Today’s Steal is…
This is a hero you would want to run into under the mistletoe!
Millionaire Under the Mistletoe by Stefanie London is on sale for just 99¢!
So be sure to grab your copy today.
Stella Jackson would rather stab herself in the eye with her own stiletto than return to England. Especially in winter. But to fulfill her grandfather’s last wish, she has to spend Christmas at the estate she inherited from him…with the one man she wishes she could forget.
Self-made millionaire Evan Foss wants one thing from Stella—her estate. But thanks to their rocky past, he’s the last person she’ll sell to. So when she takes him up on a bet, with the estate as the prize, Evan can’t believe his luck. The only problem is that seeing her now, sexy and all grown up, tempts Evan to finish what started years ago between them.
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A white Christmas in the English countryside might be a dream come true for some people, but to Stella Jackson it sounded about as appealing as a threadbare sock. Snow might look pretty on the front of a Christmas card but she knew the finger-numbing truth. England was wet and cold and miserable.
Sighing, she leaned back against the plush first-class recliner and tried to relax. In two and a half hours she would be freezing her butt off. And, if the prospect of snow wasn’t bad enough, she was missing the busiest part of her work year and a good chunk of the festivities back home on the Gold Coast. A month without sunshine and surfing sounded like pure torture to her.
But she couldn’t refuse a man his dying wish.
Darkness clouded her thoughts as a deep ache settled into her bones. The feeling was familiar. Constant. She curled her hands around the armrests of her seat, letting her fingers bite into the plastic and leather until she felt grounded again. Until the great, gaping chasm in her chest had shrunk down to a mere crack.
Stella drew a breath, tilting her head from one side to the other as she practiced the breathing exercises the therapist had taught her. It was only a month. Just thirty-one days. Seven hundred and forty-four hours.
She could manage. All she had to do were three simple things:
1. Spend a month on the estate
2. Find the perfect buyer
3. Get the hell back to Australia in time for the new year
The objectives were printed neatly inside the leather-bound organizer that went everywhere with her. She’d even drawn a picture of a stick figure standing next to a surfboard so she knew exactly what would be waiting upon her return. Not that there was any chance of her staying a moment longer than necessary.
Balance restored, she reached for a copy of Vogue Living she’d stashed in her oversize handbag. Pretty pictures would be the perfect thing to keep the bad thoughts under control while she tried to waste away the next two and a half hours of her life. Thankfully, the long part of her journey was already over.
Flipping through the magazine’s glossy pages, she admired the elaborately styled party scenes. Every table setting matched the one next to it, cutlery sat in the correct position, and everything was in its place. Yes, this was just what she needed right now.
Something brushed against her arm and she jerked her head up.
“Excuse me.” The rough voice with a strong English accent was a heart-stopper, and the owner had a set of shoulders to match.
Curiosity piqued, Stella leaned out of her seat to watch as he strode through First Class into the Economy area. The guy walked like he was on a mission. Yet, he dragged a comically small, canary yellow suitcase behind him. It was almost enough to distract from his long legs and trim waist, but not quite. When she noticed the elderly lady wearing a matching canary-yellow scarf following several paces behind, Stella caught herself smiling.
A true gentleman, how many of those are left in the world?
He stopped at the first row and popped open the overhead compartment before hoisting the small suitcase as though it weighed no more than a pillow. After helping the older woman into her seat, he turned back toward First Class.
Stella snapped her head to the seat in front of her, but not before she’d seen the flash of a thousand-watt smile in her direction. Busted. She buried her face in her magazine.
“Surely you didn’t think that was my suitcase?” The man settled into the seat across the aisle from her.
“It crossed my mind until I saw the luggage tag.” Stella watched him from the corner of her eye, but avoided direct eye contact so as to discourage conversation. Rule number one of airline travel: don’t get trapped into small talk. “You don’t look like a Gertrude.”
“That would have been rather cruel of my parents.”
His husky laugh sent a ripple of awareness through her. It reminded her of something long-buried, something she couldn’t put her finger on.
You’re just looking for a distraction.
When she was confident Mr. Sexy Brit had turned his attention away, she risked a glance in his direction. Fitted denim hugged his long legs like a dream and floppy chestnut hair obscured his face. The hard line of his jaw made her eyes linger. He had the kind of features that demanded attention. Arresting features. In an alternate universe she might have broken her “no small talk” rule to flirt with him. On paper he ticked all the boxes for an ideal travel fling. Sexy accent? Check. A body made for keeping warm? Check. A mega-watt smile worthy of holiday snaps? Double check.
But Stella didn’t flirt. Nor did she have flings—of the holiday variety or any other variety. Returning to her magazine, she lost herself in the stylish perfection. As soon as the final check and the safety demonstration were complete, she was going to stick her headphones on and block the world out.
“Miss?” Mr. Sexy Brit leaned into the aisle to get her attention. “Have we met before? You seem familiar.”
Stella laughed. She’d heard that one before and it was disappointingly unoriginal. In her fantasy universe, his pick-up line would have been much wittier. More Hugh Grant-esque. She turned to give him a polite but firm brush-off, and saw his face up close for the first time. That flawless, fair skin, those glacial pale green eyes, full lips curved into a curious smile. Features that she knew could turn to stone in an instant.
He stuck out his hand. “I’m E—”
Recognition slammed into her hard and fast. Like a bucket of ice water, it shocked her system and stunned her into speechlessness. How had she not seen it straight away? His eyes were ever so slightly down-turned and crowned with heavy brows. She knew them well because she’d stared at those eyes for hours as a young girl. She’d stared into them as she’d unbuttoned her blouse…
Oh God, she was going to be stuck next to him for the whole flight without escape.
Blood rushed in her ears, roaring like an ocean of panic as her confidence evaporated into thin air. This was not how things were supposed to go down.
“Stella?” He studied her face.
Suddenly she was a girl again, gangly-limbed and all kinds of awkward. He’d had the same effect on her back then. One ice-cold glance and she was powerless to communicate with anything other than the bob of her head.
“I wasn’t expecting to see you until you arrived at the estate,” he replied, his head cocked. She could already sense the cogs turning in his mind. No doubt he would be trying to figure out how to twist this situation to his advantage.
She would’ve had her game plan sorted by then. She would have gone in as the hard-nosed, savvy businesswoman she’d become and told him where to shove his proposal. This time she would have rejected him. And she would’ve done it while making him regret the day he sent her marching out of his apartment. Her stomach fluttered.
No, this was not how she’d intended to reunite with Evan Foss.
Someone was smiling down on Evan Foss today. He hadn’t expected Stella to be flying in from Trieste, much less occupying the seat across from him. But catching her unprepared was an opportunity he wouldn’t waste.
Evan drank Stella in. She’d changed a lot since he’d seen her last, blossoming from an awkward, albeit gorgeous, young woman to a more curated version of herself. Her wide blue-green eyes sparkled like the waves in Positano. They hadn’t changed, and he remembered how they’d reflected her joy and excitement and sadness with vivid clarity. Her hair was smoother and sleeker than the tangle of unkempt waves he’d once run his hands through. But her face had hardened. There was a determined set to her jaw and an icy reserve that immediately slid into place when she recovered from blurting out his name. That was new.
Then there was her body—all willowy lines and lean bronzed limbs. Her slim legs were encased in jeans so tight they could have been spray-painted on. She wore a pair of white high-top Converse Chucks, which was perhaps the only sign that the girl he once knew still lurked within.
“Like what you see?” she asked, a twisted smile on her lips. “Maybe I’m a bit more to your tastes now?”
So much for hoping that she’d forgotten the shit storm from four years ago.
“I was admiring your shoes.” He shrugged. Try as she might, Stella wasn’t going to knock him down with one sharp remark. But, she was going to be a tough nut to crack.
Evan didn’t shy away from a challenge, however. Hell, he thrived on it. And convincing Stella Jackson to give him what he wanted would be a great pleasure indeed.
“I don’t know how some girls fly in heels.” She smoothed a hand over her hair and he noticed that her ring finger was bare. Wasn’t she supposed to be engaged?
“Don’t subscribe to the beauty is pain ethos?” He cocked his head. “How does that work given you’re employed by a five-star hotel?”
“You’ve done your homework.” She closed her magazine with an obvious degree of reluctance. “Well done.”
“I was surprised you hadn’t taken over your grandfather’s business.”
Surprised and relieved. It would have been difficult to convince her to sell the property if she intended on keeping it for herself. Since she wasn’t planning to take over her grandfather’s company, all he had to do was convince her to sell to him.
At the mention of her grandfather, she shut down and turned back to face the seat in front of her. Conversation over, apparently.
The plane taxied toward the runway and the cabin crew bustled up and down the aisles, checking the overhead compartments and ensuring passengers had their seat belts buckled. He pressed his fingertips to his temples as the security video played on the screens.
He had two and a half hours. This flight was an opportunity for a head start to their negotiations and it was clear Stella hadn’t forgiven or forgotten his mistake. No matter, he’d battled worse odds. All he had to do was figure out how to get her to consider his proposal. Because once he had an opening, he knew his plans would blow her socks off.
But talking to her currently was like trying to start a conversation with a brick wall. Ordinarily he’d go in hard, muscle his way into his opponent’s attention. Demand to be heard. He’d acquired a reputation for that early on. The “young bull” they’d called him in an article about up and coming property players a few years back. So what else was new? Evan had always fought tooth and nail for what he had. For respect.
Stella, however, required a different approach. A softer approach. That much he remembered and, while it wasn’t his preference or his forte, he would always do whatever needed to be done to close a deal.
He turned to Stella, who had her nose buried in her magazine again.
“You really should pay attention to the video,” he said. “Otherwise you won’t know what to do in the unexpected event of an emergency.”
He said the last few words mimicking the serious tone of the video and was rewarded with the barest hint of a smile. “You’ll help me get my mask on, won’t you?”
“You have to help yourself before attending to others.” He mimicked the video again.
“Ain’t that the truth?” The smile slowly faded from her lips.
Her fingertips traced the watch on her wrist. He recognized the man’s oversized face and well-loved band. The hand that’d worn that watch had helped him for years, guided him through the toughest parts of his life, given him an opportunity to be something more than a drain on the economy. To be more than a statistic.
He swallowed against the tightness in his throat.
The plane’s speakers crackled to life and the pilot announced that all crew should prepare for take-off. The plane whirred, picking up speed and hurtling along the runway. Evan loved the thrill of the exact moment when the plane left the ground, his stomach always flipped as weightlessness encompassed him. He’d never flown as a child and on his first trip at the age of seventeen he’d been so excited the feeling was forever etched into his memory.
He stole a glance at Stella. Her white-knuckled hands gripped the seat of her recliner and her eyes squeezed shut. Before he could consider the consequences, he reached out, stretching his arm across the aisle and grabbing her hand. Her fingers felt fragile in his, the slight tremble cutting him to the bone. As the plane hit a rough patch, a small whimper escaped her lips.
“So you’re staying for the whole month?” he asked, trying to ease her into conversation.
“I’m staying until Christmas Day,” she said tightly, though whether that was due to her fear of flying or her annoyance at him, he had no idea.
“There’s plenty to see in a month.”
“I’m not planning to sightsee, Evan.” She removed her hand from his as the plane evened out. “I have a job to do. I have meetings to go to and things to deal with at the estate.”
“The estate’s in great condition, I’ve been keeping it in top shape since…” Shit. He wasn’t sure how to finish that sentence without dredging up a whole lot of stuff he wasn’t ready to deal with. “Let’s talk about my proposal for the estate.”
“Can’t the business talk wait until we arrive?” Her yawn was so fake he was mildly insulted.
“We’ve got time to kill and it might distract you from trying to snap the arm rest in two.”
Her lips pursed. “Do you know how I like to kill time?”
She reached down to the handbag that sat under the seat in front of her and pulled out a pair of chunky Bose headphones. “I like to block everything out.” She popped the headphones over her ears. “We’ll talk when I get to the estate.”
“Subtle,” he muttered.
You’ll have to sharpen up your game for this bid, she’s not going to let you off the hook that easily.
So what? He knew how to deal with stubborn property owners, and Stella was no different. If there was one thing he’d mastered in his career climb, it was convincing people to see that his way the best way. The only way. In an ideal world he’d play it straight with Stella, because he owed her family so much. But he wouldn’t sacrifice success to be a nice guy.
That estate would be his. One way or another.
The plane touched down smoothly at Heathrow Airport much to Stella’s relief. Even with the comforts of first class, she wasn’t a fan of flying. The enclosed feeling of the cabin, the bouts of stomach-lurching turbulence, and the knowledge that any number of things could go wrong all put flying squarely in the “not fun” category. Plus, this particular trip had the added annoyance of her unexpected travel partner. She’d kept her headphones on and her nose buried in her magazine the entire time, just in case Mr. Chatty decided to strike up a conversation again.
But all she’d achieved was delaying the inevitable.
Shortly, she’d be arriving at the estate where he would be her “host.” No doubt he’d try to pitch his plans for the estate in the hopes that she would sell to him. Then she’d have to figure out how to decline him in a way that he understood. According to her grandfather, Evan Foss wasn’t very adept at taking no for an answer. That might have served him well in his career following her grandfather’s footsteps, but it would have to change now.
The last thing I’d ever do is give Evan Foss something he wants.
Never mind the fact that a jolt of electricity had shot through her when he’d grabbed her hand during take-off.
Pathetic. How you can you still feel anything toward him after what happened? Are you that much of a glutton for punishment?
Ugh, she was a grown woman now and he was nothing but a bad memory. She would not let herself be tempted by the remnants of old feelings. And she most certainly would not be playing nice just because of his relationship with her grandfather.
“Have you got anything in the overhead?” His voice pulled her out of her reverie.
Trying to play the gentleman, is he? Bit late for that.
She shook her head and gathered her handbag, scarf, and magazine. The headphones sat around her neck, and it comforted her to know that she could block out the world at any moment. Crowds daunted her and her stomach roiled at the thought of battling the masses inside the airport.
He reached to open the overhead locker above his own seat, the action causing his T-shirt to rise and reveal a sliver of taut flesh at his back. No love handles there. He was lean like a runner, not an ounce of fat on him. But his shoulders and arms were built for power. Stella fought back a sudden flutter in her chest and averted her eyes to where the airline hostesses bustled around, preparing the exit.
“I’ve got my driver meeting me,” he said as he placed a small carry-on bag into the aisle in front of him. “You’re welcome to join me and save braving the taxi line.”
“I’ve already booked a car.”
The thought of being cooped up for another minute with Evan made her antsy. Already there was the ghost of old attraction making itself known, an increased awareness of his presence that manifested itself as a prickle under her skin. The less time she spent with him, the better.
He motioned for her to exit ahead of him, although the aisle was crammed with people and bags. His broad shoulders dominated the space, demanding that she look nowhere but at him. Sucking in a breath, she tried not to brush him as she passed. But her hand skimmed the soft denim of one hard thigh and she had to force herself to act like she hadn’t noticed.
Cocky bastard. No doubt he’d done that to assert some kind of power over her. She pulled her shoulders back and marched forward, thanking the airline staff as she exited the plane.
Following the signs to the baggage collection, she walked as quickly as possible—dodging parents wrangling toddlers and couples strolling with linked arms. Her sneakers squeaked against the floor as she circumvented a woman who’d stopped in the middle of the walkway. Evan probably thought she was crazy since they were going to the same place anyway, but her head wasn’t in the right space.
She made it to the baggage area and spotted the carousel with her flight number displayed. It was empty save for a single, forgotten suitcase that slowly chugged along. She tapped her foot and drummed her fingers against her thigh. Eventually the other people from her flight started to arrive and suitcases filtered out. Her eyes scanned the area for Evan, but she couldn’t see him.
Outside the airport rain thundered down, pelting the roof with a ferocity that made her shiver. Wind howled long and loud, the English winter was in full force despite it only being the first of December. It was going to be a cold one, apparently, even by their standards. Wrapping her scarf tighter around her neck, she cursed her grandfather for sending her here. Her tan had lost its glow while she visited a friend in the chilly northern part of Italy before making her way to England. A small part of her suspected she might turn into a human ice-cube before Christmas was out.
The very thought of her once beloved holiday dragged her lips into a frown. This was the first festive season she wasn’t looking forward to.
Her suitcase made its way around the last bend of the carousel, the yellow ribbon on the luggage tag a vibrant flicker among the sea of black and brown bags. She stepped forward and grasped the handle, yanking the heavy bag toward her. Her feet slipped from under her and she fell back, landing hard up against something. Two hands clamped down on her shoulders as her suitcase clattered to the floor.
“We meet again.” Evan’s voice froze her.
The gentle pressure of her back against his chest burned beneath the fine wool of her top and she almost slipped in her haste to put some distance between them. “How delightful,” she muttered.
“Tell me you’ve brought a jacket. You’ll catch your death in that.”
The lightweight cashmere top had been purchased in Italy since she didn’t have a need for anything like it back home. She really wanted to stop and pull her coat out of her bag, but that would only prolong their interaction.
“I’ll be fine,” she said, bending down to right her suitcase.
“You’re in for a rude shock.” He stepped forward and grabbed his bag. “I’m sure you’ll remember it gets bloody cold here. It’s only going to get worse before Christmas.”
Stella rolled her eyes and yanked the handle up, preparing to make a getaway once more. “Gee, you’re really selling it.”
“Some of us like the rain and snow.” He followed her toward the immigration queue. “I’d hate to be hot all the time.”
“You’re missing out.” She couldn’t stop the words spilling out, a defensive reaction left over from their teenage years which required her to prove that her home was better than his. “Queensland is wonderful. So much sun, sand, and the most gorgeous sunsets you’ll ever see.”
“Your face lights up when you talk about home.” He studied her, his eyes narrowed as though he were figuring something out.
At one time she would have given her left arm to have to his icy green eyes locked on her in such an intense way. The day he’d noticed that she was no longer a child, but a blossoming young woman, had been the sweetest of victories. If only she’d known how it would all end.
“That’s because I’d rather be there now.” She kept her eyes forward. “Like I said, as soon as I’ve dealt with the business stuff I’m outta here.”
“You never know.” They approached the twin snaking lines at the immigration section of the airport. “You might decide to stay. Your grandfather always wanted to move back here.”
She doubted it. Her grandfather had loved Australia as much as she did. This was simply Evan’s way of trying to get into her head.
“Too bad, Mr. Foss,” she muttered as she joined the queue for non-UK citizens. “You’re not getting near my head or my estate.”