Ever since he accidentally outed Santa as a fraud, guest news anchor Duke Rodriguez is getting his first taste of bad press. Worse yet, the former baseball star is striking out with sexy decorator Macy Cuomo. To prove he's no grinch, he offers to work for free during her busiest weekend. A vibrant, down-to-earth single mom, Macy makes Duke want to leave the limelight behind and focus on making all of her sensual fantasies come true.
Despite his festive faux pas, Macy has to admit there's a good reason Duke is every hot-blooded woman's secret crushhers included. Behind the famously gorgeous physique is a smart, charismatic man who lights her up like a Christmas tree with just one sizzling kiss. Opposites definitely attract, but when celebrity drama comes calling, will their budding love survive the holiday season?
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"Hold still, I've almost got it." Macy Cuomo parted her thirteen-year-old daughter's hair down the center. As Gia sat at on a stool in front of the vanity in the downstairs bathroom of their two-story home, Macy stood behind her, working the comb through her hair. The door remained open to get rid of the heat from the curling irons, flat irons and hot combs all plugged into the wall.
"Jeez, Mom, why can't you just send me to the hairdresser's to get a blowout like Talia's mom does for her?"
Talia's mom, Jaime Jones, had an ex-husband who made child support payments on time. She also spent more time with a bottle of wine than she did with her own children. Those were some of the reasons why Macy wasn't going to follow anything that Jaime did for her daughter. "Oh, but think of all the bonding time we get." Macy offered a wide, sweet smile as she slid the flat iron down to the end of Gia's long dark hair.
Finally Gia sat still. With her oldest quiet, Macy concentrated on fixing her hair. The music for the local Tallahassee morning news show filtered through the air. Macy's eight-year-old son, MJ, had sprawled his little body out on the living room floor and was tossing his baseball up in the air.
"Oh, MJ, turn that up!" Gia yelled, craning her neck to peer into the living room.
"Hold still!" Macy said again.
"Mama, it's Duke Rodriguez!"
She needn't be reminded who the man was. Every weekday morning for the past two weeks, the flat-screen television mounted on the wall had remained on the news station. The guest host of the local morning show, Duke Rodriguez, united the three of them for various reasons. MJ made up his part of the fan club because of Duke's history as a professional baseball player. Gia, the budding media queen, followed the sports-figure-turned-news-anchor for his ability to merge politics with social events of the world in his broadcasts. As for Macy, she adored him for the main reasons every red-blooded woman didthe man was hot. Macy's stomach fluttered with butterflies every time his deep voice entered the room. Not that she'd ever act on it. He was a celebrity, for God's sake. Not to mention she had no time for a man in her life.
Duke's baritone laugh emanated from the television in the living room and drifted down the hall. Macy leaned out of the doorway to get a better look at the dreamy man.
"Mario Junior, do not stand so close to the TV," Macy yelled as she pulled the comb through the roots of Gia's hair.
"Aw, Mom!" whined MJ as he stepped backward to the oversize brown leather couch, nearly tripping over his white tennis shoes on the way.
"Just do it. And put your shoes on!" Macy glanced at the cell phone in Gia's hand. The minute Gia realized her mother was looking, she held the phone against her chest. Macy rolled her eyes toward the ceiling, not understanding how Gia could get so offended over her privacy when she posted every emotion, feeling and thought on Twitter.
"But Mama!" MJ petitioned loudly.
A lot of mothers could only envision what their children were going to be when they got older. Macy was positive MJ was going to be a lawyer. He loved to argue, and by the early age of four had always come up with good cases. But today he was going to lose. Macy was in no mood. She was already running behind schedule and should have been walking out of the house right about now. She had several errands to run before she had to get to the storage center and start pulling out her equipment.
"They're just about to get to the Santa story. Remember, we saw him last week!"
"I want to see!" Gia said, scrambling from the chair the minute Macy set the flat iron on the edge of the sink. She clicked the button off and turned off all the other salon-style hair equipment, then followed Gia into the cluttered living room. Yet another thing Macy knew she was going to have to do at some point today before Mario came over to pick up the kids. Her ex-husband would surely tease her if he saw the mess, especially considering that had been one of her complaints about him during their divorce.
Macy leaned against the arm of the couch and pushed the long sleeves of her thin blue shirt up to her elbows. She crossed one leg over the other and realized she needed to put on her shoes, too. Quickly running upstairs to her bedroom, she grabbed a pair of braided flip-flops. Typically she didn't wear flip-flops with jeans, but today she had so much to do that they were convenient. Besides, the late November weather was still warm and balmy. She made it back to the living room in time to hear her daughter sighing. What a way to start a chaotic Monday morning. One more half day of school, and the kids would be out for Thanksgiving break.
"Duke!" Gia gasped, all lovesick. Macy could have sworn her moody teenager even batted her eyelashes at the television screen.
"And I bet the local high school baseball coach is going to ask for his old job back." Duke chuckled. As the family all gathered in the living room, the high definition of the television captured the cheeks of Duke's cohost turning a bright shade of pink, as they had every day since he came to WKSS.
"Speaking of Santa, we're expecting a sighting."
Juliette Walker twirled her hair around her finger and blinked flirtatiously at Duke. Obviously the young co-host was as smitten with Duke Rodriguez as Macy.
This morning, he wore a well-tailored black suit, crisp white Oxford shirt and a red tie. Without acknowledging Juliette's attempt to flirt, Duke shuffled the papers together in front of him in his large hands; a megawatt smile tugged at his square jawline, involuntarily exposing his dimples. Even after being away from sports for ten years, Duke still maintained a fit framebroad shoulders and a tapered waist. He kept his straight black hair short and close-cropped. Unlike the typical news anchor, Duke wore a well-trimmed goatee to frame his luscious, full lips. Macy cleared her throat to keep from swaying when Duke blinked his thick lashes.
"Already?" Duke asked.
"Yes, I hear he'll be at the mall this Black Friday morning. Oh, I can recall the days of going to the mall and sitting on Santa's lap. What about you, Duke?"
Duke shuffled his paperwork and nodded his head. "I tried to milk Santa for all that I could."
"No way." Juliette gawked.
"It's true," Duke said with a nod. "But it had to be the right Santa, you know what I mean?" he asked, but didn't give Juliette a chance to reply. "I mean, that Santa I saw setting up down at the mall looks like a total fake. Did you see his beard?"
A sinking feeling washed over Macy at that very moment. She pushed herself off the wall. "Okay, kids, let's finish getting ready "
"Wait!" Gia exclaimed.
" to this day, I'm almost tempted to sit on a Santa's lap if he's got a real beard."
"You wouldn't dare!" Juliette said.
"Well, maybe not now. I mean, I tried to let every Santa I saw know what I wanted for Christmas until I was about thirteen. And at that point my mom had to smack me on the head and tell me that Santa isn't "
The scene before Macy felt as if it moved in slow motion. Macy and Gia both tried to get to the television to turn it off before that damn Duke ruined everything. Gia was singing "Fa la la la la" loudly and running toward MJ to distract him. Macy ran in front of the television, tripping over MJ's shoes in the process before she could turn it off. But it was too late.
MJ stood there as his large round brown eyes glistened with the threat of tears. "Did he just say Santa wasn't real?"
When you out Santa as a fraud on public television, there are bound to be some repercussions.
Duke Rodriguez found this out the hard way, especially when the woman whose attention he'd been trying to get wouldn't reciprocate any smile he offered each time their eyes met. The caramel beauty in the cream-colored dress stood under the mistletoe, refusing to return his notorious dimpled grin. Fortunately, his invitation to his boss's annual Thanksgiving dinner had not been rescinded. And he owed that to his mother, Janet Rodriguez, for teaching him to own up to his mistakes and hold his head high.
By coming to the party, he hoped to show the rest of the news team at WKSS, who were present at the studio to drop their children off at the daycare, how sorry he was for outing Santa. He brushed off being subjected to juvenile hostility from his colleagues. He hadn't been pushed out of a food line since kindergarten, yet today one person purposely cut in front of him. Another person had swiped the last fork before he could reach it, and then just as he'd reached for a ladle of eggnog, the woman before him let it slip into the creamy punch bowl, slopping the beverage all over the front of his shirt and suit jacket. He handled it with ease and a tight-lipped smile. The story of him revealing Santa Claus as a fraud would blow over soon enough.
"I feel responsible for not fully explaining how familyoriented our staffers are at Tune In, Tallahassee. The station likes to go all out for the children at our day care and some of the children we've had on our spotlight segments. We host a party, trim a tree and I even dress up like Santa. Send me the bill for your dry cleaning."
Duke glanced up from his poor attempt to clean the stain off his white button-down shirt. The autumn-colored napkin he used had begun to shred, leaving orange, yellow, and red paper streaks. "I'm going to hold you to it, Pablo."
Chuckling, Pablo nodded his head. With each bob, Duke caught a glimpse of the beginning signs of the horseshoe-patterned baldness of his thinning hair but decided not to tease him right now. Pablo kept his hair curly and low. Duke usually kept his hair as short as Caesar himself. A lot of people often thought he and Pablo were brothers. They were close to the same height, but Pablo had him by maybe a half an inch. Had Pablo not spent the summer back in the Dominican Republic, they both would have been the same hazelnut shade of brown. While Duke liked to dress in finer clothes, Pablo had always been comfortable in a pair ofjeans and a polo shirt. Today he wore a red pullover. Duke guessed it was to announce the upcoming Christmas holiday.
"Whatever," Pablo said. "This is the least I can do for inviting you into the lion's den. I never would have guessed" Pablo handed Duke another napkin, a white one "considering what a rock star you were two weeks ago, that you'd go down in flames."
"Thanks," Duke grumbled, taking the napkin from his overdramatic friend. As one of the highest-rated news anchors for Multi-Ethnic Television, someone who never took time away from work, Duke knew his career in journalism was far from endangered. Duke enjoyed working for the Orlando, Florida-based company. Multi-Ethnic Television, with affiliate stations all over the nation, prided themselves on diversity, not only in the news anchors but in their shows, as well. Every sitcom, cooking show, or drama or reality series showcased different nationalities from the Caribbean, Africa, India and everywhere else that made up America's cultural melting pot.
With his contract renewal set to be signed at the beginning of the year, MET checked in with him every other week to verify his happiness. He also figured they wanted to know if their DC Nightly News anchor planned on returning to the news desk after he finished covering the morning anchorwoman's period of maternity leave.
But they might be getting their journalist back sooner rather than later. His time in Tallahassee might be limited, thanks to the hordes of soccer moms threatening to change morning shows and local business owners flooding Pablo's email inbox, warning they might remove their holiday ads as long as Duke was on the air. Duke's arrival in Tallahassee earlier this month seemed so long ago.
Just because his best friend was his current station manager didn't mean Duke had gotten off any easier. After shouting at him all morning long, Pablo suggested Duke do some serious investing in PR work if he wanted to help save the ratings. Despite his limited time in town, Duke prided himself on maintaining a positive image.
The anchorwoman he was subbing in for was Pablo's wife and the mother of Duke's threenow fourgodchildren, so he was really here more so as a favor. He'd leaped from being a baseball star to being in front of the camera in DC, filling people's homes with current events for the past fifteen years, without missing a beat. Being down here with Pablo and his family, however, made him wonder what things he had missed out on in life. After the New Year, Duke had some serious decisions to make.
Somewhat, a little voice nagged him.
"Oh, and her name is Macy Cuomo," Pablo leaned in and whispered, "in case you were wondering. She's single and a very good friend to Monique and me."
He was wondering. He'd been staring at the petite beauty since she walked in the front doors of the Baez family's home two hours ago. There were no obvious signs of her flirting with anyone else, either. Once she'd laid her manicured hand on a man's chest as she tossed her head back and laughed at something that was said, but that was it. At that moment, Duke would have given anything to be that man.
"What?" Duke tried to shake off his gaze, realizing Pablo was speaking to him.
"Yeah, you look like you need to cool off," Pablo said, pushing something into Duke's hand. "You're sweating from staring at her. Take this."
He looked down to his left and spied the green bottle of beer in Pablo's hands. Frost billowed off the beverage.
"You guys have the heat on as if it were freezing."
"It's sixty-eight degrees outside," Pablo countered with a shake of his head. "You forget our moms bundled us up at seventy degrees in the DR."
"And yet you're wearing chancletas with jeans?" Duke chuckled. "I heard Thanksgiving is going to be in the seventies."
"Leave my flip-flops alone." Pablo laughed, lifting his foot. "Anyway, you know that's not what I meant. I'm just glad to see you're back on your feet and looking at a quality woman."
"So I've been staring?" Duke looked back at the angel in cream. Pablo was right; he had been away from ----- v - the Dominican Republic for a while now. He forgot how much he missed a shapely woman with all the right curves in all the right places. This woman named Macy now stood with Monique, cooing over two-week-old baby Lucia. There was a maternal vibe coming from her that worried him. Most of the women he dated never lasted long if they started cooing over children. Duke could offer a woman jewels, trips, cars and other luxury gifts, but not a baby. A childhood illness had scarred him, prohibiting him from being able to give her a biological child. So why bother leading her on any further?
"Let's just say that you've been staring so much you've got Monique wanting to play matchmaker. If I didn't come over here to get you, I am sure she would have been printing out your wedding invitations."
Matchmaking time, Duke thought with a wicked grin. "That doesn't sound too bad. I think my best-friend-in-law has great taste."
Pablo choked on his beer and looked at him as though he'd grown a second head. "What?"
"You didn't say that when she tried setting you up with her college roommate."
The college roommate in question had had a uni-brow and a questionable Adam's apple. She was one of the five girls Monique shared a room with. Duke had agreed to go on that date sight unseen. Pablo spent the entire double date apologizing for the misfortune.
The two friends looked at each other, both realizing they had the same image in their minds. "At least this time I can see what I'm getting up front."