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By Laura Altom
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"You a virgin?"
"Excuse me?" Sociologist Dr. Whitney Foster glanced up from the Alaskan wildlife brochure she was trying to read. But her hands were shaking so badly from a wicked case of preflight jitters that the bouncing words, far from educating her, were making her nauseous. As hard as she'd been trying to learn about grizzly denning - and in the process, forget she was thousands of miles from home on Christmas Eve - she'd been trying that much harder to ignore her too-handsome-for-his-own-good pilot.
As well as being gorgeous, he also appeared to be clairvoyant. How could he tell just by looking at her that she hadn't been intimate with a guy in ... well, suffice it to say it'd been a loooong time?
"You all right over there? Your cheeks look kind of pale."
Whitney shot the little plane's big pilot her most scholarly glare. "Sure. I'm, ah, great. After way too much school, I'm finally off on the career adventure of a lifetime. What could be better than that?"
His slow grin messed with her stomach even more than the clack of the plane's skis did as they skimmed over bumps on the lake's ice. "Oh, I can think of a few things."
"Which explains your interest in my virginity?"
"Ma'am ..." While she clutched the sides of her seat interror, he pulled back on the yoke, then winked.
What did that mean?
"With all due respect to your bedroom experience or lack thereof, that comment was only my bumbling attempt at making polite conversation. You know, wondering out loud if this is your virgin flight in a small plane? If I ever ask a female passenger that question again, I'll rephrase it."
"Oh. Yes. This is my first time."
Whitney moaned inwardly. Where was a nice dark hole to climb into when you really needed one? Oh well, it wasn't like her pilot would ever get the chance to find out just how accurate his assessment of her had been.
While she wasn't technically a virgin, by the time she found a new Mr. Right, that old Madonna song "Like a Virgin" would definitely apply.
After aiming one more charming grin her way, he returned his attention to flying, thank goodness.
Oh, she knew his type.
Cornball-sexy Santa hat that made him look like a fun guy. A rangy build big enough to make a petite woman feel protected. Gulf-of-Alaska-green eyes with an entire tidal chart of perils. Thick dark hair perfect for running her fingers through. Square jaw sporting one of those all-day five o'clock shadows - just prickly-soft enough to tease a girl into thinking she'd been kissed by a real man, when in reality he was probably a snake.
Like another snake who'd coiled in the bushes, using her to pounce on her supposed best friend.
Ha! As if spoiled Marcie Hawthorne even needed another man - she was an heiress, for heaven's sake! And as for that no-good Rocco Stone - during her last weeks at school, Whitney had heard through the campus grapevine that Rocco wasn't even his name. His real name was Ralph Stanley. And he wasn't a senior in premed, but a late-night janitor pretending to be a student at Hill-borough College.
After being sweetly courted by him for the better part of six months, after knowing deep in her heart that he was the one, Whitney had caught him sleeping with her roommate, Marcie - his new wife. She'd later found out through still more campus gossip that all along, Rocco had only been using her as an entrée to her rich friend.
Never had Whitney felt so foolish.
She'd thought she was in love with him. During particularly boring sessions of thesis research, she'd even practiced writing Mrs. Rocco Stone in flowing script.
Even worse, what with the less-than-stellar example her own parents had set with their love life, Whitney should have known better than to fall for a guy like him - or any guy for that matter.
Her dad, through his many conspicuous absences from the defining moments of her life, had proven that she would've been far happier never even knowing him. At least then she wouldn't have been so heartbroken when he hadn't shown up for her elementary-school Christmas choir concerts or high-school musicals or even her graduation.
Talk about leading by example. If she ever had kids, she'd darn well raise them on her own. She would've been much better off without a dad.
Her children would be, too.
And then there was her mom. Another great example of how not to lead your life. Her mom had long since shown Whitney that all males were dangerous with a capital D. Trouble was, Candace Foster-too-many-last-names-to-count didn't find men dangerous - she found them fascinating. She didn't just fall for every guy she met - she married him!
As a result, she'd become so reliant on men that she hardly answered the door anymore without asking her latest hubby for his opinion.
Whitney loved her mother dearly, and knew that when her father had left for greener pastures when she was ten, it'd really thrown her mom for a loop. But instead of figuring out how to make her own way in the world, Candace had turned to wedding rings for support.
Whitney, on the other hand - aside from her brief lapse of judgment in dating Rocco - had prided herself on being as self-reliant as they come.
Once the initial rocket launch into a gray winter sky evened into an only mildly bumpy ride, Whitney tried to relax by counting the plastic red berries on the silver garland lining the plane's curved ceiling.
Excerpted from Santa Baby by Laura Altom Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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