OMG! When did it get to be late November?! Did the Grinch steal the first half of the year? Honestly, I’m sure it was only yesterday I was writing my 2011 Christmas shopping lists.
One thing I’ve always wanted to do as an author is write a Christmas story and this year I finally did it. But I couldn’t just do my normal thing, noooo, I had to step out of my box and write a contemporary romance NOT in the erotic sub genre. And then because I hadn’t stretched myself enough I turned on little novella into a series of three. The first, Christmas Wishes released last week, the second, New Year’s Kisses will be out December 1 and the third, Valentine’s Dates is scheduled for early next year. I have to admit I enjoyed writing all the stories and I’m told they’re all still high on heat but when my editor describes them as sweet I’m usually looking over my shoulder to see who she’s talking about.
I’m excited about the series even if I’m nervous as hell about how my readers will take them. So far the feedback on Christmas Wishes is good but I’m still chewing my nails and waiting for someone to ask why they aren’t doing it like rabbits.
The squeak of brakes and the blare of a horn told Dean he was out of time.
Dean opened the top drawer of his dresser where empty space greeted him. The second drawer proved no better. Frowning, he spun around in search of his laundry bag.
He’d forgotten to pick it up at the Laundromat yesterday.
The horn blasted again.
Dean tugged a clean pair of jeans from their hanger and stepped into them. In spite of the summer heat, shorts weren’t a good idea seeing how he’d be swinging in the breeze and the last thing he wanted was a wayward little kid’s hand finding its way up his pant leg. Hopefully the bulk of his time would be spent inside the daycare center where the air conditioning would be pumping out cool air. A longer horn blast sounded as his watch beeped.
Dean grabbed a t-shirt and shoved his feet into runners as he rushed from the room. He picked up his wallet and keys as he passed the kitchen counter, but lost his grip on both when he flung open the front door. On the fly, he exited the house while his wallet and keys flew back inside a second before the door slammed shut.
“Shit, shit, shit, shit.” He spun around to stare at the locked door.
Behind him, Talli tooted her horn again. Dean looked skyward. This day was going from bad to worse. And for the first time in history, Tallitha Jarmen wasn’t running late.
Dean unlocked his fingers and let go of the oh-shit handle in Talli’s car. She wasn’t a good driver at the best of times, add in some heavy traffic due to the Christmas rush and a deadline that meant kids would be disappointed if she didn’t show up, and Talli was downright dangerous.
“Jesus. We’ll be lucky if we get there in one piece,” he mumbled under his breath.
“I heard that.” She swung the wheel to the left and he grabbed the handle again. “As much as you dig at my driving, I’ve never had an accident that was my fault you know.”
Dean snorted. “Might not have been by the law, but woman, you’re like an oil spill. Get just a little too close and the shit hits the fan.”
“Just for that you can walk home,” she huffed.
He laughed. “Now where have I heard that one before…?”
Talli looked away from the road long enough to poke her tongue out and give him heart failure.
“Watch the damn road, woman!”
“I’m watching, I’m watching.” He cringed as she zipped around a slow car without indicating. “Anybody would think I’d barely passed my driver’s test.”
“You did barely pass and if you hadn’t worn a low cut blouse and mini-skirt you wouldn’t have.”
Their birthdays were a week apart so they’d gone for their licenses together, just one of many milestones they’d shared over the years. When Talli turned up at his house in a black leather mini and white tie-front shirt he’d known right then regardless of her driving skills she’d be the one coming home with a license. He’d been right too. Dean had failed and had to re-sit the test the following week. The memory put a smile on his face and distracted him long enough for them to reach their destination without any more heart palpitations.
“We’re here.” Talli braked hard, sending them both jolting forward. “Now once we get inside, I’ll show you where to get changed.”
“And then we’ll get down to taking the pictures.”
She was out of the car and heading for the trunk before he could get another word out. Changed? What did she mean by changed? Dean tried to recall the original conversation as he climbed out of the car, but for the life of him he didn’t remember anything about changing. He didn’t have any more time to dwell on it though; as soon as he reached the back of the car, Talli began shoving small boxes of equipment at him. Left with the choice of dropping them or holding on, he did the only thing he could and held on tight. With arms full, he followed Talli into the building.
And walked into utter chaos.
The noise level was deafening and there were kids running everywhere. Dean tensed, waiting for impact. He clamped his arms tighter around the boxes, the cardboard squashing a little under the pressure, but nothing happened. It was only after peering around his armload that he noticed the conveniently place pool fencing just inside the front door. Someone had obviously thought the kids needed a corral and, while that might not be politically correct, it certainly seemed true.
Glancing around, Dean could see only four adults in the room. They were outnumbered by at least twenty children ranging from crawlers to those racing full speed on tiny legs. He shuddered at the thought of going in, but knew he had no hope of escape now he was here. His knowledge of kids came from television and the occasional encounter at the supermarket. The next few hours would certainly prove to be an education. A harried looking woman rushed over, dodging kids as she made her way towards them.
“Oh, good. You’re here.” The woman leaned over the fence and took one of the boxes from Dean.
“Sorry we’re late.”
“No worries, Talli. This way. I’ll show you where to set up and where you can get changed.”
With enviable skill, the woman juggled the box, then took a couple of bags from Talli, and popped the child-proof lock on the gate. Talli nudged him through ahead of her. Smart woman. He was more than ready to bolt back to the car and lock himself inside. At that moment one of the kids lying on the floor let out a blood curdling scream, but as none of the adults rushed to his side Dean figured there wasn’t an imminent medical emergency. He’d taken another couple of steps when two boys raced past him, the first cutting in behind him to run full circle around him.
Dean dodged, stumbled, and the boxes in his arms teetered. It took no more than a second, but seemed like a lifetime. The top box slipped. He lunged forward with a grunt just as the woman in front turned around. Demonstrating an athletic ability to rival any Olympian, she scooped the top box from the pile and steadied the remaining ones with her shoulder.
“Sorry about that.” She turned to the boys playing tag around his legs. “Joshua Bowmen and Nathan Bicknell, take yourselves outside if you’re going to play tag.”
To Dean’s surprise, both boys took off across the room, hollering and hooting as they went out the open doors. He could see more kids outside and again fought the urge to flee. Talli nudged him from behind; there was no getting out of what he’d agreed to do.
“Keep going. It’ll be a rush to be ready before the parents get here as it is. Don’t need you dawdling.” She bumped him again. “C’mon, Dean, move it.”
With only one choice, he followed the woman in front. They crossed the room full of kids and moved into a larger one filled with rows and rows of seats. The area in front of the chairs was set up with a large Christmas tree and a throne that was obviously meant for Santa. A rock settled in Dean’s stomach and he turned his head to look at Talli.
“Tell me I am not dressing up as Santa,” he growled.
Her eyes rounded as her gaze darted to meet his. Talli shook her head. “No. You’re n-not Santa.”
Okay, that was good. So why did the look on her face make the rock sink deeper? They reached the front of the room and there was no more time to press for details.
“I thought you could set up over here behind the tree.” The woman put the bags and boxes down. “That way the little ones won’t get into any of your equipment and you’re close to it for when we do the Santa pictures. You can use my office and the storeroom to get changed.”
“Thanks, Em.” Talli moved passed him. “Speaking of Santa, did he arrive yet?”
“Yeah,” Em grumbled. “I cannot believe that man is going to hold me to my promise.”
Talli laughed. “C’mon, one date with Wade won’t kill you.”
“No, but it might kill him.” Em smiled. “I’m sure I’ll survive. You know where everything is, but yell if you need something.”
“I think I’ve got everything, but thanks. We’ll get set up.”
Dean placed his load of boxes on the floor behind the tree. A closer look at the branches showed the decorations were handmade and he smiled at the misshapen, brightly colored snowmen, reindeer, and Santas. On the very top was an oversized star made of tinfoil. Smiling, he turned to point them out to Talli, only she didn’t give him a chance.
“Here.” She shoved a plastic bag at him. “That’s a storeroom. You can get changed in there and I’ll use Em’s office.”
He took the bag, but before he could look inside Talli moved behind him and placed both hands on his back. She gave him a hard shove and he had to step forward or fall on his face. Pushing until she’d maneuvered him into the small room, Dean found himself shut in before he could spin around and protest. Resigned to the inevitable, he open the bag and pulled out the item on top. Dean sucked in a breath.
“No.” She hadn’t.
Dropping the red and green bundle on the floor, he reached into the bag for the next piece.
“Hell no.” She couldn’t have.
Dean tipped the bag up and stared as a pile of red, green, and white velvet and fur at his feet. What the hell was Talli thinking? There was no way he was putting that thing on. Especially seeing how there didn’t appear to be enough material to cover his extra large body. He used his foot to spread the costume out and almost choked when he got a good look at the pants, or more accurately – tights.