Excerpt: A Christmas Kiss to Remember

Book 1: Italian Stallions Series

Chapter 1

New York City
Early December
Kate

“MAY I BUY YOU A DRINK?” A male voice rumbles over my shoulder.

Without bothering to look up, I gather my briefcase from where it’s resting against my feet. “No, thank you. I’m just leaving.” After interviewing the mother in my pro bono case, a victim of domestic abuse fighting for custody of her three children, I’d felt battered as well. So I’d ducked into The Blue Note jazz club for a much needed drink. By keeping my head down, I’ve managed to avoid being hit on, but I guess my luck has run out.

“Was it something I said?” His words, laced with humor as they are, tickle my ear. Why is he standing so close?

“No.”

“I’ll walk you to the door then.” Again with the mouth.

Honestly! This guy knows nothing about personal space. “I can walk myself.”

“Might be difficult, given the crush.”

What crush? I grab my coat from the back of the bar chair. Only when I turn around and slide into it do I notice the horde of people. How did I miss them? Their noise level alone should have alerted me to the wall-to-wall throng. But I’d been so lost in my thoughts and bittersweet memories of happier times, I failed to notice them. Should have known it’d be mobbed. It’s Friday after all, with a semi-famous chanteuse on tap for the night. Darn. Given I’m only five four and a lightweight at that, it will be difficult to fight my way through the crowd.

Without asking for permission, my Sir Galahad grabs my elbow. Conversation is futile, what with the noise and the band warming up, so I don’t attempt a protest. As he propels us through the mass of humanity, the combined aroma of cologne, unwashed bodies, alcohol bombard me, making it hard to breathe. An elbow flies at me, but my escort blocks it before it hits my face.

When we finally gain the outside, I try to take a full breath. But the cold air seizes my lungs, and I bark out a very unladylike cough.

“You all right?” My self-appointed knight asks.

Fighting to gain control of my breathing so I can thank my Good Samaritan, I hold up one finger. Just as I finally catch my breath, somebody bumps into me, knocking me into him.

“Hey, buddy, watch where you’re going,” he yells at whoever jostled me. He wraps an arm around me and swings me to his side, presumably to protect me from injury. A whiff of expensive cologne and virile male hits me and the “Thanks” I was about to utter gets stuck in my throat.

“Sorry, man.” The stumbling fool tosses out in a slurred voice. Drunk much?

“He didn’t hurt you, did he?” My rescuer’s sexy baritone strums my senses, setting off a vibration deep inside.

“No.” Pushing back my hair, I glance up, and for the first time get a clear look at him. Midnight blue eyes, chiseled cheekbones, granite jaw and a scruff guaranteed to melt the panties of any living, breathing female. Oxygen whooshes from my lungs, but this time he’s the cause, not the frigid air that has settled over New York. I’m surprised to say the least. It’s been forever since a man affected me like this.

Someone bumps against me as another horde stream toward the club entrance.

Pete’s sake! “The club needs someone out here to handle the crowd. They’re way over their occupancy limit.” I huff out.

“Yeah, they are.”

We’re standing on the sidewalk, his arm holding me tight against him. Tucked against his chest as I am, we resemble lovers. Except we’re nothing of the kind. Just two strangers who’ve met through sheer happenstance. “I’m okay. You can let go now.”

“Oh, sorry.” He releases me, and I step away.

I instantly miss his warmth. For a second there I’d felt cherished, protected, cared for. Something I haven’t felt for a long time.

Seconds pass while we study each other. A tiny scar on the outside corner of his left eye mars an otherwise flawless face, perhaps he got it roughhousing or maybe something more serious. Whatever the cause, it makes him more human. But that’s neither here nor there. It’s time for me to go.

“Well, thank you again.” Firmly gripping my briefcase, I turn to leave.

He surprises me by grabbing my elbow. “Please, don’t go.”

“What?” I swivel back and hop from foot to foot hoping to get warm.

“You’re freezing. Here.” He gathers me against his side again, and I moan with pleasure from the heat coming off him. “You don’t have anywhere to be, do you?”

An easy out trembles on my lips ‘Why yes, I do.’ But I’m only planning to review depositions on the pro bono case. Something about him pushes me to the truth. “No. I was just going home.”

“You see that restaurant?” He nods toward a building on the other side of the street. A neon light blinks the name of the restaurant in bright, garish letters. “Joe’s Bar & Grill. It’s a quiet place where we can eat and talk.”

I am hungry, and all that waits for me at home are leftovers. But the eatery looks like just another neighborhood watering hole. Nothing special. And do I really want to spend an hour in mindless chatter with a stranger probably eager to get into my pants? I glance up. To my surprise, he’s studying me as seriously as I’m scrutinizing him. He’s gorgeous, and I haven’t been interested in a man in forever. What would it hurt to share a meal with him?

I shiver once more with the cold, and his arm flexes me closer to him. “You need to get somewhere inside before you freeze.”

He’s got a point. If I stand out here much longer, I’ll turn into a block of ice.

“What do you have to lose except time?” he asks.

I let out a bitter laugh. Time. Sometimes you don’t get even that.