CHOCOLATES, FLOWERS AND . . . BE MINE
MARY JO SPRINGER
“Your fantasy man is over there.”
Angela Marchant’s gaze followed the tilted neck of her friend Mandi’s beer bottle in the direction of the dark booth in the back of SweetHart Lodge’s bar.
Ah hell, it was him!
She swiveled around and grabbed her drink ignoring the mournful wail of a male country singer entertaining the lodge’s après ski group. Taking a long draw on her beer she gained the courage to glance back in his direction.
“Jealous?” Mandi prompted, over her shoulder.
Angela pursed her lips, her fingers clawing the logo off her bottle. “No!”
“Right.” Mandi raised a perfectly arched brow.
Okay, Mandi knew her too well, she saw right through her ruse. Jealous, hell yes she was jealous. Jealous of any woman he put his hands on. But what good did that do her?
Lance Hart, home-town ice-hockey heart throb, was getting hot and heavy with the bleach-blonde Miss America in the back booth. Tagged by the sport’s magazines as the “hottest thing on ice” he had a roster of willing ladies that rivaled the NHL’s. In fact, he scored as much off the ice as on.
Lip-locked with the frisky blonde he picked that particular moment to open his eyes. Mischievous green eyes, the precise match of the firs growing on Valentine Mountain fastened on her.
Her heart stopped.
An inferno ignited deep in her gut . . . hot . . . torturing. Thankfully, the honky-tonk music drowned out the wild pounding of her heart. Faint, woozy, she grabbed for her beer downing the remaining contents in one gulp.
“Why don’t you do something about it?” Mandi inquired, shoving her change into her wallet.
Angela sniffed her answer. “You know I can’t.”
“For once in your life get out of that neat little box you call a life.”
If only it were that easy. Glancing back at Lance, her shoulders dropped in disappointment when she viewed an empty booth—so much for living on the fringe. Turning back to Mandi she helped her gather up her purse and jacket.
“Are you enjoying the show?” The deep timbre of his devil-voice against her ear buckled her knees. The remnants of her last mouthful of beer sprayed over the bar in a fan-shaped spume of liquid. As she set her bottle down, it caught the lip of a huge bowl laden with pastel valentine conversation hearts, sending them flying into the air like confetti on New Year’s Eve. People ducked, others scattered, the bartender cursed vividly as he threw his towel on the bar. Mortified, she wanted to slink away. He always did this to her. Upset her to the point she made an idiot of herself. Just once she wanted karma to be on her side instead of a major deterrent.
Beside her, Lance chuckled, the vibrations pulsing against her back as he leaned against her. “Way to go, Angie.”
No one but him called her by the shorten form of her name. The sound of her name on his oh-so-sensual lips sent her insides whirling like a cyclone.
“Have you seen my sister?”
And that was the problem.
Never . . . ever . . . did you break the cardinal rule of the female code. You never under any circumstance fell in love with your best friend’s brother. And yet—to her dismay she’d loved Lance Hart since she’d learned to walk. Problem was—he didn’t know she existed. Why would he? He dated super-models, celebrities, gorgeous blonds with much bigger assets than hers. No matter what she tried or did, she could walk around naked in front of him and he’d still see her as Allison’s little friend. What was a girl to do?
“Nope, not tonight,” she barely managed with him standing so near his warm breath ruffled the curls bunched next to her ear.
He moved closer, sucking all the breathable air out of the room. Bending, he whispered into her ear, “I’m going to need your professional services.”
An avalanche of heat rolled over her. What? The mere thought of having her hands on his bare flesh was more than her heart could take. She turned, their faces only inches apart. “Hard hit?” The cadence of her voice sounded nonchalant, she was anything but.
“Yeah, did you see tonight’s game?” He watched her intently the deep mystery in his eyes condensing her insides into a pulsating yearning for what could never be. Someone needed to make it crystal-clear to her body because she forgot to breathe, the world around her faded into the background leaving only them.
Minutes passed before she spoke a simple word. “Yes.”
He pulled his wide shoulders back arching the muscles. “Well, that boarding penalty, the one that started the free-for-all fight, bruised the hell out of my shoulder.” Reaching up he massaged the injured spot. “Can you fit me in tomorrow at the arena after the morning skate?”
Could she fit him in? Really? She’d drop everything to get a chance to work on him. She frowned.
How pathetic. Geez, have some self-respect for goodness sakes.
The wave of people grew, pressing them closer and closer together. She lowered her lashes fighting to get her raw emotions under control as her gaze drifted lower. A black T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan, Got Hockey molded his pecs then hugged his six-pack abdominals. As he grabbed a beer off the bar, the thin material pulled taut over his well-developed biceps. Hot masculine power radiated from him. Good old-fashioned work jeans, worn at the knees, cradled his hips and thighs.
The commercial he’d just shot for his new line of men’s underwear played through her mind. The steamy, sizzling, ninety second spot an explosion of miles and miles of tanned, unyielding muscle, black boxer briefs, laced hockey skates nestled against his bare shoulder, and his hockey stick. Thinking about it sent a blast of vapor shooting from her ears. She’d DVR’d it, watching it every night before falling asleep. If she couldn’t have him in real life—at least she possessed him in her dreams.
“I’ll leave word at the door so you don’t have any trouble getting inside.” His face, inches from hers bore the scruff of today’s beard. His spicy cologne, a brew of musk and pine, captivated her. She leaned forward, her lips seeking just a taste of his.
One of his fans shoved a team roster in his face for an autograph breaking the moment. It was just as well, she didn’t have any business getting cozy with Lance Hart.
She needed to get out of here, away from him. “I got to get going I have a long day tomorrow.”
Lance glanced up from signing his name. “Hold on I’ll walk you out.”
A fan in a crimson Harvard sweatshirt gave her the once-over. “Is this your girl?”
Lance returned the program with one hand and downed his beer with the other, “No, she’s better—my masseuse.”
Wonderful. That pretty much summoned it up. Now she knew where she stood with Lance Hart.
She headed for the door, Lance following as people patted him on the back. One fan shouted, “Nice hat trick last night!”
Heading out into the night’s frigid air the silvery moonlight reflected off the falling snow turning everything into a silver wonderland. The scent of wood burning in fireplaces dusted the air. Somewhere on top of Valentine Mountain a wolf howled a lonely request. They’d grown up here. Close as two families could be. Allison and Lance lost their parents in a car accident when they were toddlers. Angela’s single father was the ski instructor and part of the mountain rescue squad. Val and Tina Hart served as parents to all of them.
She removed her gloves from her pockets, then, slid each finger into place. Her attention so devoted she tripped over a loose board and went flying onto the gravel parking lot. She let out a little sob as gravel sliced into her flesh like glass shards. Lance was immediately at her side. “Are you all right?” Glancing down, he focused on the blood oozing from her knees and through her gloves. Without another word he lifted her into his arms and set out toward his truck, his feet crunching the freshly fallen snow.
“Put your arms around my neck,” he ordered. She half-way complied; one arm went around his neck burying her fingers in his sun-streaked, just-rolled-out-of-bed, blond hair. The other braced itself against his chest. The steady beat of his heart sped up when she fanned her fingers over his shirt. Effortlessly he continued toward his truck. He jerked the door open and sat her inside. Fumbling in the glove compartment he pulled out a first aid kit. Rolling her jeans up past her knees he bent and smoothed some antibiotic cream over her wound. She jumped as the pain shot up her legs.
Using his fingers to steady her leg he brought the injured flesh up to his lips and blew on the wound. Lightning struck, frying every synapse, her senses clanging to full alert. Her eyes slid shut as the pain morphed into something else, something far more dangerous than a skinned knee. She’d survive the skinned knee, his tender ministration was another story. Bracing her hands on his shoulders she pushed herself up. He straightened eyeing her cautiously. Moving forward, she attempted to explain the unexplainable. “I . . . I . . . oh hell . . .”
She cinched his shirt, pulled with all her might and flung herself into his arms. Her lips sealed over his. For an excruciating moment he went perfectly still, his hands dropping to his sides. Then, as she moaned into his mouth, he slammed up against her, cupping her face, driving his tongue into her mouth. He took over. Took control. He kissed with the same acute precision he played hockey. Full-out. It was seductive—tender—lethal. He tasted of desire and potent testosterone. Pulling back, he stared at her with open curiosity, snowflakes melting in his shaggy hair. And then—he let out a growl that vibrated through her bones as his lips crushed hers again, tilting his head to gain better leverage. His arms slid down her body. One cupped her butt pulling her into his arousal, the other laced across her back. Minutes passed, people walked by, and still they stood there drinking their fill of each other like thirsty voyagers lost in a desert. The Harvard guy sauntered by, yelling over his shoulder, “looks like you’re awfully fond of your masseuse.”
Lance flipped him off.
Heat scorched her cheeks.
This was a very public place and he was a very public figure. She had to end this—now, before they became fodder for the evening news.
Using her hands for leverage, she pushed against rock-hard pecs, but he refused to release her. His fingers dug into her butt as he fought to keep her secured against him. Snowing heavier now, the flakes covered them. Removing her glove, she laid her hand against his cheek. “I’m sorry.”
Deep within the green sea of his eyes something germinated. “I’m not.”
Worming her way out of his embrace, she headed for her car, his emotion-rough voice calling after her.
“Angie . . . Angie . . .”
She dared not turn around. She’d already made a big enough fool of herself for one night.
Reaching her car, she hurriedly started the engine and thrust the car into gear. As she rounded his truck, he remained leaning against the front bumper, ankles crossed, one hand sliding through his snow-soaked hair, staring.
Lance Hart lying naked except for a towel draped across his backside would spike any woman’s temperature. It certainly shot hers into the stratosphere especially after that kiss last night. That kiss. She sighed heavily. She could think of nothing else. She’d decided late last night as sleep eluded her, she’d show up today and act totally professional, respect his personal boundaries. She half expected Lance to break his appointment.
Approaching the table, she warmed the oil between her hands then leaned over him. Her hands shook at the first touch of his bare skin. Sizzling sensations rocked her core as smooth febrile skin slid beneath her fingers. Neither of them uttered a word. Increasing the level of pressure on the nasty bruise on his shoulder produced a groan. She continued to knead the area using deep compression technique.
“What are your plans for Valentine’s Day?” His voice developed a rough edge she’d never heard before. “Gotta hot date?”
For the length of a heartbeat her hands faltered, her muscles going rigid, her posture stiffening. “No.”
“No?” He repeated, attempting to roll to his right. The towel slipped. Oh no, no, no. What little of him was covered needed to remain hidden? Holy moly, if he moved another inch . . . She all but slammed his shoulder back down onto the table.
“Hey!” He reprimanded.
“Sorry,” she soothed, grimacing, her teeth tearing into her lower lip.
Silence stretched into minutes before he made another attempt at conversation.
“Go out with me after the Chicago game. I’ll send a car for you. Afterwards we can grab some dinner?” Tumbling into a lower octave his voice hesitated as he awaited her answer.
Beneath her wavering fingers the muscles congealed into boulders. Go out with him? She restrained herself from letting out a whoop of joy. Go with your gut, her heart screamed. For the first time in ages she decided to grab on to something she’d craved her entire life—a chance with Lance Hart.
“Yes, I’d love that.”
The arena was rocking when she reached her seat at ice-level. Taking her time, using her hands, she smoothed her very tight, very short black bandage dress into place before sitting down. The lights dimmed and a roar went up from the capacity crowd as the players were introduced. Like the rest of the people she stood as the players skated around. Lance skated over to her tapping the glass with his stick as he skated by. Then, they dropped the puck and the excitement became palatable. Lance won the face off. With blazing speed he skated up the ice. Dodging other players he crossed the blue line flying into Chicago’s zone, his sweater fanning out behind him.
Body-checked into the boards, high-sticked by a defenseman, Lance shook off his gloves, grabbed his face and dropped to his knees. Jumping to her feet she voiced her displeasure along with the roaring crowd. Blood poured onto the ice staining it a deep red. His coach skated out with a towel, holding it to Lance’s face. A fight broke out behind them. Angie held her breath as they continued to work on Lance. Wanting to get to him, she squirmed in her seat. Minutes passed and still he remained on his hands and knees blood spilling from his forehead. Finally, they helped him to his feet, assisting him to the bench then the locker room.
Lance never returned for the rest of the game. As it came to an end a man approached her with instructions to follow him. They continued down a concrete tunnel leading back toward the locker room, her stiletto’s tapping a staccato beat.
“Lance wants you to meet him here. He’ll be out shortly.”
Thirty minutes later the steel double-doors swung open and Lance walked toward her. Dressed in an Armani suit and tie, he carried an armful of Valentine’s chocolates and at least two dozen red roses. As he approached she noticed the butterfly bandage covering his stitches.
“What happened?” She asked, her gaze rifling over him.
A slight smile lifted the corner of his lips. “I got distracted.”
Chewing on her lip, a short burst of laughter escaped. “By what?”
Moving closer he ignored her question, handing her the big red heart of candy and the roses. Chocolates, flowers . . . and a beaming smile sent tingles to her fingers and toes before progressing into more strategic places. She accepted his gifts, her arms filled with the Valentine’s Day treasurers. Reaching up, she bent his head and kissed his forehead. “Does it hurt? We could do this another time if you want to go home and rest.”
Again he flashed that melt-your-heart smile, “Not on your life.”
Her brows drew together. “You never answered me. What distracted you?”
Swallowing hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing, he took her hand pulling her closer. “You.”
The blood drained from her face as she gaped at him. “What did you say?”
With a finger beneath her chin, he raised her gaze to his. “You heard me.”
Reaching into his pocket he withdrew a red velvet box. Her eyes tracked the movement from his pocket back to his eyes. What? Wide eyes watched as he popped the lid. She stared in wonderment at the silver heart on a chain with one diamond in the center.
Giving a small yelp, she gasped, “Lance!”
His hand cupped her cheek. “I know we’ll have to take it slow. I don’t have a great track record with relationships but I swear to you if you will have me I’ll strive every day to make you happy.”
A tear tracked her cheek. He captured it with his finger. “Just give me a chance—”
“——Shh,” She placed a finger against his lips to silence him. “I’ve loved you forever.”
He picked her up, swinging her around and around, “Funny, I thought I was hopelessly in love with a woman who only saw me as her big brother.”
Laying a hand against his chest, she fisted the material of his dress shirt, “Now where would you get an idea like that.”
Steel arms cinched her waist pulling her into him. Then, he whispered her all-time favorite Valentine’s Day slogan. “Be Mine.”