Swara woke slowly, head pounding to the rhythm of a jackhammer. Her
tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth when she tried to swallow, and her stomach
rolled. Breathing in short pants, she waited for the nausea to pass. Not certain if
she’d be forced to make a speedy dash to the bathroom, she pried open her eyes.
Pine paneling and an assortment of rustic furniture spun in her blurred vision.
Definitely not her black lacquer Japanese style bedroom set. Where in the name of
God am I? She peered toward the window. A swirl of snow slapped against the
pane, and memory engulfed her. Wrecked car, know-it-all tow truck driver,
candlelit room, bottle of bad whiskey. Check.
She pressed her hands to her throbbing temples, trying to remember what
came after the whiskey. A tree had fallen on his truck. That had made an
impression—and not only on the truck. She’d slipped her arm around his waist,
sympathy taking the edge off her anger at the whole stinking situation. Had he
kissed her? The rest of the night was a blur. Firm, cool lips, soft sheets…
She sat up abruptly, the movement reducing her to tears. Cold air hit her naked
body. Did I sleep with the
man? Surely she hadn’t stooped so low. Surely she’d remember something so
supremely stupid. Swara Galodia didn’t have one-night stands. For crying out loud,
she couldn’t remember the last time she’d had s*x, it had been so long!
Sliding out of the bed, she tripped and sprawled across something warm and
furry. Eye to eye with the dog, she blinked. Major blinked back and gave her a
swipe with his tongue. His doggy breath sent bile surging up her throat. Bracing
shaking arms against the hardwood floor, she fought it down.
“Kill me now and get it over with,” she hissed. The dog licked her again.
“Oh God.” Rising to her knees, she tugged Sanskar’s wrinkled shirt and sweat
pants out from under Major. Her bra and panties were beneath the bed. Teeth
gritted, she dressed and cracked open the door. The hall was empty. She dashed to
After brushing her teeth with a new toothbrush she found in the medicine
cabinet and washing her face, she was almost convinced she’d live. If she’d done
the deed with hunky Sanskar, she wasn’t sure she wanted to. The man was
infuriating. And s*xy. He’d swept her off her feet, literally and figuratively. She
wasn’t used to men who didn’t try to impress her, who ordered her around, who
couldn’t care less that she was the CEO of a successful Kolkata advertising
agency. Of course he didn’t know that. He didn’t know anything about her.
Taking a breath, she opened the door and padded down the hall to the kitchen,
the smell of coffee drawing her like a magnet. Sanskar turned and smiled, holding
out a steaming cup. Her hand shook as she took it. Wrapping her fingers around
the mug, she breathed in the fragrance of heaven. “Is the power—“
“Nope. And the generator isn’t big enough to run the furnace and the stove at
the same time.” He pointed at the green, two-burner stove set up on the table. “I
dug out my old propane stove and made camp coffee.” He eyed her up and down.
“You don’t look so good.”
She grimaced and took a sip. “Thanks.”
“It’s not that you aren’t gorgeous, even in my wrinkled clothes, but your face
is a peculiar shade of green.”
“Gee, just what every girl wants to hear after a night spent with a whiskey
His grin broadened. “And I thought you could hold your liquor.”
“I can. I’d feel a whole lot better right now if I hadn’t held it.”
“Well, Swara Shonaa, next time you should learn to just say no.”
She nearly choked on her coffee. “Swara Shonaa! Swara Shonaa! No one calls me that.”
“Hey, you told me I could last night.” His voice dropped low and s*xy.
A hard knot formed in her chest. Tears burned behind her eyes. “My mom was
the only one who ever called me Swara Shonaa.”
He cupped her chin in his hand and stared down at her. His voice turned gentle
when he spoke. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
She wanted to lean into that hand, let it caress away her troubles. Straightening
her shoulders, she stepped away. “You didn’t.”
“Your mother must be a special woman.”
His gaze never wavered. “Tell me about her.”
“Nothing to tell. She worked until the day she died so that I could have a
better life.” She bit her lip.
“Uh, Sanskar, there are a few holes in my memory of last night. After the tree fell, everything is a bit of a blur.”
Color spotted his cheekbones, and her heart stopped beating.
“I may have taken advantage.”
She felt for the chair behind her and sank onto it. “What happened to all that
talk about chivalry?”
“It was just a kiss. Well, maybe not just. Actually, it was an incredibly hot
kiss.” He wiggled his eyebrows.
“Oh my God, I thought you meant…” She let out a long breath. “I’m afraid I
don’t remember it.”
“Not exactly flattering. I must be losing my touch.”
His self-deprecating expression made her smile. “Is there still hot water for a
“As long as the gas for the generator holds out.”
She stood and turned to leave the room, but his words stopped her.
“Swara, you said your mother worked to give you a better life. What did she
She looked back at him, and the tightness in her chest returned. “She cleaned
houses for rich people. Do you have an issue with that?”
His eyes were hooded, completely unreadable. “Nope. It’s an honest way to
make a living. What was her name?”
“Why do you want to know?”
She didn’t believe him for a minute. “Sumi Galodia.”
He ran one long finger along a scratch in the granite countertop. “You said
you grew up in Varanasi.”
She pressed her fingers against her temples. “For the first ten years, then we
kolkata.” Meeting his gaze, she wondered at his odd expression. “Is
the inquisition over?”
He opened his mouth, then shut it. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be nosy.”
Sure he didn’t. Between her pounding head and her embarrassment at having
kissed him, she refused to wonder why he was curious about her mother. “I’m
going to take a shower, and then I’m going to go get my suitcase.”
He crossed his arms over his chest and stared at her. “How are you going to do
that? It’s probably five or six miles back to your car. And in case it slipped your
mind, my truck looks like a metal pancake.”
“I remember. I plan to walk.”
He snorted. “There’s a foot of snow out there and more falling.”
“I don’t care. I want—no—I need to change my clothes. Anyway, I could use
the fresh air.”
His smile was slow in coming and made her stomach flutter. In a good way.
Swara stared at her boots. They wouldn’t fit over Sanskar’s wool socks, and
even if they did, the thought of walking five miles in a foot of snow on those heels
slipped over the border of ridiculous. She snatched them from the floor.
“Sanskar?” She stepped into the hall.
She followed his voice to the living room and stopped in her tracks at the sight
of him. His back was to her, the glow from the fireplace bathing him in golden
light. Hunched over a box beside the tree, he pulled a tangle of lights into the air.
A waft of hot chocolate teased her nose, dizzying her with memories of her
childhood. She and her mother had always had hot chocolate and a fire while
decorating the tree in Varanasi. In Kolkata, they hadn’t had a fireplace, but the
hot chocolate tradition had continued. She didn’t do Christmas like that anymore.
He didn’t look up. “You all set to head out?”
The boots hung heavy in her hand. She clutched them tighter and took a deep
breath to quell the nostalgia threatening her resolve. “I either need to borrow a pair
of your boots, or a hatchet.”
“Excuse me?” He looked over his shoulder.
She lifted the boots. “The only way to walk in these babies is to remove the
“Right. You’re going to mutilate a pair of…what? Three hundred dollar
She snorted. “They cost a lot more than that. Do you have a pair of boots I can
use or not?”
“Swara.” He pivoted around and sat cross-legged, the tangle of lights covering
his knees. “If you don’t like the sweats and shirt—you do look damned good in
plaid—I’ll let you pick out whatever you want from my limited wardrobe. You
don’t need to get lost in a snow storm.”
Blond hair lit up in a halo around his head while the devil danced across his
face. But the sweetness in his gaze, staring right through her, wiped away all
ambition for striking out on her mission.
“I could use some help getting these lights off the tree and packed away.” He
gestured to the mess in his lap.
“I’m not much good at holiday stuff.”
He stood, letting the lights fall around his feet, and stepped over them. In two
strides he faced her; his hands gently rubbed the tops of her shoulders. The heat
beneath her shirt increased ten-fold, and she sighed.
“You’ll get in the mood once you’ve had my hot chocolate.” He slid his hands
to her arms and caressed. “Look at me, Swara.”
She swallowed, inhaled his warmth, and tentatively inclined her face to meet
“You don’t have to be alone for the holidays.”
“How do you know—”
“Just a wild guess.” He brushed her hair from her cheek, his fingertips trailing
sparks along her neck and collarbone on the way to her arms.
“Maybe I like being alone.” She jutted her chin, ignoring the signals sent by
her body. “Besides, I wasn’t alone. I make a point of traveling, visiting friends.
Just because I’m not a homebody—”
“There are all kinds of lonely. Believe me, I know.”
Why was he looking right through her like that, like he knew something about
her? In less than twenty-four hours, the man seemed to think he knew everything
from her liquor consumption habits to her lack of holiday cheer.
She’d turn the conversation his way, and see how he liked being under the
“Are you lonely, Sanskar?”
His tongue swiped along his lower lip and the corner of his most kissable
mouth ticked up. “With the weather and the state of my truck, it doesn’t look like
I’ll be joining any friends tonight. But I have you.”
The thump in her chest vibrated down her body. His hands slid from her arms,
clasping her waist and drawing her near. Her breath came in short puffs. His
closeness stole the air from her lungs. The heat building beneath her sweat pants
had nothing to do with the crackling fire.
“How long has it been since you’ve decorated a tree? Then days later fought
with strings of lights while packing them away?”
“I’ll let you take the star off the top.”
A wash of memory engulfed her. She dropped her forehead to his chest. The
last time she’d topped a tree with a star was with her mother.
He hugged her tighter, bringing his body against the length of hers. His mouth
brushed across the top of her head, and he murmured something into her hair. It
sounded like poor little Swara, but it had to be her imagination.
She should move away. He’d get the wrong impression. Or he’d get the right
impression; feel her pounding heart, her br*asts taut against his chest. The
magnolias and bourbon she’d enjoyed at her college roommate’s holiday
celebration couldn’t compare with a real Christmas tree, a wood fire, a cup of hot
chocolate, and Sanskar.
“Why are you hurrying back to Kolkata?”
“What difference does it make?”
He rubbed her back, a soothing kind of motion without anything expected in
return. But the unintentional friction he created flushed her face. She turned her
cheek into his chest.
“Are you hungry?”
Oh, God was she. “Mmm…” The boots fell from her hand, and she encircled
his waist. The muscles beneath his shirt tensed.
“I make killer cook stove pancakes.”
Oh, hungry for food? Her stomach answered for her. She leaned back to look
up at him, thrusting her hips forward. What she felt against her belly nearly
stopped the words in her mouth. “Pancakes and hot chocolate?” She strained to
keep a straight face.
“Sound good?” His voice, husky and low, shivered her thighs.
“Sounds a lot better than a five-mile walk in the snow with hacked off boots.”
“I want you to have an old fashioned, holiday morning. The best way to start
is with pancakes. Then we’ll finish putting away the decorations while we drink
hot chocolate. We’ll haul the tree outside and get chilled.” His hands rubbed her
back, caressed her waist. “But I’ll keep the fire going…uh…in the fireplace. How
does that sound?”
“An old fashioned, holiday morning.” This man had more than gorgeous
His gaze roamed over her face, his lips parted as if to tell her some huge
secret. But he stopped. “Just because……..”
Credit to: JANPA