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A Merry Little Christmas(6)

By:Melanie Schuster

Just then, Adam emerged from the work area of the loft with a welcoming  smile on his face. "Hello, Angel! Benita told me she'd loaded you down  with stuff-thanks for bringing it by. Come on in and get warm, my  brother has apparently forgotten his manners entirely," he said with a  sidelong look at his sibling.

Angelique took the hand Adam offered and entered the big loft In her  other hand was a big, colorful shopping bag that she handed to him.  "Here you go. And this is for you, too," she said as she stood on tiptoe  to give Adam a big kiss on the cheek. "Bennie said to make sure to give  you a kiss from her and the babies."

Adam smiled wickedly and returned the kiss with enjoyment. While Donnie  might be considered the most handsome of the Cochran men, it was usually  conceded that Adam was the sexiest. He was broad-shouldered, well  muscled and wore his wavy hair long in a thick braid down his back. With  his piercing eyes and thick, glossy mustache, he was pretty  irresistible. And charming as well when he chose to be, as he did now.  "You really are an angel, Angelique. Thanks for taking the time to bring  this over. Come sit down and let me fix you some tea or some hot  chocolate or something," he coaxed, pulling her farther into the big  open space that led into a restaurant-quality kitchen.

"Oh, I can't stay," she demurred, "I have to go by your dad's house, and  the twins ... umm, did you say hot chocolate?" A thick, rich cup of hot  cocoa was a weakness of hers and the longing on her face made it plain  that she wanted some.

Adam sensed her desire and gleefully divested her of her jacket. Tossing  it at Donnie, he ordered him to hang it up. "Now you come with me,  cutie, and I'm going to make you the best cup of chocolat you ever  consumed in your life." The two of them went off to the kitchen, leaving  Donnie standing in the entrance area with Angelique's jacket in his  hand and a vacant look on his face. Like an automaton, he drew the thick  wool garment to his nose and inhaled deeply. The rich essence of her  fragrance cut through him like a knife. His entire body reacted quickly  and passionately to this stimulus, much to his dismay. For some unknown  reason, he felt a stirring in parts of his body that should have known  better and he didn't like it one bit. After taking one more forbidden  whiff of the coat he hung it neatly in the closet and then scowled at  the slight tremor that surged through him. Wasn't anything going to  cooperate with him? Glaring at the zipper in the front of his pants, he  whispered, "Cut that out. We don't like her, remember?"

Praying that his body wouldn't continue to betray him, he went into the  kitchen to see what witchery Angelique was up to now. Sure enough, she  sat on a stool at the long work counter with Jordan and Pippen lolling  at her feet and Adam making a huge show of concocting some kind of  hot-chocolate confection from scratch. None of this should have bothered  Donnie in the least, but for some reason it was eating him up. That  little woman had gotten under his skin from the first moment they'd met,  and things showed no signs of improving. The most annoying part of the  whole situation was that she seemed to be completely unaware of him. He  could have been one of the pots Adam had hanging from the ceiling, for  all the attention she paid him. Something was definitely wrong with this  scenario, and he was going to fix it and quick. He wasn't much for New  Year's resolutions, but he was making one this year. Angelique was a  thorn and he was getting her out of his side and soon.                       



Donnie would have been stunned to know that he was causing Angelique as  much discomfort as he was suffering. Despite her appearance of  nonchalance, she was more than aware of Donnie, and this awareness made  her feel unsettled and uneasy more often than she liked. She tried not  to think about him at all, but since her brother Clay was married to his  sister Bennie, it wasn't as if she could ignore his existence  altogether. Besides the marriage and babies that bound the families  together, the Cochrans and the Deverauxes were now in business together.

With the merger of the companies, the two clans were inextricably tied  to each other for all time. It was inevitable that she and Donnie would  meet regularly. And try as she might to act with total indifference, it  was difficult. Adonis Bennett Cochran was not a man who could be  overlooked For one thing, he was tall, more than six-six, yet the height  alone wasn't what did it. All of Angelique's brothers were extremely  blessed in the height department, too. He was also physically blessed,  like her handsome brothers; even a sightless person would have  recognized the fact that he had exceptional looks.

Angelique pulled into her home's shared driveway. She'd been listening  to one of her many audio books as she drove, but had been daydreaming  more than listening. Ever since encountering Donnie at his brother's  loft, she'd been thinking about him. She tried to tell herself he just  reminded her of her brothers: tall, handsome and charming. But even more  than that, he was very smart and savvy when it came to business. He was  recognized as a genius in broadcasting and had taken his family's  string of small urban radio stations and parlayed them into a network  that now spanned the country. And he'd added television stations, as  well. Brilliant, bold and innovative, those were the words usually used  to describe him, and that was why he reminded her of her brothers. But  the things causing her mind to go into overdrive were the  characteristics that didn't excite a brotherly reaction in the least.

As she got out of the car and took a deep lungful of the cold, crisp  evening air, she had to smile when she thought about Donnie's legendary  charm, although charming was a relative term, since Donnie was a perfect  gentleman to everyone but her. He was extremely kind and perfectly  mannered to all he encountered, but he rubbed her the wrong way and had  since the first day they met They fought and argued and generally  treated each other with the gentility reserved for known terrorists. It  was bad enough when she lived in Atlanta and only saw him a couple times  a year, now that she was on his turf they seemed to trip over each  other. She reached the back door and used her key to open it finding the  kitchen warm and bright with appetizing smells all around her. She  closed her eyes and sniffed as she took off her coat Paris, bless her  heart, was making dinner, and whatever it was would be divine. She  walked through the house to hang up her coat in the closet calling Paris  as she did so.

"Hey, girl, I'm home! What are you cooking? It smells wonderful."

Paris ran lightly down the stairs and dashed into the kitchen to give  the pot a stir. "Thanks for the compliment, cuz, but I can't take credit  for this, it's your recipe. I made that white-bean chicken chili  everyone loves so much, and some jalapeno com-bread muffins and fruit  salad. Very filling, full of fiber, and low-fat," she said.

Paris was, like all the Deverauxes, tall and good-looking, but she was  very conscious of everything she ate. She'd battled a weight problem all  her life and had managed, in the past few years, to lose weight through  careful eating and lots of exercise. Her friend Aidan Sinclair, who  lived in Atlanta and also worked for TDG, as the Deveraux Group was  commonly known, liked to take credit for her transformation as he'd  forced her to diet and work out with him. Regardless of who was  responsible, there was no denying that Paris was a changed person. She  was five-ten and fair-skinned with long, wavy black hair she no longer  kept in a ponytail twenty-four-seven, but wore in a becomingly layered  style. Her figure was still bountiful, but she was a firm size sixteen  instead of a fluffy size twenty, and she now wore trim, fitted clothes  instead of the baggy things she once used to camouflage her figure  faults. Tonight she was wearing a comfortable-looking outfit of cotton  cashmere in a pretty coral color. The knit pants fit properly and the  scoop-necked top showed off her collarbone as well as the dramatic line  of her shoulders.

Paris turned off the burner under the chili and said they could eat in  five minutes if Angelique would set the table. "Where've you been all  afternoon? I thought about calling you on your cell phone, but I figured  you were busy with A. J. or something," she said.                       


Angelique sighed as she dried her hands on a paper towel. Turning to the  cupboard, she got down the colorful Fiestaware that had been a  housewarming gift from Vera and Marcus. "I was delivering those packages  for Bennie. I went to see Renee and Andrew, and Andre and Alan, and Mr.  C and Miss Martha," she recited. "Mr. C" was how she referred to Big  Bennie Cochran, the patriarch of the family and father to Benita and her  brothers. Miss Martha was his wife, the woman he'd married so many  years after his first wife, the mother of his children, had passed away.