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James sat beside the child in the big warm kitchen, and walked her through the business of finding common denominators and reducing to a lowest common denominator. She caught on fairly quickly, though her attack was marked by impulsivity rather than a methodical approach. Vera had been wiping counters for the past ten minutes—they were the cleanest counters in the county by now. Who wants a brownie? Say good night to Mr. I never in my whole, entire, long, and illustrious-nearly-to-the-point-of-being-famous life met another Twyla, and I will never forget you.

This prospect appeared to daunt Vera, while Donal the Slasher had merely pissed her off. Had her priorities straight, did Vera Waltham. They can mow grass, do laundry, keep an eye on the little ones, make dinner, run the vacuum cleaner, and work on engines. Thank you for showing Twy the math, though. She and I do not operate on the same wavelength when it comes to schoolwork. I can take care of that if you like, but for now, the damaged tire is sitting in the truck bed. The coffeemaker gurgled and steamed behind her as a beguiling caramel aroma filled the kitchen.

You should tell Trent. She remained braced against the counter, arms crossed, her expression carefully neutral. Vera turned to the coffeemaker, but James would have bet his best set of jumper cables she was smothering a smile. Good night, James, and thanks for wrangling those fractions. Good night, James? Wrangling fractions? No, James did not want to become entangled with this lady, but neither would he accept a brush-off. A guy had standards to uphold. You and Twyla are isolated here. Her promise relieved James more than it should have.

Around here, that still means something. You can call me too. Olga had disparaging things to say about caffeine in anything more than moderation—Olga had disparaging things to say about much of life—so Vera got out the chamomile tea. You are a bad girl, my Vera, making a lonely old woman wait by the phone for you to call. A shameless old woman, also ferocious and endlessly dear. Twyla has just now finished her homework, and I did mean to call you. You should find a man to flirt with you and take you dancing.

A considering silence from the other end. Insightful question, which from Olga was to be expected. Olga Strausser was a living legend among classical musicians. How to make judgment calls as a piece unfolded, crafting the music as it wanted to be performed on that instrument, in that hall, on that day by the person Vera was on that occasion. We know better. We know you are ready, and you can still gain experience worth gaining if you come in last.

But you play what I tell you, the way I tell you, not what those old men have been teaching for the past fifty years. Look how patient he is with the wife, and her such a child. He will pace your career, so you can still perform at one hundred, like me. To him, all is pennies and nickels and bright, shiny dimes.

When did coin ever soothe the soul? You must not be afraid, Vera. The music will sort itself out.

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Play him the Chopin. If he can listen to Chopin, that will tell you much. Olga was a force of nature, but a mostly a kind one. The idea of playing Chopin for James had an intriguing appeal. Not his smile, his broad shoulders, or his big, competent hands—those had been a little unnerving. But his kindness; that had been sexy.

Vera added a dash of honey to her tea and ventured another sip, the temperature now perfect for a chilly night. James had known Trent left the office to heed a summons from the school nurse so Trent should have expected this call. Trent had just finished giving the same report to Mac. You got that order to Vera Waltham? A pause, and Trent could hear James rearranging word choices, polishing the facts to a higher shine—preparing his proffer for the court.

James liked old houses.

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He liked women between the ages of five minutes and ninety-five years too. If anything happens to me or Hannah, you and Mac are named co-guardians in our will, by the way.

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Be mindful of what you sew, little brother. What sort of trouble is Vera having? Somebody slashed the tire of her truck while it sat in a locked garage, and she suspects him. Like most younger siblings, James was a first-class noser-arounder, second only to the private investigators the firm kept on retainer. He ran riot the rest of the month, or had until recently, sometimes doing drinks with one woman, dinner with another, and—when he was particularly restless—the final round of the evening with yet another.

The third Saturday of the month he was up early, in his jeans, and headed out by a.

Kissing Her Scrooge by Christi Barth

James swung Grace off her hay bale and perched her on his hip. Mac does too. Are these your stephorses now? So careful, like her mother.


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    Have you come to steal our treasures? The weather was too brisk to spend much time outside, particularly with Merle getting over a cold, and James needed to make a stop at a certain car parts store. Grace found a stuffed unicorn, a silly, fluffy little thing with a pink horn, and insisted James buy it for himself. The word for that realization was lowering. Maybe Mac would admit to the same observation, that Merle was growing up, but Mac would never in a million years admit to feeling nonplussed about it.

    Ten minutes at the park turned into twenty, of course, but James called a halt to the festivities before anybody was truly cold. The girls kept moving the whole time, and James was dragooned into underdoggies at the swings, and twirling the merry-go-round, so even he stayed comfortable. By rights, Grace should have followed, arguing at the top of her lungs, but James was learning that little girls often did not act the same as little boys. I do different things from Trent because my clients are businesses usually, not individual people, but I use the same courthouse, the same judges.

    Her expression was resolute, and she was one smart little girl. James looked up from the subcontract he was reviewing—one without a merger clause or a conflict of laws clause, which always signaled weak draftsmanship. Trent start flipping the cube around, lining up the greens first. More flipping, which suggested James ought to retire the damned toy to a desk drawer. Start with one for Grace.

    James also considered giving his brother a hand with the herd—keeping a couple of the mighty steeds in his own back yard, for example—and discarded the notion. Not too many young swains are afflicted with the horse crazies, at least compared to the number of girls who have it. I was the exception, but then, I realized early on that the odds at the horse barn favored a guy, provided he was straight. Am I the only guy who understands that? Maybe Trent did not want to impose, or Hannah was self-conscious at the thought of James teaching her to ride. James scanned down the list of names on his screen, dozens of them, recalling the women he could, trying to remember those whose faces eluded him.

    He was nearly thirty years old, and what he had to show for himself was a long list of lonely women and a pile of business documents that, quite frankly, bored him to tears. Maybe Trent was right. Pets were a lot of bother, but maybe it was time for a hobby. A real hobby. Vera should have seen that question coming, because Twy had been loudly hinting every night for a week.

    I think you should invite him back. You should ask him. At dinner, Vera endured more of the same. James this, Mr. Knightley that, until Vera wanted to scream. The phone rang as Vera put away the dinner dishes, and on principle, she picked it up without glancing at the number.

    James Knightley here. Silky, resonant, and so very, very male. I picked up a battery for your Ford. Who knew an antique Ford could be a guy-magnet? You might need back-up wheels if Donal decides to slash more than one tire next time. Also a genuine offer to be helpful. He rang off before Vera could ask him what the battery had cost, or remind him to bring his mashed-potato recipe.

    That was why Vera should have shooed James off, or told him to return the battery. Twyla missed the influence of an adult male in her life and would get ideas about James, and about James and Vera. Harper Nash was a scrumptious woman, on the tall side with big green eyes and masses of red hair that she tried to subdue into a French braid.

    Best of all, she was smart enough to listen to her lawyer, though James was having a hard time remaining focused on their conversation. You want to hire a driller, say, because he has the equipment and know-how to take all the samples you need, on time and within budget. You want to be the gatekeeper.

    James fished an orange paperclip out of a small bowl only to find it was attached to about thirty others. My small-business clients do a much better job of considering my advice than the big boys do, and I can feel some pride when they prosper as a result. My stomach is reminding me that breakfast was hours and a spin class ago.

    The construction season will begin sooner than we think. Thanks again. Harper was quite, quite single, up to her ears in keeping the family business together, and likely as much in need of comfort and affection as any lady in her position. She trusted James, she liked him, and she found him attractive. She left his office, treating James to the lovely sight of her retreating backside. Harper knew how to dress, and she knew how to walk away from a man so he might harbor a few regrets. What he felt, watching her walk away, leaving him in peace for the afternoon, was an odd kind of relief.

    When he sat down at his computer, he opened his address book to the particular directory that held the most names. He had a printout of the list somewhere in his hard-copy files, and it likely lurked in his email too, because emailing files to himself was a cheesy way to make a backup. Why keep such a list? The women invariably called him, though the only number he gave out was the office number. They slipped him their numbers, and he dutifully catalogued each one, but he was the one they called when they were between boyfriends, at loose ends, trying to get back on the horse after a bad breakup, or just plain horny.

    If Damson County had an award for booty call of the year, James would have won the past three years at least, hands down. He stared at the screen for a long time, then, in a few deft keystrokes, deleted the entire file. Good morning, Vera. Come on back to the kitchen. Twyla made you a fresh batch of brownies. Twyla had never hugged Donal like that. Had never hugged Donal at all. They ought to make candles scented like brownies. Do you want ice cream with your brownie? You think you can be my assistant? He scowled. He landed on his feet in front of her, an alpha panther with sensual play in his eyes.

    You know how that turns me on. Grunting from the impact of the telekinesis, he simply tugged harder. She released the towel without warning. He froze in place. Swiveling on her heel, she walked into the aerie…and shut the door in his face. She knew very well he was mimicking what she sometimes said to him. First, there was a small timing issue that meant not everyone who was in the scene could be there, so keep that in mind as you read this.

    I hope you enjoy! Read more The smile turned into a dark scowl. Tamsyn, Sascha and Faith were lined up getting pedicures. Vaughn had chosen to wait outside. Faith was the first to speak. The F-Psy took a deep breath. So, have you come to join us in this ritual of female bonding? Sascha laughed. Promise to scream if we need you. Miss Leozandra swanned out of the back room at that instant, a vision in a purple caftan patterned with shimmering gold leaf. Miss Leozandra was treating her exactly as she wanted to be treated.

    The older woman tapped at her cheek with one gold-flecked nail. High end. Miss Leozandra sniffed. We use a laser bonder that literally sews the molecules of the strands together. The gen-synth fibers are light but no sense overloading it. We can always add more in later if you want. The process was slow. Very slow. Miss Leozandra waved a hand, nails flashing. And the improvement you made to the automatic answering service is getting me compliments from across town. All of which is worth a whole lot more than what I did for you today.

    So take it and no lip. Looking into the mirror, she met the eyes of the other three women. Brenna was about to reply when something bit at her ankle. Yelping, she raised up her legs. Two small leopard cubs scooted out from under her and ran to hide behind Tamsyn. The Psy grinned. They spent a whole day with sentinels and soldiers. Actually I think you just got eaten. Brenna laughed, her heartbeat slowing down. She was used to wolf pups trying out their stalking skills on unprepared adults.

    Sascha took one of the cubs when he wiggled and jumped toward her. Faith had remained silent to that point, watchful. We all should go back. I absolutely love this deleted scene from Branded By Fire! Mercy felt so deliciously loose and relaxed after her encounter with Riley that she had the urge to turn leopard and just curl up somewhere. It was as well that she had a standing date with the women of the pack that night. Showering and sprucing up after her return from the den, she made it to the gathering half an hour late. Show me your toes. Grinning, Mercy did as bid. Ten minutes later, her toenails had been painted a vivid silver-blue that glinted in the light.

    Anu was one of her favorite people, being so infectiously good-natured that it was impossible to be in a bad mood around her. Genuinely interested, Mercy spent several minutes looking at them. Feels like only last week I held her and she was the size of a tadpole. Gimme that pineapple juice. Annie grinned. Except for his sisters, of course—I have strict instructions to save him from that trauma by warning him to stay the hell away. Laughing, Mercy took a sip of her margarita and watched as Annie moved to put the rest of the drinks on the low table a couple of feet away. The small brunette was immediately shanghaied by her sister-in-law, Jess, and Sascha, into a heated debate that pitted Mr.

    Darcy against Heathcliff. Curious, Mercy made her way over. Her eyes almost crossed when she saw the array of objects on the table in front of the healer. The F-Psy looked incredibly demure when she answered the charge. When they said they were sending me samples to help me tune my mind for forecasts, I said fine. Seriously naughty suggestions came from all sides, and by the time it was over, Mercy was laughing so hard, her stomach muscles protested. This, she thought, was life, was joy. DarkRiver was part of her soul through her blood-bond to Lucas, but her packmates were part of the very fabric of her heart.

    Read more Judd arrived home to find his mate curled up in wolf form on a plush rug in the living area of their quarters. Going down on one knee beside her, he ran his hand over her back, her fur gloriously soft beneath the roughness of the guard hairs. Her eyes flicked open in a burst of wild welcome, and then the air was colored in the brilliant sparks that denoted a shift.

    Even after all this time, it still stunned his heart when she did that, when she allowed herself to be so very, very vulnerable to a Tk who could conceivably disrupt the shift on a fatal level. As soon as she was kneeling warm and naked in front of him, he slid his arms around the sweet curves of her body and bent to rest his forehead against hers.

    Everything in him sighed in relief, in surrender. He was home. Brenna ran her fingers through his hair, over his shoulders, again and again. Petting him. It was that emotion that had him speaking his heart as he looked down into eyes of brown cut with shards of blue. Brenna cupped his face, her hands warm and silken. I hate seeing that. Scene 2: Walker and Lara. While it no longer lines up perfectly with the final scene, it offers a small glimpse of what went on that night between Walker and Lara.

    In response, he leaned forward to nuzzle a kiss to her throat. The instant she quivered, he repeated the stroke on the exact right spot. Another kiss on her throat, his jaw brushing against her. She loved the feel of his stubbled jaw against her, but the small sign of care, of tenderness, undid her. She did as he demanded, tugging lightly with her teeth before letting go. On her thigh, his hand squeezed once more before relaxing, the roughness of his skin an exquisite caress.

    When he lifted his hand from her thigh, she wanted to moan in disappointment, but then he ran it over her breast and she clenched her fingers in his hair, the thick strands raw silk against her palm. Walker had never thought he would one day have a lapful of warm, curvy woman in his arms. And that it was Lara… Unable to quite process the depth of what she aroused in him, he stroked his hand down her ribs, to the sensual swell of her hips. Moving his hand back up, he curved it under her breast.

    Her nails dug into his nape, a tiny bite he hungered to experience on other parts of his body, sensual touch a new territory—one he planned to explore only with this woman. His pants, already tight, were suddenly highly uncomfortable. Lifting a hand to her bra, she tugged down the cup so it framed her breast, offering herself to him. He bent his head and took. The sound she made when he sucked and rolled her nipple over his tongue, had his hand returning to push up under her dress to close around the sleek softness of her inner thigh.

    A husky laugh. Her thighs clenched on the hand he had between them, squeezing tight. Listening to her body, he shifted that hand until his knuckles brushed against the delicate lace of her panties. Increasing the pressure, he felt her body tighten and then she was tugging up his head with her hands in his hair, her lips seeking his in feminine desperation. He was no expert lover, but he knew how to listen, how to put together pieces of data—so he rubbed his knuckles against her.

    When she whimpered and strained impossibly closer, he deepened the pressure once more. Her cry was gasped out, her body quivering as she fell into him. Shifting his hand down to her thigh, he smoothed it over her knee, then back up. She jerked, smiled against his neck. He kissed the line of her throat, running his mouth up to tug at her earlobe with his teeth…and felt the ripple of shocked pleasure that rocked her. Yet now he held a beautiful, sensual woman in his arms and he wondered how he had ever survived without her touch. A fox-bright gaze, small tempting kisses.

    Walker grit his teeth, but it was too late. The single touch after a lifetime in the cold shattered him, ripping pleasure through every cell of his body. Pouring himself a big cup of coffee, Drew grabbed a muffin for himself before sitting down across from her. Freshly showered, his brown hair looking closer to black, he was clearly wide awake.

    Her responding smile was genuine. You know sneaky is my preferred method. Halting, she stared at that handsome face with its lake blue eyes so bright and shrewd. Drew closed his hand over her own. Not without tearing open her heart, exposing vulnerabilities so deep, they held the potential to destroy her. Kiss of Snow Scene 4: Marlee talking to Walker. Walker froze. She swung her legs from her seat on his workbench, and took another bite of her fruit before answering. A little dazed, Walker leaned against the bench beside his daughter, the miniature dining table forgotten.

    He took a bite, gave the rest back to her. Did you get Lara flowers? And still she gave so much of herself to him, had become the one person with whom he could speak of anything. A friend, he called her, knowing he was tying her to him, keeping her from forming relationships with other men. Because sweet, competent Lara had made long-dormant parts of him come to painful, brittle life.

    Kiss of Snow Scene 5: Indigo and Sienna in conversation. This scene , intended for one of the early chapters, was written as a fulfillment of that promise. Sienna was on her way out of the den that night, having put Toby and Marlee to bed after helping both with their homework, when Indigo walked up to her. Sienna nodded. Sienna took a seat with her legs hanging over the side, her face kissed by the occasional cool spray carried by the wind.

    The water was inky black today, except for where it foamed at the bottom, the roar of the fall another piece of the tapestry that made the Sierra Nevada so very magnificent. There was peace here. Sienna knew that. Always, inside her, there was chaos, a tumult of energy that hungered to live, to experience, to explore. Then there was the time you told all the juveniles you could read their minds and that you were spying on them for Hawke. Indigo snorted.