The Heart of Christmas

By: Brenda Novak

1

There was a naked man in her bed.

Eve Harmon’s stomach tensed, and her heart skipped a beat—but she was pretty sure she’d invited him. From the way their clothes were strewn carelessly around the room, it was obvious that, not long ago, she’d been happy to have him with her.

She nearly groaned as her eyes swept over him. What had she done? She didn’t have a boyfriend and she never slept around. She hadn’t been with anyone since Ted Dixon—an old friend who had briefly turned into more a year ago. And before him, it had been much longer. Most people, at least those younger than her parents, would consider her extended periods of celibacy rather pathetic for a woman her age. But she lived in a small town, cared about her reputation and had been holding out for the kind of love that came with a white picket fence.

She just hadn’t found the right guy, and she was beginning to think maybe she never would. The odds weren’t in her favor. Now that most of her friends were married, she didn’t get out all that often.

But she had a lot to be grateful for in spite of her dismal love life, she quickly reminded herself. Although she’d never been the type who wanted work to become her sole focus in life, she liked her job. She ran Little Mary’s, a B and B in a converted Victorian owned by her retired parents. They lived in the house a hundred yards in front of her own small bungalow—when they weren’t traveling in their RV like they were at the moment. Thanks to them, and the quaint, bucolic area where she’d been raised, her life had always been pleasant and safe—and predictable. Absolutely predictable.

Until now.

God, she hadn’t even slept with someone she knew. And since there were only about two thousand people in Whiskey Creek, it was hard to find someone she didn’t.

Shifting carefully so she wouldn’t wake the man lying next to her—she needed to regain her bearings before confronting him—she tried to get a look at his face, but a thunderous headache made it difficult to sit up. That headache also explained how she’d ended up in this predicament. Last night she’d made the mistake of going out to celebrate her thirty-fifth birthday even though her friends weren’t available until tonight, and she’d drunk too much. She’d been determined to do something wild and fun and completely out of character before reaching such a significant age, the age at which some doctors advised against getting pregnant.

Now she was paying the price for her out-of-control evening.

Had they even used birth control?

Briefly squeezing her eyes shut, she sent up a silent prayer that she’d had the presence of mind for that at least. It would be entirely too ironic for someone like her—someone so cautious—to get pregnant because of a one-night stand.

What have you done? And what should she do now? Should she wake him? What would she say when he was looking back at her? She’d never been in this situation before. But she couldn’t let him sleep much longer. She needed to get rid of him so she could shower for work.

Thank goodness her parents had had engine trouble and hadn’t made it home from her brother’s house yet. She’d lamented that yesterday, when she’d been bored and lonely while setting up her little Christmas tree. Today she was glad.

Moving slowly to compensate for her hangover, she managed to prop herself against the headboard and, once there, frowned at her bedmate.

Who the heck was he?

She had no idea, but she was relieved to see that he was no bum off the street. He wasn’t even one of those “he looked a lot more attractive last night” kind of pickups everyone joked about. This guy was so far above average that she began to wonder why he wasn’t already taken. Heaven forbid that was the case! She didn’t see a ring on his left hand, which rested on the pillow above his head. But he had to have some story. If he looked this good sleep-tousled, she could only imagine what he’d be like once he had a chance to clean up.

It was his bone structure, she decided. Those pronounced cheekbones. The narrow bridge across his nicely shaped nose. The distinct ridge of his upper eye sockets. He also had a strong chin and a manly jaw, which certainly didn’t detract.

So maybe she couldn’t point to just one or two features. With his long, sandy-colored hair spread across his pillow, he resembled a fallen angel—and his body further enhanced that image. Although bedding covered his lower half—thank goodness—she could see his torso. He was built like a greyhound or panther, lean and sinewy and ideally proportioned with very little body hair. What body hair he did have was golden and downy, as appealing as his tanned skin.

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