The final book in the Small Town Secret series is now live! Love and Christmas, just in time for the holidays!
The Small Town Secret project has been a labor of love for a couple of years now, as I’ve been rewriting old books to make them better. Love and Christmas is the end of that project, and I’ve enjoyed making those books lots better. Seriously, some of them are way better! And 2022 will be full of nothing but new stories. And I’m excited about that!
For now, though, I want to celebrate Love and Christmas. From now through Friday, the book is free, and I’d love for you to get your copy!
Only Santa is a good enough man for my kid. (Or me, it turns out.)
When you have a child, he becomes your whole world…so any man who wants to be close to you better be Perfect with a capital P.
When I take my son to see Santa Claus, good ol’ Saint Nick (known to the real world as JD) surprises me later with a touching gift for my boy, immediately endearing me to him. After he spends an evening with us enjoying dinner (and dessert later with yours truly), he’s back to his life and we’re back to ours.
That’s the way it was meant to be.
So why can’t I stop thinking about him? After all, my intention had never been to find a man, because they always wind up breaking your heart.
And while I comfort myself with that notion, I just can’t seem to get JD out of my head. Was he just a one-night stand or is there a chance for something more?
Love and Christmas is a steamy instalove small town romance set in Colorado, book nine in the Small Town Secrets series. Curl up by the fire with a glass of wine or a mug of hot chocolate and settle into Winchester, Colorado—where the nights are cold…but steamy!
Each book in the Small Town Secrets series can be read as a standalone.
Love and Lies, book #1, is also free through Friday!
As always, thanks for your support!
Still here? Then I’ll leave you with a little teaser!
Chapter One from Love and Christmas
Chase, my only child, was the love of my life. He’d just turned five in November, but that birthday couldn’t compare to his excitement about Christmas. And, because of my fond memories of how my parents had made the holidays fun when I was a kid, I couldn’t help but want my own son to enjoy the magic of holidays as well.
Up until this year, he’d had no interest in meeting Santa Claus. In fact, when I’d take him to see Santa at the bank or a clothing store downtown in years past, he had seemed hesitant—like the way kids view clowns. There was something inherently frightening about a stranger in red, I guessed, especially when you’re young.
But this year, Chase was jazzed about seeing the big red guy. Unfortunately, my crazy work schedule, thanks to end-of-semester madness, had made it hard to get down to our local Walmart, which was as close as we’d get to a mall in Winchester. Our town had been pretty isolated until several years ago when they built a store on the east end and now it was mall-like in that it had a bank, a Subway, a hair salon, and a manicure shop inside—and the bank always made a big deal out of Santa. This year, though, instead of just having Santa appear at their downtown branch, they had him at this location as well—and here we were, Chase and I, on a Friday night waiting in line to see good ol’ Kris Kringle. My son had a list in his head, and he’d mentioned a couple of things he wanted, things I’d managed to get (or have his grandparents purchase for him), so I was hoping his conversation with jolly old Saint Nick would solidify my gift choices.
But, God, I was bored out of my mind standing in line. How many kids lived in Winchester anyway? I imagined that by the time we got through the line, it would be Chase’s bedtime. Although he wouldn’t have preschool at the daycare center tomorrow morning, I myself was exhausted and ready to put my feet up.
Christmas comes but once a year, I told myself while hoping the battery on my phone would hold out while Chase amused himself with one of the games on it. In the meantime, though, there was only so much I could do to keep myself awake and alert—without dragging my poor kid out of there—so I just kept people watching, willing the time to pass.
One thing I’d say about Santa as we got closer—he seemed pretty attentive to the little kids. As we approached, I noticed that he had the most beautiful crystal-blue eyes I’d ever seen on a Santa—or any man, for that matter. His eyelashes were long and dark, too, and surrounded by the white hair and beard, I could almost picture this guy at the North Pole, ho-ho-hoing to all his little elves dressed in green.
That suit, though—I was betting it was hotter than hell and the guy was likely more miserable than I, but you wouldn’t have known it by the way he acted. He was a natural with the kids, chuckling, smiling, asking them questions that got them talking. I couldn’t complain about the snail’s pace of the line when I heard how good he was with the little guys. If the tots weren’t convinced he was Kris Kringle by the time they leapt off his lap, it was through no fault of his. Even I was beginning to buy his act, even though I could tell he was quite a bit younger than the white hair let on.
This guy should have been on stage in Denver—no, Broadway. He was that good.
At least one thing that broke up the monotony was a reporter for our local newspaper, the Winchester Tribune. I didn’t read it, but my dad had been a faithful subscriber when I’d been growing up, so I had fond memories of it. The brown-haired reporter took a picture of Santa from afar and then started moving from child to child down the line, explaining that she was doing a big article for the paper, asking parents how much shopping they still had to do before quizzing the kids about what they wanted from Santa.
When she got to us, I could have hugged her.
“Hi,” she said, “I don’t know if you’ve heard my spiel—”
As much as I wanted to lie just to keep her there longer, I imagined she was getting tired of saying the same thing over and over. She wore a Press badge on her lapel, maybe to assure people who might have otherwise thought she was a weirdo or something. I said, “I sure did—and to answer your question, I’m almost done with my Christmas shopping.”
“Mind if I ask your little one a question or two?”
“Please—be my guest.” If she could pry him away from my phone.
Squatting next to my son, the woman said, “Hey, bud. My name’s Nicki. What’s yours?”
“I’m Chase.” At first, I thought I was going to have to ask him to hand me the phone, but he managed to make eye contact with the reporter. I felt a little relief that my son wasn’t being completely rude.
“Are you excited to see Santa, Chase?”
His chocolate eyes lit up as if she’d asked him the most important question of his life. “Yes.”
“What are you gonna ask the big guy for?”
The way Chase’s expression changed so quickly forced me to press my lips together so I wouldn’t grin or laugh. This poor reporter had just stepped in doo-doo. “I can’t tell you,” my son said, almost vehemently.
“If I tell you, then Santa won’t give it to me.”
She started to suck in a breath as if to present an argument and then thought better of it. While my little guy wouldn’t necessarily present a good case, his eyes could be quite disarming. I knew, because I’d lost an argument or two to him.
As if she’d read my mind, she said, “I can’t argue with that. So are you excited for Christmas?”
“Are there any other presents you’re hoping to get—other than the one you’ll be asking Santa for?”
“Nah. I always get good stuff.”
“I love that. I hope you get lots of good stuff.” The woman stuck out her hand and said, “Shake?”
With a grin that ate up most of his face, Chase put his little hand in hers and, after they shook, she stood. Handing me a card, she said, “Thanks for your time and for letting me speak with your son. My article will be in the paper on Saturday—a special edition.”
“Can I get your name as well?”
“Thanks again, Serena. Merry Christmas.” When she paused, looking throughout the store, I figured she was deciding to scope out regular shoppers now that she’d finished with us.
Glancing at the card she’d handed me, I saw that her last name was Sosebee. “Hey, do you have a brother named Will?”
She turned her head to me again. “I do. My little brother.” Then she laughed. “Not so little anymore.”
“I went to school with him.”
“Very cool. Small world, isn’t it?”
“For sure. Probably more likely small town.”
Nicki gave me a short nod. “You got that right. Thanks again for your time.”
As I watched her walk away, I realized I should have engaged her in more conversation to help pass the time—but, of course, she had a job to do and the line was moving, albeit slowly. Chase tugged on my hand, holding the phone up to me, an indication that he needed me to type in my passcode again. “You were really well behaved, bud. Good job.”
“I have to be. Santa’s watching.”
He made a good point.
At last, after over an hour in line, we were getting really close—and still the last in line (waiting till it was almost Christmas had helped with that, no doubt). We’d had several kids and families take up the caboose position multiple times since we’d been there, but they hadn’t had the patience to stay. What probably helped was the sign that let them know Santa would be there all day Saturday and Sunday—the last weekend before Christmas—but I knew, based on the time, that this guy should have already been off duty.
My youngster showed few signs of sleepiness, however, as he continued to crush candies on my Android.
After what felt like eons, Santa finally had the second-to-last youngster on his lap. Chase stopped yawning and stood straight, wide-eyed and ready. When he started waving at Santa, I knelt over. “Honey, I know you’re excited to see the big guy, but we have to wait our turn.”
“I’m just waving, mommy.”
“I know, but we don’t want to distract him from the other boy’s attention. You wouldn’t like it if that happened to you.”
Chase frowned but he got the message. After a few seconds, he said, “Mommy, I’m gonna ask him for some LEGOs and a hammer.”
“Oh, really?” These were gifts I’d already known about, and his grandparents—my mom and dad—had already purchased three LEGO sets for him. I was a little saddened that we were moving from the big blocks to littler ones, but my son’s fine motor skills were developed enough that he deserved to put them to good use, even though I remembered from having a brother who’d been totally into them that they hurt like the dickens when you weren’t wearing shoes and one happened to hit your arch as you were walking over it. But I had to pretend like I didn’t remember the presents he wanted; otherwise, what would he tell Santa? My cute little man had no idea that Santa had already purchased the hammer, one made for a kid his age, and it was sitting under my bed along with other age-appropriate versions of tools like a screwdriver, wrench, and pliers. “I’m sure Santa can’t wait to hear it.”
Actually, I was hoping Santa would cut the visit short. I was hungry and tired and hoping that our slow-cooker meal at home wouldn’t be overcooked by the time we got there—especially considering I had a couple of stops I had to make in other areas of the store before we left.
The little boy who’d been in line in front of us hopped off Santa’s lap, a happy, satisfied look on his face. Apparently, he was confident Santa was going to fulfill his every wish. That thought made me squat and say in a low voice to Chase, “Remember, Santa can’t always give you what you ask for.”
“I know…but I have to ask anyway.”
Once again, I couldn’t fault his logic.
Until this evening, I would have sworn my child was shy—but tonight he’d chatted with a reporter and now had a huge grin on his face while marching right up to the man playing the big guy. Santa’s eyes beamed at him, a smile evident under the white beard. “Hello, young man. Come on over.”
I said, “This is Chase.”
The mischievous twinkle in his eyes made me feel like we were participating in a conspiracy.
Technically, we were.
“Thank you, ma’am, but I was pretty sure this guy was Chase.” As my son scrambled up on his lap, Santa said, “Now, I know the answer to this, but what do you think? Have you been a good boy this year?”
Damn…he was good. Really good. And Chase took the bait. “I’ve mostly been a good boy this year.” And then I heard my own words echo out of my son’s mouth. “But I sometimes have behavior problems.”
I had to stop myself from laughing out loud and, by the looks of Santa’s eyes, so did he.
“Do you say you’re sorry when you have these behavior problems?”
“Do you try not to do them again?”
“That sounds like you’re trying very hard to be good.”
“I am, Santa.”
“So what do you want for Christmas, Chase?”
Another point for handsome Santa for remembering my little boy’s name. Most people I met, it seemed, didn’t give a crap about anyone but themselves, but this guy seemed to really care about others. I knew my son was at an impressionable young age and this encounter would likely stick with him for his lifetime. When he was older and found out that Santa was make believe, I hoped he would remember the kindness and sweetness of this man and embrace the spirit of giving.
Personally, I was mesmerized by his gorgeous blue eyes, ones that would have made the real Kris Kringle green with envy, getting so lost in them that I almost missed what my son replied.
Chase’s brown eyes were big like saucers when he said, his voice full of hope, “I want to see my daddy for Christmas.”
“Oh…” Santa was a little stumped by this one, and I thought I was going to die. I’d never spoken ill of the deadbeat, no good, lying scumbag around my child, but the man already had at least eight (yes, eight!) other children by three different women, and he’d knocked up another girl just after Chase was born and ran to her as fast as he could. I didn’t have much hope that he gave a shit about the son he had with me. But I didn’t want to break my son’s heart or ruin any chance he had of a relationship with his father later when the no-good jerk decided to pull his head out of his ass and live up to all his responsibilities, so I’d just tried to deflect questions when Chase asked. I wasn’t sure what else to do, except to try to make sure my bitterness didn’t come through.
Chase’s father had seven daughters. One other son. I’d originally hoped that would work out in Chase’s favor but nowadays I figured my kiddo was better off not having that asshole as a role model. My son (and all that man’s kids, really) deserved better than that. And just because my judgment had been clouded once upon a time, it wasn’t anymore.
I had to make sure I didn’t sound angry now, either. I cleared my throat, hoping to help jolly old Saint Nick out a bit, even though my son had completely taken me by surprise. What had happened to asking for a hammer and LEGO blocks? “Honey, you know your daddy has to take care of his other family…but someday I’m sure he’ll be able to spend time with you.” In addition to not sounding angry, I also hoped I didn’t sound as skeptical as I felt. If I wound up seeing the man at times other than court hearings, it would be a miracle—but it might help with my anger issues.
Santa took a deep breath before saying, “Well, bud, I’ll do my best. I can’t make any promises, because it’s not like bringing you a cool toy or something. I’m not able to deliver people, you know?” Chase nodded but I wasn’t sure he was completely buying it. Cute Santa went on to say, “I want you to know I’ll do my best to get you the present you want.”
Chase was still nodding his head, and I half expected him to jump down and declare Santa to be an extreme disappointment. Instead, his face brightened visibly and his eyes began to twinkle as he cupped his hands around his mouth. Santa took the hint and leaned over, turning his ear toward Chase, and then my son began delivering what appeared to be a litany of non-living toys.
The poor guy playing Santa. After hours of acting in the role of St. Nick for dozens of eager children, he was probably thinking my kid’s woes were more than he’d signed up for. But he nodded occasionally, giving my son little affirmations until he was done.
“Is that all you want?” Santa asked.
I almost laughed. For as long as Chase had whispered loudly in the guy’s ear, it sounded like he’d requested enough toys for three holidays. Was that all? Chase nodded, though.
“You sure, bud? Santa can—”
“No, Santa. Mommy told me you only have to get me one present. If I’m greedy, you can’t help all the other kids around the world.”
Santa got a huge grin on his face that was easy enough to see under the white facial hair. “Fair enough.” Chase got a clue and slid off the guy’s lap. “You keep behaving now, okay?” My son indicated he understood with a quick nod of his head while Santa added, “I don’t want to find out that you decided to be super naughty at the last minute.”
“No, Santa. I promise I’ll be a good boy.”
“Great. ‘Cause you know I see everything you do.”
Chase tilted his head. “Yeah, I know. But how do you do that?”
“I can’t tell you all my secrets, bud.”
My son smiled, walking back to me and taking my hand. “Merry Christmas, Santa.”
“Merry Christmas, Chase.”
I also grinned, because this was a memory I’d never forget. “Thank you so much.”
Cute Santa gave me such a sweet look—and it was all eyes, because I really couldn’t see much of the rest of his face. He nodded, smiling, and then stood as we walked off.
Little did I know that this wasn’t the last time I’d see this man…because he was about to make my Christmas dreams come true as well.
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