Enjoy the humor and spice of a sexy holiday romance sure to warm up your winter.
Ex-NFL star Deacon Flashman had the perfect woman in the palm of his hands…and dropped the ball.
Considering Deacon’s past performances, that isn’t news. An injury cut short his football career, and then he got taken for millions by a greedy ex-wife. But Deacon’s luck has changed. He’s got a great job, and he’s recently become an uncle again. With the holidays close, he’s getting a second chance. Nora Nielson, the woman who got away, is back. Now he needs to figure out a way to get into her good graces. A relationship with Nora is everything he wants…and everything that scares him. But to let the past go, he’ll have to go big or go home. And the stakes have never been higher.
“You sure you’re okay with me driving?” Deacon asked as he fiddled with the radio on their drive back into town.
They hadn’t encountered much traffic coming down the mountain, though Nora was sure the crowds would pick up as the day waned, with people eager to hit the ski lodge for the weekend.
“Oh, sure. Fine.”
“Fine.” He repeated, a half smile on his face, and turned up the music.
They hadn’t yet reached the grocery store when he shocked the heck out of her by apologizing. “Look, I’m sorry, okay?”
“Um…” She paused. “For what, exactly?”
He scowled at her before concentrating once more on the road. “For the awkwardness between us.”
Nora refused to accept his remorse. Yep, that’s me. Graceless. “Oh? I hadn’t realized there was anything wrong with the way we deal with each other.”
He gripped the wheel tighter. “Gimme a break. When we first met, we laughed and got along. Now, I can barely be in the same room with you before you’re sniping at me for something.”
She raised a brow and said nothing.
“I mean, so we had one date. I thought it went well. Then you started acting funny. You ignored my texts and got weird anytime we were in the same room together. And hell, you still act weird.”
She blinked. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me.” He sounded grim. “I think you’re hot, and you’re funny. I asked you out because I thought we might have something. Then you got all cold and never talked to me again.”
“Oh my God. Seriously? Deacon, we dated once. It was a lot of fun. I agree. The next day you left on business and never talked to me again. Oh wait, you did…way back in February. You texted me that Becca needed me to pick up Simon from school. That was it.”
“That’s not true. First of all, I let you know I was leaving and that I’d call you when I got back.” He shifted in his seat. “I called you more than once. Hell, we talk all the time.”
“Are you being deliberately obtuse or are you just stupid?”
“Oh, that’s nice.”
“Seriously.” She folded her arms over her chest to keep from reaching for his throat. “We had a great date. You made me laugh, and I was attracted. We had chemistry. Then you spazzed when you left, went out of town for a month—”
“Two weeks on business.”
“—and came back with a girlfriend. You never answered my message about anything being wrong. You just came back to Hope’s Turn with a significant other. Then you want to be friends and act like nothing’s wrong?” Flabbergasted, she just looked at him. “Really? You ghosted me to my face, which shouldn’t even be a thing.”
“That’s not how I remember it.”
“Oh?” She turned in her seat to stare at his stubborn profile. “Do tell, Deacon. How do you remember it?”
Deacon focused on the road, wishing he’d never brought up the subject. “I remember having a great time on our date. I never spazzed.” Well, maybe. He could still remember how sweaty his palms had been and how his heart had raced when they’d come to the end of the date. How badly he’d wanted to kiss her, and how worried he’d been that he’d screw up a good thing. So, he’d left her with a smile and a promise to call again. “I did call you, you know. After our date. And not about picking up Simon.”
“To tell me you were going out of town, which I already knew? Gee, thanks, Deac.”
A glance at Nora showed her just as vibrant, beautiful, and sarcastic as always.
“I never ghosted you.” The dating practice of simply fading away and ending communication instead of telling a date goodbye had always bothered him.
“No. You made it seem like we had the potential to have a relationship then came back to town with a woman on your arm as if we barely knew each other, no explanation whatsoever.”
He huffed. “I think you’re making too much of it. It’s not like I was cheating on you with someone else. Damn, Nora. It was one dinner.”
Yet it had been so much more than that. He’d found in Nora someone he liked and desired, and her impact had left him breathless. And anxious. He’d needed to slow things down, and then somehow, he’d met Michelle on the plane back to town and found in her someone who was fun, sexy, and not at all threatening.
Nora’s reactions upon his return had been eye-opening, though. That passive-aggressive silent treatment she’d subjected him to had been something Rhonda would have pulled, reinforcing the notion he’d been right to take a break from the sexy brunette.
Nora glared at him and said something that sounded uncomplimentary under her breath. In a louder voice, she asked, “If you just wanted a platonic dinner date, why did you take me to a fancy restaurant and act like you liked me as more than a friend? Why act as if you wanted something more?”
He shrugged, unwilling to admit the truth to her when it still bothered him to think about it. “I wanted to take you somewhere nice. Not sure why that’s such a bad thing.”
She studied him. He could feel her gaze like a burn, trying to tear through his thick skin to see the heart of him. But she’d never get past the walls that kept his heart safe.
“You really are incredible, you know that?”
He eyed her before watching the road once more. “Well, thanks.”
“That’s not a compliment, dumbass.”
He bit back a grin, preferring her anger to wounded silence. “I think you’re pretty incredible too.”
“I honestly have a hard time reconciling how you and Mitch can be related. He’s so kind and handsome. And you’re…you.”
He ignored the familiar tinge of jealousy. He’d grown used to being the screwed up one in his family, so Nora’s comments shouldn’t hurt so much. “I’m the taller, bigger, better-looking Flashman, is that what you mean?”
She blew out a loud breath. “Yep, there’s that ego again. I can’t believe I ever went out with you.”
They finally pulled into the grocery store parking lot. Thank God. He turned off the engine and swiveled to face her. “So why did you go out with me, then?”
“What?” She looked off balance.
“If I’m such a loser, why go out with me at all? For my money?” Where had that come from? He’d never thought that about her. At least, he hadn’t been consciously aware of thinking it.
Nora didn’t take offense, as he might have expected. Meghan sure the hell had when he’d asked her why she was so interested in his finances.
Nora laughed him off. “Money? I doubt you’re better off than I am. You seemed nice, though. So I thought, why not?” She gave him a pitying smile that irritated the hell out of him. “Why not throw the sad brother a bone and accept his invite to dinner? You’re not a bad looking guy.” She looked him over and shrugged. “I guess.”
“Uh-huh.” Deacon might be a lot of things, but he knew his looks had always appealed to women. He might not be in the NFL anymore, but he continued to keep his body in top physical condition. That Nora was trying to convince him she might not like his looks was…interesting.
“Well, what can I say?” Nora shrugged. “I thought the date would go better than it did. And it didn’t.” Her expression didn’t sit well with him, because she looked both disappointed and hurt. “But hey, you live, you learn.”
“And what exactly did you learn?”
“That Becca and Mitch might have found something special, but you and I did not. Period. End of story.” She shot him a bright smile. “Heck. It’s the holidays. Let’s put all that behind us. Sure, Deacon. I accept your apology. You don’t need to keep avoiding family gatherings, and I’ll try to be nicer, okay?”
“O-kay,” he said slowly, not sure why her acceptance made him feel worse and not better. He’d screwed up again, apparently. And this time by trying to do the right thing. “So, friends?” He held out a hand.
She stared at him. A flash of something came and went in her eyes. “Sure.” Her handshake was there and gone in an instant. Then she left the vehicle, talking at him with a pleasant if aloof smile. At him, not to him.
He sighed, wondering how he could keep doing the wrong thing around Nora when he only wanted things to be right.