More Than a Gift

CAN SANTA CONVINCE HAYLEY TO GIVE LOVE A SECOND CHANCE

Blake: During the holidays, I returned home to Lafayette Falls to find my brother had hired the girl of my dreams. One who had an unjust grudge against me because of her ex. I was crazy for her, but like her, I had suffered a devastating breakup so I was wary of love. Yet my stint as Santa brought us together. She adored Santa, but what about me, Blake Andrews? Would she be willing to adore me, too? Or was I heading for another heartache?

Hayley: I dreaded the office Christmas party and I was mortified when I drew my boss’s name for our gift exchange! He and his brothers were wealthy and elite just like my ex, who had dumped me last Christmas. While shopping, I met a flirty Santa, who inspired me to give more than Christmas a second chance. Who was the guy in the Santa costume? Would I be thrilled or crushed again at Christmas?

EXCERPT

BLAKE:

I sat at the table in the mall food court, tormenting myself by looking at her pictures and allowing myself to lust after her.

Then, out of nowhere, a chunk of cubed ice smacked my cheek. I looked over my shoulder to see who had thrown ice at me.

Shock reverberated through me when I saw Hayley sitting at a table. She wore a deep purple sweater, a matching ribbon in her golden hair, and her lips were a glossy pink color. I met her gaze. Did she recognize me? My eyes and the bridge of my nose were practically the only part of me that wasn’t hidden by the Santa costume, and I was wearing Santa’s wire-rim specs with clear lens.

She gave her eyes a roll to the left and I kept staring at her like she was a mirage that was going to disappear. Had I thought about her so much that I was now hallucinating?

“Ho, ho, ho,” she remarked, motioning for me to look to the left.

I looked and saw a three-year-old girl watching me. I waved at her and did the “Ho, ho, ho” thing. The child took off running back to her mother. I turned in my chair, looking at Hayley.

 “You need a different approach, Santa,” she called, and I realized she had no idea who I was. “Don’t you have a stuffed elf or something?”

“Not with me,” I answered. “I’m on break.

“I didn’t know Santa took a break.”

“Sometimes.” I stuck my phone in my pocket. For all intents and purposes, I was Santa Claus. I wasn’t Blake Andrews, the guy who was damaged goods. Everybody loved Santa. Maybe even Hayley Ross.

 I grinned behind the fake beard. “So have you been a good girl this year?”

HAYLEY

Had I been a good girl? I lifted my brows as I answered Santa, “I haven’t been asked that since I was six years old.”

“What was your answer back then?”

“Some of the time.” I hopped to my feet. I didn’t want to deal with a flirty Santa, but I did notice Santa’s voice had a deep, sensual timbre. The guy beneath the suit was not an old man like you’d assume.

He stood and it was evident that Santa’s rotund belly was actually padding beneath his red suit when he had to shift it back into place. I stifled a laugh. As I dumped my foam cup in the trash receptacle, he approached me.

Although his face was practically obscured by the curly white wig and beard he wore, I was right about the age thing. He had no deep wrinkles or bags beneath his radiant blue eyes, which looked a bit sexy behind the fake wire-rim glasses.

“You know, if you aren’t good all the time, Santa might not leave you anything under the tree,” he said.

“I’ll take a chance on it.” I headed out of the food court, disengaging with the blue-eyed Santa. I had to find Garrett Andrews a gift and escape all this Christmas nonsense.

Santa caught up to me. “If Santa offered to bring you anything you wanted for Christmas, what would that be?”

I shrugged. “I want Christmas to go away and never come back.”

“Whoa.” His voice took on a serious note. “Surely, you don’t mean that.”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Hey, it’s Christmastime. Cheer up,” he said with a twinkle in his blue eyes. “It’s the best time of the year.”

“Santa, I know you’re all about Christmas, but I’m not.” I wandered toward the main aisle of the mall and he trailed alongside me. “This time of year is a downer for me. I hate Christmas.”

“You hate Christmas? Why?”

“It’s a nerve-wracking holiday. Stressful. And the suicide rate is high.”

“The suicide rate?”

“I read that in the newspaper.”

“I think of Christmas as a day of joy and hope. And love,” he added in good spirits.

“Hmm,” I responded. Santa was an optimistic soul. Beneath the costume, there might even be a hot guy. Don’t even go there, Hayley.

He stopped at a Christmas display in the center of the aisle. Animated snowmen danced to “Jingle Bell Rock” while artificial snow fell on them. “Look at this. Isn’t it great?” He reached for my hand. “Let’s dance.”

“Are you kidding?” My cheeks flamed as Santa encouraged me to bop with him.

I’d had dancing lessons so it wasn’t like I couldn’t dance. I tried to match Santa’s dance steps as he moved with the music. Of course, we attracted a few onlookers, who seemed to enjoy watching us make fools ourselves. At the end of the song, Santa twirled me and said, “What’s not to love about Christmas?”