When Your Heart Finds Christmas
Adriana Cramer and Dante Falconeri meet.
Christmas parties are boring, he decided as he stood in the lobby of the Metro Court trying to look around for a way to escape before anybody noticed him doing so. His mother had insisted he spend Christmas Eve at the hotel even though Carly still openly hated his guts. You could practically hear her whoops of joy across town when Lulu had informed her that she and Dante were splitsville.
Speaking of Lulu, there she was, her arm hooked through Dr. Matt Hunter's. They looked thick as thieves and when they disappeared into the ballroom, Dante had to fight the urge to follow and declare his territory. Old habits died hard.
He then noticed his mother under the mistletoe with Steven Webber and crinkled his nose. Seeing one's mother getting their groove on was never pleasant. She looked happy though and the engagement ring on her finger looked really good on her.
He sighed and set down his glass of " holiday cheer", heading for the nearest exit. He was just about to the door when suddenly it was thrown back on its hinges and an attractive woman and an entourage of no less than fifteen people pushed their way inside, bringing a flurry of snow and cold air into the lobby with them. They were all glamorously dressed to the nines but their expensive-looking fur coats and shoes were caked with fresh mud.
"I can't believe that the limo broke down," the attractive dark-haired young woman grumbled. She sounded haughty, like she believed the limo had broken down just to spite her.
Dante tried to edge around the group but they stood solidly in his way. Just as he was about to try another exit, the haughty beauty turned her dark eyes on him. "Hey, you," she said. "Don't just stand there. Be useful and get us all something to drink. No eggnog though; it's so fattening," she said, turning up her nose slightly at the very idea.
Dante eyes widened. "Excuse me. You must have me confused with your personal assistant."
Her eyes darkened still more and narrowed at him. "Do they pay the help to speak to me this way?"
"Look, lady, they don't pay me anything here. I am not on staff."
She didn't even have the decency to look embarrassed by her little faux pas. "Oh well. You can still pour drinks can't you? Or at least find someone who can? We all need champagne to take the edge off. You won't believe what we've been through." The group nodded and murmured in agreement.
Dante rolled his eyes. "The bar's through there," he said and waved towards the dining room. "Enjoy. I'll be going now."
The dark-haired beauty glared at him but soon enough, she and her group of hanger-ons were pushing past him and heading for the bar. Dante smiled as the door was now two feet away. Two more steps and he'd be home free.
He reached the door and put his hand on it, pushing it outwards just as he heard his mother's voice say, "Uh-uh, Dante Falconeri, not so fast. We haven't even cut the turkey yet."
Dante turned around. "Would you believe I was just going out to my car to bring in more packages?"
"No," Olivia said. "Now get into the dining room with everyone else and try to look like you're having a good time. We don't need any Grinches here."
"I can go then ..."
"Get in the dining room!" Olivia commanded with her hands on her hips and he knew better than to mess with her.
Dante's eyes widened as he walked into the dining room to see that the whole room was filled wall-to-wall with people. And there was only one seat left - at the bar, beside the uppity young woman who had assumed he was there to serve her.
He looked at his mother and she told him to fix a plate and start eating. "Get a drink too; Carly is giving a toast."
Dante shook his head. Was she going to toast to the end of his relationship with Lulu? He wouldn't put it past her.
He sighed and sidled up to the bar; slipping onto the stool next to the haughty raven-haired woman and hoped that she would just ignore him. She looked at him crossly and he realized he would not be so lucky.
"What are you doing here?" She asked. "If you came here to pressure me for a date, I can assure you I would never go for someone so clearly slighted by other women. Let alone someone in this Podunk town on the way to nowhere."
Dante laughed loudly and longly. She fixed a glare on him. "Excuse me? What are you laughing at?"
"You. Assuming I would be here to spend time with you. If you look around, Miss Priss, there are no other seats in the place."
She didn't bother looking around and instead shook her head at him. "I know when a man's sniffing around."
"You don't know me," Dante returned evenly and waved to the tuxedo-clad bartender. "Jesse, a beer please. A really big beer. Suddenly I have a headache." He looked over at the woman pointedly.
The woman shook her head. "You're a total jerk, you know that?" she said and whipped around on her bar stool, turning away from him.
He said nothing more to her as Jesse gave him his beer and he started chugging it. Just then there was a tingling of a spoon on glass and Carly's voice cut through the room, as loud as any bullhorn. "Attention, everyone. Listen up. I'd like to make a toast," she said in such a way that meant "all eyes on me."
Dante turned around just as the girl beside him did the same and they knocked knees rather hard. He cringed and she yelped. In spite of his annoyance of her, he found himself asking, "Are you alright?"
"No, you big clod. I am not," she snapped and took to rubbing her knee which was showcased perfectly by her short green dress. She glared at him as his eyes trailed down her admittedly nice, shapely legs.
He cleared his throat and pointedly turned to face Carly. "First of all, I want to welcome you all to the Metro Court. It's nice to spend Christmas Eve with a bunch of people," Carly said and her eyes moved over to Dante. No, not Dante. The violent femme next to him. "Welcome especially to the fabulous designer Adriana Cramer who dropped in on us unexpectedly but who we are also so glad to have here." There was quiet applause though Dante wasn't one of the people clapping. He knew this broad's name now though so he knew who to book if she kept harassing him.
"And," Carly went on, "welcome to all my friends. I am so glad to see you all here. I am glad to see my children looking happy on this special night. I feel so grateful after a hard year we're all here together..." Her voice trailed off for a moment and she smiled at Michael specifically. "I would like to make a toast to my eldest son, Michael, who is getting married next year. I know he wanted to keep this news to himself for a bit but I just couldn't. I was against him being associated with Abby here but guess what - she makes him happy! And that's what matters. We all should be happy. We deserve it." Her eyes flickered over to Shawn Butler this time and they shared a secret, knowing smile before she addressed the crowd again. "And finally, I want to make a toast to you all. Thanks for being here tonight. I wish you all happiness and joy. I really mean that too. So raise your glasses and toast your friends, family, and even your fellow neighbor!"
A crescendo of applause followed as people raised their drinks enthusiastically and clinked glasses with everyone around them. Dante noted Adriana clinking her glass with her entourage and then she swung around on her bar stool and peered at him. "I should have known," she said and clinked her glass to his.
"Should have known what?" Dante asked, shocked she had dared touch his beer bottle with her fancy-schmancy champagne flute.
"That you'd have no one to toast," she said.
Dante rolled his eyes. "Oh thanks you, Miss Priss, for taking pity on poor me and granting me the honor of having my glass meet yours."
"God you're hostile," Adriana said.
"And you're a prissy, annoying brat," Dante returned venomously. "I have never met anyone as self-important, entitled or totally ridiculous."
She actually looked - dare he think it? - affected by those words. She looked angry and she looked ... hurt. Yes, she looked hurt.
Before he could apologize, she was setting her glass quietly down on the sleek bar counter, whispering to her lemmings that she had to powder her nose, and was slipping out of the room. Dante felt like kicking himself. Why had he gone after her the way he just had? So she was annoying and prissy and basically, all he had accused her of being, but it was Christmastime. Couldn't he have swallowed his words before he spat them at her like that? He didn't have a right to do that.
He sighed and put down his beer and trotted after her. He caught up to her in the little vestibule outside the dining room. He lightly reached for her elbow and she spun around, fixing him with an angry gaze that made her eyes even bigger and more ... hypnotizing. Yes, that was the word. "Can't you leave me alone or did you come to insult me some more?" She demanded, wrenching her elbow free. "Do you just enjoy making people feel like crap?"
"No, I don't," Dante said and splayed his hands helplessly in front of him. "I honestly ... Well, that's not usually something I do. Especially to strangers."
"Oh so I just bring out that evil side of you?"
Dante shook his head. "No, I'm sorry. I was in a bad mood. I only came here to make my mom happy and I saw my ex with this annoying doctor and-" He held up a hand to stop himself. "Never mind. Just forget me and have a good holiday. I am sorry you and your friends' holiday was ruined. I sincerely mean that."
"Friends? Hah," she scoffed. "They're all my employees. Every last one of them are on my payroll. I have no friends."
"I am sorry to hear that, I really am," Dante said and he meant that as well. "Just because you're somewhat uppity and spoiled and -" He broke off as he saw her eyes go wide again. "Sorry. I'm not good at this pep talk stuff."
"Apparently not," she said and sighed as she drooped into a chair, crossing her lean legs and resting her elbows on her tiny kneecaps.
"Hey, hey, no feeling sorry for yourself on Christmas Eve. It's the time of joy and peace right?"
"Maybe for others," she said and as a waiter passed by them, she swiped a glass of wine off his tray. She immediately put it to her lips and started chugging it down. Dante watched in shock. She was not going to be walking upright for very long if she kept drinking like that.
"Slow down there," he said.
She shook her head. "No. If I'm going to be stuck in this god-forsaken town I'm going to get drunk." She stood up and walked towards the vestibule door.
"Where are you going?"
She tossed over her shoulder, "Did you not hear me? I am going to get rip-roaring drunk."
He didn't know why he felt so compelled to help her but he did. Maybe it was her beautiful eyes that registered a vulnerability he wouldn't have guessed that she possessed. Maybe it was that she looked so delicious in that short dress. Or maybe he was just a masochist.
Maybe all three.
Suddenly, he was reaching for her elbow again and swinging her around so fast her breath must have caught in her throat for a moment. She was strangely quiet as he backed her up against a wall and poised his lips over hers. Her eyes showed shock but not revulsion so he pressed forward, covering her too-soft lips with his own. She soon was returning the kiss with equal passion and pressed her body more into his, urging him on. Her fingers came up to play with the hair along his neck and he rested his hands on her arms.
They must have kissed a good long while because they were both breathless when they finally separated. She stared at him and he expected her to wipe her mouth but she didn't. "Uh ... What was that for?" she asked.
"I don't know," he admitted. "I guess I just wanted to find out if your lips are really as soft as they looked?"
She rolled her eyes. "That's the cheesiest line I have ever heard."
"I know," Dante admitted. "But just so you know ... they are."
She touched her puffy red lips and smiled. "I wasn't expecting this when the limo broke down on the side of the road."
"I didn't see this coming either. But I am glad it did. This party was pretty boring before you showed up."
She smiled and lightly reached out and thumbed his strong chin. "My life was kind of boring before tonight," she admitted.
"Oh come on. Carly said you're a fashion designer. You have to be doing a bunch of exciting things all the time."
"I work, and I work, and sometimes I do interesting things. But like I said before, everyone around me is paid to be there or is hanging around hoping to catch a scrap of my brilliance."
He smirked. "I bet."
"Look I'm not going to bore you with my sad little, woe-is-me tale. You did a nice thing; you admittedly cheered me up so you can go."
"Oh I'm dismissed?"
"That's not what I meant. I just don't want you hanging around because you feel pity for me or feel obligated."
"I can honestly say neither is the case," Dante said. "I mean that."
He woke up on Christmas morning at his place to find out that he wasn't alone in bed. The memories of the night's events rushed back to him and he smiled as she rolled her naked, lithe self over in bed and faced him. Her smile was both sheepish and bright all at the same time. She was actually a wonderful contradiction.
He hoped suddenly that this wasn't just a fling and that it was going to lead somewhere. But for now, he would just take things one holiday at a time.