Baltimore street cop Mandy Delinski isn't expecting any miracles this Christmas. She's thirty, a little too round, still very single and she lives with her parents. So who could have guessed that her whole life would change before New Year's Eve? That a simple job policing a Christmas party would find her in the arms of sexy-as-sin bartender Josh Thornton? That they would be on the brink of making love before the night ended?
That Mandy would find her perfect man in the morgue the next day?
Or that she'd be given a magical chance to go back a week, save Joshand have the best sex of her life. Does Christmas get any better than this?
THE MUSEUM'S VISITOR PARKING AREA was filling up with BMWs and Porsches when Officer Mandy Delinski turned off Art Museum Drive and pulled into the lot. Bypassing the valet parking guys, she swung her squad car into one of the staff only spaces next to the catering truck, stole a quick glance in the rearview mirror, and then reached across the passenger's side to the glove compartment where she'd stashed her diary and, most importantly, her lipstick. Why I bother I don't know, she thought, and then rolled the lipstick on anyway. She didn't usually wear bright colors, let alone red, but somehow the name, Blaze, seemed to promise all sorts of wonderful, sexy fantasies come true, including a much thinner version of herself decked out in Santa cap, fur-lined red minidress, and black fishnet stockings crooning the lyrics to "Santa Baby" to an as yet faceless, nameless hunk.
Capping the tube, she tucked a curly red strand of hair behind her ear and stepped outside to join the glitterati of Baltimore society filing up the steps to the columned entrance. Inside, she moved through the marbled foyer, following the crowd toward the bank of elevators. Before she'd left the precinct, Boblitz had filled her in on the details, including the event location—the museum's West Wing, which housed its collection of contemporary art. Accordingly, she stepped off the elevator onto the second floor and followed the signage to the stark concrete-and-aluminum foyer. Aside from a few stragglers, the West Wing was deserted; certainly no one from museum security was in sight...
For the next hour, Mandy kept busy checking in the steady stream of guests filing through. A few put up a fuss about having to produce ID but most seemed to appreciate the museum's extra attention to their safety. Around seven o'clock, the volume of passers-through slowed to a trickle and then a stop.
Her gaze landed on the white-skirted bar set up for the event, conspicuously devoid of any server but with a line of thirsty-looking patrons queuing up in front. Too bad I'm on duty because a cosmo would go down really good just about now. She was about to turn away when a blond head popped up from behind the bar, joined in short order by a set of broad shoulders, leanly muscled torso and narrow waist. Oh my God. Her brain froze and her breath stuck in her lungs. Talk about drop-dead gorgeous. The bartender who'd just surfaced with a magnum bottle of champagne and an easy smile looked like he was poured into that tuxedo, not to mention being a thirtysomething dead ringer for England's Prince William. Certainly he was the hands-down most amazing hunk of male she'd clapped eyes on in a long time—make that, ever.
And amazingly, he seemed to be looking her way. Nice fantasy, Delinski, but it's time to get real. With a sigh, she turned to greet the gorgeous model-type woman who surely must be approaching check-in, only to find the alcove empty. She whipped around. He was still staring at her, his hot-eyed gaze shooting across the room like flame from a blowtorch. Mesmerized, she watched him pour a glass of champagne and then raise it to her in a mock toast. She thought his lips—his amazingly sensuous lips—mouthed, "Merry Christmas" but couldn't be sure.
My God, he's flirting with me. She felt her face heat along with other more southern portions of her anatomy that had lain fallow for far too long.
Keep an eye on the door for any latecomers, but otherwise feel free to walk around, stretch your legs.
Maybe it was the whole turning thirty thing or the yet-another-Christmas-alone thing or a bit of both, but for whatever reason, Mandy found herself moving across the room toward the bar as if drawn there by an invisible cord. She walked up just as the last patron moved away, affording her an unobstructed view of her "target."
The target's cobalt-blue gaze settled on her face, making her glad she'd remembered that lipstick, and then slid lower, pausing perceptibly on her breasts before traveling back upward. "Can I get you something to drink...officer?" The slow, lazy smile accompanying the question and the close-up look of open appreciation had her heart slamming into her chest.
"Can't...I'm on duty." Mandy, that was smooth—not! What next, recite a line from Dragnet?
"Coke, then?" One side of his sexy mouth kicked up into an even sexier grin, and suddenly Mandy felt as if the room was spinning around her like a carousel.
She managed a reasonably steady "N-no thanks, I'm good" and then added, "You're not...you're not from around here."
He hesitated. Smile slipping, he asked, "What makes you say that?"
"Your accent, it sounds kind of New England."
The smile made a comeback only this time it didn't quite reach his eyes. "Oh, it's my accent, is it?"
Mandy felt a telltale tickle at the corners of her own mouth, and realized she must be smiling back—and damn, it felt good. "If you're saying I have a Bawlmer accent, then I'm guilty as charged. I can't help it. I grew up in the city."
"I like your accent. It's distinctive...like you." Distinctive, huh. Distinctive could be good or bad depending on the circumstances. Given the sultry looks he was sending her, she decided she could safely take it as a compliment, or better yet, a gift—the best Christmas gift she'd gotten in a long, long time.
"Thanks, hon," she said with a wink, deliberately exaggerating the infamous truncated Baltimore O.
He threw back his head and laughed, a deep baritone that had her thinking of her favorite Godiva dark chocolate—rich, complex and full of sensual promise. Suddenly the hunk in her "Santa Baby" fantasy had a face, and it was staring back at her now as if its wearer wanted to eat her up. All she needed to wrap up the fantasy in a big red Christmas bow was a name.
As if reading her mind, he stuck out a broad-backed hand. "I'm Josh by the way."
Mandy hesitated, and then slipped her hand in his big, warm one. Glancing down, she considered the many other "uses" to which the strong, sensitive fingers might be put, and a jet of warm moisture splashed between her thighs.
Her throat, in contrast, went sawdust dry. Swallowing, she said, "I'm Amanda...Mandy, actually."
"Mandy, hmm? Pretty lady, pretty name." He glanced down to their clasped hands, and she realized she'd forgotten to let go.Palm tingling, she slipped her hand from his. "Sorry."
He stared straight at her, blue eyes blazing. "I'm not." Suddenly the room was too hot, he was too hot. Too hot to handle…©Harlequin Enterprises. All rights reserved.