He's trapped in the town Christmas threw up on!

Trey Janssen only wants to settle his late mother's affairs and get back to San Francisco, but he finds himself trapped in the town Christmas literally threw up on when he's arrested for drunk driving—right after a Dickens In The Park actor proclaims he'll be visited by three spirits.

The ghost from his past turns out to be Celia Brown, the innocent Girl Next Door he deflowered before leaving town on a football scholarship. Now he's hoping for a repeat or two of that night, because pretty Celia Brown has something all the nameless, faceless, one-night-stands of his wild pro-athlete lifestyle didn't—but it will take ghost number two and ghost number three to show him exactly what that something is.

Trey had poured two glasses of white wine he’d found in the refrigerator. The chilled liquid had already formed a matte gold sheen of condensation on the outside of the glass, giving it a romantic, holiday glow. He picked his up and offered her the other.

“To family. May they pester and annoy you into your golden years.”

She laughed and clinked her glass against his. “To family. May we find the strength to put up with their pestering and annoying for that long.” She took a sip. “Mmm, Margaret had good taste in wine.”

He swiveled the bottle so he could read the label. “Napa Valley. Ever been there?”

“Of course. You can’t live in San Francisco and not go to Napa.” She leaned against the counter and took another sip. The wine was delicious: light, dry, and fruity, with just a hint of oak. It was her favorite kind, and it pleased her to have this in common with Trey’s mother.

“I’ll confess; I used to go to bed and breakfasts in Napa to compare them to the Briarwood.”

Until the strange looks when she checked in alone became too depressing.

Maybe her family’s inn was more deeply ingrained in her heart than she wanted to admit. She had loved the unique challenges thrown at her at the law firm, especially uncovering the mysteries of crimes hidden within the numbers, but there was something satisfying about the consistency and orderliness of a five-star operation like the Briarwood. It appealed to her perfectionist’s nature.

She looked up from her glass to find Trey staring at her oddly. “What?”

“I remember you as this scrawny girl with scraped knees who was always trying to play in the boys’ games. It’s hard to imagine how you transformed into such a beautiful woman.”

She rolled her eyes. This was the charming bullshit she was expecting. She’d almost forgotten who she was standing here with. “You don’t remember me at all.” She set down her glass and aimed her thoughts toward formulating a polite goodbye.

He seemed amused, but to her, it wasn’t funny.

“Of course I do. You used to wear these little white shorts with pink cuffs, and we teased you because we could see your flowered underwear through them.”

She shook her head. If that had indeed been her, obviously the incident wasn’t so traumatic she remembered it. No, there were plenty of other traumas she did remember.

“I hit the honor roll my junior year. They put me in the senior chemistry class, with you.” She fiddled with the wine stem, nervously nudging the delicate base into the center of the tile square.

“Mr...”

“Mrs. Gunderson.”

“Right.” He frowned. “A plump lady with a mole on her chin.”

“She teamed us up in groups of four, and I was on your team.” Celia cast him a look containing more hurt in it than she wanted to reveal. “You had to ask me what my name was. So don’t pretend you remember me.”

His eyes widened. “I’m sure that didn’t happen.”

“It sure did.” She tried to force it out, but the wounded edge crept into her voice of its own accord.

“That must have been some other arrogant, dull-witted football player.”

“Nope.” She poked his chest when he eased closer. “It was this arrogant, dull-witted football player.”

He set down his glass and took another step that brought them intimately close. “There’s plenty I do remember. The night of the Autumn Festival, for one.”

Celia’s heart kicked into higher gear. She didn’t like where this was headed.

“A sweet girl with an innocent kiss as soft as butterfly wings.”

“I don’t want to talk about this.”

“What do you want to talk about?”

She eased back. “I should go.”

“Not yet, you shouldn’t.” He moved forward, shifting so she was stuck between his looming chest and the refrigerator. “Don’t you want to know what else I remember?”

“I can well imagine.”

“Let me show you.” He touched her chin, urging her to look into his eyes. Their vibrant blue depths dragged her in and held her prisoner. “It went a little like this.”

He leaned in, and Celia’s world flipped upside down. His lips touched hers in the lightest kiss, and though she wanted to refuse, she felt herself rising into him. She closed her eyes and breathed him in. The wine on his lips accentuated him perfectly, like raspberries and chocolate, or cookies and milk. Puppies and rainbows.

He tilted his head and his kiss intensified as he parted his lips, gently urging her to do the same. It had felt hot in here before; now Celia thought she might combust. Trey slid his arms around her back and pulled her against him.

For a moment she went along, bonelessly, mindlessly, carelessly. But this was a path she couldn’t take, not this time. She pushed away. “I can’t do this.”

“Why not?” His eyes were heavy-lidded as though their kiss had drugged him, and his voice had that deep bedroom lilt that made her want to fall onto a soft mattress with him. Let him take me to Wonderland.

“Because I’m not a reckless teenager anymore.”

“It seems to me we’re much better suited to indulge ourselves now. We’re mature, independent, rational adults.” He leaned in again. “I want you, Celia.”

She hovered on the verge of telling him she wanted him too. But she’d wasted too many days dreaming about Trey Janssen, too many sleepless nights pining the handsome boy next door, to go down that unhealthy road again. He was right; she was mature, independent, and rational, and she had better goals and dreams now.

“I don’t...” She licked her lips, tasting him on them. “I don’t want you.”

A tiny smile played at one corner of his mouth. “I think you do.”

She shook her head. “Mmm-mm.”

“I think I can prove you do, just by kissing you again.”

He truly was still as arrogant as ever. “Really?”

“I think I can convince you to stay the night. All night.”

Maybe he was still a dull-witted football player. “The whole night, huh?”

She tried to sound aloof, but he was right, and she knew it. She was putty in his hands. God, it would be so good to touch him again, to revive those fading memories of their single night together so, so long ago. To make new, magnificent, vivid ones. To prove to herself it had been as wonderful as she remembered—maybe even better. To give herself new sights, sounds, and sensations to think about on what were sure to be many lonely nights ahead.

To make love to him as a woman who could enjoy it, instead of a clumsy teenage girl who didn’t know the first thing about his pleasure, or her own. Oh dear God.

He opened his hands in supplication. “One kiss and you’ll be convinced.”

“Just one?”

“Just one.”

“All right. Give it your best shot.”

His best shot was a slam dunk. He worked his mouth like the pro athlete he was—no, strike that; the pro Ladies Man that he was—and Celia melted in his arms like chocolate in the sun. He smelled so damned good, and he tasted even better. He towered over her with those broad shoulders, making her feel delicate, small, and...young. For a moment, she was that naïve seventeen-year-old again, starry eyed and bewildered in the arms of the boy she’d dreamed about for more than half her life, hardly able to believe she would finally have him.

Celia could not lie to herself. She wanted him just as much now, if not more, than she ever had. That was a dangerous path to go down again. She had to refuse. But she kept her eyes closed and kissed him back just as hungrily, telling herself she was more mature now. She could handle the ache of longing for him and the pain of unrequited wanting after he was gone.

Just do it, her heart said.

Don’t be a fool; you’re better than this, her head said.

His body pressing against hers felt so strong, his arms so protective, and the thickness of his need pressing against her middle so magnificent, that for a moment Celia considered throwing caution to the wind and forgetting all her other problems for one blissful night. But she knew one night of pleasure would not make those problems go away; they’d still be there in the morning, along with a heavy dose of brand-new regret.

He eased back and they both came up for much-needed air. Thank goodness she was holding the edge of the counter; her knees might have given out.

He grinned. “So...what’s the verdict?”

“That was a damned good kiss.”

“Does that mean you’re staying?”

“Nope.” She took advantage of his shock to slip out from between him and the kitchen counter. “The daily grind at the B&B starts early. See you tomorrow morning, cowboy.”

 

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