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Previously published in the anthology Santa, Baby, HOT TOY is now available as a standalone e-story for the first time!
Mayhem ensues under the mistletoe as a determined shopper grabs the very last hot toy action figure off the shelf, only to find herself plunged into the middle of a real-life spy game and in the arms of a sexy secret agent...
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|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
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About the Author
Jennifer Crusie was researching her dissertation on the differences in the way men and women tell stories when she got sidetracked into writing romance novels.
Her first book was published in 1993 (which pretty much finished off any hope of her getting that PhD) and her twenty-second book, Maybe This Time, came out in August of 2010, all of which she considers a minor miracle, especially since she is also a New York Times, USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestselling author and a two-time Rita award winner
Jennifer Crusie was researching her dissertation on the differences in the way men and women tell stories when she got sidetracked into writing romance novels.
Her first book was published in 1993 (which pretty much finished off any hope of her getting that PhD) and her twenty-second book, Maybe This Time, came out in August of 2010, all of which she considers a minor miracle, especially since she is also a New York Times, USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestselling author and a two-time Rita award winner.
Date of Birth:1949
Place of Birth:Ohio
Education:B.A., Bowling Green State University, 1973; M.A., Wright State University; Ph.D., Ohio University, 1986
Read an Excerpt
By Jennifer Crusie
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2006 Argh Ink
All rights reserved.
Trudy Maxwell pushed her way through the crowded old toy store, fed up with Christmas shopping, Christmas carols, Christmas in general, and toy stores in particular. Especially this toy store. For the worst one in town, it had an awful lot of people in it. Probably only on Christmas Eve, she thought, and stopped a harried-looking teenager wearing an apron and a name tag, accidentally smacking him with her lone shopping bag as she caught his arm. "Oh. Sorry. Listen, I need a Major MacGuffin."
The kid pulled his arm away. "You and everybody else, lady."
"Just tell me where they are," Trudy said, not caring she was being dissed by somebody who probably couldn't drive yet. Anything to get a homicidal doll that spit toxic waste.
"When we had them, they were in the back, row four, to the right. But those things have been gone since before Thanksgiving." The kid shrugged. "You shoulda tried eBay."
"And I would have, if I hadn't just found out I needed it today," Trudy said with savage cheerfulness. "So, row four, to the right? Thank you."
She threaded her way through the crowd, heading for the back of the store. Above her, Madonna cooed "Santa Baby," the ancient store speakers making the carol to sex and greed sound a little tinny. Whatever had happened to "The Little Drummer Boy"? That had been annoying, too, but in a traditional way, like fruitcake. She'd be happy to hear a "rum-pa-pum-pum" again, anything that didn't make Christmas sound like it was about getting stuff.
Especially since she was desperate to get some stuff.
The crowd thinned out as she got to the back of the store. Halfway down the last section of the fourth row, she found the dusty, splintered wood shelf marked with a card that said: Major MacGuffin, the Tough One Two. It was, of course, empty.
"Damn," she said, and turned to look at the shelf next to it, hoping a careless stock boy might have —
Six feet two of broad-shouldered, dark-haired grave disappointment stood there, looking as startled as she was, and her treacherous heart lurched sideways at the sight.
"Uh, merry Christmas, Trudy," Nolan Mitchell said, clearly wishing he were somewhere else.
Yes, this makes my evening, she thought, and turned away.
"I don't talk to strangers," Trudy said over her shoulder, and tried to ignore her pounding heart to concentrate on the lack of MacGuffins in front of her. She'd been polite and well behaved with Nolan Mitchell for three dates and he'd still dumped her, so the hell with him.
"Look, I'm sorry I didn't call —"
"I really don't care," Trudy said, keeping her back to him. "In October, I cared. In November, I decided you were a thoughtless, inconsiderate loser. And in December, I forgot all about you."
Madonna sang, "Been an awful good girl," and Trudy thought, Like I had a choice. The least he could have done was seduce her before he abandoned her.
"It's not like I seduced and abandoned you," he said, and when she turned and glared at him, he added, "Okay, wrong thing to say. I really am sorry I didn't call. Work got crazy —"
"You're a literature professor," Trudy said. "Chinese literature. How can that get craz —" She shook her head. "Never mind. You didn't like me, you didn't call, I don't care." She turned back to the shelf, concentrating on not concentrating on Nolan. So it was empty. That didn't necessarily mean there were no MacGuffins. Maybe —
"Okay, I'm the rat here," Nolan said, with the gravelly good humor in his voice that had made her weaken and agree to go out the fourth time he'd asked her even though he was a lit professor, even though she'd known better.
The silence stretched out and he added, "It was rude and inconsiderate of me."
She thought, So he has a nice voice, so he's sorry, big deal, and tried hard to ignore him, and then he said, "Come on. It's Christmas. Peace on earth. Goodwill to men. I'm a man."
You certainly are, her id said.
We've been through this, she told her baser self. He's no good. We don't like him. He's bad for us.
"Okay, so you've forgotten I exist. That means we can start over." He came around her and stuck his hand out. "Hi. I'm Nolan Mitchell and I —"
"No," Trudy said, annoyed with herself for wanting to take his hand. "We can't start over. You were a grave disappointment. Grave disappointments do not get do-overs."
She turned away again and put her mind back on the MacGuffin. Okay, this was the worst toy store in the city, so the inventory control had to be lousy. If somebody had shoved a box to one side ...
She dropped her shopping bag and began to methodically take down the faded boxes of toys to the right of the empty MacGuffin shelf. They were ancient but evidently not valuable Star Wars figures, a blast from her past. There was a little Han Solo in Nolan, she thought. Maybe that was why she'd fallen for him. It wasn't him at all, it was George Lucas and that damn light saber. She put Nolan out of her mind and kept taking down boxes until she reached the last layer. None of them were MacGuffins.
"Trudy, look, I —"
"Go away; I have problems."
"You have Star Wars problems?"
"No. I have Major MacGuffin problems. If you know where to get one, I will talk to you. Otherwise, leave."
"I can't." Nolan smiled at her sheepishly. "I'm looking for a MacGuffin, too."
"I figured you more for the Barbie type." Trudy started to stack the boxes back on the shelf again.
"No, no, I'm a collector." Nolan picked up a box and put it back for her, and she thought about telling him to go away again, but she really didn't want to put all the boxes back by herself. "It's important to get the toys mint in the box." He held up a box with a crumpled corner. "See, this is no good."
"Thank you for sharing." Trudy put another box back. When he continued to help, she decided he could put them back by himself and moved to the dusty boxes to the left of the empty MacGuffin shelf. Action figures from The Fantastic Four. The store really did have an inventory problem; those were completely out-of-date. Well, if there wasn't a Mac to the right, there would be one to the left. Life could not be so cruel as to send her a Nolan but not a MacGuffin.
She began to methodically remove every Fantastic Four box on the shelf, while Nolan restocked the Star Wars figures and tried to make small talk about the MacGuffin, asking her if she'd bought one there before, if she shopped in the store often, if she knew anybody who'd bought one there. She ignored him until she'd pulled out the last box and there was still no MacGuffin, and then she took a deep breath. Okay, Plan B. Maybe on the other side of the shelf ...
"Trudy, I —"
"Unless you have a MacGuffin, I'm not interested."
"Okay," he said. "I understand." He put the last of the Star Wars boxes back and smiled at her. "Have a great Christmas and a happy new year, Trudy."
He turned to go and she turned back to the shelf, irrationally depressed that he was going. She wanted him to go, that was the point —
She heard him say, "Hello, Reese," and then somebody else said, "Hey, I heard you guys talking about the MacGuffins. You found any?" and Trudy looked up to see the kind of guy who looked like he'd say "dude" a lot: early twenty-something, clueless face, muscled shoulders, tousled hair. The only non-surfer thing about him was his shopping bag with a pink confetti-printed box sticking out of the top. Both the box and the guy looked vaguely familiar, but Trudy couldn't place either one.
He grinned at her. "Hey, Miss Maxwell, you're lookin' good."
Trudy looked closer but still didn't recognize him.
"You don't remember me." His grin widened with forgiveness, and he added, "I sure remember you," and Trudy thought, What a shame he's too young for me. I could seduce him in front of Nolan.
He stepped closer. "I'm Reese Daniels, your father's research assistant last year. You helped me find that book on the Ming Dynasty your father wanted. You know, in the library."
"Good place to find books," Nolan said, his voice considerably cooler than it had been when he'd talked to her.
"Right. Reese. Got it," Trudy said, placing him now as the guy her father had called the most inept RA of his career.
Reese smiled at her. "I sure have missed your dad since he went to London."
"Oh, we all have," Trudy lied, and stuck out her hand. "Call me Trudy." She looked at Nolan. "You can call me Miss Maxwell," she said to him. "No, wait, you're not going to call me at all. Weren't you leaving?" Reese still held on to her hand, so she took it back.
He nodded to Nolan. "So you and Professor Mitchell found a MacGuffin?"
"Professor Mitchell and I are not together." Trudy picked up her shopping bag and moved around both of them. "And I haven't found a MacGuffin yet. But I will."
Reese followed her around to the next row and the other side of the empty MacGuffin shelf. "Well, I'm not sorry you're not with Professor Mitchell, Trudy," he said when they'd rounded the corner. "I never got the chance to get to know you better. Your dad worked me pretty hard. But the best part about being his RA was always seeing you."
"Thank you." Okay, for some reason this infant was trying to pick her up. Whatever. She had problems, so later for him.
Trudy zeroed in on the boxes that backed up against the MacGuffin shelf. Dolls this time, with big heads and miniskirts and too much eye makeup. Too bad Leroy wasn't a girl; she could have loaded him up with pop-tarts. But no, he had to have a violent, antisocial 'Guffin.
"Men." She put her shopping bag down again and began to take the dolls off the shelf. Over the tops she could see Nolan restocking Fantastic Fours. He shook his head at her, probably disgusted she was flirting with an infant like Reese, and she turned away to see the infant looking at her, confused.
"Men?" he said. "Did I say something wrong?"
"What?" Trudy said, stacking doll boxes on the floor. "Oh, not you. My nephew, Leroy. He's five and he wants a Major MacGuffin doll, and of course, I can't find one."
"Yeah, you had to shop early for those," Reese said, sounding sympathetic. "So I guess you haven't seen one here?"
"I would have shopped early if I'd known his father wasn't going to get him one," Trudy said, exasperated. "But since his father told me he was going to, I didn't."
"So what are you doing over here?" Reese frowned, looking at the dolls she was taking down.
"I'm looking for a misplaced MacGuffin. This place is pretty sloppy, and I'm hoping there's one stuck at the back of a shelf someplace because if there isn't, I'm screwed." She took the last box down and faced another empty shelf.
On the other side, Nolan looked serious as he put back the last of the Fantastic Four boxes. He couldn't possibly care that she was talking to Reese. Unless he was one of those guys who didn't want something until somebody else wanted it. He hadn't seemed like that kind of guy.
He'd seemed pretty much perfect: smart, funny, kind, thoughtful ...
Ignore him, she told herself, and started to put the boxes back. Okay, suppose I was hiding a toy so I could come back and get it later, maybe when I had more money. I found the last MacGuffin, but I didn't have enough to pay for it, so I needed to hide it. The first thing I'd do is go to another row of shelves so nobody who wanted one would trip over it accidentally.
Nolan came around the end of the shelf and started to say something and then saw all the doll boxes on the floor. "Great."
Trudy ignored him to smile at Reese and then picked up her bag to go look in a different aisle.
"So no MacGuffin," Reese said. "Really sorry about that."
"Yep," Trudy said, and then stopped when she caught another glimpse of the pink confetti-patterned box sticking out of Reese's shopping bag. "What is that?"
He looked down. "This? It's some nail polish doll my niece wanted."
Nail polish doll? Trudy reached down and pulled the box out of the bag. "Oh, my God," she said, looking closer at the Pepto-Bismol pink box that said: Twinkletoes! in silver sparkly paint. "This doll is twenty-five years old!"
"I think it's a reissue," Reese said, sounding confused as he tried to take it back.
"Is the box mint?" Nolan said, and Reese frowned at him and tugged on the box again.
"A reissue." Trudy held on to the box. Her sister would have a heart attack if she knew they were making these again. She brought the box closer to see through the clear plastic. Yep, it was the same pouting blonde bimbo, Princess Twinkletoes, and there at the bottom next to Twinkletoes' fat little feet was the same pink, plastic manicure set with three heart-shaped bottles of polish — pink, silver, and purple — that had made Courtney's six-year-old heart beat faster, the Hot Toy of 1981. "Where did you get this?"
Reese yanked the box from her hands and nodded to the next row. "Over there," he said, sliding the box back into his bag. "There are a lot of them."
Trudy rounded the corner to see the Twinkletoes shelf, crammed full of hot pink boxes. Evidently lightning did not strike twice; Twink was clearly not the Hot Toy of 2006. You get a little age on you and nobody wants you, Trudy thought. Well, unless you were Barbie. That bitch lasted forever. Trudy picked up a Twinkletoes box.
Reese came to stand beside her. "Your nephew wants a doll?"
"This is the doll my little sister never got," Trudy said. And she could use some payback this Christmas.
"How old's your little sister?"
Trudy looked up at the confusion in his voice. "Courtney was supposed to get this the Christmas she was six, but my dad forgot. He told her it fell off Santa's sleigh."
"Uh huh," Reese said, probably trying to picture her academic father talking about Santa.
"That was his line for whenever he forgot the Christmas presents," Trudy said, thinking of Leroy, waiting at home for his MacGuffin. If she didn't find a MacGuffin, would she be reduced to the "fell off the sleigh" line?
"Did he forget a lot?" Reese said, sympathy in his voice.
"Pretty much every year. You know professors. Absentminded." Trudy shook her head. "Never mind. I'm rambling. My mind's on my sister and my nephew."
"Well, hey, it's Christmas. That's where your mind is supposed to be. Family." Reese smiled at her, gripping his own Twinkletoes box. "Listen, I have to get going, but maybe we can have coffee sometime?"
"Sure." Trudy smiled back at him automatically, her mind on the Twinkletoes. Would a gift that was a couple of decades late distract Courtney from her divorce?
Hell, it couldn't hurt.
Reese walked away, and she looked closer at the Twinkletoes box in her hands. It had a crumpled corner and she remembered what Nolan had said. The box should be mint. She put her shopping bag down and began to take the Twinkletoes boxes off the shelf. Courtney was going to get a perfect Twinkletoes, pink box and all.
Nolan came around the end of the row and sighed when he saw the boxes on the floor.
"Go away." Trudy took down the next pink box.
"Listen, is there anything I can do to make you not so mad?"
"Mad? I'm not mad." Trudy studied the Twinkletoes box. Smudge on the top. She dropped it on Nolan's foot. "Why would I be mad?"
He picked it up. "That's what I asked."
She pulled another Twinkletoes box off the shelf and shoved it at him. "Okay, here's why I'm mad. I didn't want to go out with you because you were a professor, and I grew up with a professor, and it was no fun because you get forgotten a lot because your dad is thinking about something that happened four millennia ago, so I said no, four times I said no, but you kept at me and I weakened and went out and I really liked you, you bastard, and you were smart and you were funny" — she shoved another box at him — "and I thought, gee, maybe this will work out, maybe this is a professor who won't forget, but evidently it was just the thrill of the chase or something because you dropped me" — she threw the next box at him and he caught it, balancing it with the first two — "and I never knew why since you never bothered to tell me; you just fell right off the sleigh —"
"Sleigh?" Nolan said.
"... so I'm a little upset with you."
Nolan sighed. "Look, you changed."
"Of course I changed," Trudy snapped. "It's been three months. I've grown. I've matured. I'm in a new and better place now. A place without you. Go away." She went back to the Twinkletoes shelf, pulling boxes off at random and dropping them on the floor, appalled to realize that she was close to tears. He did not matter to her; the fact that she'd thought he was darling was immaterial; the fact that she'd told her sister he might be The One was immaterial; the fact that her father had said, Nolan Mitchell, that's a little out of your league, isn't it? was ... Well, her father was a jerk, so that didn't count.
"No, you changed from the library," Nolan was saying. "You were funny in the library. You talked fast and made weird jokes and surprised me. I liked that. And then I took you out and you, well, you kind of went dull on me."
Excerpted from Hot Toy by Jennifer Crusie. Copyright © 2006 Argh Ink. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
About the Author,
Also by Jennifer Crusie,