Holiday Wishes Read online

  His brows went up and she sighed. “Don’t ask me how, it just is. It has to be.”

  She could see him smiling through the glow. It was that patented bad boy smile and in spite of herself, her heart gave a treacherous little sigh. She hardened both it and her voice. “Thank you,” she said with as much dignity as she could muster, leaning on her desk in order to keep her hands off the guy who still had a solo starring role in her every sexual fantasy, and had since high school. A fact she’d take to the grave, thank you very much. And okay, not every single fantasy—the Chrises had occasional starring roles as well; Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pine, Chris Pratt . . .

  With a sigh, she turned to her desk, a hundred-year-old hand-carved piece, the top inlaid with time-worn leather, the edges rough with life’s battle marks. It’d been her father’s, a man who’d never wavered in his love for her mom, not once in the thirty years they’d had before he died last year. And yet he’d died of cancer that he hadn’t told a soul about, not her mom, not Lotti, no one, nor had he had it treated.

  Because that thought led to a dark tunnel that she hadn’t yet found a light for, she shook it off and pulled open a desk drawer to grab a Maglite and a box of matches. She’d already had a bunch of candles lit on the mantel so they weren’t in the complete dark, but she needed to check on everyone. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have a different room to switch you to,” she said to Sean. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to go check on the other guests.”

  “It’s late,” he said. “Everyone’s in their rooms. Trust me, they’d come out if they needed something from you.”

  She cocked her head to listen, but not a soul was moving.

  “Not even a mouse,” he said with a smile, reading her mind. Then he took her Maglite and beamed it up the stairs. “See? No one. They’re all in bed. Tell me what else you need to do, I’ll help.”

  “Hmm,” she said.

  “And that means . . . ?”

  “The last time you ‘helped’ me, it’d been to remove my jeans,” she said, then bit her traitorous tongue. Where had that come from? Oh yeah, it’d come from her very, very stupid side.

  He winced, like the memories of their past hurt him as much as they did her. Whatever. She wasn’t going to be drawn in. She’d lost more than just her virginity that night. She’d lost a chunk of her heart. Not that she wanted it back . . .

  Grabbing her flashlight back, she headed for the stairs. “I want to walk the hallway just in case someone needs something.” When he followed her, she gave him a long look. “I can handle this.”

  “Humor me,” he said.

  So they walked the hallway together, didn’t hear a peep out of anyone, and went back downstairs. Because the house was so old, she moved to the front door. She needed to go outside to check the electric panel to see if she’d blown any fuses. She pulled on her jacket and was surprised when she opened the door to find Sean once again coming with her.

  He pulled up her hood for her, tucking her hair in, which felt oddly . . . intimate. “You don’t have to do this,” she yelled. She had to. The wind and rain had whipped up the night so that she could hardly hear her own voice.

  “You blame me for this mess. The least I can do is see it through with you.”

  They ran along the path and around to the side of the house, all while being pelted by the storm. Under the roof’s overhang, Lotti stopped, panting for breath. “Here,” she said, handing him the flashlight to hold for her so she could pry open the electrical panel. “And I don’t really blame you for tonight,” she admitted grudgingly to the panel, not wanting to let him off the hook entirely.

  Sean moved in closer so that his front brushed her back, protecting her from the worst of the storm with his body. “But you blame me for hurting you, as you should. Trust me, I blame me too. I wish that I’d done things differently.”

  She closed her eyes against the onslaught of emotions that battered her at his close proximity. “No,” she said. “It’s not all on you. I wanted you that night. But I do blame you for turning me into a serial monogamist.”

  He turned her to face him. He’d made sure to pull up her hood, but he didn’t have one. His dark hair was drenched and looked midnight black, his way-too-handsome face a perfect backdrop for those startlingly sharp green eyes. “Explain.”


  “Try again.”

  She tossed up her hands. “Fine. You were my first one-night stand and it didn’t work out, okay? I mean not even a little! First, it wasn’t all that great and second, I thought we were going to be a couple, which you clearly never intended. Because of you, I learned to be cautious and careful and became a—”

  “—serial monogamist,” he repeated, eyes narrowed. “I get it. But back up a second. It wasn’t . . . ‘all that great’?”

  Okay, so she’d totally lied there. She’d thought it might put a halt to this awkward conversation. “This conversation is going to have to get in line behind my other more pressing problems.”

  “‘Wasn’t all that great,’” he was echoing to himself. “Yeah, I’m going to need you to explain that.”

  Oh boy. She wracked her brain for a legitimate gripe. “Well it was over pretty fast and—” She broke off when his eyebrows shot up so far they vanished into his hair.

  “It was over pretty fast?” he repeated, so obviously stunned at this tidbit that she had to laugh.

  “You’re starting to sound like a parrot,” she said.

  “Just coming to terms with what an asshole I was back then. But in my defense, I was sixteen and pretty stupid.”

  And grieving. She had to give him that. He’d lost both of his parents in a tragic car accident. At the time, she couldn’t imagine the pain he’d been suffering. All she’d wanted to do was take his mind off things.

  She was pretty sure she’d done that, at least for a few hours. First, they’d shared some pilfered alcohol, and then he’d kissed her. And oh how good that had felt. Until that night, she’d never gone further than a kiss before. Everything Sean had done had turned her on. Everything. Until he’d tried to slow her down.

  But the alcohol had been like liquid courage and she’d been on the very edge of her first social orgasm. Slowing down hadn’t been an option for her and she’d pushed for more. She’d gotten her wish and he’d been sweet and gentle. He’d gone slow, so achingly slow that in the end, she’d been begging him. But they’d been drinking and he hadn’t wanted to go all the way. He’d been worried and concerned for her, but she’d pushed the issue, taking the lead, taking him into her body. He’d been buried deep and trembling with the effort to hold back for her when from the front of her dad’s truck she’d heard her cell phone going off.

  She’d been way past curfew.

  It’d been the call to bring her out, to dash her with the proverbial bucket of ice water. The fear of her parents finding out what she’d been up to with “the horrible, rotten, no-good O’Riley boy,” and she’d lost her mojo.

  Not exactly his fault . . .

  “I love you,” she’d whispered and she’d never forget the look of panic on his face. She should’ve suspected it then, but it’d still been such a shock when after she’d moved out of the city he hadn’t followed through with his promise about seeing her, not once. With all her ridiculously young heart she’d wanted forever with him. She’d called, written him letters, and she’d poured her heart out in each and every one. He’d never responded and she’d never seen him again.

  In hindsight, she knew they’d been far too young for anything serious. They’d both needed more life experiences and maturity. Not that her heart appreciated the reasoning.

  “I can promise you,” he said, “I’ve learned a whole lot since then.”

  The words made certain parts of her anatomy quiver, which she ignored. “Whatever you say.” She turned from him and eyeballed the electrical panel. Just as she thought, she’d blown a fuse. She pulled it out and replaced it with one of the spares she had tucked into the p