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Under the Millionaire's Mistletoe

By:Maureen Child & Sandra Hyatt

Under the Millionaire's Mistletoe
Maureen Child & Sandra Hyatt

       One




Anna Cameron ducked behind a tinsel-draped potted plant and peeked  through the lacy fronds at the mingling crowd. The Cameron Leather  company Christmas party was in high gear. People she'd known most of her  life were here, laughing, talking, drinking. She wished she were out  there in the middle of them enjoying herself.

Instead, she was hiding from her stepmother. Not that Clarissa Cameron  was an evil woman or anything. But she'd had a little too much to drink  and now all she wanted to do was corner Anna and try to convince her to  win back her former boyfriend, Garret Hale.

"As if I'd take him back," Anna muttered, pulling aside a tinsel-decorated frond to scan the crowd in front of her.

They'd gone out only a few times when Garret's older brother Samuel told  him to drop her. He'd actually had the nerve to suggest that Anna was  doing exactly what Clarissa now wanted her to do. Using Garret to help  her father's company. Okay, fine, a merger with Hale Luxury Autos would  probably save Cameron Leather, but she wasn't a bargaining chip. And  even if she had been, it wouldn't have worked.

Because Garret had backed away from her so fast that he'd left sparks in  his wake. He hadn't stood up for her to his snooty, suspicious older  brother. He'd called Anna to tell her they couldn't see each other  anymore because the Great Sam Hale had decreed it. He'd threatened to  cut Garret off financially if he hadn't stopped seeing Anna.

"No loss," Anna reassured herself. So despite what Clarissa wanted, Anna  wouldn't have Garret back on a platter. She hadn't even been that  interested in the man in the first place. One kiss had told her  everything she needed to know about him. She hadn't felt the slightest  tingle of expectation when he kissed her. Hadn't seen a single star. She  had known then that he was not the man for her.

She wanted the magic.

Of course, the fact that he'd wimped out for the sake of his big brother  and his wallet didn't exactly endear him to her either. And her life  might have been easier if she could just admit to Clarissa what had  happened. But she had a little pride after all.

Clarissa kept urging her to do exactly what Garret's brother had assumed  she was up to in the first place-marry the man and bring a nice merger  to the family business.

"Anna, honey, is that you in there?"

She jerked, startled and turned to look guiltily into her father's eyes. "Um, hi, Dad."

"What're you doing behind a plant, sweetie?" Dave Cameron's green eyes  were smiling, but Anna couldn't help but notice that there was a glimmer  of worry there, too.

How to explain that she was hiding from his wife? Nope, couldn't do it.  It wasn't anyone's fault, but Clarissa and Anna had never been as close  as her dad wanted them to be. Until ten years ago, it had been just her  and her father. Her own mother had died when Anna was two, so all she  really had were photographs and her dad's stories.

When Clarissa came into their lives, Anna was seventeen. She hadn't been  interested in acquiring a new "mother," and at the time had really  resented having to share her father's affections. She and Clarissa had  finally gotten to the point where they could be friends, if not mother  and daughter, but Anna knew her father still worried about their  relationship.

So, instead of blurting out the truth, Anna ran her fingertips across  the top of the big blue ceramic pot. "Just checking to make sure  everything's tidy. Yep, no dust."

He laughed and took her arm, drawing her out from behind the palm.  "Housekeeping has never been one of your interests, so what's really  going on?"

The music was too loud for any deep conversation and Anna wasn't  interested in having one anyway. So she simply smiled, kissed her  father's cheek and said, "Nothing, Dad. Everything's great. The party's  wonderful."

"So wonderful you're hiding in the shrubbery?"

"Honestly?" she said, mentally crossing her fingers for the tiny lie she  was about to tell, "Darren Shivers has had one beer too many and wanted  to tell me all about how he won the high school football game back in  the seventies."                       
       
           



       

"Oh, he's not telling that story again, is he?"

"You know Darren," she said, telling herself that really, it wasn't much  of a lie. Any time the man had more than three beers, he cornered  someone and forced him or her to relive his glory days with him. Still,  couldn't hurt to change the subject. "Looks like everyone's having fun."

"Seem to be," he mused, swiftly scanning the crowd that was even now  dancing to the music and gathering in knots to try to talk. "Your  stepmother's done a fine job."

"Yes, Clarissa's very good at this sort of thing," she said, meaning it.  She and her stepmother did have common ground after all. They both  loved Anna's dad.

Her dad sent her a sidelong glance. "Is there something going on between you two?"

"Absolutely not," she said, unwilling to put her father in the middle of  all this. Besides, Anna knew that Clarissa's tipsy attempt at  matchmaking was only because she was worried about her husband.

Hard to fault her for that when Anna was worried, too.

Cameron Leather company was in trouble and despite this wonderful party,  the truth was, if something great didn't happen soon, her dad was going  to lose the company he'd built up from nothing. But Dave Cameron was an  "old school" kind of man. He treated the women in his life like  princesses and didn't want them "fretting" about company concerns. Her  dad was sweet and old-fashioned and she loved him fiercely.

She forced a smile on to her face and said, "Don't worry about Clarissa  and me. We're fine. And it's a great party, Dad. Why don't you go enjoy  it?"

"Good idea." He took a step, stopped and asked, "You're not going back  behind that plant are you? You're too beautiful to hide away."

She held up one hand. "I swear. I will have a good time. Now go, dance with your wife."

And keep her off my trail, she added silently.

By the time her father had slipped back into the crowd, greeting old  friends with a forced holiday cheer, Anna had disappeared from the  ballroom. As a child, she'd explored every inch of the big house, so she  knew all the nooks and crannies to disappear into.

She was stopped a dozen times to talk to someone or answer a question  from the catering staff. The music jumped into a wild dance beat with a  tune from the forties and the drumbeats seemed to echo in the headache  behind her eyes.

"Clarissa's looking for you," someone said and Anna smiled and kept moving. Just nod, she told herself. Smile and keep walking.

She was almost at the long hallway leading to the front door when she heard, "Anna!"

She stopped again with a barely restrained sigh. Not an easy thing to do  at all, she thought, slipping out of a party where she knew everyone.  She turned to chat yet again with one of her father's employees.

Eddie Hanover was short, round and sported a wispy gray comb-over. He  was one of the guys Anna had grown up around and she loved him like a  second father. "Hi, Eddie. How's it going?"

"Going great, Anna. Trust your dad to hold to traditions even when times are hard," he said with a grin.

True. Her father hadn't wanted to even discuss canceling the annual  Christmas party. The company might be in trouble, but her dad wouldn't  "cheat" his employees out of something they looked forward to all year.

"Have you seen Clarissa?" Eddie's wife Trina asked. "She's been looking all over for you."

"Well, I'll go look for her." In the driveway. Inside her own car.

"Just wanted to say howdy, let you know we all appreciate the Camerons  throwing the party," Eddie told her, then grabbed Trina's hand and  dragged her off in the direction of the music.

She nodded, but the pair were already lost in the mingling crowd. Then  she caught a flash of something bright red out of the corner of her eye.  When she glanced over, she saw it was Clarissa, headed her way.

Think fast, she told herself. If only she were dating someone else, she  thought frantically. Then Clarissa would have to give up on the whole  "marry for the sake of the family" idea and she'd drop the subject of  Garret Hale for good.                       
       
           



       

Unfortunately, there was no man in Anna's life and no prospects for one  anytime soon. Her gaze scanning the room, frantically trying to find an  escape route, she eventually spotted something even better.

A tall man with no woman clinging to his arm, standing beneath a red ribbon-bedecked sprig of mistletoe.

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