Darcy Tucker hates Christmas. Being lead supervisor at a department store shows her the very worst of humanity. When her holiday display is demolished, she turns to the least likely person she knows—her hot, tattooed tenant who seems to get off on the very idea of Christmas. Maybe she can get him to decorate the store and stop decorating her house.
Tattoo artist Ben Hartley may not look the part, but Christmas is his favorite holiday. When Darcy gets in a jam and reveals her vulnerable side, he finally gets to learn more about the sexy woman behind the cool façade.
Thrown in close quarters to fix her store, Ben and Darcy realize the only chilly thing between them is the temperature outside. One supremely hot kiss leads to a night full of passionate surprises. Now Ben has to show her that there’s more to life than work, and that the season of hope is full of sexy possibilities with or without a Christmas tree.
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On sale DECEMBER 21, 2012
Ben pulled the pillow over his head, trying desperately to ignore the incessant buzz of his alarm. He flung his hand out but it wasn’t his alarm. He squinted at the clock. “That better be 7:50 p.m.,” he muttered.
The shrill ring of his doorbell finally scraped at his consciousness. “Fucking fuck.” Whoever was leaning on it as though it was their job was going to pay. He’d been up sketching until after three. And it was his goddamn day off. He fumbled out of bed and nearly walked down the stairs before he remembered that he slept in the raw.
That was one way to get rid of whoever was at the door.
He tugged on a pair of workout shorts and a shirt before shuffling down the stairs. When the blasted bell went off again he growled his way to the door and swung it open. “What the hell do you— Oh, for God’s sake, I promised I’d take down the lights today, not at eight in the fucking morning.”
His landlord winced and twisted her fingers together. “Actually,” she pointed to the note on the door, “I left that this morning before I left for work. And now I have an even bigger problem.”
A jaw-popping yawn was his first answer. “Look, Miss Tucker—”
“Darcy.” He decided he liked the way it felt on his tongue. And that was dangerous. He should have stayed in goddamn bed. His landlady’s teeth chattered as she held the collar of her coat up under her chin. Sunny yellow hair whipped around her face. In the searing light of day, her pretty eyes were even more captivating. And that little tidbit was a sure sign that he needed coffee. Now. “Do you want to come in?”
She was going to saw her damn bottom lip off before she answered, so he reached out and took her arm, dragging her inside. “It’s freezing.”
“Didn’t you get the email that it’s winter?”
Ben looked down at himself and then back at her. “I was sleeping. You’re lucky I have this on.”
Those evergreen eyes widened and a bit of his grumpiness slipped away. Maybe she wanted a better look at him. “I know, and I hate to bother you, truly. Truly,” she repeated. “I know we kind of got off on the wrong foot yesterday.”
He crossed his arms over his chest. “Actually, I think your foot might still be in my ass from yesterday.”
Darcy brought her cupped hands up to her lips and blew into them. “Can we sit for a minute?” She looked around his living room. “I mean if that’s okay.”
“It’s your house,” he said, stepping down into the living room. Three large boxes of decorations were clustered around the fireplace. “You made that clear yesterday.”
She hunched up her shoulders. “I had a really awful day yesterday, and it’s no excuse, but I came home to find that Christmas threw up on my house.” She sighed and sank into his couch. “It wasn’t my finest hour.”
He sat across from her. Luckily he’d actually picked up the house yesterday. Christmas decorating always equaled a major overhaul inside and out. “No, but I should have mentioned it to you, I suppose.”
It was her house, as she’d explained. But he did use LED lights to keep down the cost. Anything he did wouldn’t have increased her electricity bill more than a few pennies.
She slid off her coat. A lightweight gray sweater hugged her shoulders and scooped low on her neck to emphasize her clavicle and elegant neck. Not the right time to notice all of your favorite spots on a woman, Hartley. Especially this woman.
Darcy pushed up her sleeves and leaned forward. “Speaking of those decorations.”
He sighed, leaning back and lacing his fingers over his belly. “I told you I’d take them down.”
“No, actually. I’d left you the note to leave most of them up. Maybe tone them down to a more traditional look, but keep most of them.”
He sat up. “Why the change?”
“Once I’d calmed down I thought about how much work you’d done and how much Carly loved your decorations. She’s the head of the beautification program for Oakwood Gardens.”
She was too much. She didn’t care about the work he’d done. “So now you’re in with the bigwigs and all is fine?”
“Not the bigwigs, just the Association. They’re always on me to decorate with the rest of the neighborhood. You saved me the trouble.”
“Glad I can be of service.”
She blinked. “I didn’t mean it that way.” Darcy rubbed her forehead. “Look, you’re brilliant.”
Ben laughed. He didn’t need his rather lovely landlady to stroke his ego. “It’s okay, I get it. Since you hate Christmas, it’s a tough sell.”
“Hating Christmas is a major understatement, but it’s for a good reason.”
Ben quirked his brow. “There’s no good reason to hate Christmas.”
“I work retail—at a department store.”
Ben leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Okay, you might have a reason to dislike it, but hate it? C’mon. With all those happy kids and the—”
“The miserable mothers with children they’ve dragged to every store since they opened? Or would I love the kids that that are let loose in the store like it’s their own personal playground? Or better yet, that parents think the toy department is a daycare and can just let the kids play there unsupervised while they shop?”
“Okay,” he held up his hand, “I get it.” He had a feeling there was still more to it.
“And that brings me back to why I’m here. A holiday hiccup that is making my boss twitchy has landed in my lap and I’m wondering if you could help me.”
“Oh yeah, the deal is sweet as hell from where I’m standing, darlin’. You deign to let me keep up my ornaments and now you want a favor?”
Darcy’s chin dropped to her chest. A hank of lemon-blonde hair fell out of her messy twist. Texture was his downfall and between the fluffy soft sweater and her finger-grip-worthy hair, he should jam his hands under his thighs before he did something stupid.
She made a huffing sigh sound. “I’m not doing this right.”
Ben stood up. The urge to brush her hair back and tell her everything was going to be all right made him itchy. “What’s the problem?” He hated to see anyone miserable. That was all. But then again, she hated Christmas. And that just wasn’t natural.
She peered up at him through heavy bangs. “I need your talents at the store. Can you do what you did to the front of my house on a fifteen-foot spruce?”
He rubbed at his biceps. “Wait, did I just hear you right? You want me to come to your store and—”
“Make Christmas explode all over my front end. Money isn’t an object.” Her words came out in a rush.
Ben grinned. The absolute misery on her face was epic. “And I get full creative control?”
She nibbled at her lip again and Ben wanted to brush his thumb over the full, raspberry-colored flesh. And that wasn’t going to happen. She’d probably bite his finger off.
Darcy lifted her chin. “Within reason.”
He had a feeling within reason meant micromanaging him into a safe little display like every other store. “Sorry, darlin’. I’m not interested.”
She stood quickly. “Okay, wait. You can have as much creative control as I can get out of my boss. How’s that?”
He drummed his fingers on his arm. Her eyes drifted to his chest, then his arm and back up to his face. He tucked his hands under his arms. And again, her eyes strayed to his sleeve of ink. Maybe the good little girl next door liked tattoos. “I only have today.”
“That’s perfect, because I need it done today.”
Maybe it was her earnest eyes that were just a little wild, or maybe it was the fact that she’d swallowed her pride to come and ask him to help her, or maybe he was just insane. He heard himself say, “All right. Turn your pretty butt around and go back to work. I have to go shopping.”
Her mouth hung open. “Pretty butt?”
“Well, it is. I got an eyeful when you were tearing apart my work.”
“I—” She cut herself off with a shake of her head. Dammit, she was cute when she was all flustered. “All right. It’s Blackstone’s Department Store.”
He whistled. Blackstone’s was old family money. “Really? And you want me to decorate it?”
“I need Christmas perfection and that seems to be you.”
He laughed. “Now it suits you that I’m a Christmas freak?”
“Just like that?”
“Look, Ben…can I call you Ben?”
“I think you should at this point.”
“This very unruly and very miserable customer tore through the store with his daughter’s bike and took out half the front of the store’s decorations. Desperate doesn’t cover it.”
Ben’s breath stalled in his chest. That was coincidence. “Daughter’s bike?”
She tucked her hands into her sleeves. “Yes. He lost it. I just can’t get over how upset he was.”
“And you didn’t call the cops?”
“We did, but we don’t have a good image of him on our video surveillance. And in the commotion, I didn’t get a license or ID.”
Ben rubbed his biceps again. Christ. It couldn’t be. “Okay, darlin’. Why don’t you go back to the store. I need to get some supplies and my computer.”
“Why?” She shook her head. “And stop calling me darlin’.”
He smirked at her. It kept slipping off his tongue. “Now that I know it bugs you, I definitely won’t.”
Her eyes flattened and her nostrils flared.
He smiled wider. “You’re kinda gorgeous when you’re mad.”
She made a disgusted snort and turned. “If I wasn’t in such a bind I’d—”
She picked up her coat and stuffed her arms into the holes before he could think about holding the jacket for her. “I’d have the lights off the front of the house so freaking fast.”
“Temper, temper, Miss Tucker.”
“I hate Christmas!” She stalked to the door and jerked it open.
She swung around, a lock of hair falling into her face before she blew it away. He grinned at her and plucked a scarf off his coat rack. “It’s freezing out there.” He wound the simple navy fleece around her neck.
Her eyes widened before she muttered a thank you as she stomped down the stairs. He watched her go. Superior ass didn’t even cover it. [/accordion] [/accordions]