An excerpt from
Under the Mistletoe
Book #1 of Holiday Hearts

Silhouette Special Edition


“I’m all finished,” Hadley told the waiter, gesturing to her nearly full plate.

“Was there something wrong, madam?” he asked.

Hadley shook her head. She’d eaten little, but she chalked that up to her state of mind, not the food or the menu. Dinner had actually been a pleasant surprise. She’d anticipated stodgy French or chop-house surf and turf, not an intriguing fusion menu that would have done any pricey Manhattan restaurant proud. Seared ahi tuna and Thai lobster spring rolls side by side on the menu with pecan-crusted pork loin and duck in huckleberry reduction suggested someone creative was at work. And the guests were tucking in with gusto.

Conversation stayed at a low buzz, a tribute to good acoustics. Women in evening dress smiled and toasted with their escorts. Jackets required. How long had it been since she’d dined anywhere with a dress code? How long since she’d dined in a room so permeated with luxury? Sure, there were plenty of stylish restaurants in New York. None, though, that so vividly brought back the memory of another era.

And the sharp longing for someone to share it with.

Turning her head to ward off the thought, Hadley stared out the dining room window at the snow that had begun drifting down outside. Across the way, the lights of the conservatory bled out into the frozen night. She’d sat in countless hotel restaurants on her own during one business trip or another. It had never bothered her before. Probably it was the shameless romance of the place that was getting to her. The Hotel Mount Jefferson was a haven for romantic getaways, a place where couples could glide across the dance floor and toast to love at their tables.

But she wasn’t part of a couple. She wasn’t part of anything, just a solo person trying her damnedest to stay out of the funk she’d been fighting for days. She didn’t need anyone, she reminded herself. She’d seen what it brought.

So how was it that all she wanted just then was to be held?

“Having a nice evening tonight?” asked a voice behind her.

Hadley turned her head to see, not a waiter, but the stranger from the afternoon. And her funk was forgotten.

He’d made an impression in the cold light of afternoon. Now, he jolted her system into awareness. No jeans and sweater this time. Instead, he wore an exquisitely cut gray suit that only made him look taller, leaner. Cufflinks gleamed at his wrists. A tie chain made a graceful sweep across his silver and blue patterned tie. He looked like he belonged in a plush VIP lounge somewhere, swirling a balloon glass of brandy while he talked high finance.

“You’ve dressed up, I see,” she said, wishing for those moments in the afternoon when she’d had him to herself.

“So have you.”

She’d worn a drape-necked tank in cream silk jersey. Paired with a narrow black skirt, it had seemed demure enough. Until he stood looking down at her. Goose bumps rose on her arms that had nothing to do with the temperature. She glanced at the windows. “Your snow has started, I see.”

“Good thing you decided to come inside. We’d have had to send a Saint Bernard out looking for you.”

“With a keg of brandy as my prize?”

“You can get a brandy in here if you want it, with no risk of frostbite.”

“The benefits of civilization.”


There was something in his eyes, a light, an invitation to fun. She felt a little flutter in her stomach and glanced down. She should be more disciplined; she wasn’t here to play around and he was probably with someone. But it was so tempting to for once not think about work, to be just Hadley, just a woman.

Too tempting. “Don’t you have to get back to your party?” she asked abruptly.


Gabe didn’t answer right away, trying to avoid staring at the pale gleam of her throat in the soft light. He’d worked his way across the room to her, stopping a number of tables to greet the guests, chat a little, charm a lot. And the whole time, he’d been utterly and completely aware of her as she stared out at the night, that wistful look back on her face.

He wanted to wipe it away. He wanted to see the spark of fun again, the spark of heat, the expressions that brought that delicate face alive. Just for a moment he’d stop by her table and with her, as he had the other guests. Harmless.

And then he saw the bare tablecloth across from her. “I don’t have a party to get back to. I saw you and thought I’d stop by and say hello.” And to look at her one more time. In the candlelight, she was luminous, the extravagance of bare shoulders backlit by falling snow. “Mind if I join you?”

She nodded to the bottle of wine on the table. “Would you like some wine? It’s a very good cabernet.”

“No. Thank you, though. So how was the rest of your day?”

“All right. I wandered around for a bit, caught up on work. How about you?”

“Wandered around, caught up on work.” Thought about you.

“Doesn’t sound too fun to me.”

“You’re one to talk. I thought you were here for a break before work heated up. What is it, a business conference?”

She shook her head. “Just some meetings next week.”

“But right now it’s the weekend. You should be relaxing, I don’t know, going to the spa for a massage.” Naked on the table, her back smooth and gleaming.

“No one to play with, I guess.”

“That’s a tragedy,” he said softly. “We really need to do something about that.” The candlelight threw shadows in the hollows of her cheekbones.

She swallowed. “Do you have any ideas?”

In the background, there was a thump of bass and the snick of brushes on snare as the combo tuned up. Gabe remembered his assurance to Richie. “I can think of one. Do you dance?”


“Yeah, like to music.” He rose and held out an arm.


It was on the tip of Hadley’s tongue to say no. She never danced. On her very rare nights out, she might go to a ballet but that was about as close as she came. Certainly, she wasn’t in the habit of taking to an empty dance floor in front of a roomful of people. Somehow, though, she found herself pushing back her chair and rising.

She had to look up at him, even in her heels. Amusement flickered in his eyes. In the subdued light, they looked darker than before. Hadley hesitated, then tucked her hand through the crook of his elbow, feeling the fine-weave wool soft against her fingers. She was far more aware of the hard solidity of the arm beneath the fabric as they threaded their way between tables. He smelled of something clean and woodsy and completely male.

On the polished wood of the dance floor, he stopped and turned to her. “Do you know how to waltz?”

From somewhere in the distant sands of time, she dredged up cotillion lessons. “I did when I was thirteen.”

He laughed and took her hand to pull her into dance position. “It’s like riding a bike. Just hold on and go where I lead you.”

Heat sang up her arm at the shock of palm against palm. In defense, she rested her left hand against his shoulder. He was close, so close. Close enough for her to see faint flecks of gold in his green eyes.

Close enough to kiss.

“The count is one, two, three. Back, side, touch, basic box step. Smile,” he said. “It’ll be fun.”

The song was ”Moon River,” dreamy and slow. His hand pressed against her back; if he pulled just a bit more, they’d be embracing. Suddenly, it felt as outrageous, as daring as dancing must have back in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, when women and men barely touched in public.

At first, he counted the steps for her, but with the urging of his hands the old motions came back. The awkwardness evaporated and they began to move, dipping and flowing around the floor. Hadley laughed aloud. “This is wonderful.”

“Didn’t I tell you? You should trust me.” Expertly, he led her into a whirling turn. Then several other couples drifted onto the floor. She stiffened, aware of the people behind her, stepping forward when she should have gone back, stumbling on the sleek leather of his shoes.

He stopped for a minute and leaned toward her. His eyes darkened.

Adrenalin sprinted through her veins. A touch? A kiss?

“Look at me,” he murmured instead, his mouth just a breath away from hers. “Trust my lead.”

This time when they started again, they moved as one. It was like floating, she thought, anchored by his eyes, the light press of his fingertips at her back. When she’d walked into the hotel she’d felt like she was stepping into another world. And she had. This wasn’t her, this woman being swept around the floor in the arms of a handsome stranger. The rest of the room ebbed away until only his face mattered. The rest of the world, the rest of her life was irrelevant. In that moment, that glorious moment, all she wanted was him.

She didn’t notice when the music ended. She couldn’t look away. It was as though she were diving into him, seeing the answer that he wanted as much as she wanted. When he leaned his head toward her it seemed completely natural. Her lips parted. Just a taste, just a touch. She held her breath?

“You are extraordinary,” he murmured. And bowed.

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