It Started One Christmas(4)

By: Susan Mallery

“Besides,” she said, leaning against the huge island in the center of the massive kitchen, “you should be discouraging me from falling in love. What if I start having sex?”

“I’ll be very happy for you.”

“You’re supposed to treasure my virginity!”

“Yeah, not so much with the treasuring. By the way, I got out all your ornaments, and Santiago put up the tree last night. So you’re good to go.”

Keira hugged herself and spun in a circle. “Thank you, thank you. I can’t wait to put it all together. Okay, I’m going to go drag Dalton upstairs. I promise to keep him isolated until we know he’s getting better. And no babies up there. I don’t want them getting sick and missing Christmas.”

She’d barely finished speaking when she heard the sound of canine nails skittering across the hardwood. She turned and dropped to her knees as a small mixed-breed brown-and-white ball of fluff crashed into her.

“Emerson!” She scooped up the small dog and hugged him close. “I’ve missed you so much.”

Emerson wiggled and kissed her face before shimmying free and racing over to Callie. He stood on his hind legs and scratched at her thighs, begging for a carrot.

“You’re the most spoiled dog on the planet,” Callie grumbled, even as she handed him half a raw carrot.

He took the treat and made a beeline for his bed in the family room. Keira stood and stretched.

“All right, it’s time to begin my mission of mercy.”

“Let me know if you need help wrestling your young man into bed.” Callie paused. “That sounded way more dirty than I intended.”

Keira laughed and retreated to the car.

Dalton was exactly where she’d left him, and he hadn’t been kidding about planning to live in his car. He had a couple of duffels, a cooler, a bag of cold supplies and tissues from a local pharmacy, a blanket and two pillows.

“Practically a five-star hotel,” she murmured, opening the passenger door. “All right, my pretty, let’s get you inside.”

Dalton’s eyelids fluttered. “Do I know you?”

“Not really, but you’re sick enough that it doesn’t much matter, does it? There’s no way you could fight me off. All right, big guy, on your feet.”

He surprised her by obliging. Excellent. As long as he was willing to follow instructions, this should go smoothly.

“I’m going to get you upstairs and into bed,” she told him. “Unfortunately we’re going to the third floor, so that could take some doing.”

He rubbed his face. “Where am I?”

“My place.”

He looked at her, then frowned. “You’re not Mandy.”

“I’m her sister. Come on. She’s just inside.”

“Really? She didn’t dump me? That’s so great. God, she is so beautiful.”

Keira rolled her eyes. “You’re incredibly shallow. Why is that?”

“I was physically and emotionally abandoned as a child.”


He flashed her a smile that caught her completely unaware. She felt hot then cold, and there was an odd sensation in her stomach. She shook it off and told herself it was just because she was afraid of getting the flu.

“No,” he said, walking unsteadily toward the house. “My parents were very nice people who supported and loved me until they were killed in a car accident ten years ago.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Me, too.” He looked at the house, then back at her. “Mandy isn’t waiting inside, is she?”


“I didn’t think so. And you brought me here because…”

“You’re sick and it’s Christmas, and I’m not going to let you spend two weeks in your car.”

He shuddered. “That makes me sound pathetic.”

“If the shoe fits,” she murmured, then motioned to the door. “Let’s get this done.”

Dalton managed to get up both flights of stairs, although the climb seemed to suck the last of his strength. He was shaking and swaying by the time he staggered into the guest room. He managed to stagger across the room before falling onto the bed facedown, leaving Keira with a six-foot-tall dilemma.

“See,” she said, mentally sending the image to her sister. “Men are a giant pain.”

She walked toward Dalton. She had to get his shoes off, and she would feel better if he was on his back. Otherwise, she was going to leave him where he was. This wasn’t some ridiculous romantic comedy where she struggled to undress him and things got out of hand.

She got off his worn boots, ignored the hole in his sock and poked him in the shoulder until he groaned.