’Tis the season of goodwill to all men…even the one who dumped you.
Riley MacDermott’s ambitions are simple. Managing the annual Bath Christmas Market—which involves long hours in the cold and a whole lot of hassle—will secure the promotion he needs to afford to move out of his noisy, top-floor flat. Where not even his balcony is safe from an aggressive herring gull.
The last stallholder he expects to see is his ex. Riley never recovered from their break up, and five years on the old chemistry still sparkles. So does their habitual head butting.
Stan never wanted to leave the love of his life, but the pull of the woods was too strong—and Riley was firmly planted in the city. Reconnecting is painful, but Stan still jumps at the chance to stay with his old flame during the Market. And damn the consequences.
As the weeks pass, the two grow closer than ever. But despite scorching sex and cozy intimacy, they both know they face a cold and lonely future. Unless one of them can compromise.
You could lose yourself in Stan’s eyes. Well, I could. They reminded me of sun-bleached denim, with a deeper indigo ring around the outside. They were the kind of eyes that spoke of hard work in the great outdoors, and if it hadn’t been for the fact they’d been just the same back when he’d slaved away as a housing officer, I’d believe they really had been lightened by the sun. His hair certainly had. I’d always thought of him as a dirty blond rather than a honey one.
I still thought of him as a dirty blond, although not because of the colour of his hair.
Before my brain could get hijacked by thoughts of just how dirty Stan could be, I recovered my manners and stuck my hand out.
“Stan. Fancy seeing you here. I had no idea. Really.”
Stan stared at my hand like I was offering him a slice of mouldy pizza. I was just about to snatch it back when he grabbed it and held on.
“Ri? You look… You haven’t changed. Not one bit.”
Normally I’d preen a little at a comment like that. Make some allusion to Botox—not that I had any desire to freeze the expression out of my forehead, as how would I cope if I couldn’t do my patented single-eyebrow raise?
But right now, with Stan holding my hand in his rough, calloused—oh my God, he had genuine, honest to goodness callouses!—paw, I found it hard to do anything other than fight down my body’s instinctive response to him. I wanted to hit him and I wanted to lick him all over, and I couldn’t bloody well figure out which urge was winning.
Actually, right now I needed to stop paying any attention to my body and concentrate on keeping my cool. Couldn’t have Stan seeing me ruffled.
“Well, you’ve definitely changed,” I said. “You’ve got that whole rugged, outdoorsy vibe working for you now.” I didn’t need to hide the fact I was checking him out, thank Christ, so I took my time drinking in the sight of him. “Going back to nature really does pay off, doesn’t it? Shit, you never bulked up this well in the gym. And you’re tanned in the winter, but not a streak of orange to be seen. It’s a modern day miracle. Hallelujah.”
“I don’t need to fake it,” Stan growled, tilting his head back to look down at me and making the most of his three-inch height advantage. It was his arrogant-bastard pose, and he bloody well knew I was a sucker for it because I’d once made the mistake of telling him. Never, ever let a toppy git know just how much they turn you on, or you’ll spend your whole bloody life in a state of perpetual turned-on-ness. Was that even a word? It was now.
“What happened to your hair?” I said, reaching out for a lock. “Totally hot, but aren’t you getting a bit old for the whole surfer look? And you’re way too landlocked, down in deepest, darkest Somersetshire.”
“Piss off, Ri,” Stan said, but there was no heat in his words. The heat was all in his eyes, beaming out and frying me like a laser beam. They’d find me later, nothing more than a pair of melted boot soles on the cobbles.
Was that angry heat or turned-on heat? Couldn’t figure it out on him either. I had to face it, we both had ample reason to be pissed off with each other, but five years was a long time to hold a grudge.
“Much as I’d love to get on my way, it’s actually my job to check up on you. See if there’s anything you need any help with. Lend a hand, you know.” Jesus, could I have made that sound any more like a come-on? Clearly my mouth was in cahoots with my dick rather than my brain. I bit the inside of my lower lip, just to show it who was boss.
But Stan just carried on staring at me, while the sun-warmed denim of his eyes frosted over.
“Right. Just your job.” Oh, that guttural Slovakian accent! After the best part of a decade of living in the UK, Stan’s had definitely mellowed compared to when we’d first met, but it was still sexy as hell. “I’ll make sure I let you know if there’s anything you can help me with.” He stepped a little closer then, and tucked both thumbs into the waistband of his combats, hands framing his package like I needed any reminding of what was hidden in there. Well, not so hidden. Whereas I was a grower, Stan was most definitely a show-er, meaning his tackle was almost as big flaccid as it was erect. Not that that was a disappointment. More of a relief, really. If he’d got any bigger when hard, I’d have had to make like a snake and dislocate my jaw before giving him a blowjob.
And I really didn’t need to be remembering blowing Stan right now.
I thought I’d concealed my arousal pretty damn well, but something must have registered, because Stan got this triumphant grin. “You’d better get back to work. Can’t have you giving up your chance at climbing the corporate ladder for my sake.” And the bastard turned his back on me and went back to fiddling with the display board.
Ouch. That was an old barb, and one I’d had thrown at me many times in the months leading to our breakup. Or my dumping, as I thought of it in my maudlin moments. Usually while cradling a glass of pinot noir and listening to bluesy jazz.
I had to set things straight. Let Stan know I’d turned over a new leaf. “Actually, I’m working for the council now. Public sector. Not corporate.”
“And I should care why, exactly?”
Double ouch. And worse yet, I knew I probably deserved it, as I had made it very clear my career was the priority back then.
“I’ll be on my way, then. If you need anything, Janine and I are patrolling. Should be one of us checking up on you every half hour or so. Oh, and I’m sorry about your pitch.” I indicated the litter bin that sat in front of it. “Not the best we have to offer. You’ll have to get in quick next year if you want one of the prime ones with decent footfall.”
Stan just shrugged. “It’s fine. I’m used to things being quiet.”
“Yeah, I bet.” I wanted to ask him more about how it was going out in the woods, but he’d made it pretty clear he didn’t want to talk. “Bye, then.”
I got a grunt in response. Bloody charming.
Cavemen. You can try to civilise them, but the minute they get back to the great outdoors, they go all feral again. I pitied the good folk of Somerset, having to put up with a grumpy old hermit in their midst.
And I kind of envied them too.
Yeah, I was so not over Stan, it wasn’t even funny.