A Bad Boy for Christmas

By: Jessica Lemmon


She strode toward the front door, past thick, neatly trimmed hedges, flowering mums, and decorative rocks interspersed in between. The saplings out front stood strong and tall, accepting their new homes in the dirt like they’d been there from the start.

The beauty of the grounds never failed to amaze her. As someone who couldn’t grow a plant if her life depended on it, the fact that one man and Mother Nature were responsible for this blew her away. The door opened, and she turned her head expecting Sofie to come strolling out, cell phone to her ear.

Instead, Connor McClain walked her way, and Faith’s tongue promptly welded to the roof of her mouth. Broad shoulders molded by a long-sleeved henley, wide frame in perfect proportion, thick legs pressing against worn, soft-looking denim…The only other thing that amazed her more than the grounds was the way this man’s muscular thighs filled out a pair of well-worn jeans.

He moved with purpose, not quite a stride but more of an amble. All those large upper-body muscles—perfectly outlined by his fitted shirt—moved fluidly, which was unexpected. A guy with that much girth should be a little less graceful.

He might be easier to write off if he was only made up of the physical attributes, but no such luck. The guy was ex-military, worked tirelessly for his friends, and had a flirty sense of humor that almost threatened to break down the barrier she’d so firmly erected since Michael had raided the Cookie jar…so to speak.

Her hand went to her hair as Connor brought that amble over to her. Since she was very tall, five-ten to be exact, she guessed him around six-one. She couldn’t be sure, unless she was within kissing distance of his incredible mouth, which he’d stopped just shy of. But kissing that incredible mouth wasn’t going to get her any closer to her independence. So she shouldn’t consider it. Not even for a second, she reminded herself as he grinned at her. Her heart thrummed.

Around his penetrating grin, Connor spoke the words, “Afternoon, Cupcake.”

She was sort of known for her sugar addiction. After a recent stressful workday, he had caught her devouring a bakery box full of Sugar Hi cupcakes. It wasn’t her proudest moment. But showing weakness had its perks, because he’d ribbed her good-naturedly ever since. She recalled lamenting to Charlie some time ago (who Evan referred to as “Ace”) that she’d never had a nickname. Now she did.

Truth was, she liked it way too much to ask him to stop.

“Good afternoon to you, Beefcake.”

His smile didn’t budge, proving he liked her nickname for him, too. And maybe that’s all this was for both of them. A few teasing nicknames and prolonged glances. It was better than nothing. His eyes left hers, narrowing and traveling her face. Self-consciously, she smoothed the hand over her forehead where she felt her hair tickling her skin.

He stepped closer, until her vision was filled with broad muscle and golden-flecked hazel eyes. One rugged, working-man’s hand, so different from any hand that had ever touched her, raised and brushed her hair away from her eyes. Then he dragged his fingertips over her forehead. She tried to keep her eyes on his, but for a scant second they went to his mouth again. Firm lips. Stubbled jaw.

Yum.

“Maybe I should start calling you Sprinkles instead?” He held his hand up for her to see. Pink glitter dotted his fingers.

It took her a second to reroute her thoughts. His touching her had sent her brain on a one-way vacation to Neptune. She traded the Coke from one hand to the other, scrubbing her hand along her skirt, which she noticed was covered in glitter as well.

A low chuckle echoed from Connor’s throat.

“Laugh it up,” she said, but did a pretty good job of laughing with him. “Now it’s stuck on you, too.”

“Damn.” He backed out of her personal space and spread his palm. Thick fingers, blunt nails. A callus here and there. Even his hands were insanely attractive. “How am I going to explain looking like I had a run-in with a stripper when I go on my date tonight?”

She felt her face blanch as her blood raced from her cheeks to her toes. He had a…a date? She tried to reel her emotions in, but the effort was too little, too late. No doubt he’d seen the abject disappointment flit across her face.

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