The holidays are difficult when you have a crazy family. Tabitha Durst would agree with that sentiment whole-heartedly. What do you do when a gorgeous guy witnesses just how crazy they are?
Tabitha Durst and Jim Stoddard meet over an expensive bottle of wine. She needs it and he gets it. When she tells him she needs that bottle desperately, he thinks she's out of her mind. It isn't until he realizes they need the same exclusive wine for the same people that he sees for himself that she isn't crazy. Her family is. Can he overcome her reluctance to get close to anyone and give her the best Christmas she's ever had?
As she ran across the parking lot, Tabitha tried to keep her purse on her shoulder while she adjusted the strap of her blue heels. She was late for her sister’s party, and Carly wasn’t very forgiving of tardiness.
The store was decked out in Christmas candles and mincemeat jars mixed up with the groceries. Overhead, the store had muted Christmas music drifting from the speakers. Tabitha headed straight for the wine aisle. All she had to do was find that one bottle that would make her sister happy, and then she was on her way.
Her heels echoed against the linoleum in the almost empty store. It was after eight, and most people were home with their loving families. Tabitha sighed as sudden depression weighed her down. She wasn’t going to visit her “loving family”. She was going to Carly’s. Her sister wasn’t known for being loving. Rich? Yes. Loving? No.READ MORE
Just as she got to the rows of wine bottles, Tabitha was distracted by a collection of holiday candy at the end of the aisle. The next thing she knew, she plowed into something solid andbounced back. Pinching her eyes closed, she braced herself for hard contact with the floor.
Two strong hands reached out and grabbed onto her waist, saving her from the inevitable humiliation of landing on her butt.
When Tabitha opened her eyes, she found herself staring up into a pair of the deepest brown eyes she’d ever seen. Way up. She was five-foot-ten and the man towered over her, making him at least six-foot-five. For a moment she couldn’t speak, because running into him had knocked the breath out of her.
“Are you alright?” He even had a deep voice. It was rich, like creamy hot chocolate.
“I think so.” Finally, she could breathe. His hands lingered on her waist for a moment, and then they were gone.
He smiled, and she noticed his face was lean, but strong. It was the first time she’d ever met anyone who fit the word “lanky”.
She straightened her twisted skirt before offering him a tentative grin. “I’m so sorry. I wasn’t watching where I was going. Did I do any damage?”
He gave her a conspiratorial wink. “Not much can damage me.” He turned away and picked up a bottle of wine.
Stepping around him to reach for the one bottle that would keep her sister off her back, Tabitha was dismayed to find only an empty space. She must have made a noise, because Mr. Tall and Handsome glanced back.
“Something wrong? You’re not hurt from our little collision, are you?” It was then that she saw that the bottle in his hand carried the tell-tale label of the over-priced, exclusive wine Tabitha needed in order to have a relatively peaceful evening at her sister’s stuffy party.
“Do you really have to buy that label?” She was hoping he’d picked that bottle for no other reason than because it was pretty. Gold lettering and sparkling grapes hanging from a perfect vine might be the only reason this guy had picked it up.
When he didn’t even glance down, she knew she was out of luck. He shook his head. “I have to buy this wine. It’s for a client. Sorry.”
Facing him, she had to crook her neck just to look up into at his face. “Look, I know this is going to sound crazy, but I really need that bottle of wine.”
His expression on his face said it all. All his earlier friendliness was gone, and he became insufferably polite. “I’m sure you can find something equally suitable. I’ll even help you, even though I’m late.”
Could he sound any stuffier? Probably. Anyone who bought that wine for a client had to have his nose in the air. She sighed.
“No, I can’t. I really don’t want to give you my family history, but that bottle will give me a much more peaceful evening. If I don’t have it, it’ll be hell.”
“I’m sure it won’t be that bad.”
She just stared at him. Not that bad? Every year the annual Christmas party given by the Spinoli family was a humiliating experience. The one year when she’d refused to go her mother had suffered an “anxiety attack” and claimed she needed her children together at the holidays. It was pointless to try and escape. The only thing Tabitha could do was try to make her sentence a little lighter.
This year, it required a bottle of wine. That bottle of wine. The tall, handsome idiot with the melting brown eyes and lean body didn’t know what he was condemning her to when he refused to cooperate.
He made an impatient movement and she realized how insane she must sound. Forcing a smile, she finally gave up. “You’re right. Please don’t let me keep you.” With that, she turned her back on him and unwanted tears welled up in her eyes. Why should he understand? She didn’t. Her family was what it was. Nothing she ever said or did made her time with them any better. Why would a bottle of wine make tonight any easier?
She was already late and would suffer the consequences for that. Squaring her shoulders, she walked back out the parking lot and got into her car.
Jim sighed as he watched the tall, pretty woman walk away.
All the freaks are out this season, he thought. Trust me to find one of them. Freak or not, however, she was tall and graceful. Her long brown hair flowed down her back, and her curls swayed in rhythm with her hips. Her curves were just right. But her most outstanding feature was her eyes. They were hazel, with gold and green flecks. And they shone with worry.
Jim shook his head and walked to the nearest cashier’s station. One would have thought the woman was on her way to face a firing squad rather than attending a family get together. Well, some people did have awful families.
It irritated him that he was still thinking about her. She’d gotten so upset. Something in her stare told him that, in her mind anyway, she needed that particular bottle of wine.
It didn’t do any good for him to tell himself she could find it at another store. He’d had to go to three different ones before he’d found this particular brand. As he paid for it, he wondered if spending two hundred dollars for the bottle was going to impress this client. He needed to impress tonight. The website company he worked for was counting on millions of dollars of business from Ernest Spinoli. He couldn’t blow this. It wouldn’t be the first time he maxed out his credit card out for a client. Sighing, he hurriedly signed his name on the credit slip and ran for the door.
Maybe he would catch her and that say he was sorry. What he really wanted to do was to find out what made her eyes so sad and yet, so confident. If he was honest with himself, he’d also admit that the feel of those curves when she ran into him had a lot to do with his wanting to catch her.
When he reached the parking lot, it was empty except for his car. What had he expected? For some reason, he was deeply disappointed that he would never see the brown haired woman with the beautiful hazel eyes again.COLLAPSE