A Bad Boy for Christmas

By: Jessica Lemmon

Misplaced. Misplaced disappointment. She reminded herself she did not need or want a man. It didn’t matter if he was going on a date. Connor was ridiculously attractive. And insanely, ridiculously attractive men with great senses of humor went on dates. But she also silently acknowledged that she preferred not to think about who he dated. Or what they did on those dates…

She forced a smile. Even though she’d justified everything to death, it took a lot of effort to get the words, “Ohh, a date. Have fun!” past her lying lips.

“I plan on it.” His eyes jerked to one side, a strained silence settling between them. “I should get started so I can get out of here on time.” He lifted a tool belt full of garden trowels and other implements for digging in the dirt.

“Yeah. I have to get back in there.” She showed him her pink-glittered palm. “Try and clean myself up.”

His grin returned and she had to remind her knees to stay strong. Her entire body seemed to forget it was one cohesive unit whenever he was around. One by one, parts of her turned to jelly. Kneecaps oozed, her spine melted, and the part between her legs…Well, she just wasn’t going to think about that part.

Being alone was best. She had spent three years believing she was half a unified whole and had spent three seconds learning otherwise. No. Regardless of the way the landscaper’s pectorals tested the strength of the henley he wore, Faith was an independent woman. Hear her roar. Or meow.

She might be able to rustle up a hearty purr.

“Have a good day,” she told him, finalizing her decision to stop ogling him and get back to work. De-glittering herself was at the top of her to-do list.

“You got it, gorgeous.” He stepped past her, not sending another look over his shoulder, not giving her a flirtatious wink, not saying another word. Just a brief interaction before he walked to the far side of the house and vanished around the corner.

What her friends Charlie and Sofie had was fine, and Faith was happy for them, but it wasn’t something she wanted personally. A relationship with a man from the Cove was not in her future. No man from anywhere was in her foreseeable future.

Things were better this way.

* * *

Connor sneaked a glance over one shoulder as he walked away from Faith. Legs. Heaven help him, legs up to her neck. How he’d encountered a woman who looked like a Victoria’s Secret model but was as down-to-earth as they came on a daily basis and not begged her to go to bed with him was an epic accomplishment on his part.

Admittedly, parts of him had wanted parts of her since he laid eyes on her for the first time. Not that she remembered him from back in those days. He understood why. Back then he’d been a too-smart, skinny kid with no direction and an on-again off-again girlfriend who was way more “off” than he’d ever dreamed.

Faith, with her recent engagement implosion, had more in common with Connor now than ever before. It may have been years and years ago for him, but he knew what it felt like to be cheated on. Knew the sting of that pain—of being lied to, of being discarded for someone else. He may not have caught Maya in the act, but he had caught her after the fact.

Way after the fact.

He pulled the gloves from the back pocket of a pair of stressed jeans. At least he didn’t marry Maya. And Faith didn’t marry the dickhead who screwed her over. Bullet dodged for both of them.

That last thought hit him square in the chest. Maya wasn’t the only bullet he’d dodged. Toward the end of his tour overseas, he’d dodged several of them. Literally. And a few of them had his name carved on them.

Closing his eyes, he pulled in a deep breath, counting down from five. He concentrated on the feel of the breeze on his skin, on the sounds of the birds, the rustling of leaves. Then he reopened his eyes. The anxiety didn’t happen often anymore, but when it did, that was his way of dealing with it.

That and his friends. Faith had become his friend, he supposed. They didn’t hang out, but they talked. Gorgeous as she was, he responded to more than just her looks. There was something fragile yet tough about her at the same time. He’d locked eyes with her on more than one occasion and had seen the pain there. With her height, she often looked him damn near dead in the eye when they were face-to-face, and he thought if he looked long enough he might uncover all her secrets.

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