Romantic fantasies and happy endings don’t fit Oakes Bartasavich’s reality. Of course, neither does his breathtaking attraction to Daphne Lynch. From his prestigious career to his volatile family, there’s too much at stake to risk one kiss—let alone one night—with her.
But a snowy Christmas stranded together in Shady Grove, Pennsylvania, shines light on everything he’s fighting to deny. Daphne isn’t just a beautiful temptation. She’s a strong, intelligent, kind woman who deserves a happily-ever-after. One that Oakes isn’t sure he can give her…no matter how much he’d like to.
Oakes shoved his hands into his pockets, his fingers curling into fists, and followed her. She opened the door and stepped out onto the porch before facing him. “I still don’t believe you, by the way.”
He stiffened. Had she somehow sensed his reaction to her? Had he given himself away? “About what?”
“About why you really went to Zach. You were hoping he’d get angry.”
Oakes frowned. That made no sense. “People don’t get angry with me,” he told her, shooting for amused but afraid he sounded more irritated. He may not be his father’s favorite son—Senior didn’t play favorites, not when he loved himself above everyone else—but Oakes was the favorite Bartasavich brother. The one his family all turned to when they needed help or a calming influence. He wasn’t like C.J., whose arrogance and bossiness rubbed the rest of their family the wrong way. Hadn’t deserted his family and stayed away for years like Kane. Didn’t use bitterness and resentment to keep others at arm’s length like Zach.
“I’m not sure if I should agree with you because that’s true,” Daphne said, “or step back to give your ego more room.”
He flushed. He wasn’t egotistical. Was he?
“I’m just saying that it makes no sense for me to antagonize Zach.” Not when he’d spent his entire life trying to get Zach to stop hating him.
A cool breeze lifted the ends of her hair, had the scent of her shampoo surrounding him. “Okay, I take it back. You didn’t want him mad at you. But you did want him to put his foot down. To demand you tell me you changed your mind and couldn’t take me to Shady Grove after all. Admit it, you went there hoping he’d stop us from going. Then you wouldn’t have to go back on your word, but you could still get out of taking me to the wedding.”
Oakes opened his mouth to deny it but the words stuck in his throat. It was rare times like this when he wished he was more like his father, spouting lies and half truths, all in the name of protecting himself.
She stepped forward, laid her hand on his chest. His heart jumped underneath her fingers. “It’s okay,” she said quietly. “I know you’re scared of me.” She looked up at him through her eyelashes, but there was nothing demure about the wicked grin on her face as she rose onto her toes and whispered her next words in his ear. “You should be.”
He stood, still as stone, the blood rushing in his head, his body hardening from her closeness, her touch, as she lowered to her heels and trailed her fingertips down his sternum before turning and walking away.
She was wrong. He wasn’t scared of her.
He was terrified.