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Chapter 10

A chilly breeze wafted off Lake Woodlands. Ciara wrapped her arms tighter around her waist, stepping from side to side to try to stay warm. It was a rare cold night, with temperatures hovering in the high thirties. She glanced at her watch. Luke should be here soon. He’d agreed to meet her at Truluck’s, an upscale seafood and steak restaurant in Hughes Landing area of The Woodlands after he lost the bet at the convention center. Even though Ciara knew it wasn’t really a fair fight.

Her body flooded with warmth, a quick rush of prickly heat tickled the back of her neck, and she knew instinctively that Luke was nearby. Turning her head slightly to the right, she watched him walking along the sidewalk lining the banks of the lake toward her. The firefighter cleaned up good. 

He looked amazing in a navy sport coat, over jeans and a button-down cream-colored shirt. How could he be so handsome? Ciara gripped the side of the bench as her legs turned to jelly. The man was really working a number on her, but she couldn’t get distracted by his good looks. She had one mission for this dinner tonight, and that was to get him to agree to do the Christmas Special. If she didn’t, she could kiss the promotion to news anchor goodbye.

“I’m here. So … how does this work?” Luke asked. His piercing green eyes clouded with hesitation as he stood stiff as a board in front of her. 

Was he nervous? That wouldn’t work.

Ciara reached a handout and rested it on his arm. She felt his rock hard bicep relax from her touch. “Relax, I’m not about to ambush you. I know you’ve watched me on the news a few times, but really I’m a stranger asking you to do something that you feel is … unnecessary. So, I thought it might be nice to just have dinner and get to know each other a bit better.”

Luke smiled at her, and Ciara felt her heart pounding in her chest. He was a beautiful man.

“Just dinner? I think I can manage that,” Luke said. 

Ciara looped her arm in his and guided him toward the restaurant. The waiter sat them at a discreet table near a corner, and they ordered appetizers and sparkling water. The conversation was easy and comfortable, like they were old friends. After two hours and two lobster and steak dinners that would have her bringing lunches for the next week, it was time for the dessert course.

Why hadn’t she pitched the Christmas Special to him? 

Ciara took a sip of her sparkling water and stared at Luke. She knew why. She was having too good of a time with the sexy firefighter and didn’t want to ruin the dinner with talk about work. For the moment, she was actually pretending that they were on a real date, getting to know each other, and it felt … right.

“How did you learn how to assemble a bike that fast? You smoked me. The guys at the station are never going to let me forget it,” Luke said, laughing. He had a deep belly laugh that was contagious and so attractive. 

Ciara smiled. “I hustled you good. It wasn’t a fair fight. I’ve been assembling bikes all this week at various different charitable events and had my technique down.” 

“I’d say Ms. Thompson that your victory should be voided in light of this new information,” Luke said, wagging a finger at her. 

Ciara’s eyes grew wide. “Why? Just because you didn’t do proper investigation before accepting the bet? That’s not my fault.”

“Good point,” Luke said. “What’s for dessert?”

“I’m a chocolate kind of girl, so I’m thinking the double chocolate cake,” Ciara said.

A hint of a smile played at the corners of Luke’s lips. “Me too. Want to share it?”

Ciara nodded, then ordered the cake when the waiter came by.

Luke leaned onto the table, his head resting on his hands. “So … how much digging have you done into my past for your Christmas Special?”

“None, it’s not really my style,” Ciara admitted. “Zaire Clifton is a good friend of mine, and she knows everybody who comes and goes in the town. She mentioned to me that you were from Dallas. Was there some big secret reason why you left the big city come to little Old Town Tomball?”

“Nothing as exciting as that. I inherited my grandparent’s property after my grandpa died a few years ago. At first, I just wanted to get rid of it. It hurt to lose him, and I thought I could do something good with the money to honor him, but the dang place just wouldn’t sell.” Luke shook his head.

“Are you really surprised? It’s not like people are rushing to move there. Where’s it located?

“On Copperfield right past the old gas station.”

Ciara perked up. “Diamo’s place? Diamo, was your grandfather? Wow, it makes so much sense. I never knew why he was called Diamo, but it’s half of his last name, right? Diamond.”

Luke nodded. 

“Your grandfather was the best! He always made time for the kids in the area. I remember going out to his property for field trips. In the fall, we’d do hayrides and apple picking, and in the spring, he’d let us come out and go fishing at the lake on his property. He was so generous. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it?”

“That’s kind of you to say,” Luke said, then looked away. A mist of sadness settling upon him. “I miss him a lot. I used to spend every summer there growing up, but I got into baseball in high school and had lots of commitments for that year-round and stopped coming. Then I got the athletic scholarship to SMU and really never came back to Old Town Tomball after that. We kept up through phone calls and the like, but I wish I had spent more time with him, especially later in his life.” 

“The Diamo I remember would have understood and loved you regardless of if you could visit or not,” Ciara said.

“What was it like for you, growing up in Old Town Tomball?”

“Hard to say. It was good and … not so good. There were enough bad times that I couldn’t wait to leave. So, as soon as I left for college, I knew I wouldn’t be coming back,” Ciara said, admitting the truth before her brain had registered his question. Why was she so honest with Luke Diamond? What was it about him that had her opening up to him like she’d never done with really any guy before?

Luke stared at her for a long moment, kindness and caring in his eyes, then said, “Sorry to hear that. Where’d you go to college?”

“I’m an Aggie!”

Luke rolled his eyes. “One of those …”

“Don’t hate private schoolboy!” Ciara said, tossing her napkin at him. “The thing I loved about A&M was the tradition and the camaraderie, the feeling of finding a home and a family to belong to when I didn’t have that anymore. Plus, going to one of the largest colleges in the state means you have a lot of connections, and Aggies take care of Aggies. It’s how I got my job at the news station.” 

“Really? Aggie nepotism?” Luke asked, laughing.

Ciara giggled. “It’s called professional connections. I blew my interview. I was late and frazzled, but one of the [Asst. News Directors] went to A&M and talked to me on my way out. I know now that it was almost a second interview right there in the hallway. She was impressed enough to go back and convince the news director to hire me, and here I am.”

“The best news reporter for Channel 4, News for You Houston,” Luke said.

“That’s kind of you to say.”

The waiter returned to the table and placed the oversized slice of decadent chocolate cake in the middle with two forks. Ciara raised a fork at Luke, and they tapped them against each other, then dug into the rich dessert.  

“So good,” Luke said, savoring the cake. 

Ciara agreed. “Now, back to you. How’d you end up in Old Town Tomball?”

Luke said, “Zaire was my realtor. She told me I needed to come down and see the place to understand why it wasn’t selling. So, I did, and the place was a mess. Weird thing was I didn’t focus on that. It’s like I saw past the overgrown fields and rundown house in need of major repairs and saw it like it was when I was a kid. I knew instantly that I wanted to live there. I took it off the market, quit my job in Dallas and moved down the next weekend. I had money saved up and used that to start renovating the house, then when my savings were almost gone, I got a job at the fire station.”

“What kind of work did you do in Dallas?”

“Firefighter.”

“And did you break any hearts when you left the Big D?

Luke’s green eyes darkened, sparkling with a hint of mischief. “What? Are you asking if I have a girlfriend?”

Ciara threw up her hands. “Yes! You aren’t on social media, but trust me, the ladies are losing their minds over you.” 

And so was she at the moment, but she couldn’t exactly admit that. 

“If you’re ever feeling down, you should go out there and read some of the comments,” Ciara added.

“I’ll pass, and I don’t have a girlfriend. Haven’t had one in a while.”

“Why is that?” Ciara asked, then stuffed a huge chunk of cake in her mouth. Her interest had nothing to do with her story, and she hoped Luke wasn’t picking up on these pesky feelings that were getting out of control.

“I wanted to feel that spark, that real connection with someone that’s deeper than just physical attraction,” Luke said. 

“And you haven’t found it yet?” Ciara asked.

Luke was quiet as he stared at her. Ciara suddenly felt uncomfortable, like he was seeing past all of her defenses through to who she really was deep inside. Why had she taken the conversation in this direction? She stuffed another piece of cake in her mouth.

“Now, what about you? I’m sure you have men falling all over themselves for a chance to date you,” Luke said, turning the tables on her.

“Yeah, and to use me to try to get on television. Guys are so lame like I can’t see through the real motives behind the interest. So, I don’t date much these days. Who has the time when I’m focused on getting to the next level in my career?”

“But you made time for me,” Luke said, a teasing hint in his tone that was beyond irresistible. 

What was she going to do with these feelings for Luke Diamond? 

“True, but I have an ulterior motive for this date, which I had to twist your arm by winning the bet to even get.”

“An ulterior motive that you haven’t even discussed in the past three hours. When am I going to get the pitch?” Luke asked. 

Ciara knew she was off her game tonight. Luke had her frazzled and excited and focused on everything but work. “No, pitch. Just think about it a little bit more before you shut it down for good. Will you do that?”

“For you? Of course.”

Read Along with the Sweet Small Town Holiday Romance!

Disclaimer: This is a rough draft manuscript as I’m participating in NaNoWriMo. It will contain typos, missing words, brackets for things I may want to research later, and other messiness common in a first draft of a work. Please keep this in mind as you read. It is truly a Work in Progress. Thanks for reading! 

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