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“Like I told you, the entire community comes out for the holiday tree lighting. It’s a Dickens event. Some people who don’t come from a small town may think it’s hokey, but,” she lifted a shoulder, “it’s stuff like this that binds the town together.”
“I’m beginning to realize there are a great many things different from living in a big city than a smaller, suburban one.”
“Is Dickens the first small town you’ve ever lived or worked in?”
“Yes to both.”
He turned to face her fully. The way he dipped his head a little to the side and wedged a corner of his mouth between his teeth sent her pulse kicking up again.
“Have a preference?”
The distinctive blue in his eyes was almost crystalline from the sun’s momentary appearance through the cloud cover. Sasha found herself envying those eyes. When he honed his gaze in on her, his total attention focused on her face, as if there were no one else around them, her recent thoughts pushed through to the front of her mind again.
Maybe, just maybe, he did…find her attractive, in a she’s-a-woman-I’m-a-man kind of way.
Maybe, just maybe, he had asked her to meet him today because he wanted to spend time with her; get to know her.
And maybe – and she really hoped this one was true – he wasn’t just spending time with her because he wanted to recruit her for the hospital, but because he enjoyed being with her.
Sasha’s breath caught when he leaned in a little closer, so close the warmth of his exhale drifted across her cheeks and made her knees go a little wobbly.
“Yeah, I do,” he said. His lips twitched before he added, “I think, in another life, I was just a…small-town boy…living in a lonely world.”
Her laugh came quick and free and felt so darn good she could have cried. “Did you catch a midnight train to Dickens?”
His own laugh, deep and rich and oh-so-alluring caused several heads to turn toward them, questioning expressions covering them.
“No, but it would make a good story, wouldn’t it?”
“But a better song.”
He shook his head, that charming grin going full wattage.
Honestly. A girl could be blinded by the power and intensity of that small lifting of a pair of lips.
“Gorgeous to look at, smart, sweet, and knows the lyrics to one of my favorite songs from my favorite 80s band. Sasha Charles, where have you been all my life?”
His words, said with a laugh, did more to raise her spirits than the notion of sleeping in past four-thirty in the morning ever could. Thinking quickly, she replied, “Right here in Dickens…waiting up and down the boulevard.”
Steve slammed both hands against his chest, heart-level, sighed loudly and dramatically, and then closed his eyes. “Best day ever,” he said, shaking his head.
The uncontrollable urge to pull his hands away from his body and wind them around her waist shocked her. Before she could give it any more thought, back-feed from the public address system had the crowd audibly wincing.
“Hey folks,” one of the town’s aldermen – Sasha couldn’t remember his name – announced through a microphone from the gazebo. “Mayor Beth is on her way here right now, so we’re gonna get this here beauty of a tree lit in about five minutes. Don’t go anywhere.”
“I don’t think we could move if we wanted to.” Steve glanced around at the crowd. He circled back to light on her. “You still game to come and help me decorate my tree after this?”
With a nod, she said, “How does it look in your house?”
“Huge. Almost hits the ceiling and since the branches have dropped, it really sticks out into the room. I’m glad I asked Gridley to set it up in a corner instead of the main foyer. I don’t think I’d be able to walk around it every day without knocking ornaments off it.”
“If it’s in a corner it’ll be easier to decorate since you only have to do three sides.”
“I didn’t think of that.”
Unexpectedly, she was jostled from behind and pitched forward, off-balance. She shoved her hands out to brace for a fall and they landed squarely on Steve’s chest. Even through the coat covering him from neck to knees, Sasha noted how sturdy and hard he felt underneath it.
Like, she wanted to press in even closer and lose herself in all that…hardness, hard.
“Steady,” he said, winding his hands around her upper arms for support. Through the multiple layers of her outerwear, sweater, shirt and long sleeved Henley, and even though he had leather gloves covering his hands, Sasha’s skin tingled and singed from his touch.
As she stared up into his handsome face mesmerized by the concern drifting through his eyes, she lost the ability to form a sentence and simply gaped at him for a few seconds.
Awareness and excitement slid down her spine and she knew if they were alone and not surrounded by more than half the town’s population, she would have shifted and pressed her lips to his. From the way his brow smoothed and his eyes glazed over, she was pretty sure he was thinking along the same lines.
Just when she found the strength to come up with a few words, the loudspeaker went off again as the mayor came to the podium. Sasha pushed off Steve’s chest, silently sighing at the missed contact, and shoved her chilled hands into her coat pockets.
“Sorry about that,” she said, turning her attention to the gazebo.
He edged closer, and his warm, oh-so-alluring breath drifted across her cheeks again as he murmured, “I’m not.”
Keeping her gaze fixed in front of her, she prayed the heat shooting up her face would be interpreted as a chilled, rosy glow from the cold air instead of arousal.
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