Bridget stared at him, cheeks flushed and eyes glazed, breathing raggedly. “What about you?”
His lips twisted into a smirk. “That’ll just complicate things.”
He stopped at the door. “Does the dress fit?”
“Good. We’re getting it.” He opened the door and pinned her with one last look. Man, if he stared at her any longer, he was going to have her on her knees or on her back. “And don’t argue with me about it.”
Bridget looked so damn sexy standing there, naked with the exception of her panties and her chin jutting out stubbornly.
Yeah, he needed to get the fuck out of the dressing room now.
Chad dipped out, closing the door behind him. Too bad getting her out of his head wasn’t as easy as shutting a door.
Bridget barely recognized herself in the green dress. The deep hue brought out the matching color in her eyes and flattered her pale complexion and red hair. The material was heavy, concealing any kind of unsightly bulges but didn’t feel like she was wearing a curtain.
“You look beautiful,” Shell said, putting the finishing touch in Bridget’s updo—a silvery clip that held her curls up. “The dress is fantastic.”
The dress was fantastic. “I can’t believe he bought this. Such a wa—”
“If you say waste of money, I will disown you.” Shell turned her around and stared at her hard. “It’s wonderful that he would do something like this—romantic. You’re going to have a wonderful time hanging out with the players and glamorous people.”
Bridget swallowed, but her throat was dry. Butterflies were bouncing around her stomach like they were trying to find a way out. She’d met Tony and some of the other guys, but the idea of hobnobbing with all of them made her want to hurl.
“Chad’s picking you up from my place?” Shell asked.
She nodded. “Yeah, it’s actually closer to his and made sense, since you were doing my hair.”
Shell grinned at her. “Gawd girl, you are so damn lucky. I hope you realize that. Chad is a hell of a catch. I’m jealous.”
An ache pierced her chest, and she turned back to the mirror, blinking rapidly and hoping she didn’t ruin her mascara. This whole thing was almost over. Three days from Christmas and tomorrow was the last day of work for her before the holiday break. Then there was New Year’s and the Gala.
Chad probably wouldn’t even be around for the Smithsonian event.
According to Miss Gore, the Nationals were thrilled with Chad’s improvement. There was no more talk about canceling the contract, and the publicist fully believed that after tonight, his image would be repaired. And what had that evil woman said the last time she’d seen her?
“Chad will probably get the public’s sympathy when you guys split,” Miss Gore had said. “So this will work out wonderfully.”
God, she hated that woman with a passion.
“Bridget?” Shell’s voice intruded. “Are you okay?”
Her mouth opened, and she so badly wanted to tell Shell the truth, but how could she? It wasn’t like Shell didn’t know she’d gotten in trouble over the student loans, but how could she tell anyone that everything that had been between her and Chad had been completely faked?
Except the passion—she was pretty sure that was real.
She forced a smile. “You don’t think this dress is too much?”
Shell barked out a short laugh. “Okay. Something is definitely wrong with you if you’re asking if any piece of clothing is too much. This is actually pretty tame for you.”
It was. With black beading over the heart-shaped bodice, it was nothing like the flamboyant style she usually relied on.
“You look great, Bridget.”
“Thank you.” Bridget left the bathroom and took a deep breath. “I guess I’m just feeling tired.”
Shell nodded. “Well, you better pep up because you need to enjoy yourself. Seriously. You and Chad are like a Cinderella story.”
Bridget laughed at that. “I wouldn’t go that far.”
“Whatever. It’s totally—” A knock on her front door cut off her words. She let out a low squeal and spun toward the entrance before Bridget could blink.
Her friend threw open the door. “Hellloooo…”
Bridget peered around the corner, and her heart sped up. Her mouth also dropped open. There might have been a little drool.
Chad in a tux was, well, everything any female on the planet could imagine.
His broad shoulders really filled out the jacket in ways most men couldn’t. It was a perfect fit, cut to his body and his body alone. With his hair artfully messy and his lips tipped in a half smile, he looked like he stepped right out of a movie or something—right out of a fairy tale.
Chad extended a hand to Shell. “Nice to finally meet you.”
She murmured something unintelligible and spun around, mouthing the words Prince Charming before spinning back to Chad. “You’re even better looking up close. Most people aren’t, but wow, you definitely make the cut.”
Taking her friend’s outburst good naturedly, Chad laughed. “Well, I’m glad to hear I ‘make the cut.’”
As he stepped past her, Shell checked him out from behind. “Yeah, you definitely make the cut.”
Okay. That was probably enough. If Bridget didn’t intervene, there was a good chance Shell would start touching him. Stepping out into the hall, she gave him a short, awkward wave.
Chad stumbled a little, and Bridget had never seen him stumble. He drew up short and swallowed as his gaze drifted over her. “You look…absolutely beautiful.”
She felt the blush sweep over her face. “Thank you.”
“You both look great.” Shell reappeared, holding her phone. “I want a picture.”
“This isn’t prom, Shell.”
Chad chuckled as he held his arm to Bridget. “Come on over here. Let’s get our picture taken.”
Shooting her friend a look, which was subsequently ignored, Bridget slipped up to Chad’s side. His arm went around her waist, and he pulled her closer, tucking her against him.
Shell squealed as she held up the phone. “Smile!”
After a couple of pictures Shell swore wouldn’t end up on her Facebook or anywhere else, Bridget and Chad said their good-byes. On the way out, Bridget grabbed the lacy black shawl, and he helped drape it over her shoulders.
“It’s pretty chilly outside,” he said outside Shell’s apartment. “You sure this is enough?”
He smiled slightly. “That’s right. You hate jackets.”
“They’re just so bulky.” Since Shell had a first-floor apartment, it didn’t take long for her to discover just how cold it had become since she’d arrived at her friend’s place.
Outside, she clutched the ends of the shawl together and inhaled deeply. “It smells like—”
“Snow?” he cut in, grinning at her.
Bridget looked at him and felt her heart do that damn little jump again. “Yes. It smells like snow.”
“I heard that it’s calling for snow on Christmas. I can’t remember the last time we had a white Christmas.”
She couldn’t, either. Snow in any real amounts didn’t usually fall until February, and if it was more than an inch, the entire town shut down.
Chad opened the door for her but caught her arm before she could climb in. He leaned in, his lips brushing her temple. “I’m torn,” he said.
His lips curved against her skin. “I can’t decide if you look better in that dress or with it pooled around your ankles.”
Bridget was suddenly hot in the near freezing temperatures. Damn it. She had been trying desperately to forget about those minutes in the dressing room and here he had to bring it up. Liquid fire licked at her, magnified when he placed a hand on her hip.
“Mmm,” he murmured. “I’m going to go with it lying on my bedroom floor.”
Her breath went out in an unsteady rush. “You haven’t seen that.”
Chad pulled back and there was a cocky grin on his face. “Not yet.”
Christmas was everywhere. As they walked into the fancy hotel hosting the event, Bridget was caught up in all the glitz. Garland twisted around the lampposts. Icicle lights hung from the fronts of buildings, glimmering like hundreds of polished diamonds. In the tiny park splitting the congested streets, a decorated Christmas tree glowed brightly.
While Bridget wasn’t a huge fan of the holiday, she did love all the shiny things. Most of the year, the city was dull and drab, but come Christmas, the entire town sparkled.
And this hotel was really sparkling.
The Christmas tree in the lobby glimmered gold and silver, so bright and beautiful.
“You like it?” Chad murmured in her ear, placing a hand on her lower back.
She nodded as they stopped in front of the massive tree. “It’s beautiful.”
“I like the trees that are all different colors. You know, the kind that really doesn’t have a theme to them. Maddie’s parents have a tree like that, bulbs just thrown up on it. Mismatched tinsel and a star that is always crooked.”
Bridget smiled. She’d met Madison’s parents a few times, and they’d been a riot. She couldn’t imagine what Christmas was like at their house. Probably involved decorating bomb shelters and general craziness—the good kind of craziness.
“You know I always do Christmas Eve at their place, right? It’s tradition.”
Yes. She knew that.
“And this year—“
“I’m not going to Madison’s house for Christmas,” she said, stepping away from him. “No way is that happening.”
His brows puckered. “Do you have plans?”
Did she have plans? She almost laughed. She’d be doing the same thing she did on Christmas for the last nine years. “It’s not important. So where’s the big party?”
Chad watched her for a moment and then took her hand. “Let’s get this show on the road.”
Bridget wasn’t sure how to prepare herself for this event, but she soon realized nothing could have. They were rushed the moment they stepped into the glittery ballroom.
She was introduced to so many people she couldn’t keep their faces straight or remember their names. A glass of champagne was handed to her and then another. Being on the arm of Chad Gamble was really like being with a rock star. It was obvious everyone loved him or at least looked up to him, especially the younger teammates. They were in awe of him.
Pictures were taken, one after another, and she knew a whole boatload of them would be in the newspaper and on the web within hours. When the manager of the Club introduced himself, Bridget glanced at Chad.
Nothing in his expression changed, but he stiffened just the slightest. “How’re you doing?” he said, extending his free hand.
“Great. I’m glad to see you here with such beautiful company.” The manager shook Chad’s hand and then turned to Bridget. The man’s lined face crinkled as he smiled. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet the woman who has gotten this old dog to behave.”