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'Tis the Season to Get Lucky
By Heidi Rice, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2012 Heidi Rice
All rights reserved.
Why did Christmas always have to be such a colossal pain in the arse?
Kate Braithwaite hurried along Fifth Avenue, the clatter of her boots on the sidewalk barely audible above the sleeting rain which, like everything else in her recently adopted city, was so much bigger and brasher than what she was used to in England. She dumped her ruined umbrella in a bin.
Shivering under her sodden coat, she tried to figure out where exactly she'd gone wrong with Christmas this year.
Knowing she would be alone on the day itself, she'd planned accordingly: she'd arranged a Skype chat with Benedict for two o'clock on the dot to account for the time difference between Manhattan and London; she'd forked out thirty dollars for a gourmet turkey dinner for one from Sinclair's luxury food hall; and she'd stocked up on a demi-bottle of Bollinger and a couple of cheesy movies to while away her evening. She'd even bought a real miniature blue spruce a week ago and decorated it with baubles and snowflake lights to keep her spirits up. She'd been so enchanted with the result, she hadn't even returned it to the flower store on Lexington when the needles began to drop off two days later.
And all for what?
So she could still feel sad and desperate and miserably alone on the big day, her thirty-dollar gourmet turkey dinner sitting forlornly in the fridge because she couldn't bring herself to eat it.
She swiped the wet hair off her forehead and concentrated on the twinkle of lights a block ahead that outlined the art deco frontage of Sinclair's, shining like an oasis through the gloom.
Warmth chased away some of the chill at the thought of her well-ordered desk in her well-ordered office on the sixth floor of the stately department store. She picked up the pace as icy water seeped under her collar and dripped down her back.
Opening the e-mail from Benedict over breakfast this morning had been her first mistake. A subject line marked "Sorry" should have been a warning to her. But she'd assumed it would be a message about rearranging their Skype chat — not a message to cancel it all together, followed by a two-thousand-word dissertation on the untenable nature of long-distance relationships.
Kate's bottom lip quivered. She bit into it. Trust Benedict to dump her via e-mail on Christmas morning and then add insult to injury by patronizing her to death while doing it. Absorbing the festive finery of Sinclair's window displays as she rushed past, Kate pushed aside the image of Benedict and the less-than-sexy frown of concentration he always wore whenever they made love.
However bad his timing, perhaps Benedict had been right to end their relationship. They'd been apart for six months — ever since she'd relocated to Manhattan from London after being contacted by a prestigious head-hunting firm — and she hadn't missed him as much as she thought she would.
She turned into the sheltered alleyway at the back of the store, her boots echoing a little eerily on the rutted paving stones before she reached the metal security door of the staff entrance.
A sense of calm and purpose settled over her as she pressed the button on the intercom. Maybe it was a little sad and pathetic to be coming into work on Christmas Day because she couldn't quite face her empty apartment. But so what? Work had always been what grounded and sustained her, and she had an invaluable opportunity to start working on her pitch for next month's PR forum while the store was blessedly quiet.
Charles, the store's chief of security, answered on the second ring. "Oh my, Ms. Braithwaite, what happened?" he clucked as she stepped out of the rain. "You want me to get you a towel?"
"Don't worry, Charles, I'll be fine. I have some dry clothes in my office." Or at least she hoped she did.
"What you doing here on Christmas Day, if you don't mind me asking?"
She did mind a little bit, but pasted on a smile regardless. Americans had a habit of asking what they wanted to know and didn't tend to see it as rude. So she wouldn't either. That said, she didn't plan to give Charles the real reason she'd walked six blocks in a freezing monsoon.
"I thought I'd take the opportunity to work uninterrupted, while there are no distractions."
Charles's warm brown eyes crinkled around the edges as he sent her a curious smile. "Well, it sure is quiet today. But you don't want to stay too long, Ms. Braithwaite. Weatherman says the blizzard's gonna hit soon."
Ah yes, the mythical blizzard that the hysterical local weathermen had been banging on about for weeks.
"Don't worry, Charles, I'm sure I'll be fine. My apartment's only six blocks from ..."
"Six blocks is a mighty long way in a blizzard," Charles interrupted in an ominous tone. "I already told Mr. Ryder he should light out before it gets dark, so I'll say the same to you."
"Mr. Ryder?" she asked confused. She didn't know anyone on the staff by that name — or anyone else who was sad enough to be at work on Christmas Day.
"Mr. Ryder Sinclair," Charles clarified. "He flew into JFK an hour ago. He called to say he's stopping by to pick up a last-minute Christmas gift."
"Oh, all right." Of course, Mr. Ryder would be Lachlan Sinclair's prodigal playboy son, named on the store's website and letterhead as a "company director" — and whom every member of the female staff appeared to have a crush on — but whom Kate herself had never actually met.
Because apparently Ryder Sinclair's definition of a "company director's" job involved drawing a six-figure salary from the landmark department store that had been in his family for three generations and then disappearing for months on end on some mysterious undisclosed business. And getting photographed by paparazzi in his spare time with a parade of anorexic models, pinheaded actresses, and underdressed rock chicks surgically attached to his arm.
His impromptu shopping trip today neatly confirmed all Kate's suspicions about the man. How irresponsible did you have to be to be buying a last-minute Christmas gift on Christmas Day? And how exactly did Mr. Ryder plan to pay for his gift, she wondered resentfully, given that all the tills were currently closed?
A gush of air from the loading bay made her shudder, all the reminder she needed that she was soaking wet. "I better go, Charles," she said, deciding that Ryder Sinclair's ethical turpitude and lack of foresight weren't her problem — because unless she was extremely unlucky, she would be highly unlikely to bump into him. There were five floors of gift opportunities at Sinclair's, and she was making a beeline straight to her office on sixth next to the toy department. Knowing the sort of woman Sinclair appeared to prefer, he'd probably be heading for lingerie on third. "Don't worry. I'll keep an eye on the weather from my office window and head out if it worsens."
After she reached her office, she stripped off her wet coat, sopping tights, drenched boots, and decidedly damp woolen shift dress and stood shivering in her matching bra and knickers. As she searched frantically for the gym wear she could have sworn she left there a week ago, Kate realized her colossally crappy Christmas had just gotten worse.CHAPTER 2
What the hell difference is there between the Festive Fairy Princess and Santa's Seasonal Sprite anyway?
Ryder Sinclair frowned at the virtually identical dolls in their glittery green-and-gold packaging and tried to make an informed decision. After five agonizing minutes of study, the only appreciable difference he could see was that the Seasonal Sprite seemed to have a good millimeter of extra cleavage. And he was pretty sure Gully wouldn't notice that, because she was eight for chrissake — and a girl.
He flipped one of the boxes over to read the lurid scarlet lettering on the back, but instead of describing the doll's virtues, it listed her whole damn life story — including the fact that she was head elf in Santa's workshop.
Turning the box again, he stared at the doll's mind-boggling cleavage barely covered by her miniature green elf dress.
Santa, you dirty old man.
He sighed and replaced the two boxes beside the others on the display, then rubbed his temple where the tension headache brought on by jet lag and extreme frustration was starting to bite.
Dammit, he'd been in the toy department for an hour at least and he still didn't have a clue which doll to buy. He hadn't seen Gully in over two months, so he'd phoned Christine from the airport in Afghanistan last night to get a ballpark idea of what his daughter might want — but Christine's only suggestion had been a Christmas-themed doll. And there were like twenty of the damn things.
He glared at the array of boxes neatly stacked in a tower of concentric circles as frustration turned to aggravation. Maybe he should get Gully a selection of them? But he dismissed the idea almost as soon as it had occurred to him.
Turning up at Christine and Bill's place in Ithaca tomorrow with more than one Christmas gift would mean suffering through another lecture from Christine about being present in his daughter's life instead of trying to buy her affection — while getting the standard smirk of smug superiority from her husband, Bill.
After holding it together for two solid months in the sweltering hell of Helmand Province and dispassionately photographing everything from two-year-olds who'd had their limbs blown off by IEDs to soldiers who risked their lives on a daily basis but were barely old enough to shave, he was pretty sure his bullshit-o-meter wouldn't be able to survive even a single glimpse of that damn smirk. Since punching Bill's lights out for smiling the wrong way wasn't an option with Gully there, he was going to have to make a decision about the doll, one way or the other, before he could head back to his apartment in SoHo and crash until he had to grab a cab to take him to Penn Station tomorrow.
He surveyed the tower for what he hoped was the last time and spotted a sparkle of silver among all the green and gold. But as he bent forward to read the script on the side, his boot connected with the boxes at the foundation of the tower.
He went to grab something, anything, but all he got was thin air as the boxes at the top tumbled backward in slow motion. He sucked in a breath, watching in horrified amazement as the rest of the display tilted precariously to one side like the Leaning Tower of Pisa and then collapsed — taking out the elaborate Lego landscape of Santa's Grotto set up behind it — in a thundering avalanche of plastic, cardboard, and sparkles.
* * *
"What on earth do you think you're doing?"
The astonished shout rang out, and he whipped around to see a shadowy figure standing right beside him. Panic shot up his spine and battle-ready reflexes, honed by two months in a war zone, engaged. He launched himself at the threat before his mind could remember he wasn't in Helmand Province anymore — where your life depended on reacting first and asking questions later.
His mind finally grabbed hold of the coherent thought as his hands grabbed hold of about one hundred twenty pounds of soft, stunned feminine flesh clad in considerably less green velvet. He managed to turn in midair, taking the impact of the fall, as the two of them landed with a spectacular crash in the avalanche of debris.
She gasped in shock as he rolled to get her underneath him and protect her from the cascading boxes of dolls. She muttered something incoherent in breathless outrage, and he got a lungful of something sultry and exotic with a hint of cinnamon — like snickerdoodles and sin.
He manacled her wrists and held them above her head as she began to struggle in earnest, then gave a startled gasp of his own as he got his first good look at his captive in the store's fluorescent lighting.
Damp hair framed a pale, fine-boned face flushed with exertion, her huge green eyes the exact same rich emerald as the figure-hugging velvet dress she wore. Although calling it a dress seemed generous given the way the skirt barely covered her butt, and the red laces holding the bodice closed strained against the most magnificent rack he'd ever laid eyes on.
"Goddamn it," he said, his senses reeling from the sudden burst of physical activity, a hard jolt of lust, and the heady shot of cinnamon that clung to her. "Who the hell are you?" he demanded. "The queen of the sprite dolls?"CHAPTER 3
"Will you get off me, Mr. Sinclair?" Kate said in the most commanding voice she could muster while she was being pressed into a mass of jagged cardboard by a man who felt like he weighed several tons.
She swallowed down the lump of mortification in her throat as his gaze dipped down to her cleavage again.
Why had she come out here? She should have just stayed in her office and ignored the almighty crash from outside. Especially as her ethics had prevented her from "borrowing" anything from the clothing department while her wet clothes dried on her office radiator. Consequently, the only thing she'd been able to find to wear was the prototype for this year's Santa's Little Helpers outfits — which was two sizes too small.
"How the hell do you know who I am?" Lake-blue eyes glared at her accusingly.
She glared back at him, ignoring the spectacular blip in her pulse from the man's face. With a day's worth of stubble shadowing a strong jaw, blunt features darkly tanned from what she suspected was several months spent in some glitzy Caribbean resort, unruly hair that curled around his ears, and brows drawn into a sharp frown over those unfathomable blue eyes, he looked more like a marauding pirate than the pampered playboy she'd expected.
"I know who you are because I've seen your photo in Vanity Fair." Although the chiseled, pretty-boy features of that man looked nothing like the ruggedly handsome face above her. And neither did the impressive muscles molding the black cotton T-shirt he wore over khaki chinos. His physique looked a lot harder and better developed than she would have predicted — to the point of being ostentatious, frankly. Clearly, although Ryder Sinclair didn't have enough time to turn up for work at Sinclair's, he had more than enough time to pump iron in a gym.
"I'd like to put my arms down, if that's all right with you," she said through gritted teeth trying to twist her wrists out of his manacle-like grip — to absolutely no avail.
"No, it's not all right," he said, the tone annoyingly laconic as he tightened his grip. "First, I want to know who the hell you are." That penetrating male gaze dipped to her cleavage again, and she cursed the midget-sized minidress she'd been forced to wear, and the prickle of response in her nipples.
"My name is Katherine Braithwaite," she said, using her full name in the hope that it might intimidate him. "And I'm the assistant marketing manager at Sinclair's."
His eyes narrowed, but he finally released her wrists.
She crossed her freed arms over her unfortunate display of cleavage and pressed down on the traitorous nipples, hoping to heck he hadn't noticed them sticking out like two sore thumbs. But instead of getting off her he settled back on his haunches, making muscular thighs flex on either side of her hips.
"Uh-huh. So what are you doing here on Christmas Day dressed as a leprechaun?"
Kate's usual patience began to disintegrate at the amused tone.
"I could ask you the same question," she shot back, even though she knew perfectly well what he was doing here: stealing merchandise from a company that already paid him an exorbitant salary for doing bugger all. She wriggled furiously. "Now get off me, you big oaf," she demanded, having had quite enough of being manhandled and interrogated.
She didn't care if he was Lachlan Sinclair's precious son, if the man tried to get her fired over this incident she would sue.
He didn't budge. "I don't see how you could ask me the same question," he said as his gaze took another leisurely trip over her skimpy outfit. "I'm not dressed as a leprechaun."
His lips lifted in a mocking and disturbingly sexy grin. Her heartbeat kicked up a notch — out of irritation, she decided.
Excerpted from 'Tis the Season to Get Lucky by Heidi Rice, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2012 Heidi Rice. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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