What grown woman claims to have seen Santa Claus? Mandy Reese, for one—on a very special Christmas Eve when she was eight years old. These days, Mandy works at a year-round Christmas store in Tall Pine, California, where customers love to hear about her childhood encounter with Saint Nick. But when Jake Wyndham arrives in town—charming, gorgeous, extremely practical—Mandy faces a dilemma. Deny what she saw, or let Jake think she’s sugarplum crazy?
Jake scouts hotel locations all over the country, but he’s never met anyone quite like Mandy before. Her warmth and sparkle are irresistible, but…meeting Santa? Really? Jake’s no Scrooge but he’s definitely skeptical. Then again, there are all kinds of things Jake never experienced until he came to Tall Pine. Like autumn snow. Mind blowing kisses. And the magic of falling head-over-heels, madly in love…
In my Teaser Tuesday excerpt, Jake is at Mandy’s house for the first time, looking over her movie collection for something to watch. The top shelf, she’s explained to him, is her “comfort food” – her all-time favorites. What she hasn’t told him yet is that she saw Santa as a child….
A movie collection, Jake decided, was a window to the soul.
He started with that top shelf. Casablanca, of course. He was pleased to find To Kill a Mockingbird there too. Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Princess Bride were obvious, female-friendly favorites. But there were a few surprises.
“The Godfather is comfort food?” he called out to the kitchen.
“Only the first one. But the other two have to go with it, because I didn’t want to separate them.”
“You’re a regular Library of Congress.” He stood and joined Mandy in the kitchen.
It didn’t look like she’d made any progress on the coffee yet. As he entered, she was transferring glasses from the sink to the dishwasher. She closed the dishwasher quickly.
“Something’s fishy,” he said.
She turned with a start. “What?”
“I don’t see any Christmas movies.”
She grinned. “There wasn’t room. I’ve got a whole separate box for those. They’re put away with the Christmas decorations.”
Jake folded his arms. “How many?”
She inclined her head, considering. “About forty. But that’s because I’m selective. Did you pick anything out?”
“Help me narrow it down. I can’t handle the responsibility.”
“You saw the favorites shelf.”
“That’s a pretty broad selection. What are you in the mood for?”
“Well …” She opened a cabinet and brought out a can of coffee. “Ghost might be my all-time favorite, but I’m not sure if you’d care for it. I’ve been trying to get Mrs. Swanson to watch it for years. She can’t get past the basic idea. She thinks, if it couldn’t happen, what’s the point in watching it?”
“That lets out a lot of movies. Especially if you count Pretty Woman.”
She started judiciously measuring coffee into the filter basket of the coffee maker. As she brought out another scoop of grounds, she eyed the size of the mound that crowned over the top of the scoop, then shook it to level it a little more before she dropped it into the filter.
So painstaking … and so irresistible.
Jake stepped behind her and spoke just above her ear. “Ghost is fine with me,” he said. “Believe it or not, I’ve never seen it. Something about Demi Moore being haunted by her husband?”
He smoothed her hair back, tucking it behind her ear. A delicate gold pine tree earring dangled from her earlobe. It shimmered when his fingers brushed it.
Mandy measured out another scoop of coffee, not so precisely this time. “I can’t concentrate if you do that.”
“That’s the idea.” He moved his lips downward and kissed her ear. She gave a little shudder that triggered a matching shudder of his own. She relaxed against him. He closed his eyes and buried his face against the side of her neck, drinking in the scent of whatever it was she wore, that delicious hint of spice. For several exquisite moments, he didn’t move, just standing there with her, hearing her breathe.
Then she stepped away and carried the coffee carafe to the sink to fill it with water.
“Seriously, though,” she said. “Have you ever wondered what you’d do in a situation like that?”
He was crushed that she’d kept her train of thought. He’d certainly lost his. “Like what?”
“If you were a character in a movie like that. With ghosts, or angels, or … whatever.”
Her tone was offhand. Her back was turned, so he couldn’t see her expression. “How would you handle it?”
“What if you saw something you thought was impossible? You don’t believe in—say, ghosts, right?”
He blinked. “Right.”
She brought back the water, poured it into the coffee maker and switched it on. “So what would you do if you walked into your kitchen and a ghost was standing by the sink?”
She’d left him far behind. “I guess I’d figure it was my imagination.”
“But what would you do? They’re standing right there in front of you.”
“This is a weird conversation, Mandy.”
“Come on. Humor me. Think about it.”
“Okay.” He tilted his head back and squinted up at the ceiling. “If I could see through them, I’d know it was my imagination, or that I was dreaming. And I’d go back to bed. If they looked solid … I’d probably try talking to them and find out if they had the wrong house. But first I’d grab a baseball bat.”
It sounded reasonable to him. She didn’t seem satisfied. Jake had no idea what kind of an answer she was looking for.
“What would you do?” he asked.
“I think about it sometimes.” She watched the stream of coffee trickling into the clear carafe. “And I think … I think I might believe my own eyes.”
She looked at Jake again. The coffee maker chugged out its brewing noises.
He risked a smile. “Mandy, are you trying to tell me your kitchen is haunted?”
“No.” She returned his smile with a much smaller one of her own. “I was just kidding around.”
He had a feeling he’d failed an exam of some sort. And he wasn’t so sure that Mandy hadn’t seen a ghost in her kitchen.
Sierra Donovan is a wife, a mother of two and a writer, though not always in that order. Her greatest joy is helping people find true love on the printed page. She believes in classic movies, Christmas, happy endings and the healing power of chocolate.
Sierra’s first novel, LOVE ON THE AIR, was a Holt Medallion finalist. Her Kensington debut, NO CHRISTMAS LIKE THE PRESENT, won the Golden Quill for Sweet Traditional Romance. DO YOU BELIEVE IN SANTA?, out September 29th, is the first book in her new Evergreen Lane series.
You can email Sierra at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit her website at www.sierradonovan.com.
Amazon author page: www.amazon.com/Sierra-Donovan/e/B001JS7V54
Kensington Publishing author page: http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/author.aspx/30546