Her New Year Baby Secret

By: Jessica Gilmore

‘And you’ve come out inappropriately dressed.’ The disapproval was back in his voice, but before Sophie could react, he shrugged off his expensive-looking coat and wrapped it around her. ‘You’ll catch pneumonia if you’re not careful.’

Pride warred with her frozen limbs and lost. ‘I... Thank you... Although,’ she couldn’t help adding, ‘it wasn’t actually snowing when I left home.’ She snuggled into the coat. The lining felt like silk and there was a distinct scent on the collar, a fresh citrus scent, sharp and very male, rather like the smartly tailored man standing in front of her. She held out her hand, just the tips of her fingers visible, peeking out of the long coat sleeves. ‘Sophie Bradshaw.’

‘Marco Santoro.’ He took her outstretched hand and, at his touch, a fizz of attraction shivered up Sophie’s spine.

She swallowed, shocked by the sudden sensation. It had been far too long since she’d had that kind of reaction and it unnerved her.

Unnerved her—but she couldn’t deny a certain thrill of exhilaration too, and almost without meaning to she smiled up at him, holding his gaze boldly even as his eyes darkened with interest.

‘I must be holding you up,’ she said, searching for something interesting to say but settling on the banal, unsettled by the speculative look in his eyes. ‘I should give you your coat back, thank you for coming to my rescue and let you get on your way.’ But she couldn’t quite bring herself to return the coat, not when she was so blissfully warm. Not when she was so very aware of every shifting expression on his rather-nice-to-look-at face with cheekbones cut like glaciers, the dark stubble a little too neat to be five o’clock shadow. She also rather approved of the suit, which enhanced, rather than hung off or strained over, his tall lean body. She did like a man who knew how to dress...

* * *

She’d given him the perfect getaway clause. One moment of chivalry could have marooned him here with this sharp-tongued girl for the rest of the evening. All he had to do was say thank you, retrieve his coat and be on his way. The words hovered on his tongue, but Marco paused. There was something he rather liked about her defiantly pointed, uptilted chin, the combative spark in her blue eyes. It was a nice contrast to the tedium that had made up his evening so far.

‘Take your time and warm up. I’m in no hurry. The fresh air is just what I needed after being in there.’ He gestured behind him to The Chelsea Grand. ‘I was at the most overcrowded, overheated party imaginable.’

‘Me too! Wasn’t it awful?’

‘Unbearable. What a shame I didn’t see you in there. It would have brightened up a dull evening. No one ever enjoys these Export Alliance affairs, but it’s necessary to show willing, don’t you think?’

Her eyes flickered. ‘Oh, yes, I hope the evening wasn’t too much of a bore.’

Marco deliberately didn’t answer straight away, running his gaze over Sophie assessingly. She was a little under average height, with silky blonde hair caught up in a neat twist. Her eyes were a clear blue, her mouth full. She wasn’t as poised as his usual type, but then again he was bored of his usual type, hence the last six months’ dating detox. And fate did seem to have brought them together; who was he to argue with fate? He smiled straight into her eyes. ‘For a while there I thought it was. But now, maybe, it has...possibilities.’

With interest he watched her absorb his words, his meaning, colour flushing high and quick on her pale cheeks. She stepped back. ‘Well, it was lovely meeting you, Mr Santoro, but I really should try to get back before I need a team of huskies to whisk me home. Thank you so much for lending me your coat. I think I’m warm enough to risk another five minutes looking for transport.’

‘Or,’ he suggested, ‘we could wait out the storm in the comfort of a bar.’ There, the gauntlet was thrown; it was up to her to take it or not.

He rather hoped she would.

Sophie opened her mouth, then closed it again. Marco could practically see the arguments running through her mind. She didn’t know him. It was snowing and impossible to get home. What harm could one drink do? Was she acknowledging the sizzle of chemistry in the air? That indefinable quality that stopped him from taking his coat and walking away, that stopped her from saying a flat no. He could almost smell it, rich and ripe.

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