Betting on Santa [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Debra Salonen
eBook Category: Romance
eBook Description: The odds are always against her.... But this time Tessa Jamison isn't leaving River Bluff, Texas, until she finds what she came for: the father of her sister's two-year-old son. And the stand-in Santa at the local church bazaar could be the man she's looking for. Cole Lawry seems an unlikely candidate for instant daddy. What's more, the divorced ex-businessman and consummate poker player insists he's not a father--never has been, never plans to be. Until Tessa calls his bluff. Which means gambling everything she's got. Including her heart.
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/Superromance
Fictionwise Release Date: November 2007
3 Reader Ratings:
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Cole tried. It wasn't easy with Sally Knutson on his knee and her three cats wreaking havoc on his costume. The gray one was tangled in the glossy white beard, batting at the lush strands. The calico perched on his shoulder had every needle-tipped claw hooked solidly through the red velvet, his undershirt and his flesh. The slightest movement on Cole's part meant instant pain. The third—the "shy" one—was wedged between its owner's ample bosom and Cole's two-pillow padding.
His mother hadn't said anything about hazard pay when she volunteered him to fill in for Ray Hardy, the man who truly was Santa to most of the citizens of River Bluff, Texas. A fixture at the Congressional Church's annual holiday bazaar and toy drive, Ray hadn't missed a night—until he slipped in the shower that morning. Now the man was facing hip surgery.
"Look at the camera, Sugar Baby," Sally cooed.
Cole assumed she was talking to the feline on his shoulder since Sally was his mother's age—and about forty pounds overweight, if his aching leg was any indication.
"Any time, Melody," Cole urged, a bead of sweat threatening to turn into a rivulet down the side of his cheek. Their Hill Country weather had become oppressively muggy thanks to the tropical moisture out in the Gulf. It was almost December, and Cole was ready for some cooling. Especially if he was going to be stuck in a Santa suit for who knew how long.
"Sorry," the high school senior said, looking up so quickly her green felt hat nearly fell off. "The battery is struggling to keep up. I should have had Dad bring the other rechargeables."
He wondered if Ray had these kinds of problems, and if so how the man had managed to survive all these years. Not only was Cole's patience exhausted, his butt was sore. The ornate chair that usually sat behind the pulpit wasn't made for comfort, he'd decided after the first half hour. But it looked impressive on the raised "snow-covered" dais situated in one corner of the church parking lot, which, with the help of hundreds of strands of twinkle lights, had been transformed into River Bluff's version of the North Pole.
"It's green," Melody said, moving into position. "Look at me, Sal. Say, 'catnip.'"
The only way to simulate a smile when you were wearing a one-piece beard and mustache was to flex your cheek muscles in an exaggerated grin. Unfortunately, this made Cole's beard rise, which made the cat on his lap pounce, which spooked the cat on his shoulder.
"Somebody moved," Melody accused, fiddling with the camera. "Stay put. We have to try another."
Sally shifted her weight to reposition the cat on his shoulder, and Cole's ankle twisted slightly. A shaft of pain radiated upward from his old injury. One that had never completely healed right—a legacy of a holiday he preferred to forget.
"Am I squishing y' all, honey?" Sally asked, apparently hearing his swallowed moan. "You need a bit more padding on your tushy, like Ray. Wasn't it a shame about his fall?"
"Terrible," Cole said through clenched teeth. "Mom said he's had a big crowd here every night since the bazaar opened." And the church's holiday festival ran through the middle of December.
Sally disentangled the tabby's paws from Cole's beard. "True. I was here last night and gave up after about an hour. The girls are n't patient."
He could tell. The "girl" on his shoulder was using his costume for a scratching pad. "Um, Sal, could you do something about this one, too?" he said, turning his chin to point.
The "shy" one suddenly took a swipe at his beard, pulling it down a good inch so the attached mustache covered his lip.
"Okay, everybody, let's try again," Melody called. "Say Merry Christmas."
"Murway Kwemat," Cole mumbled, eyes watering.
"Oh, this is cute, Sally," Melody exclaimed, studying her camera. "I think it's a keeper."
Sally got up, a cat under each arm. She adroitly hopped off the raised platform and walked to where Melody was standing. The third cat scaled the side of Cole's head, finding purchase in his beard, plush red hat and scalp.
"Ow!" he howled, reaching up clumsily in his oversize white gloves to try to dislodge the beast. "Sally, help."
She shoved the other two pets at Melody, who dropped the compact digital camera. Melody's cry was muffled by Sally's loud, "Ooh, poor Sugar, did you think Mama was going to leave you with the big, mean stranger?"
"Mean? What'd I do?" Cole complained, rubbing his head in a way that made his costume shift back and forth. He had to straighten his beard before he could spit out several cat hairs.
"You're not a cat person, Cole. Animals can tell."
He would have tried to defend himself but she didn't give him a chance, instead hurrying back to where Melody was kneeling over the remains of her camera.
Cole checked his watch. Fortunately, Santa's booth was due to close in ten minutes. He looked toward the candy-cane gate. Only one person in line. A stranger with a toddler on her hip. By the bemused expression on her face, she'd witnessed the entire spectacle. Cole was glad to have a fake beard to hide behind.
The woman looked to be about his age. Jeans, a belted leather jacket and an oversize purse apparently used to counterweight the toddler on her opposite hip. Cole guessed the boy's age to be about two.
Not that Cole knew a lot about kids, but he'd learned a great deal after just one night as Santa. For instance, he now knew there was a difference between teething and mere drooling.
Copyright © 2007 by Debra K. Salonen.