It Started One Christmas(2)

By: Susan Mallery


“I’m aware of that, however, I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”

“All evidence to the contrary? Yeah, I’m not leaving, so you might as well give in. Just as an FYI, I’m really bossy and stubborn. You can ask anyone, so surrender to the inevitable. It will be easier, trust me.”

For a long moment, Dalton simply stayed where he was. Keira had time to notice his too-long hair was a pretty shade of dark brown before worrying he’d passed out. Finally he raised his head, pushed up his glasses and sighed.

“Yes, I’m sick, but I will recover. The human body has amazing recuperative powers, mine more so than most. I appreciate your concern, but it’s unnecessary. Have a good holiday. You are free to go.”

“Uh-huh, so what part of stubborn wasn’t clear?”

She expected him to shout at her or something. What she didn’t expect was him to blush. He was so pale that the sudden flush of color contrasted significantly with his clammy skin.

“It’s complicated,” he mumbled. “Please, just go.”

“Nope, I’m curious.” She perched on the corner of the desk. “What’s the real story? I have all the time in the world.”

“Lucky me.”

She smiled, determined to wait him out.

“My apartment is rented for the holidays,” he began. “To the visiting family of one of my professors.”

“That’s very nice of you.”

He cleared his throat. “I was supposed to be going to Aspen with my girlfriend for the holidays.”

“I hear Aspen is lovely this time of year.”

He returned his head to his arms. “Yes, that’s what I hear, too.”

“I take it you’re not going to Aspen?”

“She dumped me.”

“Did you do something dumpworthy?”

He raised his head again. The color was gone, and he looked close to passing out. “I didn’t have to. She’s beautiful. I mean, startlingly beautiful. I never had a chance with her.”

“But she was your girlfriend.”

“For two weeks.” The head dropped again. “It’s my failing. I’m incredibly smart. Seriously, I’m probably the smartest guy you’ve ever met. I started college when I was fourteen. I’ve already been to medical school, and now I’m getting a PhD. But when it comes to women, I’m an idiot.”

“You mean when it comes to beautiful women,” she teased. “You have a thing for them. It’s cute.”

“Thanks.”

“So you have no home, no girlfriend and you can’t go to Aspen until you feel better.”

“I can’t go at all. She stole my ticket and, I think, the ski clothes I bought.”

“She sounds amazing. I wish I’d met her.”

“She wasn’t amazing. She was just…”

“Beautiful.”

“Yes, that.”

She considered the situation. “Where were you planning to spend the holidays?”

“In my car. It’s not so bad. I’ve done it before.”

“I thought you were smart.”

“I am, but I’m also poor. It’s not as great a combination as you’d think.”

Keira swung her backpack over her shoulder. “Come on, Dalton. Get your stuff.”

“You’re going to walk me to my car?”

“Yes, then I’m going to take you home with me. We have a spare room. You can recover there. No one should live in their car over Christmas.”

“Maybe I’m Jewish.”

“Fine. Then over Hanukkah.”

He looked at her, his gaze out of focus. “I’m not Jewish, but I like what you said. You’re very accepting.”

“For me, it’s the spirit of the season, not the religion. But then, what do I know? I’m eighteen years old.” She frowned. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-four.”

“And you’ve really graduated from medical school?”

“Yes.”

“But you’re not a doctor.”

“I’m going into research. I want to cure cancer.”

She held in a laugh. “Of course you do.”

His blurry eyes narrowed. “Did I mention my intelligence?”

“More than once. You’re going to need a new topic of conversation. My family is going to have expectations.”

He winced. “You have a family. Of course. I can’t impose.”

“Not to worry. They’re used to me dragging home strays.” Dalton would be the first human stray, but she doubted anyone would be surprised.

“I live with my sister and her husband and their kids. Frick and Frack are two and four years old.”