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Mistletoe Mischief (Lost and Found #5.5)

By:J.M. Madden

Mistletoe Mischief (Lost and Found #5.5)
        Author: J.M. Madden

       
         
       
        
To my dedicated readers. I love and appreciate every single one of you! And I love the enthusiasm you have for these men. You keep them as real to me in my mind as my own kids.

To my gorgeous husband. I'll do another twenty with you babe!

Mayas, Karen and Sandie, you guys humble me with your patience, time and honest opinion. Thank you for being such great cheerleaders!

Dahlia Rose, thank you for the insult you gave me permission to use! I love it!!!

Meg, fabulous job! Seriously!

And to all military- current, past and future- be safe and thank you for everything that you do!





Roger





Roger looked around at the crazy ass lights strung throughout the room at the Frog Dog bar, but they didn't shine nearly as bright as the woman beside him.

As far as he was concerned, Cassandra Jones was the epitome of every black man's dream. Lush, unblemished, golden caramel skin glowed in the soft light of the bar, but her eyes sparkled like diamonds. They were unique, toffee gold shot with shards of antique jade, and deeper than they seemed. He'd never seen anything like them. Her gaze followed his every movement as if she couldn't look away.

Roger was used to being looked at. Between the prosthetic myoelectric right arm and the heavy scars on his neck, there was a lot to look at. Used to be women would scope him out because he was damn hot, but he didn't believe that was the case anymore. As realistic as the arm prosthetic was, it still stood out like a sore thumb, no pun and no lie.

But …  Cassandra didn't seem to mind the prosthetic. She'd explored every inch of it she could see, asking him questions about the realistic looking thermoplastic skin of his hand and the way the elbow joint moved, how strong the grip was. The arm itself was cutting edge technology and the updated electrodes made the movements more natural. He was very thankful that he'd been in the beta program to test it out through the local VA hospital.

Roger answered everything as naturally as he could, though he watched for anything negative in her intelligent eyes. It wasn't everyday you met a man that had had his arm blown off by an IED. But so far he'd only seen honest curiosity in her expression.

He'd gotten very used to seeing the negative. Any time he was out on the street, some idiot had to make a big deal about his arm. The really special, super sensitive snowflakes just had to turn his disability into a political issue and that really pissed him off. He'd gotten very good at raising the middle finger on his prosthetic hand.

Cassandra leaned into his line of sight. "Where did you go?"

"Sorry, baby. You're taking all of this," he lifted his arm slightly, "very well. Why is that?" 

She shrugged and glanced down the bar. Chad had just come out in that damn Santa suit and was playing up to the little ones. Cassandra smiled as she watched them, her eyes sad.

"My little brother Andre was killed in Afghanistan three years ago. Friendly fire accident. He'd only been in the Army a couple of years."

Roger winced. "Oh, damn. I'm sorry."

She shrugged again. "He knew it was dangerous when he went in, but he still did it. He wanted to get out of our old neighborhood, so he did. And besides," she continued, taking a swallow of beer, "I get looks all the time for my size. I don't throw stones. Everybody has something they're insecure about."

Roger frowned, mystified. "What about your size? I think you're fucking beautiful."

She snorted, looking at him out of the corners of her eyes. "Yeah, whatever."

Daring to reach out, knowing he was probably overstepping his first-date bounds, he took her chin into his left hand and looked her in the eye. "I think you're beautiful," he told her firmly.

There was a flicker of something in her gaze, like the night had just taken on a different kind of connotation. Had she expected him to just blow her off? Had men actually treated her like that before?

Such somber thoughts for a first date.

"So how did you get my name?" he asked finally.

After a long, pregnant moment, she grinned fully for the first time since she'd sat down and Roger had to catch his breath. It had been a long time since he'd basked in that kind of sunshine. "A friend of mine talked to you at work and thought we would be a good pair. I work at the advertising company next door to Baker and Company."

"Ah, okay," Roger nodded. "Yeah, we worked a case there not too long ago. Somebody was helping themselves to the electronics the company was developing."

Cassandra hummed in agreement, tucking her curly black hair behind her ear. It just brushed her shoulders. Roger noticed that she had two ear piercings down low, and one up higher in the shell of her ear. A diamond winked in the light. It was in a place that he wanted to tease.

"Yes, and being a start-up," she told him, "they didn't have the money to lose if that prototype had been complete. You guys did a good job catching him."

Roger could tell her he had been the one who had put the details together, but he didn't want to sound boastful. "Did you know the guy that was arrested?"

She shook her head. "Nah. We'd done advertising for the company, but we'd worked with other people."

"Who was your friend? The set-up guru."

"Brenda Logan. She works in the front office and we like to go to lunch together. She knew I hadn't been out with anyone in a while and she was just busting at the seams to tell me about you."

Roger laughed, remembering the older woman. "The cat lady."

Cassandra laughed and nodded. "Oh, yes, the cat lady. I think she's slimmed down her herd but she still has way too many."

"She seemed to have a good heart though."

Her smile softened. "Yes, she does. A tremendous heart. And though her personal life is not as full as it should be, she's a fabulous judge of character. She told me you had the heart of a tiger and would catch the person responsible."

Roger laughed at the comparison. "I don't know about a tiger."

"Well," Cassandra cautioned, "just remember this is the cat lady. Everything revolves around cats one way or another."

Roger couldn't remember enjoying a conversation more, even though it was pretty mundane. "I'm glad you called me. This has been totally enjoyable."

She blinked at him and frowned. "You know, you're absolutely right. You don't have fifty-eight relatives living in your two-bedroom apartment, do you? Or ten pit bulls in your back yard?"



       
         
       
        

Roger shook his head. "Nope, sorry."

"Criminal record?"

He shook his head again. "Squeaky clean."

"Paying child support to six kids by seven different mothers?"

Laughing, he shrugged lightly. "I would love to be a father someday, but no. What can I say? I'm a good guy."

She scowled theatrically, eyeing him up and down. "You sound too good to be true. I better snatch you up. Wanna get married?"

Laughing out loud, skin tingling from her perusal, he smacked the bar with his good hand. "Hot damn, woman. You're some kind of wonderful. Yes, I'll marry you."

A considering, thoughtful light entered her eyes and she tipped her chin up. "I don't know about marriage, yet, but you definitely earned a second date."

Roger shuddered dramatically to make her laugh, but inside he was enormously thrilled with the progress of the night. Maybe he wasn't a total lost cause after all.



Cassandra stared at the delicious, model perfect man sitting beside her on the barstool. She couldn't help herself. Roger Stottsberry was a real, honest to goodness gentleman. A damned handsome gentleman, no less. Kind of took a girl off guard to be treated so nicely, especially when she wasn't used to it.

Cass forced her gaze to look away. She didn't know any of these people circling the room, but they had welcomed her with open arms, some of them literally. Roger was obviously well-liked in this group and they seemed surprised and genuinely happy when she'd shown up to be his date for the Christmas Eve party.

It made her wonder why they'd been so surprised.

"Are you gay?"

Roger choked on the swallow of beer he'd just taken. "What?"

Cass clamped her mouth shut as he swiveled toward her. Thick, muscular thighs were braced on the supports of the stool and his dark jeans were tight across his hips, leaving her in no doubt of what he carried in there. The man wore a nice T-shirt under a button down red and blue checked flannel shirt, tucked into his waistband. She wanted to make a joke about moobs and cleavage, but she worried that he would realize how fascinated she was with the center line between his heavy pectoral muscles. Not a lot of hair, which was fine with her. Damn she wanted to explore, though. A curl of arousal lit low in her tummy and she really, really hoped he wasn't gay.

Roger glared at her incredulously, as if he couldn't believe what she'd asked.

Cass shrugged. "Do you blame me for thinking it? You're too pretty not to be."

Roger tipped back his head and laughed deeply, his whole chest moving with the emotion. Several people looked their way, smiling, and she felt a little embarrassed at drawing attention. 

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