Authors: A. C. Arthur
By A.C. Arthur
an Artistry Publishing Book
Holiday Hearts,Copyright © 2011 by A.C. Arthur. All rights reserved.
First Edition: 2011
“Watch out for sheets of black ice on the streets tonight, especially on side roads and parking lots if you’re driving on this wintry evening,” warned the DJ on WJLB-FM from the radio sitting on the corner of Keysa’s desk.
She heard the DJ’s familiar voice of course, but wasn’t paying close attention. It was ambient background noise just like the furniture in her office—there, but not really memorable. It was a quarter after seven, and Keysa Donovan’s focus was on the promotional plan for Joy Noel’s new book that was being released in just five months.
Artistry Publishing, which was Joy’s publisher, was one of Maser Marketing’s biggest clients. Every month they released between four and twelve books. Three executives worked on the Artistry account alone, and Keysa was one of them.
Spread out across her desk was the marketing plan for the mystery novel and analysis of the genre. She had everything from buyer statistics to monthly sales fluctuations and product placement. It was her job to make sure the book was packaged, promoted and distributed in those markets that would make Artistry as much money as possible. Usually it was a job she thoroughly enjoyed, but not tonight.
Three days before Christmas and she was struggling to concentrate. It was that time of year. She knew what it was because it happened every year since she was seven years old. Everyone else was in a festive mood, singing Christmas carols, eagerly awaiting Santa and all the toys, spending every penny they have on gifts for people who probably won’t appreciate them. Yet her world seemed like it was falling apart. It happened repeatedly, year after year, over and over again.
One would think that after twenty years the wound would have healed, the memories would be long gone and that she would have moved on by now.Not.
Her father, Bernard Donovan, lived in Seattle where she’d been born. After the divorce, he’d kept the house, the cars and the dog.
Mary Lee Donovan, her mother, kept Keysa. With her child in tow, Mary moved as far away from Bernard as she could get—to Detroit.
The divorce proceedings began in August, the summer Keysa was six and ended in a tidy settlement and final divorce papers delivered to Keysa’s mother in their new Macomb County apartment on Christmas Eve the following year. Her mother cried for seven days straight. Keysa had wiped her tears, wrapped and unwrapped her own Christmas gifts, ate cereal at every meal, stood on the dining room chair to do the dishes and swore she’d never fall in love, get married or celebrate Christmas ever again.
Over the years, she’d stuck to that rule as best she could. The next year, her mother had tried to make the holidays festive for her only child. Problem was Christmas had already been ruined for Keysa. Sure, she smiled and acted as if she enjoyed the holidays and made her mother believe she had given her the best Christmas presents in the world, but deep down Keysa just wanted it all to be over.
Her father never made an appearance at Christmastime. In fact, Keysa didn’t see much of her father for the first six years after the divorce. She remembered hearing her mother arguing on the phone once and assumed she was arguing with her father again. There was always such drama between her parents that Keysa figured it was easier to avoid seeing her father and just stay with her mother. That is until she was thirteen, and Bernard Donovan came by the schoolyard one day to pick her up. That had been the beginning of a cool weekend and Keysa had mistakenly thought her dismal life had suddenly taken a turn for the better. But before her father left that Sunday he told her he was remarrying and that Keysa would soon have a new baby brother or sister.
Keysa became angry and didn’t see her father or his new family for another five years. It probably seemed petty and more than a little selfish, but to Keysa it was what it was. Her parents had started this war, and she was just an innocent bystander. So her only choice was to pick her armor and defend herself the best way she knew how.
Eventually she got her college degree, moved out of her mother’s apartment and began to make a life for herself. Her father’s involvement in her life grew little by little. And once she learned that the divorce had been her mother’s idea because she’d assumed the Donovan family despised her because she was not rich, Keysa’s feelings had begun to change. Now, at age twenty-eight Keysa spoke to her father at least once a month. She’d even met his wife Jocelyn and their daughter—her half-sister Brynne—in Seattle a couple of times. Knowing that her mother would never approve of her visits with her father, Keysa, kept them a secret. She also strived to keep her mother’s bitterness out of her life. Unfortunately, none of this changed Keysa’s feelings about Christmas.
With a sigh Keysa realized that every year the same feelings came flooding back—the memories, the sadness, the crying. It was pitiful, yet she still couldn’t forget.
The DJ had finished his weather advisory and a song was now playing. She’d been so wrapped up in her thoughts that she hadn’t heard the name of the song, but after a few notes of the intro she balled up her fists and groaned.
It was “The Christmas Song”by Nat King Cole.The song always made her melancholy. She was just about to turn the radio off when a voice startled her.
“Don’t like that song, eh?”
Nearly jumping out of her chair, Keysa pressed a hand to her chest to calm her palpitating heart. She jerked her head in the direction of the voice. “Excuse me?” she stammered.
“I said you don’t like that song. I see you’re getting ready to turn off the radio.”
After blinking a time or two Keysa recognized the gray uniform, white name tag and broom in the elderly man’s hand. He was the janitor, but she didn’t have a clue as to why he was cleaning her office now.
“No. I wasn’t going to turn it off. I don’t like the quiet so I was just going to change the station.”
With his grisly gray beard, mustache and dark eyes, the janitor looked up at her. He kept moving, sweeping the hardwood floor in her office as if it were the dirtiest he’d ever seen. “So like I said, you don’t like the song.”
“Uhm, no. I guess I don’t.” Now, for some reason she couldn’t bring herself to change the station. She pulled her hand back, rifled through the papers on her desk and tried to pull herself together. It was after hours, which was why the janitor was there. As usual, she was the one who was out of place.
“I think it’s a great song. And nobody sings it like Nat,” the janitor said, pushing the chairs in front of her desk out of the way so he could sweep underneath them.
“If you like that type of music,” she mumbled, not in the mood to talk period, and certainly not to talk about this song.
“Puts you in the holiday spirit,” the janitor continued. “Makes you think of fireplaces, good food, loved ones. Real special song I’d say.”
“Hmph,” was all Keysa could manage.
“You should give it a good listen sometime,” he said humming through the next few lines of the song.
“No thank you.”
“Don’t like Christmas music?”
“No,” she answered briskly.
“Don’t like Christmas?”
Keysa slammed her hands down on the desk. “As a matter of fact I don’t. And I don’t like being disturbed while I’m working. Do you think you could come back and finish cleaning my office a little later?”
The janitor stopped, leaned an arm on his broom and simply stared at her. He wore his charcoal gray work cap pulled down low over his forehead so that his dark eyes were barely visible. From the sides of his cap, tuffs of the same grayish white hair covering his face stuck out. His face looked old but his thin wiry frame seemed fit. He was staring at her and she was staring back at him, her gaze dropping to the middle left side of his chest where his name tag read, Jasper.
“Look, Jasper,” she began her tone considerably more civil than it had been just a few seconds before. “I’m up against a deadline and I’d like to get out of here before midnight. I’m just trying to get my work done, not trying to be rude or anything.”
Jasper shook his head. “No. I don’t think you’re trying to be rude. I don’t think that at all.”
She sighed. “Thank you.” Mary had raised her to be respectful, no matter who it was.
“I do think you’re working yourself too hard, blaming yourself for something that maybe wasn’t even your fault,” he said, and then turned away from her. He kept sweeping the little pile of dust and dirt toward the door.
“What did you just say?” she asked.
He looked over his shoulder. “Oh nothing, nothing at all, Ms. Donovan. I’ll be getting out of your way now,” he said. He paused, tilted his head a bit and seemed to be lost in another world.
Keysa figured he was listening to the radio again. The sound of Nat King Cole’s voice was nearing the end of the song as Jasper sang the last line in a deep, rich baritone that almost matched the singer’s note for note. At the end of the song, the janitor touched the visor of his cap and nodded to her with a smile.
Keysa didn’t return the smile but felt a slight stirring in her chest. With a shake of her head she dismissed the weird exchange and resigned herself to get back to work.
It was getting late. He should just leave and go home, he thought. After all, he had caught up on his work and most of the staff in his department were either already off on vacation for the holidays or gone for the day. There was no reason for Ian to still be in the office.
Correction, there was one reason.
She was still here. Ian knew because the bank of elevators was right across from his office. If he kept his door open he could see everyone that got on the elevator on the tenth floor.
He’d seen Keysa earlier today at one of the many holiday parties catered by one of their clients as thanks for their hard work throughout the year. She’d looked great, but then, that was nothing
Keysa was a good looking woman with her coppery skin tone, cocoa brown eyes and chocolate brown hair. Her small frame might give the impression that she was meek and mild. But her fierce determination and quick wit could make you think twice. Smiling to himself, Ian remembered that it was one of the first things that had attracted him to her.
It had been two years ago at the office picnic, which had to be held indoors because of a summer thunderstorm, that he first saw Keysa. She had her arms filled with bowls and plates that she’d scooped off the picnic table in an attempt to save them from the downpour that began without warning.
She wore sneakers and jean shorts, a white tank top and a sun-visor with the company logo on it. Stumbling through the door she was holding a conversation with another employee and trying to balance the items in her hands. Ian, being a gentleman, had quickly gone to her aid. Mistakenumero uno!
“I can handle it,” she’d snapped, the minute he appeared trying to take one of the larger bowls.
With a smile he nodded. “I know. I just don’t want any of the execs getting on my case for not offering to help a lady.”
She’d frowned, but it had been such a pretty frown, and grudgingly she had allowed him to take the bowl. However, she completely ignored him as they walked over to the makeshift picnic table in the center of the room that one of the women from accounting was hurriedly putting a wrinkled white tablecloth over.
At the time, Ian had been on the tenth floor for just about two weeks. His first stop at Maser Marketing had been on the twelfth floor with the team assigned to handle media clients. Because of his stellar performance, he’d been moved shortly thereafter to the Keysa’s department where he oversaw assistant executives and project managers for Maser’s publishing clients, which included Artistry Publishing, Keysa Donovan’s account.
She was an exceptional worker—that he already knew. The fact that she was pretty was also a given. Her biting personality, well, up until this point, he hadn’t up been on the receiving end of that, but Ian was sure he could handle it.
At the company picnic, he’d tried to sit next to her and strike up a conversation. But he got the distinct impression that he’d been way too self-assured where she was concerned. His conversation fell flat the moment she gave him a tight smile, stood and walked away. A glutton for punishment, Ian had made it a point to visit her office on a weekly basis and to drop by the lounge during the times he knew she’d be eating her afternoon snack. Lunch in the lounge on their floor was like a smorgasbord every day of the week. Ian had no idea where all the food came from, but there was always something that kept the employees constantly trekking down the long hallway to snack. He was one of them. And once he figured out that Keysa didn’t eat lunch in the employee lounge, but usually emerged from her office around two in the afternoon, he began to time his visits to the lounge accordingly.
It had been six months since their last encounter, but when Ian saw Keysa at the next office function, he’d decided to try his hand once more. He was nothing if not a tenacious man.
“Wow, I wonder who came up with this genius idea,” he’d said looking at the large fruit display in the center of the lunch table.
“I’m more interested in meeting the people who actually stand around cutting melons into little daisy shapes and dipping oranges in chocolate for a living,” Keysa said.
She’d laughed and the sound had wrapped around him as securely as cellophane. His entire body had warmed as he’d looked over at her. She was smiling, her pert mouth still coated with whatever color lip gloss she’d been wearing earlier in the day. Her hair was curly, framing her delicate features. Her nails were painted a peachy color that he noticed when she reached out to grab one of the chocolate-covered strawberries in the basket and pulled the skewer free.
His gaze followed the strawberry as some libidinous part of his brain anxiously hoped she’d put it to her lips and take a bite. His body heated at the simple thought of watching the sweet juice trickle down her lips and onto her chin, where he, being the gentleman that he was, would promptly lick it up.
“Aren’t you going to try some?”
Her question interrupted the fantasy of his little X-rated daydream. He had to clear his throat and take a step back from the table to inconspicuously adjust his growing arousal.
“Ah, no. Not really in the mood for fruit,” he finally managed to say noting she’d put hers on a paper plate and was surveying the basket deciding what else to select.
“The pineapple looks sweet,” he said actually thinking of her glossed lips.
“Hmmm, it does,” she agreed.
That was when she did the unthinkable. She pulled a piece of pineapple from the basket and extended it to him. “Taste it and see.”
Ian swallowed, praying for mercy.
The blouse she’d worn had a V-neck and gapped ever so slightly as she leaned over the table. He could continue to just stand there dumbfounded, ogling her generous cleavage, or he could take a chance, lean forward and taste the damn pineapple.
He opted for the latter because watching her cleavage was proving to be more discomforting than he could bear. His lips brushed over her fingers—on purpose, of course—and he chewed the bite, savoring it as he watched her watching him.
“So is it sweet?”
“Yes, indeed,” he replied licking his lips.
She pulled back from the table tilting her head as she continued to watch him. “I don’t like pineapple,” she said finally.
Ian almost choked.
Picking up a napkin she wiped her hands and retrieved her plate with the lone strawberry. She turned like she was going to leave the room when Ian went around the table, touched a hand to her elbow to stop her.
“Have dinner with me?” He hadn’t meant to blurt it out that way but something told him he needed to seize the moment with Keysa.
“No,” was her quick reply.
“Because I like you and I want to get to know you better.”
“You already know me,” she said skeptically looking over his shoulder.
“I know your work. But I want to know you personally.”
She shook her head.
He touched a fingertip to her chin, lifting slightly and stopping her movement. “Say yes.”
Once again he acted with boldness. Leaning forward slowly, his eyes focused on hers. He touched his lips lightly to hers—once, twice.
“Okay,” she said hurriedly and pulled out of his embrace.
He’d emailed her a day and time. She’d replied with an “okay.” That had been their first date.
Five more had followed in the next three months.
Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over.
Each time he’d asked her out, she’d said “no,” emphatically, until finally—because his pride insisted—he’d stopped asking.
Now, tonight, sitting in his office alone, he wondered why he’d given up. Why he hadn’t fought harder for her, for the feelings he had inside for her?
Ian spun around in his chair until he faced the door and saw the person whose voice he’d just heard.
“Yeah, guess so,” he replied attempting to be polite.
“Evening like this I used to have me a nice lady friend, take her out to dinner. Candlelight, women like candlelight.”
Ian had to smile. The old janitor was leaning against his doorframe, broom in hand but obviously not interested in doing any work at the moment. He was looking off, over Ian’s shoulder towards the window, almost as if he was actually remembering a candlelight dinner with his lady friend.
“That’s true,” Ian said deciding he could spend a few minutes talking about women with this guy, if it would make him feel better. “But you know I’m more inclined to moonlight—there’s something a little more natural about it.”
The janitor nodded then looked at Ian as if finally realizing he was in the room. “Moonlight’s good. You got you a lady friend to sit in the moonlight with?”
Ian instantly thought of Keysa. It was kind of a given since she’d been on his mind anyway.
Clearing his throat he asked, “You working pretty late tonight, aren’t you?”
The janitor smiled, nodded his head. “Yeah. Got plenty to do.”
Well, Ian didn’t. And he was tired of sitting in this office acting like he did. In fact, he was tired of acting like he no longer cared about Keysa, like he didn’t dream about her just about every night.
Standing, Ian grabbed his keys and flicked off his computer, not bothering to shut it down first. He’d have an icy message from Bart, the IT guy, in the morning. “Sorry to hear that, ah…,” he trailed off. Straining a bit he saw the janitor’s nametag, “….Jasper. It’s cold out tonight and its three days before Christmas. Nobody should be working this late.”
Jasper’s smile spread wide. He lifted a hand to touch the tip of his hat and tilted it back a bit. “You’ve got that right. So are you going home to your lady friend?”
Ian stepped from behind his desk when he met Jasper’s dark eyes. There was something there, more than the smile, more than the old deep voice. But he didn’t have time to figure it out. “Jasper, you’ve got that right.”
It was when Ian was walking past Jasper to get out the door that he felt the hand on his shoulder.
“Be careful with her, but don’t give up. She needs you.”
Turning back Ian looked at the old man in question. But Jasper had moved further into Ian’s office, swishing his broom over the shiny hardwood floors, humming a holiday tune Ian knew he’d already heard a thousand times. Still, as he walked out of his office and headed down the hall, away from the elevators, he found himself humming the same tune and declaring he’d have a merry little Christmas too.
“The workday ended almost three hours ago,” Ian said walking into her office and taking a seat across from her.
Keysa had felt his presence before seeing him. It had always been that way with Ian, which was one of things that scared her about him. He hadn’t even waited for her to respond, just walked in with that swagger that ticked-off most of the men they worked with and drove twice as many women crazy.
Being Dominican and African American gave him an exotic look. His skin was mocha toned and so smooth, she’d secretly longed to touch him all over. His silky hair, which he kept close-cropped, was a shade darker than ebony. But the eyes were the clincher—sea green, like water, deep and mysterious with the ability to see right through to her soul. That was another reason she was afraid of him.
“I don’t keep track of everyone else’s hours,” she quipped, hoping she sounded as cool and self-assured as she meant to.
“Neither do I, but when it’s a few days until Christmas and I see you here burning the midnight oil, I get concerned.”
“No need to be,” she said closing the file she’d been working on and putting the folder to the side.
“Are you ready to go?” he asked.
“Good. We can have dinner then.”
“No we can’t.” That’s the last thing Keysa wanted to do was share another dinner sitting across the table from Ian, looking into those mesmerizing eyes, listening to his enticing voice, and wanting more with him than she’d ever wanted with another man before.
That was the real reason he scared her.
“How long are you going to do this?”
He hadn’t moved a muscle. Quite the contrary, he was sitting as still as a statue glaring at her—just like she’d imagined—as if he could see right through her, right through her defenses.
“Do what? Turn down your offer of dinner? We’ve done that already, remember?” Her voice sounded tired as she shut down her computer. She had to do something to keep from looking at him.
“Look, don’t deny that there’s something between us.”
“Oh, please, Ian. You’re a good-looking man and all. But that doesn’t mean I have to act the way all the other women who adore you do.”
She paused, looked up and confirmed. Yeah, he was definitely laughing. His normally strong jaw line and angular face was softened by a deep, authentic smile. His laughter made it seem like what she’d said was just too damned funny, and it ticked her off.
“What’s so funny?” she demanded. In her mind, she’d scored the last point by knocking him off his arrogant pedestal. He was still laughing, actually coughing now, using his hand to cover his mouth.
“Wait a minute,” he chuckled again. “Give me a minute to regroup.”
“I can give you three to get out of my office.” She didn’t have time for this nonsense.
First the janitor guy had interrupted her with his rendition of Nat King Cole’s song. Then her father had called. To her surprise, Bernard Donovan had called a couple of days earlier than she’d expected. He’d begun calling her on Christmas years ago, wishing her well, telling her he loved her, blah, blah, blah. Well, this year he’d called early to put in a special request.
“Spend the holiday with me for a change. Your sister would love to see you and Jocelyn’s really looking forward to spending time with both you girls.”
She’d cringed at his words. First, she was no longer a girl. And second, while she liked her stepmom well enough, Jocelyn wasn’t her mother. Keysa couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable by him suggesting that she spend the holidays with his family. She knew without a doubt her mother would see it as a betrayal.
“I can’t, Daddy. I have to work,” she’d said.
“You work too hard, Keysa. The job’s not going anywhere if you take a few days off to celebrate with your family. In fact, I’m sure Russell Maser is taking time off to be with his family.”
Of course he was sure, Keysa had sighed, since her father knew Russell Maser and just about every other wealthy African American family in the country. Her father was one of the Donovans. The Donovan family that had their hands in everything from oil to casinos to almost every philanthropic cause there was. They were black, successful, generous and highly regarded around the world. And she was one of them, at least a part of her was.
“I’ll take time off after I finish this project. But you and Jocelyn and Brynne have a great holiday.”
“Keysa, I want so much more for you than you’ve decided to settle for. You’re an adult. Mary can’t hold you hostage anymore.”
“She’s not,” Keysa had said but recognized a bit of truth in his words.
The whole conversation had been bittersweet. As usual he wanted to see her and as usual she was afraid. Her mother had felt so betrayed by this man. It wasn’t as if Keysa had never seen her father or spent time with his family. Still, how could she even remotely consider spending time with her father at this time of year? It just wasn’t right.
Just as Ian sitting in her office at this very moment still smiling at her wasn’t right. Keysa was so irritated now she did something she hadn’t done in years. She rolled her eyes at him, and then reached to turn off her radio.
“Don’t get mad at me,” he said as his fit of laughter subsided. “I can’t help it you’re keeping tabs on how many women are falling for me.”
She ignored him.
“How many is it by the way?”
“Oh, shut up, Ian.” And just as she said that the DJ’s voice interrupted them.
“Still cold outside, so be careful out there. That black ice is nothing to be played with.”
She pushed the button hard to turn it off then pushed her chair back and went to retrieve her coat.
Ian jumped out of his chair, quickly taking the coat from her hands, then holding it for her to put on.
“I don’t need your help.”
“No,” he said as she slipped first one arm then the other into the sleeves. “But I need to be close to you.”
She sighed. “Ian, please. Can’t you take a hint?”
Turning her in his arms he gave her a little shake until her head lifted and she stared up into his eyes. “Can’t you?”
“I’m not giving up on you, Keysa. I’m not giving up on us.”
“There is no us.”
“There could be.”
“There will be,” he said with finality.
“Go away, Ian,” she said moving out of his grasp. “I’m tired and I’m going home.”
She was halfway to the door when he asked, “Did you get a new car?”
“What?” she asked spinning around to face him.
“A new car, did you get one or are you still driving that little matchbox thing?”
“It’s not a matchbox thing,” she said unable to resist his attempt to get a rise out of her. He’d been with her the day she bought her candy apple red convertible Mini Cooper. He’d told her it looked more like a toy then a real car. But she’d loved it, so she’d bought it.
“Well, whatever it is, it isn’t good enough to get you home tonight.”
“What are you talking about? My car has excellent gas mileage and drives faster and smoother than that clunky SUV you have.”
“Yeah, but my clunky SUV is an all-terrain vehicle and has four-wheel drive, which keeps me from slip-sliding all over the streets of Detroit.”
She paused, he had a point. “I’ll be fine.”
“I know you will because you’re having dinner with me and then you’re staying at my place.” He moved quickly taking her elbow and leading her out the door.
“What? No I’m not staying at your place! Why? I have a house, remember?”
“Yes, I remember,” he said walking beside her as she tried to wiggle out of his grasp. “You live in a nice single family house in Shelby Township, which is a forty-minute drive from here. It’ll be at least an hour before you get home, considering how slow you’ll have to drive to avoid skidding off the highway.”
“But—” she tried to object.
“I,” he interrupted, “live in an overpriced condo on Riverfront Drive, just five minutes from here. It makes more sense, for your safety, that you stay in town tonight.”
They were at the elevators now and he’d pushed the down button and stood directly in front of her.
“Then maybe you should drive me home with your four-wheel, all-terrain SUV,” she said, unwilling to admit that he was making sense, and hating every second of it.
He cupped a hand to her cheek and gave her that half smile that always made her weak in the knees. “Maybe I’m supremely thankful to Mother Nature for these freezing temperatures and icy roads. I’ve wanted to get you to stay at my house since the day I first saw you.”
He pulled her closer, his fingers firm at the base of her neck. “No, I’m not going to take you home in my clunky all-terrain SUV. I’m taking you home with me—a very special Christmas present to myself.”
Then he kissed her. She knew he would. And she secretly wanted him to. His lips touched her softly, Ian always started off slow, soft. She loved it, felt her heart beat wildly the second his tongue touched hers.
She didn’t want to be his Christmas present—didn’t want to enjoy Christmas or fall in love. It would be a betrayal. Wouldn’t it?
Then his soft and slow turned to hot and fevered and she leaned closer into him, opening her mouth wider, sighing. Whatever the answer was she couldn’t figure it out just then. She couldn’t think of anything besides Ian.
Dinner was more than she’d bargained for. Actually, she’d assumed they’d stop and pick up fast food, but Ian had other ideas.
His condo was gorgeous—white walls, high ceilings and floor to ceiling windows that stretched along one side of his living room. The dining area was connected, actually divided by a long marble and glass console table with an ebony sculpture in the center. On one side was the living room with sleek deep-cushioned black leather chairs, an octagonal-shaped glass coffee table and a deep chocolate-colored rug that formed the perimeter of the space. The leather sofa faced the windows with a panoramic view of downtown Detroit. To the far left was a fireplace with a mantel filled with photographs.
Keysa instantly gravitated to the pictures. This was her first time being inside Ian’s condo. On one of their dates she’d met him there, but he’d been in the lobby when she’d arrived. At that time a part of her had desperately wanted to know more about him, yet was still resistant.
The mantel was lined with framed pictures, some large, some small like oversized lockets with wallet-sized photos inside. Starting at one end she looked at each of them, a deep yearning in the center of her stomach began to form. Ian had a family, and from the looks of it, a big one.
“That’s my Mom and Dad,” he said from behind her.
She hadn’t heard him approach, but she’d felt he wasn’t far away.
“Do they live here in Detroit?” she asked her eyes resting on the old wedding photo. The woman’s complexion was just a shade darker than Ian’s. The man was a little lighter, his skin more tinged with an orange tone, but his eyes were dark like Ian’s.
“Yes. Mom was born and raised in Wayne County.”
“But your father, he’s from the Dominican Republic, right?” She’d remembered that was one of the first things he’d told her about himself.
“Yes, Santiago to be exact. He’s one of twelve children, only two of them live in the States.”
“What does he do?”
Behind her Ian chuckled. “He originally came here to become an actor. But after the first few rejections and finally landing a gig with a modeling agency just to pay his bills, he realized he wanted something different. His agent introduced him to a couple of producers and now he is a partner in the RioGrande Production Company with his cousin.”
“RioGrande? That’s one of our accounts.” Keysa had always worked in the publishing department, but she still liked to keep up with whatever Maser was doing.
“It is. That’s the account that got me in the door.”
“Oh, using your family influence, huh?”
“Whatever works,” he said touching a hand to her shoulder as he nodded towards the next photo.
“That’s my grandmother, Odessa—my mother’s mother. She passed away last year. Man, I miss her mac and cheese.”
Keysa hadn’t known her grandparents. Her mother’s parents were already dead by the time she was born and her father’s—well, she just hadn’t known them.
“My mom makes pretty good mac and cheese,” she added but didn’t really know why.
“How is your mom?”
He sounded concerned, and for a moment that seemed strange. Had she told him about her mother? Obviously she had.
“She’s fine, still working at the department store. She’s head buyer for women’s apparel now.”
“That’s great. So is she enjoying it?”
Keysa shrugged. “As much as she’ll allow herself to enjoy anything,” she said. Again, she didn’t know why she felt comfortable enough with Ian to actually talk to him about her personal life. It seemed like it had been that way since their first date.
“Is she seeing anybody?”
Keysa sighed. “Of course not.”
“Really? How long’s it been?”
“Too long, if you ask me.” She looked at the other photographs, touching the one of Ian with his parents. “How long have they been married?”
“Hmph. I guess there is a happily ever after for some people.”
Now both his hands were on her shoulders, massaging her blades lightly as he pressed closer into her. “Happiness is what you make it.”
“That sounds so simple.”
“And so true.”
She just shook her head. “Not for everyone.”
Resting his chin on the top of her head to still her he said, “For anyone, Keysa. If you want to be happy you can. All you have to do is go for what you want. Stop being afraid and stop being held back by someone else’s problems.”
“She’s not holding me back,” Keysa said defensively, but even to her own ears the words sounded hollow.
His hands moved up and down her arms and he leaned to the left until his lips touched her cheek. “I’ll warm dinner. Make yourself comfortable.”
And she did. He’d started a fire before going into the kitchen. She took a seat in one of the black leather chairs and watched the fire grow, listening to the crackling sound of the wood. The warm glow was soothing, and for once she decided to simply relax and enjoy the moment. No questions. No doubts.
Dinner was delicious, leftover lasagna that Ian had made two nights ago. And she wasn’t just being polite when she’d told him how delicious it was. Not only was he incredibly good-looking and successful, but he could burn in the kitchen. Ian was going to be a very good catch for some woman one day. That thought made her nervous.
Keysa excused herself after they’d loaded the dishwasher and went to the bathroom, to put some distance between the two of them for a moment.
“Why don’t you get out of your work clothes,” he’d yelled to her from the other side of the bathroom door, making her jump. “There’s a basket full of clean clothes in there that I didn’t have a chance to fold and put away. Just rummage through until you find something.”
“Ah, okay,” she’d murmured but wondered how smart that would actually be.
Here she was in Ian’s condo at almost eleven o’clock at night. She’d had dinner with him and now she was using his bathroom. He wanted her to change “into something more comfortable.” Alright, he hadn’t said that exactly but she got the hint.
What am I doing?she wondered dropping down to sit on the side of his Jacuzzi style tub.
Outside, she heard a light drizzle--freezing rain and sleet. She’d noticed it when she walked from the dining room, through the kitchen. If she got close enough to the window, she could hear it hitting the glass and making a tiny clicking sound. There was no denying the logic of her staying at Ian’s tonight. Driving would be a disaster. Still, she wished there was another alternative. Or did she?
By the time she’d come out of the bathroom Ian had the fire roaring again and the television was tuned to some black and white movie. The shirt from the laundry basket that she’d put on was long, and the fabric was soft against her skin. His distinctive masculine scent clung to the shirt surrounding her like a warm cocoon.
She walked over to the sofa unsure of herself and sat on the edge of the cushion, trying to decide once again if she was doing the right thing. Did she really have to stay here with Ian or was it a convenient excuse? Maybe she should have gone to a hotel. That way she wouldn’t be tortured by her desire for something that was at best only fleeting. It was unfair of him to suggest that she stay with him. Dinner was virtually prepared and waiting, as if he’d been expecting her all along. And the setting—the dim lights, the gorgeous Christmas tree, the moonlight that poured into the living room from the huge windows—created the most romantic surroundings. Why didn’t he invest in mini blinds like other people?
“Here we go, nice, hot cocoa,” he said. His smile was a bit too broad, his steps a little too sure-footed. As he sat on the sofa beside her, offering her an oversized mug with cute little Disney characters on it and a mountain of whipped cream piled on top—she thought he was a little too damn smug for the situation.
“Ian, maybe I should go,” she said, as he thrust the mug toward her hands. The cup was warm as she took the handle with one hand and held the bottom with the other.
“Careful, it’s hot,” he said and used his now free hand to grab one of the dishtowels he’d thrown over his shoulder and gave it to her.
Why did he have to be so considerate? He was making this too hard.
Reluctantly she took the towel wrapping it around the mug, but refusing to put it down on the table beside her. It wasn’t just that he’d managed to give her a mug with one of her favorite characters on it—Eeyore fromWinnie the Pooh—but the scent of fresh cocoa and whipped cream was like a drug. Each time she inhaled, the aroma wafted to her nose, calming and easing her worries, and making it difficult for her to come up with a good reason why she should leave.
He was settled back in the chair with his mug of cocoa cradled in his hand. “Now what were you saying?”
“Ah,” she stammered. What was she going to say? Oh, yeah, she was going to leave. “I was just thinking that maybe the roads are clear now.”
“That was the problem, remember? The streets are coated with black ice. It’s slippery and dangerous to drive on the highway, especially in that car of yours.”
He dipped his head to take a sip of cocoa, and licked the whipped cream off that covered his upper lip. She watched his profile, his strong jaw line moving as he swallowed. His close-cropped hair tapered softly against his head, as his dark eyebrows arched slightly over his deep brown eyes.Stop it, she warned herself. Admitting that Ian was a very attractive man had never been an issue for her. But desperately wanting to sleep with him had been a problem.
“So, how do you like your cocoa? Do you need more sugar? More whipped cream?”
His question tore her away from her lustful thoughts and she hurried to lift the rim to her lips for a taste. It was perfect, the moment her lips touched the edge of the mug she knew it would be. The cool whipped cream had already begun to melt in the steaming mug of cocoa. When she sipped the sweet hot-and-cold combo, the warmth slowly moved through her body increasing her temperature ever so slightly. For what seemed like the billionth time tonight she remembered her childhood and the holidays.
“It’s just right,” she said quietly.
“Good.” Ian moved closer, settling next to her. When he’d come into the room he could see she was having second thoughts, trying to come up with reasons why she shouldn’t be there with him. His plan was to divide and conquer, but he couldn’t exactly ignore her concerns.
Keysa was nothing if not practical. So when she’d mentioned leaving, reminding her of the hazardous weather conditions was his only defense. Before he had a chance to regroup, she got that far away look again—the one that suggested there was more to her apprehensiveness about being near him than she was willing to admit.
“Do you know what movie this is?” he asked when he saw her staring at the television screen.
“I do,” she said simply.
“It’s one of my favorites.”
“Really? That’s surprising,” she said after a little pause.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you’re a man.” She shrugged.
He chuckled. “Yeah, but last time I checked men liked movies too.”
Moving a hand from her mug she waved at him as if to dismiss his words. “That’s not what I meant.”
“I just meant that guys don’t normally like holiday movies. And if they do, they usually aren’t black and white movies.”
“I don’t know what guys you’ve been hanging around with, but the best holiday movies are black and white. Now, take this one,” he said pointing at the screen. “The Bishop’s Wifewas such a hit that twenty years later, they did a remake calledThe Preacher’s Wife.”
“Hmmm, I know,” Keysa said. As she took another sip of cocoa, high cheekbones arched just a bit higher as she swallowed and smiled. “So which one is your favorite? I mean, who do you like best as the angel, Cary Grant or Denzel Washington?”
“That would probably be a toss-up. They were both classy in the role. But the real stars were the wives.”
“True,” she nodded. “Whitney Houston did a good job.”
“So you didn’t like Loretta Young?”
She looked up at the screen at the scene where Cary Grant takes Loretta Young to lunch and she tells him she feels old. His response is that the only people who are old were born old, and she was born young. The way Loretta Young looks at Cary Grant is pretty much the way Keysa has secretly been looking at Ian. Even though she can’t see the way she looks at Ian, it just has that feeling. “No, I think Loretta Young portrayed the character Julia the best.”
“See, there’s something to be said about old movies.”
Keysa nodded. “I agree. There’s something that seems a bit more sincere that you just don’t see in movies today.”
“You’re absolutely right. That’s why I have such a huge collection.”
“Really? What else do you have?”
“My prized possession is my Humphrey Bogart movie collection.”
“Ooooh yeah,” she crooned. “Casablanca.”
She’d settled in, folded one leg under her and sat sideways so she could see the television and him.
“There you go with the chick-flick first,” he chuckled turning so he could face her. “The Maltese Falconwas the best.”
“Speaking of actors fromThe Bishop’s Wife,” Keysa said noting his frown because she ignored his comment about one of Bogart’s suspense pictures. “Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn inThe Philadelphia Storyis another favorite. Oh, andBachelor Mother, David Niven starred with Ginger Rogers. ” She nodded towards the television but kept looking at him.
He noticed it in her eyes. If he’d been deaf and had missed it in her voice, it was there in the depths of her brown eyes—pure unadulterated joy. He’d finally hit upon the one thing she was unguarded and excited about—classic movies. In that moment Ian thought Keysa was absolutely beautiful. She was gorgeous in his shirt, her legs folded carelessly like a young girl, her hair just a little out of place, as she sat in front of his big Christmas tree. She was perfect. He laughed to keep himself from reaching out and pulling her closer towards him and taking her the way he’d wanted to for months.
“Those aren’t my only favorites. I could go on,” she said taking another drink.
“I’m sure you could.”
They were silent for a moment as the sound of the television echoed around them. InThe Bishop’s Wife, Cary Grant’s character is asked to perform a miracle, to prove that he’s an angel. And tonight Ian felt like he needed a miracle. He needed fate to intervene to make Keysa stick around, to admit the attraction that had been circling around them the past year. Maybe it wouldn’t take a miracle, he thought hopefully. The cocoa and the movie seemed to be doing the trick, or so he thought.
“I’d rather not watch a holiday movie,” she said, somewhat solemnly.
“It’s three days before Christmas. How can you not want to see holiday movies?”
“My parents’ divorce was finalized twenty years ago on Christmas day,” she said, and sat up as if she hadn’t meant to blurt it out so abruptly.
“Oh.” He’d known her parents had divorced when she was a child. That was something she’d told him on one of the dates they’d been on. She’d been seven years old and her mother had moved them to Detroit right after the split. It wasn’t an amicable split, she’d said, and custody and visitation difficulties between her parents resulted in Keysa being estranged from her father.
“It’s silly,” she said, leaning forward to place her mug on the table. “You’d think after all this time I’d get over it. But every year the same hurt comes back.”
“Maybe you don’t want to let it go?”
Her head snapped around as she glared at him. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that if you keep memorializing their breakup, then it’s likely to keep hurting. Sometimes we need to forget those hurts and let them fade away so we can heal and move on.”
“It’s not for me to heal,” she said testily. “I’m not the one who got divorced.”
“No, but you’re the one who was most affected by it. Didn’t you say your mother never remarried and she’s not even dating?”
Keysa sighed as if she regretted telling him so much about her family. “No, she never remarried.”
“Did she ever date?”
“Not really. Not while I was living at home.”
“And let me guess, she hates Christmas too?”
Her shoulders stiffened a bit. “Don’t make it sound like that.”
“Like she’s some bitter old maid who needs to get on with her own life and stop pulling me down with her unhappiness.”
“I didn’t say that, you did.”
“Ha. Ha. Very funny,” she quipped then rubbed her hands over her face. “Maybe we should just get some sleep. I want to be in the office early tomorrow and I need to go home and change first.”
And that was that, Ian thought. Gone was the happy Keysa, replaced by the stubborn, resolute one. He should’ve been pleased that the cool, unflappable Keysa hadn’t returned, but this wasn’t exactly the way he wanted the evening to end.
“Fine,” he said despite his feelings. He wasn’t going to push her any further tonight because he sensed that what she’d said about her mother was an admission that had been a long time coming.
The fire had died down, but the moonlight spilled into the room through the windows. Ian’s body was on full alert, warmth moving through him and pooling in his groin as he inhaled her soft floral scent. He lay on his back with Keysa curled in his arms, their legs were entwined as his long shirt that she’d worn was riding up over her hips. Under the blanket his hands splayed over her lower back, downward to touch the delectable curve of her buttocks.
She shifted in his arms, her hair brushing over his chin as her head lay on his chest. Ian inhaled deeply, loving the feel of her full breasts pressed against him. She was so soft and so pliant in his arms he wanted to hold her here forever. When she moved again her knee slid up his leg, resting dangerously close to his swollen arousal.
His moan couldn’t be contained and Ian’s hand slid over her bottom to grip her thigh, pulling her leg up higher until it brushed over his arousal. The feeling was intense it sent shivers through his entire body until he was grimacing in pleasure. Her hands splayed over his chest and her hips jutted forward. He wanted to yell out, to pull her on top of him and sink his length deep inside of her, but he had to be sure this was what she wanted.
Keysa Donovan was no ordinary woman and making love to her wouldn’t be a brief sexual encounter for him. He’d wanted her on a level he’d never experienced before and so he had been patiently waiting for her to come around. Tonight he wanted her, badly. He wanted to consummate their new relationship, to make her understand how much he needed and desired her. He had so much he wanted to give her, so much he wanted to share with this woman, if only she would open up to him.
As if she’d heard his inner pleas, Keysa’s head lifted until her deep brown eyes were staring at him. Her curly hair was mussed, her eyes tinged with lust.
“What are we doing?” she asked in a hushed tone.
“Whatever you want to do,” was his reply.
For a moment she hesitated, then her head dipped lower and her lips touched his. It was a feather-light touch at first, and Ian responded tentatively. Then her tongue stroked his lower lip and he heard himself groaning again. Extending his tongue they engaged in a sensual exchange before their lips finally touched again and the kiss went even deeper. By this time Keysa’s body had moved so that she was on top of him. Ian’s hands cupped the round swells of her bottom, pressing her center into his erection.
Sliding his hands underneath the band of her bikinis, he quickly felt her heat and sighed when his fingers slid through her moistened slit. She gasped and opened her legs wider. Finding her center, Ian slipped first one, then two fingers deep inside her, kissing her mouth with an urgency that had his heart pounding in his chest.
Keysa began undulating her hips, moving against the slow and tortuous rhythm of his fingers. When she stilled and moaned, long and deep Ian thought he would simply explode. Instead he slid his hand from between her legs and hastily removed her panties. In a twist of arms, hands and heavy breathing, Keysa pulled his boxers down his legs and pushed them aside, and resumed her position on top of him. She looked down at him momentarily before positioning herself over his rigid length. Guiding himself into her slickness Ian kept his eyes on her face as sensations swirled inside threatening to engulf him completely.