Christmas in New York (book 4)

Read the Excerpt

New York never changed.

Elena Larsen stood beside her friend’s Zip-car and took a good look around. The crowds, the traffic, the smell of street vendor chestnuts floating on the cold December air. It was all exactly the way she remembered.

“Laney, I am so glad you finally caved in and joined us this year.” Cassandra gave her a reproving look.

You’re glad?” Elena laughed. “I single-handedly saved the economy. My checkbook will never recover.” From the car, she hauled two shopping bags that strained their handles.

“Hey, it’s Christmas. ‘Tis the season for checkbook abuse.” Cass walked around the car and grabbed her in a tight hug. “If you let another decade go before visiting us again, I will hunt you down and kill you.”

Elena hugged back but made no promises. New York may have been home at one time, but now it held only bad memories.

“I have to run. Give Kara a kiss and a belly rub for me, okay? Bye!” With one last wave and a blown kiss, Cass was back in traffic, a cab driver offering his opinion of her driving with a raised finger and a blare of his horn. Cassandra Baines was the quintessential New Yorker — a study in contradictions, a mix of urban polish and take-no-crap attitude. Kara, Elena’s sister, was even more so. Elena had no doubt attempting to rub her sister’s pregnant belly would get her hand slapped — which, she concluded with a wry grin, was probably why Cass had suggested it. She shook her head with a laugh. Damn, it had been good to see her — really good. Thirteen years is too long for friends to go without real, face to face contact, Cassandra had scolded her when she’d first seen her. Elena tamped down the guilt that flared in her gut — she’d had to leave.

She simply couldn’t bear New York City after that day.

She hefted her luggage — a huge suitcase on wheels and a small laptop bag — over a patch of snow and did her best not to look south.

She looked.

And realized she’d been wrong. New York had changed.

The spire of One World Trade Center glinted in the sun and she felt a tug on her heart that she’d never expected to feel. She hadn’t been in Manhattan since she was fourteen years old and despite the scar on the skyline, there was something here that still whispered home.

Elena stood and stared and was abruptly bumped from behind. Unbalanced by the bags clutched in her hands, she couldn’t stop the fall, and landed in a heap in the same mound of snow she’d tried to avoid. “Hey—” she protested, but a strong voice overpowered hers.

“Hey! Watch it!” A man shouted at the guy who’d shoved her, but it did no good. The obnoxious guy never looked back. The stranger bent to her, held out bare hand. “Are you okay?”

Elena looked up into the face of the man who’d come to her aid. Dark hair curled over the edges of a knit hat, framing dark eyes that glinted with annoyance and concern. His cheeks were ruddy from the frigid air and his mouth, just the shape of it, made her own drop open with a little gasp.

Oh, wow.

She watched, hypnotized, for a long moment until that mouth curled. “Miss? I’ll ask again, are you okay?”

Elena gave herself a little shake and nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine, just — just really pissed off.”

The stranger grinned and Elena’s breath clogged in her lungs. His mouth was enticing when it was pressed into a tight, annoyed line but when he smiled, it was damn near lethal.

When he smiled, something changed.



She shivered and shook off the sensation, placing her gloved hand in his without thinking. Suddenly, she was upright with no memory of how she’d gotten there. Her rescuer was large.



Yet she felt completely safe in his arms. She blinked and swayed, and he shifted his hands to her shoulders. A delicious warmth spread over her.

“You’re sure you’re not hurt?”

She jerked, nodded. “No. Uh, yes, I mean I’m good.” Jeez. She couldn’t remember how to form words. She rolled her head, trying to clear the fuzz, but it was futile. His smile was intoxicating. Perfect teeth, just the right shade of white between loves coffee and Osmond cousin bracketed by honest-to-God dimples — the last time Elena saw dimples this cute, a boy had smiled at her only to vanish into the crowd gathered to honor the victims lost on September 11th. She thought he was angel who’d stopped her from doing something even worse than what had already happened. He’d tucked something into her hand, something that caught the sun, a bit of light that cut through all that darkness.

A snowflake. A crystal snowflake ornament. She’d kept it all these years and still wasn’t sure if she’d imagined the boy who’d given it to her. The man in front of her wasn’t him — couldn’t be him — he wasn’t as tall for one thing. Looking up at that boy had put a crick in her neck. But he sure reminded her of him. Oh, she could happily spend the rest of her life staring at this man’s smile.

“Miss?” he shifted, obviously uncomfortable with her scrutiny and she crashed back to the present, mortified that she was still holding him.

“Oh. Sorry.”

She hurried to pick up the shopping bags and when she reached for the luggage handle, he shook his head. “I’ll help you.”

“It’s okay, I can manage.” She gave it a small tug.

“I’m sure you can. But I’ll help you anyway. Where do you need to go?” He tugged back.

Frustration, embarrassment, and just plain anxiety at being back in New York frayed Elena’s last threads of patience. “Look, pal. I said I can manage. Thanks for your help. I can take it from here.”

The man studied her. She studied him back. He was big — easily six feet with broad shoulders and narrow hips. He wore a dark jacket with a scarf looped around his neck. To her total surprise, he laughed and held up his hands in surrender. “Obviously, you’re a native New Yorker home for the holidays.” He handed over her bags.


The word stabbed through her heart and she rubbed her chest where the wound still stung. They’d left home not long after the towers fell and moved to Virginia, where the house was nice enough, if you liked old Victorians. And she supposed the Georgia house had charm. The Florida house was big, even had a pool. But her dad never stayed long in the jobs that took him and what was left of their family from state to state. Maybe that’s why all those houses had felt more like hotels than home.

No. No, that wasn’t why.

It was because her mother wasn’t with them. She was lost here, in New York — a whisper on the wind that blew across lower Manhattan.

Her grave.

Elena forced a smile. “Yes.” She turned to leave.

“I’ll walk you to where ever you’re going.”

Elena shook her head. “Thanks, but I’m here.” She jerked a thumb at the building behind them. “My sister’s place.”

Another grin. Impossibly, it was more devastating than the first one. “Merry Christmas.” He extended a hand. “I’m Lucas.”

His attitude, the twinkle in his eyes, his smile, his dimples — Jeez, they could melt the snow under her feet or her — Oh, God! She quickly dusted snow off her butt, felt her face burn when his grin grew wider.

“I like your hat.” He offered. “My mother would have loved that.”

Loved — past tense.

Elena couldn’t miss that. Her eyes snapped to his, held there, and yes, if she looked closely, she could see sadness under the twinkle. Courtesy demanded that she acknowledge his statement, but self-preservation compelled her to avoid it. Elena never spoke of her mother and the attack that killed her and did her best to not think of it. Discussing his mother would send her right back into that dark place she’d spent thirteen years clawing her way out of. Instead, she thrust out her hand, clasped his. “Merry Christmas to you, too. Thanks for rescuing me.”

It couldn’t have been warmer than twenty-five degrees and he had no gloves, but somehow, their brief connection shot a jolt of heat through her system.

When she failed to offer her name, Lucas shoved his hands back into his pockets and asked, “Can I give you a hand getting inside?”

“Um, no. I’ve got it. Thanks again.” Elena took a definite step back that had Luke’s hands coming up, surrender-style.

“Not a line, not a ploy, I promise.”

“No, I didn’t think it was. I just don’t want to keep you from wherever you’re going. You’ve already done a lot. Thank you.”

“What’s your name, pretty lady?” He angled his head and her mouth opened all by itself because her brain was completely entranced by that smile.


“Elena. Nice meeting you. Merry Christmas again.”

“You, too. Merry Christmas.”

She wheeled her suitcase and hefted her shopping bags through the door of her sister’s building. When she looked back, the man with the supernova smile was gone and she sighed in relief.

And, maybe, just a little disappointment.