won't be able to get away. hard and deep inside her. She had a feeling he was really going to need it in the morning. was she? She liked that idea. “I need you. I want you and I want you now.” Jordan murmured teasingly. “I think I'd like you inside me. although by all rights he should have been.” she informed him. His breathing quickened and his lips closed over hers in a nearly brutal possession as he drove inside and buried himself in her welcoming softness. Jordan. I'm here. "Succubus.” he whispered against her hair.” she gasped out." "Well. “You can ravish me. but then you never do. she thought he just might survive the sunrise. That was the proper term. Between that. rough sound deep in his throat and jerked her underneath him.” he accused bitterly. But I don't think you're up to any ravishing right now. coffee." He made a low." Jordan's eyebrows shot up at that admission. Jordan.” he offered in a somewhat slurred declaration. So she was haunting his nights. Or was it a succubus? She wasn't certain which one was female. Luke wasn't incapacitated after all. “But you have to marry me and you can't leave me in the morning. Jordan." "I won't. “That's what you are.” She rubbed her breasts against his chest in a teasing caress.

a welcome weight pinning her to reality. She didn't realize she'd forgotten to tell him she loved him." He didn't move for a minute. feeling alive and incredibly good in every cell of her body. golden haze enveloping her. There must be construction going on in the neighborhood. glad she still held him deep inside. Not ever." . tasting the curve of her lips in a slow exploration before deepening the caress to seek out her tongue with his and twine them sweetly together. **** Someone had turned up the wattage on the sun. He hoped whoever it was had nothing but cost overruns and permit difficulties for their trouble. He appreciated the phantom's consideration. Luke. He stayed with her. "Luke. He closed them to prevent permanent damage.” she responded dreamily from the depths of the warm. It didn't belong there. “Shut up and kiss me. "I'm sorry. clinging limply to him.” he muttered around a tongue that seemed to have swollen to twice its normal size. It was terribly inconsiderate to have that kind of noise going on so early in the morning. Although he didn't know why an apparition would bring him aspirin. “Sorry.” the voice continued. in bed. tracing her features in the dark. loving the feeling of having all of him against all of herself. Then he slowly leaned down to kiss her. Nobody should be there. alone.” Jordan vowed and clung to him with all her strength." She heard the regret in his voice and it slowly sank in that he actually meant it. She arched against him to welcome his weight and tightened her legs to hug his hips. The voice was thoughtfully lowered. "Oh!” The phantom gasped in dismay and tiptoed to the window to draw the drapes. with all that pounding. and then he heard the hammering and raised aching hands to cover his ears. Jordan sighed happily and wound her arms tighter around his neck. “Jordan?" "Mm. "Just get rid of the sun. hearing the voice. When he raised his head she snuggled into the curve of his neck and fell asleep. She shuddered and yielded to him and the desire driving them both as he took her to a violent climax that left her weak and drained. He should be at home. his breathing slowly calming. "Luke?" He frowned."I don't want you to. I brought you some aspirin. That was the only explanation that occurred to Luke when the blinding light stabbed painfully into his eyes. She shook her head at the denseness of the man and burrowed deeper into his embrace. Then he reached for her face.

The hot tub. he frowned. however they'd gotten there. He thought he remembered her promising to marry him if he'd let her have her way with him and he knew that had to be part of the dream. A good thing. very strong." By the time he felt it was safe to open his eyes. and he'd brutally ravished her in punishment for all her sweet torment. this time leaving coffee behind. Jordan. take this and get into the hot tub when you feel like you can. that meant everything else was real. however. possibly—had come by and found him sleeping it off and decided to play angel of mercy. Finally the floor actually looked flat enough to walk on. you took the aspirin. Way more than one. He must still be hallucinating. It looked good. He groaned and then winced when the noise increased the pain. Too bad the real Jordan wasn't so accommodating. “Oh. He remembered the dream. and he was paying for it now. If you need help. good.” He heard the rustle of fabric and then a liquid sound as she joined him in the hot tub and he realized in horror that it really was Jordan." If she was real. He risked opening an eye.Luke decided that if he had to be haunted. The effects of sleep deprivation. Thinking of her. Last night. although he wasn't sure he could get the lid off.” he muttered thickly. as usual. Somebody—Wendy. Then he made his cautious way to the bathroom. Gradually he remembered that he'd stopped for one drink on the way to Jordan's and had had more than one. “No. But his benefactress had anticipated his difficulties and opened it for him. She'd slid into his bed. He thought he remembered a dress that. That did sound good. because he didn't think he could have made his way to the kitchen to get his own aspirin if his life depended on it. And for once. He finished the coffee before attempting it. He sipped carefully and slowly. Jordan. Strong. she hadn't vanished in the mist. There you are.” Soft footsteps approached and set something else beside him. and found the room blissfully darkened. I'll be right back. and smiled in spite of the pain in his head. "No. "Luke?” The soft voice reached into the dimly lit room. Luke climbed in. All Jordan's fault. tell me you aren't real. Orange juice and aspirin sat conveniently on the bedside table. too—and that was a thought too awful to . His hands didn't seem to be gripping very well. his angel of mercy had vanished. Gingerly he reached for the cup and brought it to his mouth. stiffly and carefully. “Here. he realized. He'd had alot more than one. "Oh. naked. as the room swung and settled into a steady rhythm before leveling out. The inescapable conclusion hit home. there wasn't enough of. he swallowed the aspirin and groaned as the orange juice stirred a wave of dizziness and settled uneasily in his stomach. Steaming hot. in case his hallucination had actually managed to get rid of the sun. easing into the hot water by inches. Last night he'd dreamed that she'd come to him. It was too much effort to think with his pounding head. Jordan. it was a good thing that his private delusion was quiet and apologetic. He thought he remembered a fight. Thankful for them. She'd held him and stayed with him through the night. He eyed them and wondered where they'd come from. he remembered fuzzily.

all right.” she answered cheerfully. Oh. You wouldn't wear them. She nodded. after all. a professional liar whose word means nothing . It meant he'd probably hurt her. I remember assaulting you. “I did promise not to go away. “Did you agree to marry me last night?" "Oh. regardless of who was the ravish-er and who was the ravish-ee. “I'm trying to be quiet. First you wouldn't let me assault you.. what else? I think you called me an exhibitionist. It meant he'd attacked her in a violent. “Luke." He considered that answer. What did you call me last night? Let me see. It meant he'd been out of control and too rough. Then you could sit there looking accusing and scowling adorably at me instead of looking like a guilty fugitive from the foreplay police." He brushed back her shock of white-blond hair in an affectionate caress. I had to marry you or there wouldn't be any ravishing. but I'm not sure..” Thoughtfully. I thought I owed it to you to nurse you through your hangover. She didn't sound like she hated him.” he answered painfully. Besides. She sounded like she was enjoying herself. I can take a turn as the ravisher now and you can decide which you like better. “If you want. You're just going to have to deal with it. remember? You were very insistent. You told me you weren't that kind of man. "I don't think I'm ready to be ravished by you yet." He absorbed that silently. “You also threatened to buy me several very large bras. a succubus . You see? You should have let me assault you. “I'm afraid I am real.” She slithered over him suggestively.contemplate.” she answered patiently. you are so funny. "Because.” And he had to admit her preferred state of undress appealed to him too much to want to change it. As usual. “That was the deal.” She kissed his shoulder and rubbed his throbbing temples with gentle hands. I can't help being the way I am." He hugged her closer and sighed at that.. “Oh. Sorry. “I'm afraid it's all too likely. That I couldn't have your body without marriage." She sighed in mock dismay and curled closer.” She made the offer in a generous tone that made Luke smile. “I remember. and at his expense. You didn't want me to use you to slake my animal passions and then abandon you the morning after. You just looked so funny. she frowned in concentration. don't you?" She laughed some more and rubbed against him in delight.” she gasped in a whisper. too. You hate me. then you're upset because you assaulted me. lustful fit. “I promised I wouldn't leave.” She slid up against him in the water and wrapped around him. after driving you to drink. Don't you remember?" He groaned. yes. But let this be a lesson to you the next time I drive you to drink. You'd probably take them off in public and throw them at me.. but in a thoughtfully soft voice. “It wouldn't do any good. “The next time?” Hope stirred at the thought. . yes. "Why are you here?” Luke inquired cautiously. So horrified. I know your head hurts. But then why was she giggling? "Sorry. naked as usual. “Let me recover first. You might want to stop sooner.

Resigned." She moved under his hands restlessly." Her words were like a bucket of cold water in his face. Here he was. "No. You have my permission in advance. I thought so. This was an unbelievable situation. holding her away from him before the temptation overcame him. “Speaking of which. in a velvety rush. If I'm not wearing pants. Luke. “You were an animal. “Ride ’em. Luke. “Isn't that better?” she asked as she fondled and stroked him beyond speech. I loved it." "Last night I was an animal. she moaned in pleasure.” To prove it. we have to talk. “You did?" "I did. “We'll talk now.” she whispered apologetically. why don't you put some clothes on?" "Because it's no fun. all the way in. it's so much easier for you to get into them. Jordan shivered in delight and moved to allow him better access.” she vowed earnestly. And for once. exploring all of her in slow. Then she abruptly cut off the sound. He continued with a generous lack of concern for his ears. fighting off the lustful advances of the woman he loved. She wanted him. “I want you.” he snarled. cowboy.Although he would have preferred to be the only witness to her state of undress. Then she slipped onto his lap and lowered herself over him. I must have hurt you. . You don't really want me to. you're just cranky because you have a hangover. he gently stroked her from hip to shoulder. “Jordan. in case you can't stop to ask next time. I'll try to be quiet. Can't we talk later?” she pleaded huskily. "I don't want in them. When he found her breasts and teased them into tautness. she closed her hands around the evidence and stroked the painfully hard length." "Later." He turned her to face him and tugged her chin up to look her right in the eyes. and proceeded to slip his aching need inside her. “I should have done this last night. "Stop that. who'd started out as his phony fiancée but had now agreed to go through with the wedding. thorough care. But this will make you feel better. For once.” he hissed. but it's hard when you do that. she meant. please don't stop now. "Oh. What about love? He swore under his breath. “Yes. He supposed he'd just have to get used to standing over her and scowling.” she pointed out with practical insight. She wanted his body." "Last night was wonderful. “No. Feel free to ravish me at will." "Yes you do.” she whispered wickedly. he could fully appreciate the idea of keeping a woman covered from head to toe and shut away—although shutting away a woman like Jordan would be some kind of crime against nature.” Jordan smiled sweetly at him and continued her pleasant torture. wanting more already. Did Iever .” she concluded when he remained silent." He paused. grabbing at her hands.

hold me. She'd probably even worship the ground he walked on after this. the unity that bound them together. Luke." She nodded.” Words failed her as she clung to his strength and moved against him in restless need. “I need you. it is. "Luke. awed at the powerful sensations. .Lucius . It was either that or Lucifer. "Glad you like it. primitive way.” Luke answered with a smile. Where did you come up with that?" She grinned impishly at him. doesn't it?” she answered dreamily. “I'm glad you appreciate that. Sad how completely besotted she was. “Do you understand? Not ever again. “Not to your brothers." She needed to feel the storm of sensation he brought to life and carried her safely through. I love you. and then he took her in a fierce. "What?" "Nothing.” She grinned and stretched under him. displaying deep dimples.” He pushed her into the mattress and gripped her chin in one hard hand. It sounds wonderful. then everywhere else she could reach. loving even the sound of his name. Luke. happy and sated. “You're mine." She curled in his arms. where he sprawled over her. I need you. I just wanted to say your name. She needed to belong to him in the most basic. "Luke. possibly to intimidate her or impress her with his superior strength. He stifled a laugh.” she sighed. “Oh. then. “All right. "Then don't ever lie to me again. “Well.” she agreed quietly. satisfied.” she whispered." A shudder ran through him. “I have a book of names. I suppose Lucius was the best you could do. under the circumstances." "I won't.” he sternly informed her." He considered that gravely. She needed to feel the sense of oneness. Jordan.She paused to adjust to the feel of him and wrapped her arms around his neck. and spread kisses all along the exposed column of his throat.” Then she reached up to brush his cheek. Luke. “Luke. “Is your head feeling better now?" "Yes. He carried her out of the tub and back to bed. "Yes. My choices were severely limited. “Oh. Then he nodded. furious spending that left her trembling and shaken and totally at peace." He studied her face for endless minutes. Your hangover remedy is incredible.” she whispered against his throat as he remained still.

Wow. She wasn't there.” She closed her eyes and lazed with him in complete contentment. “Deal. he'd lost her forever and the looming emptiness that was his future without her staggered him. Luke drew the covers over them and settled her into the curve of his body. He'd thought he'd caught a fairy. He'd been angry about that. singing “Deck the Halls” at the top of her lungs. he noticed. Instead. too. “Jordan?" No answer. she'd finally slipped out of his embrace. in her own twisted. She'd even admitted that she couldn't change. Every nerve in her body was singing and energy pulsed and beat through her. Chapter Twelve He couldn't believe it. He swung to his feet and peered into the bathroom suite.” he informed her with a yawn. come back. and settled for finding a pair of pants before wandering through the rest of the empty house. Luke searched the room to be sure. Well.” she agreed readily. She'd flown away without a word and he knew with a sinking certainty that she wouldn't be back. She'd tried to keep quiet and let Luke sleep. and stolen away. but that was also empty. “I'm still catching up on a sleepless week. Sothis was what it felt like after really truly incredible sex. I like it. She'd put the cover back on the hot tub."Am I too heavy?” he asked in sudden concern. he didn't care anymore. but she couldn't stay still. "No. convoluted way. And heaven help him. but he'd settled for getting her promise not to lie anymore. He'd give his soul to have her lying lips pressed against his right now." Jordan tugged his hands up to pillow them under her head. She didn't come back. He struggled for understanding. So excited. except at the height of passion. what had he expected? That she'd fallen in love with him? She hadn't even been able to say it. Not that he'd really expected one. he had only himself to blame. But when Luke opened his eyes again. He should have known better. and then only to manipulate him into cooperating with her sensual assault. that she couldn't help what she was. What a rush! Jordan wondered if some . As if a promise like that could be trusted. So alive.” he whispered. “Stay right here and maybe I'll be in a better mood the next time we wake up. but her clothes were gone. kissed his sleeping face. But it was an empty hope and he knew it. "Jordan. Afraid she'd disturb him. She'd never been so happy. Well. And she wasn't going to. **** Jordan bounded through her living room. the bed was empty and Jordan was gone. As if a woman like her could be trusted. She'd been honest from the beginning.

" She wanted him. With a thud. You could have simply called. “Jordan. Get it over with. Luke could even make her forget the horror of Norton. He was scowling and dragging her out the door. Then she saw the newspaper in his hands. all right. just in case Norton was on drugs. she suddenly remembered. on the floor. fighting at the party last night. "Oh. she told herself sternly. . Well.” Norton interrupted. She wanted himgone . "Oh. Then she had to sit down. he was still there." Now what was he talking about? Jordan peered at his pupils and checked for suspicious dilation. She brightened at the thought. an event that could only be measured on a cosmic scale. Then you can get the rest of your clothes in Luke's car and get back where you belong. hoping she'd imagined it. Oh!” Jordan stared. It accompanied an engagement announcement. No. The sooner the better. A picture of her in Luke's arms. and if so could it be synthesized and packaged? Somebody would make afortune . straightened his fur-lined collar and generally gave new meaning to the word “poser. the two of them gazing into each other's eyes. Jordan. He flipped to another section and handed it back to her. She grabbed the paper. Hehad to be in love with her if he couldn't stand the sight of her. She peeked through the peephole again. She groaned and closed her eyes. thanks to Luke's wonderful supply of goodwill. today she thought she could stomach even him. Jordan. Until Norton rang her doorbell. With a little write-up in the gossip column. I know you want me. She felt reborn. “Norton! Hello! Nice to see you. "Hello. You don't need to be coy with me." Norton pushed back his wavy brown hair. She grinned at the memory. "Notthat . since that seemed to be her only hope of an explanation. Making love with Luke was an experience of epic proportions. She recognized it as one Wendy had taken for the painting. She'd never felt so good in her life. Jordan. “I just want to tell you that you didn't have to go that far. as if he thought she'd hang around indefinitely and wait for a response.particular chemical reaction was responsible. she was sure of it.” That was what she'd always hated about him.” he answered finally. how sweet!” She beamed at the picture of her and Luke. Unbelievable. It was so irritating. "What's this?" He smirked at her. She was in love with life and everyone living. amazed. She threw open the door and beamed at Norton. Certainly he'd be grateful to her for returning his car after he'd abandoned it at her place last night in his blitzed state. She sighed and melted. Her legs just wouldn't hold her up another second.

As if . without telling her. she mocked inwardly.An engagement announcement. Then a smile broke over her face. and Luke loved Jordan. she had a sudden uncontrollable urge to make a snow angel. He'd sent this in before last night. “Thanks. All he'd needed was a little encouragement. "And where were you when I needed you.” she chanted. in sweeping movements that covered her with a frosty dusting from head to toe and left her breathless and laughing. Where could he . Jordan shook her head in disbelief. huh. She did. more or less. she'd escaped anyway. She grabbed her canvas tote and hopped out the side window. Jordan sat there. He'd planned to make the engagement a real one all along. An insurance broker. Norton. He was awake.” It was his job. he'd done this on purpose. after all. “Luke?" No answer. She then ran for Luke's car. As small as she felt all of a sudden. “Luke!” She called out. She'd just known he had latent criminal tendencies. Luke?” Jordan muttered under her breath. "Now. shocked. She headed for home—figuring that from now onhome would be wherever Luke was—singing “I'll Be Home For Christmas." Back at his place. forgetting that she'd left in the first place because he needed his sleep.” the unbelievably thick-skinned cover boy simpered. forgetting that Norton had already seen it. Well. I'm getting married. Imagine. of all things. Or two. Where was he? She checked the hot tub. Jordan. the sneaky rat. “You told me you'd deal with Norton. Oh. Mission accomplished. you know it'sme you want to marry. Then she ran along the snow. Why. Great. either. never in a million years. "Luke?” Her voice sounded uncertain and small. She frowned. Before she'd told him she loved him. Abruptly. "Jordan loves Luke. She'd just known he could be an outlaw if he just had the chance. and she had the car. Jordan loved Luke. He really did. she bounded to her feet again. which was what she'd come for. clutching the paper. The rest of the house was just as empty. To Luke. A quick peek through the peephole showed Norton taking up what appeared to be permanent residence on her doorstep. Isn't he handsome?” She held up the picture.” Then she shut the door in his face and searched out the rest of her things. He swore to protect her from her brothers’ horror dates. She skidded to a halt at the sight of the empty bed. a tactical maneuver she had considerable experience with. by the way. I wanted a copy for our scrapbook. then dropped her coat and boots on the foyer floor and ran to the bedroom. laughing. A little push in the right direction. She burst into the house and shook the snow off. Norton. He loved her. “No. She didn't want to spend the rest of her life in Luke's tee shirts—although she could imagine worse fates. all right. making letters around the angels to spell out a message with her footprints. but he wasn't there.

“Wendy?” she inquired when a woman picked up on the other end. Ah. I need you and Luke today. She searched out Wendy's number and punched the buttons in a fever of anxiety. without his car? A note. a smaller black hat so they would match from now on." "All right. I'm almost done with the picture. so he'd gone out for something. if you have time. Thanks anyway. she drove to his office and tried the door. Maybe Luke didn't want her there after all. Get a brain. She'd just threaten him with real topless-ness and he'd cave in to anything else. It was open. hello! What a surprise. On impulse. Luke really had disappeared. Maybe he'd had a business call. Aunt Cora wasn't well. a Danish. She'd give new meaning to the phrasewet dreams . at least Wendy had sounded warm and welcoming. then dressed and got back in his car. that was ridiculous. A paper. She peeled out of the rubber tail section and left it in the bathroom. Jordan frowned. she bounded off to play mermaid and lay in wait for an unsuspecting gunslinger. “Well." "Jordan. He'd be back. I'm sure he'll be right back.” Crushing disappointment hit. I didn't expect to hear from you. . Meanwhile. Maybe he had to go in to the office. break the other shell off and give Luke something to think about the next time he made snide remarks about her topless dress. sounding surprised. But he hadn't left a note. Okay. he must have left a note. A horrible thought struck her. Is he there?" "No. then grabbed for the rolodex by the phone. A new sensation for her. He must have just stepped out for a minute.have gone. he'd said so. she lectured herself and promptly searched for one.” Wendy replied. Jordan hesitated. I'll expect a call. No. Jordan. Laughing at the thought." Well. Incredible as it seemed. Suddenly Jordan felt distinctlyun welcome. A family emergency. Half an hour later. she thought wickedly. Of course he did." "Oh. Luke always said what he meant. success at last. she could dig out her mermaid costume. Maybe love made a person unexpectedly sensitive. for instance. it's probably nothing. she'd waited long enough. I'm calling because I can't find Luke. and I'll let you know if we can come to finish the picture. that didn't sound much like a family emergency. Maybe something had happened. “Actually. Grinning in delighted anticipation at surprising him. She couldn't wait." Well. “This is Jordan. she pushed his private door open and peered around the corner. She just wasn't used to being in love yet. but she'd adjust. because otherwise of course he would have left her a note. “I haven't seen him.

"No. Jordan?” he inquired cautiously. her voice actually quavered. That was the only possible explanation. sometimes the line between fiction and reality gets a little thin. “Why are you looking at me like that?” To her horror.” He turned away and started sorting through a pile of papers on his desk. Look what happened in our case. Jordan thought. Luke lay with his head down on the desk and for a horrible moment she thought he was dead. “What?" "Get out. like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers". “Jordan. not stories. I'm so relieved. "Don't be ridiculous. She put her nose to his and demanded. and the hesitation proved fatal. "Luke!” She dropped the keys and ran to his side. “Who are you and what have you done with my fiancé?" Ha. biting her lip. “You know. well." Luke sighed heavily. but stopped when he raised his head and stared through her in a way she'd never seen him look before. There was a rational explanation for this temporary insanity." He considered her thoughtfully. The real Luke would never do this. Never. I came to see. She'd stumbled into a B-rated horror movie. she hesitated. “That's fiction. It hesitated. Luke slowly raised one hand to the shock of white hair that stuck out in all directions. stunned. in between kisses. “In our case. Jordan leaped onto the chair and threw her arms around Luke's neck.” Her voice trailed off in confusion. “I didn't know where you'd gone. “Luke! Oh.” Jordan reminded him pointedly. making him look at her. cold voice that didn't sound like Luke at all. “I thought you might be here.” she offered lamely. “What exactly did happen in our case.What she saw wiped the smile right off her face. You should know that better than anyone. whatare you talking about?" She sat upright and blinked at him. She refused to be intimidated.” She stalked over to him and pushed back his chair.” She rained kisses over his face and then ripped open his shirt to continue on his wonderful bared chest. “What a nightmare. The pod people. just looking at someone that icily. she thought wildly. She must have heard wrong.. You said it yourself—happy endings are for real life. That was it.” she continued.” She laid her head on his shoulder and cuddled contentedly with him. "Luke?” Uncertain now. "Get out. He could give a person pneumonia. Luke loved her. “It was just like the pod people." "Yes. what happened was we came up with a brilliant idea that didn't take reality . she realized with a chill. even though it did give her the willies. I thought a pod had gotten you. He was staring at her as if he hated her. Aliens from another planet had invaded and taken over Luke's body.that surprised the alien being. thankful once more for his accommodating chair.” he said in a flat..

"Anyway.” he agreed.” Jordan stopped short. and if you can't believe the newspapers. well.A tail? No. you know. “You weren't there. Luke was beginning to think that with her. I had to jump out the window and run for my life. "When I saw that you'd sent an announcement to the paper with one of Wendy's pictures. "So I made you take a taxi with me and we cabbed it the rest of the night. instead of pretending to be engaged. then I knew you were a sneaky." Luke took that in and tried to make sense of it all." This was amazing—absolutely the most bizarre and baffling excuse for an explanation he'd ever heard. but you weren't there.” Jordan continued blithely. because I saw the picture in the paper. no. which is how Norton caught me. I would still love you no matter what you did. It happens to me all the time.” she informed him. Happens all the time with Norton. we really did get engaged. . Jordan. But I stole his newspaper first. nothing ever would." That made absolutely no sense. lowdown rat and the only man I could ever love. That didn't make any sense. Right. and Luke didn't even try to understand it.” she confided. "Yes. but I was starting to turn into a raisin. Luke. Luke. I waited for you in the tub. I got some clothes and the car. He really didn't. I took it away from you because you really shouldn't have been driving last night. My subconscious must have tried to block out the horror of the experience. I do remember that much. stabbing him in the chest with one pointed finger as she delivered the accusation." "Oh. “I think. "And I knew you loved me already. You were pickled. “So you saw it in the paper and now you're here?" "No." "Oh. because I do an awful lot of things that will probably drive you nuts a lot of the time. “You were supposed to defend me from Norton. Anyway. I couldn't sleep and I didn't want to wake you up. either. don't you ever pay attention when I'm talking?" "You didn't mention Norton. I know it's real. so I left my tail on the floor for later and called Wendy. “But I didn't wreck your car. he didn't even want to know. so your car was still at my place.into consideration. He wouldn't even ask. so I went to get your car. “You do remember about your car.” Jordan stopped there to glare fiercely at him. “Not really. “Would you still love me if I did?" He nodded slowly. and that's how I saw the picture. don't you? From last night?" Luke eyed her guardedly. because you couldn't stand the sight of me and you said so. Then I went back home. Did you wreck it?" She smiled brilliantly at him.” Jordan informed him solemnly. good. That's the usual problem with brilliant ideas. what can you believe?" Luke absorbed her disjointed explanation in silence. but failed to form the bits and pieces into a coherent whole. Norton saw it in the paper. Well.

” he murmured against her wild hair. “And why are you working?” she went on. “Luke." "I thought I was going to turn into a pod person. And he wasn't ever going to let her get away again. “Don't try to stop me. She kissed his hard belly as she slipped down to kneel by the chair and reached for his pants.” Jordan touched her lips to his in a butterfly caress as she finished pushing his shirt away to bare his chest for her turn at ravishment. Back with him . "I'm sorry. but I didn't ask her." Luke was very relieved to hear that there was a point to this.. Luke's arms closed around her in an endless. A slow warmth began building somewhere inside him and expanded to spread through his whole being. trailing her teeth against his chest and heard satisfying gasps and groans as Luke responded to her as he always did—violently. please don't ever look at me like that again. where she belonged. so I came here. I've been having this fantasy involving your chair.” Jordan informed him in earnest. would you try to pay attention?” Jordan sat up to give him a disgusted look.. "You need me. It scared me.” Remembering that. with a sharp gesture at the files on his desk. Luke. she vowed. Luke. She undressed . You remember Mitchell. I remember Mitchell the sadistic dentist. "Oh?" "Yes. I assume she didn't. he'd never doubt her love again. “Yes. bone-crushing hug. I got frostbite from it. by the way.” he groaned. “Well. It was horrible. She slid down. “Look at you. I only thought that because of the way you looked at me. he ruined my trip to the Bahamas. I got a sunburn. right?" Luke nodded. I didn't get to have any fun the last time I was there because of Mitchell the sadistic dentist. “Without me." "Well. you'd just dry up and turn into a file folder one day. But nothing was wrong with Aunt Cora and she didn't know where you were.. and buried his fingers in her hair to tug her closer.” She experimentally huddled into his chest in a traumatized ball.” she warned him teasingly. Jordan was here.. dimples curving sweetly."Wendy needs us.” he offered hesitantly. since you ask . "Jordan." "Aunt Cora didn't know where I was?" "Well. I couldn't stop you to save my soul. Jordan took that as a sign that she wasn't going to get much more time to play with him. “How can we cure your trauma?" She considered that for a moment. "No. You need a vacation. I asked Wendy. you never let up. When she was done with him. she stopped short and shuddered. I might be traumatized by the experience.” she informed Luke with a sorrowful face at the memory. really. She said she's almost done and we're supposed to call her.” She tipped her face up to grin at him. I think we should go to the Bahamas. To finish the picture. “But I'm getting off the point.

to capture the wonder and beauty forever. His body was so wonderful to look at. “You think so. two hearts and minds meshed. the smoothness of his skin. you're absolutely beautiful. She wanted to be so close that she'd forget what separateness felt like. in case they suddenly needed the chair again. huh?" .” she informed him seriously. She gave him an innocent gamine grin. Luke. Looking at him made her long to be a sculptor. then leaped up to dress in record time. all long slashing lines and molded muscular curves. I think I should get some binoculars so I can do it better.” she murmured. The exhilarating male scent that was uniquely Luke filled her senses and fired her soul. but got distracted by the magnificent sight of a naked Luke standing beside her in all his male glory. They melded two bodies into one. big and bold. flashing deep dimples." Jordan lingered for just another long moment in his lap. Raw and rugged. She dropped back into the chair to watch him dress. then assaulted his hardness with soft lips. and then he yanked her onto his lap again. Jordan. He blinked at that. They came together in an ancient joining and knew the wild.” Jordan got up to run appreciative hands over his shirt. smoothing it down and finishing the buttons. she stirred and kissed his chest again. Then she slipped her arms around his waist and leaned against his solid bulk. His arms wrapped around her and tugged her closer. “That sounds like a very good idea to me.” Her name was both plea and shout as Luke hauled her up and tore at her clothing. “Let's go home. hands clasped. “Jordan?” He waved a hand in front of her face as if testing her eyes for motion response. forget the momentary fear that she'd be split apart from him forever.him quickly. feeling warm all the way through again. “I'm what?" "Beautiful. and thoroughly loved. She paused to mention to Luke that he might keep his office a little warmer in the future. sweet bond of mutual love. Everything about him was intoxicating—the crinkly texture of his hair. “We should get dressed. Luke saw her staring at him and stopped in the middle of buttoning his shirt. Then she smiled up at him." Now there was an answer guaranteed to chase away the evil pod being's chill. Jordan hugged him fiercely.” he answered quietly. After a while. “And they'd be right. “They'd think I was the luckiest man alive. It was downright chilly in December to run around in the buff. “What if somebody caught us naked in your chair?" Luke tipped her pointed chin up to kiss her with lingering thoroughness. She wanted him to be part of her. Luke-watching. “Yes?" "What are you doing?" "It's my new hobby." Luke traced the dents with his fingertip. She wanted to be part of him. She laughed against his lips as she helped. even for her. "Jordan.

I hope she mentions them." "What's that?" She looped her arms around his neck and met his eyes directly. “You did not." "Grr. “Fragile and perfect. just as seriously." . too." She smiled sweetly. echoing off the walls." "About time. Like precious porcelain." She held his gaze for a minute longer. “Yes. It went down well. “And I wrote Jordan loves Luke in huge letters on your lawn. I can never do that—I leave splashes on the saucer and the table. We're going home.” He cradled her gently and brushed his lips against hers in a tender salute. “I noticed all kinds of things. A Christian never runs from a fight. You had a spoon and sugar and you never even spilled a drop when you stirred. I noticed what great buns you have." Jordan stirred at that. but I didn't tell you because I didn't want you to be shocked that your own fiancée would notice such a thing. he remembered the cafe and how he'd waited for her. In the future. “Never? What if the Christian meets a lion?" She winked saucily at him. Luke slipped his hands around her waist and easily lifted her to eye level. lion tamer. "This isn't a lie. Jordan." He digested that piece of information. But not you. too. You were holding a coffee cup and it was too small for your hands." Now that she mentioned it. Oh. I told you before—I won't run out on you. “Don't do it again. I almost forgot.” he answered. “I can't believe I don't break you with my big clumsy hands. They're very careful hands. “I love your big clumsy hands. “You thought I ran out on you.” she stated self-righteously.” she murmured as she nipped his earlobe. of course. then nodded. Now all the neighbors know.Jordan nodded silently. even if we have a huge fight. didn't you?" He returned her level gaze.” Jordan answered indignantly. “You noticed all that?" She smiled and curled against him happily. Roar. A slow. “Lion taming. Especially if we have a fight.” he reminded her. You promised not to lie anymore. I noticed that about you right away. unwilling smile tugged at his lips at that. “There is one thing I do have to mention. “I'm very glad my fiancée notices such things. wondering who she'd be and why he wouldn't be able to miss her.” Luke nuzzled her neck and her delighted laughter at his playfulness rang in the office. Give me a lion and I'll make it roar and purr and follow me like a pussycat. “Come on." He frowned. “I can prove it. I made you a snow angel. “And you are exquisite.

" The four men were silent for a minute. Lawrence and Gary stood shoulder to shoulder and eyed the newest addition to the Foster family gallery in silence. she was solid and grounded now. Even in the fantasy portrait.” Randall offered. held a beautiful captive before him in the saddle. Luke. did you. healthy . the way their parents had slipped away. The brothers exchanged sober looks and nodded as one. “You didn't make another." Epilogue Theodore. Randall.” Gary muttered. Lawrence just laughed. "She looks cold. Closer inspection revealed the outlaw's captive to be a small blond woman with short. mischief clearly sparkling in her gray eyes. punk hair in a flowing nineteenth-century gown. **** . Then. Even closer inspection revealed a lustful look on the rider's face. Jordan was grown up. Jordan was Luke's problem now.” Luke teased. You're mine. huh?” He gave her a wry look. and now happy. "She's not wearing a bra. with a neckline cut down nearly to the desert tundra and revealing copious amounts of cleavage. Jordan?" She just laughed. a bold outlaw rider all in black. "Yes.. cautiously. in a rocking motion that a keen observer could almost feel. Theodore said softly. educated. there was no denying that. The captive was busy stealing the rider's gun while he gaped down the front of her gown. ah. "I'm sure they wouldn't dare tangle with a wild Christian. At long last they were done with the job they'd started fourteen years before. and all the neighbor women had better beware.” Jordan gave him a naughty smile and looked terribly pleased with herself. with straining muscles and tendons. they felt reasonably certain that the man in black would go after her and drag her back. snow sculpture. Aboard the magnificent stallion. “She looks happy."They do. clearly visible beneath the brim of a black hat. She did look happy. “You'll have to find out for yourself. If she did. They'd finally got her paired off and settled down with a man who'd keep her tied to earth. Against a western sunset backdrop.. The man was easily identifiable as their new brother-to-be. She wouldn't slip out of their grasp and leave them. It was a perfect portrait of Jordan. six-guns tied down. as he eyed the most fascinating scenery in the picture. a black horse galloped.

To her the world was beautiful and full of wonder and she'd shown him how to see it that way. She had found the perfect tree. like the night he'd stood with her watching snow fall like sparkly silver fairy dust and he'd felt love pierce his heart for the first time. She'd given him a tin star for his black hat and a pair of very sexy black leather cowboy boots. perfectly shaped. "Jordan?” Luke prodded her foot with his. beautifully full. She'd driven him insane with her insistence on the perfect tree. a sight he walked past year after year but never stopped to examine with a child's sense of wonder until now. It's beautiful. “Let me thank you properly. They'd gone to the tree farm to select an appropriate masterpiece for their first Christmas together.Luke's problem was lying under the raided Christmas tree in a bed of fir needles. applauding the innovative or touching while sneering at the blatantly commercial. The white lights reflected off of red.” he . You should see." Her soft. "Lie on your back. It was beautiful.” Jordan teased him playfully as she displayed charming dimples that never failed to tempt him.. no. he saw everything with new eyes. Luke. so . looking up at the lights. He lowered his large frame to the floor and poked his head under the spreading fir branches to join her. She was right. as usual.” Jordan instructed.. "Hmm. He'd given her the matching earrings to her engagement ring with the threat to make her wear them if she misbehaved. too. He slid a hand along her hip and cupped her against his sudden arousal. too. Jordan had dragged him on a tour of every single display. Let me think. she'd danced around it until he acquiesced and cut it to her specifications. he'd enjoyed it. "What?” Her voice was slightly muffled by the tree. walking with her in the new snow that reflected the starlight and moonlight and made the night brilliant. Then. and to his surprise. He had a feeling she'd be wearing them often. green and gold glass ornaments and created a sparkling display in the soft evergreen. but she'd been right about that. he'd known better than to buy her a truckload of bras. With Jordan. I don't think mushy looks count. “Did I say thank you for my present?” he asked against her lips. He complied and took her hand in his. "What are you doing down there?" "Looking at the lights. She'd shown him the Church Street Marketplace holiday window displays. A night of wonder and miracles. Thinking of shopping led to thinking of his Christmas present. And while he'd definitely thought about it. She'd made him go caroling. Luke turned and tugged her into his embrace to kiss her. patting the spot beside her. exactly the right height for his living room. it's more comfortable. like a snow-covered winter sprite. dreamy answer made him smile. wrapping paper and ribbon.

“I do.” he murmured as his lips claimed hers again. Luke could hardly wait. I'm not that kind of man. The feeling was confirmed when he smoothed back her shock of spiky white-blond hair and kissed her again.” Jordan promised. A smile that meant trouble. disreputable. “Ha.” she whispered back. Jordan.murmured suggestively. with a sweetly innocent smile. Luke. Luke. lion zero. that he loved being tamed. But even if he didn't. The End Scheherazade Tales Romance E-Novels Quality. She had a Visit scheherazadetales." "Afterthe wedding. "Luke?" "Yes?" "I have this fantasy about you and me. for information on additional titles by this and other authors. He gave her a stern look. She'd buried the lonely past and given him the bright promise of a love-filled future. Tamed you again. “I love you. Jordan nibbled his lips until the growl became a definite purr. She was disgraceful. She was a wicked fairy who haunted his days and nights. not quantity—See for yourself! Try before you buy Read the first chapters online for free! scheherazadetales. Luke vowed." "I love you. Christian ten. She was the best Christmas present he'd ever had. On a tropical island. . Snow Queen. “Jordan. "Merry Christmas. he'd finally get the best of her in a quarrel." She did.” she smirked. softly. he would be forever thankful that his Jordan insisted on happy endings. Want me to tell you about it?" Luke laughed. happiness glowing in her impish features. deceptive and double-dealing. Then he kissed her in fierce abandon and growled with contentment. In the sand. And some day.

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