Chapter One

 

Chilled to the bone, weary, dry-eyed and craving a beer more than ever, Jack McKenzie knocked on his cousin’s door.

The flight from mid-summer, sweat-sucked-from-your-pores Sydney, to mid-winter, freezing-your-arse-off-in-a-bloody-snowstorm Texas, had been long and grueling. Not only had he been stuck between two rather large men of dubious personal hygiene for the entire fourteen-hour trip, he’d had to endure a screening of No Broken Hearts Allowed, the latest cringe-inducing rom-com to come out of Hollywood, and the very film during which Tiffany chose to tell him, forty minutes after opening credits, she was dumping him for her fifty-two-year-old boss.

To add insult to injury, the airline carrier had lost his luggage carrying his only jacket capable of withstanding the bitterly cold weather and the only Christmas present he’d brought with him to unwrap on the big day — the small flat package from his mum he suspected were season sideline tickets to the Sydney Swans. Expensive. Irreplaceable. Completely eBayable.

Suffice to say, Jack wasn’t in a good mood. He hoped to God Bruce had a Tooheys. His cousin had been living in the US for a few years now. Maybe he’d crossed to the dark side and had his fridge stocked with Bud, or Miller, or, or… okay, he couldn’t think of any other American beer at the moment. All he could think about was a Tooheys, a shower, maybe some Vegemite on toast and a soft, clean bed, even if the bed was Bruce’s sofa.

He looked at the closed door before him, absentmindedly tracing the large, silver 7C screwed into the burgundy painted wood just above the peephole while he waited for Bruce to answer his knock.

Serendipity Estates. Weird name for an apartment complex. What was his cousin — an ex-sheep shearer and more “blokey” than any other male Jack knew — doing living in an upmarket, trendy looking city apartment complex?

The door swung open and a tall, willowy redhead regarded him with laughing gray eyes. A tall, willowy redhead with laughing gray eyes, long, long legs encased in worn black denim, and the fullest, softest lips Jack had ever seen. “Yes?”

He frowned, even as his body said Heeello. The redhead wasn’t Bruce. Bruce had never looked this good. “Um.” He bit back a muttered curse. Bloody brilliant conversation starter that is, Jack.

The redhead smiled, interest flickering in her smoky eyes. She tilted her head to the side a little and placed her hand against the doorjamb, unwittingly drawing Jack’s attention to the small, round perfection of her breasts snugged behind a pure white T-shirt. “Can I help you?”

“Um,” Jack began, and again mentally cringed at his inarticulate clumsiness. What was going on with him? Jet lag? Or had Tiffany sucked from him his ability to talk to a beautiful woman? She didn’t want him anymore, but she sure as hell didn’t want him to find anyone else? Okay, now you’re being paranoid.

He gave the redhead a slightly puzzled smile. “Is Bruce home?”

One finely arched auburn eyebrow cocked. “Bruce?”

Jack hitched his backpack higher onto his shoulder, trying not to shiver. The hallway was chilly, the snowstorm outside permeating Serendipity Estate’s internal structure, and his only jacket was most likely somewhere between Australia and Who-Knows-Where. “Bruce McKenzie.” He paused, waiting for the entirely too gorgeous woman to acknowledge his cousin’s name.

She didn’t.

“The bloke that lives here.” The statement sounded like a question, and Jack’s gut began to tighten. Why did this feel wrong?

“There’s no Bruce McKenzie here,” the woman replied, the sides of her mouth playing with a grin.

Jack studied her, looking for some sign she was pulling his leg. He’d just flown halfway around the planet. His girlfriend of six years had dumped him for her boss two days ago. It was nine p.m., Christmas Eve. He wanted a beer, some hot toast, an even hotter shower and a bed. Not necessarily in that order. He raked his right hand through his hair, realizing he was messing it up even more but not caring. Christ. Where the bloody hell was his cousin?

He dug into his back pocket and pulled out a small scrap of paper, unfolding it to read the address scrawled on it in Bruce’s normal black print.

Apartment 7C,

Serendipity Estates,

155 Cherry Lane,

Charlie, Texas, USA.

Jack shot the door another look. The silver 7 and the silver C hadn’t changed. This was the right address. So where was Bruce?

“Can I help you?”

The husky murmur lifted Jack’s attention from his cousin’s lessthan flowery penmanship to the woman still standing in the door of apartment 7C. She was studying him with an unreadable expression. “You’re Australian, yes?”

Jack nodded. “Yes. And so’s my cousin who told me he lived here.” He shoved the small slip of paper back into his pocket. “Do you know of any Bruce McKenzie living around here? Maybe he just wrote the apartment number wrong.”

The woman shook her head, her long auburn hair tumbling over her straight shoulders in a glossy cascade that made Jack’s stomach and groin grow tight. “I don’t, I’m afraid. I’ve lived in Serendipity Estates since they were built. Trust me, your cousin has never lived in 7C.”

Jack suppressed a sigh. “Damn it.”

No luggage, no jacket and now no cousin. Which meant no shower, no toast, no beer and no bed. All with a bloody snowstorm cold enough to freeze the tits off a bull wrecking havoc outside. When he found Bruce, if he found Bruce, he was going to kill him. That was, if he didn’t freeze to death in the interim trying to hail a taxi. What a fantastic Christmas this was going to be.

Jack hitched his backpack further up his shoulder and gave the woman — damn, she was gorgeous — a wry, lopsided smile. “Well, I’m sorry to be a nuisance.” He took a step away from the door. “Have a nice –”

“Do you want to come in?”

The question stopped Jack dead in his tracks.

“You’ve obviously got nowhere else to go, and I couldn’t live with the guilt of you turning into an icicle out on the street. Not on Christmas Eve, at least…” The rest of the sentence hung on the air between them and Jack felt his heartbeat quicken. He should say no. He should thank her for the kind offer and find a cab. Not because he was worried she was going to try and cut him up into little pieces once she had him behind closed doors. He was a professional tae kwon do instructor. He could take care of any nut-job trying to take him out, no matter how deceptively willow they may be.

No, he should say no because his body was saying yes, yes, you bloody moron, yes — and right at point in time, he didn’t think he had the energy or the inclination to ignore it.

Tiffany had ripped out his heart and shoved it in his face, his always dependable cousin had given him a bum steer, shit, even the airline had messed him up, and here was one very gorgeous, very sexy woman with legs that didn’t quit, lips made for kissing, and an accent that made his balls feel heavy and his blood feel hot, inviting him into her home.

He should say no. So why was he hesitating?

He wanted a shower, he wanted a beer, but right at this very moment he wanted something more. He wanted to feel like he had a place to relax on Christmas Eve, a place to be himself. If only for fifteen minutes or so. And feeling like that would be a whole lot finer in 7C’s company.

The woman gave him a wide grin. “I won’t bite. Promise.”

Not unless I ask you to?

The entirely too sexual thought flittered through Jack’s head. He opened his mouth, ready to say no, he should go, when the woman offered him her hand, her eyes shining with daring merriment, as if she could hear the very thoughts running through his conflicted mind. “I’m Holly.”

(Join me on Chapter Two on my blog tomorrow. Hee hee hee. Ho ho ho)

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