Christmas in the Billionaire's Bed(4)

By: Janice Maynard

                Trying to decide between a cream lace duster over a burgundy long-sleeved jersey dress, or a more traditional green velvet cocktail number with a low, scooped neck, was impossible. With a few quick clicks, she bought them both, with express shipping. If she were going to see Aidan face-to-face, she needed armor. Lots of it. From the cradle, she had been taught the finer points of social etiquette. Mingling socially with the well-regarded and diverse Kavanagh family would pose no threat to her confidence.

                But seeing Aidan again? That was another matter.

                Finally, the customer left without buying so much as an embroidered hankie. Emma sighed. Her father, if he had lived, would have been horrified at his only daughter stooping to something as bourgeois as trade.

                The Braithwaites were solicitors and clergymen and physicians, at least the menfolk. The females generally presided over tea, rode to hounds and threw dinner parties, leaving their offspring to be raised by nannies.

                Emma had been eight years old before she understood that her dear Baba was not a member of the family.

                Shaking off the bittersweet memories, she prepared to close the shop. This time of year, business fell off in the afternoons despite the holidays, so she rarely stayed open past four o’clock.

                Outside, people hurried about their errands, braced against the stiff wind and the swirling flurries of snow. Emma would have much preferred to go upstairs to her cozy apartment and snuggle under an afghan, but she was completely out of milk, and she couldn’t abide her tea without it.

                Bundling into her heavy, raspberry-pink wool coat, she wrapped a black-and-pink scarf around her head, tucked her billfold and keys into her pocket and walked quickly down the street.

                At the next block she shivered, impatient for the light to turn green so she could cross the street. So intent was she on making it to the other side that she didn’t notice the silver Accord running the light until it was too late.

                Her heart beat sluggishly, everything easing into slow motion as she hopped back. But not before the reckless driver clipped her hip, sending her tumbling airborne for several long seconds and then crashing into unforgiving pavement.

                Though she was aware of people crowding around her, she lost herself somewhere internally as she catalogued all the places that hurt madly. Teeth chattering, she forced herself to sit up. Nothing appeared to be broken. A man crouched beside her, his scent a mix of warm male, cold air and an oddly familiar cologne.

                “Don’t move,” he said, his honey-toned voice sharp with command.

                She was glad to accept his support behind her shoulders. The world swam dizzily. Vaguely, she heard the wail of sirens.

                Shortly after that, brisk strangers loaded her onto a gurney and lifted her into an ambulance. Though she protested as much as she was able, no one seemed prepared to listen to her. Her scarf had slid halfway over one eye. She was fairly certain her leg was bleeding.

                The EMTs wasted no time. The vehicle moved swiftly, cutting in and out of traffic. Closing her eyes, Emma winced as a pothole caused fresh discomfort. Fortunately, the hospital was not far away. Before she knew it, she had been whisked inside and tucked into an emergency room cubicle. The dizziness was getting worse. She had enough presence of mind remaining to wonder if she was in any kind of serious danger.

                A nurse came in to get vitals. Suddenly, the same deep voice with the bark of command sounded nearby. “How is she?”

                “She’s conscious. We’ll have to get her up to X ray.”

                “I’m fine,” Emma stated, her determination diluted somewhat by the high, wavering condition of her voice.

                The nurse left. Though Emma’s eyes were closed, she sensed the man standing nearby. His presence had a narcotic effect. She felt if he were keeping an eye on things.

                “Don’t go to sleep,” he snapped. “Let’s get this damned scarf out of your face.”

                She felt him untie it and draw it free. And then he cursed. “What the hell? Emma?”

                She struggled up on one elbow and stared at her white knight. Instantly, shock flooded her already compromised nervous system. Oh, God. “Aidan. I didn’t realize it was you. Thanks for helping me. I’m sure everything is okay. You can leave now.” The words tripped over each other as her limbs began to shake.

                He’d gone white, his eyes wide with what appeared to be a combination of disbelief and horror. “What are you doing here?”

                A smile was beyond her. Tears threatened to fall, but she blinked them back. This was not how she’d imagined seeing him again. Not like this. Not without warning. She swallowed hard. “I live here,” she whispered.

                “The hell you say. Is this some kind of a joke?”

                The outrage in his voice and on his face might have been tinged with a hint of panic.

                His fury was one blow too many. With a whimper of surrender, she fell back onto the exam table as the world went black...

                * * *

                Aidan strode out of the hospital at a pace little less than full-blown retreat. His heart slugged in his chest and his hands were ice-cold. Of course, that might have been the weather. He’d left his gloves in the car.

                Emma was here. And Danielle was not. Emma. He repeated her name in his head, still seeing the look of dazed comprehension that filled her wide-set gentian-blue eyes. He was very familiar with those beautiful eyes. Not to mention the porcelain skin, the perfectly curved pink lips, the patrician features, and the silky, fine blond hair that fell past her shoulders. Emma...Good Lord.

                The buzzing in his ears was probably a factor of the wind. But then again, his blood pressure might be in the danger zone. His emotions were all over the map. And how ironic was that? He’d made a science of becoming the superficial guy with no real emotions.

                The lie had been practiced so deeply and so well, he’d begun to believe it himself. But a chance encounter on the street had cut to the heart of his charade. He was injured, bleeding deep in his gut, raw with pain.

                Yet Emma was the one in the hospital.

                He had no obligation to go back inside. He’d done his part. She was in the hands of professionals.

                Standing beside his car, he slammed a fist on the hood...hard enough to bruise his fingers. He’d known that coming home at Christmas would be a test of how well he had healed from the past. But never in a million years had he imagined a confrontation with Emma Braithwaite. She was supposed to be in England, happily married to Viscount Supercilious. Raising upper-crust rug rats with Harry Potter accents and carelessly chic clothes.

                Damn, damn, damn...

                What would happen if he merely walked away? If he didn’t ask for explanations? Could he pretend that the last two hours were a dream? Or a nightmare?

                Another ambulance zipped into the admitting area. The flashing lights and ear-piercing siren shocked him back to sanity. He’d left Emma passed out on the exam table. True, he’d notified a nurse immediately, but after that he had fled. What would his brothers think if they could see him now?