Title: Sweet Yuletide
Author: Melissa McClone
Genre: Contemporary Romance (Sweet)
One beach cottage, two strangers, and a kiss under the mistletoe that changes everything… Sheridan DeMarco wants to be anywhere but home for the holidays. She’s happy to spend Christmas house-sitting in South Carolina, far away from her parents’ new blended families. Too bad when she arrives at the charming beach cottage, she isn’t as blissfully alone as she planned. Michael "Mikey" Patterson needs to stay out of sight until his attorney gives him the all clear. He finds the perfect place in a small coastal town, but there’s a problem. Mikey isn’t the only one staying at the beach house, and his surprise roommate pushes all his buttons. A sprig of mistletoe and one memorable kiss make Sheridan and Mikey forget their plans to stay away from each other. But when family gets in the way, will their happily ever after get tossed out along with the discarded wrapping paper and tinsel?
As she stood at the window with a sense of awe, her breath left a patch of fog on the glass. Christmas lights and garland were strung along the deck. An unexpected sight with the beach grass, giving a touch of color to the sand below. Gentle waves rolled in. A couple with their dog walked along the beach.
“I’m not in Berry Lake anymore.”
And that was A-okay. She would be—
Something crashed. A grunt followed.
The hair on the back of Sheridan’s neck stood straight, and she whirled around.
A tall, bearded, shirtless man with wide shoulders and a broad chest rubbed his knee. He stared at her suitcase on the floor.
His gaze jerked to hers. Eyes widening, he straightened.
Icy fear flowed through her veins. Headlines about a murdered tourist in a charming beach house flashed through her mind. Her mom would blame herself for not stopping Sheridan from flying to South Carolina. Face it, nothing like this ever happened in Berry Lake. A break-in while people were on vacation or a broken car window when someone left valuables in plain view, but there hadn’t been a murder in years.
Well, if she was going to die, she wanted to know who the killer was. She might be able to spell out the name in her blood before she lost consciousness. “Who are you?”
He didn’t flinch. His eyebrows drew together. “Who are you?”
Sheridan searched for something to use as a weapon. A dining room chair was too heavy, and there was no centerpiece on the table. Her backpack hung off one shoulder. If she hit him with that, it might stun him long enough to escape, but her keys, ID, and phone were inside. All things she needed.
So, she balled her fist and raised her chin to add an inch to her height. He still towered over her, which meant he was six-two or three and muscled like an athlete. No way would she be able to take him, but she’d go down fighting.
Sheridan swallowed around the lump of fear lodged in her throat. “I asked first.”
A beat passed and then another.
She held her ground.
“I’m Michael Patterson. My sister Marley is engaged to Von.” His posture was ramrod straight. “Your turn.”
Okay, this guy knew Hope’s brother’s name, so he might not be a psychopathic murderer.
Michael crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m waiting.”
“Sheridan DeMarco. I’m house-sitting for Hope.”
“Von asked me to house-sit.”
That made no sense. “Hope gave me a key.”
“Von gave one to me.”
That meant there was only one thing to do. It wasn’t that early on the West Coast. “I’ll call Hope.”
His chest puffed out. “Go ahead but put it on speakerphone.”
That had to be a good sign, right? Unless he wanted a witness to hear his killing spree without being able to identify him.
Sheridan removed her backpack from her shoulder, pulled out her phone, and unlocked the screen. A few seconds later, ringing sounded.
“Hey,” Hope said. “Did you make it to the house?”
“I did, thanks, but there’s someone else here.”
“Von called me from the airport before he and Marley took off. He didn’t mention anyone. Who’s there with you?”
“It’s me. Michael Patterson. Marley’s younger brother,” he said. “Von said you wanted him to find a house sitter, so he told me I could stay here while you were away.”
“Ugh.” Hope sighed. “I meant that I’d found someone to house-sit. Talk about miscommunication. I’m so sorry, Mikey.”
Mikey? Sheridan glanced his way. The name didn’t fit the guy at all.
“That’s okay,” he said. “Von mentioned the call getting cut off.”
“Yes, I was out at the lake sketching,” Hope explained.
“Service is bad there,” Sheridan said.
“Lesson learned, but a little late for the two of you.” Frustration filled Hope’s voice. “What can I do to fix this?”
"Don't worry about it." The words flew out of Sheridan's mouth. Hope Ryan had wanted only to help. She didn’t need to do anything from so far away. "We'll figure it out."
Michael side-eyed her. “But—”
“It’s fine,” Sheridan interrupted. “Don’t give us another thought.”
Michael frowned. His lower lip stuck out, making him look a lot more like a Mikey than she initially thought.
“Okay, but call if you need anything,” Hope said cheerfully. “Merry Christmas!”
“You, too.” That was all Sheridan could say. This year, Christmas might as well be a four-letter word. “Have fun with Josh and your family.”
It was her turn to side-eye Michael.
“Merry Christmas, Hope.” He was more cheerful than she expected. “See you on New Year’s Eve.”
“Looking forward to it.” Hope sounded as if she was smiling. That was good. “Bye.”
The line disconnected, and Sheridan lowered her phone. “We were both asked to house-sit.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “But I want to be alone for Christmas.”
“So do I.” Sheridan studied him. His flannel pajama bottoms hung low on his hips, showing off his V-shaped torso and flat, defined abs.
His build had been threatening before she knew who he was. Now, she appreciated the eye candy standing in front of her. Except a guy who looked like him would never be alone for the holidays.
“Will your girlfriend join you here?” she asked.
“No. Just me. What about you?” He stared at her as if her skin mottled, and she grew gills. “Is your boyfriend joining you here?”
“It’s just me.” She glanced around the place. “So, how should we handle this?”
“One of us will have to leave.”
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