Holiday Husband by Erin McCarthy

“Now?” he asked, frowning at me. “You’re wearing an evening gown and don’t have a coat.”

“I can skate in the gown,” I said, waving off his concerns with my hand, overcome by the urge to turn this night around and make it a positive memory, not a freaked out one. “I’m a dancer. I have a strong core. I’ve been in music videos doing weirder stuff than skating in a dress. But I could use a hat.” My ears were frozen solid already.

His eyebrows rose. “You’re serious? You would go ice skating in a dress that reaches the floor? With a slit that goes practically to your navel?”

So he’d noticed the slit. I wasn’t mad about that. “Yes, I would.”

Brandon suddenly seemed to register the rest of what I’d said beyond my willingness to skate in formal wear. “So you’re a dancer. I can believe that. You definitely look like a dancer.”

“Yes, I am. Dancing is my passion.” Lately I’d been concerned that I was aging out of my career. Which was ridiculous because I was only twenty-seven, but there were eighteen-year-old girls arriving in New York every day hoping to replace me and eventually they would. Then what? I had no idea.

“It’s good to be passionate about your career. So… what weird things have you done in videos?” Brandon asked, looking curious.

I wasn’t sure what he was envisioning, but I suspected it was dirty, given how his eyes had darkened. Amused, I told him, “Whatever you’re thinking, I can guarantee it’s not that.”

“You have no idea what I’m thinking.”

The tone of his voice made me shiver. His words felt like both a challenge and an intimate stroke all at once. “Care to share?” I asked.

For a second, I thought he would comply, but then he shook his head. “Probably not a good idea.”

I wasn’t sure if he meant that to be an innuendo or not. He was a very hard man to read. Which, because I like to make things difficult apparently, made him even more intriguing to me. I was actually disappointed he didn’t share his potentially dirty thoughts.

He tapped the driver’s shoulder. “We can’t have you drop us off where you picked us up. Just pull over anywhere in the next two blocks.”

The driver nodded. “Sure thing.”

“I don’t know this neighborhood well but I’m sure we can find some coffee,” he said.

“Where do you live?” I asked. I tried to guess, but it was hard to tell. He was wearing an expensive tux and watch, but he didn’t look entirely comfortable in them. He was ruggedly handsome more so than a pretty boy. I pictured him in a huge house in New Jersey.

“Upper West Side. I just moved to New York, actually.”

Interesting. A Manhattan man. But new to the city. He definitely wasn’t southern because there was no accent. But beyond that, I wasn’t sure where he might be from pre-move. “Well, then, welcome to New York.”

He winced. “Please don’t start singing Taylor Swift.”

I laughed. “You’re safe with me.”

The carriage pulled over. “Here you go, folks.”

Brandon jumped down with an easy grace for a big guy. As he held his hand out for me, it occurred to me for the first time he must have been on his way to my wedding. Unless there was another party on the same floor. My name hadn’t seemed to mean anything to him though, and his name didn’t ring any bells with me. He was also a lot older than Dante. It had to be a coincidence. There must have been another event on the same floor.

Not that it mattered. This was just coffee and an escape hatch for us both.

I took his hand and climbed down, using my free hand to grip his jacket over my shoulders. Despite the fact that my nose and toes were entirely frozen, this night could be going a lot worse.

“Let's grab a cab and go to Rockefeller Center,” I said. Hell, if Brandon didn’t want to go, I’d go by myself. I was overcome by the urge to see the giant Christmas tree, with or without ice skating or companionship. “Unless you need to get to the party, in which case, I totally understand. I do love a good party.” I gave him a smile.

Brandon had his hands in his pockets, which only caused his shirt to pull tighter against his chest and arms, revealing a muscular and fit body. He looked to the left, like he was visualizing the ballroom with the guests mingling among the silent waiters passing out nibbles and champagne flutes.

He turned back to me. “Not one person is going to care if I’m there or not. So skating it is.”