Forced to sell precious family heirlooms to pay for her mother's cancer medications, Loral Evans swallows her pride when handsome antique dealer Jake Coburn offers her one thousand dollars for a dragonfly brooch they both know is fake. She simply can't afford to walk away.
On the brink of bankruptcy, Jake is taking a huge risk on Loral's costume jewelry. Then again, it's Christmas, and he hasn't been able to resist her since the first time she entered his shop. When he discovers new information about the brooch's connection to the Titanic, Jake's attempt to do the right thing just might cost him his business and a future with Loral.
"Loral? What are you doing?"
Jake's disapproving voice jerked her attention to the car. Her heart pounded loud in her ears. Not wanting him to see she was cold, she hugged her arms across her middle to stop her shivering as she peered through his passenger side window. He watched her from his leather seats with the street light above casting light onto his head through the sun roof. Great--nothing like adding insult to injury.
She resumed walking. "What does it look like I'm doing?"
The engine of his car revved as he caught up with her again. "Did your Tahoe break down? Do you need me to call someone for you?"
Okay, just shoot me now. She glanced in the direction the bus had disappeared, and lifted her chin while keeping her voice indifferent. "I sold the Tahoe two months ago."
"You're not walking home, are you?" The tone of his voice conveyed his disbelief. "It's below freezing."
A snowflake caught on her eyelashes, she blinked it away. "I missed my bus and the next one isn't until eight. I can hardly just sit here and wait."
"Can't you call someone?"
She didn't answer, unwilling to explain that she not only didn't have a cell phone, but no one to call for help. Like she needed more of his pity tonight.
"No family?" He paused. "A boyfriend?"
She shook her head sharply, still walking as his car inched alongside at an idle.
"Let me give you a ride, then."
Two years ago she would've gladly accepted, following her desire to spend some time with him. Now she forced a smile to her stiff lips and willed her teeth not to chatter. "Thanks for the offer, but I'll just wait for the next bus. There's a coffee shop a few blocks from here."
A horn blasted behind them. Loral flinched, glanced at the irritated driver behind them, and waved Jake onward. "Go. Seriously, I'll be fine."
With a rev of the engine, his sleek black car surged forward. She fought disappointment until he swerved sharply into an empty parking spot halfway down the block. Her step slowed as the impatient driver zoomed past. Jake swung from his car and strode toward her with those long legs of his that made him tower over her five feet five inches.
"That coffee shop closes at six," he told her. "Not enough evening traffic."
Just her luck. The unfairness in her life threatened to overwhelm her, but she refused to let the useless emotion drown her in the undertow. Things wouldn't change until her mother was better, and until then, she'd just deal with missed buses and closed coffee shops.
She lifted her head to meet Jake's gaze, noticing how quickly the snow gathered on his dark hair. Her own hair must be covered. She reached up a hand to brush it off, then wished she hadn't as the moisture made her fingers even colder and frigid air rushed under the bottom edge of her coat. A shiver shook her shoulders.
Jake muttered under his breath while shrugging out of his black leather jacket. Before she realized his intent, he stepped forward and draped it around her. Immediate warmth permeated her somewhat threadbare coat, lethally combined with the scent of leather and man. Her senses sharpened even as the rest of the world faded away, leaving her unable to do anything more than stare up at him.
He stood close enough to make her knees weak, a hand on either lapel, tugging the jacket tight so she was wrapped in a comforting cocoon of warmth. His eyes reminded her of the melted caramel her grandmother used to drizzle over ice cream.
"Let me take you home, Loral."