MIDNIGHT RESOLUTIONS
Harlequin Blaze
January 2010
ISBN 037379519X


available at

Amazon or Barnes & Noble

When midnight strikes…

The last thing temp agency owner Ian Cumberland expects on an icy New Year's Eve is a little magic. But when a stunner of a woman plants a sizzlin' kiss on him in the middle of Times Square, Ian's world explodes. A moment later, she's gone….

But as much as Ian shakes Rose Hildebrande to the tips of her designer shoes—and a few other choice places!—she can't afford to fall for a charming pauper instead of Prince Charming. Still…there's something about Ian, his sexy good looks, his charming kindness, that inspires Rose to find him and seduce him.

But will their naughty fling still be blazing come summer?

4.5 Stars, TOP PICK, “It’s a treat from beginning to end.”

coming soon


 
   

Chapter One

New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Ian Cumberland was done dwelling on last year’s miseries. The past was over, and tonight was about new resolutions, new hopes, new opportunities. Cheerfully he stuffed his hands in his pockets and sniffed in the crisp, seventeen-degree air. It was nearly midnight, and he was primed for the winds of change to blast open new doors. The neon carnival that was Times Square seemed ideal. Apparently it was the ideal place for another two million huddled masses as well. Huddled, because the winds of change were blowing from the North at approximately thirty-five miles per hour. And not that he wanted to complain, but okay, those winds were freaking cold.

Noisemakers and klaxon horns bleated in the air, riding over the up-beat tempo of the latest and greatest boy-band – until they hit puberty or got involved in the latest sex scandal, whichever came first. No, no negativity. Not tonight.

Determined to make this work, Ian gave his senses free rein, marveling at all the tiny details he’d overlooked before. Ear-blasting sounds, a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors, and a melting pot of smells. He took a deep breath of New York air – a million contrasting perfumes, roasted chestnuts, and strangely enough, honeysuckle.

Over the past year, he’d divided his life into two distinct periods. Pre-layoff and post-layoff. Pre-layoff ended precisely at 4:30pm on February seventeenth. Then, Ian didn’t have the time to waste twelve hours standing around Times Square waiting for a giant multi-colored orb to fall from the sky. Post-layoff, he still didn’t have the time, but now he had the will.

New Year’s at Times Square had been on his list of life to-dos since he was ten, as had been kissing Jessica Alba, although he’d moved past planting a long one on the movie star. Times Square was still out there though on his list, though, waiting to be vanquished. Pre-layoff, Times Square wasn’t something he worried about much. Post-layoff, he realized that life was not cooperative and orderly, and when you got the chance to do something once-in-a-lifetime, you just did it.

The night’s crowd was packed shoulder to shoulder, impossible to move, nearly impossible to breathe, and he found himself sharing an uncomfortably close, personal space with about a large group of awestruck foreigners who didn’t understand the common English vernacular: “You’re standing on my foot. Please move.”

As he stood there, taking in the trolling lights and squinty-eyed police and happy perky people, Ian waited patiently for something miraculous, something life-altering, something hopeful, but instead all he got was a stamped foot and a deafening horn in his ear.

Still he waited, colder, sober, and now thinking that perhaps he’d been a little wiser pre-layoff when he had avoided Times Square like the plague.

On what planet had he actually thought this was a good idea? It didn’t matter that it was New Year’s Eve, Times Square, nearly midnight. In the end, he wasn’t an investment banker anymore; he was an employment counselor, and a lunatic one at that.

Beckett had told him it was stupid. Told him that nobody froze their ass off in New York in January when they could stay home and have a decent party, guzzle champagne, and watch the ball drop from the confines of well-insulated apartment. And of course, it was at that moment that Ian looked his best friend square in the eye had launched into his winds of change spiel, new beginnings, living life – doing it right.

And there, crushed amidst two million other cock-eyed optimists, a killer wind shot through him, the truth dawning with frigid clarity.

Ian was a sap. Time to pack in the new year, accept what he had and trudge onward. It was what it was, and nothing -- not even a few mind-shattering hours in the center of the universe -- was going to change it.

Feeling all sorts of foolish, he turned, starting toward the sanctity of the subway because somewhere out there, his sanity and his friends were waiting. Before he managed another step, he felt a pull at his arm that knocked him off balance. Ian whirled, prepared to tell the jerkward that international relations be damned, quit touching him, but then he stopped --

Stared.

Gawked, actually.

Gorgeous.

She was honeysuckle in the flesh. She looked like it, smelled like it, and damn, he wanted to know if she tasted like it as well. His body shocked to life, filled, throbbed.

Hello, winds of change.

Watercolor blue eyes were panicked and filled with worry. Warm tawny hair streaked with gold spilled from her knitted cap.

“Have you seen my phone? I can’t find my phone. Help me find my phone. Oh, God. I lost my phone.”

Her voice was soft and tense against the noise of the crowd. She was searching for her phone. Help her.

“Where’d you lose it?” he asked, raising the volume, noticing the beefy tourist sizing her up with those beady continental eyes. Shove off, Herr Queef.

“On the ground. I dropped it and I really need to find it. I shouldn’t be here. It’s a complete zoo. Why did I come here?”

To meet me, thought Ian, a stupid, romantic thought, right up there with his winds of change spiel. Ian grinned, a foolish, romantic grin, but he couldn’t help himself. “We’ll find it,” he offered, and bent to the ground. She hesitated, her eyes wisely fearful, but then she bent too, testing the restraint of three million possibly drunken party-goers, probably taking her life in her own hands, yet still trusting him.

The ground beneath the crowd was like being underwater, swimming against the tide of directionally-challenged fish. The dim light was diffused by shifting legs and restless feet and a continuous swirl of coats. Her hands grabbed for the edge of his sleeve, her eyes terrified. “You okay?” he asked, and she nodded once, but still he worried.

“We’ll find it,” he assured her, keeping one hand tied to hers. With the other, he explored the ground, searching for what had to be the most important phone in the world.

“I can’t believe I lost it,” she chattered, the words tumbling out in a panic. “I can’t believe I screwed up. I’m not careless. I can’t be careless. I won’t be careless.” A clumsy set of legs bumped into her, and she jumped, flying closer to him.

“Don’t get crazy. We’ll find it,” he soothed, heroically gathering her closer, trying to find her phone, trying to keep her untrampled, all while telling himself that just because a beautiful woman stumbles into his arms, it did not mean the winds of change had changed their mind.

Blindly he groped the rough asphalt, his hand stomped on twice, but apparently the gods actually owed Ian something good this year, apparently Frank Capra wasn’t dead in spirit, because at that moment, Ian’s fingers latched onto plastic. Rectangular, sturdy, magical plastic.

“Found it,” he yelled, quickly pulling her upright before they were both trampled to death -- which never happened in Frank Capra movies.

The flashing neon signs lit up the jittery alarm in her eyes, and he pulled her to him, instinct more than reason. “It’s okay. We got it,” he said, feeling the tremors run through her, absorbing them into himself. “It’s a phone,” he murmured, whispering against her hair. “It’s only a phone. Don’t cry.”

“Don’t like the crowd,” she muttered, her face buried in his shoulder.

“You picked the wrong place to figure that out,” he murmured, relieved to hear her awkward laugh, deciding that holding a beautiful crowd-o-phobic was worth a layoff, was worth being labeled a sap.

In the end, Ian had been right. New hopes. New opportunities, and they all smelled like honeysuckle.

He stroked the back of her woolen coat, feeling the slow ease of her shivering. It didn’t take her long, and he knew the exact moment when her back stiffened, her chin lifted, and the fear had passed. “I’m not crying. I don’t cry,” she told him, her voice a lot firmer than before.

Then she raised her eyes to his, dry, and more focused than before. “I’m not crying,” she repeated. “Thank you. This was stupid. I’m sorry. I don’t like being stupid.”

Her profile seemed so fragile, so oddly out of place in the chaos of the crowd, the lights, and the noise. Her face was thin, delicate, a medieval maiden out of a fairytale. , Yet there were hollow shadows in her eyes, shadows that didn’t belong with such beauty. It took more than a lost phone to cast shadows like that. Gently he tracked her cheek, pretending to wipe at non-existent tears, only wanting to touch the golden rose of her skin.

“You’re not being stupid. Everything’s fine now. Everything’s perfect now,” he said, watching as the control eased back in her face.

“Thank you for finding my phone,” she said, and casually he shrugged off her gratitude, knowing the night was young, the year was young. What was a job? What was financial security? Totally oversold. In the big scheme of life, could anything compare to that world-by-the-tail feeling of her dreamy eyes growing warmer, looking at him as if he was a hero -- and not just any hero, but her hero?

“It’s nothing. You’re okay now?” he asked, leaning close to be heard over the crowd. Oh, yeah, right.

“Sorry. I never fall apart,” she answered, her head close to his, so close he could make out the carefully concealed freckles on her nose.

“Don’t apologize. I fall apart on a regular basis.”

She looked at him oddly. “I was joking,” he told her, and cursed himself for being a blockhead. There was something in her face, in her moon-kissed gaze, that held him fast. Hidden behind the composure, he could see a child’s curiosity peering out.

Her mouth curved up, a pink cupids-bow that he felt somewhere near his heart. Right then, one of the tourists jammed her into him, and she started at the movement, until he pulled her close again, fast adjusting to the heady feel of her in his arms. “I shouldn’t have come here tonight. I thought I could do this.”

“I know, two million idiots who think New Year’s Eve is a night for new dreams. What a bunch of dorks. I should have been home, guzzling champagne, instead of freezing my… never mind.” Once again he felt her muffled giggle and decided he didn’t mind being a blockhead, didn’t mind being a fool. To hear her hesitant laugh, to feel those lush curves fitted to his, to have her hair brush against his face.

After a moment, her head lifted, and carefully she studied him. “You ever do this before?”

“Only once. You?”

“Never again,” she answered firmly.

Apparently God was still watching, Frank was still filming, and the winds of change were definitely on the move, because suddenly, miraculously, the crowd began to count.

Thirty-three. Thirty-two. Thirty-one.

Her eyes glowed bright, the muted blue heating to liquid, trapping him there. Her hands locked to his lapels, as if she’d never let go. The air began to arc between them, almost visible, coiling and floating like warm breath in chilled night.

New life. New love. New year.

Nineteen. Eighteen. Seventeen.

Totally entranced, Ian slid his right hand behind her neck, twining in her hair with a lingering sigh. She lifted her face and her lips touched his even before he asked, even before he begged. Soft, honeysuckle sweet, and tasting like a new beginning.

When the crowd jostled her closer, Ian didn’t complain, his left hand riding under her coat, finding the glorious skin of her back, the inviting curve of her waist. Around them, the world blew by, showers of confetti, bursts of cold wind, and the joyous shouts of two million slightly overjoyed partiers. Ian ignored them all, because in the midst of two million, it was only he and this woman, and the rest of their life.

Her generous mouth opened, her tongue merging with his, coaxing, seducing, and oh, yes, he was so seduced, no coaxing even necessary. His nerves fired, pulsing with new life, pulsing with ideas that were older than time. He would take her home. He would make love to her. He would marry her. It was the Frank Capra way.

Impulsive arms locked around his neck, burying her fingers in his hair. Honest to God. He could feel the insistent touch of her hands on his neck, restless, and against his greedy mouth she moaned. Music. Bells. Chimes. Somewhere he’d died and was kissing an angel.

His hand slid lower, pressing her against him, soft to hard. Her hips curled into him, her thigh rocking between his. His eyes crossed. Nope. No angel. They didn’t have moves like that in heaven.

An irritant vibrated against his leg -- not his cock, nor his pulse, which were both buzzing in their own overjoyed condition. She broke away, her breathing heavy, then lifted the phone, the exact phone he’d found for her only moments before. Which, if he had not found, she would not be talking into. No, they would be still be kissing. Man, he was a such a stupid dweeb.

Next to them, one of the tourists shot him a look of male approval, but Ian ignored it, trying to restart his brain. Here was the inspiration he’d been seeking.

As she talked, her gaze scanned the length of his cashmere coat. For the first time, he could see that elusive recognition flicker in her eyes -- seeing him as a man that was worthy -- financially viable. Possibly insecure, but there it was. Maybe the male code had some unwritten law saying it was cowardly to trade in on his past life, but did geeky Clark Kent ever want to throw open his jacket, exposing the all-powerful ‘S’? Hell, yeah.

The shouts of two million voices fell away. Only her words touched his ears. She was talking, trying to reconnect with her date. Date? No!

Ian wanted to yell at her to hang up because this was kismet, karma, and the entire outcome of his post-layoff life rested upon this one moment – no pressure. Instead, he kept his mouth shut, a confident grin plastered on his face as if this one moment didn’t mean a damn thing.

When she looked at Ian again, the soft blue eyes were so lonely and sad. He wondered if she had sensed it, too. Ian had never felt that pull before, never met a woman who stepped out of his dreams and into his arms. It should have been fate.

“I’m over here,” she said into the phone, waving a graceful hand in the air for someone other than Ian. Other than Ian. He wanted to pull down her arm because she couldn’t be with someone else. This was a new year. New opportunities. New loves….

“I have to go. He’s my date,” she apologized, dashing the last vestiges of his hope to the ground, much like last year’s sodden confetti.

“No surprise there,” answered Ian, his voice faux-cheerful, something appropriate for happy people on New Year’s Eve. “Have a good year.” Have a nice life.

One heartbeat later, her expression turned to the well-mannered smile given to a stranger on the street. Without another word, she politely asked Hans to move out of the way, and then moved out of Ian’s life.

All before he’d even gotten her name.

The winds of change blew cold and heartless, and Ian stamped on Hans’ foot, hard -- international-incident hard -- and Ian was gratified when the giant oaf muttered something in another language that probably wasn’t nice. Tourism was overrated anyway.

As he made his way home, Ian looked back at the ball that was glittering like a fallen star, making outrageous promises it wasn’t going to keep.

Happy New Year.

In a crowd of two million, Ian had never felt so alone.

Damn.

Chapter Two

12:41am.

At this precise moment, Rose Hildebrande wanted to rewind back to last year when Remy wasn’t sipping his champagne and discussing in elaborate detail his latest performance in the operating room.

Rose wanted to go back in that unforgettable moment when the stranger was kissing her with such desperate need, as if he couldn’t get enough of her. With one kiss, he had found something golden and fleeting inside her. Romance -- that was what they called it.

The people, the crowds, the fear. Everything had been a black, paralyzing blur, except for the feel of that strong body, holding her tight. Not to punish, no, that was protection.

Rose handled her touches very carefully. On a normal day, she knew exactly when she wanted to be touched, when people expected touching, and how she was supposed to react. That blood-pounding, swept-away feeling should have terrified her. In some ways it did, but when the fear came, it was slow and lethargic, tempered by something new. Something almost…warm.

Quickly she shook off the weakness. Some instincts were too ingrained to ever be forgotten. Control. Always in control.

Now, sitting in the lobby of the Four Seasons with New York’s crème de la crème, her blood was neatly congealing back to its more reserved state. Her date for the night, world-renown pediatric cardiology surgeon Dr. Remy St. Roget, was cheerfully describing his day. The rest of the world was planning a celebration, and Remy was slaving over the operating table, saving the lives of small children. Heroic, handsome, charming, and rich. The man had zero flaws.

So, why was Rose nodding at suitable intervals, with each polite bob of her head, her mind clicking back to that dazzling feeling inspired by one exquisitely hard, hungry mouth? No, she thought, shoving the dazzle aside. More hocus-pocus that had no basis in anything real.

Idly, she shuttered her lashes, an indication of perhaps not actually listening, but a sincere pretense of listening.

It was a look she’d perfected by the age of six, when Rose had been primped, painted, powdered, and coiffed, and then ordered to skip down the charm school runway with bubbly poise and a lollipop smile. Her parents had big dreams for her, beauty pageants, charm school, marrying well. Rose Hildebrande’s heart-shaped little face was their ticket to a better life, and Rose had quickly learned to fall in line. There was no little girl better at perfection, a concrete diamond mined from the worst of hell.

The suffocating blackness filled her, but she shoved it aside. This was safe. This was good, and Remy was everything she always dreamed of. He was a fourth generation St. Roget, heir to the St. Roget fortune in case a heart-surgeon wasn’t secure enough. And there was something princely about him, a chiseled profile, the Roman nose. His dark hair was carelessly brushed back from his face. The dove-gray suit was tailored perfectly to show sculpted shoulders and a tapered torso.

Best of all, the man was on the wrong side of thirty and trolling for a wife. A beautiful blond to hang up on his wall along with his summa cum laude diploma from Columbia, his medical license from the State of New York, and the live-action photo of the impala he’d shot on his last safari in Tanzania.

“Have you thought about the auction?” she asked, shifting the conversation from surgery towards a more stomach-surviving topic. She had promised the Countess she’d deliver, and it was a promise Rose intended to keep. Sylvia was her boss, her friend, and Rose owed her a lot more than a charity auction.

“Yes, I’ve thought. The answer is no.”

“Please,” she asked, not blaming him for saying no, but still determined to change his mind. It was demeaning, it was embarrassing, but truly, there was no more perfect bachelor in the entire tri-state region.

“No.” Those prince-like eyes were firm, but Rose was undeterred.

“Think of the puppies, those little fluff-balls that need a good home. You can’t be that heartless.”

“I’m a heart surgeon. I replace hearts on a daily basis. I don’t fear heartlessness like ordinary mortals without a god complex.”

They were more alike than he would ever suspect. He saw her as the ideal, the perfect woman, and she never let him see behind the flawless mask to the woman that was missing both a heart and a soul. Very rarely did she dwell on that loss, except on a starry night like tonight. When a sexy stranger appeared like magic, a prince charming coming to sweep her away to someplace quiet and glorious and decadently warm. Oh, yeah, right, next thing you know, you’re flossing your teeth, and you’ve got a diamond-studded tiara perched on your head. Rose lifted a hand to her head, just to check. All clear. No, if Rose wanted her happy ending, she was going to have to work for it.

“Would you do it for me?” she asked in her best, most earnest voice. This was their fourth date, and she didn’t ask things from him. Their relationship was a battle plan, carefully executed, plotted, and to date proceeding exactly on schedule, with the Countess cheering on from the sideline. Very few people saw similarities between relationships and battle, but Rose had read and memorized the Art of War. Those similarities were all Rose had ever known.

“You’re going to make me, aren’t you?” he said, charming resignation in his voice. It was why she liked him so much. He never asked anything of her, never told what to say, or what to wear, all she had to do was sit prettily at his side and listen. Piece of cake.

“Make you? Me?” She fluttered her lashes and made him laugh. “You can make all the heartless jokes you want, but I’m on to you.”

“Do you always get your way?”

“Yes. You should have figured that out by now.”

She waited, fingers crossed under the table, until finally, he nodded, and she remembered to breathe. “I’ll do it.”

Rose was so excited, she nearly kissed him, except for the hot hunger that still lingered on her lips. She wanted to keep that taste there, just for a little longer.

“You’re sure? I mean, if you really don’t want to…”

“You’d let me off the hook that easily?”

“Not really, but I’m trying to show some pretense of sensitivity. Humor me, here,” and because she owed him, she listened to three more blow-by-blow surgical descriptions without even a visible quiver of nausea.

Before he moved to number four, he looked down at his watch. “It’s nearly two. You look tired.”

A secret glance at her watch said it nearly one, and all Rose wanted to do was go home and fall into bed. Alone.

She’d had exactly zero lovers in her life. When you were groomed for matrimony as a blood-sport, virginity was highly prized, right up there with a clean complexion and a coming-out dress. Her parents didn’t have the money for white satin and Mechlin lace, so the Hildbrands had over-compensated with endless lectures on virtue and a lifetime supply of Neutrogena. Rose -- being a bright girl, and not one to rebel -- had taken the hint.

Now she yawned, not exactly faked. “I’m exhausted, and with your day -- honestly, I don’t know you do it.”

“Good drugs,” he answered with an easy laugh.

And the stamina of a camel. Mentally, she slapped herself, feeling tired, punchy, and the bubbles in her blood were starting to wither. A master of efficiency, he helped her into her coat, always the gentleman, and she took a last look at the patrons in the lobby. Everything was so beautiful here, the polished marble, the gleaming silver, the people with their gentle laughter and placid faces. The six years of charm school had been so similar to this. Every day, the candle-glow lights and high-gloss perfection had been a safe haven for her, a few peaceful hours away from home. There, here, Rose had survived and thrived, grown hard and strong.

Her chin lifted, perfectly parallel to the ground, and she pivoted smoothly, slow and elegant, and the entire room watched her leave.

As they made their way out the doors, her heel caught on the step, and when her foot moved on, the shoe stayed behind. Remy -- happy, smiling, gloriously rich, Remy --swooped down, and brandished it with a romantic flourish. “You did this on purpose?” he asked, as if she could be that clever.

He bent down, dark hair gleaming in the light and placed the shoe on her foot. It should have been magic.

“Do you believe in fairy tales, Remy?” she asked curiously. If you lived within the invulnerability of the castle walls, did it all seem a big con on the rest of the world?

“Do you think this night is magic?” he countered, rising to his feet, and she saw a flash of something in his eyes. Something that she’d seen when she kissed the stranger. Hope. On this one night of the year, everyone wanted to believe.

“I think people deserve one night of magic,” she answered, almost the truth.

It was his cue, his moment, and Remy was not stupid. He bent down, took her mouth, and Rose was too determined to pull back. Remy was a lot more viable than a fairy tale. He was everything she’d worked for, and his kiss was every bit as accomplished as it should be. So where was the triumph? No triumph, only the taste of hot hunger that even a fourth-generation St. Roget couldn’t ease.

Patiently she waited for the thrill of victory, the absoluteness of her control. Perhaps she hadn’t won the war, but this battle belonged to her. So why did she feel the same as before, the same as yesterday, the same as she’d felt all her life.

Numb.

As his hand moved purposefully toward her waist, Rose realized the hot hunger wasn’t going to return. It couldn’t be forced, it couldn’t be tricked.

Damn.

Purposefully, her hand covered his, and she lifted her head, gave him her nicest smile, a fake smile designed to make people believe she had a heart.

“I can’t.”

“Too soon?” he asked.

“Yes,” she told him, regret in her voice. “I’m sorry, Remy.” And she was, disappointed in herself, in her trickster mind. Sometimes she saw monsters where there were none, and sometimes she felt nothing when she should be pulsing with life.

“Soon,” she promised. “I’m still not there, yet.”

Remy thought her heart was involved elsewhere, that Rose was pining for a man who was desperately unworthy of her affections. A failed love affair had been Sylvia’s idea, but Rose had approved, because it solved a lot more problems than it created.

“I can wait,” he said gallantly, not wanting to believe a woman would be stupid enough to turn him down forever. Someday, Rose wouldn’t turn him down, but not tonight.

“Can I see you home?”

“I’ll manage. It’s not far.” Another big fat lie.

He took her hand, as if she were a princess, and kissed it once. If she had a heart, if she had a brain, she wouldn’t play this game, but instead get on with the life that she planned. Instead, she stood there watching him go, a worried smile on her face.

After Remy had left, Rose hoofed it on aching feet to the number six train, which would take her to the Bronx. The Bronx was home, but not for too much longer. Rose had dreams, ambitions, and she had big goals in her life. She was grown, a woman fully-formed, and stronger than her father had ever guessed that Little Mary Poofster could be.

Rose wouldn’t live on false hopes and broken dreams. She didn’t have to worry about whether fairy tales or magic truly existed because they didn’t; all she had to do was foster the illusion. Rose had long ago mastered the art of the illusion. Money was hard, money was real, money made you invulnerable to whatever the fates chose to throw your way.

After she got off at her stop, she walked past the pet store boxed between the bodega and the OTB site. It was an odd place for animals, and she liked to stand outside the glass, watching the puppies from a safe distance.

The puppies always fascinated her, confined to the little pen, but they didn’t seem to mind. Five little black fur-balls with twinkling brown eyes that saw the best in the world. They always seemed carefree and content and safe in their own little world. The Hildebrandes never had a pet. Not even a fish. And Rose didn’t mind. Dogs were smelly, and loud, and dirty, and could rip a hole in pink satin, quick as you could say Boo.

But she liked watching from behind the window, and she wondered what they thought while they played behind the glass. Sometimes she’d put her hand on the glass and leave it there, waiting to see if they’d come to her, but they never did. Animals didn’t like her, knowing things that people never would.

Tonight, there were no puppies, only a big black monster dog with a huge jaws, but tired eyes. He was curled up on the hay, with absolutely no knowledge that tonight was the start of something new. Lazily he opened an eye, squinted at her, and Rose squinted back. She put a hand to the glass, because from behind the glass, there was nothing he could do to her.

The dog growled.

Rose quivered, her hand falling to her side.

However, she did defiantly stare him down, until he realized she was no threat, and shut his eyes, prepared to sleep once again.

Yup, animals knew things that people never would.

Before she was climbed the steps to her building, Rose took one last look at the lights of the skyline, the late-night partygoers making their way home, shouts of happiness ringing in the air, as if all was right with the world.

For a second, for one heart-stopping second, she had felt that way, too. Rose pressed a finger to her lips, remembering his kiss.

Somewhere he was out there. Was he alone? Was he thinking about her? Rose pressed a finger to her lips, remembering his kiss.

My Prosperous Prince Charming.

The words whispered inside her, seductive and golden and warm and quickly Rose shushed them away.

She turned and went inside.

It was New Year’s Eve, and all she wanted to do was be alone, let down her hair, and slip into a pair of cushy polka-dot socks. Bright lights and a polished world might put stars in her eyes, but it sure was hell on the feet.

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