Christmas Eve, Paris

Rob Shepherd looks at his phone and sighs, before answering. "Hi Dad."

"Rob! Just calling to see if you had Christmas plans!" Derek sounds deceptively cheerful.

Rob raises his eyebrows and looks around the snowy cobblestone street. "Why, you're in Paris too?"

"No, but a family friend is, and her parents think she needs some company tomorrow."

"And what, I'm supposed to babysit? Whose kid is it?" Rob runs a hand through his wavy black hair.

"It's Owen and Cristina's kid -"

"Don't go there," Rob cuts him off. "I've told you a million times that I'm not going to grow up and marry Chloe Hunt just so we can all be one big happy family officially. Forget it."

"It's not Chloe," Derek laughs. "It's Mallory. She's in Paris at some culinary school and she's not flying back to the States for Christmas. She's not feeling well or something. Do 'Uncle Owen' a favour and look out for his baby girl. You don't have to marry her."

Rob considers the situation. He is stranded in Paris, feeling alone on Christmas Eve. "'Hurricane Mallory'?"

"The one and only."

"And you're not playing matchmaker?"

Derek chuckles. "I would advise keeping your hands to yourself, actually. They've always been extra protective of her. Owen can still kick your ass, and you don't want to know what Cristina would do to you."

"I don't know, Dad, I haven't seen her in years." His memory conjures up a skinny preteen who had to bring her inhaler everywhere. Who was always annoying everyone by butting into their business.

Derek sighs. "It would make them very happy to know that someone is keeping Mallory company. Apparently they've already talked to her and she wants to invite you over for Christmas supper. Do you want me to deposit some money in your account so you can bring her a nice wine or something?"

Rob resigns himself. "Okay, fine. How do I get in touch with her?"

Christmas

Rob finds his way to Mallory's apartment. Just standing outside her door, his mouth starts watering at the smells. At least I'm going to eat well, he thinks, knocking on her door.

She opens the door. He smiles in surprise. In front of him is a very pretty young woman – still a little skinny – with warm brown eyes and long wavy red hair. She's dressed in a soft red sweater and a brown skirt.

"Robbie!" Mallory smiles, gesturing him to come in.

"It's Rob now," he corrects her with a smile, handing her a bottle of white wine.

"Merry Christmas, Rob," she grins, taking the bottle and checking the label. "Ooh, good choice. Here, let me take your coat."

"I, uh, would have dressed up if I had known you were having a party," he says, gesturing to an exquisitely set table in her small kitchen. His sweater and jeans feel inadequate.

"Oh it's just us," Mallory smiles. "You are dressed just fine. Christmas is my favourite holiday and I like to go all out."

"It's your dad's favourite holiday too, right?"

"After the Fourth of July!" She beams brightly. "I'm glad to see you again. How long have you been in Paris?"

"A week," he shrugs. "I came here with some of my buddies, who decided at the last minute to go back to the States."

"And what are you doing in Europe?"

"I'm just travelling around," Rob replies. "It started as backpacking for the summer after I graduated pre-med, and I just never left. I bartend here and there and I move on when I get bored."

She nods pleasantly. "Sounds like fun. Shall we start the wine?"

"Sure." He watches her reach for wine glasses - she barely comes up to his shoulders. "Here, let me help." He gets them down from her cupboard. "I, um, heard you haven't been well."

Mallory rolls her eyes. "My parents, right? I had a cold a few weeks ago, but I'm over it." She pours them some wine. "Take the wine in there," she says, pointing to her small living room, "and I'll bring the appetizers."

"Appetizers? Are you sure you're not expecting anyone else?"

"I told you I like to go all out," she smiles.

He looks around the living room – small and cozy, with a modest Christmas tree on one table. He sits down on the sofa.

"Try these," Mallory says, offering him a plate, before joining him.

Rob watches her out of the corner of his eye as he tries – some breaded appetizer that he doesn't know the name of. It is delicious. She has lovely slim fingers that he doesn't remember noticing before.

"These are excellent," Rob says honestly. "I was a little surprised that you're studying cooking - I thought all of the Hunt kids would become doctors."

"I thought about it, but I don't like sick people that much," she says frankly. "I'd rather chop vegetables than stitch people. So my destiny is to be a culinary goddess. Some day I will have my own cafe."

"Based on this alone, I can tell you that you will have many loyal customers."

"Thank you." She smiles sweetly.

He appraises her again. He was expecting "Hurricane Mallory", not a pleasant, gracious, redhaired Martha Stewart. He tries not to notice how her sweater is clinging to her modest curves.

"What about you? Are you going to go to med school some day?" Mallory asks.

Rob snorts. "I suppose. My parents haven't given up hope that I'll go back. I'll probably go when I get bored of bartending and backpacking, I guess."

Mallory smiles softly.

He helps himself to another appetizer. "So how come you're alone at Christmas?"

She shrugs. "My friends are with their families, or skiing in the Alps. I'll be going back to the States when I graduate this summer, so I decided to stay here." A timer goes off in the kitchen. "Excuse me, I need to check on dinner. I hope you like pheasant."

He raises an eyebrow. "I love pheasant."

"Good," she laughs, getting up and going into the kitchen, touching his shoulder as she passes. He watches her walk away, slim hips swaying. Then mentally checks himself. I grew up with this girl. Her father was in the Army.

The meal is delicious. They catch each other up on their families. Mallory describes her future plans, going into great detail. Rob is impressed with her drive and ambition. He deflects questions about his future, feeling aimless in comparison to her plans.

After the best tiramisu that he's ever had, Rob feels that he is ready to unbutton his pants and have a nap, filled with warm and good food. Laughing, Mallory directs him back to her couch.

"The way you cook, I really don't understand how you're single," he groans, rubbing his belly for dramatic effect. "Um, not that there's anything wrong with being single. I'm single."

She smirks, sitting next to him and handing him another glass of wine. "Speaking of being single, remember how your father kept trying to match you with Chloe?"

Rob looks at her curiously. "Yes … ?"

"Did you want to date her?"

He shakes his head. "She's nice, but it would be like dating my sister. She just has that vibe, you know?"

Mallory smiles and nods. He notices a glint in her eyes.

"Did Chloe want to date me?" Rob asks.

"No. She thinks of you like a brother too."

"Then - why did you ask?" He feels very confused, like he's suddenly missing something.

"I've had a crush on you since I was twelve," Mallory explains cheerfully.

Rob chokes on his wine.

"I'm twenty now," she continues, eyes sparkling. "So my dad can't have you arrested. I really enjoyed having Christmas dinner with you, and I think you've grown up very nicely and I also think we should make out and see what happens."

Rob stares at her. "Are you serious?"

"Yes," she grins. Hurricane Mallory has arrived.

He looks at his wine glass, trying to make sense out of the situation. "So – what, you've been waiting for me?"

She tilts her head thoughtfully. "I hoped that at some point we would meet again, and I'd be at least eighteen. I didn't save myself for you, if that-"

"Okay, okay," Rob cuts her off. "Too much information."

"Really?" Mallory teases, inching closer. "Don't tell me you think of me as a sister too."

He looks at her again. Her brown eyes are dancing with amusement, and her full lips are smiling invitingly.

"Not at all," he says, putting down his glass. Should we be doing this? Rob wonders, as she smiles and leans in, slowly placing her soft lips on his. She puts her delicate hands on his shoulders, as his hands find her waist, and she opens her mouth to his, making a little noise in the back of her throat. He groans as lightning shoots from his lips to his groin. Yes, we should be doing this.

**

She had bewitched him. Put something magical in his food. It was the only explanation that made sense. He'd intended on just kissing her - remembering that "Uncle" Owen had been very good to him when he was a young boy. And Cristina was scary. They kissed and talked and kissed some more, and then ate some more dessert and kissed again. He'd started thinking about spending the night on her couch - and then Mallory was pulling his sweater off. Almost in a dream, she was leading him to her bedroom, handing him a foil package, sliding under the covers with him.

She is pure bliss. The way she responds to him, arches beneath him, moves with him, is unlike anything he's experienced before. His touch is gentle and tentative, her responses ardent and passionate. After he reaches his climax, he lays his forehead against hers and closes his eyes, dazed and unsettled.

"Are you cold?" Mallory asks. "You're shaking."

He opens his eyes and looks at her.

"I've had sex before," Rob stammers in a daze. "But - that - was - what was that? That was so much better..."

She looks up at him. Her bravado has been replaced by a stunned expression of wonder. "That - was different for me too," she whispers. "In a good way."

They stare at each other. Her eyes are wide and soft, dark honey. Knowing that she is just as surprised and moved by their lovemaking - that was the word he'd been looking for - awakens something in Rob. He gasps slightly.

"We should do it again," she says.

**

The bedroom grows lighter as dawn breaks in Paris. They lie next to each other, staring at the ceiling, holding hands.

"Wow," Mallory finally says.

Rob laughs and rolls over to kiss her.

"Are you going to leave Paris soon?" Mallory asks solemnly.

Rob raises a hand to cup her face, stroke her cheek.

"I'm not leaving without you," he breathes against her mouth.

New Year's Eve.

"Okay, we're both on the phone," Cristina says. "What's your news?"

"I'm engaged," Mallory announces cheerfully, nestling against Rob in her bed. She holds up her left hand, so that her ring sparkles in the late afternoon sun coming in through the window. They'd picked it out in an antique shop that morning.

"To whom?" Owen sputters.

"Rob Shepherd," Mallory sighs happily, resting her head against his shoulder.

"About time," her mother says smoothly. "You've had a crush on him for years. Congratulations."

Mallory giggles. "Thanks Mom." She waits for Owen to say something. "Dad?"

"Oh, just giving thanks he's not some unknown person you picked up on the street," Owen says quietly. "Well. That was quick. But – isn't he still backpacking around Europe?"

"Not any more," Mallory smiles. "He's going to stay in Paris, and work, and start applying for med school. When I'm done my course in June, we'll move back to the States. Near whatever school will take him."

"Okay."

"We will wait until we get back to get married, so both of you can walk me down the aisle."

"Okay." Owen sounds strained.

"Are you all right, Dad?"

"Just shell-shocked," he chuckles. "You're not pregnant too, are you?"

"We've been using protection."

"Too much information!" Owen gasps as Cristina laughs.

"Sorry Dad," Mallory giggles. Rob looks at her curiously.

Owen manages to chuckle. "If he needs a reference for school, let me know. And congratulations."

Mallory grins and whispers "he's not going to kill you" at Rob.

"That's good," Rob replies, nuzzling her pale shoulder.

"Do Derek and Meredith know yet?" Cristina asks.

"No, we're going to call them next." Mallory suppresses a giggle as Rob's hands wander.

"Put Rob on the phone." Cristina commands. "I need to make something clear."

"Mom!"

"Mallory!"

Mallory hands the phone to Rob.

"Um, hello?" His mouth has gone dry.

"I'll make this quick since you have to call your parents next," Cristina says. "We are both happy to know that Mallory is marrying you. You will tell us if she gets sick, she's not as tough as she thinks she is. If you break her heart, I will make things very painful for you. Welcome to the family."

Rob blinks. "Um, thanks."

Cristina smirks. "You do realize that she's going to boss you around for the rest of your life?"

"Yes," he grins. "Looking forward to it."

"Good," Owen chuckles. "That's the right attitude."

**

Derek can't stop laughing. "I told you to keep your hands to yourself!"

"I tried, Dad," Rob says sheepishly. "She's 'Hurricane Mallory' for a reason." He winks at his fiancee, still snuggled against him in the bed. She grins at him.

"This is sweet," Meredith says. "Our son is marrying a Hunt after all. And you're finally going to medical school."

"And now we will officially be one big happy family," Derek muses. "And there are still three single kids between us. I wonder if -."

"Don't go there," Rob laughs.