print edition
December 1997

The Grinch Makes Good

dgital edition
December 11, 2016

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Christmas is her favorite time of year. He can’t wait to put December behind him.

Brooke Bailey might be thirty-one years old, but she still believes in Santa Claus. And since she won’t be going home for the special holiday this year, she’s determined to include the residents of her small apartment house in her celebration-even those who aren’t fans of the jolly red-suited guy or reindeer games.

For Dr. Duncan Cox, Christmas is nothing but a commercial disaster filled with disappointment and bad decisions; he sees both in Mercy Hospital’s ER more than ever as the big day draws near. On top of that, this year he finds himself tasked with secretly filling Brooke’s stocking with twelve gifts to help out a friend.

Can Dr. Grinch’s gifts give Miss Merry Christmas the very thing her celebration is missing? And can seeing Brooke’s joy at receiving the anonymous gifts thaw Duncan’s cold heart?

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The Comfort of Favorite Things - Bliss and the Art of Forever - The Sweetness of Honey - Beneath the Patchwork Moon - Boots Under Her Bed - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock(Digital Edition) - Unforgettable - The Second Chance Café - Unbreakable - Undeniable - Holiday Kisses/This Time Next Year - Twenty-One Hours/SEAL of My Dreams - At His Mercy - Playing Love's Odds (Digital Edition) - Love Me Tender (Digital Edition) - Love In Bloom - (Digital Edition) - The Icing On The Cake - With Extreme Pleasure - One Good Man - No Limits - A Long, Hard Ride - Maximum Exposure - Kiss & Tell - Deep Trouble - In Danger - At Risk - Tex Appeal - The Perfect Stranger - Beyond A Shadow - Infatuation - The Complete Idiot's Guide To Writing Erotic Romance - Deep Breath - Goes Down Easy - Red Letter Nights - Totally Charmed - Kiss & Makeup - Undressed - Larger Than Life - Sara Smiles/Beach Blanket Bad Boys - The McKenzie Artifact - The Beach Alibi - The Samms Agenda - The Shaughnessey Accord - The Bane Affair - Mother, Please! - Indiscreet - Wicked Games - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock - Striptease - The Sweetest Taboo - Bound To Happen - No Strings Attached - Roped Into Romance - All Tied Up - Love In Bloom - Four Men & A Lady - Love Me Tender - The Badge And The Baby - The Grinch Makes Good - The Heartbreak Kid - Call Me - Playing Love's Odds

Duncan glanced up at the alcove archway then back Brooke's direction. A hint of a true smile crossed his mouth. "Just my luck. Stuck beneath the mistletoe with the trash."

Brooke couldn't help it. She laughed, aloud and full-bodied and the temptation grew. And grew. But she wouldn't give in. She wouldn't. That didn't mean she wouldn't enjoy the moment. Or take it a bit further to see what else Duncan might reveal.

Learning more about him couldn't hurt in her quest to change his mind about Christmas. Especially now that he'd let slip just enough to truly rouse her curiosity. "You missed it earlier. Quite a show."

"Here?" He gestured overhead. "Lydia catch another unsuspecting victim?"

Brooke stayed where she was, her fingers wrapped around the figurine. "JJ."

His eyes widened, flashed golden in the light. "She caught Jay?"

"Not Lydia," Brooke answered, shaking her head. "Sally."

She watched a dozen thoughts cross his mind, the implications of his friend and her friend and where that kiss might or might not lead.

"Wow," he finally said, set the trash bag at his feet, parked a hand at his waist. The other rubbed at the back of his neck. "That surprises me. About JJ."

"Why?" Her interest peaked. "He was a good sport about it. So was Sally. Better than I think I would've been," she added, immediately regretting the admission when the doubting Thomas look in his eyes told her he planned to change the conversational direction.

He crossed his arms and stayed where he was, under the mistletoe, as if his bold defiance of tradition presented a challenge to her Christmas spirit. "You? Miss Merry Christmas? Not a good sport?"

She wouldn't let his teasing get to her. But she now knew she could get to him by being honest. She stroked the figurine again. "I'm not big on public displays. When it comes to certain things."

"Like kissing?"

She nodded, took her honesty further. "At least a kiss like that."

One of Duncan's eyebrows went up. "Oh yeah?"

Oh yeah. That kiss had moved her. She couldn't tell him how much or in what ways. Wasn't even ready to make that admission to herself.

The admission that she'd thought of him, Duncan. Had wanted to kiss him, Duncan.

No. She wasn't ready to make that admission at all. "I guess you'd have to ask one of them about oh yeah. What I don't understand, though, is why JJ kissing Sally would surprise you."

He lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "He's always been a one woman kinda guy."

This time she took her honesty to the limit. "So. Why can't Sally be that woman?"

He regarded her then, intently, intimately, looking at her with those hooded bird of prey eyes. The dim light gave that look a quality that had Brooke wanting to take a step back almost as much as she wanted to take one forward, to feel that gaze up close, inches away, focused and clear and certain in its purpose.

He glanced down to the floor, then back up, shoved his fists in his pockets and said, "I thought you were that woman."

She knew he'd thought that because JJ had thought that. Perhaps until as recently as tonight. But JJ didn't think that any more. And Duncan needed to know the truth. She needed him to know the truth.

"JJ and I are good friends," she said. "We've dated. A few times. We both knew that was as far as it was going to go. He needs a go-getter. Like Sally. And I need . . . "

She let the thought trail, stroked a finger over the figurine. This was an area she wasn't ready to face, let alone discuss with Duncan Cox.

"You like that?"

At his question, she looked up. He nodded toward the figure. She smiled. "I love it. It's perfect. The best second day of Christmas I could have imagined."

He seemed to think a moment, to consider what had passed, to dwell on her words, as if trying to understand or make sense of the same type of musings that had her tied up in knots. As if waiting to speak until he ordered his thoughts.

She moved to the side of the alcove, closer to where he stood while avoiding where he stood. She wanted, needed to be close when he said what was on his mind. Wanted, needed to see his eyes.

He kept them on the figurine. "That was a public display. Finding that in your stocking."

"It wasn't so bad. You'd prepared me. The crowd was a friendly one," she teasingly said. "And after yesterday's pear, I had an idea it would be something simple that I wouldn't mind sharing."

She balanced the birds in her palm, concentrated on them as well as her thoughts. "There are other things that would be harder in public."

"Like a kiss."

They were back to that. She'd thought talking of that type of intimacy with Duncan would make her uneasy. But strangely he was comfortable to talk to.

She found it wasn't hard at all to raise her eyes to his. "Yes. Like a kiss."

After a long thoughtful moment, his eyes flared, darkened, grew powerful in their regard. "Or like singing?" he finally asked.

How was she supposed to inhale when he looked at her that way with those eyes? Those coffee cocoa dangerously perceptive eyes. "I don't sing in public."

"You sing in private. In the mornings. When you shower," he said, his voice a low private whisper by the time the last of the words escaped.

"You hear that? Me? Singing?" Please say no. Please say no.

But he nodded. And said, "Yes. I hear you singing."

She ignored her stiff shoulders, her tight jaw, the ceramic lines of the tiny figurine cutting into her fingers and strove for nonchalance. "Isn't that where people are supposed to sing? In the shower?"

"I don't," he answered.

And, after her breath took flight at the end of a long sigh, she managed, "I know."

"I wondered. About that. If you realized."

What? That they were both wet and naked virtually the same time each day? How could she be human and female and not realize? She smoothed back her ponytail. "Sure. The pipes are old. I hear them. I hear the floor creak under the tub. Or I guess I hear the tub creak over my ceiling."

When he stepped away from the archway, his toe caught the corner of the trash bag. Bottles clinked and cans clattered on the short slide across the floor. The air in the alcove grew warm and close and the scent of the spruce needles pungent.

His shoulders were broad, his body fit and she licked her lips. He drew his hands from his pockets. His steps brought him close and she trembled. The tiny Christmas candles glittered off the lightest strands in his hair, caught sparks of light and heat in his eyes.

Oh, God. She brought clenched fists to her chest, backed into the wall beside the stockings.

He was taller than she'd thought, he was leaner than she'd realized, he was closer than she'd ever thought he would be. And he knew about her showers.

She could smell him now. No imagined steam, no conjured soapy scent. But male skin heated by arousal. Cloth bearing more of the same as he raised both hands to either side of her head, skated his palms lightly over her hair, the same way she did so often, back over her ears and down her nape as if he'd watched her and knew the gesture.

Then he leaned forward, his body still a foot from hers, and touched his lips to her ear. "I like your hair. The way you touch it." He inhaled slowly, an excruciatingly drawn-out intake of air. "And I like the way it smells. I'd wondered about that. After hearing you shower."

A shiver stole through her, from his warm breath on her ear, from his words, from the laying bare of his imagination. Arousal tightened her breasts, weakened her knees, stirred her body between. She caught back the whimper, the barest gasp at the back of her throat, closed her eyes and lifted her chin.

He could have her. All of her. She was that aroused. And that frightened by a vulnerability that wasn't what she was used to feeling, didn't know how to fight.

Her skin burned beneath layers of knit dress and lace hose. Her muscles ached from the reflexive clenching and easing that came with each inch he leaned closer, each inch he halted, each inch he leaned in.

His body touched hers, barely, his chest grazed her breasts, barely, his thighs bracketed hers, barely. His shoulders rose; his stomach pressed into her belly. Fully.

He was aroused as well.

She opened her eyes, looked into his, watched his pupils react as his hands left her hair to skim lightly down her neck. His palms grazed her shoulders, his thumbs pressed into her collarbone and her pulse jumped.

He felt it. She knew that by his eyes, by the flare of his nostrils, by the breath that fanned warm against her skin before his lips touched her cheekbone, traveled to her ear, worked lower. A wisp of air hissed from between her teeth.

He moved his hands down her arms, curled his fingers easily around her biceps, nuzzled his way from her ear to her shoulder. "I like the smell of your neck."

She raised her chin to give him better access, wanting to say something in return, but she couldn't find the words, couldn't voice the compliment she so wanted to return.

He smelled the way she loved a man to smell. His hair clean, sifting through her fingers as she held his head close. His face lightly spiced, nicely rough as his end of the day beard grazed her jawline.

His hands were warm where they held her arms, his thighs hard against her hips. But it was the center of his body searing the center of hers that was her focus.

She could barely breathe.

He seemed to sense her dwindling control, lifted his head. Her neck cooled in his absence. But she found that the heat in his eyes warmed her through.

"I like the way your eyes flash," he said. "I like to hear you laugh."

Oh, God. Oh, God. What was happening here? Her body was betraying her, responding to this man she didn't know at all yet sensed she had known forever. She found him attractive, yes. Admired his dedication, of course.

And the fact that she was even attempting to inject logic into this moment proved how far gone she was.

So she gave up, gave in, raised up on tip-toes to better align his arousal with hers. He hissed. She whimpered, brought her arms around his neck and let him know he was welcome.

Nothing else mattered at this moment but his body and her body and if he didn't put his mouth on hers and kiss her soon she was going to die.

So she kissed him.